Conntecting the Dots

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

The Perfect Christian

Hi! I’m still in Romania. On Monday and Tuesday, our team will serve children and do home visits in a village a couple hours’ drive from Resita. This has become an annual event that complements the work our career staff are doing in the area. We’ll drive back to Budapest, Hungary on Wednesday. On Thursday, our team members go their separate ways. Gene and I will fly to Berlin to meet a second North American team, and then we’ll head into Poland to host an English learning evangelistic family camp.

I’m thankful for Andrea Chatelain’s willingness to guest blog for me this week. I appreciate the godly wisdom in her words. Read on, and be blessed.

The Perfect Christian

By Andrea Chatelain

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 ESV

My eyes stopped on the word “perfect” – a word I’ve never used to describe myself. This must be a mistake. How could Jesus urge us to be without error when He knows we are sinful people in need of a Savior? Why didn’t He say, try your best? But no, He called us to be like our heavenly Father who is perfect in every way. I squirmed in my writing chair ready to investigate what it means to be a perfect Christian because I’ve not been one.

A few years ago, I thought my faith was strong, until I encountered a friend who acted more like an enemy. I didn’t know how to deal with her desire for competition and rivalry. Instead of putting my faith into practice and loving my enemy, bitterness took hold. Even though I acted imperfectly, God taught me through that relational strife that withholding mercy does not lead to peace. Instead, as hard as it is, we’re called to love others even when they act like an enemy. 

 

Teleiosis the original Greek word Jesus used in today’s passage which means complete, full grown, having reached the end, or perfect. In essence, He’s calling us to be completely mature in faith, fully grown up in love. Notice this word has nothing to do with making mistakes. It’s about reaching completion.

Let’s backtrack. Before Christ tells us to be perfect, He shows us what that looks like. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45 ESV).

Our faith is complete, in part, when we love our enemies and pray for people who’ve wronged us. When we do so, Jesus says we’re children of God. We know this is true because our Father modeled it when He loved us despite our sin and rebellion by sending Jesus to pardon us.

Praise God that our Father’s love for us is complete and perfect. That He loves us despite all our blunders. Knowing that makes me want to be more like Him. So when our neighbor is rude, we don’t retaliate. If someone betrays us, we forgive. When others are against us, we pray for them. And with each act of loving mercy and grace, our faith is more teleios, more complete, more perfect, just like our Heavenly Father.

How has your faith been perfected lately? Who challenges your patience or takes rather than gives? Pray for them and give grace knowing your loving actions will build your faith. 

Andrea Chatelain’s mission is to meet women in their struggles and love them forward with God’s truth. She’s a Midwest mom of three, faith and family blogger at A Fruitful Woman, and college English instructor to immigrants and refugees. She believes Jesus transforms lives when His people boldly seek Him. Her writing reflects her love for Jesus and heart for fellow believers. Find Andrea also at WhollyLoved Ministries.

#bgbg2  #ChrisianMaturity  #Forgiveness

God’s Way, Not My Own

Hi everyone! I’m in Romania now and trying hard to be fully present with the precious children and youth we’ve come to serve. So–I’m hosting a guest blogger today. Welcome, Jessica Brodie as she shares her devotional thoughts with us today.

Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com/shiningthelight.

Sometimes I feel like I have two identities from my kids’ perspective. I’m Nice Mom, who feeds them, tucks them in, and chats about all their troubles, and I’m Strict Mom, who makes what seem to be arbitrary, ridiculous, unjust rules they’re forced to follow.

Nice Mom is easy to love. When I’m Strict Mom, however, I get backlash: long sighs, eye-rolls, attitude-infused questions about why, and even the occasional, “It’s not fair.”

Reading Exodus this morning, I have to be honest: My eyes started to glaze over as I read the precise descriptions about exactly what size the altar should be, the color and embroidery directions for the priestly garments, even the type of fruit (pomegranates) on the hem of the robe. For instance, this snippet: “Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim woven into them by a skilled worker. All the curtains are to be the same size—twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide. Join five of the curtains together, and do the same with the other five. Make loops of blue material along the edge of the end curtain in one set, and do the same with the end curtain in the other set” (Exodus 26:1-4 NIV).

I shook my head and forced myself to focus, but as I read, the inner rebellious child inside of me began to rail: Why does God care that the table be made of acacia wood overlaid with gold? Why does God need the lampstand to have four cups shaped like almond flowers? Curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle, really? And does it truly matter if the priest’s breastpiece has a second row of turquoise, lapis lazuli, and emerald, or if they use green yarn instead of blue, purple, and scarlet? The minutia was overwhelming, and my mind started to dismiss it.

Then it hit me: I was being just like my own kids—questioning God and God’s motives rather than accepting that God has a plan. After all, I don’t need to understand God’s plan in order to follow it, and I need to get over myself and just listen to what my Creator is saying.

It was a good humility and obedience check.

Exodus isn’t my favorite book in the Bible, and neither is Numbers, now that I mention it. I’m partial to John, Isaiah, and Ephesians. But God wanted them all in the Bible for a reason. They’re part of His Holy Word, and I don’t get a say in that. I don’t get a say in what is a sin, or what a person needs to do to have eternal life, or any of the other things we humans sometimes grapple with.

As the prophet Isaiah writes, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV).

Like my kids eventually accept my authority, God is the ultimate parent who has ultimate authority. I just need to align my heart, mind, and soul with God’s plan and God’s way—not my own.