Conntecting the Dots

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

Reflecting on God’s Goodness as Summer Draws to an End

After a wonderfully crazy-busy summer, I’m sitting in the cockpit of our boat-home, sipping coffee and soaking in the sunshine. As I do so, I’m reflecting on the many demonstrations of God’s goodness over the past eight weeks.

Lamentations 3:25 says, “The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” (NIV). Indeed He is good to His children, but sometimes busyness clouds our vision and we fail to recognize His goodness. We often take it for granted.

Reading this Scripture verse this morning challenged me to stop and take time to reflect. To acknowledge the truth of this promise. To say thank-you to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. And so, here’s a partial list of the goodnesses I’ve experienced this summer:

  • A weekend spent with my kids and grandkids.
  • Seeing their excitement when my son’s children met their wee cousin for the first time.
  • Welcoming a new niece to the family when she married my nephew.
  • Sharing ministry in Poland with my oldest daughter and her husband.
  • Great weather at our camps in Romania and Poland.
  • Deep, meaningful conversations with campers in Romania and Poland.
  • Safe travels overseas and back. And our luggage traveled with us.
  • Having our youngest daughter, her husband, and three-month-old on board for four days of sailing. The fun of a whale sighting on that trip.
  • Being available to help the above family when they moved up north.
  • Grandbaby snuggles.
  • Seeing my youngest granddaughter smile every time I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to her.
  • A skilled chiropractor who’s helping me deal with a frozen shoulder.
  • The ability to carry on despite the pain of that shoulder.
  • A husband whose sailing expertise keeps us safe when we’re away from the dock.
  • Electric fans to keep us cool on the boat when outside temperatures soar as they’re doing today.
  • The convenience of a washer and dryer for doing laundry even though I have to walk a city block to use them. How many women in the world have neither or only a washing machine?
  • Having dry weather during the time that we wait for two replacement windows for our boat-home.
  • Discovering that I can walk to and from the gym where we have our membership. Granted, it takes 40 minutes one way, but hey—I can do it when Gene is using the car.
  • Finding a nearby blackberry patch that, on the first picking, provided enough berries for three pies.
  • Having a little freezer that works well enough to freeze those blackberries for future enjoyment.
  • The ability to have phone calls with my senior mom who lives about 13 hours’ drive away.
  • Eyesight to see the beauty of the area in which we live.
  • The opportunity to use my life coaching experience to work with a new client who approached me after reading my bio on the First 5 Bible study app.
  • The privilege of being on the First 5 writing team.
  • The ability to sleep well on an air mattress, in a sleeping bag, whenever staying in the home of someone who doesn’t have a spare bedroom.

I did a brainspill—that is, I wrote down these things as quickly as they came to mind. Then I went back over each one and paused to savor the memory and give thanks. What a great exercise that was! It truly helped me see evidences of God’s presence in my life and recognize His blessings on so many levels.

May I encourage you to do a brain spill of your own? Then take time to reflect. Maybe you could do so with friends or with your kids over a meal. How long might your list of God’s goodnesses be?

#bgbg2  #gratitude  #GodIsGood #givethanks  #Christiandevotions

A Simple Prayer When We Need Jesus to Teach Us

The back-to-school season has arrived again. Depending on where they live and work, some teachers have already welcomed their students. Others are busy setting up their classrooms or will soon be doing so. And some—homeschoolers, for instance—are preparing, too, only in a different setting.

Teachers play a vital role in their students’ lives. They give instruction in math, writing, art, history, science, and more. But their influence extends further than these subjects. They communicate attitudes and values as well.

I recall my second-grade teacher with fond memories. She’s the one who taught me to value books and love reading. She held a contest and promised the winner a one-year subscription to the kids’ Highlights magazine. She knew how to motivate me, and I won the contest!

In recent weeks I’ve thought about Jesus as a teacher. I learned that He was directly addressed 90 times in the gospels, and 60 of those called Him “Teacher.” He even referred to Himself as a teacher:  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (John 13:13 ESV). Matthew noted that He taught as one having authority, not as the religious scribes. (Matthew 7:29ESV).

Two thousand years after He walked this earth, Jesus is considered the greatest Teacher who ever lived. It only makes sense, then, that we look to Him and His teachings to learn how to live well. Psalm 27:11 says, “Teach me how to live, O LORD.” This simple prayer covers all our concerns. Here are five examples:

Teach me how to live, O LORD, when I don’t know how to respond to a critical family member.

Teach me how to live, O LORD, when I don’t know how to pray for my adult child who’s making really bad decisions.

Teach me how to live, O LORD, when I lack understanding about money matters.

Teach me how to live, O LORD, when I walk through valleys with scary dark shadows.

Teach me how to live O LORD, when dark clouds of depression hang over me.

I want Jesus to teach me how to live in regards to where I focus my writing energy during this season of my life. My prayer is, “Jesus, You are the greatest Teacher who ever lived. You possess all wisdom and knowledge. Please teach me Your ways in regards to using this gift of writing You’ve given me, and I will follow Your instruction.”

What do you want Jesus to teach you at this time? What’s your prayer?

#bgbg2  #prayer  #JesusTheTeacher  #TheGreatestTeacherEver

Fasting for a Purpose

Most believers acknowledge fasting as a spiritual discipline. The late author and missionary Dr. Wesley L. Duewel explained it this way: “Fasting in the biblical sense is choosing not to partake of food because your spiritual hunger is so deep, your determination in intercession so intense, or your spiritual warfare so demanding that you have temporarily set aside even fleshly needs to give yourself to prayer and meditation.”

Every time Gene and I have faced a major decision or sensed a significant change of direction, we’ve set time aside to fast and pray together weekly. We’ve also fasted on a regular basis on behalf of our kids and our ministries. God has honored our desire to seek Him more than food, and we are grateful.

One thing we’ve learned through fasting is this – it’s helpful to have a specific objective in mind. For instance, we experienced a season when one financial crisis after another hit us. As missionaries living on donations, we began to wonder whether it was time to leave the ministry and get a “real” job to pay the bills. We fasted and asked God, “Do You want us to stay or go?”

We could have asked, “How will You provide for our family’s needs?” or “Should we try to raise more support? If so, what should that look like?” but those questions weren’t the issue. The main issue was whether or not God wanted us to leave or stay put, so that’s where we focused our prayers. We figured that, if He wanted us to stay, then providing for our needs was His responsibility and He already had that figured out. He answered our prayers the same day with several confirmations that we were to stay.

Ezra 8:21-23 tells the story of Ezra’s leading the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. When the crowd reached the Ahava Canal, he ordered everyone to fast and pray that God would protect them, their children, and their goods as they traveled. Pretty specific, right?

Ezra chose that focus because he’d earlier told the Babylonian king that God protects those who worship Him. He was therefore ashamed to ask for soldiers and horsemen to accompany them and defend them from potential attackers enroute. He wanted to uphold God’s righteous reputation rather than trusting humans for protection.

David Livingstone said, “Fastings and vigils without a special object in view are time run to waste.” In other words, know your reason for fasting and pray with targeted requests.

Are you having relationship issues within your family? Don’t just ask the Lord for reconciliation. That’s good, and it’s what your heart desires, but perhaps it’s a bit vague. Instead, fast and pray for God to reveal the root cause for the tension and show you how to resolve it. Only then can true reconciliation take place. You might be surprised at what God reveals.

Are you in a difficult marriage and hoping for positive change? Don’t just ask the Lord to fix it. Instead, fast and pray for God to help you see your spouse through His eyes. Ask Him to break both your heart and your spouse’s heart over what breaks His. Ask Him to teach you both what it means to delight in honoring one another.

Are you in a season of transition and feeling overwhelmed? Don’t just ask the Lord to help you get through this. Instead, fast and pray that you’ll experience God as your Anchor amidst the winds and waves of change. Ask Him to send help in practical ways for those tasks you can’t accomplish on your own. Ask Him to help you keep your thoughts focused on the truth about who He is—sovereign over every detail of your life—and that He’ll grant you peace in doing so.

Fasting is a discipline that draws us into deeper intimacy with our Lord. If we want to make the most of it, then let’s know why we’re fasting and be specific in our prayers.

How about you? Have you fasted for a specific purpose? If so, what’s been your experience? I’d love to hear your story, and I know it will benefit others.

#SpiritualDisciplines  #BiblicalFasting  #bgbg2

Stay Safe: Keeping our Focus Where it Belongs

We’re home! We totally enjoyed being involved in what God is doing in people’s lives in Romania and Poland, but it’s nice to return to the familiar. It’s also nice to return to our marina community and to get caught up with what’s been happening in our friends’ lives.

Gene spent several hours yesterday helping one neighbor figure out the sails and rigging for his boat. During their conversation, this first-time boat owner said that he and his son recently took the boat down the river toward open water. He steered the vessel from the outside while his son busied himself inside. At one point, his son called for his attention.

Our neighbor, still standing at the helm, looked inside to see what his son wanted. When he did so, he inadvertently turned the wheel ever-so-slightly. The momentary lapse nearly caused a crash with a rock wall.

“That close call taught me to stay focused on where I’m going,” he said. “I’ll never look away again, not even for a few seconds.” 

Our friend’s lesson applies to more than boat safety. It applies to our spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional well-being as well.

The psalmist wrote, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 NIV). His words remind us that our focus must always remain on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) The moment we move it to anything else, we run the danger of shipwreck. Here’s what that looks like in daily life:

  • If we focus solely on grim news headlines, fear and despair engulf us. Looking to Jesus brings peace.
  • If we focus on a friend’s prosperity or ability to succeed with seemingly little effort, envy and jealousy rear their ugly heads. Looking to Jesus brings contentment.
  • If we focus on our spouse’s annoying quirks, a critical spirit rises within us. Looking to Jesus teaches us to love unconditionally and reminds us to extend grace.
  • If we focus on satisfying our own desires before seeing to it that others’ needs are met, then we become selfish and egocentric. Looking to Jesus teaches us to be selfless.
  • If we focus on difficult circumstances that have suddenly flipped our lives upside down, then disappointment and bitterness can overtake us. Looking to Jesus brings hope and stability.

Being human, our focus naturally shifts to the things listed above and to others not mentioned. We run into trouble when we let our focus linger where it shouldn’t, so the moment we’re aware of our lapse, we need to put it back on Jesus. Prayer, playing or singing worship music, and reading the Word are the best means for doing so.

Can you think of another example of how shipwreck happens if we focus on anything other than Jesus?

#FocusonJesus  #Devotions #bgbg2

Applying “One Another” Principles

One of my roles as a career global worker is to train short-term mission volunteers. The material includes discussing biblical “one another” principles—love one another, honor one another, respect one another, serve one another, etc.

It’s easy to love, honor, respect, and serve others who think like we do. It’s usually not a challenge when life’s going well, right? But it’s not so easy when we’re tired or doing life with people whose perspective and personality differs from ours.

Our ministry volunteers come from varied places and backgrounds, and that lends to each person’s uniqueness. Some have accompanied us on multiple mission trips and know what to expect. In contrast, some first-timers come never having traveled outside North America.

Our team arrives at the camp venue exhausted after traveling halfway around the world. Jetlag lingers for days and makes restful sleep difficult. They may have to share a hotel room with a coworker who’s a new acquaintance. They’re served foods different from their norm. And they’re forced to be flexible when plans change due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. These things combined with personality and perspective differences can easily create tension.

I’m grateful for the individuals who joined us for ministry in Romania and Poland this month. They experienced all of the above but rose to the challenge like “one another” champions. They carried each other’s luggage, cared for those who struggled with colds or upset tummies, showed up on time for early morning team meetings, and tackled their assignments with gusto. One gal raised more than enough funds for the trip so she donated her excess to those whose funds lacked. If I had to score their application of the “one another” principles, I’d give them a 10/10. “Go, team!”

Our camps are now over but the need to apply “one another” principles never stops. I’ll spend the next two days in Krakow with my hubby, daughter, and son-in-law. No doubt we’ll have numerous opportunities to put these principles into practice. For instance—we’ll all have our own opinions about where to eat or what site to see, but “one another” encourages us to put others’ preferences first.

How will you apply a “one another” principle this week in your workplace or at home?

#LoveOneAnother  #ServeOneAnother  #OthersFirst

Our Laughter and the Father’s Delight

A baby’s giggle is one of my favorite sounds. It’s like a fountain of joy that splashes everyone within earshot. It’s a frolicking expression of not-a-care-in-the-world peace. When I hear it, I can’t help but laugh too.

How much more must God enjoy the sound of His children’s laughter! It’s evidence that we’re not worried about what tomorrow might bring. We’re not exhausted by the weight of shame or guilt. We’re not haunted by fear, soured by ingratitude, or stuck in the comparison trap. We’re free. Unhindered. All is well with our souls and it shows.

How is it possible to live like this? By understanding who God is and walking in that truth.

Perhaps that’s how the woman described in Proverbs 31 was able to clothe herself in strength and dignity and laugh with no fear of the future (Proverbs 31:25). She knew God had planned her future before she was born therefore she didn’t waste negative energy fretting about it or trying to shape it into what she wanted it to be. Even if her circumstances took an unexpected turn, she knew God’s sovereignty and wisdom would lead to His desired outcome.

Laughter is the outward evidence of inner freedom, and that freedom comes from an ever-deepening love relationship with our heavenly Father. May we, His children, reflect pure, unfeigned joy and peace as a result of knowing the truth about His character and intent toward us. And may our joy bring Him delight.

#Joy #Laughter