Conntecting the Dots

Why Does Love Matter?

Have you ever met someone who, by society’s standards, seemed successful in every way? Attractive, talented, financially established. Livin’ the dream.

Everything looked impressive on the outside for awhile, but then the truth came out—his or her personal life was a shambles. So were relationships at work.

Although everything seemed stacked in this individual’s favor, something was obviously missing. And that something was critically important. That something was love.

1 Corinthians 13-1

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” says 1 Corinthians 13:1. How true!

Imagine—I could write a New York Times bestseller but if I didn’t love others, I would be nothing more than a woman who pens meaningless jibberish.

You and I can be the world’s best advice givers, but without love we’re nothing.

You and I can own the most beautiful homes in town, but without love we’re nothing.

You and I can win an Olympic gold medal, but without love we’re nothing.

You and I can earn accolades for volunteerism, but without love we’re nothing.

Why is love so important? Because God is love. It’s His very nature. And those of us who say we’re His children are to display the same nature. That’s how all men will know that we’re His followers—if we have love one for another.

As I’ve pondered 1 Corinthians 13, I’ve decided to pray daily that God will make me a woman who loves because that means I’ll become more like Him. Would you like to join me?

Here’s my prayer: “Heavenly Father, I praise You for being the God who embodies and demonstrates love. Please teach me to love You more fully for who You are and all You’ve done for me. And then teach me to love others as You do—unconditionally, unreservedly, freely. Make me a woman whose sole motivation for all I do is love for You and for mankind. Amen.”

Can you imagine what the world would look like if every Christ follower prayed this prayer?

#bgbg2 #devotions #LoveChangesTheWorld

3 Things We Can Do To Respond to Challenges Appropriately

Do you have Bible heroes? I do. Queen Esther is one of mine.

Imagine this teenage girl who’d already experienced so much trauma being marked for death simply because she was Jewish. And now Esther faced her greatest challenge to date—approaching the king uninvited to plead for her nation’s life.

Esther knew she faced the possibility of the king’s rejection and ultimately death as a result, but she did not retreat in fear. Instead, she devised a plan and set it into action:

“Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ‘Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die’” (Esther 4:15-16).

Esther didn’t crumple under the weight of impending doom. Instead, she turned to God and sought His wisdom and favor. She demonstrated her dependence on Him and invited His involvement in her life by fasting and praying for three days, and she incorporated others to do the same on her behalf. When the three days ended, she took action and God directed her every step of the way.

facing challenges with courage and wisdom

Esther’s life speaks volumes to me. Here are three things we can learn from her:

  • Don’t panic or respond impulsively when tough times strike. Rather, seek God. Ask for His wisdom. Plead for His perspective.
  • Ask others to support us by seeking God on our behalf. We don’t need to fight our battles alone.
  • Take action to deal with the challenge, trusting God to answer our prayers for His involvement in the situation.

But what about when challenges strike without giving us the luxury of time to fast and pray for courage and wisdom? That’s a very real possibility. And that possibility underlines the importance of seeking God daily, of making our relationship with Him a priority. When we’re walking in consistent fellowship with Him, then we’ll be better prepared to meet those challenges head-on with the grace and wisdom He promises to supply when we need them.

How does Esther’s example speak to you?

#bgbg2 #devotions #QueenEsther

How God’s Listening Skills Differ From Ours

Listening well is a skill. How easy it is, when in the middle of a conversation, to allow our focus to be drawn other places. Know what I mean?

Our cell phone rings or beeps a text message. We can’t ignore it. After all, it might be an emergency!

Our mental to-do list grows: email so-and so, buy a birthday gift for that someone special, pay the Visa bill.

Our worries about a personal issue we thought we’d settled long ago rear their head. Again.

Rather than give undivided attention to the person with whom we’re engaged, we listen half-heartedly. And we hope they don’t notice.

Aren’t you glad God’s listening skills far surpass ours? Imagine—He carries mega concerns on His shoulders but He’s never too busy or preoccupied to give us His undivided attention. “In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles,” says Psalm 34:6.

Psalm 34-6

We pray and He listens, fully engaged. He never puts us on hold while He takes another person’s request. He never mutes us. He never asks us to contact Him at a more convenient time. He’s ready to listen the moment He hears our voice. Knowing this ought to fill us with confidence to approach Him at any time with any matter than concerns us.

What’s on your mind today, my friend? What’s causing you concern? Tell the Lord all about it. Imagine Him stooping to listen, looking you square in the eye, and giving you His complete focus.

#bgbg2 #devotions #JesusListens

Finding Help and Strength When We’re Feeling Tired or Afraid

So how’s your summer been? Have you had a chance to throw off your usual schedule for a chance to rest and play? I hope so. Rest and play do a body and brain good.

For me, the past four weeks have given me a gift—the opportunity to experience God’s help in new ways.

Psalm 37-5

First, my hubby and I had the privilege of leading a volunteer mission team to Romania where we served youth and young adults living with life-threatening diseases. Two days before that camp ended, we turned over our leadership role to a trusted Canadian couple and then flew to Berlin where we met a second team as they arrived from North America.

With no time to catch our breath between teams, we drove with this group into Poland where we hosted a weeklong evangelistic English-learning camp. The camp schedule was rigorous for staff—up early for prayer meeting, teach an English class, facilitate a Bible lesson, prepare for the next day’s lessons, hike, teach crafts, counsel with those who hurt, play group games, enjoy a fellowship time each evening, and more. We fell into bed around midnight only to rise again and repeat the next day. In the midst of this, I caught a cold and then developed an eye infection.

Also in the midst of this, I experienced peace. And joy. And a dose of divine strength. For the first time in nine years of doing these annual outreaches, I didn’t feel exhausted. I didn’t feel as though I had to hide in my room for a few minutes every day to refresh and recover before returning to those I’d come to serve. I didn’t feel drained when camp ended.

For the first time in nine years, I think I’m finally discovering what it means to do life in God’s strength and not my own. It’s hard even to describe except to say that God’s done a turnabout in my thinking.

“Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him and he will help you,” says Psalm 37:5. Indeed He will.

I committed my ministry to the LORD and He helped me. This year I said no to stressing over teaching English effectively, and guess what? Lesson plans fell easily into place, and I had a blast with my class. I also said no to stressing over an ever-changing schedule (due to weather issues mostly), and I was able to roll with the flow.

Now I’m home and preparing to travel to Nepal in 20 days. Another three weeks of ministry in a foreign culture lie ahead. Again, I’m committing everything to the LORD. I’m trusting Him to help me, and He will because He always keeps His promise.

How about you? For what do you need the Lord’s help? Maybe you’re facing a move before the summer ends. Or you’re starting a new job. Maybe you’re dealing with health issues. Or wondering how to respond to a difficult family relationship.

May I encourage you today with God’s truth? Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.

“Jesus, thank You for your presence and power at work in our lives. Please surround my friends with assurance of Your promises today. Help them to release their fears and concerns to You, and to commit everything they do to You. Give them the faith to trust You to work out the details on their behalf. Be their help and strength today. Amen.”

Know you are loved,

Grace

#bgbg2 #JesusGivesStrength #devotions

Another Divine Appointment

Thanks for your patience and understanding as I deviated from the regular devotional blogs for the past couple of weeks. Leading short term teams to two countries left me with precious little time to do anything else, writing included.

Only two sleeps left until I board a plane for home (on Monday). Meanwhile, here’s another story from my happenings over here:

Another divine appointment

I had an interesting experience on my flight from Budapest to Berlin. The 25-year-old Hungarian man sitting beside me was reading a book with Arabic writing—like a language learning book. So I asked him if he was studying Arabic. He said yes. He told me that he has lived in Jordan, Yemen, and Egypt. Now he’s planning to move to Pakistan for two years to study I***m.

Could this young man be being radicalized? I wondered. I asked him a few questions about his faith, and then I asked if I could tell him about mine. He said yes. So I told him about two trains of thought: one says we must earn God’s favor through good works. The other says God wants relationship with us and has made it possible through Jesus Christ. Salvation is a gift. So is the peace that Jesus gives anyone who places their trust in Him for salvation.

“Do you have peace?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Maybe.” Sadly, he told me that he’d attended a Christian school for six years but saw a lot of hypocrisy in the teachers’ lives. He’s turned off Christianity for that reason, but he’s obviously seeking something – anything – to fill his spiritual void.

I offered him a Bible but he refused it. I told him that our sitting side-by-side for this flight was not a coincidence, but that God arranges every detail of our lives for a purpose. “Perhaps His purpose for you today is to know that He loves you and wants relationship with you,” I said. “Will you consider the things you’ve heard in our conversation?” He agreed.

Minutes later, the flight ended and we went our separate ways. I don’t know what this young man’s intentions are, but I suspect they’re questionable. One thing I do know, however, is that God is drawing him to Himself. Why else would He seat the two of us together for that flight and then give such a clear and easy opening for a significant conversation?

God is at work at all times and in all places. Divine appointments are His specialty. Please, for the sake of men and women who don’t yet know Jesus, let’s make ourselves available to Him so He can involve us in His eternal purposes as He draws them to Himself.

Let’s ask Him to put people whose hearts are prepared for the Good News in our path. They’re at our city parks, grocery stores, doctor’s waiting rooms, on buses, planes, and trains. They live next door. Some attend our churches. They’re everywhere, and they need Jesus.

I’ll fly home on Monday. Perhaps you could pray for another divine appointment for me as we travel?

Know you are loved,

Grace

#SharingJesus #DivineAppointments

Jesus: Our Only Source of Hope

I’m writing this from a Polish university dorm room. For the first time since leaving home three weeks ago, I’m sitting in solitude and sipping coffee with no place to go—at least for another hour. Unrushed time with the Lord has not only refreshed my spirit, but it’s also given me time to reflect on what I’ve witnessed over the past twenty-one days.

God of hope

I’ve heard a lot of heartwrenching stories here, many of them difficult to even fathom. I can’t repeat them here. Let’s just say that Eastern Europe’s political history—especially Communism—has left its mark on generations. The effects of abuse, abandonment, and alcoholism run rampant. People naturally seek to heal their hurts, but their search yields emptiness because they look for the cure in the wrong places. Materialism, higher education, power, sex, and money can’t buy hope.

Only Jesus offers true and lasting hope. No matter what our circumstances, He promises to heal, lead, strengthen, and provide for those who trust in Him. Time and time again, I’ve seen people’s countenances change as they begin to understand that He loves them and deeply desires relationship with them.

This truth was reinforced to me this morning as I read my Bible. Paul wrote, “I pray that God, the source of hope will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13 NLT).

We can chase false gods hoping they’ll fix our hurts until we drop from exhaustion and despair. Or we can humble ourselves, place our faith in the one true God, and walk in right relationship with Him. Jesus alone is our source of hope and healing. He alone brings joy and peace. He alone fills us with His Holy Spirit and empowers us to overcome the challenges that life throws our way.

I choose Jesus. He’s my strength, my joy, my hope. He’s everything to me. I can’t imagine doing life without Him. He’s given me purpose, and He empowers me day by day, minute by minute. Knowing Him is literally a matter of life and death. I can’t keep this good news to myself. That’s why I do what I do as a global worker.

How about you? Do you know Jesus as your Savior and friend? Do you know Him as your source of hope? If so—ask Him to show you how you can help others experience the same. If not, I’d love to share with you how you can know Him too.

Know you are loved,

Grace

#bgbg2 #JesusBringsHope #ShortTermMissions

Guest Post — “Please Pass the Grace”

Kathy Howard 1

Kathy Howard

Hi friends. Today I’m featuring a guest post by my friend Kathy Howard. Her new Bible study Lavish Grace: Poured Out, Poured Through, and Overflowing is scheduled for release in August. Check it out as a resource for your small groups.

“Please Pass the Grace”

Have you ever squirted hand cream into your hand from a tube, only to have far more plop out than you could ever work into your skin? If you’re like me, after you’ve rubbed some into your hands – and elbows – you look for a friend or two with whom to share the abundance. Hand cream for everyone!

God’s grace is like that hand cream. He gives His children more than we could possibly use ourselves. Here’s how the apostle Paul describes the abundance of God’s grace in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. Ephesians 1:7-8a, NIV

My favorite word Paul used to describe the nature of God’s grace is found right here in the eighth verse of the first chapter of Ephesians. “Lavished.” God is not stingy with His grace! He lavishes it on His children.

Lg Enough grace

According to Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, the Greek word translated as “lavish” in the NIV and “abounded” in the KJV means “to abound, be in abundance, overflow.” God doesn’t give us just enough grace to get by. He doesn’t even give us a “generous” amount. He gives us grace in such abundance we cannot hold it all. It overflows our ability to contain it. It abundantly floods our lives and spills out all around.

Praise God for this abundance of grace! More than we need. More than we can use for ourselves. Yet often we hoard His grace, refusing to share it. How could we, who’ve received such glorious, undeserved grace, dare withhold it from others?

God longs for us to be channels of His unbounded grace, not just stagnant pools. He lavishes us with His grace so we can generously share it in word and deed with those around us. Let us reflect on the grace God freely pours out on us so we can in turn be people of grace. Lavish, abundant, unbounded grace flowing from the heart of God, through us, to others. Please pass the grace!

This post is adapted from Kathy Howard’s new Bible study Lavish Grace: Poured Out, Poured Through, and Overflowing. Lavish Grace is a 9-week journey with the apostle Paul that helps readers discover God’s abundant grace for their daily lives and relationships. You can find out more about Kathy, her speaking and writing, and find free resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

LavishGrace

A Divine Appointment on the Highway

I love, love, love when God arranges divine appointments. Many of mine happen while traveling. I’ve written about several in the past. Here’s another example.

divine appointment

My hubby and I led a volunteer team to Romania last week. On Tuesday, after we’d completed a camp for youth with life-threatening illnesses, he and I left the team to travel to Berlin via Budapest.

A pre-arranged hired driver picked us up. This fellow, who didn’t speak a word of English, drove us approximately one hour to Timisoara where he pulled into the parking lot of a store equivalent to our Home Depot stores in Canada. Without a word, he cruised the parking lot as though looking for someone. Within a minute or so, he found the person for whom he was searching and pulled into the adjacent parking stall. The two drivers shook hands and transferred our suitcases from the first vehicle to the second.

Driver #1 shook our hands and left. Driver #2 looked at me and said, “You vant to sit in front?”

“Sure,” I said. I held up my phone. “I can take photos.”

He smiled and nodded. “Ah, yes. Goot idea.” Then he introduced himself and said, “I remembuh you. I drove you to Cornesti in March.”

He was right! Last March Gene and I traveled to a small Romanian village where International Messengers has a ministry for abandoned women with children. This driver had safely delivered us from Budapest to our destination.

As a professional driver, this man transports passengers every day, probably seven days a week. Imagine how many people he’s seen since March. And still he remembered us. Amazing.

What’s more amazing is this: The coworker who traveled with us in March had tried to engage him in a conversation of a spiritual nature. He wasn’t responsive then. But yesterday was different.

The conversation began when he spoke of the latest happenings in Turkey and France. “The world is a scary place right now,” I said. “Yes, eet ees,” he said.

“What do you do when you feel afraid?” I asked. He shrugged and answered, “I don’t know.” I gently pursued him. “May I tell you what I do?”

“Yes, of course,” he said. And so, with his permission, I told him about Jesus and how having a relationship with Him gives me courage because His presence and power are always with me.

He listened thoughtfully and asked a few questions. Those questions opened the door to talk about God’s promises to those who love Him—especially the promise to wipe away our tears and give us hope.

“Yes, yes,” he said softly.

Conversation then turned to other things, and it never returned to a spiritual nature. But seeds were sown in his heart’s soil, and we’re trusting God to water them and bring fruit.

God works at all times and in all places. He’s constantly drawing men and women to Himself, and He uses people like me and you to help.

Do you ask Him for divine appointments? If not, why not begin now? His answers will never cease to amaze you.

#evangelism #ChristianMissions #DivineAppointments

What’s the God-Given Role of Every Jesus Follower?

I spent the weekend at the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (Alberta/BC) triennial convention in Abbotsford, BC. What a joy to share time with a roomful of women who understand God’s call to be involved in missions at home and abroad.

My husband and I have been involved in career missions for 23 years. Today, in fact, I’ve packed my suitcase in preparation for leading a short term mission team to Romania in a few hours. Nothing thrills my heart more than introducing people of all ages and nationalities to Jesus Christ.

be salt

Some folks say evangelism is best left to the so-called experts—missionaries, pastors, seminary students, and Bible teachers. That’s a misnomer. Evangelism is a role assigned to everyone who follows Jesus Christ. Here’s a verse that’s become meaningful to me in the past year or so:

“….And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, ‘Be reconciled to God!’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20NLT)

Reconciling people to God might sound a bit scary but it doesn’t have to be that way. What are your skills? What are your passions? How can you use them to build relationships with unbelievers? How can you use them to become a bridge or a tool to draw others to Jesus?

Maybe you’re a stay at home mom. You can build relationships with other moms who have kids of similar ages to yours. As friendships deepen, conversations will naturally turn to spiritual things.

Maybe you work in an office. You can share Jesus’s love with your coworkers by being a good listener and by speaking words of encouragement over them. You’ll shine as a light even when you’re not aware of it.

Perhaps you’re a teacher. Or you work in the police force or military. Maybe you’re a grocery store clerk or a landscape artist. Or maybe you’re already retired. No matter your role, God wants to use you to bring others to salvation.

We’ve all been given a heavenly mandate: reconcile people to God. Let’s share His love through our actions and words. Let’s be salt and make them thirsty for Jesus.

In order to respect the privacy of the people I’m serving this summer, I’ll won’t be posting much about our camps in Eastern Europe. I will, however, continue posting blogs and photos. Please pray for God to provide safety in travels, health, unity on our teams, and for joy as we share His love with those we meet.

Know you are loved,

Grace

#ShortTermMissions #bgbg2 #devotions

Recycled Furniture and Faith

Moving into a larger house recently meant finding furnishings to help fill it. Buying new stuff costs more money than I have or care to spend so I’ve visited thrift stores and garage sales.

a treasure to Christ

I visited a garage sale and found a solid oak TV stand—a custom-built corner unit with a swivel on the top to position our television in whatever direction we desire. It even has storage space underneath. It’s a dandy. Best—it cost a pittance. It’ll serve its purpose perfectly in our family room.

I consider this item a treasure. The previous owner likely did not. He must have stored it in a basement or garage, and it showed. Dust and grime coated this poor piece, and spiders had spun their sticky webs in the drawers. I washed it inside and out with wood soap, and my oh my, the water in the bucket turned black.

A cast-off in its former owner’s opinion, we’ve given this oak unit a second chance. We bought it, cleaned it, and placed it where it can fulfill the purpose for which it was originally created. How similar to what Jesus has done for us!

  • Christ bought us with His blood when He died on the cross. Satan, our former taskmaster, no longer owns us (1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 8:2).
  • Christ washes us, removing sin’s grime and stain, and leaves us whiter than snow on the inside when we confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9).
  • Christ calls and equips us to fulfill a specific purpose in His plan for the Church and the world (Romans 12:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Christ invested His life in us. You know what that says? He considers us a treasure. He highly values us. He’d never consider us a cast-off. Why, in my sanctified imagination, I can almost hear Him say to the angels, “(Your name) is a dandy.”