Conntecting the Dots

Learning to Say No

The devil will do anything to derail our devotion for the Lord. One of his tactics is busyness. If running from one thing to the next to the next eliminates quiet time spent in God’s Word and presence, then we become more vulnerable to temptation, discouragement, and self-deception. Satan knows this, so he wastes no energy trying to get us to buy into busyness as a way of life and proof of our importance. Some personalities are more prone to this than others. Can you see my raised hand? I’ve learned a few things the hard way after spending nearly 30 years in career ministry.


I’ve learned to ask myself a few questions before saying yes to others’ requests for my commitment to their cause:

  • Saying yes to this request means saying no to something else. To what am I saying no?
  • Am I tempted to say yes because I’m afraid of missing out on an opportunity that might not come again?
  • Am I tempted to say yes because I think I’m the only one capable of doing this assignment?
  • Am I tempted to say yes because I’m afraid to disappoint others by saying no?
  • Am I tempted to say yes because I want to impress others with my abilities?


Using this grid helps me evaluate my motives. But the most important question of all is this: Is God asking me to do this? If so, then the only appropriate answer is yes. If not, then the answer is no, and I’m learning to say it without feeling guilty.


Even Jesus said no at times.

The morning after He healed Simon’s mother-in-law and many sick and demon-possessed people in her town, He rose early to pray alone. The disciples found him and said, “Everyone is looking for You.”


A weaker personality might have responded, “Okay—let’s go and see what they need.” But not Jesus. “Jesus replied, ‘We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.’” (Mark 1:35-38 NLT)


Jesus didn’t say no to those who wanted to see Him for lack of love. He embodied compassion, after all. (Mark 1:41) He said no because He knew His God-given purpose. He understood God’s plan to redeem mankind and His place in that plan. Other than being One with God, what gave Him such certainty? Scroll back to Mark 1:35—” Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.”


Jesus spent His days serving, teaching, and walking from region to region to serve and teach more. He was a busy man but He made time with His Father a priority. The depth of that relationship gave Him the wisdom He needed to know His purpose and to stay on task.


God has given us gifts of time and talents, and He wants us to steward them wisely.

Even more, He wants us to flourish in relationship with Him. To spend time in His presence. To  quiet ourselves so we can hear His voice. To make friendship with Him a greater priority than service for Him.


The practical outworking of such a relationship changes from person to person and season to season, but one truth remains constant: If we’re too busy to acknowledge God’s presence, then we’re too busy. Let’s be alert to the devil’s efforts to derail us using busyness as his weapon of choice. Let’s learn to say no when necessary so we can wisely steward the time and talents God has given us and stay focused on His purpose for our lives.


Question: Do you find it difficult to say no? If so, reread my grid questions. Which one resonates with you most?


#Learningtosayno  #EvenJesussaidno  #DailyDevotions  #priorities #spiritualpriorities  #bgbg2

How to Respond to Unmet Expectations

Relationships can be testy sometimes, right?

Conflict happens for various reasons, but common unmet expectations is a common cause. That is—one party places expectations upon another and responds negatively when the second party fails to perform according to those expectations. Sometimes they’ve been verbalized; other times, not. Sometimes they’re reasonable; other times, not. It’s complicated.


Our human bent leans toward disappointment, frustration, anger, or even withdrawal when our expectations go unmet. We feel slighted or disrespected. Conflict results when we hang onto our grievances and refuse to discuss, evaluate, or adjust those expectations.


Remember the WWJD bracelets and other do-dads that trended once upon a time? The initials reminded us to ask,  “What would Jesus do?” before saying or doing something regrettable. If we’re in a testy relationship right now, we’d do well to ask WWJD.


As the time for Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion grew near, He went to the olive grove called Gethsemane to pray. He took Peter, James, and John with Him. He told them what He expected from them: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Then He went off alone and pleaded with God to remove the cup of suffering from Him. (Matthew 26:36-39)


Jesus returned to the disciples and found them asleep.

He expressed disappointment and verbalized His expectations again: “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:40-41)


Jesus battled in prayer a second time, and then He returned to the disciples only to find them asleep again. He didn’t bother waking them up. After praying a third time and then finding His friends still asleep, He spoke words worthy of attention: “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going! Look, my betrayer is here!” (Matthew 26:42-46)


This was one of the darkest moments of Jesus’ life.

He faced crucifixion, and He hoped His best friends would at least pray Him through it. But they couldn’t keep their eyes open. They snoozed while He sweat drops of blood. His expectations were both expressed and reasonable, but His friends let Him down. How did He respond? With grace. He acknowledged their human weaknesses and then focused on matters at hand.

Let’s face it. No matter how reasonable our expectations might be, friends and family will let us down. They might have our best intentions at heart, but they’re human. And the truth is—we do the same thing to others, often without knowing it.

Life is too short and fragile to hang onto disappointments and grievances.

Granted, sometimes an offense cuts to the core and needs to be addressed appropriately by all parties, if possible, to bring understanding, healing, and closure to a situation. But when it comes to petty grievances, let’s not waste time. The world’s filled with hurting people who need Jesus. If He could respond with grace to the friends who failed Him miserably in His deepest moment of need, then surely we—who have the power of the risen Christ within us—can do the same.


“Up, let’s be going!” Let’s take the high road. Let’s follow Christ’s example. And let’s get on with the work at hand—the work of sharing Jesus love with others as He sacrificially shared it with us.


5 Ways to Find Calm in Crisis

I receive several emails every day from people in crisis. Circumstances vary, of course, and so does severity, but the crises fall into categories: illness—their own or a loved one’s, spousal betrayal, a child’s struggle with addictions, a breakdown in family relationships, job layoffs, losses from a natural disaster, and more. Isolation is a big one nowadays.


Crisis changes life in a nanosecond. It can rob us of routine, ruin our ability to sleep well, and remove our capability to think straight. Sometimes we forget appointments we’ve made, or we can’t recall what day of the week it is.


In the midst of the storm, we can sometimes empathize with the psalmist who describes his soul as downcast and disturbed. His tone changes when he speaks truth to himself: “Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11 NIV).


The psalmist reminds us that the key to calm doesn’t lie solely in our circumstances changing for the better. If it did, then our hopes would be dashed if our circumstances worsened. Calm even in the midst of crisis comes when we place our confidence in our unchanging God. Choosing to trust His wisdom, sovereignty, power, and goodness soothes the soul that is downcast and disturbed.


From personal experience, I’ve discovered a few practical actions I can take, too. Here are five ways I find calm in crisis:


Ask for Help

No one should have to face crisis alone. Ask others to pray for you. If they can lend a hand in practical ways, say so. All too often, we assume that others don’t really care to get involved, or we expect them to know what we need. Let’s guard against making wrong assumptions and, instead, believe the best about others and their desire to help.


Remember the Truth

The human bent tends to focus on what-ifs and fears. Counteract that tendency by focusing on God’s promises instead. Here’s a good one: You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3NKJV). Write this on a recipe card and post it where you’ll see it often. Better yet, memorize it so you can recall it even in the night when it’s difficult to sleep.


Engage in Worship

Fill your mind and your home with praise and worship music. Listen—really listen—to the lyrics and the truths they contain. What do they say about who God is and how does that apply to your situation? Let those lyrics wash away doubts and fears.


Take a Walk

Exercise is a good remedy for stress. It increases blood flow, supplies the body with fresh oxygen, and stimulates positive hormones. Coupling it with prayer or listening to worship music refreshes us in every way—mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.


Give Thanks

1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God issues this command because He created us and knows that expressing gratitude releases hormones associated with pleasure and contentment. The darker our circumstances, then, the more vital it is that we give thanks. This doesn’t mean giving thanks for whatever constitutes our crisis. It means we give thanks to God for being with us in the middle of it, for being our source of wisdom and strength, and for promising to use it for our good and His glory.


Sooner or later, everyone experiences a crisis. Some folks find themselves completely unraveled. Others experience calm. Where we place our hope and how we choose to respond makes all the difference.


#hope  #findinghopeincrisis #givethanks  #fightstress  #bgbg2


Here’s an interview I did with Debbie Chavez. She refers to specific devotions in my new book, Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos and we talked about practical ways to apply the truths they contain. Enjoy!


Buy Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos here.

Finding Hope In Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos

Bad News, Good News, and Hope

I recently read an article in which an author admitted never reading reviews about her books. Her reason? One negative review could send her into a downward spiral, cause her to question her calling as a writer, and make her feel as though she had nothing of value to say. She may have received a dozen positive reviews, but in her mind, one critical comment outweighed them all.


Our human bent wants to pull us toward the bad news and keep us stuck there, in the place where shame and guilt and fear reign. Even the disciples found this to be true. Check out Matthew 17:22-23.


“After they gathered again in Galilee, Jesus told them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.”


Jesus wanted to prepare the twelve for the days ahead so He gave them the full scoop in abbreviated form. The bad news was that He would die. The good news was that He would rise from the dead three days later


It seems the disciples camped on the bad news. They felt more than a little sad; they were filled with grief even though their beloved Jesus said He would do the impossible and rise from the dead.


I so “get” the disciples’ thinking process.


For instance, I hear about rising pandemic numbers, concerns about variants, and frustrations with vaccine rollouts. The bad news is that no one really knows what the future holds. My thoughts could camp there and throw me into despair.But…there’s good news, and it changes everything.


The good news is that our present suffering is nothing compared to the glory God will reveal to us someday. (Romans 8:17-18) That truth alone should be enough to help us readjust our focus. But wait—there’s more!


Scripture says “…be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT)


My friend, we don’t have to let bad news suck us into a dark place of despair.


Reality is—life is really hard sometimes. But the truth remains—suffering is temporary. Let’s neither  run from it nor resist it because it serves a purpose—it refines us and strengthens our faith. But in the midst of it and the pain it brings, let’s choose to camp on the good news. As sure as Jesus rose from the dead, we can rest assured that eternity’s coming, and it’s bringing glory and joy beyond anything we can imagine. No matter what bad news the day might bring, our hope remains sure because it’s based on truth that remains steadfast.


#bgbg2  #hope  #findinghopeincrisis  #devotions #JesusLives  #BadNewsGoodNews 



When God’s Love Doesn’t Look Like Love


A familiar Sunday school song reminds us that Jesus loves us. That’s an easy truth to believe when all is well and life brings blessing upon blessing. But what about when life takes an unexpected turn and heads a direction we did not choose?


Joseph’s life is a prime example. He was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, and served a prison sentence for a crime he did not commit. Psalm 105:17-19 gives a brief description of his experience behind bars: They bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar. Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.”


In the midst of Joseph’s suffering, we find this nugget of encouragement: But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21 NLT).


We can understand favor in the warden’s eyes as evidence of God’s love, right? But what about the fetters and bruises? Our human bent might be tempted to say, “Seriously? Letting the bad guys mistreat Joseph doesn’t look like love.” Let’s remember that God’s perspective is always, always different than ours: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)


Suffering refined Joseph’s character and prepared him to become an effective national leader. Joseph himself came to this realization years later, after Pharaoh appointed him as second-in-command. He said to the same brothers who’d betrayed him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)


So How Does This Apply to Us?

We might be tempted to look at our current circumstances and say, “Seriously? Allowing a global pandemic to rock the world off its axis, confine us in lockdowns, and cause irreparable fallout doesn’t look like love.” But let’s remember that God’s perspective is different than ours.


Suffering can refine our characters and make us more like Jesus. Getting rid of the junk in our lives and exchanging it for qualities such as joy, peace, compassion, and selflessness—that looks like love, doesn’t it?


Using a global pandemic to turn people’s hearts toward Jesus for hope, comfort, and healing—that looks like love, doesn’t it?


Using lockdown restrictions to help us, as believers, appreciate religious freedom and teach us greater compassion for persecuted brothers and sisters worldwide—that looks like love, doesn’t it?

God’s love never guarantees an easy life. It does, however, promise that He will be with us in our hard place just as He was with Joseph, and He will be faithful.


What evidence of God’s love do you see in your difficult circumstances?


#bgbg2  #LifeHasHardPlaces  #GodIsWithUs  #GodLovesUs 




The Significance of an Overlooked 3-Letter Word


I find it’s easy to blow past little words when reading my Bible. One of those words is “all.”

Several times in the past week, it jumped off the page at me as if to say, “I’m small but significant. Pay attention to me!”


One encounter with this wee word was in Proverbs 3:5-6—“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”


“All” shows up here not once, but twice, and it carries a message of profound importance. In the midst of these crazy, chaotic days, God calls us to trust Him with our entire heart. We’re to acknowledge Him as faithful, wise, and sovereign even when circumstances don’t make sense or suit our fancy. Leaving wiggle room for control or manipulation in hopes of achieving the outcome we deem best never works well. We’re to trust Him and His ways with all our heart, not just a part.


“All” also tells us to seek God’s will in everything we do. Our human bent is to seek our own will, to secure our own personal interest in everything we do. When we do so, we allow our emotions to rule our decisions and we end up saying or doing something we later regret. We avoid a lot of self-inflicted pain when we ask God to show us the direction He wants to take in a particular situation and follow His lead.  


“All” is only a three-letter word but it carries life-changing ramifications. May I offer a prayer to help us learn to pay attention to it and apply it to our lives?


“Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us wise instruction so we can flourish. Thank You for this little word “all.” Help us to pay attention to it and to live by its truth. Teach us how to trust You with every part of our heart, not leaving wiggle room for doubt or fear or manipulation. Teach us how to seek Your direction in every endeavor, not allowing our emotions to dictate what we do. We love You and are grateful for the privilege of being children of the living God—the One who is good in all His ways. In Jesus’ name, amen.”


#TrustGodWithAllYourHeart  #bgbg2  #GodsInstructions

How Having a Focus-Word Helps Us Grow


At the start of each year, I ask the Lord to give me a focus word. A couple of years ago, my word was “joy.” It reminded me to reframe the way I viewed difficulties. I learned to see them not as hindrances but as opportunities to experience God’s presence and promises in new ways.


Last year, my word was “listen.” It encouraged me to keep an ear open for the Holy Spirit’s whispers during the course of the day. It also prompted me to listen more intentionally to other people—to hear the true heart behind the words they were speaking.


This year, the word “praise” jumped off the page as I read Psalm 146. The chapter begins, “Praise the LORD. Let all that I am praise the LORD.” (Psalm 146:1) It closes with, “Praise the LORD.” Here are a few thoughts that have come to mind as I’ve pondered it over the past few days.

  • Psalm 146 begins and ends with the same instruction. Just as these three words bookend the chapter, so I will bookend my days by intentionally beginning and ending them with praise.
  • The first word of this command is “praise,” meaning I’m to acknowledge God for who He is. This is different than thanking Him for what He’s done. It focuses on the characteristics that describe Him—wisdom, compassion, holiness, justice, sovereignty, and more.
  • The last word of this command is “LORD.” Beyond any doubt, it tells me who the focus of my praise ought to be—the almighty, self-existent, sovereign Creator. He is above all gods. None can compare to Him.
  • Praising the Lord involves my whole-hearted self. “Let all that I am praise the LORD” means everything about me acknowledges His kingship and authority. He rules over my spiritual life, of course. But He also sits as King over my mind, my emotions, and my body.
  • Praising the Lord ought to be my practice regardless of my circumstances. “I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath,” says Psalm 146:2. God remains God and deserves praise even if my life takes an unexpected and painful turn.


I’m looking forward to implementing praise even more intentionally than I already have and to seeing its effect in my life.


Do you ask God to give you a focus word at the start of a new year? If so, what’s your word for 2021?


#bgbg2  #oneword  #Powerofpraise  #Goddeservespraise

Jonah and the Pandemic


What will Christmas look like for you? We had plans to celebrate Christmas this weekend with our son and our youngest daughter and their families, but pandemic restrictions changed everything. We’ve canceled those plans and will be home alone until the restrictions lift.


I suspect that most of you are in the same situation. “Disappointment” might be an understatement. For some, this year’s layered disappointments teeter on frustration or anger.


Anger toward authorities whose decisions stop us from spending time with family. Anger toward rules about wearing masks. Anger toward freedoms restricted, jobs lost, and celebrations canceled. Anger toward inconsistent rules, circumstances beyond our control, and people who don’t share our perspective.

Jonah felt angry, too. Had he not done what God told him and delivered the message of doom to Ninevah? And then, of all the nerve, God stepped in and changed His plans. (Jonah 3:10-4:3) Ninevah’s population repented, and God decided not to destroy the city after all.


Jonah took personal offense. “Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen” (Jonah 4:3).


Jonah’s honesty revealed a heart focused on self. Pride about losing face overruled joy over people responding to God’s message and turning to Him.


God was up to something big in Ninevah, and He’d invited Jonah to play a part. Jonah’s self-focus nearly caused him to miss it.


God is up to something big in our world, and He’s invited us to play a part. He’s a merciful and compassionate God. He’s slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. (Jonah 4:2) What if He wants to use this pandemic to deepen our relationship with Him? What if He wants to use it to draw unbelievers into saving faith? What if He wants to use it to stir a revival in the Church worldwide? No matter what He’s doing, He wants us to shine as lights, to be beacons of hope for those who cannot see their way through the darkness.


When Jonah spilled his frustration, God asked him a pointed question: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”  It must have been a pretty important question because He repeated it a second time. (Jonah 4:4)


It’s important for us to ask ourselves the same question. In fact, let’s be really honest, turn it around, and personalize it: “Is it right for me to be angry about this?” Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to show us whether self-focus is blinding us to what God wants to do. And then let’s choose to be God-focused instead—active and willing participants in His plan.  


#bgbg2  #Jonah  #Godandthepandemic 

How to Remain Hope-filled and Thankful

Numerous articles about giving thanks have appeared in my inbox this week. So have articles that speak to COVID fatigue and weariness, especially in light of increased restrictions. Illness, isolation, financial stress, increased domestic violence, and loss have taken a toll. We’re all wondering when this will end, and we’re all wishing it will end soon.


The psalmist wrote, “I am worn out waiting for your [the Lord’s] rescue.” (Psalm 119:81 NLT) You’d almost think he wrote it for those of us living in 2020, right?


Another version reads, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation.” (NIV) The word “faints” carries the idea of a collapse or loss of strength. The psalmist uses it to describe the state of his soul—it’s so weak that he’s almost at the end of himself. He needs God to step in and save him. Nothing less will do.

But the writer doesn’t stop there. If he had, he might have thrown his hands up in despair and uttered, “This angst, this pain, this not-knowing-what’s-going-to-happen-next has gone on long enough. I can’t do this anymore!” Instead, he follows his first statement with these words: “but I have put my hope in your word.”


The psalmist turns his focus from his problems to the Problem-Solver. There he finds new strength and renewed hope. He demonstrates Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9—”We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”


Dear friend, you might feel like the psalmist did when he wrote this verse. You might feel worn out from waiting, too. It’s okay to admit you’re weary. But please don’t stop there.


Let’s put our hope in God’s word. He vowed to never forsake us. He promised to be our refuge, our guide, our wisdom, and our provider. He also promised that one day He’ll return to take us home where He’ll wipe every tear from our eyes.  


We may be worn out waiting for the Lord’s rescue, but we will put our hope in His word. And we will be renewed. Strengthened. Hope-filled. And thankful.


Know you are loved!


#bgbg2  #thankful  #covidfatigue  #wearyinwaiting   #devotions

Does God Speak to Us Today?  


Several days ago, I was immersed in writing materials for a weekly Zoom Bible study I teach when I heard a little whisper. “Do your laundry now,” it said.


“What? But I’m in the middle of doing work that has to be finished today,” I said.


The whisper persisted. “Do your laundry now.”


I’ve enjoyed relationship with God long enough to recognize His voice when He speaks. I also know that arguing with Him is not a wise thing to do. “Okay,” I said. I left my computer and stuffed our towels into the dirty laundry bag. “If this is you speaking, God, then I suspect You have an assignment for me there,” I said as I stepped off my boat-home and began walking down the dock toward the marina laundromat.


I secretly hoped that the whisper was going to work for my advantage and I’d arrive  to find all three washers and dryers empty and waiting for me. But that was not the case. The dryers were in use. The washers were also full, but their loads were finished.


Most marina residents are okay with their wet laundry being set atop the machines if another resident needs the washers before they come to remove their completed loads, so I did that. Then I returned to my boat-home for the duration of the wash cycle, wondering why the urgency.


The mystery was solved when I returned to move my laundry into the dryers. Turns out that the laundry I’d set atop the washers belonged to one of my closest neighbors. She’d been delayed because she’d dropped her only car key into the river when stepping from the dock onto her boat and was trying to figure out how to either retrieve or replace it. Poor thing! She was distraught, and understandably so.


A prayer that Gene and I pray frequently is this: “God, make us available when our neighbors need help and give us creative ways to lend a hand.” We stand in awe at the ways He answers that prayer, and this was no exception. That day, He made me available to help my neighbor get her laundry dried, folded, and returned to her boat. This alleviated her stress as she dealt with a far more urgent matter, and I was glad to be there for her.


Does God speak to us today? Absolutely. Here are several principles I’ve seen prove consistent:


  • God’s voice speaks truth. It will never tell us to do something contrary to His Word. If the whisper we hear does not align with truth as revealed in Scripture, then we need to ignore it. (John 8:44, John 14:6, James 1:13)
  • God’s voice affirms. It instructs us in the way we should live so we can flourish. It speaks life and hope and peace. It convicts when we do wrong, yes, but it never shames. (Psalm 32:8)
  • God’s voice brings clarity. It never tells us to do something that’s confusing or chaotic. Rather, it sheds light and wisdom on our path. (1 Corinthians 14:33, James 1:5)


God still speaks to us today, and He does so using whatever method He chooses. Often He uses little whispers to tell us what He wants us to know or do. Our role in our relationship with Him is to tune our ear to listen so we can hear it above the din of so many other voices calling for our attention. Then we’re to respond affirmatively to Him. The more we listen and obey, the more He’ll speak and the more readily we’ll recognize His voice when He does. (Romans 8:14-16, John 10:27)


How does God speak to you today? What has He spoken to you recently?


#GodSpeaks  #HearingGodsVoice  #bgbg2  #devotions