Conntecting the Dots

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

3 Ways to Influence Your Destiny

Where we fix our focus determines our destiny. Letting our eyes linger on an object, person, or goal that doesn’t meet God’s approval will land us in trouble. Case in point – Oholibah.

You might wonder, Who in the world is Oholibah? Truth be told, I hadn’t a clue who she was until I studied the book of Ezekiel for writing my “First 5” Bible study assignments (Proverbs 31 Ministries). I discovered that she’s an allegorical adulteress. That’s a mouthful, eh?

Ezekiel 23:14-17 tells of Oholibah gazing at pictures of Babylonian military officers on a wall. The pictures appeal to her. Instead of turning her eyes away, she lets them linger until she begins to lust. Then she acts on that lust. An illicit relationship follows, and her lovers eventually destroy her.

In this allegory, Oholibah represents Judah. God had warned His people against pursuing relationships with ungodly nations. He knew that doing so would lead to adopting foreign gods and religious customs. His people would fall into idolatry, and this would destroy them. Sure enough, He was right. Judah formed a political alliance with Babylon, she fell into idolatry, and Babylon destroyed her.

Oholibah’s destiny might have been much different had she applied Psalm 119:37 when gazing on the pictures of the Babylonian military officers. It says, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Fixing her gaze on God, the One who promised her His undying love, would have kept her affection in the right place and saved her from destruction.

As I thought about how Oholibah’s focus determined her destiny, I realized that Eve shared a similar story. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes…, she took of its fruit and ate…”(Genesis 3:6).

Potiphar’s wife followed the same path. “And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me” (Genesis 39:7).

And then came David’s adultery. “…he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful” (2 Samuel 11:2).

On what might we fix our eyes to our detriment? Here are a few ideas that come to mind:

  • Material possessions
  • A goal of trying to impress others
  • A person other than our spouse
  • Money
  • Position or power

Rather than focusing on things that appeal to us yet fall short of God’s standard or approval, let’s be intentional about fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:2 NIV) Here are 3 ways we can do so:

  • Read God’s Word on a regular basis. Ask Him to give you an unquenchable desire for it. The more we read His Word as His love letter to us, the more we understand His desire for relationship with us and that His purposes for us are good. This understanding strengthens our commitment to follow Him.
  • Keep an ongoing conversation with the Lord. Involve Him in every aspect of your life, even the mundane. This makes us more mindful of His presence and less likely to turn our focus elsewhere.
  • Live in moment-by-moment revival. This means that we keep short accounts with God. The moment we’re aware that we’ve fixed our gaze on a lesser god, we confess and bring our focus back to where it belongs—on Jesus.

Where we fix our focus determines our destiny. Therefore, turn your eyes from worthless things. Focus on Jesus, and you’ll discover the abundant life He intended for you.

Question: What other worthless things might we be tempted to focus on?

#FocusOnJesus   #NoWorthlessThing  #bgbg2  #Truth

Why Our Thoughts About God Matter

Have you noticed how your thoughts about God play a vital role in your perspective and response toward stuff that happens in life? I’ve seen this prove true time and time again. Here’s a simple, current example.

Where I live, winter is marked by overcast skies and rain. It’s already upon us. The marina dock is slick, and carrying groceries or suitcases from the parking lot to our boat isn’t exactly a ton of fun. The memory of falling face-first while pulling a suitcase and wearing a 25-pound backpack last October still haunts me.

I could quickly fall into complaining about the damp cold and the dangers of walking on a wet dock except that I know God placed us here. I also know that God is wise and good. He makes no mistakes. He has my best interest in mind. He uses circumstances to refine my character and make me more like Jesus. He has purposes beyond my understanding for placing us here, and He’s given me the privilege of playing a role in seeing those purposes fulfilled.

If I start second-guessing God’s goodness and wisdom (ie: “What was He thinking when He told us to move aboard a sailboat? This is ‘way too hard for a woman my age!”), then I will soon resent living here. I’ll envy my friends who live in houses—especially if they have attached garages—and discontentment will eat me alive.

In contrast, focusing my mind on the truth about God brings peace. Because He’s wise and good and makes no mistakes, I know He is completely trustworthy. He’s got my back and will give me everything needed to thrive through our second winter as liveaboards. I can trust and not be afraid.

John 8:12-25 tells the story of Jesus addressing a group of unbelievers:

“That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be,

you will die in your sins.”

“Who are you?” they demanded.

Jesus replied, “The one I have always claimed to be” (vv.24-25 NLT).

When Jesus walked this earth, He taught that people’s thoughts about Him mattered. Unless they believed the truth about who He said He was—the Savior sent to cleanse them from sin and restore them to a right relationship with God—they would die in their sins.

The same principle holds true in our thoughts about God the Father. They matter. They matter a great deal. If they’re not based on truth, we develop a skewed understanding of who He is and His role in our lives. We develop a distorted perspective. We start living according to our own truth. Eventually, we sacrifice peace and joy for envy, discontentment, and fear.

Our human tendency is to make God into something our finite minds can grasp. Or we make Him into something we want Him to be so we can excuse sinful behaviors. Or we misconstrue His character by over-emphasizing one attribute at the expense of another.

Let’s guard against doing this, okay? Let’s ask God to reveal inaccurate thoughts about Him and to replace them with the truth.

Our thoughts about God ultimately determine our destiny both in this life and in the hereafter. They’re the most important thing about us, so let’s strive to ensure they’re based on truth.

Here’s a question for you: What truth about God’s character means the most to you at this time, and why?

#bgbg2  #TruthAboutGod  #SpiritualTruth

3 Promises of Peace When Your Story has a Difficult Plot

Everyone has a story, right?

When I speak at women’s retreats and conferences, I hear many. Some stories draw laughter. Some leave me speechless, in awe of how God reveals Himself to those who seek Him. How He provides for those who ask. How He grants wisdom to those who lack.

Sometimes those stories break my heart. I hear about adult kids struggling with addictions or going through the throes of abuse or divorce. I hear about grandmothers estranged from their kids and grandchildren and not knowing why. I hear about families grieving a recent loss or walking a cancer journey with a loved one.

Sometimes the only words I can muster are, “I’m so sorry.”

Undoubtedly you have a story, too. Maybe you’ve faced bitter disappointment. A friend or spouse’s betrayal. The pain of watching your child make negative life-altering choices. The ongoing pain of health issues that baffle medical professionals.

Some mornings you wake and force yourself to function. Some days you’d rather stay in bed. Perhaps you’re living a story you wish could be rewritten. If so, I want to encourage you today with three promises of peace:

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16NIV).
– Peace is found in the person of Jesus, not in circumstances. No matter what we face, He is the source that never runs dry. He alone can fill our cup to overflowing.

“I listen carefully to what God the LORD is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people” (Psalm 85:8NLT).
– God’s voice consoles us with truth—He is wise and sovereign, He will never leave us, and He can turn bad situations into something good. Turn a deaf ear to the voice of fear that says our circumstances are beyond hope. Ignore the whispers that say God’s intent toward us cannot be trusted. Listen to God’s voice and hang onto every word He speaks.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).
– Experiencing God’s peace happens when we take specific action steps. First, refuse to worry about those difficult circumstances. Worry won’t change a thing, but it will rob us of today’s joy. Second, turn those worries into prayers. Pour out your concerns to God rather than letting them mess with your mind. Third, recall God’s faithfulness in the past and thank Him for all He has done. Then thank Him, by faith, in advance for what He’s going to do in answer to your prayers. Taking those action steps leads to experiencing God’s peace.

Your story might contain twists and plots you didn’t choose but hang onto hope because peace is possible. Keep your ears tuned to God’s voice. Listen for His promises, and do what He says. Keep your focus on Him, and you will know a peace that cannot be manufactured.

#bgbg2 #PeaceIsPossible #InnerPeace #PeaceDespiteCircumstances

Recapturing the Wonder of God

“Those who live at the ends of the earth stand in awe of your wonders. From where the sun rises to where it sets, you inspire shouts of joy” (Psalm 65:8NLT).

Sunshine bathed my dining room one spring morning. Unbeknownst to me, its warmth melted the wrapped European chocolates sitting in a dish on the table.

My grandchildren popped in for an unexpected visit at noon. Anna and Luke, ages five and three at the time, discovered the softened sweets. “Oh no, Grandma,” Anna exclaimed. “They’re melted! What should we do with them?”

“Put them in the fridge,” I said. “Then they’ll harden and be easier to eat.”

Anna checked on the chocolates an hour later. “You were right, Grandma!” she exclaimed. “Look—they’re hard now. Wow! How did that happen?” Her awe made me smile.

Last weekend my youngest daughter sent me a picture of her five-month-old lying on her tummy on the lawn. Fallen leaves strewn around her had captivated her attention. The photo was another reminder to slow down, open my eyes, and appreciate the simple yet profound.

Living life with a sense of wonder and awe seldom happens in adulthood. Work and worry often blind us to the miracles that surround us. We rush through our days focused on silencing the tasks calling for our attention, and we miss the delights before us.

My grandchildren restore my perspective. Seeing life through their eyes reawakens me to wonders such as a ladybug’s spots, a daisy’s petals, an ant’s activity, and a bird’s nest. It renews my awe at the Creator’s ingenuity.

Living on a boat has also restored my perspective. I’m more alert to the resident heron standing in the mud on its stalk-like legs, the ringed ripples on the river after a fish jumps, lacey spiderwebs dripping with raindrop pearls, and sunrises rich in colors that defy description.

Creation’s majesty and intricacies leave me speechless. Sometimes the only word I can muster is, “Wow!” But here’s what leaves me even more amazed—the Creator’s love for us.

Think about it. The One whose handiwork leaves us in awe is the same One who loves us and wants relationship with us. I suspect the Psalmist felt the same way when he wrote these words:

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
    putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
    and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
    and everything that swims the ocean currents. (Psalm 8:3-8NLT)

Let’s do today asking God to open our eyes to the wonders He’s created. Let’s celebrate His creative genius. Let’s stand in awe of who He is and marvel that He loves us and wants relationship with us.

Now it’s your turn: What aspect of God’s creation inspires awe in your life?

#bgbg2  #GodsCreation  #EverydayWonders

Overcoming a Self-Defeating Habit or Habitual Sin

As a woman who’s been on a wellness journey for several years, I’ve learned to identify personal habits that lead to defeat. Here’s one example.

Any time I’m in a public setting where there’s a snack table present, I tend to park myself near it during conversations. That way, I can easily fill my plate with nibbles. Once. Twice. Three times. You get the picture.

That habit totally defeats my desire to maintain my weight loss. If I want to overcome it, I have to do something different. The most effective behavioral change in that setting is to serve myself one healthy snack and then move far from the table to eat it. As in—the opposite side of the room far away. Out of sight, out of mind.

Another self-defeating habit is to hold onto my empty plate. My tastebuds taunt, “Fill it! Fill it! Fill it!” The wise response is to put the dirty plate where it belongs and then refuse to replace it with a clean one. If I do, I’ll most certainly succumb to temptation.

Overcoming a self-defeating habit necessitates turning away from wrong or harmful behavior and replacing it with a right or helpful behavior. The same principle works in our spiritual lives. Isaiah 55:7 says, “Let the people turn from their wicked deeds. Let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong! Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

If we want to become godly women, then we need to turn from sin and turn to the LORD. We shift our focus from what’s wrong and impure to what’s right and pure, and we act on it.

We turn from speaking criticism to speaking words of life.

We turn from serving our own wants to serving others’ needs.

We turn from comparison to contentment.

But there’s one more thing: we retrain the way we think about these wrong behaviors. Rather than flirting with thoughts about them—how we can engage in them without consequence or without getting caught—we banish them from our minds. We focus our thoughts instead on the Lord and fill our minds with His truth.

Changing the way we think ultimately influences our behaviors in both the physical and the spiritual aspects of life. If we truly want to overcome a self-defeating habit or habitual sin, then banishing inaccurate thinking and replacing it with truth is key.

How have you overcome a self-defeating habit or habitual sin?

#bgbg2  #OvercomingBadHabits  #OvercomingHabitualSins  #Devotions

Rescue at the Midnight Hour

I’ve been reading the little book, The Red Sea Rulesby Robert Morgan. As I read about the Israelites’ adventure in the desert, I envision millions of men, women, and children facing their life or death situation.

The waves of the Red Sea lapped on the shore before them as the sound of pounding horse hooves grew louder and louder behind them. Fear overrode faith when the Egyptian army came into view. Scripture says, “The people began to panic, and they cried out to the LORD for help” (Exodus 14:10). Then they turned to Moses and began questioning his leadership. “Our Egyptian slavery was far better than dying out here in the wilderness!” (Exodus 14:11).

It’s a gross understatement to say their situation appeared beyond hopeless.

The midnight hour was about to strike. And God intervened at 11:59.

I’ve seen God do that time and time again. Here’s one example. A couple of years ago Gene and I were scheduled to teach in the Middle East. We had to raise all the necessary funds for our flight, our accommodation, and our food. We had to book the flights well in advance—long before we had the funds in hand—and doing so stretched our faith. Once we booked our tickets, we were committed to going. No turning back even if the funding didn’t fully come in before boarding that plane.

Three days before our flight, we were still underfunded. The midnight hour was fast approaching. God intervened at 11:59.

It happened on a Sunday, after church. Gene and I stood up to leave and, to our surprise, saw a man with whom he often played soccer. They’d never had a personal conversation, so Gene didn’t know that he was a believer. To date, this was the first and only time we’ve seen this fellow in our church. His wife was with him, and as she and I talked, we realized that we had several mutual friends. They invited us for lunch, and we had a delightful time. Before we parted ways, the wife said to me, “I feel like God is telling me to donate toward your trip to the Middle East.” She wrote a cheque on the spot, and that cheque covered the shortfall.

Life being what it is, you and I will face Red Sea experiences.

The waves lap before us, and circumstances push us closer and closer to the water’s edge. Fear can easily override our faith. The midnight hour approaches. We call to God for help, and then we panic.

Honestly, I wish God had a better sense of timing. Why doesn’t He show up at, like, 9:00 or 10:00. Why does He wait until 11:59 when the situation looks hopeless?

I suspect God waits because He wants us to experience His amazing power. We view difficulties as obstacles, but He sees them as opportunities for us to watch Him accomplish what appears impossible. He views them as opportunities for our faith to grow so we’ll learn to trust and not be afraid. To rest rather than panic.

I’ll admit it—I sometimes wish God’s timing suited mine,  but I know deep down that His is perfect. He’s never early but He’s never late either. The midnight hour comes, but He’ll show up at 11:59. And He’ll do it in a way that will leave me in awe. Again.

How have you experienced God’s midnight rescue?

#GodsTiming #devotions  #RedSeaExperience  #bgbg2

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Three Words That Change Everything

An email arrived in my inbox yesterday, words written by a woman whose husband died recently. She described her concerns for her young adult children and her frustration over lacking a sense of purpose since becoming a widow.

My heart hurt for her. That pain added to the hurt I’ve felt for others who have messaged me in the past week—women from India who lost their homes and livelihood in recent floods. Women fighting to keep their marriages from becoming a statistic. Women desperate for their adult kids to find freedom from addictions, and women whose husbands’ ailing health has led them to a rocky present and uncertain future.

In a perfect world, we’d never face problems that threaten to undo us. The good news is—that perfect world is coming. Struggles of the soul will be a thing of the past. Sorrows and tears will be forever wiped away. But for now…for the broken world in which we live and move, we need hope.

Psalm 54:4 offers a simple but profound truth packed with hope for whatever pain or uncertainty we face today. It says, “But God is my helper.”

I read those words this morning, and I put the focus on the first three—“But God is.” Then I thought about the challenges faced by men and women around the world today. About the reality of bad things happening. About the difference made when we bring God into the picture.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal: “No matter what happens in my life, I will hold onto ‘But God is _________.” Then I wrote a list to fill in the blank.

  • But God is sovereign.
  • But God is my hope.
  • But God is my friend forever.
  • But God is on my side.
  • But God is my provider.
  • But God is my source of strength.
  • But God is all I need.
  • But God is always with me.

I ended the list with, “I may face difficulties, but God is bigger.”

“But God is” – three little words that change everything when we focus on them rather than on the problem at hand.

In no way is my list comprehensive. What would you add to it? Fill in the blank for the sentence, “No matter what happens in my life, I will hold onto ‘But God is _________.”

#bgbg2  #GodIsBigger  #Hope #HoldingOnToHope #Christiandevotions  #GodHelpsUs

The Truth About Trying to Hide Sin

I began eating in secret when I was about six years old. My dad brought home a stash of chocolate bars and little bags of potato chips from a restaurant where he’d done some electrical work. The restaurant owner was doing a remodel job and needed to clear out his storage room, so he sent boxes of this stuff home with whoever was helping him at the time.

Dad put the boxes under the stairwell and gave me and my siblings strict orders to ask for permission before helping ourselves. The way I figured, he and Mom would probably say no if I asked them for a treat, so why bother? I hid under the stairwell, in the dark, and munched whenever the urge struck. As if I wouldn’t eventually get caught, right?

Fast forward 54 years. 

Several months ago, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d carried this behavior into my adulthood. In the past, I emptied large bags of chips into plastic containers to keep them fresh, yes, but moreso to avoid the noise made when opening the original packaging. If I could break into my chips quietly, then no one would know what I was doing. In the more recent past, I kept a stash of chocolate bars hidden in a closet in my office. I always made sure I disposed of the wrappers appropriately lest someone see them in the trash and discover my little secret.

Snacking on junk food in secret didn’t turn out well for me. When eaten in excess—publicly or in private—calories eventually do damage. My health suffered, and I paid dearly.

Today, even though I’ve been on a wellness journey for four years, I’m still tempted to eat in secret. Sometimes I give in, but more often—thankfully—I’m now able to resist. What motivates me to say no? I’ve experienced the joy of feeling strong and healthy. I know the thrill of doing physical activities I never thought I’d be able to do. I know the freedom that comes from living a life with nothing to hide.

King David tried to hide his wrongdoing, too, but things didn’t turn out well. Before he came clean about his affair with another man’s wife, he felt weak and miserable and groaned all day long. He felt God’s heavy hand of discipline upon him, and his strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. (Psalm 32:3-4)

Everything changed when King David stopped trying to hide his sin. “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone” (Psalm 32:5). He traded a heavy burden of secrecy and shame for freedom and joy.

We might try to hide sin from God and others, but the evidence of its presence shows up sooner or later, and it’s never pretty. It will always have a negative effect on us in some way or another. The cost just isn’t worth it.

The good news is—confessing our sin changes everything for us. God takes it away and puts it out of sight. He doesn’t just hide it somewhere else. He removes it—and our guilt—from us, and we are then able to experience the freedom that comes from living a life of complete honesty. (Psalm 32:1,2,5)

Hiding sin is not worth it, my friend. It will hurt you. God has better things in store, and it starts with coming clean.

#bgbg2  #confession  #GodForgives #NewStart  #Christiandevotions