No More Masks

As the days grow shorter and golden leaves fall from trees, we pack up Halloween decorations in preparation for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although a few costumes may linger in photos on the fridge, everything else is set aside for another year. However, there’s one thing that few of us ever put away: the everyday masks we live behind.

We all have masks of one sort or another.

Reasons vary. For some, our masks protect us from going too deep or being too real. For others, masks allow us to live more boldly as the alter ego we espouse. Still others crave physical and emotional connections, and we’ll do just about anything to keep others interested.

Whatever our reason for donning a mask, we use it to hide the truth.

Hiding the truth means we have secrets. Some are small. Some ignite fear. Some seem insurmountable. Some tear at our heart and prevent us from moving forward in life. Often we go to great lengths to hide the truth. Even if it means hiding behind a mask. Even if it means pretending to be someone we’re not.

We hide secrets because we’re afraid to let people know the real us. We don’t want people to know about our real life.

So we lock our secrets away and put on a mask. We put on a happy face. We pretend that we have it all together. We talk like we know what we’re doing, even though our confidence melts the minute we get home. We say everything is fine. We don’t let anyone get past the surface of who we are or where we’ve been.

Some of us wear our masks indefinitely.

Then one day someone we truly respect looks at us and says, “Who are you?” And the truth is that we don’t really know. We’ve been pretending to be someone else for so long that we’ve lost our identity.

We don’t know what we like. We don’t know what we want out of life. We’re numb and tired and empty. We’ve been trying to be who others want us to be. As the old Cheap Trick chorus sings, we’re desperate for real connection with others: we want them to want us, we need them to need us, and we’d love them to love us.

Desires for being wanted and needed and loved are normal. But we can’t lose ourselves as we pursue these desires. We can’t give ourselves away. We can’t wear masks to hide the truth. We can’t pretend to be someone we’re not just so others will like us and accept us into their crowd.

Thankfully, someone loves us just the way we are. Jesus.

No matter where we’ve been, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what has happened to us, Jesus loves us for who we are, right where we are. He created us and has specific plans for each one of us. He knows everything about us. He knows every hidden secret. He sees behind the mask. And He can turn all things to good if we turn to Him.

Jesus is calling you to come out from behind your mask.

He wants you to know that you’re never alone. He is with you, right now. And He doesn’t want you to be anyone else. He wants you to be you: the beloved child of God Most High who is wanted, needed, and loved by Him.

The only thing to hide behind is the love of Jesus. If we’re willing to approach His throne and receive His grace, we can say with confidence:

“You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory.” Psalm 32:7 (NLT)

Jesus loves us like no other. He is our strength. He is our hope and our shield. When we stand with the Lord, we don’t have to be afraid of being ourselves.

We find freedom in living out our truth.

Living out our truth begins with pressing into Jesus. And it then grows in our relationships with others. Yes, it’s scary to reveal our truths and our secrets to others. And I’m not suggesting we reveal all of our deepest secrets to everyone. Not everyone is safe. But Jesus is safe. Start with Him. And then seek out one person who you feel is trustworthy. Go slow, and be real. You don’t have to lay everything on the table. But be intentional about genuinely desiring to know and be known. And commit to being a safe person for them. Pray for God to lead you, and as you build trust in each other, begin to lay down your mask more and more.

How we lay our mask down for Jesus and for others will be different. Jesus knows everything about us already. He is our safe place. And when we walk with Him, He’ll lead us in growing deeper, authentic friendships with others. This is what sisterhood and brotherhood are all about––walking the journey of life together sans masks.

Let’s put our masks aside and take a courageous step toward living in the freedom of our truth. #NoMoreMasks

What’s Your Superpower?

If you were approached by a genie wanting to grant you one wish for any superhero power, what would you ask for? It’s a strange question, but seriously, take a moment and think about it. What superpower would you want and why?

My first thought: ask for something I could use in the battle between good and evil––like the ability to open people’s minds to understand truth versus lies. But this superpower risks grave repercussions like when someone asks, “Do you mind staying an extra hour?” or “How do these jeans look on me?” No, I don’t think opening people’s minds to full truth is a superpower for which I want to take responsibility.

After careful review, which took more time than I care to admit, my superpower wish would be… drum roll, please… to fly!

Can you imagine? I never really thought about having the ability to fly. But now that I am thinking about it, how cool would it be to straighten a dashing cape, push off, and jet into the blue horizon? Talk about the ultimate rush! I would love it––as long as we’re merely playing around. But because we’re now superheroes with this power (yes, I’m making the assumption that you’d join me in this superpower), we’d have to fly in the infamous battle of good v. evil. Have we thought this through? Once we take the first leap to go save someone, how would we know where we’re going? Internal GPS wasn’t an option with the “one wish” plan. Neither was the ultrasonic hearing that allows us to distinguish the voices of those in distress. And jiminy cricket, the commercial airliners aren’t respecting our airspace! Maybe having only one superpower with no augmenting side-powers isn’t enough.

All kidding aside, many of us wish we could fly in life.

Just once, we’d like to truly soar. To break free of limitations that keep us down. To break free of everything that holds us back. Physically or metaphorically, we want to fly!

We may pursue moments of escape, of adventure, of thrill and adrenaline. But even if we were to skydive, hang glide, or float in a hot air balloon, we’re not mounting up on wings like birds. We’re not soaring. Gravity pulls us down and we’re falling. Back to reality. Short-lived experiences of escape, whatever they might be, don’t allow us to rise up. They don’t help us break free. To truly rise above real life, we must learn to soar.

God teaches us how.

“Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will mount up and soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

We soar by tapping into God’s power. By allowing Him to be the wind beneath our wings that lifts us to new heights. By placing our hope securely in Christ because His steadfast character will never change. By walking with Him day-by-day as He guides us through our dark valleys to the other side.

We soar by resting in Him so He can renew our strength and prepare us for the season ahead.

Those who trust in God enough to wait for Him and learn from Him will soar like never before. And nothing compares to flying the mountains and valleys of life with God Himself.

We can fly!

Work in Heaven?

As Labor Day approaches, most Americans anticipate a well-deserved day off work. For many of us, the daily grind has become just that––a complete grind––and we regularly count down the days to weekends, holidays, vacations, and even retirement (5,406 days for me). But what if work isn’t supposed to be a grind? And what if our work doesn’t end with our time on earth?

Have you ever considered what the Bible reveals about work in heaven?

We know that the Bible represents one continuous story from Genesis through Revelation, and God’s story starts in a Garden (Gen 1–2) and ends in a City (Rev 21–22). This Garden to the City progression illustrates cultural creation and development: also known as “work.”

Three important truths shape a biblical view of work. If we don’t believe these truths, or if we don’t live and work as if we believe these truths, our lives and our work will be negatively impacted:

  • God is a worker, and as imagers of God we too are workers. God worked to create the earth and everything in it. So too He created humanity as His image-bearers to continue His work through talents, skills, and passions He cultivates in each one of us. We are created to create––to develop––to manage––to expand––to work. And God calls us today to join His work in the world (Eph 2:10).
  • Good life-giving work existed before the Gen 3 curse and continues today. Discussing the impact of the curse on work will have to wait for a future blog, but what cannot wait is emphasizing that good work––work done with excellence––exists today, and good work pleases God no matter what type of work it is.
  • Our view of work should reflect our view of heaven––and more specifically our view of the Holy City described in Revelation. This is where I want to challenge us today.

First, God confirms that the good work of His image-bearers throughout history will be integrated into the eternal, Holy City. Rev 21:24–27 confirms, “The kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it…. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it.” This means the work we do today creating, developing, managing, and expanding has eternal impact through the culture we make, the cultural artifacts produced, and the people we support and influence.

Second, when we think about the eternal City to come (Rev 21:1–2), we know for sure that God will dwell with His people and there will be no tears, no death, no mourning, no crying, and no pain (Rev 21:3–4). God said, “I am making everything new” (Rev 21:5), indicating that His work of creation and development will continue––but in the context of the New Jerusalem. And just as God chooses to do much of His work on earth today through human agents, we should anticipate that much of the work in the new earth will be done via the creative talents and skills of His image-bearers.

Third, God reveals specifics of the Holy City which allow us to grasp a greater vision of work through eternity. Yes, beautiful music will resound from a heavenly choir (and probably an orchestra), but in addition, many of us non-musicians will likely continue the good works of our Creator. Think back to how God gave the plans for the tabernacle to Moses, and then His people executed these plans. David too had plans for the first temple in Jerusalem, and Solomon employed craftsmen, stonecutters, and artisans to create it. Now consider these aspects of the New Jerusalem:

  • City foundations decorated with every kind of precious stone––including sapphire, emerald, topaz, and amethyst (Rev 21:19–20)––will need civil engineers, stone masons, jewelers, and miners to build them
  • The great high wall made of jasper, gold, and glass (Rev 21:18) will use architects, glassblowers, and metal smiths to create them
  • Twelve gates covered in pearls (Rev 21:12, 21) and streets of pure gold (Rev 21:21) will need designers, metal workers, and divers to fashion them
  • The river running down the middle of the great street (Rev 22:1-2) will have promenades needing workers and artisans to construct them
  • The Tree of Life which bears different crops of fruit every month (Rev 22:2) will need horticulturists, gardeners, and farmers tending and distributing them
  • Leaves of the tree of life used for healing of the nations (Rev 22:1-2) will use doctors, pharmacists, and nurses to develop and administer them

Truly the New Jerusalem is a City of Delight! And all of these features of the Holy City signal that good work will continue through eternity because our God, the Creator, never changes. And since we, His servants, will reign with Him for ever and ever (Rev 22:3–5), we must consider that the good works prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10) encompass more than just what has been prepared for us today.

Friends, your work is valuable. Your work has eternal impact. Your work contributes to culture and supports families and communities. And the people you interact with through work encounter Christ’s disciple each day.

I encourage you to take some time today to look at your work from an eternal perspective. Does your view of work reflect your view of heaven? How would you describe your work to Jesus? How would Jesus describe your work to you?

As a final note, Rev 19 describes the white horse Jesus will ride when He returns, along with the horses of heaven’s armies. This indicates heaven has stables. Oh what joy! I’m hoping the Holy City has stables too, and that my eternal work is at the barn!


Better to Have Loved & Lost?

Think about a time when you wholeheartedly loved someone and felt adored by them. As you think about that person––spouse, parent, boyfriend or girlfriend, sibling, child––how would you describe that love? What emotions or feelings come to mind?

I think of: expectation, joy, excitement, purpose, belonging, peace, contentment, hope.

As human beings, we cannot live healthy, abundant, prolonged lives without love. We are created to love. We long for love. We will do crazy things to show our love. But at some point in our lives, we will all lose love. What then?

  • A husband sits silently, mourning the end of 50 years with his beloved bride.
  • A young mother whispers goodbye to her newborn after seven short days together.
  • A twelve-year-old weeps over her father’s coffin.

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Is that true?

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 19th century British poet laureate, penned these famous words after the death of a loved one. Most of us who have experienced the loss of someone we desperately loved would begrudgingly agree. Even on our hardest days, cherished memories mix with sorrow. Although the dagger of loss cuts deep at times, nothing compares with our time together and the love we shared. Those can never be taken from us.

But what if we “lose” someone to divorce or breakup? Then is it better to have loved and lost? What if we loved someone but they didn’t truly love us back? What if they used us? What if they hurt us––mentally or physically? Is it better to have loved and lost? As someone who has experienced all of these, I admit there is no clear answer.

What I can say without a doubt: There is a love that will never fail us.

Even though life bears loss, pain, and regret, there is love waiting to hold us tight. Even though there will be times when we fiercely desire intimacy and belonging, there is love calling us to draw near. No matter where we’ve been, what we’ve done, or what has happened to us, there is someone who loves us passionately and unconditionally. He loves us no matter what. He loves us right where we are for who we are. Who is He? Our Savior, Jesus Christ. He died for us so that we can live beyond death and experience His eternal love.

In my darkest days, I have clung to God’s Word. Love is used over 600 times in the Bible, and here’s a taste of what God tells us about love:

  • God is love. (1 John 4:8)
  • This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
  • This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. (1 John 3:16)
  • Whoever loves God is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:3)
  • Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)
  • I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

God’s love is eternal. God’s love is unchanging. God’s love is sacrificial. God’s love is perfect.  God’s love is poured out for you and for me through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Friend, if you’re longing for love past or future, know that you’re not alone. Embrace your desire as a hope for the eternal love of God––love which heals; love which brings new life; love which He wants to share with you today. Reach out to Jesus in prayer and press into His love. Cling to God’s Word and be lifted by the truth of His love. And by His strength, may you dwell in the richness of His eclipsing love.


2018: The Year of Open Doors

As we approach the mid-point of the year, most New Year’s resolutions are a faint and distant memory. High hopes for 2018 smacked into overloaded schedules and the realities of our daily To Do’s. Many of us are slogging into summer, yet we still muster hope for new opportunities and renewed purpose.

What if the remainder of this year could become a doorway to new opportunities for each one of us? What if 2018 could still become “The Year of Open Doors” for you?

The idea of a year possessing special meaning is nothing new. In Chinese culture, each year is themed on one of twelve zodiac animals, and many people still believe the characteristics of each animal impact the years and people they’re associated with.

Jewish culture too is rooted in “special years,” although today many of the customs have been set aside. According to the Old Testament, every seventh year was celebrated as a sabbatical year in which fields were left dormant and all debts were released (can I get an Amen!). And every 50th year was a Year of Jubilee––an entire year with no agricultural work (in an agricultural society), and a year during which all land reverted to its original owner and all indentured servants were set free. Now that’s worth celebrating!

In Western culture, we don’t corporately assign specific meaning to one year or another. Instead, we ring in each new year with a countdown, large gatherings with lots of good eats and drinks, and the annual resolution of better choices to induce new habits. Many of us also include prayers for new opportunities leading to new direction. But often we keep our prayers to ourselves as we wait on God.

Over the last few months, my prayers for “new doors of opportunity” to open have intensified.

I’ve been knocking, knocking, knocking but they remain closed. My doors are associated with my work in the “faith and work” space, and these are God-size doors that only He can open. Although I cannot do anything to open these new opportunities myself, the way I join God in this effort is to continue networking/equipping/knocking as I faithfully seek Him and lay these doors before Him.

A month ago, I enlisted several friends to begin praying with me.

I gave them a list of specific doors I’m knocking on and I asked them to join me in prayer for these doors to open. Then last week, my friend shared an article about 2018 being “the year of the open door.” Although I do not readily espouse contemporary prophesy, what came to mind was the idea of corporately recognizing this year as a “special year” and praying for open doors together as a community of Christ-followers. Even the apostle Paul recognized the significance of open doors when he wrote, “I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me” (1 Cor 16:8–9).

So what if, as the Body of Christ, we pray in unison each day for new doors to open––doors which, when opened, will bring glory to God?

What if we rejoice in God’s goodness and power, and His ability to open doors we can’t? What if we delight in God, His strategic plan, and the good work He prepared specifically for each one of us (Eph 2:10)? What if together we lay our requests for open doors on the altar as we worship Him? What if we faithfully approach the throne of grace each day together in prayer, and intercede for one another? What if each time we knock on one of our doors, we use our knocking as a prompt to pray for others who are also knocking on their doors?

What if 2018 becomes “Our Year of Open Doors”––a profoundly special year in the calendar of our lives? Are you in? I am!

I realize that confidentiality is often required when praying for our closed doors. But we can still be praying in unison because Jesus and the Holy Spirit, who also intercede for us before the Father (Rom 8:26, 34), know all the details! So, for anyone who wants to kneel together and inter-lock shields of faith, please let me know how I can be praying for you. For me, please pray for the 8 closed doors I’m laying before God.

Thank you, sisters and brothers, for jubilantly celebrating “The Year of Open Doors” through corporate prayer. I expectantly anticipate our joyful festivities at the end of the year––not to ring in another non-descript annum, but rather to praise God for all of the amazing new doors He opened June–December in “Our Year of Open Doors.” I can’t wait to share our details of all that God did!

Until then… PRAISE and AMEN!!!

Sit Among Your Weeds

Today I start with a confession: I’ve been struggling. I know situations won’t always turn out the way I think they should, and often things are much more difficult than expected. But for the last six weeks my life has been like wading through a sulfur mud pit, taking on darts from a hidden adversary. I’m not one to air my dirty laundry for all the world to see, but I admit that my challenges encompass overwhelming obstacles, disheartening misunderstandings, and nagging frustrations:

  • damage to my car
  • a vandalized fence
  • discord in key decisions
  • new doors of opportunity remaining closed
  • heirloom crystal pitcher––broken
  • favorite blue shorts––ruined
  • expensive new spring bulbs and plants––dug up and eaten by rabbits and squirrels
  • a health scare without decisive resolution
  • worry about aging family members
  • a revolving door of contractors making repairs in our home, continually fixing what other contractors messed up

Weeds are the straw that broke the camel’s (my) back, so to speak. The last little burden that became unbearable. But from my weeds emerged a transformative message from God…

It all started when weeds infested our newly sodded lawn. Unfortunately, new sod can’t be treated for weeds until the grass takes root––about two months after coming out of dormancy. So although the sod was laid in early December, no weed treatment could be applied until end of April. And although grass in Dallas goes dormant in the winter, weeds do not. So for five months those weeds had a heyday!

I spent hours upon hours trying to pull up these unsightly weeds, hardly stopping their progression. But slowly I became aware of the Spirit nudging me every time I thought about the menacing weeds.

After two weeks of wondering what the Lord was trying to say as I uprooted and mulled over weeds, I visited a friend and mentioned the Spirit’s prompting. She prayerfully considered my ordeal, and then she responded with a quote from Teresa of Avila: “Learn to sit amongst the weeds with God as Gardener, not the self.”

  • Learn to sit among the weeds. Learn to sit among my weeds.

She then referenced Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matt 13:24–30) in which a man sowed good wheat seeds into a field, but his enemy came behind him and sowed weeds into that same field. God allowed the weeds to be planted and take root, and as both wheat and weeds grew, the man had to wait––living with the weeds in his field until harvest time.

  • Learn to sit among the weeds with God as Gardener, waiting for Him to pull them up.

When I returned home, I took a beach chair out to my front lawn and I sat among my weeds.

I prayed and journaled. I admitted my embarrassment of unsightly weeds. I laid down the burden of trying to pull up weeds day after day after day. I released my frustration of the contractor suggesting sod be laid in December instead of March. And I realized that my weeds were representative of many challenges and frustrations in every aspect of my life.

Life is full of weeds.

Confession opened the door to understanding. God allows weeds to take root and spring up in our lives. Some weeds need to be removed. But some weeds become a daily reminder to turn to, trust in, and wait on God.

For the first time, I found peace with my weeds.

As I sat and watched them slowly sway in the breeze, three truths arose:

  • I’m a gardener, but I’m not the Gardener. God the Father is the Gardener of the world, including my life––and yours. All we have and all we are come from Him and are for Him. He makes the garden we live in grow. He also allows weeds to intermix with our circumstances. So in every aspect of life, our attention needs to fix on the Gardener, not the weeds and not ourselves. He provides wisdom, discernment, and instruction. Each day, as we walk with Him in the garden and become more attentive to His promptings, we learn to focus on Him above all stresses and distractions. Weeds no longer stand as a consuming daily ordeal.
  • Our treasure is Jesus Christ, not anything tangible. Jesus confirmed, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). I love beautiful gardens and a lush, manicured lawn. And although fragrant blossoms, vibrant colors, and delicate textures evoke praise for the Creator, my one true treasure is my Savior. For all Christ-followers, His life is the eternal gift bestowed upon us. He is our Treasure today, tomorrow, and forever. We cannot allow ourselves to be consumed with temporal things, even those that are for a good purpose.
  • There is no perfect shalom this side of heaven. Shalom is a Hebrew word often translated as “peace”––but it means more than that. Shalom depicts the way things are supposed to be in God’s perfect creation without sin and death. In this life, we will all have good times and hard times, but things will never truly be the way they are supposed to be. We won’t experience God’s perfect shalom until we reach our eternal destination with Him. But even among our weeds, we get a glimpse of His sovereignty and promise for vibrant life everlasting.

Anything can become a weed that permeates life and becomes a drain: work issues, cravings and temptations, strained relationships, and even incessant small frustrations of daily life that pile up. Sometimes our weeds are sins to be uprooted. And sometimes our weeds are relationships, situations, or challenges that God allows in order to turn our focus and trust to Him.

Sit among your weeds.

Don’t obsess. Get comfortable and allow Christ’s shalom to penetrate their presence. Be attentive to His promptings. Lay your weeds before God and prayerfully wait. Seek Him on what to do or not to do. Focus on the Gardener, not the weeds. He is our Creator, our Protector, our Provider, our Guide. He is our Treasure.

What are the weeds in your life?


Consider My Bluebonnets

Have you ever seen a field of Texas bluebonnets? If you’re not a native Texan, you may not have heard of bluebonnets or appreciate the annual spring hubbub. I certainly didn’t. Until last weekend.

After 10 years in the Lone Star State, I went on my first bluebonnet drive––along with 100 others in our caravan of cars following the Bluebonnet Trail through Bristol and Ennis. Field after field after field emerged as we twisted and turned through the sun-drenched countryside.

Bluebonnets are to Texas what tulips are to Holland, azaleas are to Augusta, and cherry blossoms are to Washington, D.C. They integrate with culture. They draw annual pilgrimages. They display intricate artistry. But what makes the royal plumage of bluebonnets so remarkable is the fact that they are WILD. Bluebonnets are wildflowers. Dancing in the breeze along the road. Blanketing whole hills and fields. Brightening pastures and lining gravel driveways. These flowers aren’t planted or cultivated or pruned or fertilized. Rather, seeds are strewn in the wind and behold: exquisite beauty arises.

After the hourlong drive concluded, I broke off from the group, circled back along the route, and sat in a field among the delicate azure spires. I took a deep breath, surprised by the sweet floral aroma, and the words of Jesus came to mind: “Consider how the wildflowers grow…”

Luke 12:27–31 “Consider how the flowers grow; they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, how much more will He clothe you, you people of little faith! So do not be overly concerned about what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not worry about such things. For all the nations of the world pursue these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, pursue His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

“Consider” means: Turn your attention to; gaze and reflect upon; listen intently; think carefully about in order to make a decision.

Among the tiny swaying steeples, it was as if Jesus was whispering, “Consider My bluebonnets…”

Consider My bluebonnets…

  • Not even King Solomon in all of his glory was ever clothed as beautifully and majestically as these opulent wildflowers. My bluebonnets are created and cared for with love. How much more will you, My masterpiece, be cared for by the Creator of the Universe.

Consider My bluebonnets…

  • They don’t toil or spin or worry. You don’t need to worry. You are the beloved child of God Most High, and your Heavenly Father adores you. I adore you. I know what you need and I will provide. Rest in My presence and soak up the fragrance of beauty.

Consider My bluebonnets…

  • Don’t pine over what you don’t have. Don’t focus your efforts on the riches of this world. Instead, pursue Me. Run after Me. Seek Me first in every day, in every situation, in every struggle, in every doubt. I am with you. I am what you need first. Everything else will follow.

Whether considering bluebonnets or tulips or azaleas or cherry blossoms or lilies or roses or any other blooming kaleidoscope, turn your attention to… gaze and reflect upon… listen intently for… think carefully in order to make a decision about… Jesus.

He is Creator. He is Provider. He is Sustainer. He is Savior. He is Love. He is Hope. He is Compassion. He is Forgiveness. He is Life. He is mine and He is yours.

“Consider My bluebonnets…”

What is Jesus whispering to you?


A Promise from God

I’m honored to now be blogging on

Whether our requests are big or small, most of us have wondered at one time or another if God hears our prayers. Does God really care? He’s Creator of the universe. He’s busy dealing with wars and famine and asteroids and floods. He’s leading an army of angels, and He’s helping people who lost loved ones in tragedies. With everything going on in this crazy, mixed-up world, does God want to hear and respond to our prayers, even those for a new job, loneliness, a persistent cough, or help paying bills?

In a word: Yes!

God promises that His powerful Presence resides with His children through the toughest of times AND our day-to-day challenges. Zephaniah provides details of God’s commitment:

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

What does this mean for Christ-followers today?

God is with you. Always. Putting faith in Jesus Christ means believing that through His death and resurrection He paid the full price for all your sins––past, present, and future. Nothing separates you from the love and forgiveness of our triune God. You’ve been granted a full pardon through grace. You’ve entered into an eternal relationship with Him. He’s your devoted Father. He’s your unfailing Savior, Jesus Christ. He’s your Counselor and Provider, the Holy Spirit who indwells you. There is nowhere you can wander beyond His reach. He is with you always. Press into Him.

God is powerful, and He continues to save. As Easter approaches, we turn our eyes to the Cross. God gave His beloved Son as a sacrifice in our place so that we can spend eternity with Him. Christ saved us once for all! But He doesn’t stop there. He continually rescues each one of us from fear and the daily trials of life. God is still the God of resurrection, and He assures you that no matter where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or what has happened to you, you can walk forward in new life with Him. The NET Bible translates this, “He is a warrior who can deliver,” and the Good News Translation says, “His power gives you victory.” God takes action on your behalf, and He is worthy of trust in every situation. Trust Him.

God delights in you. God loves you passionately as His precious child. You’re created in His image, you’re created for purpose, and He truly delights in who you are. He loves you with all your talents, preferences, interests––even your hang-ups. You bring overwhelming joy to Him, and His desire is that you share life with Him each and every day. Love Him and delight in Him.

God quiets you with His love. He quiets you when you’re afraid. When you doubt. When you’ve got nothing left to give. When you struggle with shame, guilt, regret. God wraps you in His arms and holds you tight. He whispers through His Word. He comforts you with hope and shalom––His perfect peace. Be still, listen, and receive Him.

God sings over you with joyful songs. As a loving mother sings lullabies to her child, God sings over you. He rejoices as He watches over you. He blesses you. He holds you. He never grows weary as He expectantly awaits each new moment with you. Rest in Him.

Does God care for you? Yes! He intimately knows you and loves you. And He promises that His powerful Presence will reside with you, always.

Let’s Talk: How have you experienced God’s presence in your life?

May I pray? Heavenly Father, we don’t always understand how You truly care for us when our problems seem shadowed by everything happening in the world. We praise You that You’re so much bigger than we can ever fully comprehend! Thank You for adopting us and loving us as Your children, even when we don’t feel like we’re worthy. Thank You for rescuing us in our daily trials. Thank You for celebrating our lives and the plans You have for us, even when we can’t see beyond our circumstances. Help us to turn to You today and be filled with Your peace and hope. Amen.

The Intersection of Faith and Work

It’s my honor to be guest blogging on this spring.  I started with my first workplace blog…

We all work. Our workplaces may look different––office building, restaurant, school, home, gym, church, mall––but our work shares a commonality: intrinsic value to God’s Kingdom. Before you brush aside the idea of your daily work having eternal value, consider this: We all interact with people through work who have never heard the Good News or seen it lived out. Unfortunately, few workplace believers view themselves as God’s ambassadors called to the workplace. And many believers incorrectly believe that work is a result of the Genesis 3 curse. Consequently, work often remains something between drudgery and a means to a better life.

So how do faith and work intersect?

We long to discover our true purpose in life. Paul confirms that believers are God’s masterpiece––His poema––created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). We step out in faith each day as disciples of Jesus Christ, but do we continue our faith walk at work? What if…

What if Jesus is already working in your workplace, and He’s inviting you to join Him?

What if joining Christ at work leads to the good works God prepared in advance for you to do?

What if you were designed with your unique skills, experience, and gifting to significantly impact the lives of your co-workers, both now and for eternity?

For most of us, embracing a workplace calling requires a change in perspective of God and of work. Enter four key truths:

  1. God is a worker. He’s a Creator, Provider and Sustainer. He’s a Gardener and Carpenter. He’s a Teacher and Counselor. From Genesis 1–2 to Revelation 21–22 God works.
  2. God created humans in His image and charged us to carry on His work (Gen 1:27–28). After creating the earth and everything in it, God proclaimed all good and very good. But by God’s design, creation was not finished. God blessed His human peeps and commissioned them to continue the work of forming and developing. Then and now, God desires and expects His people to create culture through work.
  3. God uniquely gifts and equips believers to live as “sent ones” in the world. Just as Jesus completed His work as a “sent one” (John 16:5, 17:4, 21–23), so too He calls us to carry on His work in the world as “sent ones” (John 17:18; Acts 1:8).
  4. As children of Almighty God, our work matters. Our work contributes to the common good, and we live out our faith in the way we work (1 Cor 10:31). Yet, one of the most important aspects of work is our workplace tribe. All of Jesus’ work was and is relational. Ours is too.

God calls all believers…

God calls all believers to live and work as His ambassadors in the world (2 Cor 5:17-20). Whether or not we have the gift of evangelism, we have daily purpose in living out our faith as contributing members of the workplace community. How? By working hard and with integrity. By building genuine friendships and loving others well. By treating co-workers, customers, and vendors with kindness and respect, and bringing the power of prayer into their everyday lives, even though they may never know it.

Through our care for others, the Lord will open opportunities for us to talk about the love and hope of Jesus. To openly pray for and with others. To share how Christ has transformed our lives and how He can transform theirs.

Friends, we step onto a strategic mission field each day we show up to work. Start a conversation with God and ask Him to reveal how He’s working at your work. Ask how you can join Him. Then boldly enter the valuable intersection of faith and work.

Which Way Did He Go?

Have you ever been watching someone in a mall or store and you glance away for a split second, and when you turn back that person is gone? It’s as if they vanished into thin air! Your eyes scan the area searching, searching… Anyone with kids experiences this regularly. Absence triggers panic as we frantically look for our lost ones. Peace doesn’t return until everyone is accounted for.

Kids or no kids, this same panic engulfs each of us when our circumstances swirl.

A lost job. A crumbling marriage. Bills that just can’t be paid. An ominous diagnosis. A bully that won’t quit. Pain too deep to share. Loneliness. Emptiness. Boredom. Regret and shame that won’t set us free. Our circumstances may vary but the fear, sorrow and despair we feel are real to all of us.

How do we rise above our real life circumstances to find peace and hope?

I heard a story recently about a class at a Christian college. Two chairs were side by side in the front of the auditorium with two men sitting in them. The professor told the class to stay focused on both men. But then the men got up and started walking in opposite directions. The students had to choose which man to follow because it was impossible to look back and forth when the men left the room and went into separate hallways. At the end of the exercise the professor told the class that these men represented Jesus and our circumstances.

The lesson: It’s impossible to fix our eyes on both Jesus AND circumstances. We have to pick one or the other. And if we choose to focus on our circumstances, suddenly it’s as if Jesus is gone.

Two opposite choices. Jesus leads us forward on a path of peace and hope. Our circumstances take us down a twisting road of uncertainty and fear. We know which path we’d rather choose, but how can we stay focused on Jesus? One way is to stop rewinding the tapes in our mind of what’s going wrong and instead believe Jesus is our loving Shepherd who leads us through the darkest times into the next season. Consider reading and praying through Psalm 23. Remember that Jesus loves us so much He died for us. The joy of spending eternity with us was His motivation for enduring His horrific circumstances.

Through Jesus’ strength we can endure our circumstances too.

No matter where we are in life and no matter where we’ve been, Jesus is ready to lead us forward. But we have to keep our eyes fixed on Him. No switching back between Jesus and our circumstances. We must pick just one.

Who or what are you focusing on today?

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3

Let’s talk: Why is it harder to focus on Jesus than our circumstances?

May I pray? Lord Jesus, it’s so easy to get caught up in the swirl of our circumstances. Help us learn to take a step back and turn our eyes and thoughts to You alone. Thank You that You are mightier than any problem we face. Your peace can calm every storm. May we trust You as our Shepherd leading us through the darkness into new life ahead. In Your powerful Name I pray. Amen.

Why “Do Good” For No Reason?

Have you ever felt like you were wasting your time trying to do something good? You go out of your way to lend a hand. You hold a door and smile, hoping to brighten a glum person’s day. You take the first step toward reconciliation.

And each time you wonder why you bothered. There’s no acknowledgment of the effort made. No appreciation. No reciprocation.

Even if we genuinely want to help others without expecting anything in return, it is hurtful when there’s no response or, worse yet, a bad response to our good efforts. Often “doing good” doesn’t seem to make a difference. So why keep trying?

On the wall of her home for orphaned children in Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa wrote this:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

In her song “Anyway” Martina McBride expresses similar encouragement to keep doing good:

You can spend your whole life building something from nothing. One storm comes and blows it all away. Build it anyway.

This world’s gone crazy. And it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. Believe it anyway.

You can love someone with all your heart for all the right reasons. And in a moment they can choose to walk away. Love them anyway.

God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good. When I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should. But I do it anyway.

Truth is that the results we see and experience from our “good” efforts are not the full story. Doing good is about allowing God’s love to flow through us, not seeing a good outcome. By doing good we’re planting seeds in the lives of others. They may be in a dark or desperate place when we reach out a hand to help, and we may not receive any acknowledgement or appreciation. But we need to reach out anyway. Our gesture of kindness and love may be a spark that lights a new fire of hope in their life.

We also gain by doing good because our roots of trust in God grow deeper. Even when our prayers aren’t answered the way we think they should be, we allow God to transform us when we turn our focus from our circumstances to helping others.

At the end of the day, we’re called to love others with the same love Jesus has for us. By doing good without expectation of anything in return, we’re living in His love and opening our heart to be filled with His joy.

So even if doing good doesn’t seem to make a difference, do good anyway. And let the love and joy of Jesus overflow in your life.

“‘When you obey Me you are living in My love, just as I obey My Father and live in His love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your cup of joy will overflow!’” John 15:10-11 (TLB)

Let’s talk: What is something you “do anyway” even though you’re not sure it makes a difference?

May I pray? Jesus, thank You for loving us, and loving others through us. Lift our spirits and encourage us today to do good, even if it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Help us to see others from Your loving perspective. May we joyfully reach out to help and encourage them, including our sisters in Christ. Amen.

When Enough is Never Enough

When was the last time you had everything you wanted? If we’re honest about it, the answer is never. We may have times of true contentment when we’re so thankful for the many blessings in our life. But then we walk by a store window or see an ad or catch a glimpse of something shiny going by.

Spend a little here. Save up for something big. Splurge to lift our spirits. Our focus turns to what we want. What we don’t have. Really, what is enough?

Envy, jealousy, covetousness (wanting what someone else has)–these may sound like “Bible words” but they’re actually emotions that permeate the human heart and mind. They ignite the continual pursuit of more. More than we have. More than we need. We justify our pursuits of more by saying we want to make sure we have enough. Just in case.

The problem is that we focus on what we want, what we don’t have, what others do have–and a bitterness develops against God. We feel like we should have these things. Especially if other people who aren’t interested in God have these things. We start doubting God’s goodness. We start wondering if He’ll really provide for us. We hear sermons saying that if we’re good, and follow God’s ways, and go to church He’ll bless us financially. But that’s not happening.

Is that really what God says?

Here’s what God says: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10

God says, “Honor Him.” First offer what you have as a sacrifice–your money, the best of what you have, your first receipts not your leftovers–and offer these joyfully to Him. First honor God. Then you will receive abundance.

But this isn’t a prosperity message. This is a heart issue.

If we’re giving to God expecting a multiplied return of cash, we won’t get it. Not from Him. God isn’t looking for a bribe or kickback. He doesn’t tell us to scratch His back and then He’ll scratch ours. God is asking us to honor Him by making a joyful offering from what we’ve already received. To praise Him with what He has given us, thus acknowledging that we wouldn’t have anything if it weren’t for Him.

God’s point is that when our hearts are aligned with Him, when we love Him enough to want to honor Him, when we joyfully offer the best of what we have even if it is small, we’re giving God our full trust and devotion. And whether or not we receive financial gain in return, our lives will be overflowing–through our love relationship with Him and the life of purpose we’re living.

We should work hard. God wants us to be engaged in our communities and society as a whole. And as our loving Father, He wants to bless us with gifts and surprises and fun things to enjoy. The question comes back to: What’s enough? What treasure are we seeking? Where is our focus? Is it on what we want and don’t have? Or is it on God?

Where our treasure is, there our heart and mind and focus will be as well. We can store up treasures in heaven and live joyfully in contentment with what we do have here on earth. Or we can store up treasures on earth and battle envy, jealousy, and covetousness because what we have is never enough.

What treasure is on your radar?

“‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’” Matthew 6:19-21

Let’s talk: What treasure is on your radar?

May I pray? Lord, we’re bombarded each day with messages of more, more, more! What we have is never enough by our world’s standards. Help us to step back today and see things from Your perspective. Sit with us as we take assessment of our blessings and praise You for all that we do have! Then please speak as we bring to You the list of treasures we have on our radar. May our first desire be to honor You with all that we have, and may we grow in our love for You as we joyfully give to You the best of all You have given us. Amen.

Cross the Starting Line – Just Start!

Have you ever been at the start of something new and felt butterflies? Whether it’s a race, a new job, the first day of school, a speaking engagement, or even a first date, we all feel those flutters of excitement mixed with fear. We’ve been waiting and planning for this day, but what if… What if we can’t keep up? What if we don’t have the right skills? What if we forget what we’re supposed to say? What if they don’t like us? What if…

So here’s a question: Is it harder for you to cross the starting line or the finish line?

This week I initially answered “finish line.” I considered the effort it takes to run the race, or do a good job on a hard project, or earn good grades. Getting to the finish line is no easy task.

But then I thought about how many of us fear what it might take to finish, so much that we never get started.

We may be able to push and pull ourselves all the way up to the starting line, but when it comes time to take that first step of faith and commit to moving forward, we stop dead in our tracks. We give up our dream. We stay in a situation that wears us down. We resign ourselves to our current lot.

All because we’re more afraid of the unknown than the known.

What are we afraid of? Not having the strength to finish? Not knowing where a new direction may take us? Going it alone into the unknown? What if…

What if our strength would grow as we stepped out in faith and pressed into God? What if the new path forward took us to places we never thought we’d see, allowing us to do things we never dreamed of doing? What if we could meet some of the most supportive and influential people in our lives by going in a new direction? What if…

What if the only thing holding us back from a new life filled with love, hope and purpose is our fear of crossing the starting line?

We will never know all of ups and downs that lead to the finish line before we cross the starting line. The only thing we can control is the decision to start. Consider this:

  • It’s never too late to start.
  • It’s never too late to start over.
  • You may not know exactly what the finish line is now, but that’s not a reason to stay where you are.
  • You will stretch and grow and change as you make your way toward the finish line.
  • You can always decide to stop later, but you’ll never know how far you can go if you don’t cross the starting line.
  • If you turn to God, He will guide you every step of the way, taking you places you never thought possible.

Don’t put it off. Don’t procrastinate any longer. Cross the starting line and see where you can go. Just start!

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

Let’s talk: Is it harder for you to cross the starting line or the finish line? What starting line is before you today?

May I pray? Heavenly Father, many of us want to get excited about “what could be”, but we’re afraid of what it might take to get there. We want lives filled with love, hope and purpose, yet up to now we’ve remained in virtually the same place year after year because we allow fear to stand in our way. Lord, help us to turn to You, trust in You, and walk forward with You. Give us the encouragement we need today to take a step of faith. May we cross the starting line to an unknown journey with new sisters in Christ, leading to a finish line that glorifies You. Amen.

Getting What You Ask For and More

If a fairy godmother was standing in front of you right now with sparks flying off her glittery wand as she tapped it in her hand, what would you ask for? What’s your #1 wish?

Would you be specific, like:
– winning The Voice
– meeting Chris Hemsworth (Thor)
– a new athletic, beach-rockin’ body
– public firing of the arrogant bully in your office
– winning the largest jackpot in Powerball history

Or would you leave it to her imagination and say something generic like fame, wealth, true love, or a job that makes millions and lets me travel around the world first class? (Okay, maybe that last one isn’t so generic)

This one decision will dramatically alter the course of your life from this point forward…

If only! If only we had someone powerful enough to grant us wishes who actually knows we exist and cares to ask what we want! That only happens in fairy tales. Right?

Not so fast. It happened to Solomon, and it happens to people today.

When Solomon was about 20 years old, Solomon became King of Israel in place of his father, David. David had been a mighty warrior and a strong king, but now he was dead and Solomon had the task of leading a nation which was constantly fighting with everyone, including itself. Solomon knew he needed help. What did he do? He went to God.

God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Sound familiar? The difference is, this isn’t a fairy godmother in a fairy tale. It’s the God of Israel asking. With the power to back it up.

Here’s Solomon’s chance to ask God for anything and everything! At 20 years old the sky’s the limit. But we have to remember–why did Solomon go to God in the first place? Because he wanted to be a good leader worthy of his calling. So this was Solomon’s #1 wish:

“O LORD God, you have let me succeed my father as king, even though I am very young and don’t know how to rule… So give me the wisdom I need to rule Your people with justice and to know the difference between right and wrong.” (1 Kings 3:7,9 GNT)

Wisdom. That’s what he asked for. Not American Idol. Not the lottery. Not the fastest, tricked out chariot or the most beautiful babe by his side. He humbled himself before God and, ironically, displayed wisdom beyond his years by asking for wisdom.

Fine, great story. But what does this have to do with us? First, let’s read how God responded to Solomon’s #1 wish:

“God replied, ‘Because you have asked for wisdom in governing My people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies–I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have. And I will also give you what you did not ask for–riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow Me and obey My decrees and My commands… I will give you a long life.’” 1 Kings 3:11-14 (NLT)

Not only did God grant Solomon’s wish, but He also gave him all of the things that most people would ask for: fame, wealth, superiority over enemies. And God added one last “if”… If Solomon would continue to pursue God throughout his life, God would give him long life. Well, we know the end of the story. We know that Solomon’s unmatched wisdom, wealth, and burgeoning harem ultimately became obsession. Solomon turned away from God and began worshiping the gods of his many foreign wives, even after all that God had blessed him with. A bummer of an ending.

So, what does this have to do with us? We all want something. We chase and wish and post it on Pinterest. Sometimes we even pray, asking God to grant us our #1 wish and more. Why do people like Solomon get what they want but others don’t? We may not ever know “why”, but here’s what we can be certain of:

1. God is not a fairy godmother or genie waiting to grant our every self-benefiting desire. However, when we go to God for help, He is always there to meet us.

2. As our Heavenly Father, God wants to bless us with gifts–even more than we ask for. But first and foremost, God’s desire is to share a loving relationship with us each day. And He wants this to be our #1 desire too.

3. When our true wish is to honor God and carry out His calling on our life to the best of our abilities, He will equip us for this calling. He may not give us exactly what we ask for, but He will give what is best for our mission this side of heaven.

We can get all that we ask for and so much more. But often God will not fulfill our desires for things like fame, wealth, or a relationship that will pull us away from Him. He loves us too much. God has given us a written record of the story of Solomon to show what can happen even to the most faithful.

Don’t stop going to God and asking for what you believe you need. Jesus Himself told us to keep going to God and asking. The key is to look at our requests from a Father’s perspective to see if we should alter what we’re asking for. And always praise God for providing all that we need and so much more!

Let’s talk: What are you asking God for?

May I pray? Almighty God, thank You for Your unchanging love for us, Your blessed children. Help us to see our needs and desires from Your perspective, and to begin aligning our will with Yours. May we run to You today, spend time talking and listening in prayer, and grow in love for You as we become more like You. Amen.

What Would Your Last Words Be?

Rachel Barkey

If you knew you were going to die in the next few weeks and you were given the opportunity to speak to a large group of people, what would your last words be?

Many thoughts come to mind. Some of us would not want to talk to anyone, much less an auditorium of strangers wanting to hear what a dying person has to say. But some of us would see this as a last chance to make a difference in the lives of others.

This is the story of Rachel Barkey.

At age 37, Rachel was told her cancer had spread and she had 6-18 weeks, or 42-126 days, to live. As she put it, “Sounds like a long time when you’re waiting for Christmas or something on backorder. But when it’s the time you have to cuddle with your kids or spend with your husband, it’s terribly, terribly short.”

Knowing that the end of her life was imminent, Rachel prepared final messages for her husband, her young children, her family and friends, and people she didn’t know who struggled with the fear of their own death and the injustice of hers.

Here are some of the important truths she shared in her final speech:

  • The cancer does not define me. Neither does being a wife or mother. All of these things are a part of who I am, but they do not define me. What defines me is my relationship with Jesus.
  • In the midst of my sadness, there is a deep and abiding peace and hope. A peace and hope that I would like you to have too.
  • We are changed by what we know. Know God. Know yourself. Know the Gospel. Know your purpose.
  • God is good. He is in control and He is fair. When I try to make Him into a God who serves me, I sin.
  • In all of my roles, I have one purpose: To be like Jesus; to serve with joy.
  • Many people ask “Why?” Why is this happening to you, your husband and your kids? I don’t ask “why” because I know the answer. And here it is: We live in a sinful world. Bad things happen. But it was not supposed to be this way. And it will not always be this way. God has a plan. He has made a way for sinful people, you and me, to be with Him in a perfect world. The way is Jesus.
  • I am dying. But so are you. Neither of us knows if we will even see tomorrow. And perhaps the reason I am suffering now, the reason God is waiting to bring judgment to this world, is because He is waiting for you… for you to turn to Him.
  • In His providence, God has used the tough things in my life to draw me closer to Him. I am not perfect and I have the scars to prove it. 13 of them. And they serve as a physical reminder of a spiritual reality–that I can never be perfect on my own. I need a Savior. He took my shame upon Himself and rescued me.
  • Death is not dying. Death will not kill my soul. My soul is eternal, just like yours.

In the final weeks of her life, Rachel knew with certainty that God provides a way to heaven. A way to freedom. Jesus is the way. The truth is that we are all going to die, and none of us knows when our last day will be. What we do know is that God is waiting. He wants us to turn to Him, to leave the past behind and walk forward into new life with Him. If you have any uncertainty about whether or not you’re going to heaven, if you have any questions about who Jesus is and why someone like Rachel would go to great pains to speak about Him to total strangers before she died, watch Rachel’s final speech on her “Death is Not Dying” website.

Today, there is still time. Take a step toward peace, hope and true joy in the midst of your real life circumstances. Take a step toward Jesus.

“Jesus answered him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by Me. Now that you have known Me,’ He said to them, ‘you will know My Father also, and from now on you do know Him and you have seen Him.’” John 14:6-7 (GNT)

Let’s talk: What thoughts would you include in your final speech?

May I pray? Gracious God, we struggle when someone as young and vibrant as Rachel, who has everything to live for, dies so early and leaves a gaping hole in a precious family. We don’t understand “why”. And yet Lord, You blessed her with the peace of “why”, and the hope of Your salvation not only for her and her family, but for everyone she continues to reach through her lasting words. Jesus, I lift up those reading this today who are unsure about You and Your eternal gift of freedom. Pour out Your love and truth on them as they take a step toward You today. Amen.

I Am Second

Have you ever aspired to be in second place? It’s true that some people want to be vice president of an organization. And hopefully Olympic silver medalists are ecstatic they’re considered the elite of the world even if they didn’t win gold. But let’s face it, in this day and age most people are pushing to come out on top.

That’s where I was. Climbing the ladder of success. Clawing my way to get and stay on top. Hoping my shaky house of cards wouldn’t come crashing down.

At some point, the truth of our emptiness is exposed. Secrets, regrets, or guilt arise from the past. The allure of fame, drugs, or money wears off. Illusions of our perfect family go up in smoke. And what are we left with? Brokenness and hopelessness that won’t let go.

I’ve heard story after story of people like you and me who expected life to turn out one way but were broadsided by reality. Lives characterized by bold pursuits of success, perfection, satisfaction, and purpose. Lives shattered by abuse, abandonment, failing self-esteem, abortion, and health issues.

What I know from my experience is that new life is possible. But not when I was trying to control my destiny. As long as I was in the driver’s seat, I careened down a winding, bumpy road full of pitfalls.

But as soon as I was willing to move over and allow Jesus to rightfully take First Place in my life, that’s when I was given a second chance. That’s when new beginnings emerged.

Have you heard of I Am Second? It’s a site where people tell their stories first hand, like:

  • Musicians & TV Personalities: Chip & Joanna Gaines (Fixer Upper), Josh Turner (Country Music), Jason Castro (American Idol), Lecrae (Rapper/Hip Hop)
  • Girls in the balance: Bethany Hamilton (Young Surfer, lost her arm in a shark attack), Michelle Aguilar (The Biggest Loser), Kathy Ireland (Former Model), Ashley Rawls (Former Pageant Winner)
  • Sports heroes: Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys), Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams), Josh Hamilton (LA Angels), Tony Dungy (NFL Coach)
  • People like you and me: Pete Briscoe (my Pastor, Struggle: Pride), Shana (Struggles: Brokenness, Abuse, Divorce), Shannon Culpepper (Struggles: Abandonment, Relationships, Purpose), Lisa Luby Ryan (Struggles: Abortions, Abuse, Divorce)

All of us have something in common: Life is hard. The dreams we had aren’t anywhere near where life has taken us. And yet, by making the choice to get to know Jesus and put Him first in our life, the darkness and brokenness of the past will no longer have a stranglehold on us. There is freedom. There is hope. There is new life. When we are second.

I have a shirt sporting the “I Am Second” logo. I’m always curious what the reaction will be to this simple message. When I was in Israel, a woman came up to me and proclaimed, “I’m the middle child too!” That wasn’t quite what I was expecting. But recently at DFW airport a TSA guard asked, “Who’s first?” I said with a smile, “Jesus is.”

When you are second to Jesus, God can transform your life.

If you’re feeling discouraged or alone, if you’re empty or afraid, if you’re somewhere you never thought you’d be and you don’t know how to get back to solid ground, do something radical. Talk to Jesus.

Ask Jesus to show you who He is through His Word, the Bible. Read about Him in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Be honest with Him. Follow His lead. Even if people in your life have hurt you or betrayed you, know with certainty that Jesus never will. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus came to heal the hurting and find the lost. He came to restore our brokenness and lead us forward. Drop whatever keeps you from Him, and follow Him on the path to new life. There is nothing you have done that He won’t forgive. Nothing.

Our second (or third or fourth) chance at life begins when we make Jesus first!

“Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” Romans 6:4 (NLT)

Let’s talk: Will you start talking to Jesus about making Him first in your life?

May I pray? Jesus, thank You for coming to heal the hurting and find the lost. We need You! Thank You for calling to us over and over again. Open our ears to hear! Thank You for dying for our sins so that we can have new life through You. Oh how we long for freedom and joy and hope of a better tomorrow! Fill us with Your love and peace as we talk to You today. May we follow after You on a new path, rejoicing that we are second and You alone are first in our lives. Amen.

Treasures in the Lost and Found

Lost and FoundHave you ever lost something you really liked and couldn’t replace? Yes, there are some things that are annoying to lose, like cell phones or a favorite shirt. But there are some things we don’t want to live without. For me, it was an irreplaceable vintage pair of sunglasses. I wore them everywhere! So when my chic eyewear became missing-in-action, I immediately began the hunt. I searched every nook in my car and purse and closet–and then searched them again. I called my friend whose house I had been at the previous night to enlist help. I called the restaurant where we ate dinner and talked to the manager. And when my favorite glasses still didn’t turn up, I drove forty minutes to the other side of town. After digging through a big box of spectacles and other forgotten treasures in the restaurant’s lost and found, I conceded mine were gone forever. It was a sad day.

In the same way our favorite things are too precious to easily let go, you and I are precious to God. We are His favorites. And He doesn’t want us to be lost any longer.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about precious things that go missing. Each story is a depiction of what happens when we, as God’s beloved children, are lost. The first story is about a shepherd with one sheep gone (Luke 15:3-7). Knowing the wandering sheep is in danger, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep who are safe in the flock and goes out searching for the missing one. When he finds the little lost lamb, he joyfully puts her on his shoulders and carries her home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together to celebrate with him. Any of us who have wandered from God are that little lost lamb. God wants us to hear His call and come to Him so He can put us on His shoulders. He will carry us home and take care of us as He rejoices with the angels in heaven.

The second story in Luke 15 (verses 8-10) is about a woman who has ten silver coins worth a great deal of money. She loses one of the coins and hunts high and low for it–which sounds a bit like my sunglasses search. The difference is that she finds her lost treasure (worth significantly more than my glasses I might add), and she calls friends and neighbors to celebrate. Likewise, we are God’s treasure. If we’re lost, He will not stop pursuing us until we turn back to Him, and the angels will rejoice.

The last story Jesus tells in Luke 15 (verses 11-31) is about the prodigal son: A boy who decides he wants to go his own way in life. This guy leaves his father behind in pursuit of the “good life” and ends up squandering his entire inheritance on partying. The “good life” quickly becomes abysmal life. Whatever the worst job is you can imagine is what this guy is now doing day in and day out. He swallows his pride and decides to head back home and ask forgiveness. But His father has been watching for him. Even though the son is far from home, his father runs out to him, kisses him over and over again, puts a royal robe around him and adorns him with the family ring. Then the father brings his restored son back to the homestead and throws a feast in his honor.

I don’t know about you, but this story sounds familiar. I’m one of God’s prodigal daughters.

Here’s truth: God doesn’t care about where we’ve been. He doesn’t care about what we’ve done. What God wants is for us to turn around and start heading toward Him. He will run out to meet us. He will wash away all the dirt and grime of our past and restore us as His beloved children. And He will throw one amazing party in heaven in our honor!

Lost people matter to God. You and I matter to God. We can’t even begin to imagine how deeply God loves His lost children, but we do know this: We are the treasures of God’s lost and found.

If you are lost today, come home. Lay down fear, pride, or whatever keeps you from opening up to God. Turn to Him, run into His arms as He meets you on the road, and ask Him to bring you home. I’m ready to celebrate with you, God and the angels!

To wrap up my eyewear story, a week later I was about to run and I noticed there was something in my second pair of running shoes. My favorite sunglasses were found! I then remembered that my friend and I had talked about going for a run before dinner but decided not to. For some odd reason I had put my sunglasses in my shoes for safe keeping instead of my purse before leaving for the restaurant. They were back and a happy dance broke out! It’s party time when the lost are found!

“‘We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, and now he is found.’ So the party began.’” Luke 15:23-24 (NLT)

“The angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10 (GNT)

Let’s talk: Do you believe you are precious to God? Why or why not?

May I pray? Father God, thank You for loving us so deeply. Thank You for never resting until we’re found. Thank You for running to greet us when we turn back toward You. Some of us aren’t really sure what or where home is anymore. Meet us where we are and carry us. Wash us of the dirt, shame, fears, guilt and regrets of the past and present, and put Your royal robe around us. May we rejoice as Your beloved daughters, knowing we’ll be with You one day in heaven. May we celebrate with our sisters today! Amen.

Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus?Who is Jesus? Rarely does a name evoke such passion and loving devotion by some, but anger and total disdain by others. Especially 2,000 years after that person has walked the face of the earth! None of us thinks much about Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great or Aristotle. And yet people around the world are laying down their lives to speak about Jesus, while others are giving up their lives to fight against Him.

Who is this man that causes emotions to run high?

Many of us know about Jesus. We can recount the Christmas story of the manger, shepherds and wise men–a baby born of a virgin who was fully God and fully man. We celebrate Easter, although often there’s more talk about dying multi-colored eggs than the Savior of the world dying on a cross so we can have eternal life. We’ve heard Jesus’ parables and how God’s Spirit came down like a dove and rested on Him when He was baptized. We have no problem coming up with words to describe Him: Messiah, Lord, Teacher, Shepherd, King.

But who is Jesus to you?

Hard question for many of us. We know a lot about Jesus, but we haven’t spent a lot of one-on-one time really getting to KNOW Him, like we would a best friend or brother or potential spouse. Why should we? Because God says that we are the bride of Christ. He has chosen us to spend eternity with Him if we will walk with Jesus now. Jesus knows everything about us–the good, the bad and the ugly–and He still adores us. That alone is reason to get acquainted. And yet many of us hardly know Him at all.

Jesus wants us to know Him intimately.

God has given us the Bible, His inerrant Word, to reveal who Jesus is. Even the Old Testament (pre-Jesus Bible) points to our Savior and His choice to lay down His life to save ours:

“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our sins; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid on Him the sin of us all.”Isaiah 53:5-6

Take some time today getting to know Jesus. Ask God to show you who Jesus really is. Here are some suggestions of how:

1. Pray to God and candidly tell him your fears or concerns about Jesus. Ask Him to reveal the truth to you in the coming days so that you can know for sure who Jesus is.

2. Open God’s Word and read a few chapters of one of the gospels, the books sharing the good news of the Messiah (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).

3. Listen to praise music and meditate on the words, like the song “By His Wounds”.

4. Go to a friend or someone you know has a strong relationship with Jesus and ask them who Jesus is to them and why.

God’s greatest desire is that we would know Him and love Him. Don’t be afraid to have open and honest conversations with Him. That’s what He wants! As we grow in an intimate relationship with Jesus, we become passionate about Him. It’s when people allow fears and half-truths about Jesus to become His identity that they shy away or prepare to fight.

Move closer to Jesus and He will move closer to you. Your loving Savior, Shepherd, and Friend is waiting for you right now. Open the door, let Him in and start getting to know Him in a new way.

Let’s talk: Who is Jesus to you?

May I pray? Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us Your Word so that we may learn about You and Your undying love for us. And thank You for Your Holy Spirit who reveals who You are each and every day. Open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to encounter You like never before. Help us to know for sure that You are our Savior. You alone can pull us from the shame, regrets, and bitterness of our past and bring us to a new life of love, hope and joy. You are still the God of resurrection. Resurrect our beliefs and our lives for Your glory. Amen.

Love Notes from God

Love notes from GodHave you ever received a love note or small reminder that someone special is thinking about you? What a great feeling! Even the shortest of messages like “Olive you” (i.e. I love you) can put a pep in our step. Knowing someone cares brightens the day and boosts hope in hard times. Love notes confirm we’re not alone. Someone else is in the bunker of life with us.

Until recently, I never realized how many love notes God sends us every day.

Many of us wish we could have a relationship with God like Moses did––where God shows up and speaks from a cloud. Or even the prophet Elijah–although God spoke in a gentle whisper, Elijah was told to go outside and wait because God was about to pass by. He was at the right place at the right time. And he got his shot of encouragement and instructions for what was next. If only we could hear God like that.

The good news is that God speaks to us regularly in various ways. But we have to be ready to look and listen.

God’s love notes are sent just for you. Have you ever read a verse in the Bible and it spoke to your spirit? You may have read that Scripture many times before, but suddenly the words have meaning to what you’re struggling with that very moment. Or you’re running late as you pull into the parking lot and you cavalierly say a quick prayer about a front row spot not really believing you’ll get one. But then a car pulls out just as you arrive in the front row (see more at Front Row Parking and Other Needs). Or you get a message from a friend with a sweet note of encouragement on a day when it feels like nothing is going right. Or a hummingbird comes to your feeder and perches there for a full minute just looking around––iridescent green feathers glowing in the sun.

Soft whispers in our spirit, small “coincidences” through the day, answered prayer, encouraging words from others, the wonder of God’s creation revealed in special moments that will never be repeated. Love notes from God.

As we begin to see these small blessings for what they are, and praise God for continually reaching out to us, we’re filled with a whole new joy. The Creator of the Universe loves us! He sends us small reminders each and every day, letting us know He is all-powerful and willingly orchestrates the minutest details so our ordinary days become extraordinary encounters with Him.

Oh, how our Heavenly Father adores us!

Next time you see what you think may be a love note from God say, “Thank You, Lord!” Anything that turns our thoughts and praise to Him is good! Praise Him for small encounters. He sings to you each day and smiles as He watches over you. Remain in His love. Smile and express your love and affection for Him. Smile and be a love note from God sent to others.

And when you pass by an olive bar in the grocery store, turn His way and say, “God, olive you too!”

“‘I love you just as the Father loves Me; remain in My love.’” John 15:9 (GNT)

Let’s talk: What is something you experienced that may have been a love note from God?

May I pray? Jesus, thank You for loving us! Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that not only does the God of the Universe know us, but He loves us passionately. Thank You for the love notes You send to us each and every day. Help us to look and listen for You, and joyfully engage with You throughout the day as we encounter small blessings. May we smile and share Your love with others. Amen.

Wallenda’s Praise & Prayer at 1500′

20130701 Nik Wallenda Grand CanyonHave you ever seen the death-defying tightrope walk by Nik Wallenda over the Grand Canyon? No safety nets. No harness. Just a 2 inch cable stretching more than 1/4 mile across the canyon with winds whipping to 30 miles an hour. The swaying cable was 1500 feet in the air–higher than the Empire State Building! Wallenda balanced a 45 pound bar and knelt twice to wait out treacherous winds. The heart-stopping footage, broadcast live on national TV, captured the expanse below as a helicopter circled him on the wire. It took Wallenda, a seventh generation descendant of the famous Flying Wallendas, over 20 minutes to cross the gorge.

And through it all, step by careful step, he praised Jesus.

“Praise You, God; praise You, Jesus,” Wallenda repeated over and over again. “Help me to relax, Lord… Thank You for calming that cable, God… You’re my King, You’re my Protector, You’re my Shield, You’re my Strength, You’re my Lord.”

Known as “King of the High Wire”, Wallenda told the Christian Post that he often talks to God during his tightrope walks. “I find that peaceful and relaxing, and He’s the only one up there listening to me,” Wallenda said. “My life is based on my faith. I guess the biggest role it plays is that if I do fall and die I know where I’m going.”

We may never do something as risky as walking a tightrope across a canyon, but all of us face troubles in this world that cause worry and stress to flood into our lives. Fear and uncertainty can be overwhelming as we struggle to stay afloat and somehow get back on solid ground.

Like Nik Wallenda, if we turn to Jesus in our times of trial we too can find peace, no matter what our circumstances are.

How do we know that Jesus will be our safety net and life line? Because Jesus Himself tells us this. Jesus said that when we remain connected to Him, every day and in every aspect of our life, we will be filled with His joy and His peace. This doesn’t mean we won’t face trials. In fact, Jesus specifically says we WILL have troubles. But we won’t be defeated by anything in this world because Jesus has already overcome the world and given us eternal life. When we follow Jesus, we too can rise above our real life circumstances and step forward with courage, peace and hope.

So whether you’re carefully walking a tightrope of life or casually strolling through good times, talk to God and praise Him each step of the way. Rejoice in His love for you and receive His joy and peace!

“‘I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’” John 16:33

Let’s talk: What situation in your life needs praise and prayer to bring peace?

May I pray? Lord Jesus, thank You that even in our scariest and most stressful moments, You are right here with us. There is nowhere we can go that is too far from You. Whether we’re walking 1500’ in the air or struggling to get out of the dark pits of real life, with a word in prayer we are instantly connected to You, our Savior. Grant us the courage to lay down our fears and burdens and run to You today. May we praise You and rejoice in Your joy, peace and hope as we encourage those around us. Amen.

Not Everything Happens for a Reason

NOT everything happens for a reasonHow many times have you heard someone say, “Everything happens for a reason”? People often say this when something bad has happened and they’re trying to make sense of it. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a dear friend of mine who is going through a difficult divorce. She said she could see the good that had come out of a previous abusive marriage (her sons) and she could even see how she had grown through the soul-deep sadness of a miscarriage (stronger faith). But she couldn’t understand what God wanted her to learn from this failed marriage. She said, “I know everything happens for a reason, but I still can’t figure out the reason for this.”

Here’s truth: Not everything happens for a reason.

Why? Because by saying everything has reason, we’re suggesting that everything has a good twist. That even in terror, murder, abduction and abuse, God is behind it and He has purpose for it. It’s not true. Everything is NOT good and everything is NOT from God.

We live in a fallen world where sin and evil run rampant.

Bad people do bad things. Even to good people. Is God still in our midst? Yes. Does God still have sovereign power? Yes. But God has also given each person free will. With that will everyone decides either to align with God or go their own way to sow and reap what the world has to offer. Each person’s choices and actions impact the lives of those around them. Good or bad.

And our world is not what God intended. We no longer live in the Garden of Eden. Storms and earthquakes inflict devastation, and there is a whole spiritual realm we can’t see which intersects with life as we know it. For us, it’s unpredictable and scary. And if God is a good God and everything happens for a reason, it just doesn’t make sense.

No, it doesn’t make sense––because not everything happens for God’s reasons.

God is unchanging, faithful, loving, and just. He is our Father, Creator and Savior. He paved the way for our eternal salvation by sending His Son, Jesus, to the cross to receive our condemnation. He raised Jesus to life again, as He will do for us––on this earth (figuratively) and in heaven (literally). God has purpose for our lives. Here’s what God says:

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

God may create challenges in our life to grow us or move us in a new direction. But He is not behind every bad situation or crisis in our life or the lives of others. We have an enemy who prowls like a lion waiting to destroy its prey. Our enemy is the instigator of many bad things. The good news for us is that God is above our enemy.

God can and will invade every bad situation and TURN IT TO GOOD for those who love Him and walk with Him.

God may put us through trials, but not all trials are from God. Either way, when we call upon God and cling to Him, even in our darkest moments, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit to survive. We can rise above real life when we turn to God, praise Him in our circumstances, and stand on the Rock of hope.

Praising God in our circumstances, not for our circumstances, is how God’s light shines in dark places. Bringing God into our trials and trusting Him to see us through to the other side is how all things can be TURNED to good.

So next time someone says, “Everything happens for a reason,” pause and remember that not everything happens for a reason, because not everything is good. But all things can be turned to good by God. When we love Him and allow Him to sit on the throne of our heart, He will shepherd us through the valley of death to a garden of new life.

Let’s talk: How has God turned a bad situation to good in your life?

May I pray? Father God, we praise You today because YOU ARE GOOD! Thank You for never changing. Thank You for Your love which never fails. Helps us come to You and reveal our broken places, our anger for past hurts, our fears… Comfort us with Your truth as we walk forward with You. May our faith be strengthened knowing that You are not behind the evil in this world, but You are above it and You can turn it to good when we turn it over to You. May Your light shine through us into the darkness. Amen.

When Plans and Dreams are Shattered

Plans Dreams Shattered Find HopeDo you like surprises? Most of us do––good ones, like flowers, a box of dark chocolates or someone whisking us away to a surprise night out. Those surprises we like. It’s the bad surprises we wish would never spring up. Surprises that inconvenience us. Surprises that cut to the bone because someone said or did something we weren’t expecting. Surprises that jolt us––like death, divorce, betrayal––and we know our world will never be the same again. How can we plan for surprises like that?

The simple answer: We can’t. And to be honest, it’s hard to be okay with it.

In our professional lives, we may be very good at planning, organizing and making sense out of chaos. But in our personal lives, these skills don’t seem to get us to the top of the class. We can make plans. We can try to prepare. But circumstances and people are out of our control. None of us knows what will happen in the future. Or when. We don’t know what decisions others will make, impacting us. Their plans change and we don’t get the memo. They decide they don’t love us anymore. They lie, cheat, steal. They abandon or abuse. Their choices shatter our lives.

When our lives come to a screeching halt because of bad surprises, how can we hold onto faith? Are we supposed to just go with the flow or pretend everything is fine? Because it’s not fine. And forget the future––even getting to tomorrow is near impossible.

Many survivors have struggled with these same life-shattering surprises and found new life on the other side. We can keep going too.

One step at a time, day by day. Even if we’re a planner with no plan. Even if we’re afraid to tell people full details. Even if we feel alone. The truth is that we’re not alone. God promises each one of us, “I love you, and I have a plan.” He is in control, even if we can’t see it. Even if we don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes.

With God, there is hope for tomorrow. With God, there is strength for today.

When turmoil swirls or crisis hits, sometimes all we can do is get to the end of each day. Go to God. Be honest with Him about your fears and pain. Trust in His power to part the seas and raise the dead to life. And if you’re not sure you believe in God, ask Him to reveal Himself to you like never before. God wants to be known by you. He wants to carry you forward.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

Let’s Talk: What is something God has done in your life that can give hope to a sister who is struggling?

May I pray?  Dear Lord, we don’t always understand why things happen. We never truly know what tomorrow will bring. But we do know that the choices of others have hurt us deeply. Father, I pray for those reading this now who still have wounded hearts and are struggling with the aftermath of bad decisions––their own, and those of others. I pray that You will place Your healing hand upon their heart, and that You will bring them comforting peace as they turn to and trust in You. May they be willing to give You a chance to work a miracle in their life. And may we all find hope in Your power and Your promises. In the precious name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Want to be Happy? Practice “Happy”!

Practice Happy Makes PerfectHave you ever heard the phrase, “Practice makes perfect”? Most of us have flashbacks to childhood and dreaded piano lessons, multiplication tables, or military-worthy athletic drills. Over and over we’d practice. Few, if any, of us ever attained the elusive “perfect”.

Although Nadia may have received a “Perfect 10” in gymnastics, no one is perfect. The perfect in “practice makes perfect” means “highest caliber”.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Psychologists use a 10 year / 10,000 hour rule: It takes 10 years and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level at anything. Statistics show that the average world-class athlete trains hard 23 hours per week for 8 years before reaching their elite status (that’s 9,568 hours for anyone who isn’t perfect at multiplication tables, me included).

So what does this have to do with us?

As it turns out, many of us practice certain behaviors every day without even knowing it. Even during the holidays!  And we’re getting really good at them. The problem is they’re not good for us. What are we practicing? Irritation, anger, bitterness, short tempers, frustration, fear, anxiety… and more. Day after day, we get overwhelmed with conflict and circumstances. We give in to emotions and lose our footing as the good examples we want to be. We’re no longer displaying the strong, positive person we know is inside of us.

But here’s good news: We can practice being happy!  And not only does it work, but if we start now, it will carry us into the new year!

This isn’t a new concept. There have been all kinds of books and seminars along these lines–the power of positive thinking, you are what you believe, envision success, set various levels of goals. The simple truth is that with conscious effort, we can change our perspective and respond differently to everyday challenges and triggers.

Being “happy” starts with us.

The more we practice, the happier we become. The more we practice, the more our countenance and reactions are transformed until “happy”–displayed through peace, patience, hope and joy–is our primary nature.

How do we practice being happy? By practicing habits each day that lead to happiness:

1. Smiling–It’s contagious! And there are physical reasons why smiling leads to happy emotions. Read the Top 10 Reasons to Smile.

2. Love–Our core desire as humans is to feel loved. Loving others opens our heart to being loved. Love grows feelings of belonging and being accepted for who we are. The result of loving and being loved is joy and contentment.

3. Faith–Spending time with God each day in His Word and in prayer fills us with strength, peace and hope. We gain perspective and feel connected as we learn from our Heavenly Father. Through His Spirit we are transformed from the inside out and find joy in everyday situations.

4. Forgiveness–We don’t realize how much we refuse to forgive others because often our unforgiveness is buried deep in our subconscious. Forgiving others releases bitterness which is a cancer inside of us, freeing us to feel relieved and happy.

5. Thankfulness–Expressing thanks for the many blessings we have breaks down barriers in our mind and heart. It’s easy to get caught up in stresses of the day. But when we praise our Heavenly Father and show thankfulness to Him and to others, we think less about wanting or needing more to “be happy”.

6. Generosity–The old adage “It’s better to give than to receive” has merit. The more we try to hoard for ourselves, the more inward-focused and selfish we become. The more we give generously to others, the more our perspective changes and we share in the joy of helping others in their need.

7. Praise Music–Listening to praise music feeds our soul with Scripture and positive messages of God’s love, power and faithfulness. A CD or the radio is a quick way to lift our spirit as we turn our thoughts to God and sing praises to Him.

We’ll never be perfect, but practicing “happy” rewires our brain so our daily thoughts and reactions change. We feel happier as we grow in love, faith, forgiveness, generosity, hope and true joy. Not because our circumstances have changed, because we have changed.

Want to be happy? Practice “happy”! It’s contagious! And now you have a new meaning for HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them… Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. ” Ephesians 4:29, 31-32 (NLT)

Let’s talk: What “happy” habit are you practicing today?

May I pray? Loving God, thank You for delighting in us and wanting us to live joy-filled lives. Help us today to see the areas where we’re bogged down with anger, frustration, bitterness and any other habits that keep us locked in disappointment and unhappiness. May we focus on new “happy” habits of smiling, loving, spending time with You in prayer and Your Word, forgiving, thanking, and giving. May we lay down our wants and desires for what will “make us happy” and instead practice being happy. In so doing, may Your joy fill us to overflowing and be contagious to everyone around us. And Lord, for those who are struggling this Christmas season, please fill them with an extra measure of Your peace and love. May they find comfort in You as they practice “happy” habits even in this difficult time. Amen.

Past Scars: Stepping Stones to Purpose

Purpose-filled LifeWhat are your scars from the past? We all have them. Most scars go deep into the root of who we are. They may be physical, emotional, or even spiritual. Some scars are so old we barely remember all of the details. Some are still so sore we don’t think we can ever forget them.

The one truth about scars from the past is this: We can’t go back and change what caused them.

As we look at life, it may feel like there is a great divide between where we are and the life we had hoped to live. Our scars of failure, disappointment, guilt and regret are often a reminder of where we’ve been, and they keep us on the side of life we wish we could leave behind. But the scars of our past don’t have to keep us trapped. They don’t have to stay hidden. They don’t prevent us from finding true joy and hope in life.

Scars from the past can be stepping stones to purpose-filled life.

Instead of being afraid or ashamed of our scars, we can find healing as we realize that our past struggles allow us to help others who are struggling in similar ways. We may have made bad choices or others may have hurt us in ways we never want to relive. No matter what scars we bear, we are loved and we are special. And we can rise above real life and not only find hope for ourselves and our family, but for others as well.

The pain of our scars turns to purpose when we go to God for healing and allow Him to restore us. He transforms our scars into beacons of hope for others. Here’s how:

1. Once we accept the gift of new life Christ offers us, He completely washes away our past sins, and healing of our broken places begins. Our past isn’t changed, but our path is. We’re no longer struggling in the dark pits of life or limping along in the wilderness. We’re able to break free of all that held us down, and live freely in the hope and light of eternal life ahead. In Christ alone we can find release of the burdens and secrets that have weighed us down for so long.

2. Our purpose in life is often birthed from our hardest trials. Ask anyone who has a ministry or organization focused on helping others, and most will agree that the passion and original vision for what they do came from their own suffering or that of someone close to them. We don’t want others to have to go through what we did. We want to make this world a better place. We want to give others the love and help we wish we had back then. God can turn our worst experiences into life-changing hope for others.

You can have a life full of joy. You can find freedom from the scars of the past. And you can turn your scars into stepping stones of purpose. Rise above your past scars and be a light reflecting the hope of Jesus into someone else’s darkness. Then you can help them take steps toward new life too.

“I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)

Let’s Talk: How can your scars from the past be stepping stones to a new future?

May I pray?

Lord, many of us have struggled through very dark times. But You are calling us to come and be healed. You are asking us to walk forward from the past and rejoice in what lies ahead. Help us to lay aside fears, shame, guilt, and regret. Help us to break free from any other lies that have a stranglehold on us. May we fix our eyes on Jesus and press on toward the purpose-filled life you are calling us to. May the joy of our new life be a beacon of hope to others as we walk this journey together in sisterhood. Amen.

What Happens To Us When We Die?

What happens when we dieLast month we talked abouliving lives of purpose. Today the question is: What happens to us when we die? Is there a heaven with pearly gates, angels playing harps, and lots of white robes like we see in movies? Is there really a hell? Or do we somehow continue on in an alternate consciousness or come back as a reincarnated deer or bug? Or is this life all there is–when we take our last breath, there’s nothing more?

We don’t like to think about dying because most of us aren’t sure what’s next. But in this crazy world we live in where news of death and destruction are a daily occurrence, people are starting to wonder.

Thankfully, God has told us clearly: Paradise awaits those who believe in Jesus.

We may not know exactly what paradise will be like, but here are a few things God has revealed about heaven and the afterlife:

1. Heaven has been created for those who believe in the Creator. Heaven is beyond anything we can comprehend or imagine. In heaven, the presence of God shines brighter than the sun as we experience the fullness of His holiness and love. And this is just the beginning! Just as Christ was resurrected, so will we be. This is the hope of every follower of Christ. We will live with God for eternity in His new paradise. “‘To the one who overcomes I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’” Revelation 2:7

2. We cannot do anything “good enough” to get into heaven. This may not be welcome news for those who think they’ll get into heaven by being “good” people, or doing “good” things, or being raised by “good” parents. None of that gains a ticket to paradise. The only way we can get into heaven is by Jesus bringing us in. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” John 14:6

3. If we trust in Jesus, we cannot do anything “bad enough” to lose our inheritance in heaven. Most of us have regrets and secrets from the past, and many of us struggle through real life and wrestle with temptations that keep pulling us down. That’s why God safeguards our inheritance in heaven. God assures us that once we put our faith in Jesus, there is nothing we can do that will cause us to lose our admittance to paradise. When we put our trust in Jesus Christ, He pays our sin debt once and for all. Our eternity is secure from that point forward. No matter what. “In His great mercy He has given us… an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you.” 1 Peter 1:3-4

4. For those who put their faith in Jesus, He will be with us in our final moments of life and will Himself bring us to heaven. Many people recount the stories of their loved ones who, in their final hours of life, describe seeing Jesus and angels in the room with them. Jesus said that not only is He preparing a place for His followers in heaven, but that He Himself will come and usher us into heaven with God. His love is unfailing as He leads us from earth to eternity. “‘I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me.’” John 14:2-3

What happens to us when we die?

Bottom line is that our spirits live on. There is a heaven and there is a hell. Ultimately, all of us will be going to one or the other, and the truth is that heaven is far greater than we ever can imagine, and hell is far worse.

The good news is that we can be sure we’re going to heaven and will spend eternity with God if we believe in Jesus and His resurrection. This is God’s promise: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Once we truly embrace our eternal inheritance, our lives here on earth will never be the same.

Let’s Talk: Do you know with certainty where you’re going when you die? What questions do you still have?

May I pray?

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us so much that You offer us life in eternity with You. You have set aside an inheritance that we can’t earn, but it is given as a gift to those who accept it. And once accepted, we can never lose it. I pray that today You will open our hearts to Jesus, the One who paid our sin debt in full. Help us to believe that Your resurrection power is greater than all of our past regrets and secrets, and You alone can bring us to a place of new life, now and forever. Amen.


What Are You Doing With Your Dash?

Life of PurposeWhat’s your favorite number? Some people like the day of their birth or the day of their marriage or the jersey number of their favorite sports star. We use favorite figures in pin numbers and email addresses and passwords. Some favorite numbers represent the amount we’d like to earn in a year, or the bank balance we think we need to be happy, or the lottery jackpot that will change our life. We’re a numbers driven society.

What are the most important numbers?

When we die, there will be two numbers on our headstone: the date we were born and the date we died. These may be the most important numbers in our life because they’re when we start and end, and for most of us it’s all we’ll be remembered by in generations to come.

But here’s truth: neither number matters as much as the dash in between.

Date of Birth – Date of Death

The DASH. The essence of our time here with others. The fullness or emptiness of our life. It’s how we spend our time. It’s how we love or ignore others. It’s how we give or take. It’s the quality of our life viewed through an eternal lens. It’s the legacy we leave or the resources we burn.

Our dash may overflow with life and purpose as we encourage and help others to grow and find hope. Or our dash may be full of forgotten toys and self-pursuits that couldn’t fill us up, and in the end didn’t really matter.

Our dash will reflect wisdom or waste.

We want to find what makes us happy. But what if our strivings only bring us closer to the second number on our tombstone and do nothing to enrich our dash? How do we make our dash matter? We start pouring into other people. We become available to how God wants to work in us and through us. We open our hearts and minds to Jesus and the eternal life He offers. We understand that what matters most is not what we accumulate in this life, but how we use our gifts for God’s kingdom.

Our dash matters when it reflects God’s love.

We have no control over the day we were born. And the number of our days has already been written in God’s Book of Life. The numbers we think are important today will fade away after we’re gone. All that will be left is what we did with the dash in between.

What are you doing with your dash?

“Teach us how short our life is, so that we may become wise.” Psalm 90:12 (GNT)

Let’s Talk: What are you doing with your dash?

May I pray?

God, You created us for purpose. Each one of us has specific talents, likes and dislikes, and a circle of influence that no one else has. No matter where we’ve been or where we are, You can use our lives for good if we fix our eyes on Jesus and walk daily with You. Help us to see that the “good life” is living to our full potential based on how You created us, not accumulating possessions that won’t truly satisfy. May our life, our DASH, reflect Your love as we pour out to others and share life in sisterhood. Amen.


Your Life Story in 6 Words

Life Story in 6 WordsHave you ever heard of six word mini-memoirs? They got a lot of press a while back when Oprah featured a book with these short but powerful phrases. Inspiration came from Ernest Hemingway’s legendary shortest of short stories, “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Most of us don’t think about writing our life story.

We could fill volumes with all of the things we’d tell people not to do. But compared to others, our life stories are just ordinary. Who would really be interested? Besides, it’s much easier to keep quiet and not say anything at all. There are so many reasons we can come up with for not composing a mini-memoir, but what if your story could give someone else encouragement? What if it could forge a bond because of similar experiences?

What if in 6 words you could light a spark of hope for someone else because you made it through?

Even King David, who in pride and lust ordered a murder to cover up his adultery, found forgiveness and restoration when he turned to God. God Himself gave David a 6 word memoir, “A man after My own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22).

There are other 6 word memoirs in the Bible. Matthew wrote of Mary, “The virgin will be with child.” (Matthew 1:23) Paul spoke of his new life and penned, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1). And Paul encouraged Timothy by writing, “My true son in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:2).

Why do 6 word memoirs have such impact?

They’re to the point. They make us pause and think about the layers beneath the words. They tell a story that draws us in without pulling us under in detail.

Here are some new ones…

– Wilderness wanderer now reflecting the Light. (mine)

– Prodigal son. Redeemed. Happy at home! (my husband, Gordon’s)

– Formerly broken, thirsting new life. Blossoming! (my 6 words for the woman at the well in John 4)

– Loves. Eradicated death. Arisen! Come live! (my 6 words for Jesus and His call to us)

Think about your life story: Where you were, where you are, and where you’re headed. Think about Jesus’ instructions to His disciples in Mark 16 to go and preach good news to the world. We’re all on this journey of life together. Your story may be the encouragement and hope that someone else needs today.

Let’s Talk: What is your life story in 6 words? Will you share it with us?

“And then He told them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.’” Mark 16:15 (NLT)

May I pray?

Lord Jesus, thank You for calling to each one of us, simply because You love us and can’t imagine living through eternity without us by Your side. Open our hearts and minds to You today as we look at our life and compose our 6 word memoirs. Give us the courage to tell where we’ve been and to take a step toward You, no matter where we are. May we be encouraged and grow in sisterhood as we share our stories with each other. In Your precious Name I pray. Amen.


Sweet Friendship Refreshes the Soul

Friendship Sisterhood Refresh SoulWhat’s your favorite smell and what does it make you think of? I have several. A wood burning fire sparks memories of our family camping trips when I was young. Fresh cut grass reminds me of fun days running and playing in the summertime. And then there’s Bubba’s house––the distinct smell I remember of my grandmother’s home. To this day I don’t know how to describe it, other than It was unmistakable when you first walked in. It’s the smell of peace, safety, and holidays. Nothing in the world smells like Bubba’s house used to smell.

If only we could bottle the aromas we love.

Our sense of smell is primal and powerful. It engages our brain and emotions. We were created not only to delight in sweet aromas, but to experience emotional ties with them. Roses, peach cobbler with brown sugar topping, my husband’s cologne. In an instant, these aromas transport me to cherished memories of another time and place, and bring a smile to my face.

Friends are like beautiful aromas that encourage and warm our heart.

We smile when we think of our dearest friends and the times we’ve shared together. They’ve known us at our worst and still love us for who we are, as is. True friends tell us the truth about everything. They don’t care what we’re wearing or if we’re having a bad hair day. And they’re always ready to come to our aid. Even if we’ve been apart for months or even years, friends like sisters are the girls who never miss a beat. We pick up right back where we left off. It feels good to know there’s someone in our corner, no matter what.

Sweet friendship refreshes our soul.

The love and laughter of a dear friend lifts our spirit. It’s like walking into Bubba’s house and feeling the peace of belonging. This past week I had the pleasure of celebrating my dear friend’s birthday with a sushi dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in several months and we had a lot of catching up to do. But the love and bonds of sisterhood hadn’t changed. We laughed and shed a few tears. Refreshing at its best.

As we neared the end of our evening, she said, “I really miss you. I didn’t realize how much I miss you until I saw you, but I felt it as soon as you got here.” Seeing her was like a breath of fresh air, a sweet aroma that takes me to a place I want to be.

Think of a dear friend you haven’t talked to in a while, and reach out to her today. You may be the breath of fresh air, the sweet aroma of sisterhood, that fills her with a sense of love and belonging. And if you don’t have anyone you consider to be a close sister-like friend, reach out to someone you’re getting to know and ask them to meet you for coffee or lunch. Growing new bonds of sisterhood involves knowing and being known.

Take heart and smile, friends. Just as God created us to delight in beautiful aromas, He also created us to delight and be refreshed in our innermost being by the love and care of sweet sisters. We’re all longing for that refreshment, so pour out to a friend today and see how you will be filled to overflowing in return.

“Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Proverbs 27:9 (MSG)

Let’s Talk: What’s your favorite smell and what does it make you think of?

May I pray?

Father God, thank You for the amazing senses You have created in us, including the sense of smell. And thank You for the way we can recall cherished memories by the aromas we’ve experienced. Today I pray that You will place a special friend in our thoughts. As we reach out to let them know we’re thinking of them, prompt us to tell them how much they mean to us. And if we’re reaching out to someone we don’t know well, give us the courage to invite them for coffee or lunch. May we be refreshed and encouraged through the sweet bonds of sisterhood. Amen.

On the Road to New Beginnings

New BeginningWhat road are you traveling today? Not literally, as in what highway or shortcut will you take today. But in real life. Where do you see yourself heading? Sometimes that’s an easy question. We know exactly where we are and where we’re going. But sometimes we have no idea. It feels like we’re on the road to nowhere.

I’ve spent years walking the long highways toward an unknown destination. Many times I thought good fortune and new beginnings were right around the corner or just over the next hill. But each time disappointment awaited as I realized there was no end in sight. Or I was on the wrong road completely.

It’s hard to keep going when you don’t know what’s ahead.

It’s even harder when you have no idea how long you’ll have to keep trudging along before meaningful change comes your way. For everyone out there who is ready to slow down, take a break, or give up all together, today I want to encourage you to take another step on the road to new beginnings. Change is ahead.

Our victory in new life will come when love and hope triumph over the real life experiences of our past.

As many of you know, I’ve been granted a truly special gift. Several years ago, God brought an amazing gentleman, Gordon, into my life. Last month we celebrated our fourth anniversary. Who knew life could be so amazing when two are joined as one in love and purpose! I’m humbled and excited and filled with wonder. And I can’t wait to see how God continues to lead us from here!

My hope is that you find encouragement in my story.

No matter where you’ve been, no matter where you are, know that you too can experience the fullness of new life. I’m living proof. My real life story is no more spectacular than any other. But it shows that God is good and He continues to work behind the scenes for His great purpose. We may not understand the heartache, darkness or obstacles we face. We may not see how God can turn our situation into something of value when our dreams have been shattered.

But here’s truth: God doesn’t change. He is still the God of resurrection, miracles, and new beginnings.

If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and don’t let the disappointments of delays, detours and derailments knock us off course, we will rise above the past. And our journey will continue on the road to new life!

For me, what a blessing it is to now walk hand-in-hand with my husband. Two lives molded by the grace of God into one. I pray our marriage may be a light of hope for others. And no matter what comes our way, may we live with one heart and mouth for the glory of our Savior.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5-6

Let’s Talk: What is your “road to new beginnings” story?

May I pray?

Heavenly Father, You are the God of resurrection, miracles and new beginnings. You are the God who gives us endurance and encouragement when we turn to You. You are our Father who renews our weary spirit and continually ignites a flicker of hope when we feel alone or defeated. Lord, help us today to rejoice in knowing that You can and will turn all things to good if we’ll lay our life in Your mighty hands. Thank You for the blessing of new beginnings. Thank You for the victory of love and hope on the road to new life. Amen.

Eye of the Storm

Eye of the StormWhat’s happening in our world? Shootings at schools, bombings at airports, and vicious assaults on helpless people. Life-altering events rage all around us and we wonder what’s next. And every day we face our own storms of life. Loss of a loved one, a job, our health or our marriage. A child who rebels against us and all that we’ve tried to teach them. Lies that sever friendships and drive families apart. Secrets that keep us in isolation. Choices that pour fuel on the fires of temptation.

This isn’t the way life is supposed to be.

My heart is heavy as I write this. I have so many friends who are struggling in life’s storms. But there is good news to hold onto. There IS hope of new life. Every storm will pass, even if things get worse before they get better.

Even in the swirl of helplessness and hopelessness, we can survive and be stronger on the other side.

Storms will come. We live in a fallen world and we know that at some point a storm will engulf our life and turn it upside down. And sometimes, it’s as if we’re in hurricane season and the storms keep coming one after another. We have to find shelter in the midst of the storm. We have to find the eye of the storm.

Have you seen a satellite picture of a hurricane or typhoon? They call the center of the storm the “eye” because it literally looks like a human eye in the center of the storm. And it’s an eerie place to be. A massive storm of destruction rages on all sides, but in the center, in the “eye” of the storm, the sun shines, the winds are calm, and there is a sense of normalcy. In those moments when the skies clear and the eye passes over, there is peace.

When our storms of life are raging, we must get to and remain in the “eye”.

The “eye” is where truth and courage meet. It’s where we hold onto the Word of God and His promises, no matter what feelings begin to rise up. It’s where we sit with God and allow His Spirit to fill us so His peace can guard our heart and mind.

No, the storm is not over. But yes, we can get through to the other side where there is new life to be created. God is above every storm, even our darkest ones. He will never leave us or forsake us. God has not abandoned us. He is our loving Father, and He will turn all things to good for those who love Him.

My friend, if you are in the midst of a terrible storm, know that you are not alone. The God of Heaven’s Armies is by your side. Call to Him. Believe in Him. Cling to Him even if you can’t hear His voice above the din of the storm. And if you’re not sure what to say, cry out to God with the faithful words in the psalm below, written by someone else who was saved from destruction.

Go to the eye of the storm. The place of peace where truth and courage meet.

Remain there, holding fast to the promises of God. And allow someone into your storm so they can bunker down with you and pray over you. We were meant to weather our storms together.

God loves you, dear sister. He is listening. Trust in Him even if you can’t hear Him. Go to Him. Stay with Him. Walk with Him and you will always be in the eye of the storm.

“I love the LORD, because He hears me; He listens to my prayers. He listens to me every time I call to Him. The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed in on me; I was filled with fear and anxiety. Then I called to the LORD, ‘I beg you, LORD, save me!’ The LORD is merciful and good; our God is compassionate. The LORD protects the helpless; when I was in danger, He saved me. Be confident, my heart, because the LORD has been good to me. The LORD saved me from death; He stopped my tears and kept me from defeat. And so I walk in the presence of the LORD in the world of the living. Psalm 116:1-9

Let’s Talk: How can I pray for you today?

May I pray?

Almighty God, thank You for never leaving us, especially in the dark storms of life. I lift up my dear sisters who are struggling today. Bless them with courage, Father. Fill them with the strength and power of Your Word. Wash away their fears and bring them peace as they seek You and sit with You in the midst of their storms. Show them the most important step: the one that brings them to You. May we all remain with You, the Eye of the Storm. Amen.

Church: Hospital or Country Club?

Church: Hospital or Country ClubWhy do people go to church? Ask a group of “Christians” and you’ll get many different answers: To worship and praise Jesus freely in community. To learn what God teaches us in the Bible. To meet new people. To hang out with friends. Because it’s what we’re supposed to do. Because my parents make me go. Because I’m desperate and it’s the only place I know that might give me hope.

We recently celebrated Easter, the primary holy day of the Christian faith. Church attendance swelled across the world. But many of the people who ventured out on Easter Sunday won’t be coming back again for months, if at all.

Why do people NOT go to church?

Ask a group, and again the answers vary widely. It’s boring. It’s hard to go to church alone. Christians act like they have it all together, but behind closed doors they’re just as messed up as the rest of us. If anyone knew the truth about my life they wouldn’t want me there. All they want is money and I don’t have any to give. They’re like a clique and I don’t fit in. I don’t get anything out of it.

Our reasons to go or not go usually stem from past experiences. Many people have had bad experiences at church or with people who say they’re Christian, and now religion is something they’re not sure they can trust, and for good reason. You may know someone with these hesitations.

For anyone struggling with the competing desire to know God and the fear of religion or the people in it, here are two things to consider:

1. RELIGION (with its rituals and rigid “to do” lists) is completely different than a loving, intimate RELATIONSHIP with our Savior, Jesus Christ. True Christianity is a personal relationship with Christ.

2. A healthy church community is founded on God’s Word as they continually seek God’s truth, wisdom and guidance. Their primary desire is to be the hands and feet of Jesus so that others can hear the Gospel message, enter into a loving, trusting relationship with Christ, and then grow in that relationship.

Christians should be the first to admit their desperate need of a Savior. We’re sinners not saints.

Everyone falls short of the glory of God, Christian and non-Christian, those who look like they have it together and those who don’t. We’re all in the same boat––and when that boat goes down, it doesn’t matter if we were sitting in first class or working below deck. Each and every one of us will meet our Maker and have to give account for our life and our choices. None of us is better than another.

Christians are brothers and sisters who make mistakes, say and do the wrong things, but ultimately seek forgiveness as we turn from our old selves and move forward to new life in Christ.

As Christians, we’re called to share life in loving community so we can encourage and strengthen one another. Church should not be a country club. It’s not exclusive. It’s not for people who have life figured out. It’s not for the “good” ones.

To be honest, church is more like a hospital and hostel.

It’s for those who are hurting and those who are lost. It’s for people traveling the journey of life seeking truth. It’s for people like me––sinners who want to turn from the brokenness of our past and walk forward in the hope of new life and the light of eternity.

If you’re not part of a healthy, Christian community, I encourage you to pray about it and then try a new church this Sunday. It’s never too late to take a step in a new direction. Find a vibrant community preaching straight from the Bible, singing songs of praise to our risen Lord, and reaching out in love to others.

For those who are a part of Christian community, let’s continue to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, encouraging one another and spurring each other on in our service to others. And let’s genuinely welcome wounded and weary travelers into our community by showering them with acceptance, hospitality and love.

After all, the church is a hospital, a place of healing and restoration for sinners. It’s not a country club for saints.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another––and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25

Let’s Talk: Why do you go or not go to church?

May I pray?

Jesus, we’re saved by Your grace given freely on the cross as You died for our sins and then rose to new life. We cannot save ourselves. We’re not saints resting on our laurels. We’re sinners You have ransomed for eternity. And now it’s our joy to grow in relationship with You as we open our doors to the hurting and the lost. Help us today to shine Your light of hope and love into the lives of others. And for those who feel alone, please lead them this week in their search for a healthy community of Christ-followers. Amen.

Mud Puddles of Life

Wash meWhat’s the muddiest situation you’ve ever been in? For me, what comes to mind is back in my high school days, 4-wheeling with my boyfriend in the middle of nowhere after a rain storm––and getting stuck. The trek out ruined a very cute pair of shoes. Obviously I wasn’t anticipating the consequences.

Most of us are past the age of playing in the mud. But the truth is, we’re stuck in the mud puddles of life right now.

Where are you stuck? Fear? Disappointment? Busyness? Isolation? Shame of the past? Bitterness and unforgiveness? Unemployment? Empty relationships? Worry? Addictions? Depression? Our mud puddles of life, the places we get stuck, stem out of hopelessness. We’re afraid things won’t get better. We fear taking the wrong step and going deeper in the mud.

What’s ironic is that initially we’re often drawn to mud puddles. It’s kind of fun to dabble in the dirt, throw off inhibitions, and paint our faces like brave warrior princesses we secretly want to be. But then the mud starts to dry and we can’t get out. It’s uncomfortable and we’re stained. Others begin to shy away from our dirt. We believe we’re defined by our circumstances and aren’t seen as the person we truly are inside.

For anyone languishing in a mud puddle of life, here’s good news: You are NOT stuck. And you are NOT defined by any mud.

Christ can set you free! Christ washes away all shame, all guilt, all sin. No matter where you are or where you’ve been, you can be as pure as white snow. All of the dirt and mud are gone for good! How? It’s like baptism. When someone is dunked under the water and then comes up, this doesn’t save them or change their circumstances, but it signifies the death of their old life and the raising to new life in Christ. The same is true for us when we put our trust in Jesus. The past is just that: the past. It’s washed away. Our old, muddy self is dead. We’re not that person anymore even if our circumstances don’t change right away.

Most importantly, we’re set free to move forward and LIVE! Live a new life!

The prophet Nehemiah said, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10. Nehemiah knew thousands of years ago what is still true today: Real life can be hard and circumstances may or may not change. But circumstances do not define who we are. Bad choices and consequences of the past cannot keep us stuck in the dirty places of life if we make the choice now to trust in God and move forward with Him.

So girls, we’ve been wallowing in the mud long enough! It’s time for us to get up out of our puddles and walk forward together. And this trek isn’t just a hike out of the muddy wilderness. It’s a journey to living a new life! Our identity is in Christ! He is the royal robe adorning us. Can I just say, you look marvelous in those clean white threads!

“By our baptism, then, we were buried with Him and shared His death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life.” Romans 6:4 (GNT)

Let’s Talk: What is the muddiest situation you’ve ever been in?

May I pray?

Lord, we praise You that we are not defined by or stuck in the mud puddles of life. Whether we’ve dabbled in the dirt or have lived in mud huts our whole life, You can and will wash away all of the shame, guilt, regret and disappointment of the past. And then You clothe us in Your royal robe as You prepare us for our eternal inheritance at Your side. Jesus, give us the courage today to stand up, brush ourselves off, and take a step in a new direction with You. May we not only choose to leave the mud behind, but may the hope and joy of new life with You be the strength that keeps us moving forward. Amen.

This Changes Everything!

ChangeHave you ever thought about what it would take to change your life? I mean REALLY change it.

A $700 million winning lottery ticket? A guy who preferred spending time with you instead of watching games or playing golf? A job you actually enjoyed where you could make a lot of money and travel to faraway places on their dime? A husband who would love, provide and protect, instead of use, drain and hurt? Kids who acted like they were from the Von Trapp family singers instead of Lord of the Flies? A new identity so you could walk away from the past and its consequences and start over completely? Prince charming to pull you up on his white horse and take you away to his castle in paradise?

If only life was as good as a fairly tale. But it’s not. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s spinning out of control. No matter what direction we try to go, we keep getting pulled down. Keep falling back to the places we hate to be. Keep getting reminded that we’re not who we want to be.

We’re stuck. In real life. In past hurts. In loneliness. In dead relationships. In debt. In depression. In lack of purpose. In everything.

But don’t despair, there’s good news! Something that changes everything!

The resurrection of Jesus! Hear me out and I’ll tell you how this changes everything, even your life. Most of us know the story of Jesus being killed on the cross on Good Friday and then rising from the dead on Easter morning. We’ve heard that Jesus took our sins upon Himself so that we could be released from death and have eternal life in heaven.

But what many Christians never experience is the new life that comes from the resurrection of Jesus. The joy and freedom found in everyday life. This is the game changer!

How do we experience this change? We believe, we surrender, we rise above.

We believe. We truly believe that Christ paid the full price of our ransom, meaning we’ve been set free from sin. And we believe that Jesus washes our sin away completely, meaning that our identity is now in Him and not in all of the bad choices we’ve made or the hard circumstances we live in. Christ is our Savior. And through Him we are survivors.

We surrender. We let go of how our life “ought to be”. We accept that we cannot change the past, but we can change the future. We surrender our desires for particular outcomes. And we run to Jesus! We let Him sit on the throne of our heart. He is God, and thankfully we are not. We’ve made a mess of our lives, and now we surrender to and learn from the One whose expertise is resurrected life.

We rise above. We actively wait as God transforms us from the inside out. We seek God in His Word, in prayer, in Bible Study, in sisterhood. We let Jesus lead our daily lives. We joyfully let go of the burdens we’re carrying and we follow Him on the path to new life. No matter where we’ve been and no matter where we are, it’s never too late to rise above our real life and spread our wings in the freedom of new life in Christ!

Laugh, sing, praise!

Let’s celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! He brings life out of death. He shines the light of hope into the darkness of this world. And when we follow Him, His love empowers us to conquer all that we face as we rise above our circumstances and soar to new life!

This changes everything!

 “‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here: He has risen!’” Luke 24:5-6

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37

Let’s Talk: What would it take to change your life?

May I pray?

Jesus, thank You for conquering death once and for all so that we too can experience resurrection! Lord, You have broken our chains of bondage to this world. Open our eyes and our minds to see how our choices either keep us in our stuck places or draw us closer to our God who sets us free. Help us to believe, surrender, and rejoice in Your love so we can rise above our circumstances and soar in the freedom of new life! Amen.

Who is God?

Who Is GodWhat image comes to mind when you think of God? For some it’s a giant king with a long, white beard and flowing, royal robe sitting on His golden throne. For others it’s Jesus cradling a small lamb in His arms. And still others might think of a beautiful meadow with bright purple flowers and a gurgling brook nearby.

Everyone has their own thoughts about God.

The way we think of God often comes from pictures or paintings we’ve seen, stories we’ve heard others tell, or our own life experiences.

So let’s switch gears completely for a moment (stay with me here). Who comes to mind when I ask, “Who is your favorite Hollywood star?” Most of us will choose someone we liked in a certain role or someone who stands for a cause we believe is worthy. Rarely will we pick someone we actually know because we don’t have personal, daily relationships with movie stars. Likewise, many of us don’t have a personal, daily relationship with God either.

God wants that to change.

Our relationship with God and the feelings we have for/about Him stem directly from our belief of who God is. Is He our loving and fully-devoted Father, or is He a mighty but all-too-busy-for-me God? Does He blot out our sins as if they never happened once we repent, or do we still believe that every time we mess up He’s disappointed and will remind us of how we’ve failed in the past? Is He the Rock that we stand on every day and build our life on, or is He a distant being that we worship and sacrifice to but don’t really know on a personal level? Before we can truly love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, we have to know who He is, believe that He cares deeply about every detail in our life, and literally entrust our life and soul to Him.

Who is God?

God is Elohim, Creator of the entire universe and all of the complex microscopic machinery and expanse of information working in every living cell. But He doesn’t hide behind His creation and stay at arms length. He wants to be found. By you and me.

God reveals Himself through His creation, and He reveals Himself in His Word––the Bible. Hear how God describes Himself:

“‘Do not be afraid… I am your shield, your very great reward.’” Genesis 15:1

“‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.’” Exodus 34:6-7

Throughout Scripture, specific names for God reveal His character:

– Jehova-rapha, The LORD Will Heal (Exodus 15:26)
– Jehovah-raah, The LORD My Shepherd (Psalm 23)
– El Shaddai, The Almighty, All-Sufficient One (Genesis 17:1)
– El Roi, The God Who Sees (Genesis 16:13)

God is loving (John 14:21), faithful (Hebrews 10:23), and forgiving (Luke 7:48, Luke 23:34). He is the God of hope (Romans 15:13) and the Father of compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He desires an intimate one-on-one relationship with each one of His daughters, including you.

David called God “my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14) and Peter said Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Those who knew God best were also the ones who called upon Him using personal names. God wants us to know Him that way. He wants us to walk with Him, talk with Him, sit with Him, and listen. But sometimes we let the noise of our busy lives drown out His voice.

Who is God to me?

He is my Savior who pulled me up from the darkest pits of this world. Twice. He is my omniscient Dad who protects me and provides for me. He is my Counselor who guides me. He is the Rock I stand on in every storm. He is the Spirit that dwells within me and prompts me in undeniable ways I can never comprehend. He is the peace inside me that transcends all understanding and allows me to live in freedom and joy. He is so far beyond anything I can ever imagine, and yet He’s as real as the breath inside of me.

God is real. God is here. God is personal. God is calling because He wants to be found.

Let’s Talk: Who is God to you?

May I pray?

Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Forgiving Father, thank You for calling us to You. Thank You for revealing Yourself through Your creation and through Your Word. Sometimes we have a hard time believing that a God like you could have the time or the interest in knowing girls like us. And yet, You show us over and over again how You love us more than anyone else ever can. More than we will ever comprehend. And not because of who we are, but because of who You are. You are love. Open our eyes to see how You’re at work every day in our lives. And help us to believe it’s okay to fall in love with Jesus even if we can’t understand the enormity of Your existence. May we open up our heart to You today and call upon You in a way that is personal to us. We love You, Dad. Amen.