Conntecting the Dots

Getting Out of the Pit of Despair

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. (Psalm 40:1-2 NLT)

I was kindergarten age when my family moved to a new housing development. The roads weren’t paved yet, so melting snow turned them into a mucky mess.

One afternoon I pulled my rubber boots on and headed across the street to play at a friend’s house. Halfway across the road, my feet became stuck in that muck. And then it happened—a construction vehicle came rumbling down the road toward me. I panicked at the thought of it running me down.

“Help me!” I hollered. “Someone—help!” I screamed for what felt like forever.

Our next-door neighbor heard my cries and rushed to my rescue. “You’re okay,” he said. “I’ve got you.” He plucked me from the mud, carried me across the street, and set me on the sidewalk. Safe.

That childhood memory is forever etched in my mind. It brings me reassurance as a grown woman who needs the occasional rescue. This is especially true when my imagination tells me the worst possible scenario is true and fear tries to hold me captive.

When I call for help, I envision the Lord coming to me, scooping me in His arms, and carrying me to safety. But I need to remember that He might not rush to my rescue as fast as I think He should. “I waited and waited and waited for GOD. At last he looked; finally he listened,” says Psalm 40:1 in The Message.

My tendency is to grow impatient in the wait, but doing so only multiplies my stress. I can learn much from the psalmist. He knew the key to contentment even in the midst of difficult circumstances. His understanding of God’s faithfulness, wisdom, power, and love enabled him to trust divine timing. He knew God would respond sooner or later but never a second too late.

God is the same today. He’s faithful, wise, powerful, and loving. He hears our cries and will lift us from the mud and mire of fear and despair. He will set our feet on the firm foundation of His presence and promises.

Do not be afraid. Do not lose hope. Your Rescuer will come. He will. Just wait!

May I pray for you? “Lord, thank You that our cries for help don’t fall on deaf ears. You hear us and promise to rescue us. You’re never a moment too soon or a moment too late. Calm my anxious heart as I wait, please. Thank You in advance for setting my feet on solid ground and steadying me as I walk this uncertain journey. I trust You because You love me so much. Amen.”

***  I’ve expanded these devotional thoughts in a teaching video. Watch it here. ***

#NoFear  #GodIsBiggerThanTheVirus  #StrengthInGod

3 Lessons Learned from an Isolated Woman

Here we sit, in self-isolation. Saying that some people find this challenging is an understatement. Other folks, however, consider this a respite of sorts. I fall into that category. I’m grateful for the opportunity to catch up and catch my breath. Into which category do you fall?

I’ve been thinking about a young Egyptian gal in the Bible who experienced a bout of isolation. Her name was Hagar, and she was Sarai’s servant. An abused servant, she was. Considered more a piece of property than a person of worth (Genesis 16).

Finally, the day came when Hagar decided she’d had enough and headed for home. Only a desperate woman would have attempted the journey alone through the sandy desert. At some point, exhausted, she plopped down beside a spring. There she sat—a solitary soul in the wilderness.

Hagar’s alone space became a place of discovery. Here are three lessons we can learn from her experience in that isolated classroom.

  • Hagar may have felt like she was on her own, but God’s presence was with her (Genesis 16:7). The same is true for us. We might feel isolated, but doors and walls can’t limit God’s Spirit. He is with us. He’s with the seniors we love but can’t visit. He’s with our families and friends. We are not alone.
  • Hagar engaged in conversation with the Lord (Genesis 16:7-12). How often does busyness hinder us from sitting still in His presence and hearing His voice? Too often, right? But we can do things differently during this season. Most of us have extra time now. Let’s cherish it. Let’s set aside a few minutes every day to sit in God’s presence and invite Him to speak to us, to ask the hard questions, and to show us where change is necessary in our lives.
  • Hagar experienced God in a new way. In her isolation, she came to a fresh understanding of His character. She named Him “El-roi,” which means “the God who sees me.” That knowledge gave her the courage to return to Sarai. Knowing that God saw her there and was mindful of her circumstances gave her the courage to stay put until Sarah threw her out more than a decade later (Genesis 21:8-14).

This season of isolating ourselves in our homes needn’t be seen through a negative lens. Rather, let’s ask God to reveal Himself to us in new ways. Let’s seek His face, asking Him what He wants to teach us during these days that resemble nothing we’ve ever experienced. And let’s expect Him to answer.

You’re Invited! Tonight at 6:30 (Pacific Time), 7:30 (Mountain Time, 8:30 (Central Time) and 9:30 (Eastern Time), I’m going to do a brief teaching on this blog on Facebook Live. This will happen on my private FB group called “Growing With Grace.” If you’d like to attend, please pop over there and ask to join the group. I look forward to growing that community through mutual encouragement. Blessings to you!

#bgbg2   #Hagar   #LessonsLearnedInSelfIsolation

Finding Courage for Facing COVID-19

How are you faring, my friend? How has COVID-19 affected your life?

I’m hunkered down in my boat-home, grateful for this out-of-the-way shelter. I’m even more grateful for the peace that comes from knowing this pandemic was no surprise to God. He didn’t wake up one morning and wring His hands in despair, alarmed at the day’s sudden turn of events. From before the beginning of time, He knew this would happen and when.

We’ve watched the coronavirus circle the globe, claim thousands of lives, and crash the economy. We’ve seen pictures of what’s happening in Italy, and we hear our government and health officials urging us to social distance lest Italy’s story becomes ours.

Voices, voices everywhere bear sad news. Bad news. No one can promise a favorable outcome because no one’s experienced anything like this. Uncertainty has become our reality, and fear grips us. How can we loosen its hold on us? How can we find courage for facing COVID-19? Here’s how…

By listening to God’s voice.

Psalm 85:8 has become especially meaningful to me in the past week. It says, “I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people.”

Yes, I hear what the authorities are saying about frequent hand washing, not touching our faces, social distancing, and staying home. I hear what they’re saying about looking for ways to help our neighbors and support our medical service providers. Their words are good and necessary. They supply me with information and ideas so I can be part of the solution. But they don’t bring me courage.

Only God’s voice brings courage to face COVID-19, and I’m listening carefully to what He’s saying. Here’s a sampling:

  • “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up;  the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2NLT)
  • “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.” (Psalm 34:4-5 NLT)
  • “TheLord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” (Psalm 18:2 NLT)
  • “When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” (Psalm 94:19 NLT)
  • “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT)

Voices, voices everywhere, right? Some come from social media. Others come from within our own heads. I want to encourage you to turn down their volume and tune your ear to God’s voice instead.

Fill your mind with His words. Meditate on them. Write them on notecards and post them where you’ll see them often. Speak them aloud. Sing them. Personalize and pray them. Doing so will loosen fear’s grip and bring courage to face COVID-19.

#bgbg2  #NotafraidofCovid19  #Nofear  #Couragetofacecovid19

Overcoming Fear, Experiencing Peace

Hi, my friends. What a week it’s been, right? I feel like our world is changing faster than we can blink. How are you faring with all that’s happening?

I’ve been in Alberta at my mom’s place for the past eight days. She recently underwent radiation therapy for a benign brain tumor, so I came to lend a hand as she recovers. Tomorrow I’ll head home, praying Psalm 91 over myself as I travel via shuttle bus and plane with a two-hour wait in an airport. I’m so thankful that, in the midst of this pandemic panic, I don’t have to feel afraid. Neither do you.  God promises to be with us, and we need not fear the unknown.

Check out the video blog I posted on my FB page.  May the Scriptures bring peace and give courage for the days and weeks ahead.

Know you are loved,

Grace

#bgbg2  #NoFear  #CourageDespiteCoronavirus

Why Making Wise Choices Matters

John Donne was an English clergyman and poet who lived from 1572-1631. He’s the fellow who coined the well-known phrase, “No man is an island unto himself.” Wise, guy, he was. He understood that the choices we make impact not only ourselves but also those around us.

Take Rahab, for instance. She’s the prostitute who lived in Jericho and gained fame for hiding two Israelite spies from danger. Apart from saving their lives, how did her decision to help them affect others?

Joshua 6:24-25 gives us the answer: “Then the Israelites burned the town [Jericho] and everything in it. Only the things made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron were kept for the treasury of the LORD’s house. So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho.”

Rahab’s decision to protect the spies set a major ripple effect into motion. I’m sure her family appreciated the risk she took on their behalf.

On the other hand, I’ll bet Achan’s family wasn’t impressed with the choice he made and how it affected them. Joshua 7:20 says, “Achan replied, ‘It is true. I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. Among the plunder I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighting more than a pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest.’”

Achan saw the loot, made an instantaneous decision to disregard God’s command to destroy it all, and he hid it under his tent. That choice triggered a ripple effect that cost his family members dearly. Contrary to Rahab’s story, he and his relatives died because of his disobedience.

Let’s connect the dots here. Our choices trigger a ripple effect, too. Here are a few examples.

  • Choosing to engage in an extramarital affair impacts our spouse, our kids and future generations, our friends, our church family, and our witness for Christ to unbelievers who know us.
  • Choosing to not eat properly or exercise regularly for a long time could result in our becoming sick with preventable illnesses. Fulfilling our responsibilities at home and at work will be affected. Others will have to pick up the slack or care for us when we’re out of commission.
  • Choosing to spend money frivolously impedes our finances. We could fall into debt, and this hinders our opportunities to help the impoverished or give generously to beneficial projects.

Consider the flipside:

  • Choosing to build a strong marriage provides stability for our family. It also provides a positive role model for our kids when they marry.
  • Choosing to care for our bodies properly means we’re able to live strong and be available to help others in need.
  • Choosing to be wise financial stewards enables us to provide for ourselves and give generously to others.

When faced with a choice, stop to consider the ripple effect it will cause. Who will be impacted? And how far will that ripple effect go?

#bgbg2  #OurChoicesMatter  #MakeWiseChoices

Is There Purpose for Our Pain?

Romans 8:28 is a well-known promise for Christ’s followers: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

When bad stuff happens to us or when life takes an unexpected (and sometimes unwelcome) turn, we recall this verse and find solace in knowing that God—who loves us more than words can say—is in control of our circumstances and able to turn our personal pain into something good. But let’s not stop there. Let’s go deeper in our understanding of what that looks like by combining Romans 8:28 with the verse immediately following:

“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters.”

Suffering and pain are a part of life, and, because they hurt, our natural tendency is to avoid or numb them. Even Jesus, when facing death for our sakes, prayed, “Father, if it be Your will, let this cup pass from Me.” And yet He surrendered His will to embrace God’s eternal purposes.

When we surrender ourselves into God’s hands and invite Him to fulfill His purposes in our lives, He uses our painful experiences to shape us and mold us and make us more like Jesus. Our situation’s eventual outcome might never look like what we’d design, but our attitudes and actions will reflect Jesus Christ to a watching world. Others in pain will see a difference in us, and they’ll ask us to explain the reason for our hope.

I found this to be true after my dad died in Canada while I was involved in ministry in Eastern Europe. March 4thmarks the twelfth anniversary of that unforgettable experience. Being a half-world away from my family as they buried my father and celebrated his life nearly broke my heart. Even now it seems surreal. But God carried me through those days and gave me strength beyond anything I could have mustered up. I learned to surrender my pain to Him, and He filled me with peace and hope.

Afterwards, when I told my story to individuals and groups back home, women came to me and told me their stories. Some teetered on the verge of hopelessness. Others wrestled with tough questions or anger. In each case, I was able to listen to them and pray with them. They found encouragement in knowing that God had not abandoned them. Rather, He was working in their lives and wanting to use their circumstances to draw them closer to Him and make them more like Jesus.

Let’s regard our circumstances as opportunities for God to accomplish His purpose in us—to make us more like His Son. He’ll replace our selfishness with selflessness, our pride with humility, and our short-sightedness with an eternal perspective.

That’s what I desire for my life. How about you?

#bgbg2  #purposeforpain  #morelikeJesus

To Which Voice Should We Listen?

A woman I’ve known for many years struggles with mental health issues. I can’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of what’s going on in her mind. Neither do I pretend to understand the email she sent me recently, the latest in a litany of hurtful written and spoken words.

I hear this woman’s shaming, name-calling voice in my thoughts. Praying for her well-being and then fixing my mind on all things good and true and honorable, all things worthy of praise, helps turn down its volume but doesn’t erase it completely.

Wrestling through this experience is helping me better identify and understand the power of two spiritual voices vying for our attention. One speaks accusations, lies, shame, and fear over us (Revelation 12:10, John 8:44). The other speaks words of truth, life, and love (Psalm 33:4, Zephaniah 3:17, Isaiah 43:1). One calls us derogatory names to attack our identity and purpose. The other calls us by name and affirms these things in us.

Our response is of vital importance. Listening to the negative voice when it comes calling leads to a dark place of the soul where condemnation and judgment suck the joy and life from us. But listening to the voice of truth banishes the darkness and leads us into the light where peace, healing, and hope reign.

To which voice do you most often listen—the liar or the truth-teller? The one that accuses or the one that affirms? I pray it’s the latter. And I pray that you (and I) will walk in the truth He speaks over us. Here’s my prayer in that regard today:

“Father God, thank You for speaking words of truth and love. Tune our ears to hear Your voice. Make us keenly aware of the enemy’s whispers and lies, and give us the ability to shut them down before they take root in our minds. Guide us and grow us in our faith so that we might live abundantly and live to fulfill Your purpose in and through us. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

#SatanLies  #devotions  #GodSpeaksLife

What Air Travel Teaches Me About Trust

In the past 13 days, I’ve flown eight times with seven different flight crews. One of those planes carried only four passengers and a two-man crew. The pilot and co-pilot played the role of baggage handler, hoisted the plane’s stairs up and locked the door prior to take-off, explained the safety rules to us, flew the aircraft, and took our picture beside the plane. They made us feel totally special.

I’m still chuckling about something that happened when we touched down at a teeny airport enroute to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The pilot stepped from the cockpit into the passenger area, careful not to smack his head on the door frame. He looked at us and said, “Does anyone need to use the washroom in the terminal? If so, go ahead. No need to rush. We’ll wait for you.” How’s that for customer service?

Another funny thing happened at a different teeny terminal. A few minutes before the scheduled time to board our plane, Gene asked the gal at the check-in counter where we might find the security area. She smiled and said, “There is none.” A fellow sitting nearby said, “Actually, I’m the security agent, and I think you look like a nice guy. Have a good flight.”

That stranger trusted us even though he knew nothing about us, and we trusted the pilots with our lives despite knowing nothing about them. And, I kid you not, one of them looked like he was too young to shave.

We trust strangers every day—the folks who sit in the flight towers and give instructions to the pilots, bus and taxi drivers, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, plumbers and electricians who service our homes, weathermen, and the list goes on. Why, then, do we hesitate to trust the One who knows everything about us and whose intent toward us is good?

I suspect the problem lies with us, not with Him.

The Lord commands us to trust Him, and He promises good to those who do.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I’m totally okay with letting the pilots—even those who look too young to shave—fly the plane because they know more than I do about the controls. They’re skilled; I am not. I’m safe in their hands. I can close my eyes and rest while they steer the aircraft to our destination. And guess what? They can do a great job without my advice.

How much more can I – can we – rest in our Savior’s hands? He understands us better than we understand ourselves. He’s skilled at fulfilling His purposes in and through us. We’re safe in His hands. We can rest.

#TrustGod  #devotions  #RestinGod

Listening to the Right Voice

My focus word for 2020 is “listen.” Yesterday as I scrolled through my past blogs, I fell upon this one written three years ago. It was, for me, a jaw-dropping moment. I smiled at how God brought this reading back to me as a gentle reminder to keep my ear tuned to His voice above the cacophony of others vying for my attention. Read on, my friend, and ask Him for discernment to recognize His voice today.  

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

When I travel by plane, 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 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 everyday 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

When is it Good to Look Back?

We hear mixed messages about looking back at our past. Some voices warn against it.

Remember the story about Lot and his family? Angel voices urged them not to look back as they fled Sodom before God destroyed it. “Run for your lives!,” they cried. “Do not stop anywhere in the valley. And don’t look back!” Unfortunately, Mrs. Lot didn’t listen. Things didn’t go well for her when she looked back with longing for her friends, home, material possessions, and memories of days gone by despite God’s utter distaste for all things Sodom (Genesis 19:17-26).

Then there’s the apostle Paul’s voice. He wrote, “I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). By “forgetting,” he meant he refused to dwell on the person he was and the atrocities he’d committed before he encountered Jesus. This freed him to focus on what God was doing in and through him in the present, and to anticipate the glorious future promised him. Good move.

Like Lot’s wife, we don’t fare well if we look back wistfully on a past that grieved God. Like Paul, we gain nothing by dwelling on who we used to be and the sins we committed before choosing to follow Jesus. But then comes a third voice, and this one deserves our attention.

The psalmist wrote, “I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. I think about how  much you have helped me; I sing for joy in the shadow of your protecting wings” (Psalm 63:6-7).

This voice belongs to David. He intentionally looked back, focusing his thoughts on God’s faithfulness to him. Perhaps he recalled how God helped him kill a lion and a bear while he watched his father’s flocks. Maybe he recalled the day God enabled him to topple Goliath with one well-aimed stone. No doubt he thought about how God protected him from Saul and his henchmen.

Like David, we ought to pursue the practice of looking back on God’s faithfulness to us. Remembering His provision instills faith to believe He’ll provide again. Recalling His sovereignty brings confidence that He still reigns over every detail of our lives. Courage replaces fear. Calm replaces anxiety. I’ve learned this from personal experience.

Later this month we’ll celebrate two years since moving onto our sailboat. I recall the months prior listening to the voices of boat brokers far and wide. They all said there was a seven-year wait list to find live-aboard moorage in the Vancouver area. Gene and I believed God was leading us to make this transition, so we had to keep moving forward in faith, trusting Him to provide a place for us to live.

If I’d focused solely on the odds of finding live-aboard moorage, I would have been scared silly to make this transition.  I focused instead on the ways in which we’d seen God do the impossible for us in the past, and fear turned to a sense of wild anticipation. How’s He gonna do it? I wondered.

Looking back has its place and benefits. Why not make it a part of your daily routine? Spend a few minutes recalling one of God’s kindnesses toward you, one answered prayer, one act of provision. Before long, your voice will sound like David’s when he said, “I think how much you have helped me; I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 63:7)

#bgbg2  #RememberingGodsFaithfulness  #LookingBack