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freedom

Are Your Habits Controlling You?

Image of woman hugging her torso with words from 1 Cor. 6:12By Kelli Thompson

I was a little chubby a good part of my life. Dressing room episodes usually began with hope and ended in a heap of clothes on the floor and a promise to eat better and exercise more.  In my mid-twenties, everything changed. An attempt to squeeze into the largest size of misses jeans resulted in an all-out competition between me and the denim. Barely buttoning at the waist, my reflection in the mirror rivaled the best Betty Crocker “muffin top.”

I committed that day to change my life. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19, NLT) as the Bible says, and I wanted to treat it as such. I joined a fitness camp, kept a food journal, made better choices, and lost about 20 pounds. I’d never looked or felt better. But the new image I reflected didn’t match the issues raging inside. My troubled marriage I fought to save was ending. Filing for divorce was the one thing I said I would never do. Living that relationship status burned me with the mark of ultimate failure.

Before long, my habits—my food and exercise obsession—began to enslave me. I weighed every ounce of food. Logged every bite. I placed my gym visits above God, friends and family time. I packed and ate my own meals in place of family dinners and business lunches. I competed in fitness competitions, the ultimate cattle call of judging on everything temporary life has to offer.

“I can do anything it takes to stay perfectly healthy!” I thought. “I am free from being fat.”

I wanted to be free, but I was deeply controlled. Controlled by food. quote pulled from post with an image of a woman walkingBy a brainless box of springs that measured gravity. By a community who desired me to appear a certain way. Mastered by the extremes and not the beneficial values of God.

Consider this. Is our desire really to be free? To live as we want even if the actions aren’t beneficial? Deep down, I believe what we’re truly desiring is freedom from consequences.  However, when I’ve worshiped my “right to do what I want,” I’ve become mastered by my desires and left unsatisfied.

Our choices create ripple effects. Not many people think it’s fun to hang out with someone who is too obsessed with examining every calorie and ditching them for the gym. And consequences remain in a daily battle with body image. Because at any healthy weight today, compared to a near-anorexic state, my brain works to dispel the lie that my reflection in the mirror is fat.

As we encounter the natural consequences of our choices, we often strive to achieve our ideals until our situation is so painful, so isolating, we hit rock bottom. In that place, we find we’ve been mastered by our own doing and awaken to the fact that God does not leave us, He patiently waits for our return.

Though God gives us freedom to make our own choices, we’re not free of the consequences. How can we find and live in freedom? We can begin by letting God correct our faulty thinking with truth. Then, we can turn over even the smallest daily choices to God, leading to His perfect will.

 

Heart Issues

When We Can’t (Or Won’t) See God’s Hand

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Have you ever poured out your heart, time, and resources to someone only to have them respond with ambivalence, perhaps even contempt? How long would your kindness last? At what point would you grow frustrated, or perhaps deeply wounded, throw your hands up, and walk away?

A few years ago, our family opened our home to a troubled teen. Initially, we knew very little about him. We soon learned our original perceptions were false. His issues were far more extensive than we anticipated, including deep-seated anger and contempt that caused him to lie and manipulate. Our efforts and sacrificial acts of kindness were deemed manipulative.

Nothing we did or said penetrated his bitter, cynical heart. Instead of responding to our care, he rebelled against us, unfortunately, to his own harm. He chose self-destruction over life and hope.

For centuries, Judah responded to God in the same way. He’d nurtured and reared them, providing for all their needs, but they refused to see His hand. Oh, they enjoyed the blessings, much like the resentful teen had ours, but their hardened hearts remained untouched. They drifted farther from their loving Father.

God pleaded with them to return, to consider their ways and His care, but they refused:

“I reared children and brought them up,” God said, “but they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:2-3, NIV).

The NLT puts it this way: “My people don’t recognize my care for them.”

Were they too focused on the gifts God had given them or too entrenched in their sinful ways? Either way, they spurned the One who’d faithfully cared for them and slipped into ever-worsening rebellion. God’s kindness, which is intended to draw mankind to Him, had no effect. Before long, and after repeated warnings, tough love followed.

I may never have turned to idols or perverted justice, but I can easily Speaker image with quote on self-reliancefail to see God’s hand. I can become so focused on the blessings, so expectant and entitled, that what was meant to draw me closer has the opposite effect and fuels my self-reliance.

I think that can be true of all of us. It’s easy to get so caught up in life, so accustomed to all our blessings, that we fail to see our Daddy’s heart behind them. That we fail to understand or recognize the extent of His care for us, and before long, greed and entitlement seep in, pulling us further and further from God. This breaks our Father’s heart.

God issues the same pleas to us as He did to the Israelites so long ago: Lift up your eyes. Return to Me. Leave your rebellious, self-reliant and apathetic ways and let My faithful care for you nourish, strengthen, and protect your heart.

God’s blessings abound, and His love radiates throughout the world. If we can’t see God’s hand, it’s not because He’s not reaching but because we’re not looking, or perhaps refusing to acknowledge the truth. If we but stop and turn our eyes and heart to our loving Father, we’ll find ourselves deeply rooted in His embrace.

Let’s talk about this! How readily do you see God’s care? How often, in the middle of your day, perhaps even in the middle of the hard, do you stop to contemplate the love and faithfulness of your heavenly Father? When blessings come, do you focus more on the gift or your provider?

How might your relationship with God change if you consistently practiced the latter?

Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

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Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION(R), NIV(R) Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. (R) Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture also taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Intentional growth

Becoming Like the One We Love

Becoming Like the One We Love

by Wholly Loved Editor, Yvonne Anderson

My daughter rolled her eyes and groaned. Once again, the mother of one of her friends told me, “I can tell she’s your daughter. She looks just like you.”

Being in my early 40s, I enjoyed being told I looked like my sixteen-year-old, but she obviously didn’t like it. That’s why I laughed when her tween-aged daughter recently looked back and forth between us and declared, “You look like Mom!”

The same is true of God’s children. No matter what our size, shape, or nationality, every Christian will look more like Jesus as we mature. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him…” 1 John 3:2, ESV.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV). When we “grow up” spiritually, we come to resemble God.

As spiritual children, we shouldn’t expect to be carried our whole lives—we must get up on our feet and walk. Instead of being content to let others spoon-feed us, we should learn to study the Bible on our own. Rather than hanging back, we’re called to put aside our fears and follow God into new experiences.

Many years ago, a pastor shared a beautiful illustration of this. He told of the first time he took his young son, Jay, swimming in a lake.

The father picked the boy up and slowly walked out into the shallow water. Jay hung on tightly. When the water reached his little feet, he pulled his legs up higher and whimpered. The father continued wading away from shore, the water rose higher, and the child screamed in terror.

His father, of course, knew the child was safe. “It’s okay! I’ve got you!” But the boy continued to cry.

His father stood still, waiting for his son to calm down. “It’s okay. See? I’m holding you. Don’t you know I won’t let you go?”

Jay screamed all the louder, refusing to be comforted. His father felt anger rising within. What’s the matter with this kid? Why doesn’t he trust me?

That’s when he saw the scenario as an analogy for his own life—for all our lives. When the Lord encourages us to grow up, to put aside our fears and trust him, we’re not always willing to do it even when we know it’s to our benefit. We’re afraid to trust the Father who holds us despite His assurances, “I will never let you go.”

If we will only trust Him, He’ll teach us to swim in the turbulent waves of our world. After Image of woman in the oceanwe’ve practiced, people who see our strong stroke will say, “I can tell you’re His child. You’re much like Him.”

Let’s talk about this! In what ways are you afraid to grow up spiritually? To what do you hold tight like a child with a security blanket?

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Living loved

Listening for God

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My eyes popped open. Did anyone else hear that? To my relief, all heads were still bowed in prayer. Good thing—then no one would notice the tears that gently slid down my face as I struggled to keep it together. My heart pounded. God had just spoken to me for the first time.

I’d experienced my Heavenly Father’s magnificent voice, and I wanted more.

Because God first spoke to me in the context of worship, I anticipated that again. It made sense that I would hear from Him in church—His house, where everything was about Him, and where He had my undivided attention. However, as week after week of worship passed with no divine encounter, I began to feel discouraged.

Was that it—the one and only time I’d hear from God?

But, something deep within knew differently, and numerous verses in the Bible indicate otherwise:

“and when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.”” (Isaiah 30:21)

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

And even though I was relatively new to the concepts of Christianity, I knew that God desired a relationship with me. How could I have an intimate connection with someone if we didn’t speak regularly? I have ongoing communication with family members and close friends, so why should it be any different with God?

Then, I had get painfully honest with myself. If I know someone well, I can identify them simply by their voice. Could I do that with God? The way He spoke to me the first time was undeniable, but would it always be like that? Did I know my Heavenly Father well enough, through reading and studying His Word, to be certain I’d recognize His voice again?

christa-quote-listening-7-16iIt was clear that I needed to adjust my thinking. I’d made worship the exclusive place where I could experience God, assuming I had to physically go to church to encounter His presence. My attitude was an ignorant. “Ok, God, I’m here. Talk to me”I was limiting a limitless God, expecting Him to show up when, where, and how I wanted like an actor responding to their cue. Thankfully, God is much bigger than the confines of my expectations.

I wondered how many times I’d missed opportunities to connect with my Heavenly Father, because I was too busy looking for Him elsewhere—how many times I’d drowned out His still, small voice with the clanging of my own demands.

So, I quieted my soul, let go of expectations, and asked God to speak to me. I also began to dig into my Bible. Pretty soon, I started to hear Him. Sometimes it was a clear, resonating sound within—leading, guiding, affirming, or correcting me. Other times, it was small and sweet—a whisper to remind me He was near, a verse from Scripture that jumped off the page as I read, or worship lyrics that continually ran through my head. I felt Him speak to me through creation, heard Him when others’ words sparked something inside of me, and experienced His presence in ways that are simply too difficult to articulate.

As my relationship with God blossoms, I marvel and rejoice that the Creator of heaven and earth desires for us to be in constant communion with Him. He doesn’t need us, but he wants us—to be close enough to rest assured that we are known, seen, heard, held, and above all, loved.

Let’s talk about it! Do you hear God regularly, or is it a struggle to decipher His voice above the noise of life? What can you do today to draw closer to Him and position your heart to listen?

If you enjoyed today’s post, would like more inspirational content sent directly to your inbox, and want to stay up-to-date regarding what’s new with us, make sure to sign up for our free quarterly e-mailing. You can do that HERE.

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Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION(R), NIV(R) Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. (R) Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Video Devotion

Freedom From the Pull of Sin — Video Devotion

I want that. I need that. How in the world can they afford that? They can’t make that much more money than we do.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about sin I think of murder, adultery, stealing – You know, the really bad ones. And then I start to feel pretty good about myself. I haven’t killed anyone or taken what doesn’t belong to me. I haven’t cheated on my husband. So maybe I don’t really sin that badly?

Reality check Sarah. I do sin and all sin is equally bad. And apart from Christ, those sins pull on me and hinder my ability to live in freedom.

One of my friends recently bought a new car. Yes, I was happy for her, but I also had a twinge of jealousy. My car is older and it’s nothing fancy, but it’s close to being paid off. How can I simply be happy for my friend instead of coveting what she has?

Proverbs 14:30 says “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (ESV).

Peace instead of envy. Bingo. That’s it. That’s the life Christ longs to give us, and He died too free us from the pull of this world and whatever sin we struggle with. He gives us the power to move from living perpetually discontent to feeling fulfilled and complete­-in Him.

The next time you find yourself with a case of the “I wants”, thank Christ for freeing you to live at peace with a heart of gratitude as you learn to live Wholly Loved.

If you enjoyed today’s post, would like more inspirational content sent directly to your inbox, and want to stay up-to-date regarding what’s new with us, make sure to sign up for our free quarterly e-mailing. You can do that HERE.

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fear

Fearing Forward with Jesus

Heart pounding. Dry mouth. Hands shaking. Words fumbling. Anxiety at its finest. The first time I spoke in front of an audience about God was a total flop by earthly standards. I rushed  through as fast as possible so I didn’t have to stand up there alone for one more second. I had let fear take over and drive me into failure. Or so I thought.

I went home and cried.

Why did God call me to write, speak, and encourage others in His name if I couldn’t physically do it? Didn’t He know  I wasn’t capable of this? Didn’t He know I’m comfortable hiding right here in front of my computer?

He did know that, but He also knew I needed to learn an important lesson before moving forward. That none of this– the failures nor the wins– are about what I am capable of alone. It’s about Jesus working with me for my good and the good of others as we  step forward in faith.

After seeing their beloved Jesus die on a cross, I imagine His followers were confused and afraid, too. Maybe they even felt abandoned in the faith they were once so sure of. Jesus, knowing every one of their fears, showed Himself to His disciples to encourage their faith and to instruct them.

Some followers believed when they saw Jesus, others needed help believing so they could move forward in faith.

“And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:17-20 esv).Matt28-20Blog

When faced with fear, followers of Christ have a choice to make — will we doubt His presence? Or believe Jesus is truly with us in the struggle? What we choose determines if we can overcome our fears.

Many times I’ve doubted in my life. I’ve believed I was alone in parenting struggles, marriage lows, job crises, health scares — and most recently the first time I stood in front of an audience. Somehow I got the idea that God was here for the overall picture but not the day to day ugly. Wrong.

I poured over Matthew 28:17-20 thinking about how Jesus tells to go out boldly in his name. It struck me that before Jesus asks His disciples to go, He tells them all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Him. This is important, not just because it allows us to trust that we have a powerful God, but because of the words that follow.

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” If Jesus is with us, that means His power is too.

As a language teacher I know words cannot be translated perfectly. I wanted to know exactly what that meant that “I am” would be “with” us “always”. So I looked up the original Greek to better understand these important words of our Savior.

Here’s the gist….

The word here for “I am” is “ego eimi” which is the same name Jesus refers to himself when He says “I am the way” in John 14:6. Interestingly, the Greek word for “with” in this passage is an active with. It’s a “with” that means Jesus is working in us, not just standing by watching as we labor solo . Lastly, “always” means each and every part of the total. Each moment that makes up our entire lives. Not just the pretty ones.

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Putting this all together, Jesus promises to work with us every time He calls us to step out of our comfort zones.

Knowing this breaks down my fear when I step out in faith. Believing Jesus is working behind the scenes every time I put myself out there in obedience grows my confidence and propels me forward.

We’re not alone, but when we feel as if we are, let’s remember Jesus’ promise. The great I Am will be working with us in every moment, always.

 

Read more from Andrea at www.afruitfulwoman.com

 

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Let’s talk about this! How is God asking you to step out in faith? Do you believe that He will work in that area with you? Tell Jesus your doubts and fears through prayer and ask him to strengthen you when you are unsure.

If you enjoyed today’s post, would like more inspirational content sent directly to your inbox, and want to stay up-to-date regarding what’s new with us, make sure to sign up for our free quarterly e-mailing. You can do that HERE.

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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION(R), NIV(R) Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. (R) Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.