Conntecting the Dots

Encouragement for the Weary

The past two weeks have allowed me the privilege of spending every day with two different sets of ministry coworkers and friends. We’ve walked together, shared meals, brainstormed and laughed and prayed together. I found it interesting that so many shared how they entered the new year feeling exhausted.

One woman lost her mom a few weeks ago and she’s struggling with grief. Another had just finished moving from the house she loved into an apartment after experiencing a divorce she didn’t want. Another felt exhausted from ever-increasing work responsibilities. Several are soul-weary from the weight of watching their kids make negative life-altering decisions.

I relate to their weary. After returning from the Middle East, our family dove into mid-December Christmas celebrations. The day after spending a weekend with our kids and grandkids (which was totally wonderful!), a virus hit me in the chest and laid me flat. As a result, I also entered the new year feeling exhausted.

I’m grateful that I finally feel back to my normal self. Even more, I’m grateful for the promise God gives to those who feel weary for whatever reason. Isaiah 40:29-31 says, “He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted and young men will give up. But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Our heavenly Father knows when we’re tired, and He offers strength. New strength. New strength for every day.

We don’t have to wake up in the morning and wonder how we’ll get through the day. We don’t have to draw from yesterday’s leftover mental, emotional, and physical energy. We are the recipients of God’s endless power, and His strength storehouse never empties.

Are you weary today? Worn out from last year’s challenges or new ones that have come your way since January 1? Draw from God’s bottomless well of strength, my friend. Talk to Him throughout your day. Thank Him for His presence and promises. Open your heart and receive His love and power. He will deliver on His promise to give new strength for every challenge you face.

#StrengthForToday  #GodGivesStrength

Why I Didn’t Want This One-Word for 2020

Determining the Lord’s focus word for me at the start of each year is usually a fun exercise. This year the process has been less fun and more a painful path to self-discovery.

My word is—drum roll, please—“listen.”

It’s not the word I wanted. I tried to ignore it. I picked and journaled about a different one. But “listen” kept popping up, sometimes several times a day, and I finally waved the white flag of surrender.

“Okay, okay,” I said to the Lord. “I get it. You want me to focus on my listening skills this year.” Three ways of doing so came to mind:

  • Listen to others. Be fully present in a conversation. Be slow to speak and quick to hear what others say. (James 1:19)
  • Listen to godly advice. Pay attention when given wise counsel. (Proverbs 19:20)
  • Listen to God’s voice. Stay attuned whether He whispers or shouts. (Isaiah 55:3—“Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life.”)

Here’s where the self-discovery part showed up. Listening to God’s voice is all good and well, but listening alone is not enough. Over and over, the Bible pairs it with doing. Matthew 7:24 is one example: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” Having my ears open to receiving God’s words is good, but I must be willing to act upon what I hear Him say.

So then, what if God tells me to do something that feels ‘way beyond my expertise? What if He calls me to a task that’s bound for failure unless He shows up? What if He invites me to take a leap of faith bigger than any leap I’ve attempted in the past?

Listening to God give marching orders is one thing. Taking the first step is quite another.

Determining my one-word this year has revealed pockets of fear. It’s like I’m standing on a high diving board with knees knocking. God is saying, “Jump!” and I’m sticking my fingers in my ears to muffle His voice. If I don’t hear Him, then I don’t have to take action, right? Not.

I suspect this year will be one of growth that comes by listening to God and then doing what He says even if that means doing it afraid. Part of me wants to resist; the other part of me tiptoes toward the end of that diving board knowing God will catch me when I take the leap.

So, my friend. What’s your focus word this year? And how does it resonate with you so far? I’ve told you my story. Now I’d love to hear yours.

#OneWord  #LeapOfFaith  #ListenToGod

Finding Peace

“These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Yesterday a news broadcaster reviewed the past year’s many tragic headlines from North America and beyond. They told of floods and fires, plane crashes, the opioid crisis, mass shootings, genocide, displaced people, and war. The collective pain and grief is incomprehensible. Those affected pick up the shards and try to carry on in their new normal. Some folks succeed; others not so much. How does one heal when the shards continue to cut to the depth of one’s heart?

There’s only one answer. For this we have Jesus—the Prince of Peace. 

Before His arrest, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).

Peace of mind and heart is a universal need. Men and women of all ages and from every culture seek it. The world offers cheap knock-offs that may provide temporary pain relief, but nothing and no one offers lasting, deep peace like Jesus.

Hours before He died, Jesus spoke of sharing His peace with us. This is a peace we can neither conjure up nor fake. It doesn’t come through easy circumstances or having enough money to feel comfortable. It doesn’t come through having good health or relationships. Granted, enjoying these things help make one’s life less stressful, but none of them are guaranteed. They can vanish in a heartbeat. Where does that leave us if we’ve founded our peace on their presence?

True, unshakeable peace comes from the Prince of Peace. Our circumstances change but He never will. He carries us and comforts us when life as we know it falls apart. He strengthens us and sustains us through change. He loves us and leads us like a gentle shepherd when we lose our way.

How do we experience the peace Jesus promised? I believe aligning our thoughts about God with the truth is key. Apart from the truth, our minds make Him into a God too small and peace is impossible. With that as our foundation, here are several intentional actions to take:

  • Refuse to entertain worrisome thoughts and fears.
  • Focus on God’s promises. Speak them aloud and personalize them.
  • Tell God about everything that concerns you.
  • Make gratitude a lifestyle.

Philippians 4:6-7 explains it well. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Only God knows what the new year will hold. For us, it’s a huge uncertainty. But this one thing we can know for sure—no matter what headlines we’ll encounter, we can experience peace because Jesus said so.

#PrinceOfPeace  #Advent  #ChristmasMeditations  #JesusCares  #ChristmasIsHard

Encouragement For Those Who Find Christmas Difficult

“These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Christmas is a time for celebration, but it can also be really tough when life brings change.

Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one and you’re keenly feeling the pain of the empty place.

Maybe you moved far from family and friends this year, and the miles between you make it impossible to see them this season.

Perhaps the one who promised to love you forever broke his vows and your heart. Celebrating Christmas is the last thing you feel like doing.

The most difficult Christmas I’ve experienced happened in 1999. Two months prior, my dad suffered a stroke while standing on a ladder. He fell and ended up with serious head injuries and broken ribs. He’d barely returned home from the hospital when a second stroke hit him. Doctors questioned whether or not he’d survive.

It was the first week of December. I wanted to rush to Dad’s bedside, but I lived on a little island off British Columbia’s west coast and he lived in southern Alberta. I couldn’t afford to fly, so driving was the only option. The trip took about twenty hours and meant crossing the Rocky Mountains in treacherous conditions. It also meant leaving my 12-year-old daughter when she faced surgery. Granted, it was relatively minor but still, I was her mom and I wouldn’t be there for her. 

I spent a week juggling time between Dad’s bedside and helping my mom with whatever she needed doing. I also worried about how my family was coping in my sudden absence. I cried every night, dreading the time I’d have to say goodbye and wondering whether it might be the last time I’d see my father alive.

Then came the return trip through the mountains.

On one stretch of winding highway, a sanding truck dumped a load of pea-sized gravel as it approached from the front. The gravel bounced off the road and sprayed across my car’s hood, windshield, roof, and headlights. There was no way to stop on that icy road. The sander kept going and disappeared around a bend, and I did the same in the opposite direction despite the damage done.

Darkness fell and seemed impenetrable with only one headlight still functional. I tucked behind an 18-wheeler and followed it for miles through the most treacherous part of the journey. By the time I reached the coast, my neck was a tense mess and my fingernails seemed permanently embedded in the steering wheel.

By now Christmas was only two weeks away. I felt anything but joyful. It felt wrong to party while my dad and mom suffered. I felt guilty decorating our home and then buying and wrapping gifts. I felt sad and tired to the core. I didn’t need a tree, presents, and a turkey dinner that year. Neither did I want to attend carol-sings or a candlelit Christmas Eve service.

All I wanted was a big, strong Daddy to wrap me in His arms and say, “I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be okay.” I needed my heavenly Father to hold me safe and embrace me while I slept. I needed Him to infuse me with energy so I could serve my family and make their Christmas special.

Can you relate? Sometimes life is flat-out hard. Thank heaven we have Jesus—our Everlasting Father—for such times as these. He remains consistent when everything around us changes. He remains constant when circumstances thrust us into a new normal. (Hebrews 1:10-12) He’s always there for us, ready to listen to our cries and eager to help us in our weakness. (Psalm 34:17)

If you’re finding this season difficult, know that you’re not alone. Also know that Jesus, our Everlasting Father, opens His arms wide and invites you to nestle close to His heart. Tell Him how you feel. Accept His invitation, and rest in His never-ending love for you, my friend.

#EverlastingFather #Advent #ChristmasMeditations #JesusCares #ChristmasIsHard

Jesus — Mighty God

“These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Life being what it is, we sometimes face problems that appear insurmountable. We deal with circumstances that seem utterly impossible.

Perhaps Mary viewed her situation through that lens when the angel Gabriel said she would become pregnant. Naturally, she questioned how that could be possible while she was still a virgin.

Gabriel explained that the power of the Most High would overshadow her and she would conceive the Son of God. Furthermore, Mary’s relative Elizabeth, barren and beyond child-bearing age, was six months pregnant. “For nothing is impossible with God,” he said. (Luke 1:31-37)

Nothing is impossible with God, mighty God—the One who spoke the universe into being. The One who parted the Red Sea so His people could walk through on dry land. The One who became flesh and walked among us on earth.

Mighty God in human form turned water into wine, gave sight to the blind, healed the lepers, and fed the masses with a few loaves and fish. He walked on the waves and calmed the storm at sea. He performed miracles of every sort and then topped them all when He rose from the grave.

Nothing was impossible with God then, and the same holds true today.

We might view our circumstances as impossible. We’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for a wayward child to return. We’ve fought for our marriage, and we’ve done everything we know to make our finances stretch. We’ve waited for a miracle and wondered why God doesn’t operate according to our timetable.

Our problems might seem insurmountable, but focusing on them in that light will only cause discouragement. The more impossible our circumstances, the greater our opportunity to experience Mighty God’s presence and power.

How have you seen Mighty God do something that seemed impossible by human standards?

#MightyGod  #Advent  #ChristmasMeditations

4 Meditations on the Names of Jesus – Week 1

The Christmas season is upon us full bore. Even the international airlines featured Hallmark-type Christmas movies on our flight from England to the USA yesterday. I’ll admit it—I enjoy wrapping myself in a warm blanket and watching these movies for fun on cold winter nights as Christmas approaches. I also enjoy wrapping gifts, baking cookies for my neighbors, inviting friends over for board games and hot chocolate, and the anticipation of getting together with my kids and grands.

During quiet moments, I enjoy meditating on the names of Jesus.“These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”(Isaiah 9:6). With four names listed and four weeks until Christmas, I thought it would be nice to share a thought about one name per week. How does that sound?

So, for starters, let’s talk about “Wonderful Counselor.” Those two words immediately reassure us that no problem we face is too great for God. He understands every detail involved including those unseen and unknown to us. We might feel confused and clueless, but He knows the best solution and how to achieve it. He also knows not to rush toward quick fixes but to work according to the best timing.

As our Wonderful Counselor, Jesus is accessible at all times. We never need set an appointment to talk with Him. We never need worry that He’ll judge us for sharing our most troubling secrets. We never need fear that He’ll view us as hopeless cases for He instills hope within us.

Our Wonderful Counselor is wisdom personified, and He is more than willing to share that wisdom with us. (James 1:5) He’s also kind and tender. And He always speaks the truth to us for our good even though we might not want to hear it.

The Wonderful Counselor has come to give us wisdom, guidance, and hope. With Him as our Counselor, no problem is unsolvable or insurmountable. Close your eyes for a few moments and ponder the beauty of this gift.

Please—go ahead and tell us what “Wonderful Counselor” means to you.

#WonderfulCounselor  #Advent  #ChristmasMeditations

Help From Heaven

Bald eagles fascinate me. They’re the picture of strength and majesty, rising on the wind and circling overhead with their wings outspread.

When we lived on Quadra Island, I saw bald eagles on a routine basis. One made its home in a snag near the ferry landing. I recall sitting in the ferry lineup and watching it soar and hearing its familiar cry. Its strength and beauty captivated me.

I’m no longer living on Quadra, but I still enjoy the privilege of seeing bald eagles in my city. Two live in a tall tree several hundred meters from my boat-home. Every so often I see them diving for their dinner in the river. The sight causes me to stop whatever I’m doing and watch them.

Deuteronomy 33:26-27 says– “There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor. The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.” I read these words and immediately think of the bald eagle soaring, circling, and diving. And then I visualize God—soaring like that eagle across the heavens to rescue me when I call on Him for help.

Can you picture that with me? Imagine! God rides across the heavens to help us. He rushes across the skies in majestic splendor to rescue us. He sees us from afar, and He rides the wind to save us. He swoops underneath us and catches us on His wings to save us from a freefall.

Do you need His help today? Call on Him, and thank Him in advance for answering you. Here’s what you can say: “Father, I praise You because there is no other God like You. You ride across the heavens to help me. You soar across the skies in majestic splendor. You are my refuge. Your everlasting arms are underneath me.  I will trust in You and not be afraid. Thank You, God. Thank You.”

I’ve told you how these Scripture verses conjure images of the bald eagle for me. What visual image do these verses bring to your mind?

#bgbg2  #Eagles  #GodHelpsUs

The Best Thoughts to Think at Night

On what thoughts do you dwell when you’re in bed and either falling asleep or unable to sleep?

Some folks might say they plan the next day’s to-do list. Others might contemplate tough stuff they’re experiencing—a difficult relationship, the pain of betrayal, troublesome money matters, or a recent loss.

Some might ponder more positive happenings—an upcoming vacation, the expected birth of a child or grandchild, recent answers to prayer, or the bliss of a life blessed by peace on every side.

When I wake at night, I most often turn my thoughts to the wonder of God’s presence with me, and I thank Him for His care and love. Then I pray for those whose faith is being tested at that time.

I like what the psalmist did. He wrote, “I reflect at night on who you are, O Lord…” (Psalm 119:55). My hunch is that those reflections focused a lot on God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. Perhaps they also focused on His sovereignty, wisdom, and power. The result? Obedience. “…Therefore, I obey your instructions.”

The more we meditate on who God is (based on the truth of His word, not on human misperceptions), the more courage and confidence we gain to walk in obedience. As we come to understand His love for us, we realize He’s fully trustworthy. As we understand His wisdom, we learn to rest in His plans for us. As we understand His power and sovereignty, we gain courage to say yes even when we don’t know the details.

Perhaps your nighttime thoughts wander down the path of worry or fear. Maybe they take you to painful memories. Perhaps they lead you to a place of despair. If so, choose to refuse to linger there. Instead, do as the psalmist did—reflect on the character of God and allow the truth to transform you.

Question: Where does your mind typically go during the night? If it goes to worry or fear, what’s one truth about God that can replace that thought?

Here’s a song to get you started.

#bgbg2   #NighttimeThoughts  #GodLovesYou

When Plans Change

I’m preparing to leave for the Middle East on Sunday morning. Last week I thought I was doing great in regards to wiping my to-do list clean so I could focus on long-term writing projects in the days prior to departure. Then came a writing assignment with a due date immediately after our return.

Writing this assignment while I’m overseas isn’t feasible, so I need to get ‘er done this week. Doing so means tossing my best-laid plans for the long-term project out the window.

I’ll bet similar things have happened to you.

Maybe you and your hubby made plans for a weekend getaway, but then the kids caught the flu. So much for romance.

Perhaps you made plans for your retirement, but then your health or financial situation changed. So much for hobbies and travels.

Maybe you made plans for spending Thanksgiving or Christmas with your family, but someone’s schedule or circumstances changed and you weren’t able to get together after all. So much for precious moments with your loved ones.

Stuff happens and our best-laid plans change in a heartbeat. We can respond in one of two ways: annoyance or acceptance.

Annoyance isn’t pretty. Been there, done that. Fretting and stewing over the change in our plans only makes us feel ripped off. Like our needs don’t matter. Like we don’t matter. We listen to the negative voices in our head and before long we’re angry at other people or feeling sorry for ourselves.

Acceptance works much better. We acknowledge our disappointment without getting stuck in it, and then we move forward with Plan B. This requires flexibility on our part, but that’s a great quality to develop.

I’ve found Proverbs 16:9 helpful to remember whenever my plans change. It says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” This verse reminds me that ultimately God is in control of every detail of my life. If I’ve invited Him to be the Lord over every part of me, then He has the right to steer me in the direction He wants to accomplish His purposes in and through me.

I’ll spend the next two days working on my new assignment. And I’ll do it with joy knowing that God has directed my steps down this path. If He wants me to invest my time on this assignment rather than on the long-term project in my head, who am I to argue?

How about you? Share an example of when your best-laid plans changed.  How does Proverbs 16:9 put a positive spin on your perspective?

Bgbg#2  #WhenPlansChange  #GodIsSovereign

3 Truths About Life’s Hard Places

Genesis 28 tells the story of Jacob traveling to his uncle Laban’s home. This wasn’t a fun excursion. He was on the run from his twin brother who wanted to kill him for stealing his blessing. (Genesis 27:41-45)

One night Jacob set up camp and found—get this—a stone—yes, a stone—for a pillow. Can you imagine trying to sleep on a rock? I can’t. This was hardly a comfy, cozy bed. The guy must have been desperate or completely exhausted to fall into a deep sleep under those circumstances.

As Jacob slept, he dreamt of a stairway that reached from earth to heaven. He saw the angels of God going up and down, and the LORD stood at the top and spoke reassuringly to him. (Genesis 28:13-15) When he woke, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it” (Genesis 28:16).

This account is only a few verses long, but it packs important truths for us to apply to our lives today. Here are three:

  • God knows where we are at all times. We might end up camped in a hard, unfamiliar, uncomfortable place and we might feel all alone there, but He is with us in that place. Just as He did not abandon Jacob, so He will never leave or forsake us. (Joshua 1:9)
  • God reveals Himself to us in the hard places. “I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father, Isaac,” He declared to Jacob in a dream. (Genesis 28:13) He wants to reveal Himself to us, too. For reasons known only to Him, the hard places of life are often where we experience those revelations best. Let’s reframe the way we regard those places, then—not as places to avoid at all cost, but as places to enter with courage and expectancy knowing God wants to deepen our friendship with Him there.
  • God’s presence can go unnoticed. Sad but true. When we’re in the midst of a hard place, we might become focused on our loneliness or pain and completely forget that God is still actively engaged in our lives. When that’s the case, we become vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks and lose hope. We need to ask Him to keep us ever mindful of His presence.

Jacob made another statement that captures my attention. He said, “What an awesome place this is!” (Genesis 28:17)

My human nature wants to respond, “Seriously? A hard place is an awesome place?” But then I think about the amazing God-encounter Jacob experienced that night, and I have to agree with him. If life’s hard places mean experiencing God, then they are awesome indeed.

How have you found a hard place to be a place of personal growth and intimacy with God?

#LifesHardPlaces  #devotions  #GodRevealsHimself  #bgbg2