Another Chance…

My reading yesterday included the following verses:

Luke 13:6-9: Then Jesus used this illustration: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s taking up space we could use for something else.’ The gardener answered, ‘Give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, you can cut it down.'”

Special attention sounds nice, doesn’t it? But, my guess is that special attention included a whole lot of pruning, or cutting away dead branches to enhance fruitfulness and growth. The truth is, when we experience this type of pruning in our own lives, it can feel miserable. Why do I have to give up this relationship? This habit? This pursuit? But, God is a loving gardener and has a way of showing us that He is a God of second chances.

Are you blooming currently where you are planted? Are you currently producing fruit? If you were to die next week (not that any of us want to think about that), what are you doing today that would have an eternal impact? Are you investing in the lives of others? Are you storing up wealth on earth or treasure in heaven? Sometimes I get so caught up in the rat-race of everyday living that I feel like I’m majoring in the minor and minoring in the major. I’ve been so focused on work that I’m neglecting to really see people.

You can tell a lot about others when you witness their response to hardship. Is what comes out the fruit of the Spirit? Or does the ugliness of what’s in the heart bubble to the surface? If God is pruning, cutting, refining… know that He loves you. He’s giving you another opportunity. His desire is that these refining moments would help you shine His light to others, that the yuck would be trimmed away and what was left would be a thing of beauty and grace.

Dear God, sometimes this whole pruning thing feels downright awful. But, we trust You. We know that You love us, that You are for us, that You have our best in mind. We also realize You see the whole picture of what we need to look like or what needs to be trimmed so that we can properly bear the kind of fruit You have in mind. Help us cling to You when we feel like we’re suffering from Your refining. Please plant us where we won’t be moved or worse, cut down altogether. May we be the people You had in mind when You formed us. Be near us today and fertilize our hearts and minds with Your word. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Here is a song that came on the radio as I was driving to school, and it’s an old favorite. ENJOY! “He’s making diamonds, diamonds, diamonds out of dust… He is refining, in His timing, He’s making diamonds out of dust, He’s making diamonds out of us…”

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Lessons from the Hard Times…

My progression of reading the Bible brought me to Job at the same time I was having ankle surgery. The timing was more than coincidental. I was reminded that God does not bring calamity into our lives – Satan is looking to accuse, steal and destroy our lives while God seeks to bring life abundant (John 10:10). Job wasn’t to blame for the hardships he experienced (which were FAR worse than mine, as he lost kids, all his wealth and his health!). But, God wasn’t to blame either…

On the other hand, we know that God is all-powerful. He gave the authority or okay to Satan to bring the calamity on Job, noting that Satan was not to kill him. So, when hard times come, we ask, “God, why did you allow this?” I’ve asked it with my ankle. Did God cause me to fall? Absolutely not! But, I have questioned, “God, I believe You are the Healer, so why did it not heal right away and why did I need surgery six months later?” I’m tired of feeling crippled and useless. I’m tired of not being able to run. I’m tired of feeling like I’m more of a burden to my family than a blessing…

Then I came to the following verses: “But God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in bed. He whispers in their ear and terrifies them with His warning. He causes them to change their minds; He keeps them from pride. He keeps them from the grave, from crossing over the river of death. Or, God disciplines people with sickness and pain, with ceaseless aching in their bones.” Job 33:14-17.

The first verse I remember blogging about before, after having a terrible nightmare when we arrived in Michigan and reading the verse. I vividly remember the warning. But, I didn’t remember reading verse 17 before, or it didn’t stick out to me until now. God disciplines people with sickness and pain, and with aching bones! Yes, indeed, I need God’s discipline. It’s easy to become selfish and proud. It’s easy to get swept up in daily to-do lists and forget to love others, to help the needy, to stand up for injustice, to do what’s right. Unlike Job, I’m not sure God would think I lead a “blameless” life. He is still refining me, and His discipline is something I need and even desire. So, perhaps it comes in the form of injury, as it’s in the hard times that we really listen.

Later, Job 36:21, a young man named Elihu is still speaking (and I love that he said he waited to speak until the older, wiser fellows were finished, that he couldn’t contain his thoughts because he felt as he needed to say them, and that intelligence really comes from God’s Spirit and breath of the Almighty inside us), and he says “Be on guard! Turn back from evil, for it was to prevent you from a life of evil that God sent this suffering.”

What a thought – that hard times come into our life to prevent us from a lifetime of evil and suffering. That God loves us enough to allow difficulties to come so we turn away from what is wrong, that God is gracious in allowing us to go through seemingly awful circumstances for our discipline and for our ultimate good. When God doesn’t answer our prayer to live a happy, perfect life, it’s because He loves us far too much to let us be ‘spoiled brats’ who have never been refined in the fire. The bumps in the road, the bruises,  the broken bones, the tears and frustrations help shape our character and make us who we are. We can allow them to move us to despair or we can use them to help us move toward being better. We can accept hard times as discipline and seek life lessons to keep us from a life of evil… or not.

I read yesterday (being Good Friday) a friend’s post that says “Good Friday” was and is a dark time, a hard time (even though it’s ‘good’ it’s not fun!). Jesus was tortured, suffered greatly, and was nailed to a cross to die. His friends watched in horror and wept bitterly; their hope was gone. We, too, can experience times of suffering (that feel like torture!) or times of grieving and sadness, where hope seems to be lost. But, we need to remember the story didn’t end on the cross. On the third day, Jesus rose! He conquered death and opened  the gates of heaven for believers. The ground is shaking, the earth is rumbling, breakthrough is about to happen!!! God cares, God is able, and He is far bigger than ANY circumstance. He can heal, He can bring about victory, and if He allows hard times to come for our good, He also brings about restoration and grace…and more!

Job’s life was restored. Jesus greeted His followers with the good news that He was alive. In our own lives and circumstances, we can recognize that SUNDAY is not too far away…

Father God, we thank You that You love us. You created us and You have mercy on us, even when we don’t deserve it. We thank You for who You are. We recognize Your greatness, Your power and Your goodness. We thank You for the hard times, even the darkest times. We thank You that You are refining us and showing us a better way. We thank You that you love us enough to discipline us. Thank You for not allowing us to stay still but continually helping us grow and mature. Father God, please open our eyes, ears and hearts to learn the lessons You have for us. Give us courage, wisdom and obedience to follow Your direction. Please give us humility and grace to respond when and where You call us. And God, we ask for SUNDAY! We ask for healing (for my ankle and for anyone reading this) and for hope and for restoration. We ask for the good times that follow…may we learn from the hard times and look forward to the GREAT times ahead. Thank You for SUNDAY! Thank You for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thank You for the hope that brings. Thank You for Jesus’ blood for our sins. We ask that He would restore us to You. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Humility & Success

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 2:14

I have been reading through both books of Chronicles over the past several days, and I keep seeing two themes emerging over and over again. The first is that God grants success to His people. “And David became more and more powerful because the Lord Almighty was with him” (1 Chronicles 11:9); “So the Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (1 Chronicles 18:6b). About Uzziah: “…and as long as the king sought the Lord, God gave him success…His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord helped him wonderfully until he became very powerful” (2 Chronicles 26:5b,15b). And later, “Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful” (2 Chronicles 31:21b); “Hezekiah was very wealthy and held in high esteem…for God had given him great wealth…And so he succeeded in everything he did” (2 Chronicles 32:7a,29b,30b). There are a number of accounts of those who chose to trust God, seek Him wholeheartedly and rely on His strength; and they had great success in life because God was with them, blessed them and acted on their behalf.

In my own life, there are many times that I have prayed and seen God work on my behalf. I truly think our successes are due to His gifts (even the skills and abilities we have are from Him!) and His blessing in our lives.

So, it’s somewhat troubling to see the next theme that has emerged…the need for humility. Sadly when we start seeing success in our lives, it’s easy to let that sneaky sin of pride get rooted into our hearts. We listen to the lies that it’s our own hard work, our own skills that we’ve made good use of, or our own “good luck” and neglect to praise God for the blessings He has given us. The words HUMBLE and HUMILITY have come up over and over and over again:

“When the Lord saw their change of heart, he gave this message to Shemaiah: ‘Since the people have humbled themselves, I will not completely destroy them and will soon give them some relief.'” (2 Chronicles 12:7a).

“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all His warnings. So the Lord sent Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner. They put a ring through his nose, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and cried out humbly to the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request for help. So the Lord let Manasseh return to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Manasseh had finally realized that the Lord alone is God!” (2 Chronicles 33:10-13).

Later (when Josiah was reigning): “You were sorry and humbled yourself before God when you heard what I said against this city and this people. You humbled yourself and tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. So I have indeed heard you, says the Lord” (2 Chronicles 34:27).

God has great power – He has the ability to give us success when we seek Him wholeheartedly and walk in His ways AND He can punish us greatly for our sins. I believe pride is a stench to Him (and to others – let’s be honest, is it fun to be around someone arrogant and proud? Are they easy to work with? Easy to like?). If God blesses us and instead of praising Him, we take the credit and become downright awful to be around, how disgusting is that?

Instead, we can realize success and give credit where it’s due. We can be humble before God and before others. We can openly admit that it’s God’s blessings in our lives that have made us who we are, where we are, and how we live. It’s God’s protection while we sleep, His hand on us as we walk, His grace in giving us jobs and enough to eat, His blessing of joy and peace, and so forth… may we not be proud but rather full of Thanksgiving, humility and respect. Let’s give glory to God!

Father God, we recognize that You alone are the One True God. We see Your faithfulness and give You credit for being Lord and Master. We thank You for the many blessings and successes we’ve realized. And we likewise want to repent for times that we’ve allowed pride to infiltrate our thinking. Help us take every thought captive and surrender it to Your truth and Your Word. We humble ourselves before You today, we seek Your presence and Your will, and we ask that You would help us succeed in doing what’s right, what’s holy, what’s just, what’s pure, what’s lovely, what’s admirable. Help us act according to Your ways. We thank You and praise You. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Changing Your Perspective

Have you ever experienced a situation where things weren’t going the way you were expecting? You truly believed in your heart that things would be different?

My devotions the last couple days have been too good not to share! You can read the entire passage word-for-word here (2 Kings 5-7), but I’ll highlight two stories within that really struck me (and I’ve been thinking about ever since!).

The passage starts out with a commander of the Aram army who was a respected, mighty warrior but suffered from the skin disease of leprosy. He was basically given a ‘letter of recommendation’ from the king of Aram and told to go see the prophet Elisha in Israel to be healed. So, the commander went to Elisha’s house and waited at the door. But, instead of seeing him in person, Elisha sent a messenger out to tell the army commander to go wash himself seven times in the Jordan River and then his skin would be restored and he would be fully healed of the disease.

What happened next? The commander of the army became ANGRY!!! He stalked away, offended that the prophet hadn’t met with him. He sulked, “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God to save me!”and left in a rage (2 Kings 5:11-12).

Thankfully, his officers reasoned with him and encouraged him to obey. So, he followed the instructions and was healed! The army commander went back and thanked the prophet, proclaiming there was no God in all the world except in Israel (2 Kings 5:15).

In my margins, I wrote “God heals us in different ways than what we might expect.” It was a new thought to me – a new perspective. You see,  I expect that I pray and God quickly answers with a divine intervention OR a medical treatment. But sometimes, I need to step back and realize that God’s ways are different than ours, God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and God’s plans are BETTER than ours.

We can be angry, hurt and sullen with our expectations or we can be quick to submit and walk in obedience to God’s truth. We truly can trust that He is working things out in His way and in His timing.

This brings me to this morning’s reading, where this same prophet Elisha was being hunted by the Aramean army (later the king had ordered his execution – even though he had helped his army commander). Elisha’s servant woke up in the morning and saw “troops, horses and chariots everywhere!” (2 Kings 6:15). He was distraught and cried out, “Ah, my lord, what will we do now!?!?!”

Let me pause here and say if you have ever been in a desperate situation with seemingly no way out, then you know how this distress can feel. This man was afraid for his life, and they were surrounded by troops with literally no where to turn… nowhere but UP, that is.

Elisha responded, Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs! Then he prayed and asked God to open the eyes of his servant. “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kings 6:17).

If you continue to read, you’ll find out that not only was Elisha not harmed, all the soldiers went home safely (and with a new perspective of who God is, I’m assuming!) through God’s holy plan.

My point is that sometimes we can’t see what is happening in the spiritual realm. My prayer today was that God would open my eyes. May we not be overwhelmed and consumed by what we see but rather focus on the eternal, the important, the help that comes from above, and mostly the Helper.

Whatever you’re praying for today – know that God doesn’t work according to our plans and expectations… He does things absolutely BETTER! And while we may not physically see it, we can trust and know that He’s got it covered. Submit to His plan and pray today, asking for His help and for His vision. May He change our perspective!

A Reminder From God…


The week after Christmas I had an MRI done on my left ankle and foot since I’m still having swelling and severe pain (and I fell back in September!). I got the results after the New Year’s holiday and was devastated to see that my ankle is still broken (although it looks to be healing) but I tore or partially tore three ligaments surrounding my ankle and there is also an abnormality (break or separation?) in my foot, on that same left side where the ligaments and muscles are joined together. I was sad, to say the least. And the orthopedic group was off for the holidays so I was left with results and no one to really explain them. While my internet search showed that this tears and breaks can be normal with a severe ankle injury, they also suggest that eight weeks in a cast should help with the healing. I’ve already done that, and this MRI was taken months later. I started to panic – why is this not healing?

The next morning, as I was taking the kids to school, we opened our morning devotional as we always do. The kids take turns reading to each other, and we discuss what it says in the car. (I know this sounds like we were running late, but we were actually early. I have found that the morning car ride is the best morning time where we are all together with attention given to what’s being read, so it is just what works for our family for morning devotions!) Here was the devotional, word-for-word (borrowed from the book “365 Devotions for Boys”):

WHO’S ON DUTY?

“You clothed me with skin and flesh, and wove me together with bones and tendons. You gave me life and faithful love, and Your care has guarded my life.” ~Job 10:11-12

     Have you ever seen a lifeguard in action? If someone is in trouble, he does not hesitate to jump into action and save a swimmer from harm. When people sign up to be lifeguards, they know that caring for others is their job.

     Did you know that God is your lifeguard? He offers constant care, love and protection.

I heard the words as they were being read and I immediately thought of David in Psalms saying how God created and formed our bodies. But, instead I was surprised to hear the reference of Job (which the kids mispronounced as a ‘working’ job, and I corrected them saying “it’s Job” which sounds like robe). These verses touched my heart all the more then. Anyone who has read the book of Job knows that he had suffered greatly and continued to trust God and cry out to Him. God knew that I was sad. He was reminding me that He has formed our bodies, He knows how to heal and how to save, and He is offering care, love and protection. I felt like He was saying it would be okay.

I have an appointment to see the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow in between classes. I am still having pain, but I am trusting that my ankle will heal (and I’m praying for sooner, rather than later!). The one doctor from the practice emailed that it can take up to four months for torn ligaments to heal. This week marks four months, but I keep reminding myself that if that is an average, it’s okay to be higher than average and someone else’s lower-than-average healing time makes that still an average. That said, I miss running and doing normal activities, and even being able to sleep without waking up with pain. So, please pray that my ankle heals and this becomes just another memory of God’s faithfulness. 🙂

I am reminded that GOD is on duty today. He has not left His throne. He is still in charge. He knows what we need. After all, He created us! If you have anything you’re struggling with today, ask God to rescue you. Even if all you can do is put your hand up (like a swimmer who needs help!), He’s got you! Trust that He is able and ask for His faithful and powerful intervention. Then thank Him as you watch the answer unfold…

Giving Thanks in ALL Circumstances…

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, the sermon at church was about giving thanks in all circumstances. I’ve read about (and even written about!) giving thanks so much that I feel like I *know* it. But obviously I have yet to really learn this valuable lesson.

On September 22, I fell while running and broke my ankle. I was in my glory, listening to music, breathing deeply, sweating and in a great run groove…when I misjudged the lip of the trail (thinking it was flat against the road rather than a raised, uneven surface) and before I knew what was happening, I was on the ground in severe pain. I went to Urgent Care at my husband’s insistence and couldn’t believe when the doctor said that the ankle was actually broken. I bawled. In fact, I cried more at the feeling of being overwhelmed and defeated than I did at the pain of the injury. I cried and cried and cried. No running (which keeps me sane!) was a devastating thought. But, even more so, I already struggle with school, and I really thought that this was the nail in the coffin of getting my degree. If I couldn’t get to class, I couldn’t possibly learn and the last year and a half was literally for nothing. So, I cried some more…

Also at first, I struggled with my crutches to do simple tasks like get to the bathroom. The pain kept me awake at night, so I was exhausted. And physical pain takes some mental bandwidth, and I need all my cognitive capacity for school. So, I prayed. And I’ve felt like I was to give thanks. Even now, God?

In fact, I read Judges 7 shortly thereafter where God picked Gideon to go fight the Midianite army. It seemed impossible! But, God reminds us that NOTHING is impossible for Him. God also told Gideon to send some of the warriors home when they got to battle because otherwise, they would get conceited and think that it was their own strength that saved them. So, 22,000 men went back and 10,000 remained. But, this was still too many – otherwise the men would become proud and forget to thank God. So, God thinned out the number of warriors by telling Gideon to have the men drink from the water and keep only those who cupped water in their hands and lapped it up. With the 300 men who were left, GOD defeated the Midianite army and saved the Israelites.

I felt as if God was telling me that graduating will happen due to His strength and help and not from my own power, intellect and resources. The broken ankle this semester helped me rely on God more. Honestly, I knew God was the One who brought us this far. If I continue hereafter, it is truly for His glory.

Likewise, I’m trying to be thankful for the circumstance. For example, I have a professor who struggles with mobility, and I am better able to relate to him and ask if/when he needs help. I also have more empathy for students who come in on crutches. I was able to get a temporary handicap parking tag, which has enabled me to get to class. I have not fallen again (and I felt super wobbly on crutches!). My kids have learned new tasks and chores around the house as I’m not able to do everything. A very touching moment for me was when I was cooking dinner on Thanksgiving, and I overheard my husband honoring me by telling the boys how hard I work, that even with a broken ankle I still try to make sure that they have a nice meal and everything they need. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I remember being touched when I heard the conversation happening in the next room over. In fact, I would say that the injury has brought Shawn and me even closer together. I told him that I was useless and he’d be better off without me – I cried that I felt like another demanding kiddo to take care of. He said nonsense – he signed up for sickness and health, and we would get through this time together. He has selflessly sacrificed and done chores I normally do, helped the kids and me, and we have survived. I have all the more respect and love for him.

I also have a surreal peace this semester. I can’t worry about being on campus more than I am because I can’t elevate and ice my ankle there, and I truly need to heal. It does no good to worry about trying to get my run in because I physically can’t. I have found that worrying really hasn’t helped anything at all. In fact, physical pain has helped ground me in reality rather than my typical inclination to worry.

Am I 100% healed yet? I wish! Unfortunately, I must still rely on God to get me through, day by day. But, am I thankful even in this terrible circumstance? Absolutely! I’m thankful for healthy kids, a loving husband, enough money to survive, the love and support of family and friends, and even for the injury itself, as I expect that God is using this to teach me and mold me and refine my character. I can’t be proud or believe that it’s my own strength that gets me through each day or to the end of the semester…I *KNOW* that each step has been evidence of God’s grace in my life. So, I’m still learning… and trying to be grateful in all circumstances.

 

Dear God, we thank You that You love us and work EVERYTHING for our good. We don’t always love the ways that You teach us, but we choose to give thanks for refining us through both the bitter and the sweet. Truly, we have been blessed with all that we need. Thank You for both the good and the bad. May we give you glory for all that You do for us, and may we serve as a reminder to others that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU! In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Add This One to Your Must-Read List!


This weekend I had the pleasure of reading a new novel (The Senator’s Youngest Daughter by Kelley Rose Waller) that was such a page-turner, I finished the entire thing in a 24-hour period. It was not only an easy read (with suspense, action, drama and a little romance weaved in), it was also a novel that really makes you think.

Is America today what our forefathers envisioned? How have we gotten to a place where someone’s name recognition means more than what he or she stands for when running for political office? What happens when America sits back and refuses to vote or be heard because what can “just one person” do? What happens when we believe we are entitled to rights versus working hard for earnings? Are programs offered by the government really “free”? What happens when we believe all the lies the media spoon feeds to us?

This is a story in which absolute power corrupts absolutely. We see inside all the propaganda and political lies. Sadly, we also see the results of the masses being discontent with what government is doing but not willing to act on their convictions. Both disbelief in the power of the people and sheer laziness make this nation waver toward an extremely destructive path.

In this novel, one family works together to try to stop the madness and bring true liberty back to America. The Senator’s Youngest Daughter is captivating and fast-paced and makes you want to finish the next page and then the next. Just when you think that the good guys are about to win, a powerful turn of events makes you gasp and shudder. A family’s love and conviction for our nation (and true liberty) help inspire us to be more aware of the current political climate – and decide which side of the fence we want to be on.

This one is a must-read! Whether laying on the beach or curling up next to the fireplace, this book will hold your attention and make you thirst for more…

For God’s Sake, STOP Whining!

Have you ever read a passage in the Bible and immediately felt convicted and the need to repent?

I typically read my Bible in the morning, and I’ve read it so much that at times I think that I’ll know what the chapter is going to say. But even with my familiarity with the stories and verses, the Holy Spirit can highlight verses and bring new revelation that brings me to my knees (or truly on my face).

I’m currently reading in Numbers again about how the 12 spies went to explore the Promised Land and came back to give their report of how amazing and fruitful the land was but how big and strong their enemies who lived there were (Numbers 13). While ten of the men spread discouraging reports, two of the spies went against the crowd (Joshua and Caleb, who my two oldest boys are named after) and said “…if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and he will give it to us! Do not rebel against the Lord and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:8-9).

How did the people respond? They talked about stoning these two men (verse 10). The people began “weeping aloud” and “they cried all night” (Numbers 14:1b, emphasis mine) and their voices rose against their leaders in complaint. They started planning on going back to where they came from. Even though they had lived in slavery and seen God’s miracles in their escape, their memories of the past, their hardships of the present, and their now lost hope for the future clouded their thinking, making them strongly desire to go back to the past. They were not trusting God and were looking at their current circumstances rather than the bigger picture of who God is and what He had planned.

I wrote in my margins: “Please forgive me for wanting to go back.” I’ve been homesick this week. Facebook memories of special times with family and friends in the summer, remembering running with friends on the weekends, reminiscing about how much I enjoyed the classes at my gym, thinking of the produce stands where the kids and I would buy fresh fruits and veggies for dinner for cheap, special kid-friendly adventures we used to do regularly … EVERYTHING was making me want to go “home.” Like those Israelites, I too was contemplating my return, even though I KNOW that God had told us to come here. It was a humbling moment to read these verses and know that my reading was not coincidental that morning. I immediately got on the ground in prayer and then afterward called my husband to ask for his forgiveness as well.

How did God respond to the Israelites’ complaints, whining and disobedience? He offered to kill them all and make Moses a great nation instead (Numbers 14:12). But, Moses was humble and reminded God that He was showing the world His power, His unfailing love, and His forgiveness. The Lord graciously pardoned the people’s sin in Numbers 14, BUT He said not one of them would see the fulfillment of His promise, except for Caleb and Joshua. The rest would die in the wilderness and their kids would be the ones who would inherit the land. It made my heart sad, for the people realized they had angered God. But, He did what He said He would do. Only Joshua and Caleb lived to see the Promised Land out of that entire generation.

Today and going forward, may we not be quick to complain but rather have hearts of thanksgiving. May we be joyful ALWAYS. May we spend enough time talking with God and in His Word that we TRUST everything He says. If God promises to move mountains, close the mouths of lions or part the seas, may we automatically believe not only that He can but also that He will! And for the times that we have failed to recognize His goodness and instead look back, may we fully repent and change our thinking by the renewing of our minds. Let’s pray together!

Father God, thank You so much for the truth in Your Word. Thank You that these words are life and written for us to read and get to know You and Your heart. Please forgive our disobedience, our unbelief, our looking back and our loss of hope. Will You give us a fresh revelation of what You desire for us? May we be thankful rather than grumbling, joyful rather than miserable, and in constant communication with You as we navigate the journey You have for us. Keep us from looking back, from longing for the past. Help us remember that Your promises are for our good. You have given us hope and a future! May we rest in Your unfailing love and forgiveness. Help us teach our kids and the next generation the truths of Your Word. We praise You, Lord. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Where Is Your JOY?

When recently asked my personal vision statement, I immediately thought of my favorite verses that have served as my “motto” since high school: “Be JOYFUL always, PRAY continuously, give THANKS in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). People often question what God’s will is for their lives, and the above verses are clear. No matter what direction we head, no matter what challenges we face, no matter what our present or future circumstances, we are to have joy, we are to talk to God and we are to be thankful.

When we moved to Michigan, I was (ahem) not thrilled. A friend gave me a book on giving thanks and I began writing down throughout each day the things that I was thankful for – little and big things. As I stopped each moment to give thanks, my heart changed and I felt more satisfied and less entitled to “better.” Really, I have been given far more than I deserve. Haven’t you? I bet you could name ten things that were worthy of thankfulness that happened to you within the last hour.

That said, I’ve been sensing a lack of joy in my life recently. I am deeply in love with my husband (something I don’t take for granted), I treasure our three children, I have a great house in a fantastic neighborhood, I don’t question where my next meal will come from, I have friends in multiple states, I am pursuing my dream of getting my PhD, I’ve conquered many items on my “bucket list,” etc. So, why is it that I still struggle with feeling down at times? Why do I get homesick or look back and wish I could go back? I began to realize that I wasn’t experiencing deep inner joy but rather fleeting happiness.

Then I read Leviticus 9:24: “Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw all this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground.” It stuck with me all day that JOY comes from being in the Lord’s presence.  Joy is what comes from being in a relationship with God where you are praying continuously and reading His Word. Joy is when life throws punches but God reminds you that He is fighting on your behalf. Joy is that voice inside you that reminds you that God created the whole Universe for you, died for you and loves you despite your worst mistakes. Joy doesn’t come from attending church on Sunday. It doesn’t come from doing or saying the right things. Joy doesn’t come from trying to do everything on your own. Joy doesn’t come from family or friends. Joy doesn’t come from work accomplishments or skills you’ve been given. Joy comes from the presence of the Lord. Joy is not happiness but goes much deeper as we connect with God.

So, practically speaking, how do you find God’s presence? If you’re missing joy and you feel like you’re being tossed and pummeled like a rag doll in the ocean, then pick up God’s love letter to you – the Bible. Pick up and devour His true word. Soak up His story and purpose. Listen to music that glorifies Him. If you play an instrument, worship Him with your talents. Basically, spend quality time with the Lord just like you would if you were trying to get to know a friend better. If you’re starving for joy, spend time in His presence. Saying “thanks for this food” before dinner likely isn’t enough to truly bask in His presence and experience the joy that comes from seeing God move. Taking time to seek the Lord while He may be found will bring you the joy you crave – joy to live another day to the fullest, joy despite what your day looks like, joy when milk spills on the floor and your car gets a flat tire, joy when your spouse is traveling and you miss him (or her!) like crazy, joy when it’s hot and joy when it’s not, joy that God is great and part of your life.

If you’ve never experienced this joy, if you want to know more about having a relationship with the Lord, please send me a message. I’d be happy to talk with you or help you get connected. If you’re struggling with joy and you would like me to pray for you, let me know! We need to hold each other up!

Heavenly Father, thank You for the joy that we experience when we’re in Your presence. God, we are grateful for Your Word and we want to give thanks in all circumstances, we want to be joyful ALWAYS and we want to pray continuously. I ask that You would provide peace, love, comfort and joy to those dear ones who are struggling as they read this. May they come to know You more fully and enter a deeper relationship with You. Please provide joy as they continue on this journey You have called them to. Please keep us from temptation and deliver us from evil. May we do Your will as we live for Your glory. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Feeling stressed? Worried? What are you forgetting?

“Tell the people of Israel to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you forever. It helps you remember that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” Exodus 31:13, emphasis mine

The other morning before reading my Bible, I asked God to speak to me through His Word. He continues to be faithful!

I have found myself in a season of worrying again. Fear grips my heart often at night as I toss and turn. I’ve been dreaming of my boys drowning. Why? I have no idea! But when I have this nightmare, I wake up with my jaw clenched so tight that my entire head aches. And I continue to worry and feel sick even after I’m fully awake and realize that it’s just a dream. What if something happens to them? What if I can’t protect my little ones? Then I worry, what if I’m not making the best choices to raise them? Then I continue to worry, what if I’m spending too much time at home and not getting enough research done? Then I worry that I’m juggling too much… and yet another night of sleep is lost…

As I’m reading in the Old Testament right now, I came to Exodus 31 where God is speaking to Moses. He notes that He has a man in mind to do the work who He has filled with the Spirit of God, and who He has given great wisdom, intelligence and skill in all kinds of crafts (verse 3). God continues to talk about this gentleman’s skills and abilities and notes that he is a master at every craft  (verse 4) and that He (the Lord) has given special skills to these naturally talented craftsman (verse 5). As I underlined these verses, I thought about how it is God who gives us our skills and abilities. Those things that we’re good at are not for our own glory or because we are ‘good’ but because God has given us gifts for His work. We can trust that if God is calling us to do something, He will provide the skills and abilities necessary to accomplish the task. (That includes raising children, I think!)

As I continued reading, I came to the verse above that notes that the Sabbath is a day to REMEMBER that God is the Lord who makes us holy. I think we forget or neglect that the Sabbath is a special day and assume that because Jesus healed on the Sabbath that it’s no longer a rule. But I fear that we have missed that the Sabbath was actually a gift from God. Sure, it was a requirement, but when God talks about the Sabbath in His Word it’s for our benefit. It’s a day of rest and a day to remember that God is the One in charge; a day to set aside responsibilities and worry and to rest in Who God is and what He has done.

Why do I worry when God is the One who gives us our skills and abilities? Why do I worry when it’s God who is ultimately responsible for all creation? I obviously need to do my part in obeying His voice and commands, but then I need to rest in Him. I need to put everything aside and focus on the One who answers prayers and lovingly guides us.

This morning my devotions included Exodus 34:21-24 “…but on the Sabbath day you must rest, even during the seasons of plowing and harvest…” Even in our busiest times when we feel like we must keep pressing on, keep going, keep toiling, keep getting just one more thing done, don’t let anything fall through the cracks, keep pushing… God tells us that we are to stop, rest and REMEMBER that He is God. He also notes that no one will attack or conquer the land when His people obey His instructions to appear before Him (Exodus 34:24). In other words, He is the One who protects and provides and will honor our obedience to His commands.

When we feel overwhelmed at all that we have to do, concerned that we’re not doing enough or doing things perfectly right, or even downright worried about how to be everywhere at once as the protector of our kids, we’ve missed an important life lesson. God is the One who gives us our skills, abilities and gifts. God is in charge of us and our protection. God Himself tells us to rest and REMEMBER Him by keeping the seventh day of the week holy and set apart for Him. Exodus 34:14 reminds us that God is passionate about His relationship with us. Are we as passionate about knowing Him? Can we take one day a week and remember Who our help comes from?

I have not been great at honoring this command, but I’m going to try to be purposeful in REMEMBERING Who God is when I start to worry. I will cast my cares on God who cares for us. While I’m doing my best with my kids and with my research, I’m going to give all of it to God, as He is the One who provides the skills and abilities necessary to do what He’s called us to. And if you’ve found yourself in a season of worry and fret, anxiety or fear, or even just feeling down like there has to be more, then I want to encourage you to take a day of rest to intentionally REMEMBER who God is. He is passionate about His relationship with His people, and He is our protector and provider and more…

Dear Heavenly Father, please forgive us that we’ve treated your holy Sabbath as just another day to get work done. Forgive that we have not been intentional in remembering your covenant of love. Thank You for providing healing, forgiveness and life through the blood of Jesus. We don’t want to forget what You have done or take it for granted. And we don’t want to worry when You have everything in Your hands and in Your control. Help us to do our best with the life You have called us to. Please provide us with the skills and abilities we need to do what we need to do. But, help us remember that You don’t guide us to where we will flounder, if we will obey Your instructions and Your Holy Spirit. We ask You to continue to lead us on this journey – may we follow where You call us and enjoy a relationship with You forever. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!