The Heart of a Sinner

In high school I had a friend with very low self-esteem. She always pointed out her accomplishments and waited to be complimented—your standard fisherman of compliments. Even as a teenager, I knew low self-esteem was her problem. I saw that she was broken, but still, I chose not to love her. When she would start drawing attention to her greatness, I would do just about everything but compliment her. I have never been able to embrace a boastful person. I would avoid eye contact with her, change the subject, pretend I didn’t hear—all because I did not think a person as arrogant as her deserved to be praised. The irony here, however, is that this friend of mine was not arrogant. She was anything but arrogant.

fishing-164977_1280Over ten years later, I am an adult—a wife, a mom, and a daughter of the King. However, boastfulness and arrogance still crawl under my skin more skillfully than any other sin. I can’t stand a boastful person. Being in the presence of one causes me to start locating the exits. I want nothing to do with arrogance.

Boastfulness is certainly a sin. God says in Matthew 6:1-2, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Then in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Seeking validation from anyone but God means we care more for this world than for Him. However, our human nature causes us to crave praise from just about everyone. Some of us seek it more fervently than others, but we are all boastful—small, insecure beings who want someone to notice how fantastic we are. Even though God commands us to not be part of this world, the world’s praises is the very thing many of us desire the most.

Recently in a conversation with an overtly boastful person, God began to heal my own brokenness. As I visited with this person, trying so hard to love her and acknowledge her accomplishments (hating every minute of it), I began to realize that despite the sins and worldly desires of this woman, I, too, was in need of God’s grace. I sat there in judgment of this woman because of her sin, never considering that my inability to embrace her was my sin, equal to her boastfulness. As I judged and ridiculed the heart of a boaster, God revealed the sins of my own heart. Let me worry about her heart, Tara, you must take care of your own.sunrise-1756274_1920

By God’s grace, my next encounter with a self-conscious person who seeks my approval and praise, will be one where I exhibit the love of Christ. Because this person’s sins are not greater than my own, I will not condemn them nor despise them, but love them.

“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” ~Luke 11:28

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The World is Cold

I cannot grasp the chaos that struck a Texas church earlier this week. The news tightened around my throat like a vice as I stared at the headline. The words, “God, not again,” slipped out. While I sat in a sanctuary with my family worshiping my Father, exhausted and frustrated because of my post-daylight-savings-time toddler, another group of believers was facing its worst nightmare. Evil walked into the body of Christ’s most sacred place and got a three-pointer in the game between good and evil.tree-2898647_1920

Every American, Christian or not, asks why. Perhaps, God allowed this evil to happen because this country is experiencing His punishment and wrath for how we’ve ignored Him. But when I think of the innocent believers who were left helpless inside that church, it occurs to me that perhaps committed followers of Christ were simply caught in the crossfire of lies and hatred.

Unfortunately, in today’s culture we are forced to raise our children in a world where active shooters are ever-present. I mentioned to my husband that perhaps he should start carrying in church. Bringing a gun to church? Surely this is not the world my children live in. Surely there’s been some mistake. Surely God will not allow this.

In a world where chaos reigns and God is rejected, only one thing is sure. Surely the Lord will prevail. Amen! For this recurrent chaos may temporarily destroy our sense of security, but it cannot destroy our eternal rest. We cannot help but rejoice that those precious lives taken too soon and so violently are residing with the Savior of the world right now. They have no memory of their deaths or the hatred that took them, for all they can see is Jesus Christ. What a glorious sight that must be!

candles-2628473_1920Amid persistent violence, helpless, lost, fearful people are turning to God with repentant hearts. Even while Christians are being massacred, He can and will further His kingdom. Even the fiercest unbeliever cannot help but seek out comfort and will eventually recognize that God is the only one who can remove this fear. For those who seek Him, find Him. So, as Christians are dying on the floor of the world God created, this fear plays a role in the birth of a new Christian. This is certainly something to celebrate!

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Beauty in a Fallen Leaf

I have seen death’s merciless determination three times in my life. The first was when it 20171013_133140chased after my best friend’s mom, then it went after my Grandma, and finally it took my first child, whose face I never saw.

Death appeared to have won all three times, but I know, as a follower of Christ, that this is not the case.

God says He has conquered all death, and surely this must be true for death was left utterly immobilized when faced with the Savior of the world (2 Timothy 1:10).

We clearly see in the Bible that Jesus did not fear death, and was even able to reverse it in the case of Lazarus. However encouraging this reality is, death still has a powerful sting for those of us left behind. It is a great comfort to know that our loved ones are spending eternity in a painless and perfect Heaven, but we are left to face unbearable pain after they are gone.

20171013_132941Unfortunately, this earthly life is full of innumerable painful experiences, even when death is not involved.

However, if we were to see past our grief I think we would find something quite pristine in our pain. For as I sit here on this breezy October afternoon and gaze out my window to find the trees wrapped in the most vivid and electrifying colors, I am reminded that God creates beauty out of the most brutal of circumstances because, you see, these stunning leaves are, in fact, in the throes of death.

This is when I hear God whisper, “You see, my child, some of My most striking work is found in the midst of pain.”

Whether it is death or an ache less permanent, I rely upon God’s promise that He works for my good (Romans 8:28). Because He leaves me completely in awe of the death of a leaf, I know He sends even more beauty to surround me amid any turmoil.

So take James’ advice, rejoice in your trials and watch God transform your hurt into something spectacular (James 1:2).

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An Unlikely Calling

Following God is hard. Just plain hard.

My pride often tricks me into believing I want to follow Christ, until I am asked to do something rather uncomfortable, then I am able to talk myself out of it with minimal effort.

walk-2635038_1280Until I receive a direct call, text, or email from the Man himself, there is no way to know for sure that I am hearing His requests accurately. Right?

I like to believe the heroes of the Bible had it easier. Even though they were asked to do some rather unlikely things, God always sent His own voice, or at least an angel, to encourage His followers. If an angel appeared before me right now, I guarantee you I would jump out of my chair and immediately do whatever is asked of me. Right?

But alas, I am reminded of Philip. Even though he did encounter an angel, this angel’s request was so far-fetched, so out of left field, it would have been wildly difficult to obey.

Philip does not get a whole lot of credit for spreading the news of Christ, but he deserves abundant recognition. Peter is usually the one credited for starting the Christian church, but the facts are pretty clear: Peter was a racist. Yes, you heard me correctly. You see, in Acts, Philip was the first evangelist to spread the news of Jesus’ salvation to the Gentiles. Philip was the one who revealed to the rest of the apostles that the Holy Spirit was for all people, not just for the Jews. He did this by visiting one of the most condemned and filthy cities of his day, where Jews and Gentiles created a vile mixed race of humans, Samaria.

Philip had a shockingly successful ministry among the Samaritans. It says in Acts 8:6, “And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.”

It would appear to the modern-day reader, and no doubt also appeared to Philip, that he had found his place. The success he was having in Samaria would certainly cause any believer to assume that this was God’s will for him, this was where he belonged.

Not likely.

Just a few verses after Philip arrives in Samaria an angel appears to him and commands him to leave Samaria and walk along a desert road.monks-1077839_1280

Hold up. Philip is converting Samaritans to Christianity left and right and God decides he needs to go walk on a desert road, instead? That can’t be right.

Despite God’s unlikely calling, Philip goes immediately. On this road he finds an Ethiopian eunuch, shows him Jesus, and baptizes him. Because Philip did not hesitate to follow God’s call, Christianity was spread to a new continent, a new government, and a new people who would have been otherwise kept in the dark about the Good News.

Let us never hesitate to follow the Lord to the ends of the earth. For sometimes it is at the end of the earth that we will find His miracles.

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A Lesson in the Leaves

My son and I went on a Fall walk today and tried to find as many of God’s colors in the leaves as we could.

Leaves2Every leaf a different shape, a different color. Some turn from the outside in and some from the inside out. Some trees consist of one Fall color and some seem to incorporate every shade into its foliage. Some leaves are already brown and shriveled being taken by the wind, while others hang on to their dark green pigment well into November.

The beauties and intricacies of Fall are all the evidence this world needs that we are indeed made by a mighty, omniscient Creator. The love and devotion with which He turns each leaf are just mere traces of the immense love and devotion with which He approaches us.

When this world is being shaken by the hatred and suppression of God that runs rampant through humanity, I am reminded of God’s eternal power and incorruptible love. In the same way the leaves obey Him, we too are created to obey Him. Disobedience only breeds disorder and horror.20171002_172735

My two-year old is left breathless by God’s exquisiteness all around him. This leaves no excuse for the rest of us who have gone on without the Artist of an idyllic October day and the Giver of each of our breaths.

May God continue to pursue our hearts the way He so lovingly chases after my son’s until every man recognizes whom it is we should be worshiping.

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A Gift from the King

I remember when I was a kid, and it was the night before my birthday or Christmas or Pajama Day, I would lie awake, smiling at the ceiling, with just the slightest trace of nervousness fluttering around in my chest–as if the air I was breathing had been charged with a startling energy. The notion of sleep was such an impossibility that I didn’t even attempt to close my eyes. I just lied there, thinking about how perfect my life was.

It’s not like my life was perfect. It’s just that none of the crap mattered because I knew tomorrow was going to be awesome. It’s as though, while I lied there dreaming of tomorrow, I could already experience the joy that I would encounter the next day. Now that is childlike faith.Person, Human, Female, Girl, Cap, Winter, Snow, Gloves

Things aren’t like that anymore.

I still have joy, but my life is so far from perfect that the word actually makes me grin more than anything. To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I stared at the ceiling in the middle of the night with an unmistakable giddiness in my heart. I do, however, recall staring at the ceiling on several occasions with worry swirling through my mind.

It is difficult to obtain a childlike faith when you are smack in the middle of adulthood.

Even though these moments of inexpressible joy are fewer than they used to be, they certainly still happen, and my adulthood has made me more aware of who deserves credit for these blissful moments.

It is the moments where your problems have not gone from your life, but they’ve gone from your thoughts. In these moments, you recognize what life is truly about. It is not worry. It is not finances. It is not career. It is not simply surviving from one moment to the next, fighting to enjoy a life of chaos.

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No. It is in these moments where God decides to stand up and command your mind to be still.

These moments, where childlike faith actually seems within reach, are the most unlikely of gifts. For these moments are utterly contrary to our earthly reality but undeniably in harmony with a Heavenly truth. For in these moments, you get to see a King bring a gift to His servant.

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Raising a Warrior

I recognized the panicked shriek the moment I was startled awake. When my eyes opened, my 2-year old was standing at the side of my bed, arms out, eyes filled with tears. I thought a brief cuddle was all he would need, then I would guide him back to his bedroom for the last three hours of the night.

His eyes were still wide as I scooped him up and headed toward his room, “No.” He said this with an unfamiliar obstinacy for that hour of the night.20170901_153149

“Honey, what’s wrong.”

A definitive answer that I was not expecting, “It’s dangerous.”

The next morning my husband and I listened as our son wove us in and out of the tale of his nightmare. As I listened to my little talker, I attempted and failed over and over to convince him the scary was not real, though he insisted the scary was only sleeping since the sun had come up. He seemed so young to be personifying fear in such a real way, so sure of himself that he was willing to argue with me. In one short night, a place that was once a refuge for my son had become something to dread—his bed, where the scary lived.

Throughout the day, I struggled to distract him, since his tendency to obsess inevitably brought him back to his nightmare, like a song on repeat. The same thought kept creeping its way back into my day, gnawing at me, since I had no answer: How do I show him there is nothing to fear?

eclipseFor a while, his fears will involve toothy monsters and darkness, but someday his monsters will grow to include rejection, failure, and loneliness—these beasts are not as easy to dispel.

How do I show him there is nothing to fear?

I am no stranger to fear, panic, and anxiety, but it is my deepest desire and my frequent prayer, that by watching me, my children will learn to give fear no foothold, to dismiss it before it is nurtured within them. I have learned that to succumb to fear is to allow Satan to dictate my decisions, to steal my joy. In my weakness, my children will find strength.  

So, when the scary inevitably awakens tonight, I will fight for my son, the way I have fought off my own fear so many times. I will keep searching for a tool that dispels his fear until we find the most effective one. I will teach him that we are not to succumb to fear, but are to submit to our Father, who will be our refuge from every monster we could encounter or even imagine.

armorI will tell my sweet boy not to fear, for his mom has learned how to fight, and the weapon in her arsenal is guaranteed to defeat even the toothiest “scaries.” I cannot keep my boy from being afraid, but I can teach him how to use fear to bring him closer to his Father.

So tonight, I will lie beside him until the scary ebbs away as a restful sleep flows freely. I will sing to him, pray with him, and cuddle with him—no matter how long it takes to convince him he is safe. I will use whatever weapon I need to use to assure him there is nothing to fear, to assure him the “scaries” are not sleeping, are not hiding, but are in fact, not real.

More importantly, I will show him and teach him what it means to rest with the Father until every fear is swept away by His overwhelming peace. I will show him and teach him how to trust in a God you cannot see, how to dwell in his arms–the personification of safety. Because I have become a warrior against the most real of fears, I will raise my own army, my own warriors, and we will all be trained by the One who does not fear at all.

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