Sometimes There Aren’t Words

Sometimes there just aren’t words…

when we sit with others in their grief.

when others try to comfort us in ours.

Sometimes there just aren’t words…

when life comes crashing down around us.

when darkness and despair close in.

Sometimes there just aren’t words…

when anxiety and doubt and shame condemn us.

when regrets of the past rear their heads and gnash their teeth.

Sometimes there just aren’t words…

when betrayals bite and false denials scream.

when the unrelenting hand of fear squeezes with clenched fingers.

Sometimes there just aren’t words…

when the world goes crazy.

when people don’t seem to care.

Sometimes there just aren’t words…

when circumstances confuse.

when no one remains but us.

Sometimes there just aren’t words.

But in those times…

the Holy Spirit speaks what we cannot (Romans 8:26–27).

Jesus lifts us in prayer, crying Abba (Romans 8:31–39).

our Heavenly Father holds us close and whispers,

  Be still, let go, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

For the LORD your God is a mighty savior. He delights in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT)

Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I trust Him. (Psalm 91:1–2 NLT)

Sometimes there just aren’t words… But in those times there is Someone who speaks. Jesus alone calms our fears, wraps us in His mighty arms of comfort, and speaks words of true hope and healing. He is love and He loves you. He affirms, “I am with you.” Take refuge in Him, precious friend.

 

Welcome to My Messy

My life is messy. Let me just start today by putting the truth out there. Of course, you wouldn’t know my life is messy just by looking at me. Like all of us, I know how to keep going in hard times and I cope when I need to. I used to guard the truth of my life, and I would continually makeover appearances of my exterior life so people wouldn’t ask questions about my internal struggles. Although not everyone goes to extreme lengths to conceal what they fear might look “off,” most of us don’t want others to see our behind-the-scenes messy truth.

Since I’m being honest about my messy, let me ask you…

Do you ever avoid talking to people––even your closest confidants––because you really don’t want to share what’s going on behind the scenes in your life? It’s hard enough being real with friends in our “normal” chaos. But under waves of fear or doubt, we don’t know if we should stand on our own or cry out for help. And sometimes that demeaning voice whispers in our ear, “You’re not good enough” or “Your problems aren’t as significant as what others are dealing with.” So we justify our decision not to “bother” anyone else with our struggles.

Whether we recognize it or not, we live in a constant battle for self-worth, fighting against isolation.

In order to inter-lock shields of faith and take an anti-isolation stand, my friend Elizabeth and I have a monthly “first Monday” date for sisterhood prayer and praise. Though we text, talk, and email regularly, first Mondays align and empower us as we seek Jesus and His will. Elizabeth remains the greatest prayer warrior I’ve ever known, and we’ve walked this journey of life together for almost ten years. But…

On first Monday a couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth and I were texting confirmation of the when and where. We both have been under tremendous stress with craziness all around. Elizabeth said she wasn’t feeling well, but I told her I’d really like to see her if she was up to it. Then she texted, “I hate to show up like a hot mess! I’m trying hard to get it together. I don’t want to be a burden.”

My response: “You’re not a burden and the whole reason we get together is to join in prayer.” She said she’d come by, but she promised not to stay long.

As we sat side-by-side a few hours later, Elizabeth shared the burdens wearing her out. One by one she laid down her load of heavy work bundles, packs of personal challenges, and discouraging harnesses on her health. From the releasing of this cumbersome weight sprang peace and freedom. And then my precious friend confided, “I didn’t want you to see my mess.” What?! Does she remember who she’s talking to? The words flowed quickly from my lips:

“Are you kidding? Welcome to my messy! My life is full of mess, and you and your mess are ALWAYS welcome here with me!” And I proceeded to take my turn in off-loading the bundles and packs and harnesses of my messy life.

Friends, we all have messy. Sometimes our messy extends from overloaded schedules and responsibilities, and sometimes its rooted in shame, fear, doubt, or comparison. We struggle with keeping enough order in our life so we still qualify as “normal.” But there’s no such thing as normal! Don’t fear the messy places in life. We shouldn’t pretend our messy doesn’t exist or get caught up in overcompensating for it. What can we do with our messy?

Acknowledge it.

Accept it.

Address it––by sharing it with a trusted confidant who will help us navigate the murky waters of messy.

Thankfully we’re not defined by what people see or the degree of messy we experience. Our self-worth comes solely through Christ’s love for us and our identity in Him, both of which are perfect and priceless. These transcend our messy and allow us to find strength, purpose, hope, and transformation as we walk our spiritual journey with God and others.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Abba, Father.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering.  (Romans 8:14–17 NLT)

Despite your messy, you are God’s beloved child. Press into Jesus with your messy, and intentionally step closer today to at least one friend with whom you can be transparent. Real life requires real relationships. I pray you’ll encourage others and invite them into your journey with: “Welcome to my messy!”

Your Life through the Keyhole

Have you ever seen a really old door on a house or stone wall with the thick iron hardware that creeks every time it opens? Back in the day, big heavy doors stood as formidable barriers that couldn’t be breached by force. Yet many of these doors were no match for prying eyes. The huge iron keys required to unlock the latches were so wide that you could actually put your eye up to the keyhole and look through to the other side.

Nowadays we have small metal slits for slender keys, and sometimes only touch pads, so we can’t peer through keyholes to catch a glimpse of something beyond. But imagine walking up to a castle wall and looking through one of those big iron keyholes into a secret garden or a magical hidden world. What might you see?

Now what if I told you that this keyhole view is how we view our life each day?

It’s as if we’re looking at ourselves, other people, and our circumstances through a tiny window. We can see clearly, but our vantage is severely limited. We can’t see what’s happening to the left or the right. We can’t see what’s happening up above or below. We can’t see anything happening behind the scenes. There’s so much going on outside our view that we’ll never truly comprehend everything about anything.

It suddenly makes me feel very small and uninformed about my life.

Thankfully, all of us can turn to someone who sees and knows everything beyond our keyhole view. God. Elohim the Creator. Yahweh the covenant-keeper. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. He created time and lives outside of it. He looks down upon the past, present, and future and sees it all at once.

God transcends our keyhole view and has a complete perspective of our entire life.

And praise the Lord, one of His greatest joys is to lovingly shepherd us through every season. Day by day, Jesus offers His hand as He calls, “Come, follow Me.” Through sun-filled days on the highest mountain peaks. Through the darkest hours in seemingly endless valleys. Jesus sees all and navigates accordingly.

Jesus. The Master Strategist who orchestrates life. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing catches Him off guard. He never takes a coffee break. His love never fails and His mercies renew every morning. Jesus knows every detail about you and your life, including every detail about everyone who will ever touch your life in any way. And He watches over you every second of every day, ready to cover you with His mighty wings.

We may be skeptical at times. We may have doubts about how much God loves us or what He’s willing to do for us. But we see the proof in what He’s already done: He died to bury our sins once and for all; and He rose again to offer us new life in Him. Life everlasting!

“We walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

We may not know what tomorrow brings. But we can know who will be protecting, providing for, and walking with us on the journey. Jesus. We don’t have to worry about having a limited view as we peer through our keyhole. Jesus––our almighty God––sees everything. He alone holds the ultimate power to prevail in every situation. And He has prepared the way for us beyond what we can see. Turn to the One who leads the way!

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

In what ways do you strain to see through the keyhole of your life? How might Jesus be inviting you to turn to Him for hope and the way forward?

How Not to Hate the Wait

Our pace of daily life quickens. For instance, do you remember when email emerged as a life-changing breakthrough––speeding up and expanding communication beyond what we ever imagined? Some of us older cats do. But today, many view email as an archaic nuisance, like snail mail. Why not just text or chat?

In our world of one-click shopping and on-demand streaming, much of life no longer unfolds over time. We expect immediate results. We want what we want when we want it. We require instantaneous life. We hate waiting.

Thankfully, we don’t have to wait for anything. Or do we?

Yes, often God asks us to wait. But His concept of waiting entails hope and expectation, not delay and nuisance. God’s waiting bears fruit. When we wait and dwell with God, His strength becomes our strength. This waiting opens the door for the Spirit to continue His work of transformation in our lives. This waiting allows God’s plan to become our plan, and even our deliverance.  

Psalm 31:24 “Be strong and courageous, all you who wait––who hope––in the LORD.”

Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.”

Psalm 40:1 “I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry.”

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

Psalm 37 demonstrates how we grow in our walk with God. It’s a progression, and the waiting underscores spiritual maturity.

  • First, as we begin to get to know Jesus, we learn that He’s always trustworthy (v3).
  • Then, as our trust in Him grows, we begin to delight in Him and rejoice with thankfulness because of His grace, forgiveness, and protection (v4).
  • Our delight leads us to commitment as we devote our lives to following Him and becoming His ambassadors in this world (v5). Harder challenges may begin to emerge.
  • Finally, as we look for direction forward, He tells us to be still––to let go of all that we hold onto and all that we trust outside of Him––and to wait (v7). In this time of waiting, we lay our ambitions at the foot of the cross. We allow Christ to prepare us for the work He’s calling us to. And we allow His indwelling power to transform us from the inside out.

Isaiah 40:31 reveals the results of our waiting. Strength emerges as the hallmark of those who wait and hope in the LORD. Whether we soar to new heights of an amazing new journey, or run the long haul of a life marathon through new terrain, or walk the slow, hard roads of daily life challenges––we will not tire. We will not grow weary. We will not give up. Our trust, delight, commitment, and waiting strengthen us. And they impact our faith journey as God lives through us and uses us mightily each day in our circles of influence.

In this chaotic and quickening world, waiting can feel like surrender to a foe. The world’s expectation of waiting breeds anxiety and fear. Emotions ratchet up as the focus becomes all that could happen while someone refrains from taking matters into their own hands. In doing nothing, they resolve themselves to someone else’s will. Misfortune watches intently, ready to pounce.

But this doesn’t reflect our expectation of waiting. We wait for our good and holy God.

When we wait for God, we give Him space to work in and through our lives. When we wait for God, we listen and watch and move toward Him in prayer. When we wait for God, we allow Him to be God.

We wait with expectation rooted in His power, faithfulness, and love. Waiting for God doesn’t garner resignation. It elicits hope as we trust that our God––the Master Strategist, Creator of the Universe, and our Heavenly Father––continues to put things in place as He works all things to good. In His timing, our path forward develops and unfolds.

Next time you struggle with waiting, pray through the scriptures above. Praise God for your journey through trusting, delighting in, committing to, and waiting for Him. Praise God for his strength in you, and His perseverance through you, which allows you to soar and run and walk the journey of life in His care and provision.

Don’t hate the wait. Praise Him in the process and let your life be a beacon of hope to others.

Do you have a story of how God has worked through your waiting? Your story could be a great encouragement to others––we’d love to hear it!

Unanswered Prayers

When someone dies, we struggle with the “why”. Why didn’t God answer our prayers? Why didn’t God answer the prayers of everyone else? Why was this life cut short? As Easter approaches and we solemnly remember the Last Supper and the gruesome events that unfolded, the “why” questions of the disciples are laid bare.

Jesus was taken by force from the garden. He was tried for false crimes, beaten to the edge of life, and brutally hung on a cross to die in agony and ridicule.

His disciples and followers watched it all. They had grown up in the Jewish tradition of prayer. And Jesus, their esteemed rabbi, taught them how to pray with new expectation (Matt 6:9–13). Jesus revealed that God knew each one of them intimately. God loved them dearly. Not only is God the Almighty YAHWEH of Israel, He is their adoring Heavenly Father, their Abba.

So imagine their confusion and grief as Jesus’ friends and family watched the horror of events. Their prayers for Jesus’ deliverance and rise to power in Israel went unanswered. God remained silent. What about God as His loving Father? And what about Jesus’ words to them, “I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it” (John 14:13–14).

“Ask Me for anything and I will do it.” But You won’t heal someone who’s doing Your good work here on earth? You won’t allow a young mother to live a few more years? You won’t spare a young child with a bright smile and an even brighter future?

On that dark weekend two thousand years ago, what the disciples didn’t know was God’s plan. They waded through darkness, watching evil and injustice seemingly prevail. They didn’t see God’s work of resurrection and new life. They perceived an untimely stripping of Jesus’ earthly ministry, not comprehending the heavenly throne and Christ’s new work through the Spirit––work which now continues throughout all generations until He returns.

Jesus told His disciples, “Anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. They will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12).

Jesus, one man on earth, then multiplied His good work infinitely through the saints. The Holy Spirit indwells and works through believers for the glory of God and the redemption of all.

It’s true that God didn’t answer the disciple’s prayers for Jesus’ deliverance and rise to power in the way they expected. But God was not silent. He was not MIA. God’s awesome plan of redemption for all people and all things ignited and set a new course for human history.

And our Heavenly Father’s awesome plan continues today in and through His people.

So what about our prayers that seem to go unanswered? Specifically, what about prayers for healing and deliverance that end in death? If God doesn’t answer these “good” prayers that would bring glory to Him, why would He care about any of our other prayers that pale in comparison? Why pray for a new job, a new relationship, or healing from a cold?

Remember Jesus’ words, “Ask anything in My name.” God desires that our hearts would align with His as we grow in Christlikeness. So we pray for His will to be done. We make our requests known, willingly leaving the results to Him and committing to trust and praise Him regardless of outcome. This is how we glorify the Father through prayer. We join Christ in presenting our requests, we trust that He cares for every aspect of our lives (1 Peter 5:7), and by faith we believe that His good and perfect will be done. Even if we don’t understand this side of heaven.

We can’t see the innerworkings of God’s awesome plan of redemption. But in faith, we trust He’s sovereign and active.

And we hold fast to the promise of eternal life with Christ. So what if…  

What if when Christ-followers die, they aren’t whisked to heaven to fly around on angel wings until Christ returns to earth? What if their work in God’s plan of redemption continues from a new heavenly vantage? What if what we pray for on earth is answered, but it manifests in heaven? We know life on earth will end for all of us, but we also know that’s just the beginning. Now we see in part as if through a keyhole, but then we will see through an open door.

We’ve talked in previous blogs about our work in the new heavens and new earth. God’s invitation to join in His redemption plan goes beyond our earthly existence. And Christ affirms He has prepared a place for us in our Father’s house. So why should we think that between the time we leave this life and the time of Christ’s return we will merely be waiting, waiting, waiting… Whatever our part in God’s heaven work, it is worthy of hope and praise!

This Easter weekend, let’s praise and sit in awe of the one true God who promises to raise us to new life through His resurrection power. But let’s also praise Him for the work He asks everyone to join in that plan––both here on earth and beyond. Remember, Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father in Heaven, holy is Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” On earth as it is in heaven.

Friends, our struggles through pain, despair, and confusion of losing loved ones are real. But there’s hope in the darkness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

In our mourning, let’s cling to faith. Let’s pray through Scripture and align our hearts with God’s. Through the Spirit’s strength, let’s offer praise to Jesus for His promise of eternal life. Let’s praise Him for His plan of redemption whereby the lives of men and women and boys and girls continue to impact others in this world, far beyond their last moments with us.

Jesus is the God of resurrection and new life! Although we may never understand the “why” this side of heaven, we know that His awesome plan includes each one of us and those who have gone before us. No life is wasted. Christ’s impactful and redemptive work through His people continues on earth and in heaven.

Who Do You Say I Am?

Most of us know the greatest stories ever told. Noah, his ark in the flood, and the promise of the rainbow. Moses parting the Red Sea as the Israelites escaped from Egypt. The baby Jesus lying in the manger with shepherds and wise men paying honor to the newborn King. The empty tomb on Sunday morning.

Often in stories our focus is on the action or the players or the outcome. But the stories of the Bible have another purpose––to turn our focus to the Author of life. To fix our minds on God.

Renowned theologian A.W. Tozer said, “What you think about God is the most important thing about you.” Why? Because what we believe about God affects everything. It affects how we interact with Him. It affects what we believe about ourselves. It affects how we treat others. It affects the decisions we make and the actions we take. It affects what parts of our life we invite Jesus into.

If we believe God is distant, we’ll take matters into our own hands. If we believe God is angry, we’ll walk on eggshells, or avoid Him, or maybe even lie. If we believe God is uncaring or too busy for us, we’ll struggle with finding purpose in life.

If we believe God forgives, we’ll approach His throne of grace with confidence, thankfulness, and relief. If we believe God heals, we’ll stop covering our wounds and allow His healing hand to touch us. If we believe He’s the giver of new life, we’ll unlock the dark places of our past and allow His light to dissolve the shadows and scatter the demons.

God’s desire is that each one of us would truly KNOW Him.

In any relationship, getting to know someone intimately takes time. But God has all the time in the world, and He’s inviting you to sit with Him, learn from His Word, and converse with Him through prayer. Even Jesus’s disciples went through a process of getting to know Him as they heard His teachings, asked questions, travelled with Him from town to town, and shared meals together. In Mark 8:27–30, their conversation turned to what people thought about Jesus. As Tozer said, what people think about God is most important.

Then Jesus asks His closest friends point blank, “What about you? Who do you say I am?”

Today, Jesus asks us this same question. And we may have different answers. Some of us, like Peter, can proclaim: Jesus, You are the Christ, the promised Savior, the Son of God!

Some of us may cling to God’s self-revelation in Exodus 34:6-7, affirming: You are Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Thank you for your forgiveness and mercy.

Some of us may pray John 14:6: You are the way, the truth, and the life! Open my eyes and my mind to You, and grant me new life!

Some of us may cry out Psalm 23: You are my Shepherd. In Your grace, walk me through these dark valleys of the shadow of death. Bring me safely to the other side.

Some of us may be like the desperate father in Mark 9:24: Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief!

Some of us may affirm 1 John 4:8: God, You are love. Heal my broken heart and my broken life with Your unfailing love.

And some of us may not know what we believe about God or Jesus. To you Jesus says softly, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Walk with Me and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29)

Friends, whether or not we know the greatest stories, the Author of life wants us to know Him. And not just know about Him, but truly know Him personally and intimately as His beloved sons and daughters.

Who is the Author of life? God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, God the Holy Spirit

I encourage all of us to carve out some time today for a conversation with Jesus. And as He asks, “What about you? Who do you say I am?” be honest and open your heart to Him. If you’re not sure how to respond, begin to pray through some of the Scriptures above, or other passages that have been important to you in the past. Allow the power of the Spirit to speak to you through His living Word.

We cannot trust God with all of life and follow Him down unknown paths until we KNOW Him. I’m praying for your time with Jesus today.

Fear or Faith at Work?

What’s the most challenging aspect of living out your faith at work? Some of us work at home or with other Christians, so being salt and light, and talking about our faith, come naturally. But many of us work in places where talking about Jesus and faith are discouraged. And some workplaces are downright hostile to Christians, so speaking openly could mean the end of our employment.

For all of us, shining the bright light of Jesus in a very dark place can feel scary––even dangerous.

The average worker faces situations and decisions every day that test the boundaries of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). Fear is real. We’re afraid of talking about Jesus to people who disparage Him. We worry we’ll be misunderstood or make others feel awkward. We don’t want to become alienated, looked down upon, or reprimanded. We don’t know where to start a conversation about our faith.

It’s no fun living like a double agent with different personas at work v. at home. So how do we overcome fear of living out our faith at work? Do we have to talk about Jesus in order to be a witness at work?

Here are three critical truths about faith at work, with encouragement from Acts 1:8, which I hope will empower you to head to work this week with new insight and courage:

  1. Witnessing is not evangelizing.
  2. Jesus is already working at your workplace.
  3. Your workplace is God’s powerful venue for transformation.

Jesus declares, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Witnessing is not evangelizing. Most of us know about evangelism––and like a trip to the dentist, we’d rather not go. Evangelizing entails proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ through God’s grace. Conversely, witnessing is about who we are in Christ. It entails sharing what we’ve seen or experienced first-hand. Witnessing includes the way we interact with others and the way we conduct our work. Thus, we go to work each day empowered by Christ’s Spirit. And we begin to live out our faith in Jesus as His witnesses through: authentic relationships we cultivate, prayer and care for others, and our excellent work. All of these then give us the credibility to share how Christ has transformed our life and how He can transform someone else’s.

Jesus is already working at your workplace. Jesus is Lord over all creation, and as such He is Lord of your workplace. He’s already working there. Now He wants you to actively join Him. Once you put your faith in Christ, He lives in you through the Holy Spirit. So you go to work each day not in your own strength trying to do the right thing. Rather, you go to work with the power of the indwelling Spirit whose desire is to join in God’s work there. Find courage in His strength. Ignite the power of prayer in your workplace. Ask Jesus how He wants you to join His work in other people’s lives, and through the work itself.

Your workplace is God’s powerful venue for transformation. God’s redemptive Kingdom work continues “to the ends of the earth” today. This includes transformation of believers, non-believers, organizational values, and culture. This is the work He asks us to join. In addition, Christ uses the workplace as a crucible for refining our character and stretching our faith muscles as we resolve to stand up for what is good and right. There’s purpose in the challenges you face at work. Pause, pray, listen for the Spirit, reflect on His promptings. Then take action accordingly.

When we trust in Jesus as Lord of our workplace, and view our work as an extension of His, purpose and strength replace fear. Be encouraged! You go in the power of the Spirit as His witness to join in the work He’s already doing.

Why Work?

Cultures flourish and deteriorate based on how they answer these questions: Why do people exist? Is there some greater meaning to life? What’s our purpose in the here and now?

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” If we’re honest, we all want to know the why.

So what if someone told you, “You were born to work.” Seriously? We understand the need to work, at least in terms of providing financial means for individuals and their families. And clearly “born to work” isn’t referring to living in captivity, so there must be another interpretation. But finding transcendent value and purpose in everyday work––that doesn’t compute. Especially for those of us whose daily grind wears us out. Especially when people at work cut us down. Especially when we’re not using our gifts and we don’t like what we do.

Why work?

Early twentieth-century author Dorothy Sayers answered this question and challenged the church and Christians everywhere to view work as the primary way we live out the Great Commandment to love God and love others (Matt 22:37–39). In her article “Why Work” (which you can find online), Sayers proclaims that work “should be looked upon, not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of [humanity] should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.”

Translation: We’re created by God to glorify Him through our work. And work is meant to be a joy-filled way of life.

Sayers continues: “The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done.” In other words, the value of work is not calculated by how much money it generates. Rather, the true value comes in the way we do our work––the quality of the work itself and our interactions with others.

Our daily work is a reflection of who we are as Christ’s image-bearers.

God’s Word lays the foundation for a His perspective of work. We don’t have time to dig deep into Scripture, but here’s the progression:

  • Gen 1:26–28 confirms that all humanity is created in the image of God (Himself a worker throughout Scripture), and God commands His image-bearers to continue His work on earth by creating culture: “Let us make humanity in our image…”
  • 2 Cor 5:17–21 declares that once we put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we’re transformed into image-bearers of Christ by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And He calls us to join in His work: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation…. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…”
  • Col 3:17 affirms that we glorify God through our daily work, and our work becomes a witness to the watching world: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Summary of the progression:  All humans are image-bearers of God. Christ-followers are image-bearers and ambassadors of Christ. The work of Christians glorifies God and witnesses to the world.

In Sayers’ day, the label “Christian work” erroneously applied only to work conducted in and for the church, and thus Christian/church work was deemed more valuable to God than “secular” non-church work. Sayers took issue with this unbiblical dichotomy, proclaiming, “The only Christian work is good work, well done. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work.”

Her point: Excellent work done for the glory of God is “sacred” work. The context of the work doesn’t matter.

Getting back to our original questions:

  • Why do people exist? To glorify God and live in relationship with Him.
  • Is there a greater meaning to life? Yes, and that meaning is detailed in God’s Word.
  • What’s our purpose in the here and now? To glorify God by loving Him and loving others well. And one of the primary means of loving God and loving others is work––whatever that work may entail, and regardless of whether or not we get paid to do it.
  • Why work? Excellent work honors God and gives us credibility in the watching world. Through our work, we’re a vessel of God’s Kingdom expansion. We demonstrate God’s love for others when we work with integrity and care for those we work alongside. And God uses our work as a means of providing for families, communities, and society as a whole.

Amen! Let it be!

We covered a lot of ground today, and I hope you’ll take some time to pray through the concepts and passages included. One thing I know for sure: Embracing a biblical perspective of work will change your life.

So now, dear friends, I joyfully send you into your day armed with truths about work. Have a fabulous day in whatever you’ll be doing!

Greatest Gift: A Partridge in a Pear Tree

What’s your favorite Christmas carol? I can’t pick just one because many carols bear fond memories of my dad. Each year growing up, my family sang in church choirs and caroled through neighborhoods with a large group of singers. Today, I still sing along every chance I get (out of earshot from others, mind you).

One of my all-time favorite classics is the “12 Days of Christmas” as sung by John Denver and the Muppets. Corny, maybe. But it always ignites a smile. And you can’t deny the endearing chutzpah of Miss Piggy. For Christmas carol junkies like me, click here to watch it on YouTube.

Recently, I found out that a dear friend of mine doesn’t know the words to 12 Days of Christmas! How is that possible? He’s a musician! But then I realized that many people didn’t grow up singing Christmas carols and never had the opportunity to memorize every word to every song.

Sad but true.

Also true: Even for someone like me who can sing every word to the carols (whether in tune or not), I don’t always know the full message.

Like 12 Days of Christmas. All those years singing its catchy lyrics and I never knew the meaning behind the words!

Here’s what I found out. There are two disputing camps: one says the song means nothing and one says it does. Go figure. The camp affirming this carol’s intrinsic meaning indicates that in post-Reformation England, Roman Catholics were prevented from openly practicing their faith. So this old folk song helped children remember tenets of their faith.

The hidden meaning of the gifts given by “my True Love” (God) are:

  • A partridge in a pear tree – Jesus Christ
  • Two turtle doves – the Old and New Testaments
  • Three French hens – faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
  • Four calling birds – the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  • Five gold rings – the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament)
  • Six geese a-laying – the six days of creation before the first Sabbath rest
  • Seven swans a-swimming – the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy (Romans 12:6-8)
  • Eight maids a-milking – the eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor, mourning, humble, oppressed, merciful, pure-hearted, peacemaking, persecuted (Matthew 5:3-10)
  • Nine ladies dancing – the nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Ten lords a-leaping – the Ten Commandments
  • Eleven pipers piping – the eleven faithful disciples
  • Twelve drummers drumming – the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed

Each verse in the song comes back to one gift: the partridge in a pear tree. Jesus Christ. The baby in a manger. Our Savior who came quietly into the world to offer full forgiveness and restoration with our True Love, God. Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

Whether or not this folk song taught children about their faith, it can teach all of us to pause and consider the blessed gifts we’ve been given as children of God.

And one gift stands above them all: Christ.

Jesus is the gift we celebrate this Christmas season. In Him alone we find hope, everlasting love, and new life. May we sing praise to our True Love and His Son Jesus this Christmas!

“But to all who have received Him––those who believe in His name––He has given the right to become God’s children.” John 1:12 (NET)

May I pray?

Jesus, sometimes You’re overlooked at Christmas. Even though “Christ” is the root of “Christmas”, we often get caught up in gifts and songs and celebrations instead of You. As we go through this year’s 12 days of Christmas, help us to turn our thoughts and praise to You. You’re the reason for the season. May we rejoice in our True Love who has given us the greatest gift of all. Amen.

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
  • and WEEDS! EVERYWHERE!

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 Bible.org

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 Bible.org 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.