Category: devotional thoughts

Following, followers… it’s all a bit of a loaded term nowadays, isn’t it? In 2020, the word follow might be more likely to conjure up the notion of social media in your mind rather than the old standby meaning of actually –you know—going anywhere.

But way back when I was a kid, “follow” made me instantly think of just one thing.

via GIPHY

In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road because it would take her to the right destination: the Wizard and her ticket back to the arms of Auntie Em. She had a path marked out because she had someplace she needed to be. Now, there were obstacles along the way and her trip home didn’t end the way she thought it would – but the road she was following did lead her to the Emerald City, as promised.

On the other hand, the Lost Boys’ game of following the leader was much more precarious than Dorothy’s journey. Instead of following a marked path, the Lost Boys followed John – and as it turned out, John didn’t know his way around Neverland. They followed him right into a trap set by Tiger Lily’s father.

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A Path or A Person

That’s the thing about following. Whoever, or whatever, we follow has the ability to take us where we want and need to go… or lead us into dangerous territory.

Now, turn that coin over. Consider for a moment: who is following you?

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In your real life, I’m sure there are people who are going right where you lead them. They’re buying a product because you raved about it, or listening to a podcast that you recommended. If you’re a parent or a teacher, kids are following your approach to coping with hard times or they’re hoping to follow your footsteps to an alma mater.

Click to Follow

And then, there’s our social media lives. It’s interesting to me that so many platforms use the word “followers.”  When you click that little button on Twitter, is the person whose 280-character missives caught your attention really leading you anywhere?

I’d like to suggest that you are leading. So the question is, what direction are you taking your followers? Is it a destination worth visiting? Whether you are leading people toward brands and products, opportunities or inspiration, they are following you.

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I believe that we are all accountable to God for the way we influence others.

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:6

Does that scare you? Please, please, don’t be scared. (Well. I mean, take it seriously. Be sober-minded about the impact of those words. But don’t be afraid!)

Here’s the thing: we all need to be mindful of our words and our deeds, the photos we post and the memes we share. Those who are following us can either be helped –edified, encouraged, rebuked when necessary, pointed toward Jesus – or they can be hindered by the way we lead.

Everyone’s got followers. Where are you taking yours?

One final note: I’d be a lousy friend if I didn’t close by reminding you of the ONE person you can always trust to lead you.

Your husband is going to get it wrong sometimes. Your friend will point you toward a product that turns out to be a dud, or your mom will give you directions to her favorite store and get you totally lost on some back roads, or your favorite influencer will turn out to be photoshopping everything.

Human beings aren’t always worth following. But you can trust the One who said:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26

I will follow Him.

via GIPHY

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We’ve always been big fans of Disney animation (and Disney parks, and Disney pins, etc etc) and recently, I shared some of the faith lessons I see on display in Disney’s The Rescuers over at my friend Laura’s great blog.

Click the image to read the full post!

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Rows of peanut butter blossom cookies cooling on a wire rack. Click for link to recipe.

I’ve baked 216 cookies so far this month. The recipes and ingredients are lined up for another 276 by the end of this week. A few nights ago, my darling husband had the Unmitigated Confidence, the Unabashed Audacity, to ask, “Hey, you know these cookies? [flashes a photo of peanut butter blossoms on his phone] Could you make a batch for Christmas? I just really like them.”

I mean. Y’all. I’ve already prepared “Santa’s Whiskers,” and peppermint-cocoa cookies, peppermint meringues, and up next are M&M cookies, chocolate-covered cherry cookies, gingerbread, and another batch of meringues. AND HE ASKS FOR MORE? Just because he likes them?!

Dear reader, I told him I would bake them, if he picks up the bag of Hershey’s Kisses from the store.

screen capture of tweet dated 6:51 pm, 12/17/19

The evening of the cookie conversation, I tweeted: “I need to start asking for things I want, just because I like them, with that level of boldness.” (I was really only thinking about asking Chris. For stuff and nonsense. But then…)

The next morning, my Bible Reading Challenge took me to Luke 11 and I saw this:

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your SHAMELESS AUDACITY he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!””

Luke 11:5-13 (NIV) emphasis mine


It reminded me of how I’d felt when Chris asked for cookies. Even though I am already busy (like the man in the parable who’s already resting with his family), something about the sheer chutzpah of the request made me acquiesce.
Look at that passage again.

Asking for More

Do you see what I see? Down there after Jesus says that even human fathers give good things to their kids? He says that God the Father “much more” gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

I hadn’t noticed that part before. I had recklessly applied the notion of “ask/seek/knock” to persistent prayer about nearly anything. But I think I was missing an important point. Jesus’ concluding sentence tells us that our shameless audacity should be used to ask for the Holy Spirit’s presence and working in our lives.

And that puts me in mind of Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth. Go read all of chapters 12-14. He leads off this section of his letter with, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (12:1) and goes on to tell them at least three times to “earnestly desire” the gifts. In one spot he says “desire the higher gifts” (12:31), in another “especially that you may prophesy” (14:1), and concludes this way: “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (14:39-40).

So, friends, take this thought with you: are you asking God, with the Unmitigated Confidence, the Unabashed Boldness, the Shameless Audacity of a man who loves peanut butter blossoms… to give you the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit, especially the higher gifts?


Be bold. God loves you even more than a wife with forty-eleven dozen cookies to bake, and He gives more graciously and abundantly, too.

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Raise your hand if you hated AP Chemistry in high school.

How about Organic Chem in college? Raise your hand if that course nearly derailed your chosen major or served as a weed-out course at your school. (Confession: I actually didn’t have to take Organic Chem. I got college credit from my AP exam, and only had to take Science for Elementary School Teachers [not the actual course title] once I got to college. My husband majored in Bio and minored in Chem because he was pre-med, and the way he tells it Organic Chemistry was the class that made people decide how badly they reallllly wanted to pursue a career in medicine.)

So look: I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know a couple of things about this little guy right here:

blackboard sketch of serotonin molecule

Serotonin. This neurotransmitter* keeps our brains happy and healthy. It plays a role in our sleep cycles, moods, social impulses, memory, appetite, and even libido.

One of the things I do remember vividly from my (single, solitary, high school) chemistry class is the visual image of how neurotransmitters work. It’s like a lock in a key: our bodies release the key –the substance (in this case, serotonin) that is designed to fit precisely into receptor cells—the lock. When you’re deficient in serotonin, you have a bunch of empty locks, and a certain set of symptoms develops that is your body’s way of warning you: “We need more serotonin.”

You can boost your serotonin in natural ways, like changing your diet & exercise routines, light exposure or talk therapy, or by taking certain medications, if your body isn’t producing enough on its own.

Now unfortunately, what happens sometimes is that people turn to other substances to fill those empty locks. Some drugs work by mimicking our natural brain chemistry, and when we are talking about medications under a doctor’s supervision that can be a good thing. But if we abuse substances that mimic serotonin (for example, LSD or the THC in cannabis) then we are filling those locks with a synthetic “key” that may do way more harm than good.

illustration of lock-and-key brain chemistry mechanism

Our bodies can get the message, “we don’t need to make anymore serotonin, we have enough.” So by putting the wrong thing in the lock, we create a fault in the system — then we have too much of the real neurotransmitter in our bloodstream with no lock to attach to, or we have not enough because we’ve turned off the production. (That’s a really rough explanation of how illegal drugs work. Get a much more robust explanation here.)

Key to My Heart

I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know just a little about the way God wired me, and I know there’s a lot in the natural world that can paint good pictures of spiritual truths.

a brass heart-shaped lock lays beside a brass key

I have a hunch that our souls were designed with similar lock-and-key mechanisms. The receptor, the hole, the empty place deep inside us is meant to drive us to God. The symptoms we feel when that place is empty are supposed to sound a warning: “we need a Savior.”

Furthermore, I think that when we fill up our locks with knockoff keys – when we use counterfeit substances to soothe the ache and take away the emptiness—we deaden our sensitivity to our real need.

To put a finer point on it: I think one empty space we feel is our need for community. We use counterfeit keys: obsessive love, toxic friendships, smothering familial bonds. When we operate in our own power, we ruin relationships with selfishness and pride. The problem isn’t the need, though. The need for community is real. That hole is there because we are each imago Dei, made in the image of God, who exists in perfect fellowship within the Trinity. We have a need for unity, for wholeness with another, because God perfectly embodies unity and wholeness as He has always been in relationship as Father, Son, and Spirit.

Or maybe the aching cavern you feel is for justice. That, too, I believe is a created need within every human soul. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about justice! It’s that, this far from Eden, the way we go about seeking justice usually misses the mark. We veer too heavily into one ditch or the other, and we rarely feel satisfied that the person or cause we are fighting for will achieve pure justice. We have a lock that yearns for justice because God, our Creator, is perfectly just. His key fits the lock and assures us of the already-not yet tension that in Christ’s kingdom, justice is here but it is also still coming—to be consummated perfectly upon His return.

Whatever gap you feel in your soul, examine what fills it. Where we are using temporal, finite, quick & easy numbing agents—anything that feels good in the moment — are we willing to admit what we really require is the eternal, unchanging, fully-satisfying presence of God?









*some scientists say serotonin is really a hormone, not a neurotransmitter. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus within the medical community at this point.

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A fresh lemon arranged in two halves against a pair of green leaves.

Summer break started here last week, and already my kids are living it up. We’ve had an overnight at our family cabin, fires in the firepit (with s’mores, of course), pool days and popsicles and a new rainbow slip & slide for the backyard.

Today, we went to the pool in the morning and the library in the afternoon. (One kid picked two books, another picked 12, and the youngest picked 24. #justlikehermama) You’d think that would be enough fun for one summer day, but you’d be wrong.

My daughters, 10 and 7, love to bake. They’re still in the learning stage where they need an adult nearby for most of it, but I’m beginning to see glimpses of independent-recipe-followers, and I can hardly wait for that day!

After our library trip, they wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, I’d let our pantry supply of chocolate chips run out. So they turned to an old standby and started browsing.

They settled on lemon bars, a treat I’ve eaten other places and loved but have never baked at home! We had everything on hand and set to baking.

I was helping measure out the lemon juice when a bit splashed onto my fingers. It was a tiny bit of juice, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed–except that I have a little cut on my ring finger. (It’s one of those weird little scrapes just below the cuticles. Do y’all get those?)

As you can probably guess, I had a sharp intake of breath and bit my lip! OUCH. Oh, the burn. The sting!

Before the juice hit my skin, I hadn’t even been aware of that tiny little cut. Have you ever had something small, like a papercut or a nick from a razor, that you didn’t even sense until something irritating hit it?

I got to thinking: God’s Word works a lot like lemon juice on the papercuts of hidden sins in our lives. You know, some sins are big and flagrant. People are aware, usually, if they’re lying to people or swindling folks out of money or committing adultery or murder. But I’d bet that many of Christ’s followers are susceptible to letting small sins enter their lives, and they don’t even know it.

A couple of months ago, in my time with God’s word, I kept running up against the idea of self-centeredness. I did not think I was self-centered. The first few times I encountered verses like:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12:3-5

I was clapping and cheering: “Yeah, that’s right, y’all quit thinking of yourselves more highly than you ought.” But as weeks went by, I kept encountering verses like:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

And I started to feel that lemon-juice-on-a-papercut sting. The oooh, that’s me, Lord burn. I’m self-centered. I’m selfish. I feel resentful when I don’t get my way, when I have to work harder than I perceive someone else is, when my kids or spouse don’t seem to appreciate my role.

Maybe self-centeredness isn’t the hill you’re dying on. That’s okay. My point stands. You may very well have something in your heart, in your life, that’s sinful. And you don’t even know it’s there.

The best way to uncover it is to pour God’s word over yourself and see what stings.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

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Home staging is a big buzzword in real estate these days. You’ll hear about it on HGTV, and see it on the DIY network. Bloggers love to talk about staging, and it’s all over apps like Houzz and Pinterest.

If you haven’t dipped your toe in the staging waters, I’ll explain:

“Home Staging” is the act of turning a lived-in (or vacant) home into a neutral, appealing space for the purpose of attracting potential buyers. Home staging removes the personal touches of the current (or previous) occupants and creates a ‘blank slate’ where buyers can envision their own furniture, family, and life.

Home staging, my dears, is a pain in the butt. We’ve done some staging here – hid away the 5’x7′ rug to make the entry appear larger; slipcovered the ratty loveseat in our front room, tidied up the bookshelves (but a true home stager would make me pack 75% of those books and have ‘styled’ shelves); removed all the homeschool items, hung new curtains, and turned the schoolroom back into a dining room (but a real pro would probably make me create a faux ‘leaf’ to extend our dinky table and buy slipcovers for our ugly mismatched chairs). We reduced the items on the kitchen countertops (but if I were hardcore, it would be nothing but the KitchenAid and the Keurig!) and took most of the toys out of the family room (that room might pass ‘real’ muster, actually). Purged things from the kids’ rooms (again, probably a pass), but we didn’t change the office-slash-guest room (and a properly staged home has no dual purpose rooms. You’re supposed to pick one and make it shine!). Bought new handtowels for the powder room and hung the nicest towels in the other two bathrooms.

Living in a house which has been staged feels stilted. This is still my home, but it’s “off.” It’s like sitting in a nicely decorated hotel room. I feel awkward if I leave a dent in the sofa cushion. On the surface, it looks great – and it’s supposed to, that’s the point, for real estate purposes.

But today I was thinking about how many Christians are walking around fully staged. We are prepped and polished. We have packed away our unsightly clutter and mess – but it’s not really gone. We have hung up new curtains of humility, modesty, patience, grace – but there remains pride, greed, selfishness, anger.

We want to gleam and glow, and when others in the church ask how we’re doing, we give them our “listing” answer. (Four beautiful bedrooms! Gas fireplace! Eat-in-kitchen!) “I’m so blessed… Things are really busy, but we’re doing great….” I’m not saying that we’re being dishonest when we present these generic answers, exactly. After all, the houses on your local real estate market really DO have the features with the funny abbreviations: 4bd, FP, lg bkyd…. Right?

What I am saying, though, is that one of the functions of the body of Christ is to build each other up.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

It’s impossible* for me to help a sister shore up the foundation of her marriage if she never shares her fears or hurts. I can’t speak encouragement and hope into the heart of a friend who doesn’t confide her doubt and desperation. My Sunday School class recently finished a study of Romans 12, and the author used this passage to exhort his readers to build an authentic community with each other.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

“You can’t be a genuine part of this Body,” he said in one of the videos, “when you’re so busy keeping your mask on straight.”** And that’s the truth, y’all. I accept the challenge – and I hope you will, too – to take off a mask of holy-roller perfection, to stop “home staging” my life and my spiritual walk, to start sharing even my doubts and ugly moments. When I do, my brothers and sisters can step INTO their God-given calling to build me up! When I do, the saints around me may be emboldened to de-mask and de-mystify and share their own hurdles and difficulties, which gives me (and others) the chance to step up and serve my Lord by building them up.

 

 

___________

*I should add a note: we’ve probably all had times when an unknowing person did or said something profoundly needed which interceded in our lives at just the right moment. Those are great examples of times when the Holy Spirit prompts us to aid, even though we don’t know the specific need. But those examples don’t let us off the hook for being transparent and authentic with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
**I didn’t take perfect notes: that’s a paraphrase. 🙂

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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