Conntecting the Dots

Finding Peace in the New Year

 

Every so often I review, update, and recycle my archived blogs. This one, originally published in December 2019, remains eerily relevant. Scroll down to read the first paragraph, and you’ll probably feel the same way I did:  it sounds just like this year except COVID isn’t mentioned.

 

When I wrote the following words at the close of 2019, no one suspected that a worldwide pandemic would soon descend on us, dominate headlines, and deal pain and disappointment to everyone in its wake. No one expected our normal to flip upside down and hang in uncertainty for so, so long.

Considering what the last two years have looked like, we might view 2022 with sadness, suspicion, or cynicism. Or, we might choose a different perspective: that God has demonstrated His faithfulness to us in the past, and He’ll do it again in the future. Let’s hang onto that promise and enter 2022 with confidence knowing God is already there, okay?

 

In the meantime, read this slightly tweaked reminder about where we find true peace in the midst of personal problems and pandemics….

 

 

“These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

 

 

Yesterday a news broadcaster reviewed the past year’s many tragic headlines from North America and beyond. They told of floods and fires, plane crashes, the opioid crisis, mass shootings, genocide, displaced people, and war. The collective sorrow seems incomprehensible. Those affected pick up the shards and try to carry on in their new normal. Some folks succeed; others not so much. How does one heal when the shards continue to cut to the depth of one’s soul? How does one find hope and peace amidst the chaos?

 

There’s only one answer. For this we have Jesus—the Prince of Peace.

 

Before His arrest, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).

 

Peace of mind and heart is a universal need. Men and women of all ages and from every culture seek it. The world offers cheap knock-offs that may provide temporary pain relief, but nothing and no one offers lasting, deep peace like Jesus.

 

Hours before He died, Jesus spoke of sharing His peace with us. This is a peace we can neither conjure up nor fake.

 

It doesn’t come through easy circumstances or having enough money to feel comfortable. It doesn’t come through having good health or relationships. Granted, enjoying these things hip make one’s life less stressful, but none of them are guaranteed. They can vanish in a heartbeat. Where does that leave us if we’ve founded our peace on their presence? 

 

True, unshakeable peace comes from the Prince of Peace. Our circumstances change but He never will. He carries us and comforts us when life as we know it falls apart. He strengthens us and sustains us through change. He loves us and leads us like a gentle shepherd when we lose our way.

 

How do we experience the peace Jesus promised?

 

I believe aligning our thoughts with truth about who God is, is key. Apart from the truth, our minds make Him into a God too small, and attaining peace becomes impossible. So, here are several truths about God on which to meditate when life gets hard:

  • God is Creator of heaven and earth, and He is our Maker.
  • God is our heavenly Father who welcomes us into His presence.
  • God is the One willing to carry our burdens and give us both strength and rest.
  • God is good. Everything He does or allows finds its source in His goodness.
  • God is holy, holy, holy. He is without fault, therefore, all His ways are faultless.

 

Aligning our thoughts about God with truth changes everything about our perspective and brings a peace that surpasses human understanding. But there are also several practical actions we can take to keep us on that path to peace:

  • Refuse to entertain worrisome thoughts and fears.
  • Focus on God’s promises. Speak them aloud and personalize them.
  • Tell God about everything that concerns you.
  • Make gratitude a lifestyle.

 

Philippians 4:6-7 explains it well. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

Only God knows what the new year will hold. For us, it’s a huge uncertainty. But this one thing we can know for sure—no matter what the new year’s headlines say, we can experience peace because Jesus promised.

#bgbg2 #innerpeace #Jesus

 

God Surrounds Us

 

Every so often a Bible verse presents a visual image that sticks like glue to my sanctified imagination. 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.

 

When Gene and I face major decisions, we ask God to surround us with His protection, protecting 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 as it relates to the Christian life? 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? What are you facing today? Stand on the truth of God’s Word and pray: “God, surround me with Your _______.”

 

 

#GodSurroundsUs   #ChristianDevotions  #Psalms #bgbg2

 

Encouragement for When You Feel Overwhelmed

 

I’m hearing the word “overwhelmed” a lot these days. It seems people are feeling this way over so many things:

  • Fractured relationships over the vaccine issue
  • News about Omicron and resulting uncertainties and restrictions
  • Paying the bills
  • Facing the first Christmas after losing a loved one
  • The dread of spending Christmas with testy family members
  • Caring for senior parents with failing health
  • Parenting kids bent on learning the hard way

 

The list goes on, right? My area recently experienced historic floods. People whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the clean-up and rebuilding they face.

 

As Christmas approaches, I think about teenage Mary and the challenges she faced.

 

Imagine how she may have felt when the angel appeared and told her that she would conceive a child. (Luke 1:26-38) We can safely assume she felt overwhelmed at the thought of breaking the news to her parents and fiancé. She may have felt the same about being the brunt of neighborhood gossip for the rest of her life, of making an 80-mile trek to Bethlehem when nine months pregnant, of delivering a baby without the aid of her womenfolk, and of raising God’s Son.

 

Mary faced countless unknowns, and the weight of those unknowns may have seemed too much to bear sometimes. But Mary mustered her courage and moved forward not knowing the outcome. How so? By understanding the presence and power of God in her life.

 

When the angel appeared, he greeted her with the words, “The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) Choosing to believe this was true gave Mary the courage to say yes to a divine assignment bigger than any human’s comprehension. She wouldn’t have to navigate it alone; God would go with her and prepare the way.

 

The angel also said, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Perhaps, to Mary, everything about her future suddenly loomed with impossibilities. How could she become pregnant while still a virgin? How could she ever regain Joseph’s trust and respect? How could she escape the consequences of being found pregnant while betrothed to Joseph?

 

The angel’s reassurance that impossibilities were nothing for God spoke volumes to Mary. The sudden changes and challenges she faced may have felt overwhelming, but Mary believed that God’s power would carry her and deal with them.

 

And so – are you feeling overwhelmed today? If so, you are not alone. And you are not without hope.

 

God is with you, my friend. His presence will never leave your side. You don’t face your challenges alone, nor do you face them in your own strength. God’s power is at work in you and around you. He’s working behind-the-scenes in ways you cannot see.

 

May I pray for you? “Heavenly Father, You know exactly how we feel when circumstances loom large before us. You understand our fear, dread, grief, and pain because You took on human form and became one of us. Thank You for meeting our desperate need for Your presence and power in our lives. And thank You for bearing the weight of our concerns when they feel overwhelming. We choose to trust You and walk in these truths today. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

#bgbg2 #hope #findinghopeincrisis

 

 

 

 

5 Good Reasons to Trust God

 

Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me” (John 14:1NLT). His words—“Don’t let your hearts be troubled”—imply that we have control over worry and fear’s role in our lives. We can choose to let them run rampant or we can choose to trust God instead.

 

Letting our hearts be troubled brings us no benefit whatsoever. Worry can’t change what’s already happened and it won’t help resolve the current challenge. It does, however, encourage fear to take root. It makes it difficult for us to rest well at night and ties our stomach into knots.

 

I’ve let my heart be troubled too many times to count, and guess what? Doing so has never made my life easier. So why live like that, right?

 

When life hands us difficult situations, we don’t have to let them disturb our inner peace.

 

If we take Jesus seriously, then we can rest assured that trusting in God is the better way to respond. Here are five good reasons for choosing that better way:

 

  • God promises His presence. He is with us no matter what happens in the course of a day. Why, then, should we be afraid or anxious? (Joshua 1:9)

 

  • God promises to give us wisdom, and lots of it. When we face circumstances that baffle us, we can ask Him for insight, and He will answer. (James 1:5)

 

  • God promises victory. He’s on our side if we belong to Him. Who can stand against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

  • God promises to turn negative situations into something good. He specializes in transforming the bad into beauty, the sad into splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)

 

  • God promises joy. Sorrow may last for a night, He says, but joy comes in the morning. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. (Psalm 30:5)

 

When I read those five reasons, I feel as though the title for today’s post doesn’t do justice to Jesus. It should read , “Infinite Reasons to Trust God.” Seriously—the five reasons I’ve listed here barely scratch the surface.

 

Would you join me in doing something special today? How about let’s band together and list as many reasons as we can for why God is trustworthy? If someone posts your idea before you get to doing it, go ahead and post your idea anyway.

 

Ready…set…go!

 

Why Our Morning Thoughts Matter

What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you wake up? Here’s a multiple-choice quiz:

  • It’s morning again.
  • My to-do list is a mile long; I don’t know where to begin.
  • Good morning, Lord. Thank You for the gift of a new day.

 

Our thoughts shape our beliefs which in turn influence our behaviors.

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he,” says Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV). If we groan about morning and complain about having to get up early, our bodies will feel sluggish. A dismal attitude will color everything we do and everybody in our path. We start sounding like Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame.

If we focus immediately on the workload facing us, we’ll feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated. Our bodies will start releasing stress hormones that send us into a fight, flight, or freeze response.

 

If, however, we train our minds to go to a place of gratitude, our bodies will respond by releasing hormones related to pleasure and contentment. Our day assumes a tone of joy and anticipation.

 

This isn’t just a teaching about the power of positive thinking. This is a biblical principle that proves true. The thoughts we habitually entertain—and that we train our minds to think when we wake up—really do make a difference.

 

God created our brains, and He knows how we function best.

That’s why He tells us how to think: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8 NLT).

 

So, how can we train our morning thoughts to measure up to the description in Philippians? Here are three suggestions:

  • Think on all things true, right, and pure as you fall asleep at night. Don’t linger on memories of how someone hurt you or of a recent conversation that left you feeling upset.
  • Ask God to wake you with a song. I do this, and He answers by putting lyrics of worship songs in my mind. It’s a sweet way to greet the day even before getting out of bed.
  • Write a Scripture verse on a recipe card and set it beside your bed. When you wake, read the verse and turn it into a prayer before doing anything else.

 

Your morning thoughts matter. Begin your day thinking about all things excellent, and the rest of your day will follow.

 

#bgbg2

 

Why Pray in the Power in Jesus’ Name?

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9 ESV)

 

How do you close your prayers? I usually say, “In Jesus name, amen.”

 

Truth be told, I’m probably guilty of rattling off these words without much thought to their significance. It does me good to pause and to ask, “Why pray in Jesus’ name, anyway?”

 

Here’s the thought that comes to mind in answer to that question: We pray in Jesus’ name because it encompasses His character, authority and reputation.

 

Jesus’ name conquers death, overcomes evil, and transforms lives. It grants sight to the blind and enables the lame to leap and dance. In His name, the mute sing and the deaf hear. Broken bodies are healed, and broken hearts find hope.

 

Praying in the power of Jesus’ name grounds our faith.

 

Here are a few examples of prayers I pray often. Becoming more mindful of the power of Jesus’ name has helped me bring these requests to God with greater confidence.

 

  • “Heavenly Father, a friend is losing hope. Surround and fill her with a sense of Your presence and peace. Have mercy on her and heal her, please. I ask You this in Jesus’ name, amen.”
  • “Dear Lord, the world seems to be going crazy. Amidst heart-stopping news broadcasts, rise up and show Yourself strong. Rush to the rescue of the innocent suffering around the world. Conquer evil once for all. I ask You this in Jesus’ name, amen.”
  • “Oh God, my children and grandchildren are growing up in a society that gives You little regard. Protect them from the evil one, and teach them Your ways so they can shine as lights in the darkness. I ask You this in Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

Because of who Jesus is, praying in His name gives us faith to believe that God will hear and answer in a way that is completely right and in the right timing. It bolsters our confidence and fills us with expectant watchfulness.

 

What concerns are on your heart today? Turn them into a prayer, and bring them to God in Jesus’ name.

 

The Purpose for Suffering

 

One of my favorite things in life is watching my grandchildren grow in every aspect of their lives—physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional. Every time I see them, they’ve changed.

 

That’s the way it should be, right? God never intended a baby to remain a baby. His plan is for infants to grow and mature. That’s His plan for us as His children, too. He wants us to mature into godly men and women who reflect His character.

 

Christian maturity doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a process that takes time, and it often includes suffering. We’ve all experienced it in one form or another—job loss, the loss of someone we love, betrayal, illness, persecution, the pandemic.

 

How do we respond to suffering? Do we get angry or fall into self-pity? Or do we allow God to use our pain to refine us and make us more like Jesus?

 

This meditation from Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos reminds us that God is all about growing us into people who reflect Christ. May it shed a little light on your path when you wonder why God allows suffering in your life. Know you are loved!

 

Changed

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18(NIV)

 

Pause

It’s inevitable—life’s hard places change us. We cannot pass through the valley of suffering and emerge the same person. Our journey has the potential to either deepen us or destroy us, and we determine the direction it goes.

 

Compare the lives of two biblical women. Anna was married only seven years when her husband died. She spent the rest of her life worshiping God through prayer and fasting in the Temple. At age eighty-four, she immediately recognized the infant Jesus as the Messiah, burst into praise, and told everyone about him (Luke 2:36-38).

 

Naomi lost her husband and two adult sons. In the aftermath of loss, she renamed herself saying, “Call me Mara because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20).

 

God’s intent is not that suffering makes us bitter. His desire is that it makes us better—kinder, gentler, wiser, stronger. His intent is that pain makes us more like Jesus.

 

Ponder

If someone wrote your story, what would you want written about your response to your pain?

 

Pray

Lord, make me better. Make me more like Christ.

 

“We can do one of two things with suffering: we can absorb it and let it change us, or we can let it crush us. Suffering will change you, or it will crush you.” –Jennie Allen, Restless: Because You Were Made for More

 

 

5 Ways to Care for Your Soul During These Difficult Days

 

 

I suspect that most folks thought life would have settled back into somewhat normal by now. Instead, COVID numbers are rising again, schools are already cancelling classes, and the chasm between differing opinions widens. The level of stress, for many, is through the roof. Add to that the hurricanes wreaking havoc and the humanitarian crisis happening in Haiti and Afghanistan. And then add challenges of a more personal nature—difficult family relationships, work-related stress, financial concerns, caring for senior parents or special needs children, infertility, infidelity, health challenges, and the list goes on.

 

Perhaps you can relate to the psalmist’s words: “And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away;  I would lodge in the wilderness; I would hurry to find a shelter from the raging wind and tempest.’” (Psalm 55:6-8 ESV)

 

An escape sounds good, yes? Oh, to leave the craziness and heartache behind.

 

These chaotic times are causing depression and mental health issues in record numbers. I’m not a professional counselor or psychologist, but I understand the need for soul care to ensure our well-being amidst difficulties and uncertainty. Here are a few things we can do to protect our emotional health and maintain hope.

 

  • Turn off social media.

Sailor-Man and I just returned from a working vacation aboard our boat-home in Desolation Sound—a pristine, postcard-like area off British Columbia’s coast. Thankfully, we found a few spots with good cell coverage so we could work as needed. But on those days when we couldn’t connect, we just let it go. And guess what happened? Life went on.

So many voices clamor for our attention nowadays. So much intake leads to mental overload. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to turn off social media and relish the silence.

 

  • Enjoy the outdoors.

Fresh air and exercise work wonders for the soul. So do moments spent rediscovering nature’s beauty.

 

A couple of times, Sailor-Man and I sat outside after dark and gazed at the stars. The Milky Way was clearly visible. So were planets, satellites, and shooting stars. The sight left me in awe and wonder of God’s greatness, and it left me feeling humbled that He is aware of my needs and wants to care for me.

 

I could totally relate to the psalmist when he looked at the night sky and wrote, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5 ESV)

 

The same, mighty God who created the heavens and the earth loves us and holds us in His hands. Isn’t this incredible? This truth ought to bring us hope when life feels hard.

 

  • Connect with friends.

Our trip enabled us to connect with several long-time friends living in coastal communities. Visiting in person and hearing about their lives after not seeing them for several years brought me great joy.

 

Maintaining relationships is especially important during these days. Do what you can to stay in touch. If you can’t visit in person, then take advantage of technology to talk and pray together. Because God made us for relationship, that’s where we flourish best. We don’t have to navigate these days alone.

 

  • Stay in the Word.

Taking a vacation broke my routine in some ways, but I didn’t take a break from rising early to spend time in God’s Word. The older I get, the more I realize it’s my lifeline. My soul feels thirsty without it. 

Now’s the time to develop the discipline of reading the Word on a daily basis if you haven’t already done so. But don’t read from a sense of obligation. Read from the perspective of being privileged to know the Author and with a hunger to hear from Him. His promises will guard your heart and mind from despair and fear in these crazy days.

.

  • Do something that brings joy.

On our getaway, I snapped pictures of flowers, critters, and scenic coves. I baked cinnamon buns and blueberry scones. I kayaked along the shorelines of wee islands. These activities gave me pleasure and refreshed my soul.

Perhaps you find pleasure in reading a good book, doing watercolor painting, riding a bike, taking a brisk walk, doing crafts with a grandchild, or trying a new recipe. Activities that bring joy needn’t cost a dime. Sometimes we overlook possibilities because they sound so simple. If they re-energize our soul, they count!

 

Soul care matters. If we’re in a healthy place, then we’re better able to help others who are struggling. So be good to yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and take practical steps to ensure you’re doing okay.

 

What’s one action you take to care for your soul in these difficult times?

 

 

 

How to Give God Your Concerns

 

During a recent quiet time with the Lord, I sensed Him nudge me to set aside my Bible and kneel in His presence with no agenda other than to hear His voice. I’ve walked with Him long enough to know that obedience is the only option when He speaks so definitively.

 

I waited in worship for a few minutes, and then I heard the Spirit say, “Exhale.”

 

Again, obedience was the only option. I inhaled slow and deep, and exhaled. Then I heard s more specific command: “Exhale your worries about your daughter’s health.”

 

Deep inhale. Exhale.

 

“Exhale your angst about meeting your book deadline.”

 

Deep inhale. Exhale.

 

“Exhale your concern for your son-in-law, daughter, and grandbabies while he works in a hospital ICU in a COVID hotspot community.”

 

Deep inhale. Exhale.

 

One concern after another came to mind without my doing a mental search for them. I wasn’t even aware that I’d picked up so worry-weight until it began falling away. With every exhale, I felt lighter and more free.

 

I left my little private space that morning with a renewed appreciation for Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

 

It’s easy for us to pick up worry-weight that God never intends for us to carry, and sometimes we do it without realizing.

 

We feel disheartened but don’t know why. We might begin to feel as though prayer doesn’t do any good anyway, so why bother? We might begin to think that God doesn’t really care about what’s happening in the world at large or in our personal world. He’s left us alone to figure out how to deal with the difficult stuff.

 

My friend, take a moment to thank Jesus for His invitation to give rest to the weary and burdened. Accept that invitation. Come into His presence quietly and with no agenda. Wait in worship, and listen for His voice.

 

What concerns does God bring to mind?

 

One by one, inhale deeply and then exhale. Give them to Jesus and leave feeling lighter and free.

 

No doubt your reasons for angst will return to mind and try to take up residence again in a few hours or days. When they do, refuse to pick them up. Exhale, and thank Jesus for the rest He gives and the relief He brings when He carries the burden on your behalf.

 

Splashes of Beauty Amidst the Mess

 

On a trip to Kathmandu several years ago, a friend and I walked down a narrow dirt lane in a residential neighborhood. We skirted potholes and dodged piles of broken red bricks. The road was an eyesore, to say the least.

 

Then we came to a T-intersection, and that’s when we saw it: Wire fencing encircled an extra-large pile of debris. On that pile, someone had placed a flower pot teeming with orange blooms.

 

My friend and I stopped and stared. The flowers stood in stark contrast to the drab scene around them. They were, truly, a splash of beauty amidst the mess.

 

The world is a messy place right now.

We don’t have to look far to find chaos, confusion, fear, division, and pain. Focusing too much on the news can lead us into an unhealthy place, yet we don’t want to turn a blind eye because we’re called to care about others’ needs, to pray, and to practice compassion.

 

So, how can we walk this road without tripping into a pothole of despair?

 

I believe we need to look for splashes of beauty…

 

The moment dawn breaks the darkness.

A baby’s giggle.

A child’s hug.

A bird’s trill.

Autumn colors.

Morning dew.

A timely word of encouragement.

Answered prayer.

Coffee with a friend.

 

Splashes of beauty don’t need to be big things. Rather, they’re often small and easily overlooked, but they’re God’s gifts to us. They’re glimpses of His love and care, especially in life’s hard places.

 

My friend and I could easily have missed seeing the flowers because we were watching where we placed our footing on the torn-up lane. You and I can easily miss splashes of beauty because we’re intent on managing current challenges, completing our to-do list, or nursing hurt feelings. So how can we become more aware of their presence? The key, I believe, lies in practicing gratitude.

 

“No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus,”  says 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Expressing gratitude lifts our eyes from the path on which we’re walking to the One who leads us on that path. It changes our focus and where we place our sights. It leaves us more alert to God’s activity around us, and more likely to recognize those little evidences of His presence and care.

So tell me,  my friend—what splashes of beauty have you seen amidst the rubble and debris? What evidences of God’s love have caught your eye amidst the mess?