Conntecting the Dots

What Legacy Do You Want to Leave?

Today’s one of those days that gives reason for pause and reflection. You see, a good friend of our ministry passed away last week after a valiant battle with cancer. He was only 47 years old and left behind his wife, a college freshman son, and a high-school age daughter.

This morning, thanks to modern technology, I was able to watch Mark’s friends and family celebrate his life. As I write this, one frequently-mentioned word stands out in my mind: encourager.

Mark was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and a lover of the Word. As a professional counselor, he encouraged countless men and women towards living a victorious life, but his influence spread far beyond his office. Eternity will reveal the extent of his godly influence and ability to infuse others with the courage needed to change or persevere or pursue with passion God’s calling on their lives.

Mark leaves a legacy of encouragement. What will friends and family say about you and me when they celebrate us someday? What one descriptive word will pop up repeatedly when they speak about us?

Here are a few possibilities:

Joyful

Prayer warrior

Faithful

Patient

Hope-giver

Sensitive

Thoughtful

Courageous

Generous

Kind

Personally, I hope to leave a legacy of prayer because of its importance in strengthening one’s intimacy with God and its role in changing people’s lives and even the course of history. For this to happen, I need to be a woman of prayer in the here and now, making prayer my lifestyle—as natural as breathing.

Does one of these words describe the legacy you wish to leave? If so, which one is it and why? If not, please share a different word you’d choose.

Three Little Words

Lord, I praise You because You can do the impossible.

Pharaoh experienced disturbing dreams one night. His wise men couldn’t interpret their meaning, so he asked Joseph to explain. Joseph said, “I cannot do it but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Genesis 41:16).

Joseph could have said, “You want me to do what? Sorry, I cannot do that.” Period. Thankfully he didn’t stop there.

He acknowledged his powerlessness and then proceeded to trust God for the words to say. Three little words spoken in faith—“but God will”—moved him from prison to palace.

The words but God will contain the same life-changing power today:

  • “I cannot forgive so-and-so for hurting me, but God will give me the grace I need.”
  • “I cannot give thanks in my circumstances, but God will enable me to do what He commands.”
  • “I cannot face an unknown future, but God will give me the strength I need.”

Three little words—but God will. Speak them in faith when you face an impossibility, and they can change your life.

Take Action:

Fill in the blank: “It’s beyond my power to _______________.” Now add, “But God will do it.”

Excerpt from Morning Moments With God: Devotions for the Busy Woman. Published by Harvest House 2014.

Bathing Suits and Snowflakes

 

Upward Gaze: Dear Father, You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:13-14). Amen.

A friend in her mid-fifties burst into giggles while browsing for a birthday card. “Listen to this one,” she said. “At our age, there are only two things we should avoid… pizza and bathing suits.”

I beg to differ on one point: Pizza still sounds good to me. Steamy, spicy, cheesy pizza—yum!

But I agree with the bathing suit issue. I’ve yet to find a suit that makes me look as good as pizza tastes…steamy and spicy. At my age, the only suits I find make me look cheesy.

It’s bathing suit season as I write this. I scanned the selection in a mail-order catalog and noticed little symbols beside each picture. Inverted triangles represent bust-enhancing suits. The i-shapes give the illusion of a waistline. The a-shape makes hips appear smaller. The x-shapes make women look balanced (whatever that means). And the asterisks represent suits for women with special body needs. Something for everyone, and good thing, because every body is uniquely shaped.

Our uniqueness extends ‘way beyond physical appearance—body shape, eye color, hair color, height, weight, and so forth. Every woman on the face of this earth possesses a one-of-a-kind blend of personality traits, interests, and talents. That mix contributes to the role we play in our community. Some women teach school or music lessons. Others provide foster care for needy children. Some serve in the military or as police officers. Others enjoy farming. The list goes on forever.

Our individuality reminds me of snowflakes. Wilson Bentley, the first person to photograph a single snow crystal, discovered their unique design through extensive research. In his lifetime, he captured more than 5,000 snowflakes and found no two alike. He said,

“Under a microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

As Bentley put it, snowflakes are miracles of beauty, masterpieces of design. The same sentiment applies to us! We are miracles of beauty, masterpieces of God’s design. And, like snowflakes, it’s a shame when this beauty isn’t seen or appreciated by others.

Sometimes we hide our beauty without realizing it. How? We compare ourselves to other women and feel inferior. We think others won’t like us as we are, so we wear a façade. We hesitate to try new activities because we’re afraid of failing. We’re don’t initiate or respond to new relationships because we fear rejection. We allow feelings of inadequacy to rule and decline opportunities to use our interests and abilities to serve others. By doing so, we hide our beauty—the Creator’s masterpiece of design. And when we’re gone, our unique design is forever lost without leaving a trace.

God has given us our specific personalities, interests, and talents for a reason—He wants to accomplish life-changing, earth-shattering, society-rattling tasks through us. He wants to heal the hurting, comfort the mourning, and love the unlovely. He wants to impact the world for Jesus Christ. If we hide our beauty, we hinder His work. But when we accept ourselves the way He’s put us together and participate in what He wants to do, we make Him smile. And not only that, but our lives touch family, neighbors, co-workers, our church and community, and maybe, just maybe, the whole world.

Our body shapes differ. Our personalities differ. Our interests and giftedness differ. And that’s okay. Our heavenly Father, the one who creates miracles of beauty, makes no mistakes. He surveys His work and says, “It is good.” And that means you, my one-of-a kind friend.

Inward Glimpse

Dear Father, thank You for making me a miracle of beauty. Give me a thankful heart for Your design. Amen.

* What are your talents? How can you use them to bless others and build God’s kingdom?

* Look for opportunities to encourage at lease three women this week. Write a little note, say a kind word, make a surprise phone call. Let them know they’re appreciated.

Outward Glance: Lord, I pray that _______ will embrace the way You knit her in her mother’s womb. Help her understand and appreciate her uniqueness. And as she does, please bless her, be gracious to her, and cause Your face to shine on her that Your ways may be known on the earth and Your salvation to all nations (Psalm 67:1-2). Amen.

 

One More Peek: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Excerpt from Peaceful Moments to Begin Your Day, published 2012. Formerly titled 10-Minute Time Outs for Busy Women © 2005

#bgbg2 #AppreciateYourUniqueness #ChristianDevotions

Action Words for Every Christian’s Vocabulary

Traveling for ministry purposes allows me the privilege of meeting countless people who profess Christianity. I’m always delighted to meet those who are sold-out for Jesus. They’re hungry for the Word, eager to grow spiritually and to encourage others to do the same, passionate about walking in truth, and humble enough to admit their shortcomings. And then I meet others whose faith reminds me of people riding inflated inner tubes down a lazy river on a summer day.

Drifting in one’s faith hardly computes with Paul’s words to Timothy:

“But you, Timothy, belong to God; so run from all these evil things, and follow what is right and good. Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for what we believe. Hold tightly to the eternal life that God has given you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. And I command you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, that you obey his commands with all purity” (1 Timothy 6:11-14).

As food for thought, I’ve pulled a few action words from that passage. This list ought to dismiss any temptation to drift in our relationship with Jesus, don’t you think?

Run from evil.

Follow what’s right and good.

Pursue a godly life.

Fight for what you believe.

Hold tightly to the eternal life God’s given you.

Confess your faith before many witnesses.

Obey Christ’s commands with whole-hearted purity.

I’ve been working through this passage for my weekly Bible study. I’ve found it really helpful to look at each of these phrases and meditate on how they apply to my life today.

Take, for instance – “run from evil.” Today I felt a twinge of envy at another person’s good fortune. The moment I recognized it, I asked the Lord to forgive me and then I asked Him to bless her in her new endeavor. I ran from evil; I didn’t linger or dawdle in its presence.

How would this phrase apply to your life? How about the other phrases? If we truly want to grow deep in our Christian faith, we need to take action. This list seems like a great guideline to follow, don’t you think?

#GrowingDeepInFaith #ChristianDevotions #IntentionalChristianity

Overcoming Thoughts That Fence Us In

I’ve been preparing materials for an upcoming women’s conference at my church. The theme is “Don’t Fence Me In.”

First I brainstormed about the things that fence us in (limit, restrict, hinder, or imprison). Our thoughts quickly rose to the surface as the lead culprit. Here are several examples of how this happens:

  • We’re bypassed for a position we hoped to fill at church or our workplace. Our thoughts say, “Obviously you’re not good enough or you would have been chosen.” Before long they convince us that we have no strengths or skills to offer, and the fear of inadequacy or failure prevents us from ever seeking new and stretching opportunities.
  • We feel helpless against our cravings for sweets, and over time our weight balloons. We’re embarrassed about the way we look, and we feel lousy physically. Our thoughts say, “You’re ugly. You’re hopeless. You’re unloveable.” Those voices discourage us, so what do we do? We begin to loathe ourselves and seek solace in comfort foods. The cycle repeats itself.
  • We’re raised in an environment in which we’re constantly criticized. Our thoughts say, “Strive to do better. Settle for nothing less than perfection—that’s the only way you’ll please others.” They persuade us that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. We live in constant fear of making a mistake, berating ourselves when we do, and feeling like we’re hopeless underachievers.

The thoughts on which we habitually dwell eventually determine the direction our lives take. For that reason, it’s vital to give the Holy Spirit control over them. “If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Life and peace—sounds like freedom, doesn’t it?

I’m painfully aware of how quickly my thoughts can take me down the wrong path, so I begin every morning by filling my mind with God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. Rather than believing the lies that can hold me captive, I choose to believe the truth because it holds the key to freedom.

Then I ask the Lord to take control of my mind for the day. When I slip into negative, critical, or fearful thinking, I quickly ask Him to take control again. Sometimes this happens more often than I care to admit.

I also post Scripture verses where I can see them often. These little visuals help me bring my mind back to the truth repeatedly throughout the day.

Finally, I talk to Jesus as I would a friend as I go about my tasks. Doing so helps to keep my mind focused on where it belongs–on Him.

Our thoughts can hinder our potential, our health, and our relationships with people and with God, but it needn’t be that way. We can enjoy freedom characterized by life and peace. That’s what I want. How about you?

#bgbg2 #OurThoughtsCarryPower #ThinkTruth #ChristianDevotions

To Which Voice Should We Listen?

Sometimes I hear voices in my head. I know, I know–that sounds a little sketchy. But I’ll bet you hear them too.

When I travel by air, I often feel the Holy Spirit’s nudge to strike up a conversation with the stranger beside me. A voice inside says, “No—don’t bother her. She doesn’t want to talk, and especially not about Jesus. Just be quiet. Mind your own business and leave her alone.”

Occasionally I hear a voice that says, “No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get it right. You may as well give up.”

Sometimes a voice whispers, “It’s okay to share that little piece of inside information about so-and-so, especially if you disguise it as a prayer request on her behalf.”

That voice taunts, accuses, and lies. It causes fear and doubt, criticism, division, and discouragement. I suspect it sounds much like the one Eve heard in the Garden of Eden.

Another voice clamors for my attention. Strangely (or not), it sounds just like me. It tells me the endless things I should do—work harder, do more, do better. And it reminds me of all the things I should have done differently—you know, those things I regret but I cannot change. It imposes upon me burdens I’m not meant to carry.

But then there’s a voice that’s quite opposite. This one speaks words of assurance and comfort. Words teeming with hope and brimming with love. It inspires courage and peace, joy, and unity. Sometimes it speaks necessary words I don’t want to hear because they hurt, and yet they heal.

“Ceasing striving. Do what you can, but then leave the outcome to Me.”

“Don’t worry. Trust Me. I know every detail of your situation and I’m working behind-the-scenes in answer to your prayers.”

“I’m the Good Shepherd. Follow Me, and I’ll lead you on the best pathway for your life.”

So many voices clamor for our attention. To which one should we listen? The answer’s easy.

On the day Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus, Peter, James, and John on a high mountain, the men heard God speak. He said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to Him” (Mark 9:7).

Listen to Him. Ultimately Christ’s voice is the one we ought to heed, and for good reason. He is life and truth. He is wisdom and love. He knows the way we should take, the decisions we must make, and the relationships with which we wrestle. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our dreams, and our desires. He knows everything about us, and He wants to be fully engaged in our every day lives for our good.

Knowing that, then, may I suggest a simple prayer with which to begin each day? “Father, tune my ears to hear Your voice. Give me the ability to discern it from all others contending for my attention. Speak to Me for I am Your servant, here to accomplish Your purposes in and through me.”

If you choose to do this, I’d love to hear how God answers.

#bgbg2 #GodSpeaks #ListeningtoGod

3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Waiting on God

Sometimes my heart fairly bubbles with joy when I find nuggets of encouragement buried in the Bible. Today, for instance, I read about God appearing to 99-year-old Abram.

Considering the circumstances and the 24-year wait since God had appeared and made a huge promise to him, Abram had multiple reasons to doubt seeing this promise fulfilled. Every human odd was stacked against him. Surely he must have wondered if God had made a mistake when He said He’d give him more descendants than the grains of sand on the seashore (Genesis 12:4; 17:1).

But God makes no mistakes, and nothing’s impossible for Him. “I am God Almighty,” He said when He appeared to Abram. “Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.”

Focused solely on his circumstances and the time involved, Abram could have easily lost heart. Perhaps God knew this (ya think?), and so He reminded him to keep his eyes on Him. Being grounded in the truth of who God was would enable Abram to serve Him faithfully and live a blameless life as he persevered through the wait.

Maybe you’re in a waiting period too. Maybe you’ve prayed for ages for a prodigal child to come home, or for a broken family relationship to heal, or for a financial or health breakthrough. Maybe you’re wondering whether you’ll ever see change. The circumstances seem impossible, and you’re tempted to give up. If so, ask yourself these three questions.

  • To whom do you pray?
  • On whom do you wait for a breakthrough?
  • Who’s working behind-the-scenes?

The answer to all three questions is “God Almighty.” Be encouraged knowing He’s fully aware of your situation. Surrender your cares to Him. Let Him carry the weight that you’ve been shouldering. Let Him “fix” whatever’s gone wrong. And trust that He’s working in the details even though you can’t see anything happening now.

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #GodAnswersPrayer

Why Doing Life God’s Way is Like A Box of Chocolates

Applying God’s laws seems a no-brainer when they make sense to us and we understand how they work in our favor. We’re less enthusiastic when they stifle or convict us.

As though sifting through a box of chocolates, we pick the divine laws we like best and leave the rest. Human nature, yes?

Which one will you choose?

A host of biblical characters including Eve, David, Moses, and Abraham behaved this way. For the most part, they aligned their lives with divine law. But when God’s commands didn’t cater to their desires (ie: David sleeping with Bathsheba and then arranging for her husband’s murder), they chose their own way. They nibbled a chocolate and then chose to put it back in the box. “That one doesn’t taste good to me.”  That didn’t work out so well for them. Neither does it work well for us.

Granted, I doubt that anyone reading this blog will totally identify with David’s crime of passion so let’s make it more practical. What about God’s command to control the tongue? Or to forgive and pray for our enemies? Or to give thanks in every circumstance?

Here’s another one: James 1:2-4 tells us to let trouble be an opportunity for joy because it gives our endurance a chance to grow. When we let our endurance develop fully, then we’ll be strong in character and ready for anything.

We might prefer to skim over the command to rejoice when we face tough stuff, but doing so isn’t in our best interest. However, embracing it and applying it to our lives is beneficial to us, and so I’m asking the Lord to help me be intentional about rejoicing no matter what happens. That doesn’t suggest I’m thrilled about difficult circumstances when they come, but it means I’m trusting God’s sovereignty and wisdom.

Psalm 37:31 says, “They [the godly] have made God’s law their own, so they will never slip from his path.” Embracing God’s laws as our way of life—even when we don’t feel like it—guarantees His blessing. As a result,  we don’t ignore or taste-test and replace the ones we don’t like. It means we savor each one as a sweet reminder of God’s love for us.

Which one of God’s commands are you choosing to embrace despite your emotions tugging you the opposite direction at this time?

#bgbg2 #DoingLifeGodsWay #ChristianDevotions

Why Does Soul Care Matter?

As I write this, I sit on a white wicker bench in a gazebo built over a saltwater marsh. Egrets, herons, and sanderlings are searching for their lunch in the low tide. Other birds perch atop pilings nearby, basking in the sunshine as they survey their surroundings.

I’m on Edisto Island, South Carolina, and it feels like a different world than home. Last evening I peered down from the gazebo and saw a stingray lying on the mud just below the water’s surface. Today I’m secretly hoping to see an alligator—from a safe distance, of course.

Several years ago Gene and I decided to do something special for our 35th wedding anniversary (it’s February 20). When the opportunity came to make this trip, we decided to go for it. Besides, we hadn’t taken an honest-to-goodness vacation in who-knows-how–long, and we were very ready for a rest.

While here we’ve unplugged from the internet as much as possible, done a bit of sightseeing, watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, gazed in awe at the sunsets, and ridden bike along palm-shaded trails. We’ve attended several exercise classes instructed by my good friend Vicki Heath. We visited the Baptist church where her husband Rob pastors, and we cooked supper for them one evening. But most of all, we’ve rested and enjoyed quiet. unrushed time in the Word, in prayer, and in the beautiful outdoors. We’ve cared for our souls.

Soul care is essential in the midst of all our travel and ministry responsibilities. Without it, we can so easily fall prey to wrong thinking—that the weight of the world sits on our shoulders, that no one really understands what our lives are like, and that what we do doesn’t really make a difference anyway. But nurturing our souls keeps us strong and our focus right.

Soul care is important not just for me and Gene. It’s vital for you too, no matter your age or occupation or life season. When the soul is strong, one’s mental and emotional capacity is healthy too. Problems don’t loom so large. We’re less likely to lash out at others when things don’t turn out as we hope. We’re better able to process information needed to make good decisions. We’re able to pour out from a full vessel rather than trying in vain to pour from one that’s empty.

Even Jesus recognized the value of caring for one’s soul by withdrawing from work in order to rest. “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile,” He said to the disciples shortly after they’d dealt with John the Baptist’s death and during yet another busy stretch of giving time and energy to others (Mark 6:31).

Sometimes we feel guilty taking time for ourselves. Or we think we dare not lest the world, or at least our family, fall apart in our absence. Or we simply neglect to prioritize it because we think we’re like the Energizer Bunny. But let’s remember that even God rested. Let’s take our cues from Him and do likewise.

Maybe you’re in a life season that doesn’t allow you to retreat for a week as I’ve just done, but you could enjoy a bubble bath after the kids are asleep. Or you could read a good book at your favorite coffee shop for an hour every other week. Or you could sit on your sofa and sip your favorite tea and do nothing for a few minutes every evening. Whatever works for you, do it. And don’t feel guilty.

By the time you read this, I’ll be back home. My next flight happens in six days when I head to Edmonton to host our missions booth for three days at Missions Fest Alberta. From then until the end of April, I’ll travel nearly every weekend for speaking engagements, and I’ll attend our annual staff conference in Hungary. Thanks to this week away, I’m recharged and ready to pour from a full vessel.

Question: How do you care for your soul?

#bgbg2 #SoulCare #ChristianDevotions