Posted by: bellissimanh | February 3, 2016

Let Go and Love

tearDo you remember the story? Two whores in a brothel each bear a son, within days of each other. During the night, one of the boys dies. The mother then takes her dead child and swaps it with the living child of the other harlot, claiming the living child is her own. Upon waking, the other woman first takes in the dead baby in her arms (can you imagine?) and then realizes that he is not actually her son, but the other woman’s child. The two go before King Solomon, who orders that the child be split in two with a sword. The true mother of the child cries out and says the other woman can have the baby – only let him live. The king wisely discerns that she is the true mother of the child, because she was willing to give him up so that he could live. I’m telling you… the Bible is full of drama and intrigue! (1 Kings 3:16-28)

This has me thinking this morning (and praying) about the way I love others, my family in particular. This is a tale of extreme sacrifice. The harlot was willing to give up all rights to her son, if it meant he would be saved. She let go of her own desires to put the needs of her loved one first. That’s what love does… it sacrifices.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Father, what might you be asking me to give up for my family? In what areas do I need to loosen my grip? Show me any selfishness that is getting in the way of what’s best for my husband, for my children, and help me to let go of that. Show me how to love them well.

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 27, 2016

For Good

We all know the story, right? Joseph was deeply loved by his father. He was the favorite. Dad made him a beautiful coat of many colors, which he showed off to his brothers. After rubbing their noses in it, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Although he endured many hardships, he eventually rose to a position of great power, which enabled him to save not only his family, but an entire nation.

There’s the Condensed Clement version. The scene I’m focused on today is a dramatic one. It’s the moment that I play over and over in my head – kind of the climax of the story. This is the point where I can hear feel emotions rising as the background music swells… the moment when Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers. They’re all gathered around, in fear for their lives, and Joseph just can’t take it anymore. He breaks down and cries so loud the entire house of Pharaoh hears him – and he tells his brothers that he is Joseph – he is alive. What they meant for evil, God meant for good.

As I read through this familiar story again this morning, the verse that jumped off the page for me is this:

“So it was not you who sent me here, but God…” (Genesis 45:8a)

If it were me? I’m afraid I’d hang onto that blame game for all I was worth. I’d be tempted to Lord my position over them… to return to the habit of rubbing their noses in it, at least for a little while. It’s easy to look for someone else to pin our suffering on, isn’t it? When we find ourselves in difficult – even painful – circumstances that may very well be brought about by the actions of someone else, the easiest thing in the world is to focus on what they did to us… and to cling to a spirit of unforgiveness, even desiring revenge. So easy.

Redhead girl with umbrella and suitcase at outdoor

Isaiah 26:3 is one of my favorite verses in Scripture. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” That is what governs Joseph’s response. He is able to forgive his brothers for the evil they have done to him because his mind is fixed on God. He knows that his entire life was orchestrated by the Father, and that there was a purpose in every second of his suffering.

I want that confidence. I want to give my circumstances nothing more than a glance, because my gaze is fixed on the One who loves me and knows what’s best for me. Then I can let go of this need to find blame… to hold grudges… to harbor resentment and a hard heart toward those who have hurt me. When I can see that it is GOD who has “sent me here”, I will be able to let go… and that’s when I’ll find peace.

Have a great day, my friends… let’s try and see the world through Jesus colored glasses today, shall we?

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 22, 2016

Space for Grace

hypocriteEver get fed up with hypocrisy? Yeah. I totally get it. I usually have a tougher time accepting Christians who don’t act like Christ than I do dealing with the actions of people who don’t profess to know God. It’s the contradiction that makes me crazy… don’t say one thing and do another. Don’t claim to follow Christ when following your own agenda is really what’s most important to you. Ugh.

But then I remember this…

“When Jesus heard this, He told them, ‘Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
-Mark 2:17

We are all human, whether we know the Lord or not. Jesus came for the sick… and that leaves no room for exception. We’re ALL sick. Sin-sick. With Christ, we do have a choice. We don’t HAVE to sin… but we do. So maybe (definitely) I need to ease up and give a little grace. Maybe it’s time to take off my judge’s robe and don a towel instead so I can wash some feet.

I’m grateful today for the reminder that I can be as hypocritical as the next guy. My actions don’t always match my words. There are times when I am begging for grace… desperately in need of forgiveness and a second chance… and humility is holy. If I expect others to love me, shortcomings and all, then I should be quick to lavish that love on others – whether they seem particularly lovable or not. This is the gospel. Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.

Praying to make space for grace today. For everyone.

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 19, 2016

What’s Your Name?

whatJacob. It means “He deceives”. That’s the name he was given at birth, and he certainly lived up to it… from stealing his brother’s birthright to tricking his father into giving him the blessing meant for another, Jacob was a deceiver. Can you imagine being named after your sin? If every time someone called you, it was a reminder of your wretchedness? “Hey, liar… what’s for dinner?” “Oh, promiscuous one… do you need anything at the store?” No, thank you. But there was no escaping that for Jacob. At least for quite some time.

But God… don’t you love those two little words?

Jacob’s life was steeped in sin. He WAS a deceiver… a cheater. But God gave him a whole new identity. After a fateful night of wrestling with God, there’s this…

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28

There is nothing that we can’t overcome with the Lord. There is no failure so great, no sin so deep, no past so riddled with shame that He cannot bring us through it and give us a new identity. We don’t have to stay mired in the muck of who we’ve been and what we’ve done – because with Jesus, all things are made new. He is calling us to a brand new life… a future filled with hope. All we have to do is receive it – receive HIM.

Don’t let your past keep you from becoming the person He has called you to be. You don’t have to be called by your sin anymore – you can be called “chosen.” Forgiven. Loved. Free.

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 9, 2016

Voices in My Head

God’s been speaking to me a lot this week about listening to His voice. There are so many other noises clamoring for my attention. It’s easy to let them drown out His direction.

Abram knew this feeling. God had promised him an heir… but he felt voiceslike time was running out. When Sarai came to him with her ideas about how to make God’s promise come to pass, “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” (Gen. 16:2)

It’s so easy to do. We get impatient. We become stressed and fearful that God might not really come through for us… and we start to listen to other voices, when really, we just need to be patient and wait. God knows what He’s doing. We may not get it… but we don’t have to. We just have to listen for His voice and follow His lead. Maybe you need to hear this today: He’s got this. He’s got YOU. And He won’t let go. 

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 8, 2016

What’s Your Lot?

obeyWe can save ourselves so much trouble when we just obey God.

I’ve been reading about Abraham this week, and man… talk about drama! At 75 years old, he was called to leave his homeland and set out for parts unknown… then came a famine. To improve his lot (see what I did there?), he headed to Egypt and asked his wife to pose as his sister, thinking this would protect him. She did as he asked and, thanks to their lie, was taken into Pharaoh’s palace – basically as his wife, concubine, whatever… until God exposed their deceit to Pharaoh in a dream and he let her go.

Then there was Lot, who found himself captured and in need of rescue. Lot, who settled himself near the city and ended up fleeing for his life (and losing his wife in the process). Lot, who pimped out his daughters, and later was seduced by them. Ugh. Let’s just entitle this one “As the Stomach Turns”, shall we?

I keep going back to this one little (but vital) direction God gave to Abram when he first called him out of the land of Ur:

“The Lord said to Abram:

Go out from your land,
your relatives,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse those who treat you with contempt,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Do you see it? “Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house…”

God wanted a fresh start for Abram. He told him to go – to leave his family behind, but Abram couldn’t do it. He took Lot with him. How much trouble could have been avoided if Abram had just listened to God and done what He asked.

The Lord keeps bringing me back to this again and again this week. He calls me to complete obedience… not some half-way commitment to what’s right, but a 100%, all in, radical, do whatever it takes kind of obedience… after all, partial obedience is really disobedience made to look acceptable – and it’s not.

I’m not talking about trying to earn God’s love here – we could never do that. What I’m saying is that our Father knows what’s best for us. He has given us guidelines to keep us safe… and when we wander outside the boundaries that He has prescribed, we can find ourselves in a world of hurt.

I love the way Elisabeth Elliot put it:

“Much sickness – physical, mental, and emotional – surely must come from disobedience. When the soul is confronted with an alternative of right or wrong and chooses to blur the distinction, making excuses for its bewilderment and frustration, it is exposed to infection. Evil is given the opportunity to invade the mind, the spirit, and the body and the sick person goes off to an expert who will diagnose his trouble. Sometimes the patient knows well what his trouble is and for this very reason has not consulted the Lord, fearing what He will say: Confess. Turn around. Quit that indulgence. Do not pity yourself. Forgive that person. Pay back what you owe. Apologize. Tell the truth. Deny yourself. Consider the other’s well-being. Lay down your life.”

What’s God asking you to do today? What would happen if you committed – really committed? Let’s do this thing. <3

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 6, 2016

Brick by Brick

prideA new promise. A new earth. Fresh grace. This is what God offered to His people following the great flood. Yet how quickly men returned to their own selfish ways. Pride is such an ugly thing, isn’t it? It leads us to do things we never would have thought ourselves capable of. Sometimes I think we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Pride led the people of earth to build a tower – they wanted to be the center of attention.

 “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:4)

What is it about us that even after having been lavished with love from the Father, we continue to seek our own glory? Maybe we don’t band together and call it what it is like the people of Shinar did, but honestly, we’re no different. Brick by brick, we lay a foundation to exalt ourselves.

“Look at my children – aren’t they wonderful?” And a brick is laid.

“That 4.0 GPA? Yeah… I did that!” Some cement.

“Check out this fabulous dinner I created. It’s pinterest worthy!” The tower continues to grow.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to celebrate accomplishments or to take pride in our children and the blessings God has given to us… I just think that we should be checking our motivation – always. If we don’t, we’re liable to see that monument we’ve been building come crashing to the ground. Everything we do should be for Him… to bring Him glory. Him.

Pride says, “Let me…” Grace says, “He HAS…”

Father, rid me of myself, and instill in me a desire to make You known… to be sure everyone knows that the only good in me is Jesus, and that You alone are responsible for any success in my life. Let me focus on building Your kingdom, instead of my own. I love You, Lord.

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 5, 2016

Legacy

Noah’s life must have been such a trip. First… to hear the voice of God so clearly. Hello? Wild. But he didn’t just hear it – he listened to it. He obeyed. “Yeah… so I’m going to cover the whole earth with water, and I want you to build a big floating house so you and your family will be saved, mmm’kay?” Right.

Noah didn’t just obey part way… he committed. Genesis 7:5 says that he “did everything that the Lord commanded him.” Everything. He didn’t short-cut the construction process, substituting materials that were easier to get his hands on than what God had prescribed. He didn’t neglect to take a skunk on the boat with him because it would make his journey more comfortable. He didn’t rush ahead of God and force his way onto the ark before the time God had appointed. He did everything, just as the Lord had said, even though his mind must have been reeling at the things the Lord had been telling him. That’s some serious obedience right there.

I love this quote from #shereadstruth today: “Obedience to God was the gift Noah gave to the next generation. When we obey God, we are storing away treasure for those who will come behind us.”

We all will leave some kind of legacy. What that legacy will be hinges on how we respond to God, and whether we are willing to obey, even in – especially in – the tough moments. My word for this year is “cultivate” – what could grow if I became intentional about the testament I am creating for those who follow? For my children?

How would your life be different if you were focused on leaving a positive legacy? Would your priorities and your sensitivity to people’s needs change? Would your life exhibit more love and forgiveness?

I love these words from Steve Green:

May all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.

I can say anything I want… it’s what I DO that will echo throughout eternity. I want to leave a legacy. How about you? If you could be remembered for one thing, what would you want it to be?

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 4, 2016

Of Wretchedness and Rainbows

We love to romanticize the story of Noah’s ark, don’t we? Animals… a big boat… a lovely rainbow – no wonder it’s the stuff of children’s books and nursery murals. It’s so easy for us to forget that the tale is full of wretchedness and grief, death and judgment, and before the rainbow came the darkest of skies. Mankind was wicked, and “every intention in the thoughts of his heart was evil continually”. Dark, indeed.

floodAnd then, in the midst of sweeping destruction, enters grace.

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord…” Genesis 6:8

Although not the first time grace is exhibited in Scripture (remember Adam and Eve?), it is the first time it’s referenced as “grace”. The story that should have ended with man’s extermination, instead has become regeneration.

Although we’re not told specifically in Scripture that Noah was mocked, we can imagine that he didn’t find much favor with men… but ultimately, what he did find was much greater – favor with God. Grace.

In this life, we are called to take a stand. Most often, what God calls us to do will not make sense to the world around us. We may even be mocked and persecuted. Will we maintain integrity in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation? Will we seek to win the favor of God, rather than men? I pray that we will.

I’m heading into this new week conscious of the fact that I have a choice. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice (which is foreshadowed by the ark, isn’t it?), I do not HAVE to give in to the temptation to choose my way over God’s. I can opt for the right thing over the easy thing.  I can operate in the power of the Spirit and let my behavior be governed by the truth, instead of a flood of emotions – all because of grace. That’s a boatload of blessing right there.

Posted by: bellissimanh | January 3, 2016

One Little Word – 2016 {Cultivate}

For several years now, I’ve chosen a word at the beginning of the year to focus on. It helps to ground me and give me direction as I turn the page of the calendar. I try to use a word that captures the essence of my goals through the coming twelve months. Perhaps most exciting for me is that it gives me a specific focus as I go deeper with the Lord – a specific action or characteristic that I can research in Scripture and then apply what I’ve learned to my life.

After praying, the word I have felt the Lord impress on my heart for 2016 is “cultivate.” I want this to be a season – a year – of nurturing and growing things that He would have me invest in, and letting go of things that deserve to die.

I’m sure more will come to the surface as I journey through the year, but for a start, I want to cultivate…

Gratitude – I will once again be counting to 1,000 gifts, joyfully.

Humility – I want the Lord to strip away anything in me that seeks to build ME, instead of Him, or others.

Relationships – I want to deepen my relationships… with my church family, with my biological family, with my colleagues at work.

Forgiveness – I don’t want to hang on to grudges and harbor resentment in my heart. I want to learn to let things go.

Knowledge – I want to grow in wisdom, first and foremost, as respects God and His Word. Secondly, I will continue working toward my degree. In addition, I will be pursuing education specifically related to my insurance background. But that’s not all… I want to keep learning, in every aspect of life… from my hobbies to the really important stuff.

Healthy Habits – I come into this new year less fit (physically) than I have ever been. This is keeping me from enjoying the life God has from me fully. I want to be here for my family, and able to serve them as they deserve – and if that’s the case, something needs to change. I need to change.

Romance – I want to create an environment in which my husband knows beyond the shadow of a doubt how loved and appreciated he is. I want to be a better wife and help mate for him. I want to make our home a sanctuary that he loves to be in.

Motherhood – time is slipping away, so quickly. Days become months, which rapidly turn to years. Before I know it, all of my children will be away from me and on their own. I pray that I will make the most of the moments I have with them… that I will find ways to lead without lecturing, to love in every circumstance, to live a life worth emulating, and to have true, honest discussions – even about the hard stuff – and to use those conversations as a place of grace, an opportunity to show my children the love of Christ.

My Walk – I want to thrive in my relationship with the Lord. I want to grow closer to Him… to know Him more, to love Him better.

In keeping with my one little word, I have chosen a theme verse for the year:

“Sow righteousness for yourselves
and reap faithful love;
break up your unplowed ground.
It is time to seek the Lord
until He comes and sends righteousness
on you like the rain.” Hosea 10:12

Do you have a word for 2016? I’d love to hear what it is. <3

cultivate

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