Fifteen Minutes

“How long does it take your soul to realize that your life is full? The slower the living, the greater the sense of fullness and satisfaction.”

–Ann Voskamp

The moments are full of promise, ripe with life. Yet I choose how to spend the moments. Am I hurrying from one thing to the next, eager to check things off my to-do list before I allow myself to enjoy what awaits at the end of the chores and responsibilities? For far too long, I have been ruled by expectations and my own self-imposed parameters. It’s been like a personal reward system. If I can just accomplish a, b, and c, then I will allow myself to enjoy this, that, or the other.

What happens, unbeknowingly, is that the little reward system continues to be pushed forward further and further into the future. The day is heavy with responsibilities, errands, and chores, and by the time the sun has set in the western sky, I think to myself, “I will get to enjoy the day tomorrow then.” But tomorrow brings with it its own responsibilities, expectations, errands, and chores, and the cycle repeats.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Delighting in something is a positive experience; it is not sacrificial. It is not a woe-is-me scenario. When I am delighting in Jesus, my heart is aglow within me, and I am certain it delights Jesus when I find my delight in Him. I have found that I am most delighted in Jesus in the little things, in those things that I know He did just for me and my pleasure and enjoyment.

While I recognize that cell phones are somewhat of a necessity in our modern times, I do not especially enjoy them. In fact, most days I hate them. People keep their faces glued to them and have lost the art of fully engaging in the moment. Time is not guaranteed to us. Tomorrow is not certain. Maybe it’s because I am staring at the reality that there will only one of my children remaining at home in just a few short months or maybe it’s because I feel time is slowly fading away and slipping past me. But, I don’t want to miss the moments. Not one of them. How much of life is lost and how much beauty is missed because our faces can’t be severed from the almighty cell phone screen? We have forgotten how to just be rather than be entertained. We have learned to stay so distracted that we can hardly be alone with our own thoughts, much less quiet ourselves enough in the presence of God to hear His still small voice within us that matters more than anything going on around us. I am guilty of this but have become hyper-aware of it, and I am ready for something new. I am ready to set down my phone and look up, look around, and fully engage in life around me.

Each week, as a fresh one begins, I take time to reflect on where I am and consider what God may want me to focus on, to be aware of, or specific ways to live intentionally in the coming week. This week, I have decided to sit outside on my front porch in my rocking chair for at least fifteen minutes a day. Don’t misunderstand me: I love the outdoors. I run nearly every day during the week, and my dogs get a nice, long walk each day as well. I escape into the mountains almost every chance I get, especially during the month of October. So it’s not like I am never outside. Yet, I am often outside doing something or being active.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Never is that more real than when I take time in nature and settle myself before Him. Creation speaks of His artistic mastery. Sunsets and sunrises are magnificent to behold. Clouds in the October sky are vibrant and the mountains look alive set against them. The wind whispering through the trees, as leaves make their descent to the ground below. Chirping birds, racing chipmunks, and sassy squirrels all seem to be extra busy this time of year. Crisp fall days incite a playful friskiness in my pups. As I sat on my front porch rocker this evening, I beheld all of it. My dogs chasing each other at full speed through the yard, completely unencumbered. My hot, steaming mug of apple cider held tightly within my palms to warm me. Fifteen minutes became thirty because my surroundings testified to the glory and majesty of my heavenly Father, and it was breathtaking. My heart rejoiced, and my soul was satiated in the goodness of God, right here, in the land of the living. My phone remained on the kitchen counter, where it belonged. Nothing on that device could ever compare to the wonder of my front porch.

James 1:17 states, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” As I sat there, totally captivated by the scene around me, Jesus was right there with me. And He was showing me that by delighting in His gifts, I was delighting in Him. Every single thing, from the falling leaves to the warm cider to the carefree playfulness of my dogs, was a gift from Him to me. He is so very good. He is so very kind. He is so very personal. And He is so very intimate. My heart soared, and I knew this savoring of the moment was synonymous with unfettered joy.

Though the days of travel baseball with my oldest son have drawn to a close, the memories we have made through the years are gifts from the Father. One of our final trips was to the coast in South Carolina. During that trip, I snapped the picture that is posted at the top of the page. The sun’s rays landed just right opposite the ocean, as the waves gently kissed the shoreline. We walked for miles that evening, talking and being present and fully engaged with each other. Each moment a gift. I see the glory of God in that picture, and His gift to me is forever captured. I will never forget that evening with my son nor the goodness of God in granting us those stolen, special, and sacred moments together.

As I came back inside from my front porch sitting, I felt a settled calmness and peace within me. Joy and even happiness filled my heart. I expect that my fifteen minutes of intentional sitting will become the most anticipated part of my every day. I dare you to try it. No distractions. No phones. No books. Just you and God’s creation around you.

Blessings!

Jesus, The Example

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“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued trusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23

In Jesus’ day, there was no social media, no Galilee Gossip twitter feed. Nope, news traveled the good old-fashioned way–by word of mouth. When someone had something negative to say about Jesus (and trust me, those old religious leaders infamously known as the Pharisees and Sadducees, had plenty to say!), they gathered together and conspired against Him. They did not hop on their tablets and spout off about Him. And Jesus did not respond @ anybody in His own defense.

Ultimately, what they had to say about Him, they said to His face as they slapped Him, mocked Him, beat Him, tortured Him, and crucified Him. And how did He respond? He did not revile in return, meaning He didn’t spout off or retaliate in an angry, abusive manner. He didn’t threaten them. He entrusted Himself to His Father. He knew that God would judge justly, regardless of what men were saying about Him or doing to Him.

In our modern era of technology, we would all be wise to take one out of Jesus’ playbook and hold our tongues…or perhaps, hold our hands tightly clasped together so we don’t get typing-happy with our fingers and in a matter of seconds, obliterate someone with our words. Even when we feel justified. Jesus, who WAS the only perfect human ever, would have been justified to defend Himself, but He trusted God’s plan for His life.

Jesus told His followers in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”** That is the epitome of living counter-cultural in our world. Our instincts and automatic reactions are to defend ourselves and go back after the offender. Jesus says to do differently than that–to love them, to do good to them, to bless them, and to pray for them.

I don’t always feel like praying for someone who has hurt me or even made me mad. In fact, it is usually the last thing I want to do. But, I have learned that it is impossible to retain feelings of anger and ill-will towards someone for whom we are praying. As we pray for them, our hearts are the one that begin to change.

Before Jesus was crucified, He warned His disciples of His pending death and resurrection, though they did not understand it at the time. In His discourse on the Mount of Olives found in John’s gospel, Jesus said this, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Jesus wanted them to expect hatred, just like His followers today can expect hatred. But Jesus also already told them how to interact with those who hated them. He instructed them to love them rather than respond with hatred, to bless them, to do good to them, and to pray for them. Exactly what we all feel like doing in that situation, isn’t it?

Jesus’ words apply to us in our culture today too. When we feel attacked for our faith or are on the receiving end of hatred, venom, ill-will, malice, anger, or anything of the like, we have the power to respond just like Jesus did as they reviled and abused Him. His Holy Spirit within us offers us the strength to apply the holy hush. By that, I mean, our lips and our fingers remain silent, though everything within us longs to defend ourselves, react, or even retaliate. We can trust that our God is our defender, and He sees and will judge justly–maybe just not on our timeframe or in the exact, public way we would love to watch happen.

David experienced something similar when he was running from King Saul prior to becoming king. He had a couple of opportunities to physically defend himself and end the pursuit on his life. Yet he refrained, saying in 1 Samuel 24:12, “May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.” The rising King David lived with and demonstrated complete faith and certainty in God’s justice, not taking it upon himself to mete it out.

We have that same choice. While it is so easy in our flesh to react or to go public with our grievances, even in self-defense, the wiser choice is to entrust ourselves to our Father in heaven who sees and judges justly. Will this be an easy feat? Absolutely not! But, Jesus is our example. Jesus even said that when He left, He would send His helper, the Counselor, and His Holy Spirit to us (John 16:7-11). That same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is the same Spirit that will allow us to practice the pause and not lash out against our enemies, to those who abuse us, and to our persecutors.

Let’s be like Jesus and entrust ourselves to our heavenly Father who judges justly. Let’s be like Jesus and love our enemies, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them. Though it will not be easy, it will most definitely be worth it. The more like Him we become, the greater we shine for Him.

** If you are in abusive relationship, please seek help and get to safety immediately.

Cultivating the Art of Casting

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“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:6-7

How big are your shoulders? At times, I am convinced mine are larger than a linebacker’s because I feel like it is my duty to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Okay, so maybe not the weight of the entire world but, at the very least, the weight of the world of my people who live under my roof. I mean, it is what moms (parents) are supposed to do, right? Our job is to worry about the people for whom we have been entrusted and thereby responsible for. WRONG!

Maybe not everyone is a mom or a parent, but not so fast, because you don’t have to be a mom or wife or parent or husband to feel entitled to worry. Basically, the only requirement to worry over something is to have a heartbeat. Some people are natural worriers because it’s how they feel they demonstrate “love.” While others would never have labeled themselves as worriers because they have life under control. Control is often fueled by fear. Thus, a direct connection to worry.

Today is the day of letting go and letting God. It is, after all, His responsibility anyway. For as much as we think we love our families more than anyone else ever possibly could, God loves each one of them so much more and so much better and so much more perfectly than we ever could in our own brokenness. As much as we think we have control over our own environments and individual universes, the reality is, quite simply, we do not.

I never would have considered myself a woman prone to worry. However, upon reflection and hindsight being that perfect vision of 20/20, I realize that maybe, perhaps, I was, years ago, a great worrier. Nope, not a great warrior which is so much more desirable and adventurous. Instead, just your every day, ordinary worrier. I only came to this self-diagnosis within the last 18 months, when the Lord and I did some work on past wounding and present healing. It was during that time when the Father graciously showed me how much of life I had been carrying on my own shoulders during my younger years. During these last 18 months, He has taught me the beauty of true release and the art form of surrendering control. Oh, I am nowhere near perfect on this, but I am aware of what it looks like when the tendencies begin again.

When my children were younger, I didn’t see it. My worries and fears manifested as I tried to control their environments as much as it depended on me. Protecting my children was not a bad thing, for it is part of the duty of parenthood. Yet when fear is the underlying factor, it’s time to step forward and take notice. I would worry over the silliest things, though they didn’t seem silly at the time. The firstborn bears the brunt of the overprotectiveness, but by the time you have the fourth one, it is less about protecting and more about worrying. I remember feeling that stirred-up feeling in my gut all the time. I cared so much over what people thought of me and my parenting because I was a young mother. In addition to worrying about my children, I worried about how others perceived me. Oh, the energy I wasted worrying over insignificant things and things beyond my control.

The worrying came to a head when my lastborn was an infant and diagnosed with a potentially blinding disease. Any semblance of control I thought I had was stripped away within seconds. Despite my best efforts to protect my children and prevent the worst things from happening to them, I was powerless. I could not determine the outcome of his disease by my sheer will to do so. Oddly enough, (or not oddly at all because God’s timing is always spot-on), I was fully submerged in a Bible study on faith. Faith is seemingly strong when all is well.

But faith begins to show cracks when pressure is applied if the faith is not deeply rooted. It was during that season of life that God began to change me and change the way I responded to situations and how I prayed. Worrying over my son would not change one thing about the situation, but I loved and served a God who absolutely had all the power and control over my son’s entire life story. God began to pry open my fingers from the death grip I had on fear and worry.

As life continued and I encountered various trials and challenging seasons of life, my tendency to worry and fret would rear its ugly head. Sometimes, I quickly recognized what was happening and other times, well, I admit, I can be a slow learner. Thank God He is a patient and compassionate God and Father. Along the journey of worry and fretting, I lost sleep at night only to realize later that God never sleeps so I can release it to Him because He’s God and He’s got me.

Finally, it felt like I had conquered the fretting. I mistakenly attributed it to being because life was finally as I had anticipated and desired it should be. But, then, along came 2020. I am digressing here for a minute, but one thing I have learned is that just because we find ourselves weak in any area where we thought we previously had victory does not mean we never conquered it. Sometimes, we face it again because we need to strengthen our faith muscles and foster our constant dependence on God in the face of that weakness.

So—back to 2020. Life had been smoothing right along until one of my sons faced a health challenge that was unanticipated and unexpected. All of it occurred prior to the pandemic in our country and before life was shut down. Yet, it was during those few weeks that I found myself back to those old habits of worrying. I just wanted someone to tell me everything was going to be okay yet I knew life didn’t work that way. I had learned this already, hadn’t I? Eventually he was just fine but only after a few nights in the hospital and surgery.

My experience with Jesus through that was priceless. He taught me that things don’t have to be okay or look okay for me to be okay. His shoulders are wide enough to carry all of my burdens, cares, worries, and anxieties. His love is deep enough to hold me steady through whatever storms life may hurl at me. In hindsight, I can see He was preparing me to learn how to cast ALL of my cares on Him prior to COVID. He was gently reminding me that I am not in control because He is, even when life feels like it is spiraling out of control and going completely off the rails. He was preparing my heart to trust Him when times are uncertain and the unexpected becomes the norm.

Life is about to change yet again, with kids returning to school, with one daughter married and beginning her career, and the other heading to college. After this school year, all but one will have flown the nest. My role is changing, our world is changing, but God is not changing. Daily, the news threatens to put one in a tailspin if we let it. I can look at the calendar for the week and make my plans, while also looking three or six months ahead and feeling myself to start to fret. But in this new rhythm of life, God reminds me of something. He tells me to cast my anxieties on Him just like a fisherman casts his net into the sea. He wants us to place them all on His shoulders because He cares. It’s easy to feel like no one cares about the invisible loads we carry, but Jesus cares. He cares so much that He wants to lift it right off of our backs and place them on His own.

In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter reminds us that it takes humility before we cast our anxieties on Jesus. We need to humble ourselves before the throne of grace, acknowledging our weaknesses and need for Him. It’s a whole lot easier to slide those burdens off our shoulders when we are already bowed down on our knees before Him. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know the God who does. When we feel ourselves begin to fret and worry, may we feel the quiet whisper of Jesus in our ears telling us, “Cast it all on me because I care.”

Blessings!

Mindfully Creating A Legacy

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“LORD, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future.” Psalm 16:5

Yesterday I attended the celebration of life of a man who I only had personally met a handful of times but felt I knew through his beloved wife. Laughter and tears walked a delicate tightrope amongst the attendees. Funny stories intermingled with testimonies of a man who was dearly loved by all and whose character and humility we would do well to emulate.

Two different pastors spoke about the man we had gathered to simultaneously mourn and celebrate. What a legacy this gentle soul left behind, yet all the while his life pointed others to look up. His faith and his family were the jewels in his crown and his reason for living. There’s just something about funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life. They make me want to slow down, to truly embrace the moments of right now. Yet, at the same time, my thoughts inevitably drift to the question: “What do I want my legacy to be?”

I will never be famous and impact or influence the millions with any favorable skills or talents. My “glory days,” so to speak, are behind me. With the Olympics in full swing, contemplating my legacy is timely. Watching these athletes compete and achieve what they have trained to do for the majority of their lives is awe-inspiring. I will never be an Olympic gold medalist, or silver or bronze. I let go of those dreams when I was about 12 years old, give or take a year or two. But I can still leave a legacy. The question is, “What do I want it to be?”

We all seem to so badly want to leave our mark here on this planet, to live in such a way that people remember we were here and that we existed. What if, instead of making it about ourselves, we began to ask the question, “What is the legacy Jesus wants to leave through me?” It’s a drastic mindset shift. But oh how powerfully and selflessly we would begin to live if we did so. At the end of my days, I want people to remember me first and foremost as a woman who loved Jesus with all of her being, even though I never fully got it quite right. I want my life to be lived in such a way that people were able to see Jesus and desire Him.

However, that’s not going to just miraculously happen when I have gone to be with Jesus in my eternal home. Intentional living right now is the key to achieving the legacy Jesus wants to leave through me. The psalmist, David, says in Psalm 16:5, “LORD, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future.” Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with the legacy we leave behind. Everything!

David knew three things that, when applied to how we live, would alter the legacies we leave behind us. David knew that 1) the Lord was his portion, meaning that He was certain that the Lord was his inheritance and his allotment. David believed that when God was his portion, he didn’t need anything else. David understood that his inheritance was not tangible in the earthly realm. His inheritance was found in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus is our inheritance, too, if we have trusted Him as Lord and Savior. The only inheritance that matters is not a what but rather a Who. What would it look like for you today to begin living with the awareness that the Lord is your portion and your inheritance? Would it alter how you live in the moment?

David also knew that 2) the Lord was his cup of blessing. What we live for is often determined by what we think will satisfy us. So many of run around with our cups either half empty or half full, depending on your perspective, and we are constantly trying to fill them up with things we mistakenly think will satisfy us. For some people, it is holding out your cup and asking for someone else to fill it, whether a spouse, a child, a romantic relationship, or a friendship. Friend, no one else can fill the cup that only Jesus Himself was meant to fill.

For others, you are looking to fill your cup with popularity, success, recognition, achievement, or social media likes. And for others, you’re attempting to stuff you cup full of things like money, houses, fancy cars, vacation homes, or any other form of materialist things. Yet none of those ultimately will provide satisfaction and true fulfillment.

When all is said and done, only Jesus can perfectly fill up our cups. We waste time and energy frantically trying to fill up a cup while Jesus is patiently waiting for us to offer our cups to Him. And, when we do, it is a cup of blessing. He is the blessing. What if today we allowed Him to fill up our cups and we let other people off the hook? How would that look for you?

Finally, David knew that 3) the Lord held his future. In some ways, this one may pose the toughest challenge for all of us. We want to have control, especially over how things will turn out. But we have no control. We cannot control our tomorrows or what will happen in them. David knew that his eternal future was secure with the Lord. That certainty was all he needed. His eternity was found in Christ. The Lord also holds our futures. If you are His child, then your eternity is secure in Him and nothing that could ever happen here on earth can take that away from you.

It’s an upside-down way of living because it’s not about us. A legacy is created in the everyday moments of life. Dale, that humble gentleman whose service I attended, knew this. He wanted his life to point people to Jesus even after he went to be with him. And it did. He was described as a generous man and as a kind man who would do anything for anyone. Only a man who was certain that the Lord was his portion, that the Lord was his cup of blessing, and that the Lord held his future would be able to do that.

I pray today that as you contemplate what legacy you are creating, that you allow Jesus to be your portion, to fill your cup, and to hold your future.

Blessings!

Shining Stars

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“And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

This little light of mine/I'm going to let it shine.
This little light of mine/I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine/Let it shine/Let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel-No!/I'm going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel-No!/I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine/Let it shine/Let it shine.

Don't let Satan blow it out/I'm going to let it shine.
Don't let Satan blow it out/I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine/Let it shine/Let it shine.

Many years have passed since I have sung that little song in Sunday school. Oh, I probably don’t have the lyrics quite right or they have shifted over the years. Yet the concept, the message, remains the same. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, lives in me and wants His light to shine brightly through me. The message seemed so much simpler to a 5-year-old rather than a 40-year-old. And honestly, wasn’t the world a little less dark 35 years ago?

Perhaps it was all in the perspective. Young children have a much smaller scope, frame of reference, and view of the world. Adults, by sheer math, have lived more life. Our perspectives are shaped by our experiences with the world around us and our responses and reactions to them. Maybe the world 35 years ago was equally as dark as it is now, and I was merely shielded and protected from it then. But I don’t think so. Over the last decade, it seems like darkness hovers a bit nearer. In the last 12-18 months, it has amplified. The world is growing darker and more sinful. Evil has felt more present and ever lurking in the shadows…emerging from the shadows really.

While I was running the other day, I was pondering the evil in the world and realized that it should not be a surprise to believers. Paul warned Timothy of this exact thing in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. Here are a few words he used to describe people in the last days: “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive…ungrateful, unholy, heartless…slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Jesus also told His disciples of signs of the end of the age in Matthew 24:3-14. In verse 12, He specifically told them, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” How familiar does this sound! It appears very much like the world in which I awaken daily.

You may be thinking, “Yes, but what does this mean for me, as a follower of Christ?” Great question, and our response is found in that old Sunday school song. This little light of mine/I’m going to let it shine. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus calls His followers “the light of the world.” We are to let our lights shine before others because our shining light is from His Holy Spirit within us. This light points people to God, and we give Him the glory. In Daniel 12:3, we learn that we shine like bright stars in the sky when we share the Gospel and people come to know and accept Christ as Savior.

In our current climate and culture, we can be tempted to hide our lights under a bushel, to allow our lights to be less like stars and more like fireflies, flashing on and off, growing dimmer as morning approaches. Just like the little Sunday school song says, “Hide it under a bushel–NO!” When we are most tempted to hide it and to dim it, that is exactly when we need to shine the brightest.

It seems like lately it is really easy to say the wrong thing. Most days, I just want to keep my mouth closed and my head down, avoid eye contact, and stay in my own lane. And pray really hard for the return of Christ. But…that’s not shining my light very well. Or at all. Not only does the light of Jesus reside within me, but I also have a hope and a secure eternal destination. My responsibility is to share it, to shine it.

What I say is not as important as how I live. Am I living my life in such a way that people see a light, a joy, a hope, and a peace within me? Am I willing to share that hope with others? To offer them the light? People watch how we live, how we interact with others, how we respond to adversity, how we react to being wronged, and how we handle when we are wrong. Does what they see in me align with the light of Christ? Am I reflecting Him in all of those circumstances?

Once people begin to see our shining lights, they may be willing to hear what we have to say. It has been said by many and in many ways that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The same concept applies to our testimony. If the Jesus we are representing with our lives is one who is cold, bitter, unforgiving, angry, resentful, rude, selfish, or unkind, then people aren’t going to want to meet Him and know Him for themselves.

Our mission is so much greater than ourselves. The mission has never changed: Go into all the world and make disciples (see Matt. 28:19-20). Our light is our testimony. Share the gospel story. We, collectively as the capital “C” church, are the light of the world. As we fulfill our mission, the light grows brighter because each person that accepts Christ then has their light turned on. Let’s stop hiding our lights in the name of political correctness. Let’s stop hiding our lights in the name of popularity. Let’s shine brightly for Jesus. We have the beautiful gift of today each morning when we open our eyes. We can choose daily to let our lights shine before others.

Making minor concessions can be so simple in our culture. And before we know it, our lights have grown dim. Satan’s goal is to blow out our lights completely. Let’s join forces and encourage each other to shine brightly together. My name is Dawn. My name literally means, “the first appearance of daylight, daybreak.” Every time someone calls me by name, I am reminded that I am called to be light. I am literally called light. How about you? What can you use a conscious reminder to shine with the light of Jesus today?

I am praying for you, that you stand firm against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, that your faith be strong, and your light be bright.

Blessings!

Hope Heartens

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“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” Romans 16:20

Do you ever feel like you just need a win? Like today would be the perfect day for something good to happen or even experience a minor victory? Me too! When we were growing up, they were too busy telling us life is not fair to remember to tell us life is hard. And it feels like the wrong team continues to win. I recently had a similar conversation with my teenage son about how it often feels like those who live sinful lifestyles seem to never get caught and life appears to be good for them. But, as I told him, in Psalm 37:7 we read, “Do not be agitated by the one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans” because “evildoers will be destroyed” (v.9). We have to stay the course and continue to do what we know honors the Lord even if when it feels like everything around us is going backwards while the sinful flourish.

The peace and prosperity gospel has been bought by American culture, but, newsflash, it is contrary to what we find in God’s Word. 1 Peter 4:12-13 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (ESV). Only one of Jesus’ disciples lived to reach an old age (John the beloved), while the others were all martyred for the gospel. John the Baptizer, and the cousin of Jesus, was beheaded. As believers in Christ, we are not immune to sufferings, bad days, heartaches, heartbreaks, and painful events in our lives. Yet our response should not be one of surprise and should not reflect the world around us. In fact, how we respond to such sufferings, trials, and challenges should spark questions from the unbelieving world around us.

“Why?” seems to be the initial response when hardships come–to believers and nonbelievers alike. It is easy to forget that there is more at play around us when life feels overwhelming. We get tunnel vision and lose sight that there may be something greater going on in the heavenlies around us and become hyper-focused on ourselves, our situations, and our needs and challenges. I am guilty of it. But God is so faithful and so gracious, kind, and loving. He never loses sight of where we each are as individuals while also maintaining His greater purposes and plans. God is beyond the constraints of time.

Spiritual warfare is raging all around us. The enemy of our souls knows that his time is drawing short. He knows he has lost the final war and so he is desperately stirring up as many battles as he can in an attempt to take out as many with him as he possibly can. His coming demise dates all the way back to the garden. In Genesis 3:15, God tells Satan exactly what will happen to him: “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Jesus put the nail in his coffin when He died on the cross and conquered death and the grave. And the time of his ultimate demise draws ever nearer. He is desperate and he wants to prevent as many as he can from coming to Christ by enticing them into sinful choices and selfishness. He wants to derail the believers from fulfilling their God-given purposes and try to make them fall into sin, (but not losing their salvation as we know are sealed by the Holy Spirit at the time of our salvation).

Praise God, He does not leave us defenseless in this onslaught of Satan. In Ephesians 6:10-18, we read of how we are strengthened by God’s might and outfitted with His battle armor: the belt of truth, the armor of righteousness over the chest, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word). And then Paul says to pray at all times, in every situation, and remain alert in it. God has provided everything we need to fight the spiritual battles around us and He goes with us into battle. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can stand firm! Satan does not need to have one more moment of victory over us and we need not live one more second in a cycle of defeat. God in Christ Jesus is victorious.

When we are having those moments, or seasons, when life feels harder than it should and everyone else seems to be winning, remember that Jesus Himself said, “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). No longer do we need to be surprised or caught off guard by our trials, disappointments, challenges, or sufferings because we have hope. In this world of bleak and dismal news, we can cling to the hope that the God of peace will soon crush Satan.

God is faithful to fulfill His promises, for He keeps every single one–always has and always will. I love that Paul referenced God’s peace as he describes the coming defeat of Satan. God brings us peace and healing in the midst of a world gone awry. Everything around us can feel so out of control but God is still in control. And He offers us His peace and His deliverance from the enemy of our souls. Lean into His hope, His peace, and His strength today. He will gird us up for battle and will hold us up when we feel like toppling over. Because our God is victorious, so are we!

Be blessed!

“Who’s Distracted?!

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“But Martha was distracted with much serving.” Luke 10:40

Martha makes an easy target in this story of the two sisters from Bethany. We esteem Mary for choosing the better way and making the right choice. Every time I read the account of the sisters in Luke 10:38-42 (go ahead and flip there to read it—it is a quick trip that is very much worth it), I feel like I can hear Martha’s tone of voice. I imagine her doing her work in the kitchen, preparing to feed her guests. With each plate she yanked from the cupboard and each pot she slammed on the stove, I expect the noises coming from the kitchen were increasing in volume. I bet she was sighing loudly with exaggerated facial expressions. I can hear her mumbling under her breath until finally she couldn’t take it.

She ran to Jesus—Jesus, the Messiah—and demanded He tell her sister to help her, after questioning if He even cared that she had been left all by her lonesome to do the work. In my mind, I have kind of dubbed her the tattletale. And from where I sit, it is easy to judge her for her choice. I mean, hello! Jesus, the Son of God, is chilling in your living room and you’re too busy to enjoy His presence? In their culture where women were devalued, ignored, and overlooked, the King of Kings tore down all the social norms and welcomed women under His tutelage. And yet here is our Martha running around, frantically trying to ensure all the work was done. While the best choice was the exact opposite of busyness. The better choice was to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him. No time devoted to enjoying His presence will ever go to waste or be for naught.

In the town of Bethany in Jesus’ days, there was no social media. Netflix wasn’t an option. Facebook didn’t steal hours on end of mindless scrolling. Martha wasn’t staging her kitchen to feature as her latest Instagram post. Mary wasn’t taking selfies with Jesus to post on her Snapchat stories. The sisters didn’t have to set the schedule for the church nursery, divide the children’s curriculum, plan the worship set, or fix dinner for the family down the street who just had a baby. But they were presented with the opportunity to spend time in the presence of Jesus, just like you and just like me. Martha was described as being distracted by much serving. Another version says it this way: “But Martha was distracted by her many tasks” (HCSB). Many tasks. I could make a list right now of the many tasks I need to complete. I bet you can too. The longer the list, the more frustrating it can feel. And the more overwhelming it can become.

I have spent a lot of time lately reading and re-reading this story of Mary and Martha. I kept coming back to this idea of distractions. I looked up synonyms for distractions and found them to be both positive and negative. Some of the ones with a negative connotation were interruptions, disruptions, commotions, disturbances, and interferences. Some of the ones that were positive in nature were entertainments, hobbies, pastimes, and amusements. Martha was distracted by much serving and many tasks. These things weren’t necessarily bad things–but they were interferences, disturbances, and disruptions. And what was it she was distracted from? Martha was distracted by her good works, by her serving, by her many tasks from hanging out with Jesus. She missed the point. Jesus told her in all love and gentleness, “Martha, Martha (can’t you hear the tenderness in His tone?), you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Intimacy with Jesus cannot be taken from us either. Any time we spend sitting at the feet of Jesus, soaking up His presence, being saturated in His word, will result in something that cannot be taken away from us. In this world of temporary, materialistic things, time with Jesus and drawing near to Him will have eternal significance. We are distracted by so many things in our culture. Minutes and hours are lost to distractions and all for what?

What is distracting me today from the good portion, the better choice of spending time with Jesus? Once we taste and see that the Lord is good, then nothing else will satisfy. Our distractions often spill over and affect those around us, just like Martha’s growing irritation with Mary. Are we too distracted by our serving, by our to-do lists, by our Facebook feed, by Snapchat, by phone calls, by texts, by our amusements, by our hobbies, by our entertainments that we miss the blessing of engaging with the person physically standing right in front of us? I have caught myself distracted too many times lately. I don’t want to be distracted anymore by the lesser things, by the things that won’t matter in a week, a month, or next year.

Gretchen Saffles said it this way in her book The Well-Watered Woman:“Jesus modeled for us the ministry of eye contact and presence…When Jesus taught people and spent time with them, he looked at them and gave them his full presence and attention. He wasn’t distracted with ‘more important’ things.” Jesus was fully engaged in the present moment.

Jesus is always always always our example to follow, no matter what. Today, let’s commit to examining our lives and our hearts to see where we have been distracted by the good instead of giving Jesus and others our best. If we have found ourselves distracted by many things, we don’t have to keep living distracted. God’s mercies and faithfulness to us are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22). Jesus desires for us to seek Him and to spend time with Him. He delights in us delighting in Him. And once we have our souls satisfied in Him, then we can choose to imitate Jesus and offer others the gift of eye contact and presence. In a culture that thrives on activity, busyness, and productivity, let’s take a step back and choose to not be distracted by lesser things. Let’s be different. Let’s be like Jesus!

Shaking Off Shackles

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“For I will now break off his yoke from you and tear off your shackles.” Nahum 1:13

“Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” John 8:36

I do some of my best thinking when I am pounding the pavement on a long run. It’s that time where all of the thoughts that zig zag through my brain become a little easier to snag and process. And so it was for me again recently on a run that I was thinking about the concept of Jesus Christ coming to save sinners and to set us free. How I have longed to be free from some things in my life, yet I have continued to live in a cycle of defeat. I asked Jesus why I so easily remained bound up to old things, to former behaviors, to detrimental thought patterns, and to lies I believe about myself. Where was the freedom in Christ? I want to be free from caring what others think of me. I want to be free from past regret and shame. I want to be free from who others expect me to be. I want to be free from a past that is less than pristine. I want to be free from the guilt of all the mistakes I have made as a parent. And the list could go on and on. I’m sure you, too, could answer the question, “What do you desire to be free from?”

We are promised that who Jesus sets free is free indeed. Obviously, it was not Christ’s desire for us to remain bound. He paid a high price for us be free; He bled and died for our freedom. As I ran, I wondered to Jesus why it was, then, that we so frequently live like we are still in chains. Jesus has fully redeemed me–all of my past, present, and future sins. Yet here I am, walking around with shackles on my wrists. Then the strangest thought popped into my head. My shackles have been unlocked yet I am still wearing them. What prisoner that has been loosed from his bonds continues to keep on the handcuffs day after day? I dare say not too many, if any at all.

Yet isn’t that what we do? We accept the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus and allow Him to unlock our shackles, but we hesitate to allow Him to fully remove them from our wrists. We have grown comfortable with them and perhaps we are unsure what to do were they to fall away from our wrists. We, as humans, tend to revert back to what is comfortable and to what we know. We know bondage to our feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. We struggle to envision a life without them, and we refuse to consider what true freedom feels like because deep down we don’t believe we deserve that freedom. Instead, we run around in our busy lives with our unlocked shackles dangling from our wrists, accidentally banging people with them and hurting relationships and ourselves because we don’t know any differently. And, even more so, we are afraid to trust God and to believe Him when He says that we are truly free. We cannot imagine what true freedom feels like because we have been bound up for so long, and we have grown scared to be released from them.

In my life, I have leapt at the opportunity to be free. I believe Jesus for His freedom–in the beginning. But then, old nagging thoughts and fears haunt me. They whisper lies that make me question whether or not I really should feel ashamed and guilty, or redeemed, forgiven, adopted, and chosen. Slowly, a little at a time, I begin to slide my hands back inside the shackles. Before I know it, I am running around again with unlocked shackles all the while singing of the freedom I have in Christ. When did the shackles become safe for me? When did I begin to use those as a shield rather than the name of Jesus? We believe that there is safety and security in what we know. Hasn’t it been said at some point that the enemy you know is better than the one you don’t? And we live our lives in bondage, without recognizing what it has cost us.

The apostle Paul was aware of the temptation to pick back up our shackles. In Galatians 5:1, Paul wrote, “Christ has liberated to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” He warned us that, without deliberate attention, we would become enslaved again. “Stand firm”, he says. Let’s not make ourselves susceptible to becoming prisoners again.

How do we stand firm in freedom and not get caught up in the cycle of defeat?

  • Know the truth. John 8:32 says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The only way to know truth is to be in God’s Word. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). We get to know Jesus by being in the Word of God. God’s Word is truth. Unless we are in it, then we will not know it.
  • Believe the truth. Every day we have a choice to make. We can choose to believe the lies the enemy tries to sell us, or we can choose to believe what God has to say about the matter. To believe God is not a one-time-for-all sort of thing. Yes, we believe on Him for our eternal salvation but we daily make the choice to believe Him and what He says about us.
  • Identify areas of greatest susceptibility. We all have them, our default settings that automatically grab up the shackles and put them back on. We need to no longer be ignorant of what they are in order to best arm ourselves with the truth.
  • Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Pray. When we seek God, we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13). Remember, it was for freedom that Christ set us free. He is our rescue. When we feel the pull to grab the shackles, remember that Jesus has ripped off our shackles and beckons us to come to Him. When we are weak, Jesus’ power is made perfect, and He is more than sufficient to tear off the shackles with finality. When we ask Him to reveal to us where we are in bondage, He will faithfully show us. His desire is for His children to be free and to experience the free and abundant life He offers us.

When I run around wearing my unlocked chains, all I do is look foolish. Do I benefit from reverting to old feelings of shame, of guilt, of being unworthy, of feeling unlovable? Absolutely not! And neither do you, whatever your shackles represent. I think we tend to forget that just because we used to be one way doesn’t mean that we always have to be that way. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we finally shake off the shackles , we are released to experience a freedom far greater than anything our minds could imagine. Go ahead today and shake out your wrists from them and embrace your freedom!

My Escape

“Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me.” Psalm 139:7-10

Where are you today? Fascinatingly enough, this was the first recorded question from the mouth of God found in Scripture. Adam and Eve had sinned, and they hid from God. Of course God knew exactly where they were but He wanted to expose the true reason behind why they were hiding. We can get so busy with life that we forget to press pause and evaluate where we are and why we are in that space in that particular season.

Personally, my favorite escape is to the ocean. It calms and quiets my soul and reminds me to behold the master Creator. It reminds me that regardless of where I am, He is big enough and strong enough and powerful enough to handle my circumstances. It refocuses me on what God’s purposes are for my life. And, it is relaxing. However, because of where I live, my second-best escape is to the mountains. As my car drives further up the mountain, the pressures and stresses of life begin to ease from my shoulders and mind. Quiet reigns up in those mountains. Natural beauty abounds. Wildlife roam freely in their natural habitats. I love it. The views are breathtaking. Again, this escape clears my head of the noise and I can sit and soak up the presence of God.

The concept of escaping can be a running from something or someone as well running towards something or someone. Adam and Eve felt ashamed, thus compelling them to run from, to escape the presence of God–or so they thought. Sin can be like that in our lives too. Our sin, our shame, and even our ghosts can haunt us to the point of searching for an escape. When that happens, our tendency can be to fill our lives with noise and activity so that we don’t have to confront them or confess them. We think we can outrun God and escape Him, forgetting that He loves us and wants to bring beauty from the ashes of the fires we ourselves set ablaze. In those moments, we lose sight of the loving-kindness, goodness, and grace of God. Sure, there can be natural consequences of our sins but Jesus already paid the ultimate penalty for them, and He awaits our running towards Him with His arms outstretched towards us, offering us a place of forgiveness and rest. And He will carry us through the consequences.

Still, those other moments exist. The ones where life feels overwhelming and we feel like we cannot handle or take one more thing. These times are not a result of sin in our lives, but simply are the by-product of certain stages of living. The pressures mount and all we want to do is escape for a little while. We don’t care where or how, just this urgency to escape, for an hour, a day, a week, and maybe even months. What do we do in those times? I know I have cried out to God in moments like those asking Him, “Where are YOU? Do You not see me? What do I do now?” I think that is the beginning of the answer. Our escape is truly cathartic, healing, and restful when we begin to see Jesus as our way of escape, when we begin to run towards Him in both our stresses and our sins.

The reality is we cannot escape the presence of God. He is omnipresent and omniscient, meaning He is everywhere and all-knowing. He knows our thoughts. He knows why we are escaping. He knows when we are angry at Him. And He wants to be our escape. David wrote Psalm 139 and penned the words, “Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee Your presence?” Sounds to me like he was writing this from personal experience. We cannot outrun God. And really, why do we want to? Whether we are hiding in sin and shame or running on fumes because life has beaten us down, He wants to become our escape. In Matthew 11:28, He said the most beautiful words, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Years ago, I ran from God. By His grace, He chased me and never let me escape Him, even when I didn’t want to hear what He was saying to me. I kept running (no wonder I am so good at running!) and He kept following me. Until I stopped and turned towards Him. I didn’t necessarily like being confronted with my sins, but as I was on my knees, broken before Him, He lifted up head to look at Him. Every single sin, every single moment of shame and regret, He bore in His body on the cross of Calvary to set me free. I didn’t have to keep running–the only place left to run, to escape, was into His arms.

As I escaped into the mountains for some much-needed recharging and refreshing, I was most excited because I realized that Jesus had become my great escape. I was traveling into the mountains to get alone on the mountaintop to pray. Every step of the hike, I poured out my heart to Him and I listened for His whispered reply. Jesus provided the mountains to me as His escape for me, His gift. As I returned home that day, my heart felt much lighter, my soul was refreshed, and I knew that without a doubt, Jesus had become my escape, and I was now running towards Him. It all began with a single step towards Him and a heart willing to be vulnerable in His presence.

Is Jesus your escape today? If so, pause to praise Him and reflect on how far He has brought you. If not, stop running, turn around, and behold the waiting arms of Jesus. I promise you He is trustworthy and He is the only true escape!

An Unchanging God

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“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been in my life! Major life changes and celebrations. We have cheered my daughter on as she walked across the stage at her college graduation and witnessed her sacred wedding vows and marriage covenant all within a matter of days. Being a fairly reflective person, I have savored the moments and tried to enjoy them while holding onto them, all the while wondering at how fleeting life is and how quickly the days pass into weeks, months, and years.

Was it not just yesterday when I was a little girl with my blonde hair blowing in the wind as I toddled into waves on the Georgia coast? Was it not just yesterday as an adolescent that I confided in my journal all my hopes and dreams? Was it not just yesterday that I held my child as a newborn nestled against my chest? Was it not just yesterday that she took her first steps and said her first words? Was it not just yesterday when I watched her blossom from a girl into a young woman? Did she not just graduate high school, holding the world in her hands? Somehow, half a lifetime has passed in what seems like a matter of moments. And everything changes.

I now have a son-in-law. What a strange and beautiful thought! I grew up watching my grandmother love my father like one of her own sons, and now I recognize the blessing she bestowed upon me by that and the lesson she taught me on how to love as one of my own sons this man who my daughter married. When you choose to have a large family, you don’t realize at the time that one day, your family will continue to multiply in size with your heart right alongside it. Son-in-law–it sounds so official and makes me feel so old.

God reminded me of what the prophet Isaiah penned in Isaiah 46:4, “I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear you and save you.” Growing older is a gift. I can glance back through the years at my life and see the fingerprints of God along the way. There is much I would choose to do differently and more than once I have wished for a do-over. Alas, this is not the way of God. Every experience in my life, if surrendered to God, He can redeem and restore and use for fulfilling the purposes He has ordained for my life. God has never abandoned nor forsaken me, nor will He. What a testimony of His goodness and what a Savior! I love the comfort in the promise that He will be the same in my old age, and He will be my strength as I grow older.

This morning I was reading the praise, blessing, and prayer of King Solomon at the temple dedication in 2 Chronicles 6. Repeatedly, King Solomon expressed to God how He kept what He had promised. It struck me as I was reading it–God is faithful to keep His promises. It is a truth I know in my mind and could claim without thinking of the impact and power of what it actually means. King Solomon recounted the various times and ways in which God had kept the promises He gave to his father, David. “So Yahweh has fulfilled what He has promised” (v.10). No one on earth will ever fulfill or keep every promise they ever made. We are faulted and flawed humans. But the God of the Bible, the God Solomon praised for keeping His promises, He is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow and all of our tomorrows. Jesus fulfills His promises to us. He will carry us as we journey through every season and struggle of life. He will not leave us to our own devices. He will be our shield, our refuge, our safe haven, our salvation, our friend, our brother, our protector. He will “soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

Some seasons of life feel like change is constant. Right now, in my life, I am trying to navigate changing relationships with adult children while also guiding the ones still at home. As they become more independent and step into what God has designed for them, it has left me wondering at what’s next for me. More than ever, I needed to read the words of King Solomon that Yahweh fulfilled what He had promised. I need to cling to and believe that God still has a plan for me, even as I grow older and step into the next seasons and stages of my life. As things shift, roles adapt, and we often wrestle with how we fit into the new cycles and versions of life around us. There are moments when it can feel like we have become obsolete. Perhaps that is when we most need the reminder that Jesus carried us to this point and He will keep His promises. God’s faithfulness knows no bounds. He is not limited in His faithfulness capacity. With every shifting season of life, I pray that I am growing upwards towards Him. We need to adjust our perspective on aging. Each day I live is one day closer to being in the presence of my Savior and my best friend.

Until that day comes for each of us, let’s treasure the gift of today and do something that will matter in eternity. Testify to the gospel of God’s grace. Only you, and only I, know the faithfulness God has manifested in our own individual lives. Share it–for you and I never could expect who needs to hear our stories and the accounts of God’s great faithfulness and unchanging nature. Jesus Christ is, in fact, the same yesterday, today, and forever, just as He has said in His Word. Anchor down in that truth today and trust Him. Spread the good news!

Blessings!