Conntecting the Dots

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.

Why Do We Doubt God?

Jesus asked the best questions. Here’s one that catches my attention: “Why did you doubt me?”

Jesus had just fed about five thousand men plus women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the disciples had collected the leftovers, He told them to get into a boat and cross the lake while He sent the people home. Then He went up into the hills alone to pray.

That’s when a storm blew in. Wind and waves tossed and thrashed the disciples’ boat. Based on my experience sailing in rough weather, I give giant kudos to Peter for climbing out of the boat to walk toward Jesus. I can also empathize when fear gripped him the moment his focus shifted from the Wavemaker to the waves.

But then came the question: “Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’” (Matthew 14:31 NLT)

Wow. He could easily ask me the same thing.

In the storm of financial insecurity, why did you doubt My ability to provide for your kids’ educational needs?

In the storm of making a life transition and facing an unknown future, why did you doubt My ability to provide affordable housing?

In the storm of a loved one’s battle with cancer, why do you doubt My kindness and wisdom?

The Bible doesn’t tell us how Peter answered Jesus’s question. Maybe he was sputtering too hard to say anything. Who really knows? I can’t put words in his mouth, but I know how I’d answer.

I’d have to say, “I doubted You because I focused on the present waves rather than on the ways You demonstrated Your presence and power in the past. I doubted You because I anticipated the worst rather than Your best. I doubted You because I lost sight of who You are and Your good intentions toward me and those I love.”

Pondering Jesus’s question has been a good spiritual exercise. It’s helped me understand the importance of fixing my mind on Him and ensuring my thoughts about Him are based on truth. The moment they go elsewhere, doubts roll in and drown me.

Now it’s your turn. Identify a specific instance where you doubted God. How would you answer Him if He asked you why you doubted Him at that time?

#bgbg2 #WhyDoubtGod  #TheFaithLife

Carried in God’s Hand

Living in a marina gives me the opportunity to experience many new things. One of those is watching a sling lift boats of all shapes and sizes from the river. This happens every day as boats needing repairs show up at the boatyard.

I stand in awe every time I watch the sling do its job. Once it lifts the vessel from the river, it carries it on wheels across the tarmac to a berth where it stays until repairs are complete. Then the sling carries it back to the dock and lowers it into the water.

To say that a boat weighs a ton is an understatement. Our sailboat weighs about 14 tons, and it’s nowhere near as big as some of the vessels that show up here. So, imagine this thing’s strength!

I watched the process this morning. Impressed with the sling, as always, I was. But how much more should I stand in awe of the living God? Isaiah 40:12 says,

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
    or weighed the mountains on the scales
    and the hills in a balance?

The marina sling can hold the weight of a vessel. But my God holds every ocean, sea, bay, cove, river, and stream in His hand. He holds the basket that contains all the dust of the earth. Imagine! Our limited minds can’t fathom His size. We can’t comprehend His strength. We can’t understand His power. But we can choose to believe this revelation about who He is and then walk in the truth.

This God whose strength supersedes anything we can imagine is the same God who holds us in His hand. He carries us when we’re weak. He cradles us when we’re lonely or afraid or discouraged.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Psalm 41:10

Take a few minutes to meditate on this truth today. Praise God for His might and thank Him for holding you in His hand. He’s got you, my friend.

#GodHoldsMe  #bgbg2  #Psalms #SpiritualEncouragement

When Life Takes an Unexpected Turn

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. Psalm 28:7 (NIV)

Last Friday I texted a friend with a question. She answered it, but then she added, “Did you see the post about Jennifer?”

“No,” I responded. “I’ve been busy writing under deadline and haven’t been on social media much lately. What about Jennifer?”

“She died on Wednesday night.”

To say I felt stunned is an understatement. My gut reaction was, “No!!!”

Jennifer Kennedy Dean had become my friend over the past several years. She was a prayer warrior and gifted Bible teacher who radiated love for Jesus and her family.

I’d prayed for Jennifer and her three sons years before I met her in person. She and I belonged to a mutual writers’ association. One day I read online that her husband had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. I followed her blog through that experience and I prayed.

Getting to know Jennifer personally has been a lifetime highlight for me. We attended an event earlier this year where we were assigned to the same small group. She led it, and oh, how I loved listening to her pray. She clearly enjoyed intimacy with her Savior.

Precious memory from last January

The news of Jennifer’s passing—due to a heart attack—has left me saddened and reeling. I can’t imagine how her family must be feeling right now. Once again I’m praying for her sons who are now married and parenting small children.

I’ve wrestled with wondering why God would take Jennifer so suddenly and so young. I’ve taken walks and prayed for her family, crying for the pain they’re experiencing. And I’ve sought comfort in the only One whose presence soothes the soul. I choose to believe that He is truly who He says He is—sovereign God—and Jennifer’s passing was no surprise to Him. Somehow, in some way, this tragedy will someday evidence purposes beyond what we can see. I believe it with my whole heart, and I know others do too.

Life takes unexpected turns. Sometimes we have no answers. But we always have a Comforter. And in Him we always find hope.

How has the Lord helped you when life took an unexpected turn?

#bgbg2 #FindingHope  #GrievingLoss

A Powerful Prayer for Those You Love

And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment… (Matthew 22:37,38 ESV)

I have three adult married kids. None live nearby so we stay in touch through phone calls, emails, Facebook, and What’s App. I like knowing what’s happening in their lives so I can pray specifically, but sometimes they don’t tell me. How am I to know if they’re struggling with a relationship, or wrestling with exhaustion, or feeling dissatisfied with their work?

When they were young, I sometimes felt like a parrot repeating the same ol’ prayer: “God bless my kids and keep them safe.” Everything changed when I began using Scripture as the basis for my prayers. I soon realized the power in aligning my requests with God’s heart as revealed in His Word.

One of my favorites was Matthew 22:37,38. Jesus called it the first and greatest command, right? Therefore, I figured that loving God with every part of their heart, soul, and mind was the key to their success in spiritual terms. If this was true in their lives, then everything else—attitudes, beliefs, decisions, actions—would fall into place.

I still pray Matthew 22:37,38 for my kids. And now I pray it for my grandchildren too. I might not know the specifics of what stuff they’re dealing today, but no matter what, I want them to make wise decisions, demonstrate humility and practice generosity. I want them to live pure lives steeped in love and compassion. Loving the Lord with every part of who they are is the key to their doing so.

I bring this request to the Lord regularly. Unlike my generic, “Bless my kids and keep them safe,” the words are rich and packed with life-changing truth. I speak them often, but I don’t feel like a parrot repeating the same ol’ mantra. Instead, I feel like a warrior doing battle on my kids’ behalf, pushing aside lies that might otherwise mislead them to share the love due the Lord with a lesser god.

How about you? Do you have a prayer that you pray frequently for your loved ones?

#PrayingScripture  #PrayingTheBible  #PrayingForOurFamilies

Death, Taxes, and Other Guarantees

You’ve probably heard it said that life offers only two guarantees: death and taxes. Well, I beg to differ.

John 16:32.33 says, “…Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Based on these words, life offers at least two more guarantees—(1) so long as we’re warm and breathing, we will face many troubles and (2) we can experience peace in the midst of those troubles.

Trials and sorrows come in many forms. I recently read an article about a woman who’d faced a cancer diagnosis four times. Another story in the same magazine told of a woman’s relationship woes with her mother-in-law. A third told of a woman who’d prayed for healing in her marriage, but divorce came instead. Add to that list chronic illness, financial concerns, the sudden loss of a loved one, abuse, and mental health issues. You get the picture. The list is endless. We’ll all experience pain and heartache. We just don’t know when, or how much it will hurt.

The good news is that we can have peace in the midst of our troubles. Just as the Father was present with Jesus through thick and thin, so He is present with us. From the moment we place our faith in Jesus for salvation, His Holy Spirit takes up residence in us. Therefore, we are never alone. No matter what valleys we walk through, God Almighty walks with us. His presence brings courage. His kindness provides comfort. His strength gives victory. Peace is ours when we remember Who’s hand holds us.

Can you think of another guarantee based on God’s Word? Tell us what it is, okay?

#BibleGuarantees  #Innerpeace

3 Truths About Humility

God honors humility (1 Peter 5:5). While we know it’s a good and necessary virtue to pursue, some folks think of it solely in terms of a quiet, passive personality. That’s inaccurate. Here are three truths to help us better understand this character quality God wishes to see in us.

  • Humility requires strength of character.

Inaccurate thinking suggests that humility is spineless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus emptied Himself of all His rights and then died a criminal’s death despite doing nothing wrong (Philippians 2:5-8). He could have squelched the injustice any time He chose, but courage and strength combined with love for the Father and mankind motivated Him to lay His life down willingly. Courageous—yes. Filled with inner strength—yes. Spineless—absolutely not.

We demonstrate humility when we refuse to rush into self-defense mode when someone hurts us. Instead, we pray for God to help us see that person through His eyes and then make ourselves available to serve when it’s needed and appropriate.

We also demonstrate humility when we allow someone else to take credit for something we’ve done. Our human bent wants the praise to fall where praise is due, but humility doesn’t need public accolades because it knows God ultimately doles out the rewards.

  • Humility requires teachability.

Our human bent thinks our way of thinking or doing things is the best or only way. Humility admits another’s way might be as good or better. It accepts correction and responds appropriately whereas pride considers itself above the need to change, learn, and grow.

I’m saddened when new writers show me their works-in-progress and insist they ought to be published as is. I can relate to their passion; I felt the same about my writing at the start of my career, but I had to undergo an attitude revision.

In 1999, at my first writers conference, an editor used her red pen to butcher the first two devotionals I’d ever written. I sat across the table from her and muffled horrified gasps. Then she asked for a third. Moments after she began reading it, she shook her head and said, “Grace—this is awful. I want you to go home, read the comments I made on the others, and rewrite using my suggestions.” I swallowed my pride and heeded her advice.

I also heeded the advice of another editor who said, “It’s my job to make you shine. Submit your manuscript and then get out of the way so I can do my job.” Apart from teachability, my writing would never have been published.

In what area of your life might you benefit from being teachable?

  • Humility requires understanding our God-given identity.

Jesus knelt and washed His disciples’ filthy feet, a task normally done by the lowliest household servant (John 13:1-17). He performed it without a qualm because He had nothing to prove and no need to impress (John 13:1,3).

Knowing to Whom we belong and understanding His purpose for us frees us from insecurity and pride. We feel no need to portray an image meant to impress. Therefore, we gladly do the dirty work unhindered by the fear of losing status, respect, or authority in others’ eyes.

What are your thoughts about humility? What lessons in humility have you learned along life’s way?

#humility #ChristianDevotions

Encouragement for the Weary

Hands down, last week’s highlight was meeting and cuddling grandbaby Alexandra. She’s a seven-pound bundle of pure precious.

I know her parents say Alexandra’s worth the nine-month wait, the long and excruciating labor, and the sleepless nights since her debut. But to say they’re tired is an understatement. That’s why I’m lending a hand for a few days this week.

Life deals us seasons when we become well-versed in weary. I recall a season during which Gene and I oversaw the building of our new house. Circumstances meant selling our existing home first, packing our belongings and finding adequate storage, dealing with endless permit issues, living with my in-laws for two months (an hour’s drive from the building site), and then housesitting for another two months as contractors missed one deadline after another despite best intentions.

I felt a twang in one hip a few days after we moved in. Within hours I could barely walk. A chiropractor friend worked me over and said, “It’s stress, Grace. Your body is reacting to stress.”

The doctor knew what he was talking about. Stressful stuff happened repeatedly for the next two or three years. Every time weariness set in, my neck, back, or hip went twang. “What’s happening in your life this time?” he’d ask when I showed up for treatment.

Weary affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. How good it is to know that Jesus understands. “Come to Me and I will give you rest,” He says. (Matthew 11:28)

Does that mean Jesus removes our weary-causing circumstances? Rarely. It means that, in the midst of those circumstances, He hears our cries for help and meets our need for refreshment.

On the days I feel weariness creep in, my natural bent is to focus on how tired I feel. I’ve learned that doing so only serves to make me feel more spent. Instead, I pray, “Jesus, strength,” and “Jesus, rest.” That simple communication brings Him to the forefront of my mind where He—rather than my circumstances—assumes my full attention. A sense of joy, peace, and gratitude bring renewal to every part of me.

I also visualize Jesus holding me in His strong and protective arms, like my daughter and her husband snuggle their helpless newborn. There, cradled in Jesus’s arms and nestled close to His heart, I find rest. Supernatural strength infuses me and equips me to persevere.

Tell us about a season when you experienced weariness, okay? How did Jesus bring renewal?

#bgbg2  #Weary #FindingInnerStrength

The Miracle of Babies

Let us see your miracles again; let our children see your glory at work.

Psalm 90:16 (NLT)

To say I’m distracted today is an understatement. I’m writing this from a hospital waiting room as my youngest daughter labors to bring her first child into the world. Things are progressing slowly…much too slowly for her (and our ) liking. We can hardly wait to meet this wee girl child.

Every baby is a miracle Psalm 139, yes? Creator God selects height, hair and skin color, eye and nose shape. He chooses DNA and puts fingerprints in place. He designs the various systems—digestive, circulatory, muscular, and nervous, to mention a few. He constructs brains with ventricles and hearts with valves, and veins and arteries that carry blood to and from the mighty little pump.

Medical textbooks galore explain the biological details, but I don’t need to read them in order to know that a baby is a miracle. Everything about an infant declares God’s creative genius and glory.

I am, in faith, believing that Kim and her husband David will soon cradle their little miracle. Would you pray with me for a safe delivery?

PS: As I wait for Kim to deliver her daughter, I recall a doctor encouraging me to abort her when I was six weeks pregnant with her. Today would not be happening if I’d taken his advice. Here’s the story published by Focus on the Family: “Problem Pregnancy or Precious Life?”

#bgbg2  #BabiesAreMiracles