Conntecting the Dots

How to Keep Hope Alive: Host a Celebration

 

Afghanistan. Haiti. Covid. Forest fires. Hurricanes. Politics.

 

The news weighs heavy on my heart. Some people might say “Stop listening to it.” I’ve thought about doing that, but turning off the news only provides temporary relief. It soothes my soul for a little while, but it doesn’t change the reality that’s out there.

 

Reality is that we’re living in uncertain times. Confusion and chaos reign. People are desperate for calm and peace and a safe space. People need hope.

 

In the wake of all the negative stuff happening, I want to suggest doing something to keep hope alive: host a celebration.

You might be thinking, “Whaaat?” Hear me out, okay?

 

In the Old Testament, God repeatedly commanded His people to celebrate. Exodus 12:17 gives a specific example: “Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent regulation for you to be kept from generation to generation.”

 

God knew that His people would face battles as they entered and possessed the Promised Land. Hardships would test their faith time and time again. Hope would wear thin, but consistently reviewing and celebrating His faithfulness in the past would keep hope alive.

 

Celebrating God’s faithfulness is good for the soul.

It reminds us that He has brought us through difficulties in the past, and He’ll do it again. He has not changed—He is still strong enough, wise enough, and loving enough to carry us through the battles we face today.

 

So—how can we celebrate God’s faithfulness?

Here’s one idea: If current restrictions allow you to meet with friends, then invite a group and ask them to come prepared to share a story about God’s faithfulness in the past. Depending on how many people come, you might want to ask them to limit their stories to 3-5 minutes so everyone has a chance to share. Include your children and grandchildren so they can hear these testimonies.

 

This is a celebration, so make it fun. You might choose to decorate the room or outdoor venue with a few streamers or balloons. Begin with a couple of fun icebreakers. If one of your friends is musically inclined, ask her to lead a couple of praise choruses. Serve a cake or ice cream with a variety of sundae toppings (ask your friends to bring a specific topping to spread the work around).

 

If restrictions don’t allow an in-person celebration, then host it online. You can still do icebreakers and use decorations to make it fun. And snacks? Well, they’ll be bring-your-own.

 

Do you have other ideas for keeping hope alive? If so, what are they?

 

What story about God’s faithfulness in the past can you share with us?

 

Why Do Our Choices Matter?

 

John Donne was an English clergyman and poet who lived from 1572-1631. He’s the fellow who coined the well-known phrase, “No man is an island unto himself.” Wise, guy, he was. He understood that the choices we make impact not only ourselves but also those around us.

 

Take Rahab, for instance.

She’s the prostitute who lived in Jericho and gained fame for hiding two Israelite spies from danger. Apart from saving their lives, how did her decision to help them affect others?

 

Joshua 6:24-25 gives us the answer: “Then the Israelites burned the town [Jericho] and everything in it. Only the things made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron were kept for the treasury of the LORD’s house. So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho.”

 

Rahab’s decision to protect the spies set a major ripple effect into motion. I hope her family appreciated the risk she took on their behalf.

 

On the other hand, I’ll bet Achan’s family wasn’t impressed with the choice he made and how it affected them.

 

Joshua 7:20 says, “Achan replied, ‘It is true. I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. Among the plunder I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighting more than a pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest.’”

 

Achan saw the loot, made an instantaneous decision to disregard God’s command to destroy it all, and he hid it under his tent. That choice triggered a ripple effect that cost his family members dearly. Contrary to Rahab’s story, he and his relatives died because of his disobedience.

 

Let’s connect the dots here: Our choices trigger a ripple effect, too.

Here are a few examples:

  • Our choice to have an affair impacts our spouse, our kids and future generations, our friends, our church family, and our witness for Christ. It affects the legacy we leave. It even affects our finances.
  • Our choice to neglect our body’s need for regular exercise and for a proper diet in moderation may mean others have to sacrifice energy and time in order to care for us when we get sick or our body breaks down (been there, done that).
  • Our choice to spend money frivolously impedes our financial situation now and down the road. Consumer debt is a cruel task-master.

 

Consider the flipside:

  • Our choice to build a strong marriage blesses our spouse and brings joy into the relationship. It provides stability for our kids and a positive role model for their own marriages.
  • Our choice to care for our bodies enables us to live strong. It frees us to serve, enjoy life, and care for those who need help.
  • Our choice to be wise financial stewards enables us to care for our own needs and give from our abundance. We live free from the weight of consumer debt.

 

When faced with a choice, stop to consider the ripple effect it will cause. Who will be impacted? And how far will that ripple effect go? Our choices matter. Choose life.

 

Question: How have your choices affected others, both negatively and positively?

3 Truths about Finding Joy

flowers in vase

 

How do you define joy?

 

My favorite definition is one by Kay Warren: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.”

 

This definition contains several life-changing truths:

  • Trusting in God’s sovereignty over every detail of our lives brings joy.

 

As much as we like to think we’re in control of our circumstances…we’re not. Clinging to this misperception yields only unfulfilled expectations and stress.

 

I find peace in knowing that nothing that happens to me is a surprise to God. He knows everything that’s going to happen long before it actually takes place, and He has a plan. Just as He saw the path through the Red Sea when the Israelites saw only waves, so He is still in control of all things today.

 

Why fear? Why stress? Why not rest in God’s care and sovereignty? He’s got our backs. Walking in this truth brings joy.

 

  • Trusting in God’s sovereignty assures me that everything’s going to be okay.

 

We wrestle with needless worry when we entertain the what-ifs. “What if the worst possible scenario becomes reality in my situation? Then what?” Our thoughts carry us from Point A to Point B in a nanosecond, and fear grips us.

 

How about flipping the mental switch? Rather than thinking What if such-and such happens, let’s think Even if such-and-such happens

 

Even if the worst possible scenario happens, God is still in control. He’s able to turn the hard places of life into fertile fields and places of growth. He’s able to bring calm to the chaos and good from situations that we would consider hopeless. Everything’s going to be alright. Therein lies reason for joy.

 

  • Trusting in God’s sovereignty allows the freedom and ability to praise Him in every circumstance.

 

When bad things happen, our emotions want to do anything but praise God and give thanks. But the knowledge that He’s in control ought to give us the power to overcome negative emotions and do what’s right—praise the One who reigns from the heavens with perfect purposes that nearly always exceed our imagination.

 

Praising God shifts our focus from our fears and failures to the character of the One who never disappoints or abandons us. This shifts our perspective, too, and we begin to see beyond the temporal to the eternal. Pain, sorrow, frustration, and fear fade as we begin to see our situation through His eyes. And joy is born.

 

These truths have made a huge difference in my life in the past months. I pray that they’ll bless you today, and that they’ll foster and grow joy in your life, too. Feel free to leave a comment about how they will help you choose joy in the days ahead, okay?

 

#Joy #devotions #GodisSovereign

 

 

5 Promises God Will Always Keep

 

Someone once said that promises are made to be broken. Sadly, we live in a society where many people believe this is true.

 

Some break their vow to love and honor their spouse until death. Others break their promise to pay for receiving a service or product. Some fail to meet someone at an agreed time and place. Many of us fail to keep our word to pray for someone who’s shared a prayer request with us.

 

Sometimes people break promises intentionally. They agree to do something knowing full well they won’t follow through. Others do it accidentally. A couple of years ago, one of my grandsons reminded me about a toy watch I’d bought him several years prior. “It broke, Grandma, and you said you’d buy me a new one, but you never did.” Seriously, I had no recollection of saying such a thing, but I trust his memory more than mine. To say I was mortified is an understatement.

 

No matter what anyone says, promises are not made to be broken.

They’re made to keep. That’s the point, right? The definition of a promise is “a declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen.”

 

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a broken promise. We’ve felt the disappointment or sting. We’ve asked ourselves the question, “Should I ask this person for an explanation, or should I just let it go?” Depending on the nature and circumstances of the promise broken, we may have enjoyed a hearty laugh or wrestled with anger and unforgiveness.

 

People break promises all the time. Know it will happen. But know this—God always keeps His word.

 

Psalm 12:6 says, “The Lord’s promises are pure, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over.” Sometimes those promises don’t happen as soon as we wish. When they finally come to pass, they might look different than we’d hoped. They might come with a condition that we have to fulfill first.

 

Regardless, God will never make a promise and then forget to honor it. He’ll never commit to doing something and then procrastinate or fail to follow through. God always keeps His word.

Here are five promises on which we can relay with certainty when facing uncertainty.

 

  • “…Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NIV)

We are not alone even when we feel lonely because God’s presence goes with us everywhere, day and night.

 

  • “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:26 NLT)

What a relief to know the Holy Spirit covers our concerns when we haven’t got a clue how to put them into words.

 

  • No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:37 NLT)

The One who conquered death works in us to conquer all things that stand against us.

 

  • “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”(John 14:27 NLT)

Jesus has provided a gift that money can’t buy, and He even gives instructions so we can maximize it.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

 

  • “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4 NLT)

Heaven. I can only imagine.

 

God will always keep these promises. Which one is most relevant to you today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encouragement for Those Fighting a Battle Today

 

Would you do me a favor? Would you please raise your hand if you’ve ever had one of those nights when worrisome thoughts woke you and wouldn’t let you fall back to sleep? I just want to know that I’m not the only woman in the world who’s experienced this.

 

It happened to me last night. At 3:41, to be exact. The moment I woke, anxious thoughts about someone I love popped into my head. It’s no wonder; they were there when I fell asleep a few hours prior.

 

As I lay there, those thoughts grew bigger and more intimidating. I tried to calm them through prayer. “God, I need You to fix this person before he self-destructs and hurts others in the process. I need You to…..”

 

That’s when I caught myself falling into an old habit. There I was, telling God what to do in this situation. I meant well, but my efforts only strengthened anxiety’s grip.

 

“Give it up, Grace,” the Holy Spirit whispered. “I love this person more than you do. I am working in ways you cannot see. Trust Me.”

 

Trusting God means yielding our desire for control to the One who is in control.

It means admitting that our understanding of a troubling situation is incomplete, therefore, our way of fixing it might only make things worse. It means acknowledging that victory comes not from our own clever ideas or strategies or manipulative tactics but from allowing God to be God.

 

Sometimes God puts us on the frontlines in a particular battle. Other times, He posts us behind-the-scenes and asks us to be quiet. Whatever role He assigns, He always expects us to pray. And to trust.

 

Perhaps you’ve raised your hand to show that you relate to what I’m experiencing. If so, here’s a little love gift from me to you. I found it encouraging this morning; I pray you’ll find it helpful, too. It’s an excerpt from my latest devotional, Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos.

 

Available wherever Christian books are sold.

 

STAND STILL

This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 2 Chronicles 20:15 (NLT)

 

Pause

King Jehoshaphat knew his army was no match for the approaching enemy. He called his people to fast and pray, and he led them in seeking God’s help. He probably expected God to tell him where to post his soldiers and when to attack, but the Lord took a different approach. God told the people to take up their positions and then stand still. This battle belonged to him, and he would accomplish the victory.

Sometimes God calls us to action. Other times he calls us to be still. We might find the latter strategy difficult, especially if we’re prone to want to fix people and circumstances. We’d rather defend ourselves or rush to rescue someone in trouble. But he will give us the ability to stand down if he says we must let him fight the battle on our behalf. Our role is not to question his strategy but to trust his wisdom and his ways even if they don’t make sense to us.

 

Ponder

What is God telling you to do in response to the battle you face?

 

Pray

God, help me learn to get out of the way and let you fight for me.

 

“God calls His people to celebrate Him with singing and playing, and then He promises to do a little drumming of His own, on the back of the enemy!” –Terry Law with Jim Gilbert, The Power of Praise and Worship

 

#faith #findinghopeincrisis #faithjourney #Christianjourney #fightingourbattles #Godfightsforus #RosePublishing #hopeincrisis #prayer  #prayerworks  #Christiandevotions  #Christiandevotionals

How’s Your Heart Today?

 

I wish I could chat with each of you over a cup of coffee or tea and hear your answer to this question: “How’s your heart today?”

 

Are you feeling like you’ve been through the wringer? Like you’ve been doing battle too long? Like your faith has been stretched as far as it can go, and now it’s being stretched further? Believe me when I say, “I empathize.”

 

Thankfully the pandemic restrictions are lifting, but pressures of other sorts continue. Not the least of these is the prospect of sorting, packing, and moving our office in the same month I’d reserved to write my next devotional under deadline. I wish I could say we have a new location secured, but alas, there’s nothing on the horizon yet. Only God knows how this is going to work so I can meet my obligation.

 

As I prayed about my concerns this morning, the Holy Spirit brought these words to mind:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

 

I remind myself that nothing comes into the lives of God’s children without His permission.

He is either sovereign over all or not at all. His intent toward us is always good and never meant to harm or destroy. We find rest for our souls when we rest in Jesus.

 

I’m also reminded that God deserves thanksgiving and praise not only when circumstances are easy or stress-free. He deserves our worship at all times, but it’s in the hard places—when we sacrifice our questions and our wills on the altar of surrender—that our worship honors Him most. In that place, worship moves our focus from our circumstances to Him. In that place, worship changes us.

 

Our Creator knows our tendency to worry and crave control, so He gives us the keys to freedom.

Christ’s invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” is one of them.

 

Developing a thankful attitude for God’s promises, for all He’s done in the past, and for all He will do in the future, is another.

 

A third is praising God for who He is. He isn’t some ego-centric god needing our affirmation. He’s the living and true God who’s faithful and good all the time. Because He is who He is, we  bring Him our prayer concerns but we preface them with thanks and praise. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.” (Psalm 100:4-5 NLT)

 

So, my friend, how’s your heart today? If you feel more than a tad battle-weary, you’re not alone. I pray you’ll find rest and renewal for your soul as you walk in these truths with me.

 

Know you are loved,

Grace

 

#SoulWeary  #JesusCares  #ThankfulHeart  #PraiseGod #JesusGivesStrength  #FaithJourney  #StronginGod  #overcomeworry  #overcomefear  #GodisBigger 

 

Dependent Like a Baby

Our family has grown by two in the past month—a granddaughter and a grandson born only nineteen days apart. I haven’t been able to meet my granddaughter yet; I’m hoping that will happen in July. I have, however, been blessed to be living in the same household as my new grandbaby boy.

 

Josh is a week old. I marvel at the miracle he is. I also marvel at his complete dependency on others. Like all newborns, he can do absolutely nothing for himself. His mommy feeds, changes, bathes, and clothes him. Other willing hands hold him and pitch in to help as needed, and we all consider it pure joy.

Josh’s helpless state reminds me of humanity. Seriously, we can do nothing on our own. We are completely dependent on God. We can’t even take our next breath without His go-ahead. Why, then, do we think we can handle some of life’s issues without Him?

 

Robert Lowry nailed it when he wrote the refrain, “I need Thee, oh I need Thee; Ev’ry hour I need Thee; Oh, bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.”

Every moment of every day we need God’s presence in our lives. And every moment of every day our heavenly Father hears our sighs and cries. He never withholds His help from us when we call on Him from a pure heart. (Psalm 66:16-20) Just as Josh’s family cares for him, so our heavenly Father cares for us. He encourages us to call on Him, and He never considers meeting our needs a hardship. (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 23:1)

 

I cradle week-old Josh and thank God for this reminder of how He cradles me.

I don’t have to try to figure out life on my own. I don’t have to let fear control me. I don’t have to panic over whether or not my needs will be met. I’m dependent on God, and He loves me. There’s no better position in which to be.

 

Take a few moments to listen to “I Need Thee Every Hour” sung by Fernando Ortega. Embrace it as a fresh reminder of your dependency on God our Father for all things, and offer Him a prayer of thanksgiving for being present for you.  

 

#bgbg2  #ChristianDevotions  #Psalm23  #HeavenlyFather  #GodMeetsOurNeeds  #ChristianFaith #FaithJourney  #ChristianLife

Fighting our Battles by Focusing on Truth

 

When I wrapped up my Zoom Bible study last Tuesday, I encouraged the participants to be on their guard. “We’ve just studied five names of God,” I said. “Don’t be surprised if a test comes along in the not too distant future. Be watchful but don’t be afraid. It will give you opportunity to practice what you’ve learned.” I had no way of knowing that my test was waiting around the corner.

 

The next evening, I learned that someone dear to me has received a cancer diagnosis. This news came out of nowhere. I still find it hard to fathom.

 

Forty-eight hours later, I learned that we’re losing the facility that houses our ministry office, a few personal possessions that survived our purge in 2018, and all my ministry resources. The last time this happened, we spent five months searching for a suitable space. All the office equipment and my resources stayed in our basement interim. This time, we live on a boat—enough said. We have to vacate by July 31, and we’re in the far north helping our youngest daughter through a difficult pregnancy until July 1 which means we can’t look at potential places in-person.

 

My next book manuscript is due on September 1, and I’d planned to spend July writing it. Now my time will be divided packing and moving our office.

 

I’ll admit that my thoughts tug me towards worry and what-ifs. I have to intentionally lasso them and reel them back where they belong—in captivity to Jesus. Having a better grasp on the names of God and their relevancy to my life is a big help.

 

God helps us understand who He is through His names.

For instance, “Jehovah Sabaoth” tells us that He is the Lord of hosts. He commands the armies of men, millions of angels, and the stars in the sky. He’s the One who goes to battle on our behalf. Amazing, right?

 

We fight our battles by focusing on truth. The truth is, Almighty God is on our side. The enemy of our soul wants us to believe otherwise, so he whispers lies intended to lead us to believe defeat is imminent. In most cases, those lies come from within. In some cases, they come from those around us. David wrote about this when fleeing from Absalom: “So many are saying, ‘God will never rescue him!’” (Psalm 3:2 NLT))

 

David refused to listen to the voices. He focused on truth instead: “But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain.” (Psalm 3:3-4) He ended his prayer with, “Victory comes from you, O Lord. May you bless your people.” (Psalm 3:8

 

While we do our part, victory ultimately comes from Jehovah Sabaoth. With that in mind, I’m viewing these challenges not as reasons to worry but as opportunities to practice what I preach and to see Jehovah Sabaoth work. That said, I’d sure appreciate your prayers.

 

What test are you facing today? What are the voices telling you? What’s the truth?

 

#faith #faithoverfear  #NamesofGod  #JehovahSabaoth  #hope #findinghopeincrisis #FocusonTruth #LordOfHosts  #GodFightsOurBattles  #Christianjourney  #faithjourney 

 

 

Self-Talk

Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions. Psalm 119:29 (NLT)

 

Pause

Have you ever listened to the self-talk that runs through your mind? Losing my mobility for several months while living in a three-storey townhouse meant having to hoist myself backwards up fifteen stairs to my bedroom every night. One night I caught myself saying, “I can’t do this anymore.” That became a defining moment for me.

I’d spoken a lie over myself. If I believed those words, I would lose hope.

I’d quit trying to regain my health, and I’d suffer the consequences physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. From that moment forward, I chose to be more intentional about my self-talk, choosing words that reflected God’s heart for me.

I encourage you to do the same. Become attentive to the words you talk to yourself in your thoughts. Measure you words against God’s truth. If you catch yourself saying, “I can’t do this anymore,” readily acknowledge this as a lie. Then speak the truth: “I can do this in God’s strength.”

 

Ponder

Describe your usual self-talk. Do you unintentionally speak lies, or do you speak truth?

 

Pray

Father, make me aware of the words I speak in my thoughts and align them with your truth.

 

“Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.”

–Dr. Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health  

(affiliate link)

(Excerpt from Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos © 2021 Grace Fox)

#hope #findinghopeincrisis #ChristianDevotions #DevotionalBooks #SelfTalk #GuardYourSelfTalk #RosePublishing #findinghope #faith #faithjourney #faithinGod

Choosing Joy in Life’s Hard Places

An oldie goldie song says, ‘The beat goes on, and the beat goes on.” I feel as though the lyrics describe the pandemic lockdown. I’m ready to listen to a new song, but this one hasn’t finished playing yet, and I can’t change it. What to do?

 

On the days when I feel like enough’s enough, I find encouragement in the apostle Paul’s letter to the believers in Thessalonica. Their situation was much worse than the one we currently face. These men and women had come to faith in Christ believing their lives would get better. Imagine their feelings of disillusionment when things headed the opposite direction and persecution began.

 

Paul encouraged them stand strong and commended them for their response: “So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT)

 

It’s easy to glaze over a verse like that because it doesn’t pop off the page with a promise to us, or so it seems. But wait.

The Greek word used for “suffering” (thlipsis) is a strong word that implies intense afflictions. According to Bible teacher Rick Renner, it conveys the idea of a heavy-pressure situation. Imagine tying a victim with ropes, placing him on his back on the ground, and then placing a huge boulder on his chest. The boulder slowly crushes the life from him. This is the word picture that describes the emotional and mental suffering these believers were experiencing.

 

But in the midst of thlipsis, these believers knew joy. How is that possible?  The Greek word for “joy” infers a supernatural gift of God’s grace. It has nothing to do with hilarity or giggles or raucous laughter. It has everything to do with experiencing a superhuman infilling of God’s power and presence and peace.  They walked out this realization, and they knew joy as a result.

 

Joy shines brightest in the dark.

When we can’t see our way through a tough situation, joy is there for the asking. When weariness drains us dry, joy is ours if we want it. When burdens threaten to crush the life from us, joy is available as a supernatural gift of God’s grace.

 

If the believers in Thessalonica could experience joy in the midst of thlipsis, we can experience joy in the midst of ongoing lockdowns. God’s supernatural gift of grace still applies.

 

The beat goes on. And I choose joy. How about you? Will you choose joy with me?

 

“Father, thank You for the joy that is ours no matter what our circumstances look like. Thank You for the supernatural gift of Your grace. When we feel overwhelmed, remind us that joy is ours for the asking because of Your presence and overcoming power in our lives. In Jesus’ s name, amen.”

 

#bgbg2  #devotions #TrueJoy #JoyinCovid  #joyover circumstances #joyinsuffering #faithinGod  #GodRules #JesusBringsJoy  #JoyinJesus