What is an idol?

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Ezekiel 36:25-27 NIV

Idols are so easy to create. We can make them out of anything. We need not carve stone or whittle wood, we just need to take our eyes off Jesus and put them on something else.

Because of the ease with which we create idols, it’s hard to recognize them, especially when they are not staring at us from the little niches in the wall that held them in Biblical times.

What is an idol?

Anytime we put something before Jesus in our priority lists, we make idols. The world we live in, even the Christian world, condones our practices. We do not call one another to account because we do not want to unveil the truth in our own lives. But, idolatry damages us. Slowly, our hearts harden as we place veils between ourselves and our Lord.

Anytime we put something before Jesus in our priority lists, we make idols. #Steepedintheword Click To Tweet

If we will listen, the Holy Spirit that God has placed in us as Christ-followers will call us to account. He will do for us what we fail to do for one another. He will show us the idols that stand firm in our lives.

We live in denial

At times, we cover our eyes, unwilling to let go of our idols. Like Rebekah of old, we dig a hole in the ground and bury them, sitting over the hole to keep them hidden when the Spirit comes questioning with a pail of clear cool water that would wash away the heat of our shame.

I’m weary of idols that don’t deliver what they promise. I’m weary of hiding reality from myself and from my friends. I’m ready to be clean. But I know that as I unload idols one after another from my life, I’m going to look different. My life and my spirit will sparkle. Some will look on the shiny new me and will say look at that bling, it must be fake. But it’s genuine if we let the spirit make us over.

A heart of flesh is soft and easily burdened. It is harder to protect, so we often prefer the shell of stone. Living in an idol-filled world with no idols at all leaves us a target. It leaves us needing to run to Jesus for consolation and comfort. And I believe that’s right where he wants us.

This appeared first in the Facebook group Balanced and Beautiful in Christ where I am a regular contributor. Thanks to Jessie Courson for the lovely artwork and to Nicole Williams for her editorial assistance.

The Pruning

We had one of the biggest Bradford Pear trees you have ever seen in our front yard.  My husband used to prune it every year so that the wind could blow through without breaking the tree. But my husband just crossed his 72 birthday celebration off the list. I am no longer comfortable with him climbing a tree to prune it, so we cut it down.

My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.

Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT)

You may have heard it said, “if you do what you always do you get what you always got.”* Well, my God is about new creations and he has bumped us all out of the “way we have always done it” mindset.

It’s been an upside down year. But I am thankful that my Father has forced me out of my routine, or rut if you will. I’m forced to innovate and I have ample time to connect with both him and others. 

So, as I move forward, I move in fresh ways. The wind of the Spirit blows through my pruned life, just as wind blows through a well-pruned tree rather than splitting it asunder. It ruffles the leaves, to be sure, but we learn to move together with the spirit rather than fighting for territory. I know growth involves change, and I am thankful that my good Father has brought it to my attention.

I think all of us who follow Christ can feel the wind of the spirit blowing through our lives, calling us to change. God is refining us. God is refining his church too. He is burning off the excess before it does irreparable damage. 

So this thanksgiving choose thankfulness. Choose to cherish the “less” over the “more”. Will you join me as I use the space to ask God, what would you have me learn? What should I let go of?

*This quote is attributed to Henry Ford.

A Change in Attitude

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Ephesians‬ ‭1:13-14‬ ‭(NIV)‬‬

Attitude can be such a blind spot for us. We can’t look in the mirror and see that our attitude is untidy or does not match our life as a Christ-follower. This force that drives our conduct may go unseen by us, but it is like the stuffy butler in an old movie who announces guests as they arrive at a party. Our attitude colors everything. It enters a room or a relationship ahead of us and announces the tone for an encounter.

The Challenge

As Christ-followers, we are called to be transformed. Our mission is to replace our own self-centered attitudes with God’s attitude, which is guided by love for others rather than selfishness. Changing our attitude is difficult. In fact, the scriptures say we must die to self–not simply push selfishness aside or stuff it down, but take something integral to who we are and set it aside. Then, the void we carve out can be filled with righteousness and holiness.

The Helper

As humans, we can’t do it at all. And we don’t have to! God has placed his Spirit in us to do the heavy lifting. Change does not happen overnight. Yes, we are transformed as we accept Christ, but this verse helps us understand that we are being made new. We are slowly being revised. Or to put it another way, we are maturing. We learn to put off our own desires and practice putting on God’s desires for us. It’s a lifelong learning process.

The Key

The trouble with a lifelong process is our human impatience. I would like to flip the switch and be changed overnight. But there is a lot of change needed in my life. I couldn’t handle it all at once. The key is that I must daily invite the Spirit to reveal what is in my heart and to purge my old attitudes.

And even as I write this, illness has changed our traditional family gathering. We normally have an exuberant crowd of family around our table. But God has called us this year to a quieter season. I am determined thankfulness will mark it all the same. I know that as seasons come and go, our good Father remains unchanged. Ever loving, ever watchful, and always calling us to a deeper relationship.

Accountability in Relationship

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

James 5:16 NIV

There was a time when I worked in an abusive workplace environment. Two of my coworkers had personal issues that they made public by targeting other employees in the office. I don’t know why. Maybe they were jealous that other lives were not in melt-down. Or, perhaps the abusers’ personal and work lives were filled with turmoil because of their own attitudes and actions.

At one point, I received an apology from one of these coworkers, but nothing changed. An apology without change is about as powerful as a puff of air. But I get it. I hate admitting I’m wrong. Change is even more difficult.

I’ve given my attitude toward owning my failures a great deal of thought and prayer. Do I fear the consequences, am I resistant to change or do I simply hate appearing flawed?

Despite these facts, I find accountability essential in my life. I need trusted friends who are also Christ-followers in my life. I know that they will love me no matter what and that they are a safe place. We can speak the hard truths to each other without condemnation.

I find accountability essential in my life. I need trusted friends who are also Christ-followers in my life. I know that they will love me no matter what and that they are a safe place. We can speak the hard truths to each other… Click To Tweet

Do you have one or more of those friends? If you don’t, I’d have to ask why not? Starting these relationships is well worth the risk.

And James Says…

In this verse, James is talking about two things, confessing our sins to others and the prayers of the righteous. How are they related?

This verse is talking about confession to fellow believers. Sometimes, the person we need to confess to may have been the very person who wronged us, and we need to forgive. Prayer is essential in these cases. We don’t want to miss out on their “powerful and effective prayers” because we are unwilling to confess our own sin or point out when we believe we have been sinned against.

Why Confess?

Confessing our sins to each other serves several purposes:
• It works humility in us. We have to humble ourselves and admit our sins before others.

• It causes us to practice honesty. Authenticity is one mark of a Christ-follower.

• It helps us practice forgiveness, especially if the sin involves actions toward another. If we need to seek reconciliation, we must live out real change, and not just say we’re sorry.

• It holds us accountable for how we live and treat others.

In our walk through life, we need companions who will pray for us when we can’t pray. We will all have seasons or days when life is just too hard to spend the needed time petitioning for God’s blessing. Perhaps we are very ill or maybe overwhelmed by work. At times, we are too distraught to voice our prayers. We need faithful warriors who will fall to their knees for us.

James tells us prayer is a powerful part of the Christian walk and that prayer for others is an essential part of Christian community. Holding onto sin is not worth the cost of leaving powerful prayer out of our lives.

This post appeared first on the Balanced and Beautiful in Christ Facebook page. Thanks to Jessie Courson for the graphic and to Nicole Williams for her editing assistance. Nicole, you always improve what I write.

Every Tough Season Has A Purpose

“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.”

Deuteronomy 11:13-15 NIV

I love spring, it’s colors of green and watching for flowers to pop out of the ground. I know for many it’s the season of fresh starts. But it’s not my favorite season. Fall is my favorite.

I have always enjoyed autumn, it’s color and crisp days invigorate me. They remind me of the joy I experienced as I stepped onto the college campus I attended and had the opportunity to soak up new knowledge. That is something that really fills my cup! And for me at that time, it felt like a fresh start. I still experience the thrill of a fresh start each fall. I am currently in the autumn season of my life. To be honest, this season feels like a fresh start for me too.

God blessed me in the spring and summer. He set my feet on solid ground and despite some challenges I thrived. Sometimes the rains were brutal too. I’m so glad that during those days I had a firm foundation under me. I am so grateful that even as a child I had learned the value and the joy of memorizing his word. I walked those paths in the days before Google and a computer in your pocket. Memorized words were of great value to survive the storms that life threw my way. They provided row markers when I was feeling overwhelmed. Pointing me in the right direction.

I loved the summer days too. Days when I had a career that challenged me and served others. I loved my work. However, I worked with some difficult people. And by the time I reached my 60’s I was a bit worn, like your petunias at the end of a long, hot summer.

So, it’s fall. I’m reaping the harvest of all God has sown into my life. He has planted his word. He’s watered my heart and soul with joy and trials, and he’s provided skills I never dreamed that I would need as I embark on a new phase as a writer. If you don’t know, writers must be entrepreneurs too so they can sell their books. But somehow God saw to it that I learned many needed skills.

I love this season! I feel like I’m living on the bounty God has planted deep in my life. I am walking down all sorts of new paths but the truth is I see familiar landmarks all over the place. Like those worn and faded seed packets, I put on stakes at the end of my garden rows to mark them. It may have been so long ago that the skill was developed. It may be many years since the experience that taught me empathy or provided wisdom, but if I look closely I see that many things I thought were rainstorms were really watering the seeds that God laid down long ago. It is a satisfying time of life. That comes a bit unexpected. I didn’t imagine I’d be enjoying it so much. I didn’t dream that God was preparing me for this path, but I am certain that he did. God has kept his promises to me.

Faithful in Joy or Sorrow

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”

Psalms 126:5-6 NIV

I’ve been battling stick-tight weeds in a flowerbed I neglected through two summers when I was dealing with life’s hard things. But this year, with renewed energy, I attacked the beds.Those sticky little seeds clung to my clothing as I pulled at the weeds. I had to pick them off one-by-one because they could hold on through both the washer and dryer! Why are these things so sticky? It’s all about survival. 

Our Battle

We too must learn to cling tightly in the tough seasons. We must be as tenacious as sticky weeds to make it through the trying days with our faith intact.

I have endured times in my life that were all hard; I don’t remember any redeeming moments. Thankfully, God does not keep us in seasons of despair like a bully who holds your head underwater until you either give in to demands or drown. No, he holds our head above water until we can get our feet under us again. He carries us through lessons and consequences from our own poor decisions. And he carries us through attacks instigated by the enemy. My friend, it’s all about faithfulness—his and ours. 

Although God always displays his faithfulness first, there is still a part of us that wants to rail at our Father during tough days. Perhaps, after we bargain for a reprieve and it doesn’t come, we decide that there is no good place in faith. So, we walk away from the only one who can sustain us through tears and trials. But know this, even as you walk away, he sticks to you out of ferocious love.

But know this, even as you walk away, God sticks to you out of ferocious love. #steepedintheword Click To Tweet

But God

In one particularly hard season for my family, I finally emerged from the pain that had turned to numbness. I lifted my head and looked around. During this and every trial of my faith, God proved faithful. I can see that my heart emerged in a better place than my sisters’ hearts. They had walked a similar path without faith to guide. Now, I look back and I am overcome with gratitude for my Father’s faithfulness. I am glad I serve a stick-tight God.

I am thankful for those sticky seeds planted in my heart. I am thankful for the mentors and teachers who helped plant them. I experienced the value of faith in the fire, which strengthens me for the next hard season. 

We know hard seasons will come. Remember this: if your faith is firm, and the Spirit of God lives in you, there is nothing stickier than our God. And even though you are in over your head, he won’t let you drown.

My relationship with God is tried and true. I do not just hear about his sustaining power; I experience it. These experiences of faithfulness make the next wave easier. 

If you’re enduring a hard season now, look back. Recognize the provision of a stick-tight, never-failing God.

This post appeared first on the Balanced and Beautiful in Christ Facebook page. Thanks to Jessie Courson for the graphic and to Nicole Williams for her editing prowess.

A Sense of Peace and A Slower Pace

He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  Psalm 23:2 (NLT)

Yes, this is a familiar Psalm. When I was a child, it often hung on the walls of nurseries, the walls of Sunday school rooms and other places where children could be found. Thinking back brings a sense of peace.

As I’ve been investigating the concept of sitting still before the Lord daily, I realize he is using this time to feed me, to provide sustenance that I need. My mind and my body desire action or activity that is what we have been trained to crave in this digital age. We grab our phones when we have a moment free, or often we multitask doing more than one thing, with the phone always at the ready.

Sitting still and staying away from all input but what God provides can be difficult. But, in my experience, it is fulfilling. God knows what I need, and he’s been providing it. I find that this peaceful time, which I aim for at the beginning of my day is setting a new tone. This is not time reading my Bible; this is not time spent in prayer, this is time sitting with God and just keeping my mind on him.

Sitting still and staying away from all input but what God provides can be difficult. But, in my experience, it is fulfilling. God knows what I need, and he’s been providing it. I find that this peaceful time, which I aim for at… Click To Tweet

As I studied the 23 Psalm, I learned that sheep do not like to drink from moving water. They only like to drink from still water, so a good shepherd provides precisely what they need. Nourishment, in the way that is best for them. You might say tailor-made.

My time of stillness and quiet before the Lord is not likely to look exactly like yours. It doesn’t need to. But I find as I give what I can offer, God fills in the edges. I scoot over a bit toward the edge that calls to me, and he draws me deeper into the space where he knows my soul will thrive. 


As said, there is no need for sameness, but to share a few benefits, I’m finding: 

  • I am becoming more eager for our quiet time together each day.
  • My prayer time seems to be deepening.
  • By eliminating the distractors that I struggle with, like my phone, first thing, I’m able to distance myself from this distraction more throughout the day.
  • I think I need a second time of quiet with God at the other end of my day. Yes, writing those words is a bit like saying it out loud! My prayers at the end of the day I believe should be preceded by a quiet time. Just telling you here to make me accountable.

I’m learning to come to my shepherd without an agenda. To just offer my life and my time and see where God will use it each day. I can not begin to tell you the sense of freedom that is accompanying this change I’m pursuing!

Does that mean I never have plans or appointments? No, of course not. What it does mean is that I’ve had God’s assistance in formulating my plans and I am allowing God to fill the margins of my life instead of grabbing a quick technology fix. Oh, I still struggle with the lure of my phone, but I’m learning that it’s a tool, not a taskmaster.

Questions I’m Asking

I’m starting to ask myself questions like:

  • What if instead of getting out my phone I pray for the people sharing this waiting room with me? 
  • What if I strike up a conversation with the person nearby? (I’m an introvert we have to talk ourselves into these things.) 
  • What if I just sit here and take a breather?

If you have not made an effort to offer God a few minutes of sitting quietly at his feet each day think about it. You don’t have to start big. It might be a five-minute investment in the morning. But my God can take what we offer and multiply the outcome. 

I’d love to hear what you are learning or have already learned from time spent quietly in the Lord’s presence. Share below or send me a note if you’d like to encourage me. Or, let me know how I can encourage you.

Are You Tired? Ready To Lighten The Load?

Discipline, it’s not one of those magnetic words that the minute we hear it sticks, and we are determined to have it.  Yet, I believe this is the word that God has asked me to focus on in 2019. Unlike the first thoughts I had, I’ve come to understand it’s not a word that has been asked of me to wrestle my heart, mind, and soul into submission. God isn’t like that. He may pursue us relentlessly, but he does not drag us down and twist our arm behind our backs until we say “uncle”. He does not send us to our room and tell us we can not come out until we are ready to do what it is he has asked of us. God makes requests, gives us space, and sometimes consequences. Deeply desiring that we will, in the end, choose him.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Jesus had chosen his 12 apostles at this point and was beginning to teach them in the manner of the Jewish rabbi, or teacher. He would lead them to become disciples. He spent time with them. He talked with them about their thoughts, and he pulled examples from the daily experiences they shared.

The Rationale

Why have I chosen discipline? Because my soul needs rest! I read a lovely little book by Michelle DeRusha entitled “5 Unconventional Spiritual Practices For Your Soul”* In her chapter entitled The Spiritual Practice of Walking the Dog, yes, you read that correctly, she says this:

“The restless agitation we feel simmering just under the surface hints that we are missing something important, that our souls are yearning for more, but we don’t allow ourselves the silence and space to figure out what that something is.”

And if I’m honest, I do have that restless agitation. I realize that I want to spend this year going deeper with God. While my temptation is always to go wider, how much more can I read, how much more can I learn, always more! I am ready to do things differently. I want to spend more time just being with God. Because really that is what the spiritual disciplines are about.

My temptation is to seek distraction over quiet. To choose doing over being.

My Challenge

And so, I challenge myself to:

  • Sit in silence with God each day. Not try to do anything for Him, or say anything. Just be with him.
  • Listen while I sit. I want to hear all God has to say to me. Not just grab a quick answer to a question I’ve asked then whisper thanks and jump up and be on my way.
  • Experience the practices that Jesus observed while on this earth. These include prayer, fasting, study of the scriptures, and time with friends.

For me, this is the essence of the spiritual disciplines. To learn from Jesus’ example. Jesus tells me that his lessons provide rest for our souls. This mind that never seems to shut down could use a bit of rest. And so I begin. I spend time with Jesus, I watch him, and I listen in prayer and silence. And I respond to those gentle lessons. And contrary to our modern interpretation of discipline as in pushing and punishing ourselves into submission, I’m instead going to choose discipleship. And if you look closely, you will see that there is a common root.

What about you?

Are you ready for some quiet time at Jesus’ feet? If so, will you think of joining me on this quest for personal change? For growing deeper without striving harder? I just love that my Jesus says tie yourself to me (that’s what a yoke is, it ties two together.) And when you do, I’m going to do the heavy lifting. You will not find that what I ask of you is difficult. As a matter of fact, you will find rest.

*DeRusha, Michelle. 5 Unconventional Spiritual Practices for Your Soul. Michelle DeRusha. Kindle Edition. It’s a free book, of just 24 pages. So if you read on kindle then consider grabbing it here.

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