Mud Puddles of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May I pray?

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

This Changes Everything!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laugh, sing, praise!

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

This changes everything!

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

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

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

May I pray?

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

Who is God?

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

Everyone has their own thoughts about God.

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

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

God wants that to change.

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

Who is God?

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

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

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

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

Throughout Scripture, specific names for God reveal His character:

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

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

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

Who is God to me?

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

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

Let’s Talk: Who is God to you?

May I pray?

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

Feeling Fruity: It’s a Good Thing!

Fruit of the SpiritWhat’s your favorite fruit? I love berries. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries––they’re all right up there on my list of fav’s. Especially when the berries are home grown and perfectly ripe––wow! There’s nothing sweeter.

But it’s not easy growing fruit.

I fertilize the soil and carefully water the little plants. Finally fruit begins to show. I wait with great expectation for the berries to ripen. And as soon as they’re ready to pick––POOF! They’re gone! I’m not the only one who loves fresh berries. Birds, bears, rabbits, and raccoons do too.

My love and struggle for berries may not tell a lot about me, but for those of us pursuing Christ, there is fruit in our life that speaks volumes: fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the characteristics of people who are surrendered to and guided by the Holy Spirit. And if someone is overflowing with this kind of fruit, they’re living a full and exuberant life, even in the midst of trials!

How do we get fruit of the Spirit to grow in our life?

It’s like me trying to grow berries. First we have to start with good soil. The soil for the Spirit’s fruit is our heart and mind. Are we open to God, the reconciliation Jesus provides, and the power of His Holy Spirit? Do we listen to His Word, believe it and begin to apply it in our life? This is how we provide good soil for the seeds God is planting in us.

We then fertilize and water God’s seeds with Truth. How? By feeding on the Word of God––reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it, praying it. As we learn more about God and as we grow in our relationship with Him, the fruit of His Spirit grows in us. He begins to transform us in the midst of our everyday choices and everyday life. We can feel His fruit inside us. And those around us can see it too: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If this is the kind of fruit we have in our life, then feeling fruity is a good thing, and a God thing!

A few closing thoughts…

  • Everyone’s life produces something.
  • We can’t force fruit to grow.
  • When our life is full of good fruit, the weeds and pests of the sinful life can’t take root or steal our fruit.
  • What we can do is offer our heart and mind as good soil, and then immerse ourselves in the Living Water that feeds and nourishes God’s seeds planted in our soul.

May the fruit of the Spirit grow and flourish as you open your heart and mind to God’s Truth and the power of His Holy Spirit living in you.

(If you’re interested in reading more about the soil of our heart and mind, read the parable of the sower in Mark 4:1-20)

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

Let’s Talk: Which fruit of the Spirit would you most like to see God grow in your life?

May I pray?

Holy Spirit, we don’t often direct our prayers to You, but today we come to You on our knees. Help us to unlock the hidden places of our heart and mind as we open up to You. Fill us with Your strength as we take a step toward new life. Fertilize and water our souls as we immerse ourselves in Your Truth. May Your beautiful fruit adorn our life as a testament to Your power to transform us. And may we overflow with Your fruit as we rise above our real life circumstances and walk forward each day with You and sisters in Christ. Amen.

 

Take Your Stand

Take Your StandHave you ever felt attacked by someone? Not physically, but by an assault of words or actions? Any kind of attack can cast doubt about who we are, what we can endure, and how we can stand up for what we believe.

No one wants to be attacked. But some of us are, day after day after day.

Continual attacks wear us down. Our self-worth cracks. Shame, regret and guilt from the past come back to haunt us. And for those who are trying to grow in their relationship with Jesus, it often feels like the stronger their faith gets, the worse the attacks become.

Here’s good news: God provides the armor and weapons we need to protect ourselves against attack!

A battle rages all around us. And each of us is called to take a stand, OUR stand. We can be confident that God has the power to overcome every attack. And although we can’t always remove ourselves from the situation at home, work or school, God teaches us how to suit up each morning and be prepared.

The whole Armor of God, when put on and used properly, will defeat the enemy. And for those of us who aren’t into GI Jane or other intense conflicts, thankfully we’re not called to charge into battle and attack others. We’re simply told to stand firm and hold our ground under God’s banner. So let’s put on the full Armor of God:

1. Belt of truth: Surrounds us, holds our armor in place, defeats Satan’s lies

2. Breastplate of righteousness: Protects our body and our heart, including emotions, self-worth, and trust

3. Feet fitted with readiness of the gospel: Moves us to share the gospel of peace, including our story of new life with Jesus

4. Shield of faith: Extinguishes ALL the flaming arrows of the enemy––we have ultimate victory from attack

5. Helmet of salvation: Protects our mind from doubt––we know the end of the story: Jesus wins and we’re with Him in heaven

6. Sword of the Spirit–the Word of God (the only offensive weapon): We must know the Word and be practiced at using it in battle, especially against temptation

7. Secret Weapon–PRAYER: The enemy does not have this––this is our direct link to God and the power of His Holy Spirit in us

No matter where we’ve been, no matter what we’ve done, if we come to Jesus He will stand with us in battle. He provides full armor to protect us, without holes or hidden weak spots. And when we stand together in sisterhood, our shields of faith interlock and together we’re able to stand stronger. There is definitely strength in numbers!

So Girls, let’s get our fabulous Armor of God in place and be ready to stand together! Jehovah-sabaoth, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, our Deliverer, is waiting for us to join Him on the battlefield. Let’s take the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and wield Truth as we focus on Him. And let’s unleash the power of God in prayer, for ourselves and for others. Rejoice, sisters! For today, victory is His!

“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:10-11

Let’s Talk: What’s the most important part of the Armor of God for you to remember to put on (and keep on) each day?

May I pray?

Almighty God, You call us to be armed and ready, knowing that attacks will come. But You are stronger than anyone or anything we will ever face. By Your grace and power we share in Your victory and know that we will be in heaven for eternity. Give us the courage today to put on the FULL Armor of God and take our stand with You. Help us to unite with other sisters in Christ so that together we can interlock our shields of faith and encourage each other. And help us remember each day to suit up and wield Your Sword of Truth. Amen.

Breaking Free and Staying Free

Breaking Free from StuckHave you ever seen an elephant perform at the circus? It’s amazing to watch these massive beasts with incredible power doing small, delicate moves. They have the strength to tear down the tents and run to freedom, but instead they stay in captivity and perform their routines.

What’s even more amazing is that when they’re not performing, elephants are often confined with only a small chain tied around one leg. With a quick yank the elephants could break free. But they don’t.

They believe they’re stuck.

As babies, captive elephants are chained by one leg and they aren’t strong enough to break the small chain. As they grow larger, the chain remains the same size. Even though the elephants now have the strength to break free, they don’t know they can.

The same is true in our stuck places.

Many of us feel imprisoned in our circumstances, chained by the guilt and regrets of past mistakes, or unable to find relief from relationship wounds that won’t heal. We don’t believe we can break free.

Here’s good news: The chains that bind us and prevent us from moving forward are broken!

Jesus Christ has set us free! All chains are broken, our sins are washed away. The past is just that––the past. A new life of freedom in Christ awaits, and the only thing standing in our way is us.

Break free and stay free!

Break free! If you’ve accepted Christ as your Savior, your chains are broken. You break the final tie by believing you can take steps forward in that freedom. It may be scary. Change is not easy, even if it’s good change. You may not know what lies outside the circus walls of your current real life. But if you’re heading toward new life in Christ, you’re going in the right direction! And you’re not alone. We’re all on this journey together.

Stay free! Keep moving forward in freedom. Pursue Christ through prayer and His Word. Grow in bonds of sisterhood and stay encouraged. We’re all prone to go back to what we know––where we’ve been––even if it’s not where we truly want to be.

Break free and stay free! Take a step forward. Grow in your relationship with Christ, spending time in His Word and standing firm in your freedom. You have the power of the Holy Spirit within you. Nothing can hold you in bondage if you choose to be free!

“‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” John 8:36

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Let’s Talk: Share your story of breaking free or staying free as an encouragement to others. We’d love to hear it!

May I pray?

Lord, often we spend so much time stuck in the same circumstances or stuck making the same choices that we don’t believe we can ever be free from the stress, guilt, regrets, loneliness, or shame we feel. Thank You for the truth that You have set us free! Show us today how we can break the final ties and take a step forward toward You. Give us courage to move in a new direction, to connect with new sisters in Christ, to open Your Word and listen for You. May today be our last day in bondage, for You have set us free and we are free indeed! Amen.

 

5 Steps On the Right Path Forward

Right Path Moving ForwardWhat’s the hardest thing about getting lost? The delay it causes? The stress of not knowing how to get back on route? Maybe it’s the fear that we’re so far off course we’ll never get to where we really want to be.

A lot of us feel lost.

GPS or not, when it comes to life, we aren’t where we think we should be. And even if we know where we want to end up, we don’t know how to get there from here. So we try this or that. We head here or there. But without clear direction, we’re running in circles or veering back into the wilderness.

Here’s good news: There’s a path of life marked out for you–and you can find it!

5 Steps On the Right Path Forward

1. Throw off everything that hinders you from moving forward. Cast away any sin that entangles you. Whatever keeps you trapped and tied up, cut the ties and don’t go back. Temptations can ensnare us. Leaving them behind is the first step to moving forward on the right path.

2. Run with perseverance. Run! We can’t stay wallowing in the mud puddles we’ve been in. We need to get up and start moving. But we also have to realize that life is a marathon, not a sprint. The trek will be long and hard. We’ll get tired and doubt we can make it. So don’t give up!

3. Look for the markers along the path. We’re not running blindly. Just like in a race where every mile has a marker telling us where we are, so too the path we’re on has markers. How do I know? Because God says He has gone ahead of us and marked out the path (Hebrews 12:1). Our job is to look for the markers and follow them. Look for the signs of God and follow Him. You’re reading this blog on a website about doing life together in sisterhood. Could this be a sign?

4. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Jesus is at the finish line. That’s where our attention needs to be. Not fixating on our circumstances or what other people are doing. Eyes on Him. If we don’t focus on our goal, we’ll be running around not going anywhere fast, or running in circles getting nowhere.

5. Believe that God has already paid your way to heaven, the ultimate destination. It’s a free ticket. There’s nothing we have to do (or can do) to earn it. We don’t have to work our way to get in God’s favor. We don’t have to do good deeds to go to heaven. We just have to accept that Jesus paid the full fare. He finished the work to gain entrance to heaven. Now it’s a journey along the path of life to get there. And what God wants is for us to join Him.

No matter where we are in life, we can find our way to the right path forward. We don’t have to be afraid of what lies ahead. It’s good. It’s leading to heaven. And best of all, it’s not full of things we have to do or hoops to jump through.

We just have to look for Jesus. He is marking the path. He’s at the finish line. Head towards Him. Seek Jesus in His Word. Pursue Him in prayer. Connect with new sisters in Christ who are running with Him. Take His hand and don’t let go.

When we’re with Jesus, we’re exactly where we need to be. Sins of the past fall behind, new and healthy friendships grow, and suddenly we realize we’re on the right path forward.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter 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.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Let’s Talk: What step will you take today on the right path forward?

May I pray?

Dear Jesus, so often we feel lost and discouraged because we’re going in the wrong direction or going nowhere at all. Help us to see that You are the right path. Thank You that no matter where we’ve been, no matter where we are, You are here now, ready to lead us. Give us the courage to throw off everything that keeps us from You. Help us to run with perseverance, looking for the everyday markers pointing us to You. And please bring new sisters to encourage us as we take daily steps on the right path forward. Amen.

What Will God Really Do For You?

Does God CareDo you ever wonder if God cares? I mean really. If He’s creator of the universe, if He’s busy dealing with wars and famine and asteroids and floods, if He’s leading an army of angels and helping people who lost loved ones in tragedies, how can He have time for you and me? With all that’s going on in this crazy, mixed-up world, does God really want to listen to our prayers for a new job, a renewed relationship, and help paying bills?

All of us have wondered at one time or another if God hears us. And even if He hears, does He care? We’ve been praying. We don’t understand the “why” of what’s happening. Injustice abounds. Things aren’t getting better, and in fact they seem to be getting worse.

Some people say darkness comes before the dawn. But what if God doesn’t bring dawn this time?

Here’s truth: Morning always comes. And God is there.

We may not see God. We may not hear Him. Our fears, anxiety and doubts may begin to draw us away or ignite anger towards a God who is supposed to love us.

We may wonder: Where is God when we need Him, and what will He really do?

This is what God answers:

“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

1. God is with you. Always. The New Living Translation says, “He is living among you.” He is your devoted, loving Father. You may not feel close to Him but He’s in your midst. He is calling to you, protecting you, wanting you to draw near to Him. Take a step toward Him. He is there.

2. God is mighty and powerful, and He continues to save lives. God gave His beloved Son as a sacrifice in your place so that you could spend eternity with Him. And He saves all of us over and over again in our earthly lives. He is still in the resurrection business, and He can bring you to new life. The Good News Translation says, “His power gives you victory.”

3. God delights in you. You are His beloved child. He created you in His image. He created you just the way you are, hang-ups and all. He created you for purpose. He has set aside an eternal inheritance for you, if you will accept it.

4. God quiets you with His love. When you’re afraid. When you doubt. When you struggle with shame, guilt, regret. God showers His love on you. He will whisper through His Word. He will bring His peace upon your heart. If you’ll sit still and listen, He will comfort you and quiet you in your spirit. He alone can bring true, lasting peace. Because He is peace.

5. God sings over you and rejoices in your life. As loving parents sing lullabies to their sleeping children, God sings over you. He rejoices as He watches over you. He blesses you. He holds you. He prepares the best for you. But “the best” is found only in an intimate relationship with Him, your devoted Heavenly Father.

What does God really do for You? He is with you. He saves you. He delights in you. He calms you with His peace. He sings over you and rejoices.

God loves you. Right now, just as you are.

“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

Let’s Talk: How have you experienced God’s love?

May I pray?

Almighty God, we don’t always understand how You can care about us and our problems when You are so big and have so many other things to attend to. But that’s one reason why You’re God and we’re not. Thank You for choosing to be with us, even when we don’t feel like we’re worthy. Thank You for saving us over and over again. 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.

Celebrating Small Victories

Celebrate VictoryWhen was the last time you celebrated a victory? Any victory. Maybe it was last weekend for a favorite team’s big win. Maybe it was last month when your friend finally got a new job, or your mom received a good report from the doctor.

Now a harder question: When was the last time you celebrated something for yourself?

For some of us, it’s been so long we can’t remember. We can go to parties or events to celebrate special occasions, but we often go through everyday life without feeling like we have much to celebrate.

Our lives are lacking daily jubilee. We don’t experience the thrill of victory––victory that brings a joy-filled life. Why? Because we live disappointed. We’re longing for something different.

I once heard a speaker say that there’s a formula for disappointment:

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

The level of our disappointment in life increases as our reality falls short of where we think we should be. And sometimes what life throws at us feels like too much to bear. So we don’t celebrate. It’s not easy to muster laughter and rejoicing in the midst of our hard circumstances. But here’s the good news: We have the power to take a step toward joyful life each day. How?

By celebrating small victories.

Even if a cloud of uncertainly looms. Even if our circumstances don’t change. Even if we feel like we don’t have anyone to celebrate with us. If we will pause and stop focusing on where we wish we were in life, or who’s shoes we’d rather walk in, or what we should have done… we’ll be making a giant leap forward toward a life of daily celebration and joy.

When we make a choice to celebrate––to humbly accept the small victories of today and rejoice in them––we’re building a foundation of contentment and excitement that can soon become a fortress against the trials of our real life.

So today, no matter where you are, no matter what your circumstances, find one small victory to celebrate. Share it with others! And celebrate it with the Lord! Offer it to Him in praise. Smile and genuinely rejoice in your celebration. Authentic praise not only lifts our spirit, it also brings joy to the Lord.

A few days in a row celebrating small victories lifts every spirit. May our celebrations begin today!

“I will sacrifice a freewill offering to You; I will praise Your name, O LORD, for it is good.” Psalm 54:6

Q4U: What small victory will you celebrate today?

May I pray?

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your unfailing love for us. Thank You for always having open arms when we come to You. Today I lift up those who are struggling with finding a reason to celebrate. Lord, I pray that You will help them choose one thing to genuinely celebrate today. And I pray that You will shower them with Your peace and Your joy as You celebrate with them. May each of us take a giant leap toward joy-filled life as we build a new foundation of praise in small victories. Amen.

 

When the Road Gets Tough

Rise AboveWhat’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do? Was it getting through a time of physical trauma? Was it saying goodbye to a love one? Was it trying to crawl out of a deep, dark pit of life?

All of us will face extreme trials in life.

They may be sudden. They may shake us to the core of our faith. They may last for a few months or an entire season of life. Only one thing is for certain: They will come.

What’s important is that we keep moving forward. Even if we take just one small step at a time. We can’t let fear, doubt, anger, depression, confusion, bitterness or any other feelings keep us in bondage. By nature, we are survivors. Through Christ we’ve been given freedom, strength to overcome, and ultimate victory.

Psalm 23 says Jesus, our Shepherd, leads us “through the valley of the shadow of death.” He leads us THROUGH the valley, meaning we are moving and will come out on the other side. He doesn’t lead us into the valley to leave us there.

But in order to get out of the valley, we have to stay in step with God.

When we feel lost, the one way get back on the path with God is to go to Him. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is God’s truth. If we truly pursue Him with a humble heart, He will reveal Himself to us. And here’s good news: God wants to be found.

God also wants us to rise above our real life circumstances and live joyfully with Him.

We’re on a journey with God. There will be hills and valleys. There will be times of great rejoicing on the mountaintops when we feel like we’re on top of the world. And there will be times of great mourning when the road is dark and we feel alone. But through it all, God is there.

God wants to lead us to higher ground––to a new place in our relationship with Him and the service He has planned for us. I’m on a new trek up the mountain now. As I said to a friend recently, I’m just trying to stay in step with the Lord. But the climb is very difficult and my pack is full of everything He has asked me to carry. Although physically I’m exhausted, spiritually I’m excited! I know that when I’m with God, I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And there are amazing things ahead!

So no matter where you are in life, know that nothing stays the same, except God. God can and will lead you through the valley. He will pull you out of every dark pit. He will walk you step-by-step to the next season. Why? Because His plan is to spend the rest of eternity with you.

Don’t give up. Believe that you are a survivor who, with the strength of Jesus, can overcome ALL trials in life. Turn to God and let Him lead you higher as He shepherds you toward heaven.

“‘To [her] who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’” Revelation 2:7

Let’s Talk: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?

May I pray?

Lord God, thank You that You will never leave or forsake those who love You. Thank You for Your promise that if we draw near to You, You will draw near to us. Jesus, give us the courage to come to You. Help us to let down any burdens that are not from You, and only carry what You have asked us to carry. Then lead us forward, I pray, to higher ground. May we overcome all that we’re struggling with, and rejoice with You along the way as we head toward paradise. And may we find devoted sisters to share our journey. Amen.

3 Remedies for Spiritual Dehydration

Spiritual RenewalDo you ever feel worn out or wilted, like you’re thirsting for something more in life? At one time or another, we all get to this place.

Sometimes I feel like one of the pansies in my garden. In the morning they look fresh and vibrant, standing tall. But after several hours with the hot sun beating down, they’re totally wilted and lying on the mulch. Their flowers are limp and their leaves are pale. The amazing thing is, if they get some water, within a couple of hours they’re standing back up and looking fresh again. But if they don’t get water, one more day of hot sun and they’re burnt to a crisp. No amount of water can bring them back.

We’re like flowers.

No matter where we are in our walk of faith––at the beginning, far into the journey, or still wondering whether or not we believe anything––we all feel the weight of the world at times. We all get wilted. We all thirst for something more. We all need renewal. And here’s truth: we can’t water ourselves.

Soul-deep thirsts are quenched only by Living Water.

We pursue a lot of things to satisfy our longings. And we may temporarily be filled. But after a while, we’re limp again. We’re longing for something that goes down into the depths of our heart. We’re longing for something that lasts.

There was a woman who, like a flower, was lying limp in life. She had been married four times and the guy she was living with wasn’t her husband. We don’t know what happened in her past––whether divorce, or death, or abandonment. All we know is that she felt shame and didn’t want to deal with other people. One day she went to the local watering hole and had an encounter with Jesus. Through her brief time with the Savior, her life changed forever. You may have heard this story of “the woman at the well” in John 4:4-30, 39-42 (if not, I’ll put it at the end of this blog).

I’ve lived this story, and I know so many other women who have similar broken and empty places.

For those of us who are thirsty in life, here are 3 Remedies for Spiritual Dehydration gleaned from the woman at the well:

1. Put down the jar of your old life so you’re ready to walk forward in new life. We need to stop carrying the burdens of shame, guilt and bitterness so we have open arms to receive the freedom Jesus has to offer.

2. Fill up with Living Water. Jesus is Living Water. Only He can truly revive us. Only He can fill our soul-deep thirsts. Like a sponge we can soak up His Word. If we let Him permeate every aspect of our lives, even the hidden places, He will fill us with strength, peace, hope and confidence to go on.

3. Run to tell others. This may be letting others know about the changes God has made in our life. It may be seeking a church strongly rooted in Biblical truth (love and grace, not legalism). Telling others may start with beginning to worship God with others. It may be exposing the hidden past, letting go of any anger we harbor, or seeking help to work through hurt places. What’s important is to be in community and know that we’re not walking alone.

We all have times when we feel weary and wilted. We often spend so much time “doing” that we don’t go to the well of Living Water to be refreshed. No matter where you are in your faith, take some time today to stop by the well and talk to Jesus.

“‘Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” John 4:14

Let’s Talk: What’s your next step to spiritual re-hydration?

May I pray?

Jesus, thank You for meeting us at the well today. Thank You for not only offering us Living Water, but for giving it to us freely. You tell the weary to come to You and find rest. Lord, I pray You will fill those reading this now with Your peace, strength, and confidence. Give them the courage to come to You. Give them the courage to let you fill every aspect of their lives––even the hidden places. And may all of us take a step toward renewal today as we soak up the truth and hope of Your Word. Amen.

John 4:4-30, 39-42

Now [Jesus] had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

***

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

God Loves You Because…

God loves meWhat would it take for you to believe that God loves you like His favorite child? I mean REALLY loves you––immensely and passionately?

Some of us can’t believe God would love us immensely, because if there is a God of the universe, why would He want to hang out with someone like us? Some of us can’t believe God could love us passionately because we know where we’ve been and what we’ve done. And our experience with relationships is that no one can truly get over our past or love us for who we are today. Some of us have heard this concept of God’s love our whole lives, but we don’t feel it in our hearts.

Here’s truth: Our lives are transformed when we accept and embrace God’s love and begin to build an intimate relationship with Him.

But how do we embrace a love we don’t understand? We may not be able to fully comprehend God or understand His agape, unconditional love. So let’s start with what we can understand.

The first step to believing God’s love is to understand why He loves us. Why He loves you. God loves you because… God loves.

God loves you because God loves.

God doesn’t love you because of what you can accomplish or how good you are at something. Conversely, God doesn’t love you less because of the mistakes you’ve made or the things you say or think. God doesn’t love you because of how you look or how smart you are or because you want to help other people.

God doesn’t love you more or less because of anything you do.

God loves you because God is God. The reason behind God’s love is Him, not you. Just like a new mother loves her baby the moment that child is born, so your Heavenly Father has loved you every moment of your existence––not because of anything you’ve done. Not because of anything your parents have done. God loves you because He is God and you are His child. And He loves you like His favorite.

Think about these truths:
*  God loves you because God loves.
*  God loves you because God is God.
*  There is nothing you can do, good or bad, to change God’s love for you.
*  Your part in the equation is to believe God loves you and accept His love.

Spend some time today with your Heavenly Father. He loves you immensely. He loves you passionately. And He misses you dearly.

“God is love.” 1 John 4:8

“God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8 (NLT)

Let’s Talk: What keeps you from believing that God loves you like His favorite child?

May I pray?

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love. Thank You that You love us not because of anything we do or don’t do, but simply because You love. You are love. Help us to focus today on You and Your love for us. Open our hearts and our minds so that we can grasp a glimpse of the immense, passionate, intense, unfailing love You have for us. May we take a step forward in Your love today, and never look back. Amen.

 

3 Steps Toward Good Life

Good Life - New DirectionHave you ever agreed to something because you expected a certain outcome, but then something completely different happened? Often the “different” result is not good and we’re left wondering, “How did that happen?” It may be that we didn’t have a full understanding of the situation or we were taking a risk. Regardless of why it happened, the result is disappointment and loss. We do our best to pick up the pieces and move on.

We may not be where we want to be or where we thought we’d be at this point in life. So how can we make the most of opportunities we have moving forward? Here are 3 steps toward good life:

1. Plant good seed. There is a law of nature that says we’ll get what we plant. For example, if we plant wheat seeds, we won’t get watermelon. We’ll get wheat. If we plant sunflower seeds, we won’t get turnips. We’ll get sunflowers. What we plant is what we’ll harvest. In our lives, we know this law as “you reap what you sow”, and it refers to the state of our heart and mind. Yes it’s true that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. But regardless of circumstances, we can live a joy-filled “good life” if we’re planting good seeds. How do we know if the seeds we’re planting are good or bad? If we’re continually focused on pleasure and physical treasure, we will reap what the world has to offer––broken relationships, empty pursuits, and a continual longing for more in life (i.e. the harvest of bad seeds). But if we focus on loving and serving others, we will find peace and joy even in the hardest of circumstances. This is the harvest of good seeds. “A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7

2. Don’t give up: Dawn always comes after darkness. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to give up than to continue holding on or trying to do good things for other people. But God assures us that if we don’t give up, we will reap a harvest at the proper time. We can’t always see good seeds taking root. Just as seeds of grain begin the growing process under ground and we can’t see anything happening until the small green shoots begin to emerge, the seeds we’re planting in our lives and the lives of others may not be evident right away. But the law of nature prevails: we reap what we sow. If we’re planting good seeds, we’ll have a harvest of good life. But we can’t give up or we’ll never experience the joy of the harvest. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

3. Praise in the process, thanking God for the opportunities He gives us to plant seeds. Here’s truth: God opens doors of opportunity; how we move through them is up to us. Doors of opportunity may relate to pouring into the lives of others with encouragement. These doors may be opportunities to be a light of hope in someone’s dark world. Doors of opportunity may relate to showing God’s love to someone by choosing not to do what others are doing: yelling, gossiping, lying, stealing. These doors may be opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ by giving our time and attention to someone who is struggling or feeling alone. We may not always understand God’s plans behind the doors in front of us, but if we choose to move forward through them praising God in the process, we will be planting good seeds along the way. And goodness will bloom behind us as a trail showing the path we’ve chosen. “Surely goodness and love shall follow me all the days of my life.” Psalm 23:6

We’ve all experienced the turmoil of real life. Many of us have endured years of confrontation with people close to us. And many of us want to move forward in a new way, breaking the bondage of the turmoil of the past. There is hope for new life filled with goodness, joy and love.

This hope takes root when we begin planting seeds of good life.

God says, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8

May the path we walk starting today be marked with good seeds. And surely goodness, mercy and love shall follow our trail from this point forward.

Let’s Talk: What good seeds are you planting today?

May I pray?

Lord, You are good. Thank You for the love and mercy that You want to shower on us if we’ll come to You, regardless of where we’ve been or where we are. You’re calling us right now, asking us to join You on the path to good life. Please help us to inspect the seeds we’re sowing today so we can choose good seed. And please, God, fill us with hope as we refuse to give up. May our lips and our lives be full of praise for You. Amen.

Encouragement For The New Year

Encouragement - HopeThe holidays are over and many of us are looking for encouragement as we start the new year. Why are encouraging words so hard to come by? It’s almost as if there’s a shortage. By contrast, we turn on the news, walk into the break room at work, or go head-to-head in a family disagreement and hear a litany of despair-filled events, complaints and disparaging words that zap hope and pull us down into the muck of discouragement.

Yuck!

It’s hard to get out of the pits, especially if we’re trying to do it alone. So how can we find encouragement to lift us out of the mire and help us rise above our real life circumstances? Here are three ways:

1. Focus on who we’re standing with.
2. Receive the encouragement of others.
3. Offer encouragement to someone in need.

1. Focus on who we’re standing with. If someone asked, “Who’s on your team” or “who’s in your corner” what would you say? Some of us feel it’s “no one” or “the same people who discourage me.” It’s hard when the people closest to us say things that bring us down. And it’s hard when we’re not connected in positive community. No matter what we do, most of us can’t pick ourselves up day after day. We need to stand with someone and know that we’ll get through our struggles together. Who can we stand with?

  • Stand with God. Here’s truth: we’re never alone. Even if we feel like we are. God is always with us. He is our provider. He is our protector. He is Jehovah-sabaoth, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. No matter what is happening in our life, He is the best person to be standing with. He is all-powerful. He is all-knowing. He is everywhere. Even when we’re in the darkest pits of life, He is ready to pull us up if we’ll turn to Him. Believing that God is ALWAYS in our corner is the first step to hope and encouragement.
  • Stand with supportive sisters. Find one person that you can go to and ask for help. Tell her that you need encouragement. Many of us go through our trials alone because we don’t want to bother others, we feel like we should be able to handle them alone, or we feel like no one is there for us. Think of someone you believe is trustworthy and reach out. Let her know what’s going on and ask her to pray for you. This could be the start of a flow of encouragement.

2. Receive the encouragement of others. Sometimes it’s hard to receive the encouragement others are trying to give us. Either they don’t really understand our situation or they don’t know what to say to encourage us. What can we do?

  • Step back from our emotions and be willing to appreciate their attempts at encouragement. It’s like being a boxer in a title fight and the only person in our corner is an intern that’s never seen a boxing match. They’re not much help in the critical moments no matter how eager they are, but at least they’re there and trying.
  • Seek out someone who does understand our struggles and allow them to speak into our lives. Encouragement often comes through new perspective. If we’re willing to open up to someone who has walked a similar road, they can help us to see the big picture of where we are.
  • Receive God’s encouragement through His Word. This really is the first thing we should do, but it’s often the last thing we try. Go to God and allow Him to speak to you through Scripture. During some of the most intense storms in my life I have immersed myself in the Psalms, Job and New Testament letters to hear God in His own words speak encouragement to me. And when I have earnestly pursued Him through His Word, He has always spoken.

3. Offer encouragement to others. It may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the best ways to get out of the despair and gloom of our situation is to serve someone else. When we genuinely offer kindness and love to others, our spirits are lifted. It’s good to feel helpful and filled with purpose, and it allows us to step back from our own trials and gain a different perspective. And by praying for and with someone else, we open up a door for God to come into our heart and mind and bring His peace.

Encouragement may seem elusive, but if we look in the right places we can find hope and new perspective to not only sustain us, but to lift us to new heights.

Blessings and encouragement to you, my dear friends, in this new year!

“May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16

Let’s Talk: Where do you find encouragement?

May I pray?

Jesus, thank You for the gift of encouragement and hope that You offer us each day. Help us to step back from our circumstances and focus on You. Strengthen us as we grow in sisterhood. Walk with us as we serve others in their hard times. May our words of encouragement to others be the encouragement we ourselves would like to receive. Amen.

Just Stop!

Just Stop - Peace, Storms, HolidayHave you ever been around someone who is so caught in a tizzy that you finally yell, “Just stop!” Or if you’re like me, you’re the one who gets caught up in the turmoil of life and you need someone to cut in and hit pause.

As the holidays hit high gear, our busyness increases and our time, attention and even patience decrease. We strive to be jolly. But we can’t avoid a swirl of chaos as we press on with our daily to do’s. Emotions tug at us as we remember those who are missing from this Christmas. And ‘what will next year bring’ looms in the back of our mind.

We see it in ourselves. We see it in our kids. We see it in our bosses. If we’re looking for it, we see it all around us. The need to stop. The need to pause. The need to do something different than what we’ve been doing.

“Stop talking and just listen.”
“Stop running around in circles long enough to catch your breath.”
“Stop driving down the wrong road so you can find a way to the right road.”

We can take these literally or figuratively. Some of us are zeroed-in on tasks. Some of us are lost but too afraid to stop pushing forward even if it is the wrong direction. Some of us are dead set in our thinking and aren’t willing to change.

We’re no different than the people back in Jesus’ day. Listen to what He said:

“Stop grumbling.” John 6:43
“Stop judging by mere appearances.” John 7:24
“Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27

The key is this: We can’t just stop doing something tiresome or destructive, we have to start doing something good instead. In Psalm 46:10, our Heavenly Father says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” In other words, Stop––be still, and then praise Him!

It makes me think of when Jesus was on a boat with His disciples and a storm began to rage. The disciples cried out to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. The wind and the waves were in a frenzy, the disciples were at the end of their rope, and Jesus said “Stop!” If we would be like the wind and the waves, if we would be quiet and be still in the presence of Jesus, if we would heed His words, we too could feel the peace of “completely calm.”

The holiday season is filled with excitement, gifts and traditions. And it brings larger lists and increased stress. Many of us spent Thanksgiving reflecting on what we’re thankful for. Continuing this into December and the new year is a great way to hit pause and praise God each day. We can find the calm in the busyness around us. Let’s stop what we’re doing today long enough to be still and offer praise to Him!

“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Mark 4:39

Let’s Talk: How can you be still in today’s busyness and show your praise to God?

May I pray?

Jesus, few of us have ever experienced the peace and tranquility of “completely calm”. Help us today to stop, turn our focus to You, and be still. Help us to hear Your words and praise You for who You are––our loving God who is the reason for every Christmas season, and our powerful God who is in and above every life storm. You walked among us to give us a path back to You, and You are the only One with the power to command our storms. May we not just stop running in this busy season, but may we pause and truly listen for Your voice. May we not just stop doubting, but may we believe Your truth. Thank You that You are always ready to step in and bring us peace––true peace that is found only in Your presence. Amen.

A Time to Mourn

Cry Mourn SorrowAs the holidays approach, many of us struggle with the loss of someone we love and memories of how things used to be. A year ago, my precious grandmother, Bubba, passed from this life to the next. I remember the words of a very wise man who said that some of the darkest hours on this earth are the ones when heaven is rejoicing, because our loved ones are now in Paradise.

There are no words to express the loss we feel when someone we love is gone. My father died when I was 13 and I lived with a broken heart for many years. This past year I have mourned for my beloved Bubs, knowing I will never see her again this side of Heaven. But the sorrow, pain and loss are mine, not theirs. My dad and Bubba are safe in the arms of Jesus, laughing on glory’s side.

And they didn’t just go to be with the Lord. Jesus came to bring them home.

Jesus promised that He will come back for us. He said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms… 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

If we know Jesus, we have assurance that when we die, we won’t be walking a dark hallway to an unknown future. We will be running into the arms of a loving Savior who ushers us to Heaven. He will carry us home as we rejoice in the freedom of no more earthly body. No more pain. No more tears. No more suffering. When we run into the arms of Jesus our eternity in Paradise begins.

None of us knows the day or time we’ll breathe our last breath. For most of us, we will endure broken hearts as we say our goodbyes to those who go before us. In this time of mourning, there are some things that can help:

1. Cry to Jesus. Kneel before the Lord and allow Him to hold you and comfort you. No matter what has happened in your life to this point, Jesus has open arms. He loves you. He cries with you. And He wants to go with you one step at a time.

2. Hold on to memories. Memories are treasures of the life we lived with our loved ones. We don’t need to give them up. We don’t need to pack them away. Physical reminders may fade with time but our memories don’t have to. We can smile and laugh as we remember the funny things they used to say and do. We can cry and mourn as we remember the special moments we shared.

3. Remember that out of death comes new life. A seed dies and is buried before it sprouts new life. So too our physical bodies die before our souls are raised to new life. For those who know Jesus, death is the start of life in Paradise. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning. And those who have gone before us will be rejoicing with us when our new life begins.

If you are mourning today, please know that you’re not alone. I am here to sit with you in this time of sorrow. How may I pray for you? Please post a comment or send a confidential email to Joy@RisingAboveRealLife.com .

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, 4

May I pray? Heavenly Father, I lift up those who are mourning. I specifically pray anyone reading this who has lost someone dear to them. Lord, the pain is overwhelming. The loss is beyond words. But You know. You know each person by name. You know each situation. Please hold them tight. Fill them with Your peace that is beyond understanding. May they take comfort in knowing that You bring new life out of death. And may today be a reminder for all of us that life is short. Jesus, thank You for giving assurance that when our time comes, You will be there to carry us home. Amen.

What is Saving Faith?

Faith - Believe - Save MeDo you believe there’s more to life than your everyday grind? Most of us want to believe what we do today will make a difference for someone’s tomorrow. And what about when our time in this life is over? We hope there’s a heaven, although we’re not exactly sure what it takes to get there. Some people talk about having “faith” in God–but what does that mean?

Wading through all of the opinions can make us more skeptical. And unfortunately many of us have been hurt in the past by people who were supposed to be “religious”.

We want to believe in something, but it’s hard to know what’s true.

This is where I was. Pursuing all the world had to offer yet burdened with a deep emptiness inside. Hiding my shame of the past while trying to find purpose in my career and everything I could buy. My life was full of broken relationships. So I kept striving for more success to gain approval. It was a vicious cycle: climbing up for more and then sinking into the dark pits of despair and loneliness when nothing took the pain away. I wrestled to find purpose, hope, and faith in something more.

That’s when I heard about Jesus.

It wasn’t a sales pitch. It wasn’t someone threatening eternal torment. It was someone shining the light of hope into my dark places. It was someone reaching out in love to take my hand. It was someone sharing the “crazy talk” of Jesus dying for my sins so that I could have new life, both here and for eternity. And it turns out that “crazy talk” is true.

My life is living proof that no matter where you are, no matter where you’ve been, God loves you and He will wash all of the pains and stains of the past away. How?

God sent His Son, Jesus, to find you and bring you home.

God wants you to come to Him so He can pour into you. He wants you to know Him, love Him, and trust Him. God is mighty. God is faithful. God is always on your side.

But how do we find new life? How do we have assurance we are going to heaven? How do we know God?

It starts with understanding our separation from God. God created us to be in an intimate relationship with Him. He loves us immensely and He knows everything about us–the good, the bad, and the ugly! There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more. And there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. The problem is, God is perfect and we are not. God’s perfection is called holiness, and we can never be perfect or holy no matter how hard we try. Our imperfection comes from sins–things we do, things we think, choices we make. We are separated from our holy God because of our sins.

But remember, God wants us to know Him, love Him, and trust Him. This can only happen if we’re in relationship with Him. So God sent Jesus to us to be our Savior. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17

God didn’t send Jesus to tell us everything we’re doing wrong. God sent Jesus to make everything right. To call us from our brokenness. To give us hope. To change us from the inside out.

Jesus willingly died on the cross to take our sins away, and then He was raised from the dead. Why is this important? Because not only can Jesus wash away ALL of our sins, but He has completely defeated death. Jesus won! So He alone can bring us to new life–both now and for eternity.

Jesus has paved the way to new life. He is holding out His hand and offering to take us in a new direction. All we have to do is believe. Our part is to take His hand and place our trust in Him. This is “saving faith”. This is the beginning of a transformed life. This is the path to eternal life. This is the way to hope, healing, and a life of purpose.

I have been changed forever. And it all started the day I took Jesus’ hand and began to walk forward with Him to new life.

The path to hope, healing, and purpose is here for you too. Take His hand and believe.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’” John 14:6

“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

Let’s talk: What keeps you from fully trusting Jesus as your Savior?

May I pray? God, we come to You from many different backgrounds. Some of us are hearing about You for the first time, some of us have been walking with You for a while, and many of us are somewhere in between. Regardless of where we are, we want to believe that You know us and that You care about us. Help us to believe! Jesus, we want to believe that because You love us, You willingly gave your life to save us from death. Open our hearts and minds to Your truth! Help us to see that You are the way to new life, and You are the hope and healing we so desperately long for. Reveal Yourself to us, I pray. Encourage us as we take Your hand in faith and never look back. And for those who are coming to You for the first time, may they be forever changed because of the step of saving faith they take today. Amen.

Friends Who Break Wind

Life in SisterhoodHave you ever had one of those friends who will do anything for you? It’s okay if you haven’t. I didn’t have friends like that until I was in my thirties. Mostly because I wasn’t that kind of friend to anyone else.

Several months ago, I was running regularly with a close friend of mine. She was just starting out with an exercise regimen to get back in shape. Many days she struggled to run the distance without stopping. Sometimes her legs were tired. Sometimes her mind won out because she didn’t believe she could run that far. And sometimes the elements of wind and rain were too much to endure.

I remember one day in particular. The headwind was extreme.

We were about halfway through the run when a blustery, unrelenting wind kicked up. And it pushed full force against us. My feet plodded slowly as I fought to keep running and I could see that she was really struggling. So I took an extra step up and over, and I began running in front of her. Why?

To be a friend who breaks wind.

No, not the other break wind. I mean a friend who bears the brunt of something coming at us. Someone who shields a struggling sister and helps her keep going. Helps her finish. Helps her overcome.

A friend who stays close and presses on one step at a time.

This is what sisterhood is all about. On that day, I was able to encourage my dear friend by showing her what we could do together. My experiences from the past had taught me that no matter how forceful the wind, my body was strong enough to run through it. It was an obstacle I had overcome before. But she had never experienced it first hand.

So we did it together.

I was so proud of her! She didn’t give up and we finished the entire run. Even with the intense headwind. We reveled in our joint victory that day and my friend has become a very strong runner.

Praise the Lord for friends who break wind! We’re always stronger running the race of life with our sisters, so let’s give up trying to persevere on our own.

Who can you shield today?

“Two are better than one… If one falls down, [her] friend can help [her] up. But pity the [girl] who falls and has no one to help [her] up!” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Let’s Talk: Who can you shield today and how?

May I pray?

Lord Jesus, thank You for showing us through Your life story what sacrificial love is all about. We need friends who shield us when we’re not strong enough to stand on our own, but many of us don’t have those kinds of friends in our life right now. Please help us to see how we can be a friend who shields others. And in so doing may we grow new bonds of sisterhood strengthened by Your love. Amen.

 

Are You The One?

Have you ever been in search of the “one”? Maybe the “one” was the person you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with. Maybe the “one” was the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect car or the perfect puppy. We believe the “one” is someone or something that will make us happy and fill our deepest needs.

And so we pursue the “one”.

Our society encourages us to not settle for less than the “one”. And many of us go through life feeling alone and empty because we never found that elusive “one”.

God also is in search of the “one”. He even tells His children to go out and look for the “one”. But God’s “one” is different.

Who is God’s “one”?

God’s “one” is anyone and everyone living outside the freedom and forgiveness of His grace. God instructs His people to “see to it that no ONE misses the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). God pursues the “one”, and He wants those of us living in the light of His Truth to reach out to the “one” with His love.

How can we possibly make a difference?

Have you heard the story of the boy and the starfish? There was a hurricane that churned the depths of the sea and hundreds of thousands of starfish began washing up on shore. As a man walked along the beach he saw a young boy pick up a starfish and throw it back into the ocean. He watched for a few minutes as the boy continued to pick up starfish after starfish and throw them into the waves. The man knew the boy was trying to save the starfish, but it was a lost cause. The beach was covered with them. He went up to the boy and said, “Son, I admire your determination to help the starfish, but you’re only one boy and there are hundreds of thousands of starfish here. You can’t make a difference.” Without pausing to look at the man, the boy picked up another starfish, threw it into the surf, and said, “I just made a difference to that one.”

We may feel like we’re only one person without much to offer. How can we really make a difference in this world? The truth is that sometimes the smallest act of love, forgiveness and grace can have a huge impact in someone’s life. We don’t have to save the world. But by reaching out to “one”, their life may be changed forever. When we offer ourselves to others by extending the same grace that God gave to us, God will work through us. And one by one, lives will be changed. Including ours.

If you aren’t sure you believe that God can wash you clean of your past and bring you to new life, know this: God is pursuing you. Right now. He knows you, He loves you, and He is waiting for you to turn to Him. You are the one He wants with Him for eternity. You are the one He wants to live a joy-filled life here and now.

If you know God and love Him but don’t know what you can do that will really make a difference, ask God to show you “one”: one person, one geographical area, one ministry that you can begin serving. One person can make a big impact by starting with one small act of service. And if we all helped just one person, there would be more lives touched than we could ever imagine.

Helping millions of people is amazing. Helping millions of people is possible. But to get to a million, we have to start with one. Let’s help one today.

If you’d like to hear more about helping “one”, watch this powerful message by Michael Frost, guest speaker at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship. His story of a changed life at the end of the message shows how one humble person can literally save an entire community.

“See to it that no ONE misses the grace of God.” Hebrews 12:15

Let’s Talk: Who is one person you can reach out to today?

May I pray?

Heavenly Father, thank You that You pursue each and every ONE of us, even if we don’t really know You yet. And thank You for giving us the opportunity to come alongside You as we reach out to others with the love, forgiveness and grace that You have so freely given us. Open our eyes to see where we can help just one, and give us the courage to reach out in Your strength. Amen.

The Lies of Childhood

Overcome MountainsDid anyone ever tell you a lie as a child that you believed was true? We all know about “little white” lies people say are supposed to protect us. And lies about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

But what about the lies of childhood that become the mountains and wounds of adulthood?

What about the lies that become so ingrained in our minds as truth that we can’t get over them? We can’t get around them? They may heal enough to get scabs, but then something scrapes us the wrong way and the pain tears us apart as the wounds open again. What about those lies?

Have you heard the lies of childhood? You were a mistake. You disgust me. You’ll never amount to anything. You’re worthless. You’ll never be as pretty/thin/smart/successful as her. If you weren’t bad I wouldn’t have to do this. Your mother never really loved you. This is what you have to do to get boys to like you. No one will ever love you.

Have you heard lies like that? Most of us have heard them. Many of us still believe them. And those lies prevent us from being able to move forward in life.

They keep us looking back at the past and believing that we will never be good enough. If we weren’t good enough as an innocent child, how can we ever measure up as a struggling adult? If people continue to put us down, how can a perfect God ever really love us?

Three important truths:

1. It’s not what we can do, it’s what God has already done. God gave us His Son to be our Savior. No one, not even the best person you know, can ever be “good enough” without Jesus as Savior. Our “goodness” identity comes from Him.

2. If we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are no longer clothed in our sin. All of the dirt and bad things from the past are washed away. Completely. God sees the covering of Jesus when He looks at us. And that is way more than good enough.

3. Often the battle to rise above our circumstances and move forward into new life has to start with a decision. A decision to move the mountain of childhood lies.

How do we move a mountain?

We tell it to get out of our way. Then we let go of our feelings and take hold of God’s Truth. And we let Jesus lead us from here.

Victory is won when we believe God instead of the mountain of lies.

When we have faith in God, His power is unleashed in our lives. When we trust God, He can move the mountains. With His power all things are possible. And it starts with us believing that He can and will redeem our hard places for His glory. Why? Because of who He is. He is our Creator, our Father, our Savior, our Provider, our Defender, our Friend. He is trustworthy, good, loving, merciful, just, powerful, all-knowing, faithful, unchanging.

It’s time for us to stand up to the lies of childhood and tell that mountain to move. If we trust God and believe that He is still in the new life business, we can walk forward with Him––beyond the mountains of the past.

“‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’” Matthew 17:20

Let’s Talk: What mountain is standing in your way today?

May I pray?

Jesus, thank You for telling us that we have the power to move mountains when we believe in You and walk in Your power. Help us to believe that when You live in us, our identity is in You. Please help us to let go of the lies of the past and not listen to their ring. Give us the courage to turn to Your Word and begin focusing on truth instead of lies. Amen.

Faith Over Fear: Beyond Life’s Pits

Faith Over FearI was honored to guest blog as part of Remade Ministries’ “Faith Over Fear” series (#justdoitafraid) thanks to my dear friend, Beth Kinder.  She creates amazing studies and workshops that encourage women, empowering us all to turn from the past and embrace who God created us to be.  Please check out Remade Ministries. God can remake anyone.

Here’s my blog…

I’ve spent a lot of time in the pits. From my dad’s death when I was 13 to the day I met Jesus at 35, the road I travelled was full of them. But Jesus changed everything. I was a sponge soaking up His Word, growing as a church leader. I ran after God praising Him for new life––rejoicing the pits were behind me.

Then I met someone.

He shared my love for Jesus as we discussed living for Christ and past shame being washed away. Everything I said he said too. Like a parrot. But because of my past I didn’t want to judge. I didn’t question his claim to transformed life. The difference: I could point to when Jesus changed my life and how.

We offered our relationship to God and married on a beach in His presence.

Immediately he changed. I attributed it to stress of purchasing a house and relocating to his hometown 1,400 miles away. Just before moving day, driving back from church, he announced he was leaving the marriage. We were only married three months. How could I possibly have caused this?

I cried out to God. Family and friends begged me not to move. But I made a promise to God and my husband that day on the beach. Truthfully, I believed this would blow over. We drove 24 hours together and he dropped me off at our new empty house. And left.

A raging storm unleashed shattering my life into pieces. I was alone in a town where I knew nobody, with only a sleeping bag and a pillow. Days and weeks passed as I tried to reconcile with my husband. He wasn’t coming back.

Failures of my past roared again.

The enemy whispered in my ear, “You have shamed God for the last time… He will never be able to use you now!”

I pleaded with God from the bottom of the darkest pit I had ever known. Clinging to the last thread of hope I met God in His Word. Psalms and Job embraced my despair and fear. I couldn’t go on. Faithfully my sister fasted in my darkest hour. And Jesus reached down into that deep pit and lifted me out. It was another salvation experience. I sat on the ledge.

The pain of a short, failed marriage faded quickly compared to betrayal by my Heavenly Father. “If You loved me God, why did you let this happen? You were there on my wedding day. Do I not hear You? Is my faith a lie?”

I wrestled with God for 18 months.

Praise God for His faithfulness! In my anguish He lovingly confirmed I may never know the why’s of life but that’s okay. I know Him. And He will still use me, because of where I’ve been.

Choosing Faith Over Fear strengthens and transforms us. Our roots grow deep as moment by moment we place our trust in God. Now I know:

  • God’s faithful children can be pushed into a pit by someone else. Love everyone in a pit of life, regardless how they got there.
  • The pain and shame I experienced allow me to understand the shoes other women are walking in. God can use our pain to bring hope to others.
  • God is still in the resurrection business. I’m living proof.

If you struggle with fear or shame, you’re not alone. God took the broken pieces of my shattered life and put them back together in a new mosaic that shines for His glory. He can do the same for you.

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Let’s talk: What is one way you have chosen faith over fear?

May I pray? Father God, thank You for the love and faithfulness You pour out to us in our darkest moments. Thank You for holding on to us and never letting go, even when we don’t know if we can make it another day. I lift up those reading this who are afraid, alone or ashamed––I pray that today You will move with power to show them You are by their side. May You shine a light of hope into their day. Amen.

Which Way Did He Go?

Where is JesusHave 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.

A Time to Laugh, A Time to Mourn

Time to MournToday I write with soul-deep sorrow. My grandmother, Bubba, has passed from this life to the next. I remember the words of a very wise man who said that some of the darkest hours on this earth are the ones when Heaven is rejoicing, because our loved ones are now in Paradise.

There are no words to express the loss we feel when someone we love is gone. My father died when I was 13 and I lived with a broken heart for many years. Now I mourn for my beloved Bubs. I miss her terribly knowing I will never see her again this side of Heaven. But the sorrow, pain and loss are what my family and I feel. Bubba is safe in the arms of Jesus, laughing on glory’s side.

And she didn’t just go to be with the Lord. Jesus came to bring her home.

Jesus promised that He will come back for us. He said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms… 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

If we know Jesus, we have assurance that when we die, we won’t be walking a dark hallway to an unknown future. We will be running into the arms of a loving Savior who ushers us to Heaven. He will carry us home as we rejoice in the freedom of no more earthly body. No more pain. No more tears. No more suffering. When we run into the arms of Jesus our eternity in Paradise begins.

None of us knows the day or time we’ll breathe our last breath. For most of us, we will endure broken hearts as we say our goodbyes to those who go before us. In this time of mourning, there are some things that can help:

1. Cry to Jesus. Kneel before the Lord and allow Him to hold you and comfort you. No matter what has happened in your life to this point, Jesus has open arms. He loves you. He cries with you. And He wants to go with you one step at a time.

2. Hold on to memories. Memories are treasures of the life we lived with our loved ones. We don’t need to give them up. We don’t need to pack them away. Physical reminders may fade with time but our memories don’t have to. We can smile and laugh as we remember the funny things they used to say and do. We can cry and mourn as we remember the special moments we shared.

3. Remember that out of death comes new life. A seed dies and is buried before it sprouts new life. So too our physical bodies die before our souls are raised to new life. For those who know Jesus, death is the start of life in Paradise. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning. And those who have gone before us will be rejoicing with us when our new life begins.

If you are mourning today, please know that you’re not alone. I am here to sit with you in this time of sorrow. How may I pray for you? Please post a comment or send a confidential email to Joy@RisingAboveRealLife.com.

Now final words to my precious grandmother: I love you, Bubs. I know the angels and all the heavenly host are rejoicing because you’re home. May your laugh be as infectious there as it was here. May your legacy of love continue for generations in the multitudes you touched. This isn’t goodbye. I’ll see you one day on the other side.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, 4

May I pray? Heavenly Father, I lift up those who are mourning. I specifically pray for my family and those reading this who have lost someone dear to them. Lord, the pain is overwhelming. The loss is beyond words. But You know. You know each person by name. You know each situation. Please hold them tight. Fill them with Your peace that is beyond understanding. May they take comfort in knowing that You bring new life out of death. And may today be a reminder for all of us that life is short. Jesus, thank You for giving assurance that when our time comes, You will be there to carry us home. Amen.

Why “Do Good” For No Reason?

Do Good AnywayHave 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

Enough is Not EnoughWhen 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!

Just StartHave 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

Get What You Ask For and MoreIf 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 American Idol
– meeting Channing Tatum
– 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?

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 or go to 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

I Am SecondHave 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: 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 we are second to Jesus, God can transform our 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 a vintage pair of classy sunglasses. I wore them everywhere! So when my chic eyewear became missing in action a few months ago, 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. Now 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 CanyonDid you see the death-defying tightrope walk by Nik Wallenda over the Grand Canyon last week? 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.

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. 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 it works!

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!

“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. Amen.