Conntecting the Dots

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

Learning to Trust God With All Our Heart

That little word all continues to change my thinking. This time it’s happening through Psalm 28:7—“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.”

There it is: “I trust Him with all my heart.” 

I ponder “all” in that context, and I realize how easy it is to trust the Lord with 50 or 75 or even 99.9 percent. Giving up the last fraction is more difficult. Why? Because something in me says He might bring an outcome I don’t like—something that’s really difficult or that hurts someone I love. Fear of the unknown, therefore, causes me to withhold a part of my heart.

Saying, “I trust Him with most of my heart” might be a more accurate statement. It’s also a revealing statement because it shows a lack in my understanding of who God is.

Is God truly sovereign over every circumstance? Absolutely.

Is He all-wise? Of course.

Is He kind? Yes.

Is He almighty? Ditto.

If God is all these things (and infinitely more), then why fear? Why not trust Him with all my heart? My hunch is that I still lack a complete understanding of His love. I’ve experienced fickle love, and it left a scar of suspicion that hasn’t properly healed.

But then I read Psalm 32:10-11—“…Unfailing love surrounds those who trust the LORD. So rejoice in the LORD and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure.”

I envision God’s never-ending love encircling me like a high wall or fence, and my hesitancy to trust Him begins to fade. He is love, and everything He does or allows flows from who He is. I might not always understand His ways, but I know He’ll never act contrary to His character. And so I choose to yield.

I choose to trust with all my heart, not just the part that I feel comfortable giving to Him. Acknowledging that He is God and I am not replaces fear with courage and fills me with joy. Perhaps this is the key to experiencing His rest. What do you think?

#ChristianDevotions #CanWeTrustGod

What Difference Does the Word “All” Make?

The gals in my weekly Bible study recently enjoyed a discussion about the word all in the context of Mark 12:30—“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.”

What an eye-opener to realize how often I love God half-heartedly.

One example would be in Scripture memorization. As part of this study, we’re required to memorize one verse per week. Sometimes I memorize it on the morning of our session not for love of the Word but so I can recite it when my turn comes to do so. Loving Him with all my mind would look much different—I’d be memorizing and reviewing on a regular basis to align my thoughts with His and to experience personal transformation regardless of whether or not I have to recite for someone.

What about loving God with our strength? Again, in the context of our group, we’re required to track our food daily. This discipline helps us gain control over our desires, make healthy choices, and eat appropriate portion sizes. We’re also encouraged to exercise our bodies as we’re able.

Loving God half-heartedly would likely see us cheat when we track our food: “No one will know if I sneak this brownie. It won’t really make that much difference.” It would likely see us look for any excuse to not exercise, or to engage in physical activity that requires no exertion or sweat. But loving Him with all our strength would mean we do what’s best for our bodies because they’re His temple.

The word all is small and easy to skim over in this verse, but it can change our entire perspective when we focus on what it means. How does it impact you in the context of Mark 12:30?

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #LovingGodWholeHeartedly

In a Safe Place

My family owned three pets for a short stretch during my childhood: a budgie, a black Siamese cat, and a Heinz-57 dog. The dog and cat pretty much ignored each other, but the cat and the bird—that was a different story. We kept constant vigil on the bird cage, shooing the feline away whenever he showed too much interest in our feathered friend.

We moved into a teeny tiny house when I was in fourth grade. The only place for the bird cage was atop the fridge. We mistakenly believed it was safe there, beyond the cat’s reach.

I still remember the afternoon we returned from running errands to find the cat sitting beside the cage, staring at the bird that was, by now, lying lifeless on the cage floor. The enemy had outsmarted us and literally scared the poor thing to death.

How opposite from the word picture described in Psalm 27:1,5: “Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident…He will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock” (vv. 1,5).

When I read these words, I envision myself perched invincibly in a high tower. The enemies of fear, doubt, and despair surround its base. They scramble and claw below, trying their best to reach and destroy me. But their efforts are futile because God has sheltered me in a protected place. I’m safe and secure and confident in His care.

What mental picture comes to your mind when you read these verses?

#Fearless #ChrisitanDevotions #SecureInGodsCare #bgbg2

How Applying God’s Word Can Lead to A Healthier You

I spent the weekend hosting the International Messengers Canada booth at Vancouver Missions Fest. Numerous folks who see me there every year said, “You’ve lost weight. What have you done?”

I say I’ve changed my lifestyle, but that’s only part of the answer. The other part is that God has transformed my thinking about my physical health, and He’s used the Bible to do so. 

It’s amazing how Bible verses I’ve read countless times have assumed new meaning in this context. Here are three examples:

1 Peter 5:6-7“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you.”                                                                                                                                    

I’ve come to realize that, on my own, I can neither maintain the self-discipline needed to develop a regular exercise program nor refuse second helpings and potato chip snacks. I acknowledge my need for God’s help to achieve my goals and to not stress over minor setbacks. He cares about my health and overall well-being, and as I seek His help, He honors my efforts to care for my body.

Philippians 3:9“…I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me…”

I placed my faith in Christ for spiritual salvation because nothing I do on my own can achieve it for me. It’s His power that accomplishes salvation on my behalf.

In the physical context, I trust His transforming work in my life to help me reach my fitness goals. Sure, I practice good eating habits and I exercise regularly, but ultimately it’s His power in me that’s changing my food cravings and giving me the discipline to get up early and go to the gym. It’s not me; it’s His power at work within me.

Philippians 3:12“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.”

Do I always feel like waking early to go to the gym? No. But if I make an excuse for not exercising today, then I’ll find it easier to make another excuse tomorrow. And so I keep working. I keep on exercising, tracking my food intake, and making wise choices.

I want to be everything Christ wants me to be. I want to be available to do whatever He asks me to do without poor health (due to my own choices) being a hindrance, so I press on.

About this time each January, North Americans often break their New Year’s resolutions to pursue a healthier lifestyle. The most significant thing that’s lent to my success is God’s Word and applying it to this area of my life.

How about you? How do these verses resonate with your thoughts about physical health? If you have another verse that’s meaningful to you in this context, please share it with us.

Check out First Place 4 Health for a faith-based fitness program. I’m loving it!

#HealthandWellness #bgbg2 #ChristiansAndHealth

No Surprises for God

Life often takes us by surprise. The unexpected happens and leaves us feeling frazzled or fearful. We might become angry, disappointed, dejected, or even panicked. But remembering that nothing surprises God changes everything.

We ought to find consolation in knowing that God doesn’t wring His hands and fret when the unexpected strikes: “Oh my goodness, look at what’s happened to that woman! How did that slip past Me?” That’s because whatever happened wasn’t a surprise to Him. He knew it was coming, and He was aware of every detail before it unfolded.

Moses’ story brings me great encouragement. Here are a few verses that remind us of God’s sovereignty:
• “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering” (Exodus 3:7)
• “Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them” (Exodus 3:9)
• “I have been watching closely, and I see how the Egyptians are treating you” (Exodus 3:16)
• “But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand forces him. So I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians, performing all kinds of miracles among them. Then at least he will let you go. And I will cause the Egyptians to look favorably on you” (Exodus 3:19-21).

The little phrase “God’s got this” applied to Moses, and it applies to us today.

When unexpected comes—and it will—remember that God knew every detail about it before you were even born. It was no surprise to Him. Trust Him in the midst of it, and with the outcome. He’s got your back.

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions

Escaping the Trap of “Not Good Enough”

I’m an expert in the area of “not good enough.”

When I was a young mom with three kids under the age of four, I felt I needed to prove myself as capable. I nearly put myself in an early grave by trying to keep an immaculate house, cook and bake from scratch, entertain frequently, teach Sunday school, and play piano for the church choir and worship team. Then, as though earning an income could affirm my worth, I decided to sell Tupperware, become a licensed daycare provider, and teach piano lessons.

Decades later, I’m willing to admit that my struggle with “not good enough” still isn’t finished. It exhibits itself as the fear of inadequacy. Will a publisher think my new book is worth a contract? Will readers think it’s worth buying? Will my teaching sessions be well received at upcoming retreats and conferences?

Earlier this month I was asked to speak to a group of accomplished female authors and Bible teachers about what God has taught me in the past year. This topic of wrestling with “not good enough” was one of my main points.

I shared how, within that group of amazing women all involved in the Christian publishing industry, it’s easy for me to compare myself with them and think, “If only I could write like so-and-so, or if only I could teach like so-and so, or if only I had more Facebook likes or a bigger platform, then I’d be good enough.” Interestingly, when I asked if anyone else wrestles with the same thing, nearly everyone raised their hand.

God’s been teaching me that, as Christ followers, we can easily identify the source of our struggles with not being good enough. It’s certainly not Him! In fact, the opposite is true.

We never need strive to be good enough for God. Nothing we do or say earns us greater merit in His eyes. He loves us just as we are, warts and all. He invites relationship with Him not because of our performance but because of who He is.

“Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house,” says Psalm 5:7. It doesn’t say, “Because I’m so accomplished at what I do, I can enter your house.” Neither does it say we can enjoy intimacy with God because we keep a super-clean house or because our kids are so well-behaved or because we’re actively involved in ministry of some sort. We’re accepted by God because of His unfailing love for us, not because of anything we do. Period.

I believe the Lord gave me the courage and opportunity to talk freely about my struggles with “not good enough” as a way to declare battle. I’m done with it and more than ready to embrace who I am in Christ. From now on, every time the thought of “not good enough” tries to sneak its way into my head, I will choose to refuse to let it linger. Instead, I will thank the Lord for His unfailing love for me and for the freedom I have as a result.

How about you? Are you stuck in the trap of “not good enough?” If so, what’s one action step you can take to overcome it?

#bgbg2 #DoneWithNotGoodEnough #ChristianDevotions

Prayer for America on Inauguration Day

“Heavenly Father, You are sovereign and mighty. You are wise and unchanging. Faithful You have been, and faithful You will remain despite the winds of change that have swept through America.

“Today a new leadership has been established in the United States. Your Word says that You ordain authorities and rulers, so we trust Your choice (Romans 13:1). We also trust Your ability to accomplish Your purposes through the men and women assuming their new roles.

“Guard their hearts and keep their motives pure. Grant them humility. Give them wisdom beyond human understanding. May they realize their limitations and look for Your guidance in every decision they make. Have mercy on them as they fulfill the work You’ve assigned them. Give them strength to do their job, refreshment when they’re weary, and protection from evil.

“Holy God, You have told us to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2). So give us hearts to obey this command whether or not we agree with the decisions they make. Remind us of our responsibility to uphold them, and keep us from critical spirits.

“We’re grateful for America, but ultimately Yours, O God, is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Make Your name great in America. Exalt Yourself and teach us to walk in Your ways. We ask this for Your name’s sake. Amen.”

#bgbg2 #PrayForAmerica

Rubber Boots and Strongholds

I was about five years old when my family moved to a new house in a neighborhood under construction. Big trucks and heavy machinery roared up and down our street every day for months, churning the unpaved road into a mucky mess.

One day I donned my rubber boots and attempted to cross the street. It didn’t go well: the mud swallowed my feet. Try as I might, I could not break loose from its suction-cup hold. Thank goodness for the kind neighbor who heard my cries for help and rescued me.

As I prepared for a recent speaking engagement, I thought a lot about muck of another type—negative thinking and sinful behaviors. How easily we can become stuck in them, and they become strongholds. Unless we deal with them, they impact our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Inevitably they affect our relationships too.

What might be some examples?

  • Heaven forbid we fall short of excellence in all we do and say because that would most certainly disappoint everyone around us and make us look like failures. Or so we think. We also expect the same from others lest their imperfections somehow reflect poorly on us, and so we become critical or judgmental of their efforts. Nothing they do is good enough.
  • Many of our negative behaviors are rooted in fear—the fear of rejection, of failure, and of inadequacy, for starters. It turns us into control freaks, or makes us possessive over the people in our lives and the things we own. We might miss wonderful new opportunities, or we may get involved in an unhealthy relationship—all because of fear.
  • “I’m not good enough.” I’d be a very wealthy woman if I had a dime for every woman who struggles with this stronghold. It often begins when we’re children, through both spoken and unspoken messages from adults in our lives. Perhaps we’ve been compared to an older sibling who’s smarter or better behaved, been overlooked by parents because they were work-absorbed or wrestling with their own issues, or been the child of an absentee parent. Our wrong thinking tells us that if we were “good enough,” our parents (or other significant adults) would have been pleased with us and wanted to be with us and protect us. But that didn’t happen, therefore we must be flawed and unlovable.

The enemy of our souls wants us to be anything but free and joy-filled, so he plants these lies in our minds. Often we don’t even recognize their presence until we hit a crisis.

Thank goodness God rushes to our rescue when we call to Him for help! When we’re honest with Him and with trusted godly friends about our situation, He sets to work, freeing us from these strongholds.

Psalm 40:1-2 says, “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.”

God redeems and transforms us. And that transformation speaks volumes and brings hope to those who know us. “Many will see what he has done and be astounded. They will put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3).

What other strongholds would you add to those I’ve listed?

#bgbg2 #ChristianDevotions #BreakingSpiritualStrongholds