Conntecting the Dots

Celebrating Christmas Without Clutter

Christmas is almost here! In a few hours my husband and I, together with our eldest daughter and son-in-law, will begin the long drive to southern Alberta to celebrate Jesus’s birthday with my 85-year-old mom and my brother’s family. It’s been 16 years since we made that trek through the Rockies—the lapse due mostly to a few too many incidents in times past with black ice and frozen motors.

One year we drove a Volkswagen van. The diesel motor froze, and we had no block heater to help cope with sub-zero temperatures. Before we could head back to the west coast, my dad thawed the motor by placing a Hibachi barbecue under the van for several hours.

We spent New Year’s Eve in a hotel in the mountains. We had to idle the motor all night so we could complete the trip home in the morning.

Ice covered the van windows—on the inside. We wrapped our three little kids in their winter coats and sleeping bags to stay warm. Gene drove while I scraped ice so we could see out the windows. Oh my, the stuff of which memories are made! We’re hoping this year’s trip will be boring in comparison.

Anyway, this Christmas season has been an unusual one for us. In past years we’ve participated in Christmas-related events for weeks prior to December 25. We attended dramas at local churches, driven through the community at night to see the lights and live nativity scenes, watched the grandkids participate in their Sunday school program, and more.

This year’s been quiet on that front. Perhaps that’s because we spent the majority of the fall traveling for ministry and we just needed to stay home and recharge. Last weekend I wrapped a few gifts while listening to Christmas carols, and that was enough to feed my soul.

The quiet has been good. It’s given me opportunity to reflect on Christmas without clutter. It’s helped me refocus on the reality of Emmanuel—God with us—and what that really means on a day-to-day basis. It’s given me time to ponder God’s love—a love so compelling, so passionate, so unfailing that it motivated Him to clothe Himself in humanity and take up residence on earth.

Yes, God became man and moved into the neighborhood. He became like us in every way, excluding the sinful part, because He values us and yearns for relationship with us. His actions cut the chains of sin and its destructive, deadly influence in our lives.

We’re forgiven and free! We need no longer fear death—now it’s merely the portal through which we must pass to reach home. We need no longer be held captive to addictions or shame or insecurity or fear. We need no longer struggle with those lousy attitudes and behaviors that complicate our lives. Instead, we’re free to embrace life as fully as God intended and to aspire to His highest purposes and plans.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle that accompanies this season, let’s remember what Christmas celebrates: Emmanuel—God with us. God reaching out to us by becoming one of us. God stooping to show us love that surpasses anything we could ever imagine. God bringing hope and victory and freedom not because we deserve it but because He cherishes us.

As you celebrate the season, take a moment to think about these words, found in Zephaniah 3:17: “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Emmanuel – God with us. Amazing.

Ponder what God’s presence means to you this season, my friend. And celebrate with joy! And–oh yeah–check back here next Friday for part 2 of Monday’s blog based on Proverbs 30:7-9. I’d planned to write that for today’s post but completely forgot in light of this being Christmas weekend and packing for the trip to Alberta.

#bgbg2  #ChristmasDevotion  #GodWithUs

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might Never Tell a Lie

If you could have two wishes granted, what would they be?

Perhaps you’d wish for good health or for restored relationships. Maybe you’d wish for the chance to remake a decision that you’ve regretted. Perhaps you’d wish for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Or maybe your wish list would contain things far different from those I’ve mentioned.

Proverbs 30:7-9 contain two wishes worth consideration. “O God, I beg two favors from you; let me have them before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”

Help Me Never to Tell a Lie

Honestly, if I had only two wishes coming, I wouldn’t have considered this one as high on my list. But, as I think about, I understand the writer’s heart.

How easy it is to tell lies to ourselves and to others. To ourselves, we say things such as, “That God-given task is too hard for me. I can’t do it,” and “I’m worthless. I messed up so badly in the past that God can’t use me for anything good.”

Eventually we begin to believe those untruths, and then our behaviors follow. The outcome? We live as defeated and ineffective Christians.

On the other hand, speaking truth over ourselves shapes our beliefs and behaviors. When we walk in truth, God is able to fulfill His purposes in and through us. We mature in our faith, and our lives bear eternal fruit.

In regards to lying to others, we often think solely of false statement made to deceive or impress. But consider this: We also speak untruths when we say things that discourage others from taking God-given risks.

I’ve experienced this—like when God called me and Gene to minister in Nepal as newlyweds. I was only 23 years old when we began making plans to move overseas. Someone said, “You want to do what? You’re ‘way off base. You’re not trained for that. You haven’t got a clue.”

The things she said about my not having a clue were true. What did I know about being a homemaker in a mud and rock hut with no electricity or indoor plumbing? What did I know about learning a new language and adapting to a foreign culture? Nothing.

The part about being ‘way off base was a lie. I suspect Noah’s neighbors said something similar to him when he started milling lumber to build an ark. Imagine the result if Noah believed his neighbors untruths and acted on them rather than on God’s call for his life.

Imagine the result if I’d believed that person’s lie about being ‘way off base and acted on it—I would have said no to God’s assignment and would have missed the transformation He accomplished in me by planting me there. I would have missed the maturation that He did in me through circumstances that drove me to rely on Him—homesickness, physical illness, and fear. Indeed, that experience shaped my entire life and continues to mold me to this day. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

We need to be aware of our words and their power both over ourselves and others. May God guard us against speaking lies. May His Holy Spirit give us the ability to speak truth instead.

I’ll address the writer’s second wish in Friday’s blog. In the meantime, feel free to post your thoughts about today’s blog. I’d love to hear what you think about the writer’s wish to never tell a lie.

#SpeakTruth  #bgbg2

He’s Gotcha Surrounded!

Every so often a Bible verse presents a visual image that sticks like glue to my sanctified imagination. Psalm Psalm 125:2 is one of them: “Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, both now and forever.” This verse, especially with its use of the word ‘surround,’ has become a favorite in my prayers.

My husband and I faced a major decision this week. As I considered the ramifications, I asked God to surround us with His protection, preventing us from doing anything contrary to His purposes.

When I pray for my kids and grandkids, I ask God to surround them with His lovingkindness and protection from the evil one.

When I receive emails from readers who are going through difficult experiences, I pray for God to surround them with His compassion and a tangible evidence of His presence in their lives.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines surround as “to be everywhere around something.” Isn’t that beautiful? The Lord surrounds His people both now and forever. He is everywhere around us. Nothing can touch us unless He parts the way and allows it. If He allows suffering to touch us, then He surrounds us with mercy and strength as needed. If injustice touches us, then He surrounds us with assurance that He is our Defender and will someday set everything right.

I’ve breathed many personal sentence prayers using the word ‘surround:’

  • “Father, surround me with Your wisdom.”
  • “God, surround me with Your love.”
  • “Jesus, surround me with Your provisions.”

Praying this way floods me with peace.  How about you? How does this visual impact you?

I thought you might enjoy these photos of the mountains surrounding Jerusalem.

Here’s a song that reminds us of God’s love surrounding us. Enjoy!

#GodSurroundsUs   #ChristianDevotions  #Psalms

Faith and Selective Memory

We’ve often heard the term “selective memory.” It semi-explains our ability to remember only certain things.

Take (some) kids, for example. It’s funny how they can remember to meet their friends at a pre-arranged place and time but can’t remember to throw their dirty clothes in a laundry hamper or call Mom or Dad if they’re going to return home later than expected.

Adults are similar. We can remember certain commitments we’ve made but conveniently forget about others, especially those we wish we wouldn’t have made in the first place.

Sometimes selective memory affects our faith as well. The apostle Peter addressed this when he wrote to believers shortly before he died: “I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). He then warned about scoffers who would come in the last days saying, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created” (v.4).

Peter wrote about the scoffers: “They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and that he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water” (v. 5).

Men and women who mock spiritual matters deliberately forget that God made the heavens. They choose to forget that He’s in charge of this universe and is ultimate authority. I suspect there’s more. If we made a list, it might say they deliberately forget that…

  • God sees everything they do and hears everything they say.
  • God knows their hidden motives.
  • God is ultimate judge and will hold them accountable.
  • God keeps every promise He makes both to bless and to punish.
  • Jesus will return someday and judgement will take place. Therefore, we’re to make every effort to live holy and blameless lives until that day.

Selective memory kicks in when we choose to do something other than what’s right. So, when we want to do life our way rather than God’s way, we deliberately forget truth so we can ease our conscience.

When I read this passage, I see its relevance to my life. For instance, when I choose to hold a grudge rather than forgive someone who’s hurt me, I’m deliberately forgetting that God forgives me and expects me to do the same for others.

When I act on ulterior selfish motives, I’m deliberately forgetting that God knows my heart. No secret can hide from Him.

When I gossip and complain, I’m deliberately forgetting that God hears everything I say.

As Christ followers, we know the Truth. Trouble is, our human nature tugs at our hearts and tempts us to question or forget it so we can justify disobedience. That’s when we need to say no to selective memory and deliberately choose to do what’s right. God’s truth is truth no matter how we feel. Let’s remember it and apply it so we can walk in victory.

#bgbg2  #ChristianDevotions  #SelectiveMemory

Showing Love in “Shallow” Ways

I’m back home after spending two weeks in Romania. Amazing weeks, they were, with a team of five other women ages 16 thru 74. Partnering with three projects gave us opportunity to be involved in a variety of ministries. Everyone served enthusiastically and loved each other well.

Each morning began with team devotions, and we took turns leading. I especially appreciated one gal’s reminder that short-term ministry can be considered shallow. Indeed—on the first day, I raked leaves for several hours outside a ministry centre while the rest of the team worked inside. They washed floors and windows, prepared the newly-installed kitchen for use, and organized Sunday school teaching materials.

Shallow? Some might think so, especially if compared to hosting an evangelistic campaign at which thousands profess Jesus as Savior. But the work was needed, and it eased the load of our career missionaries who run that ministry centre. It also prepared the facility for a women’s tea we hosted two days later.

Twenty-eight village women attended that tea. They heard two team members’ testimonies of God’s faithfulness during difficult times, and they listened to six young women—three Canadians and three Romanians—blend musical instruments and voices to sing of God’s amazing love.

We began the tea by serving sweets and coffee, and we ended it with a scarf-tying demonstration. Shallow? Some might say so. But these little demonstrations of love, like book ends to our meeting, helped bring smiles and build trust. “When can you come again?” asked one lady when the meeting ended. She grasped my hands firmly in hers and planted a kiss on both of my cheeks.

At the second project, we sorted clothing donations, packed Christmas candy bags, and played Uno and did crafts with kids living with life-threatening diseases. Shallow? Some might think so. But again, we eased the load of our career missionaries, and we built trust with the kids associated with this ministry. In a society where they’re often treated as untouchables, we treated them as valued people. When the time came to put the games away and share our testimonies, they listened.

We spent a lot of time babysitting at the third project—a home for abused and abandoned mothers and children, and an orphanage. Facepainting, Uno, crafts, haircuts, manicures, and taking the kids for a walk—shallow? Some might say so. But to the battle-weary staff and mothers, our presence brought much-needed relief. Our doing something as ordinary as taking the kids to a different building meant the moms could enjoy a few hours of quiet and uninterrupted time to do their chores. When we said goodbye, one staff woman said, “A storm brings dark skies, rain, and wind. Then the rain stops, the sun shines, and the weather warms. That’s what your team’s presence did for us. You brought the good weather.”

1 John 4:9-12 says, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friend, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”

God’s ultimate demonstration of love toward you and me was His sending Jesus as a sacrifice to take away our sins. That’s as deep a demonstration of love as we’ll ever know. As His followers, it’s our responsibility to share His love with others. Sometimes that requires sacrifice, but sometimes it’s shown in ways that might appear shallow.

Let’s never minimize those “shallow” acts. A kind word, a simple deed motivated by Christ’s love can change a person’s life.

#ShortTermMissions  #bgbg2  #ChristianDevotions

Winning When Fear Attacks — Guest Post by Janet Perez Eckles

Today I’m featuring a guest post by friend and author Janet Perez Eckles. She’s an international speaker and author of four books. Her best-selling release, Simply Salsa: Dancing Without Fear at God’s Fiesta invites you to experience the simplicity of finding joy even in the midst of adversity. With engaging stories, Simply Salsa gives practical steps to overcome heartache, fear and celebrate life once again. 

Winning When Fear Attacks

“Ready, honey?” my friend scooped her fluffy puppy in her arms, put on her leash, and grabbed her husband’s hand. The three headed to the local doggie park.

But what was to be a fun outing turned out to be an ugly episode. A pit bull was having a bad day and with no reason, viciously attacked another 5-month old tiny dog. Someone had to come and pry its jaws open to release the young puppy.

My friend drew near to help. And while she held the bleeding victim in her hands, she saw the owner of the pit bull try to take off. She called out to him while she pulled her cell to call the police.

He saw that. And, with as much fury as his dog, he turned and rushed to her, spitting such obscenities that it would make your teeth curl. Then he drew closer and closer to her.

And that’s when, with one swift move, my friend’s husband appeared and with a cool, confident voice that would make John Wayne envious said. “Don’t even think about touching her.”

What a hero, what a man, what a love, wouldn’t you agree?

The man retreated, police came, and puppy was treated in the hospital. All ended well.

We’ve been there too, haven’t we? Those attacks called fear, worry and anxiety come at us, catching us like vulnerable puppies.

They arrive often–as we watch the dark events on the nightly news. When our kids take the wrong path. When the tasks are piling up. Or during doctor’s dark diagnosis.

They all leave us emotionally bleeding. And when we go to bed whimpering from the injuries, one truth resonates in the silence of night. It’s the whisper of our hero. The one who comes and brings what we need to hear. What we long to know. And what we hope to have.

He’s the most powerful hero of all—Christ who conquered the world. He shows up with His power, His reassurance and His way to lift us from danger.

So why should we fear when “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46:1-3

Father, when trouble gets near, grant me the wisdom to know that you’re present. The peace to calm my nights. And the faith to know you’ll never leave me when attacks come my way.

What attacks are you facing today?

Be Intentional to Finish Well — Guest Post by Dawn Wilson

Today I”m happy to introduce a fellow teacher and author–Dawn Wilson. She and I belong to AWSA — Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. We share the same passion to see women transformed by the power of God’s Word.

One of my recent newsletter articles really resonated with Dawn, and she emailed to say so. Recognizing a similar heartbeat for ministry, I invited her to guest blog. I appreciate her comments about finishing well. Someday I want to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I’m sure you do too.

Be Intentional to Finish Well

by Dawn Wilson

We need to be intentional and likely make some changes if we want to someday hear God’s “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). What can we do to finish well?

  1. We Can Take Courage (2 Timothy 4:7).

Courage. The Israelis have a word for this: hazaq (pronounced Hah-zahk), often used in the Old Testament to encourage soldiers. We see this concept for all believers in Psalm 27:14: “… be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

When we take courage, we bravely confront our weaknesses—who we’ve been and what we’ve done. We bring our secrets to God’s light; we don’t try to hide). When we confess and renounce our sins, we find mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

When we take courage, we become a warrior and stand for righteousness. We remember who we are in Christ—righteous in Him. We become His ambassadors in a sin-sick world. Some fight on the front lines, exposing Satan’s lies with scripture. Some battle for those in pain or in the thick of conflict. Others are prayer warriors. No one should stand on the sidelines.

  1. We Can Build Strength (Philippians 3:14).

To build strength, we must frame our thoughts and attitudes according to God’s Word. Our go-to life scripts come from reading, memorizing, meditating on and applying scripture. Our goal must be to please the Lord with a transformed mind and heart.

To build strength, we must focus on godly friendships that keep us accountable. Loyal friends stick close. Their love encourages us in tough times. We need many kinds of friends. No one friend (except Jesus) can meet all our needs!

If we want to build strength, we must create a family legacy. Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah left a far-reaching legacy. Their descendants were accomplished and influential. Our godly example can help loved ones know, love and live for the Lord.

If we want to build strength, we must make healthy choices. Poor choices—in eating, exercise and rest—can lead to debilitating consequences. It’s never too late to make healthier choices.

  1. We Can Embrace Freedom (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1)

Some people retire from life, afraid to dream new dreams. Others seize each day, making the best use of time and opportunities. Most of us are burdened down with too much stuff. If we learn contentment, “reduce inventory” and simplify our lives, we’ll find extra hours in our day, more money in our checkbooks, less stress about our stuff, and the calming freedom of “space.”

To embrace freedom, we must use resources wisely as good financial stewards of our finances, homes, and everything we own; and use skills and spiritual gifts for the Kingdom.

To embrace freedom, we must keep on dreaming for joyous creativity and service. Become a lifelong learner and figure out ways to contribute to families, church and society.

To embrace freedom, we must pursue new adventures with God, allowing Him to lead us as He wills. In Him, all our adventures will be for our good, others’ benefit and His glory.

What would help you hear God’s “well done”?

Dawn Wilson, founder of Heart Choices Today, publishes three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God, and UPGRADE with Dawn. She works for Revive Our Hearts and travels and ministers occasionally with her husband internationally with Pacesetter Global Outreach. She also writes regularly for

Dawn Wilson

Human Wisdom and Faulty Brick Walls

When my husband and I lived in Nepal, he worked as a civil engineer on a hydro project for a couple of years. Then he was asked to oversee a renovation project at a mission hospital. One day he leaned on a brick retaining wall at the construction site. To his shock, the wall collapsed. He fell backward and down several feet, and he suffered a broken wrist. He came home from work that day sporting a plaster cast.

I’ve been mulling over Proverbs 3:5 for a couple of weeks: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding” (NLT). Other versions use the word lean rather than depend.

A few days ago, as a friend and I were discussing this verse, the memory of Gene and the retaining wall suddenly came to mind. It seemed a perfect illustration.

Like the faulty brick wall, our understanding about difficult people and situations is more-often- than-not faulty. It’s influenced by a number of different things including our emotions at any given moment and the lens through which we generally view life. That lens is influenced by our upbringing, past experiences, belief system, and more.

Our human understanding is sadly incomplete and often inaccurate. Leaning solely on it will bring disappointment. It may even yield painful results. That’s why God gives us the caution: Do not depend on your own understanding. He wants us to lean instead on His Holy Spirit for wisdom and direction because He knows we’ll flourish as a result.

Let’s ask God to show us whether we’re leaning on our own faulty understanding in regards to a particular situation or relationship. If so, let’s heed His caution and learn to lean on His wisdom instead.

#bgbg2  #ChristianDevotions  #RelyOnGod

The Key to Healthy Relationships

Years ago I interviewed Gary Smalley for a magazine article. He was a man of great wisdom, and during our conversation, he said something that I’ll always remember.

Dr. Smalley quoted Romans 12:10—“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” Then he said that every human relationship—if it’s healthy—is rooted in mutual honor and respect. To demonstrate this truth, he told me to imagine a continuum numbered from zero to ten. “Where would you place yourself in importance on this continuum?” he asked.

“I suppose I’d place myself at a seven or eight out of ten,” I said.

“Okay, then,” Dr. Smalley said. “That means you must regard others as a nine or ten.”

Imagine for a moment what the world would look like if everyone applied this principle of honor: No more senseless tragedies like those that have happened in the USA in recent weeks. No more abuse of any sort. No more blaming or shaming others. No more greed at the expense of others’ well-being.

If every person on our planet applied this principle of honor, crime rates would plummet. Marriages would last. People would genuinely look out for others’ best interest. Rather than focusing on our own “right” to be happy, we’d contribute towards the happiness of others. Cultures around the world would be impacted, especially those that demean women or place little or no value on the unborn, the crippled, widows and orphans, and seniors.

Taking delight in honoring others is a principle our world at large seems to have forgotten. I’m grateful for news stories that tell of individuals who choose to remember and implement it—like the police officer who learned of a little boy left at school when no one picked him up. It was the boy’s birthday, so the officer helped him celebrate.

Or the furniture store owner who opened his shop during the recent hurricanes to provide shelter for people whose homes were destroyed.

Or the fellow who’s cooked scores of meals for Puerto Ricans since the storm ravaged their country.

The ways in which we can honor others is limitless, and it begins at home with the little things—like saying “thank you” to our spouse when he or she takes out the trash. Or praising a family member to someone else, within that family member’s earshot. Or giving someone our undivided attention when he wants to talk with us.

How can you show honor to someone today?

#bgbg2  #ChristianDevotions  #RelationshipKeys

Why Don’t We Consult God First? (Part 2)

On Friday’s blog I wrote that God’s been convicting me of my need to ask His direction first before pursuing opportunities albeit good and necessary and honoring to Him. Today’s blog is a continuation of that topic based on the Scriptures I read this morning.  Lots for me to ponder as God pinpoints this area in my life.

I’ve been able to recite Proverbs 3:5,6 for years—“Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.”

Whenever I’ve faced difficult situations, especially those I’d call “life detours,” I’d fall back on verse five and its command to trust God’s wisdom rather than depend on my limited understanding. I’ve always found immense reassurance and comfort in these words. Trying to figure things out on my own never works well, anyway, so why fight it?

Verse six is a different matter: “Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” As I look back over the last ten or fifteen years, I can pinpoint numerous instances where I’ve assumed commitments—albeit worthwhile and honorable—but not been able to follow through. This realization has been humbling and painful to admit, but it’s been eye-opening for me. For that I am grateful.

Why haven’t I been able to follow through? Because an opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it before seeking God’s will in the matter. I ended up trying to fulfill my commitment in my own strength, and my strength failed. If I’d been operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, the outcome would have been much different.

As a life coach, I’ve learned to ask the “why” question to get to the bottom of the matter. So, why would I say yes before stopping to ask God for His direction? Here are four possible reasons:

  • Because I’m afraid I’ll miss this opportunity. If I don’t say yes, it may never come again. What does this reveal about my belief in God’s sovereignty in my life?
  • Because I’m flattered by the opportunity. What does this say about my motive? It’s all about pride.
  • Because I’ve fallen into wrong thinking about busyness. I need to readjust my thinking to understand that a full calendar neither affirms my identity nor makes me somehow more spiritual than others whose calendar is less cramped.
  • Because I don’t know how to say no. What does this indicate? I fear appearing inadequate. I also fear disappointing others who expect something from me. So—rather than risk looking “lesser than,” I say yes only to regret it later.

Wherever I’ve taught in recent months, I refer to feeling like a human onion. God has been exposing and peeling layer after layer to show me a better way—His way. Seems that He’s in the business of peeling again. This time, it’s all about removing pride and insecurity and self-sufficiency. He’s teaching me humility as I admit my need for His wisdom and direction for every aspect of my life, and He’s teaching me patience to wait as I listen for His voice.

How about you? Have you said yes impulsively to albeit good opportunities without asking God for His direction first only to fail to follow through? Or am I the only one who’s done this?

#bbg2  #ChristianDevotions  #WaitOnGod  #PrayForGuidance