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!

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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!

A Day to Remember, a Day to Teach

When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ceremony. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’ When Moses had finished speaking, all the people bowed down to the ground and worshiped.” (Exodus 12:25-27)

Monday morning, I read Exodus 12 and 13 and saw parallels to the holiday being observed, Memorial Day. I saw many folks post things online that said something to the effect of not taking the day for granted as just another day off, but think about those who died for our freedom. Sadly, for many holidays, we just go through the motions of our typical holiday activities (for example, grilling out and going swimming in the freshly-opened pool) without stopping to fully appreciate what the day means. We LOVE the day off work and the time with our friends and family and give perhaps a two-second thought to the real reason for celebration.

The Bible gives very specific instructions for remembering important events. Each year, the Israelites were to take off work and celebrate a ceremony. This time was important and the instructions were to be passed on permanently throughout the generations. Specifically, it was a time to pause and reflect. Children would notice the difference in activities and ask why. Their hearts and minds would be open to learning what was going on, and it was the parents’ responsibility to reply with the truth about what God had done. Each generation was to tell the next of God’s faithfulness – how God rescued the Israelites from slavery, how they lived in freedom because of God’s mighty power and generous care and concern for His people. The parents were to use these celebrations to teach their children, who would teach their children, who would teach their children, and so on…forever!

On the seventh day you must explain to your children, ‘I am celebrating what the Lord did for me when I left Egypt.’ This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt. So observe the decree of this festival at the appointed time each year.” (Exodus 13:8-10). Again in verse 14, the Bible says that children will ask “what does this mean” and again it says that that the ‘holiday’ or festival was a visible reminder.

We have been given a challenging and awesome responsibility to raise our children – not just keep them fed, keep them safe and keep them well-behaved. We need to teach our children about what God has done. We need to instruct our kids about why we observe holidays and ceremonies. We need to show our children the truth and give them opportunities to ask questions to lead them on the right path. Parenting is hard, but it’s of utmost importance. Sadly, it can be easier to focus on ourselves – to check out on electronics or spend our time selfishly pursuing our own passions and goals without giving our little ones the necessary quality time to truly teach them. Recently I’ve seen so many folks saying “what has the world come to?!?!” I think teaching the next generation to fear God and honor the Bible is where a change for the better can take shape. These boys in my home will be part of the leadership of tomorrow. If I want to see the world change, I need to do my part in teaching, reminding, encouraging, and remembering…

Father God, thank You for Your mighty acts and strong power. Thank You for what You did and who You are. Please help us teach our children about You and to fear You. Please reveal Yourself to them through Your Word and Holy Spirit. May we not forget why we celebrate holidays or why we take days of rest. Help us instruct and encourage our little ones to make godly choices for Your glory. May the world be changed for the better, and will You help us as You did the Israelites. Break any ties of slavery to sin and help us live in freedom, light and love. We thank You and praise You. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Rising Above Discouragement

“So Moses told the people what the Lord had said, but they wouldn’t listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the increasing burden of their slavery.” Exodus 6:9

Have you heard the expression, ‘it might get worse before it gets better?’ The above verse in Exodus jumped off the page to me this week as I read it. The people had recognized that God had “seen their misery and was deeply concerned for them” so they worshiped Him (Exodus 4:31b). But, they weren’t immediately rescued. Instead, their situation got considerably worse. They were ordered to make the same quota of bricks and needed to go gather their own straw and got punished for not being able to keep up with the increased demands.

“So Moses went back to the Lord and protested, ‘Why have You mistreated Your own people like this, Lord? Why did You send me? Since I gave Pharaoh Your message, he has been even more brutal to Your people. You have not even begun to rescue them!” (Exodus 5:22-23, emphasis mine).

When life gets harder, we tend to point our finger at God. Why, oh Lord, are YOU doing this to us? We know that God is all knowing and all powerful, so we believe that hardships we face must be His fault. How often we miss seeing the bigger picture! Moses accused God of not even beginning to rescue His people. But, was that the case? NOT AT ALL! God had a plan. God had a purpose. God had heard His people’s cries. God did not allow His people more hardship than they could face. And God had already sent Moses to begin the process. It got worse (and it was going to get worse still) … but God knew the ultimate outcome was that His people were going to be free. Plus, He was going to “multiply [His] miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:3) and show everyone that He alone was God.

We have read this story before, and we know the ending. But His people didn’t at that time. They had no idea why God would allow their suffering to increase. In fact, when Moses went to tell them the following message from the Lord “I am the Lord, and I will free you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with mighty power and great acts of judgment. I will make you my own special people and I will be your God. And you will know that I am the Lord your God who has rescued you from your slavery in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It will be your very own property. I am the Lord!” (Exodus 6:6-8), they wouldn’t listen because they had become too discouraged.

My dear discouraged friend, let me speak this into your very being, “NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD!” When your circumstances show that only God can rescue you, that’s when He has your attention – and even the attention of those around you – to display His awesome signs and wonders. We serve a living God! A God who is still in the miracle-working business. A God who is still GOOD. Still TRUSTWORTHY. Still full of MERCY, GRACE and COMPASSION. We serve a God who still sees the suffering of His people and remembers His covenant of love. We can call Him Father and trust in His good plans and purposes. If you are feeling utterly discouraged, then I encourage you to shift your focus from yourself to the Holy God of the Bible. The Israelites quit listening, quit believing… but that didn’t stop God from moving.

In case you’re reading and you need to hear this, the people saw the plagues (even experiencing some of them). They had more lows coming, but when they left Egypt, not only were they free, they had ‘plundered’ the Egyptians who had given them gifts of riches and clothing and wealth. They left on a high note with God in their sights. They were FREE… but may we not forget that there was a time where they didn’t listen when God said, “I’m here. I’m listening. I haven’t forgotten. My time is perfect. Trust me.” Today, let this seep into your soul when discouragement sets in. Remember God’s perfect Word and that His story in your life isn’t finished yet…

Father God, we ask You to open our eyes that we may see You. Open our ears during times of discouragement that we may hear Your truth. Open our hearts that we might feel Your love. Open our mouths to praise You alone. We believe that only You are God. We believe that You alone can rescue and save. We believe that You can free us, heal us, make us who You desire us to be. And we believe that Your timing is perfect. May Your Name be glorified in our lives as we wait for You. We trust You to act as only You can. We worship You today. Please forgive our sin that we may worship in spirit and truth. We love You. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

The Paralyzing Fear of…FAILURE!

“But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” Moses asked God. “How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11

Moses was one of the greatest leaders of all time, yet when he was first called, he protested to God that he wasn’t good enough for the job. When I was reading from Exodus this week, these verses resonated with what I’m beginning to recognize in myself. I have an extremely deep fear of failing. And I doubt I’m the only one.

Sadly, if I don’t believe I can successfully do something, I’m likely not to try at all. Recently I was invited to do a program that would be good for me, but I didn’t sign up for it for fear that I couldn’t stick with it. I read in a psychology book that there’s something deep within us that feels like we need to stick with our commitments. If we don’t, we experience internal turmoil. I definitely feel that – to the point that I won’t even try to commit if I don’t believe in my heart I can finish.

Why do people not run for political office when we need good candidates? Why do folks not try out for plays or team sports? Not move to a new area for a potentially great life change? Not try to achieve their dreams? I think it’s a fear of failure that paralyzes us from moving forward. We’ve pushed this fear down so long that we don’t even recognize it as such and instead make up a million excuses as to why something won’t work for us, for our schedules, for our lives.

Recently my family went to a water park and my oldest son and I went down this huge tube slide. At the end of it, the force of the water shoots the raft out of the slide and straight down into a long lazy river that keeps looping around and around. If you would rather slide down the tube again instead, there’s a sign that says to get off immediately and get the ladder. The problem is that there is a STRONG undercurrent pushing all the rafts away from the ladder toward the lazy river. I climbed off the raft and lunged for the ladder with all my might to get out, thinking my son was right with me. He was trying but called out, “HELP ME! I can’t fight this current!” I grabbed his arm just in time and told him to hold onto the railing with me to get out. We made it safely to the edge without going around and around again. He was pleased that I was able to help him and he quickly walked up the steps again toward the slide. However, if he would have hesitated even for a moment, he would not have been with me. He was struggling on his own – he needed my help and knew when to ask, with his eye on where he wanted to go.

This describes life in so many ways. Do you ever struggle going round and round with the same old habits? Do you want to get out of the same patterns but the current is STRONG? Do you fear that trying may lead to failure on your own? Perhaps you’ve tried before, only to go under water with the current that continues to take you down stream, around and around again. This time is different, though. Because this time, you can call out to God who is there encouraging you to GET OUT! On your own, you can’t break the cycle. But, with God’s mighty arm, He can lead you to safety. There is nothing impossible for God.

Moses pleaded with God to pick someone else, noting that he wasn’t a good speaker and was “clumsy with words” (Exodus 4:10). You know God’s response? I love it! He asked Moses “Who makes mouths?” (Exodus 4:11). We may believe that we will fail if we try. We might be right! But, we should try anyway, because God can change both our circumstances and our own abilities! Are we able? Not at all! Is God able? YES! And if He’s calling you, He will lead you.

I also love that God sent Aaron along with Moses (Exodus 4:14). Sometimes we are less likely to stick with something new if we’re on our own. Ask God to show you who you can talk to about your situation. Chances are, He already has someone in mind to pray with you and encourage you or to travel with you through your circumstances. And feel free to email me (or drop a comment below), and I will pray for you as well. If you think of it, please pray for me, too. May we do what we know God is calling us to do without hesitation!!!

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your timeless word. Thank You that Moses wasn’t perfect, but the Bible isn’t about him. It’s about You and YOUR ability to lead Your people. Moses was simply Your instrument, and we humbly ask that You enable us to be useful instruments as well. May You be glorified in all we say and do. God, I specifically pray for anyone reading this right now, that they would break free of the fear of failure and take that small step toward Your healing and grace. May we realize that failing is just quitting. If we fall, we need to get back up by Your power alone. If we try and don’t succeed, may we trust that Your plan and Your timing is wonderful. May we sense Your heart and what You have in mind. Please speak clearly to us and remove our fear of failure. May we trust in You fully. In Jesus’ powerful and precious name, AMEN!

Bring Your Best Offer(ing)

Have you ever read a verse in your Bible that you keep thinking about over and over again, almost like a song getting stuck in your head? My reading has progressed to Revelation again and I read these verses from the fifth chapter a couple days ago:

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because You were slain,
    and with Your blood You purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

The following day I read from the eighth chapter:

And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.

Let me pause and say that I recognize that Revelation speaks of end times and heavenly beings and is a lot to comprehend, even for devout Christians. But did you notice in both those chapters that the prayers of God’s people were being offered to God with incense as an offering (likely a pleasing aroma)?

It made me think about what my prayers typically consist of. We give thanks at dinner, but it’s become more of a ritual than true thanksgiving, if I’m being honest. We are thanking God for our food, but there are times that we’re more focused on what’s in front of us than honoring God for giving it to us. Then there are the typical hurried prayers, “Lord, please find me a parking space! I hate that there’s never enough parking on campus!” or the prayers for safety “God, please keep my kids safe at school and please keep us safe as we drive on these slick roads. AMEN!” I honestly believe God cares about the details of our lives (Psalm 37:23) and that when we don’t have something it’s because we haven’t asked God for it (James 4:2). So praying without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) is important – we can talk to God about what we need and what’s on our minds because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7)! But is prayer solely to be about our needs, wants or demands?

In looking at how Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began with saying “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Luke 11:2). This prayer started by declaring the holiness of God, the greatness of His name, which leads us into a mindset of declaring that God is righteous and holy. Our Heavenly Father is loving and cares deeply for our needs – doesn’t that inspire us to thank Him with truly grateful hearts and declare His praise? Do we honor Him with our prayers, our mind, our speech and our lives? Or have we gotten so busy that we have come down with a bad case of the “gimme gimme’s.”

When the prayers mentioned in Revelation are offered to God along with incense, I want there to be an offering from me, from my family, from my friends and from anyone reading this post. Take a moment to praise God, to offer a prayer about His awesomeness, to thank Him for all He is and all He does. He is worthy of our time and our sincere affection!

Father God, thank You for Your holy Word. Thank You for reminding us of who You are and all that You have done. God, You have continued to bless us from the moment time began up until this very second. Your plans for our lives are good, and Your timing is perfect. Your plans for eternity will come to pass, and nothing can stop You because You are Lord over all. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done. Thank You for being holy, honest, pure, true, loving, gracious, compassionate and merciful. We praise You, glorify You and love You! Please receive our prayers as an offering that pleases You. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN!

One More Time!

Yesterday as I was reading a familiar story, one line stuck out to me so much that I thought about it all day (and thought it was worth sharing with you). Luke 5 (NLT) begins:One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon (Peter), its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.”

This time as I read the story, I thought about the fact that these men had worked hard all night long. They were likely exhausted and perhaps even frustrated that they had been working and yet unsuccessful. I think it would be safe to say that they were ready to go home, give in the towel, call it a day. But Jesus said to go deeper and try again. Simon Peter told Jesus (humbly, I will add) we already tried that, Lord! And it got us nowhere!!! We’ve already worked ALL NIGHT and caught NOTHING!!! But instead of quitting because of his present reality, he obeyed, noting “But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

We know the rest of the story – they weren’t just successful, they were overwhelmingly successful! So much so that Simon Peter recognized Jesus as Lord.

But, what if instead of obeying the men had said, “This sucks, I quit!” What if in their exhaustion of working hard and having nothing to show for it, they gave up? What if they didn’t listen when Jesus beckoned them to go deeper, to try again, to listen to His calling…

There are many times I want to give up in my own life when I don’t see progress. Lord, I’ve tried! I’m done! But, instead God gently says…”go deeper, try again.” My lifelong struggle has been losing weight, including eating healthier and exercising. I’ll have success and then slide back into old habits of finding emotional comfort in food and drink or enjoying sleep rather than exercise. I want it to come easy and it just doesn’t. I continue to find myself in a place where I need to ask the Lord for His help and His healing. It’s easy for me to say “God, I tried really hard and I just couldn’t…” but He sweetly beckons and reminds me that success comes when He is part of the solution.

My struggle may not be an area that you wrestle with, but I think this applies to more than just being healthy. Rocky marriages, balancing a budget, parenting, getting along with others… it’s easy to say “I tried. I gave it a good effort. It still didn’t work,” and then give up. “I tried showing my spouse I love them, but they still don’t listen to me… I worked really hard this month and I still can’t pay the bills… I tried to give my kids loving attention and they still acted out…. I tried to be forgiving to that person and they are still awful…” DON’T GIVE UP! Instead invite Jesus into your boat. Ask for His help and guidance. Where can you go deeper with Him? How can He help you succeed?

Did the men’s successful catch come from their efforts? Hardly! While they did the work, God receives the glory for turning the situation around. And I believe wholeheartedly that He can do the same today.

Go deeper. Try again. Obey God.

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You that Your Word is alive and meaningful. Thank You for providing practical tips to us. Lord, we’ve worked hard for a long time. We’re tired and ready to give up. But, we hear You say “Go deeper and try again.” We desire to obey. But, Lord, our success only comes from You. If you’re not with us in the boat and helping us, we will only fail again. We humbly ask for You to draw near to us and be part of the solution. May You receive the glory for the turn around in our situation. May we be so overwhelmingly successful that we call to others to join us! May we live for You… In Jesus’ Name we pray, AMEN!

The Worst Day…With a Happy Ending

Yesterday, friends invited us to check out the East Lansing Art Festival. Their family has three little boys similar ages to ours, and we truly enjoy hanging out with them! We were both impressed at how large this event was. Multiple streets were lined with tents and vendors offered items ranging from homemade crafts to unique art pieces. Ryan went from being held by Daddy to walking hand-in-hand with me to holding hands with Joshua. The kids were all happily playing together and the parents were chatting and keeping an eye on the larger group. I was impressed with not only the size of the event but also the number of people who were in attendance! It was a pretty crowded area.

After walking a block or so and looking at the “artsy” side, we purchased some water bottles (it was a hot day!) crossed a very busy intersection of the main street of traffic to the other side that offered more crafty-type wares. We stopped for our friends to buy yard stakes, and then we walked a bit for me to buy a personalized wooden flag sign. Ryan had been playing with his water bottle, walking next to Joshua but not holding his hand. Shawn was right behind him and Sandy went into the tent with me to help me pick out a sign. Their 4-year-old son accompanied us gals while the men stayed out with the other kids. Shawn thought Ryan went in with us and saw what he thought was the top of his head in between Sandy and me. While the man personalized my sign, Shawn came in to make sure Ryan wasn’t being a handful. He realized that Ryan wasn’t in the tent after all (their son who’s roughly the same size had already left to join the other boys).

“Where’s Ryan?” Shawn casually asked. “With you,” was my casual response. I paid the man and thanked him, and turned my attention to Shawn, who now looked a little distraught. “I’m going to go back the way we came and look for him.” I now realized Ryan was really not with the men. Still, I wasn’t panicked. I assumed he was nearby and we just didn’t see him in the crowd. Sandy offered to go another direction to look. I demanded of Joshua, “You were holding hands with Ryan the last I had looked.. Which way did he go?!?” Joshua was still having fun with the other boys and shrugged, “I don’t know. He wasn’t with me.” Of course an 8-year-old isn’t responsible for his younger brother. Still, I would have thought one of the kids may have seen him walk away. Which way? They shrugged. I went forward a bit while the boys stayed at the tent where we had just made a purchase with Tim. Meanwhile, Shawn and Sandy went through two separate rows of vendors. I love Ryan dearly but I didn’t think he would have the wherewithal to go back the way we came to try and find us. I assumed he got lost in his own little world of tossing his water bottle in the air like the older boys had been doing and he kept walking when we stopped. I also thought he would probably find one of the many, many dogs that owners had brought to the event and stop to pet it.

I very casually walked up and down looking for him, calling “Ryan! Ry?” to see if he would hear my voice and come running. I also listened for his little voice as he’s not typically too quiet. No one answered. I walked back, thinking Shawn must have found him and brought him back. I saw both Shawn and Sandy circle back, still with no Ryan in hand.

We all started looking a little more panicked as the minutes since we had last seen him were starting to tick by. I didn’t like the look on their faces that was mirroring what I felt in my heart. I quickly and definitively grabbed my older boys and insisted that they walk with me rather than wait by the tent where I had made my purchase. If Ryan were in that area, he would have come out by now. At this point, I didn’t want to be separated from any of my babies.

I continued with my instinct that he had kept walking, dreading that we were coming up to another intersection (although a less busy road). Tim walked back to the road we had crossed. He wanted to make sure Ryan didn’t try to cross the street that had heavily congested traffic. Sandy started talking to vendors, describing Ryan and asking them to hold onto him if they noticed him walking by. I started to yell louder and louder for him, not caring if people thought I was crazy. I didn’t want to sound upset, but I desperately wanted him to hear me and come running to me. I was also listening for him in between my calling his name. “RYAN! RY?!?! Where are you, buddy?”

At this point, I told my other two boys we needed to pray together. We immediately did out loud “Please, God, protect Ryan. Keep him safe. Bring him back to us quickly. Please help us! You’re our only hope. Please God, this is my son…he’s just a baby!” At this point, I realized Ryan had been gone too long. Our chances of finding him were getting less and less with every passing minute. As I rounded the corner I saw even more tents lining the next street with even more people. But I didn’t think he would go this far happily on his own without recognizing we weren’t there with him…

For the past two weeks, Ryan hadn’t slept very well. Shawn and I had had a conversation about feeling like Ryan was scared to be alone. He wouldn’t go into another area of the house by himself even and was barely sleeping, crying out for me in the night. I had asked my little man what was going on – why was he crying at night when he needed his sleep (and I did too!). His response had been that he wanted to snuggle me. I had told him to save his snuggles for daytime hours… Now I desperately wanted a snuggle from him!

I thought of Ryan’s fear of being alone and I started feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. “RYAN! RY!?!?! WHERE ARE YOU, BUDDY?!?!?” I continued to call for him. We continued to search the area. A woman came up to me and said “Can we help you?” I burst into tears and blurted out “My 3-year-old son is lost and all alone and we can’t find him anywhere!” This sweet shopper started mobilizing a team. “Her son is 3!” she shouted. “Help find this lady’s son!” More and more people came up and offered to help. Angels, I tell you! It takes one person to make the choice to help that leads others to recognize that help is needed and pitch in.

“What is he wearing?” someone asked. I described his very simple navy blue shirt and jeans. I groaned inwardly and thought to myself, why don’t I dress him in neon yellow? I heard people say, “Wow! He’s only three?” Folks who had heard me calling a name before suddenly realized how serious the situation was. People started looking and calling his name – he’s 3, wearing blue and his name is Ryan – GO! A woman sent her teenage kids to start looking for a 3-year-old blond boy with blue eyes. Minutes continued to fly by… “RYAN! RY?!?! WHERE ARE YOU, BUDDY?”

I tearfully continued searching until someone said “A boy that fits that description is with a police officer in the information tent.” I felt a surge of hope! “Don’t worry, Mom, he looked very happy and peaceful,” they consoled me. This is what didn’t sit well. Peaceful? Ryan wouldn’t be peaceful without us. Even at night he cries if we’re not in bed next to him. Truly, he’s not even peaceful with us at times. He had been whining how hot he was and how he wanted a balloon yo-yo much of the afternoon. Happy and peaceful…was this found boy the same kid we were looking for? Still, I had to find out! I had to hope it was, even though I was a little doubtful. Where? Where was the information booth? Even if it wasn’t Ryan, that might be a good place to check and get some help.

No one seemed to know where the booth was. I followed a woman who was trying to get her bearings with all the tents and people and we walked all over and through a large building to the other side…on and on we kept going. As we raced, my older boys complained that they were having a hard time keeping up. I was pulling them along, anxious to find the information booth and my Ryan! As we kept walking and walking, the strong doubts that this was my son started to creep in. Really? This far? He wouldn’t have gone this far on his own… I heard people tell each other “They found him. You can stop searching.” I wanted to scream “Don’t stop! What if this isn’t the same child?!?” I literally felt sick. What if this wasn’t my son and I was being led far away from where we had last seen him? I was starting to panic, but this was the only “lead” we had.

The thought crept in, “What if someone took him?” We hadn’t found him after searching a long time in that area. He wouldn’t go this far. What if…I tried to push those thoughts out of my head. If this boy wasn’t Ryan, I wasn’t sure what I would do….I couldn’t think about it. I had to keep pushing.

We arrived at the information booth, and there was no police officer and no Ryan waiting for us. WHAT?!?! The woman there said, “Someone told us that a frantic mom was searching for her missing son on the other side, so the police officer was walking the boy over that way to try to find you. Stay here, and he’ll come back eventually. Don’t worry, the boy is calm and fine.” Minutes passed. No Ryan. Do I wait here, far away from where I felt we should be looking? Yet, the three of us (Shawn, Sandy and myself with my other kiddos) had walked up and down that area with absolutely no success. Others were looking and hadn’t spotted him. Tim was still stationed with their kids by the busy street, not thinking that strangers would allow a small child to cross alone but not wanting to take the chance…

I texted Shawn that they may have found Ryan, and he came running to where we were, only to find no child. I wanted to leave, but everyone cautioned, “Stay.” What seemed like an eternity later, Sandy tearfully came up with the police officer and with a very calm Ryan who was happy to see us. My rigid body relaxed as I let out a gleeful sigh and scooped him into my arms. I tearfully told him “Mommy was lost! I was sad I couldn’t find you!” I didn’t want to make him panic but he said “Yeah, I couldn’t find you either.” We thanked the police officer and I hugged my boy! Sandy said she ran into the police officer who was bringing Ryan around to the area where we had been. When she saw the officer and Ryan, she started to cry and explained to him, “I’m not the mom but I’m with her!” She had also started fearing the worst and had suggested earlier to her husband that we should call the police. Now she was able to tell him that Ryan had been found. Tim went with his kiddos and bought them all the balloon yo-yo’s that Ryan had been asking for since he had seen theirs.

Their family continued to look around as I told Shawn that I had had enough excitement for the day…we headed back home, and then their family came over later to hang out. I told Shawn it had been a rough day (even with our car battery dying…another story!). But, it was a good day when we realized that all of our kids were home safe with us. Thank You, God, for protecting our boys!

The situation made me think about parents whose story doesn’t have a happy ending…how do you reconcile that in your mind? I don’t have a great answer, but I still trust that I have a great God. I am humbled and grateful that our boys are okay.

Unshakable Faith in the Most Shaking Circumstances

We moved to Michigan for my husband’s job toward the end of last summer. It was a decision we had been wrestling with prior to making the move – at first I had told him NO WAY to moving north and west. But, as we prayed, God began to change my heart. I saw verses about God leading us to where He wants us and directing the steps of the godly (as I have mentioned before). Eventually we agreed to move, and everything “fell into place” – which I attribute to God working in our lives! Our house sold, we found a home here, the boys loved their school, etc. Part of why I felt like it may be a good fit for us was that my husband’s job was near MSU, which offered a doctoral program in marketing. It had been a dream of mine to obtain my PhD, but I wasn’t sure how realistic that goal really was…

I came home and cried. What I assumed would be a happy day in getting accepted turned into an extremely rough day. In fact, I cried until I gave myself a migraine and had to go to bed. My sweet husband said he would support me any way he could. He’ll help find childcare (as that’s my biggest fear), and he’ll love me no matter what I choose. (Have I mentioned lately how great the man I married is?!?!)

I called my Mom to ask her opinion. She said it was a big commitment, but we were here! She said maybe it was time to ask for a fleece. “A WHAT!?!” I asked, “Mom, it’s 80 degrees here today, why on earth do I need a fleece?” thinking she meant a sweatshirt. She replied “A fleece, a sign, like Gideon when he asked for the wool fleece to be wet when the ground was dry and then the fleece to be dry when the ground was wet.” I recognized the story (found in Judges 6:37-40), but I hadn’t heard the expression to ask for a fleece rather than a sign. Later, I called my sister to ask her opinion, thinking she would tell me I was crazy for even thinking of taking on this task when my kids were in their formative years. She said that maybe asking to do just the one class online would be my fleece. What?!?! I felt like that was what I should do. I spoke to other friends who encouraged me to go for it but to also recognize that time with the kids was important. I asked our babysitter about how her PhD program was going (a totally different program but still at the same school) and if she had any words of wisdom.

I’ve been wrestling with the decision (even crying in the shower!) and praying and asking for a definitive answer on the right thing to do. I just keep coming back to God allowing doors to open. I had a phone call with another professor in charge of this program, who said I only had to pay for and pass the second of the two classes instead of taking both. But, I had to attend another course (simply sit in on it) to prepare me for the second. I was expecting to take the first class and not the second (with the first one being online). Now I had two in-person classes and no childcare. So, while financially it looked better, I felt all the more devastated. But I asked if I could attend a closed section, which meets two evenings a week. They agreed, noting I’d have to pull in a chair from another room. I’ll be apart from my family two nights a week for the next six weeks and then two days a week at the end of the summer (pray that I can figure out a good solution for my kiddos!). But, I’ll be learning valuable concepts that will help me in the program.

I read the end of the Moses Bible study and reflected on God’s goodness and had a new peace about the decision to go for it, despite the time commitment. The author of the study noted “the beauty of God’s love is as impressive as the splendor of His glory.” She notes later “God alone is the source of every blessing!” and “God defends, safeguards and blesses His people.” God safeguards us. He doesn’t give us more than we can handle. He fights for us and defends us. We can trust His protection and love. In reflecting on the life and death of Moses, she noted that he demonstrated “unshakable faith in the most shaking circumstances.” That’s exactly what I need! I underlined: “God is the one who gave Moses his intellectual ability and ordained the circumstances in his life.” Wow! Was that something to chew on… perhaps this is another one of those moments where God has brought us here for such a time as this. He ordains our circumstances and gives us our capabilities. If we keep our focus on God and reflect Him to others, He will continue to guide our steps and keep us from drowning in sorrow or poor decisions.

Today I signed the acceptance letter, and I start my first class next week. I will do my best and allow God to take care of the rest. He has never failed and won’t start now! I trust Him for my future and the future of my family, especially these sweet kiddos He has entrusted to us.

Will you join me in praying for the details? I mean, if you’ve read this far, what’s a minute more in prayer? 😉

Father God, we thank You for all You have done on our behalf. Thank You for revealing to us Your care and Your presence in the details of our lives. We know that timing isn’t by chance and mere coincidences don’t happen over and over again – we see You and recognize Your faithfulness. We praise You for who You are and all You do! Lord, we also thank You for the life of Moses and his faithfulness in recording the journey of the Israelites so that we can know You better and Your heart for Your people. Thank You for the Bible and our easy access to it. God, we ask right now that You would continue to ordain all our circumstances and days. We pray that You would allow us to continue to focus on You, even as life gets busier. May we continue to be a reflection of Your goodness and mercy to those around us. I specifically and humbly pray for our boys – Joshua, Caleb and Ryan – please provide the best option for care for them and open wide doors and close others tightly. If this is not Your will, please clearly make us all see that. But, if You are opening doors, help us boldly walk through, trusting You to provide all we need. I pray for those who read this post, that they would be encouraged about how much You care about the details of our lives. We love and honor You! In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

Just So You Know…

As I’ve been reading through Ezekiel, I have underlined and highlighted the same phrase over and over again. When a theme is repeated, I can’t help but think it’s extremely important. After all, the Bible is long enough, right? God wouldn’t repeat Himself unless it were critical that we catch what He’s trying to convey! So, what is this all important phrase?

THEN THEY WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD.

Have you ever questioned if this “whole God thing” is real? Is there truly only one way into heaven? Is God really going to judge people at the end of time for their deeds and based on whether or not their sin was covered by the blood of Jesus? Is our purpose truly to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? While I personally believe the answers to these questions are yes, I’m not the One who is truly able to prove it. I can give my testimony of times I’ve seen God act on my behalf or read His Word and knew in my spirit it was truth. But, only God can fully make His presence known. And throughout Ezekiel, God explains His actions and says “Then they will know that I am the Lord!”

How many times is this phrase used? Not being a math person, I want to say “A TON!” But, let’s look together: Ezekiel 6:7, 6:10, 6:13, 7:4, 11:10, 11:12, 12:16, 13:14, 13:23, 14:8, 20:26, 20:42, 20:44, 22:16, 23:49, 24:24, 24:27, 25:11, 25:17, 26:6, 28:24, 28:26, 29:9, 29:16, 29:21, 30:19, 32:15, 34:27, 34:30, 35:15, 36:11, 36:23, 36:38, 37:6, 37:13, 37:14… And I’ll stop there because I’m sure you’re not reading every verse and have lost count already (plus, I’m only up to chapter 38 in my New Living Translation Bible). The point is this, it’s obviously an important phrase to reflect on.

How will we know that God is the Lord? What do some of these verses tell us? In the references from Ezekiel 6 to 11, we see that when God punished the Israelites and allowed them to die for the idolatry and sins they committed – when they saw all that He predicted come true, then they would know that God alone is the Lord and that He was serious. In Ezekiel 12, the Bible tells us that God would spare a few Israelites from death by war, famine or disease so they could confess to their captors how wicked they had been, so that they would know that He was the Lord. Later in this chapter, God warned against misleading predictions of peace in Israel, saying that He was the Lord and what He threatens always happens (Ezekiel 12:25). Ezekiel 13 continues with judgment against the false prophets who were giving false hope rather than warnings to repent. When God crushed them, then He would reveal that He alone was the Lord. When God crushed the leaders who lead others into idolatry, then He would show that He alone was the Lord (Ezekiel 14:8). When God devastated those who worshiped other gods, He would reveal that He alone was the Lord (Ezekiel 20:26).

In Ezekiel 25, we learn that when God inflicts His revenge, we will know that He is the Lord (verse 17). We see when Israel stops trusting in neighbors and puts their faith in God, then they will know that He alone is Lord (Ezekiel 30:19).

Opposite from the disaster and destruction, God brings words of healing and hope to show His nature. “…And I will display my holiness in you as all nations watch. Then when I have brought you home to the land I promised your ancestors, then you will know that I am the Lord. You will look back at all your sins and hate yourselves because of the evil you have done. You will know that I am the Lord, O people of Israel, when I have honored my name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness, says the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 20:41b-44). Does this verse excite you as much as it did me when I read it? While God does what He says He will do, He is also merciful even when we don’t deserve it!

In Ezekiel 34, we saw that God would once again show mercy to Israel and let the land produce bumper crops, stop wild animals and neighboring nations from attacking the Israelites, and free them from slavery – then they would know that He alone was the Lord. Ezekiel 36:9 starts with “See I am concerned for you, and I will come to help you…” and verse 11 goes on to say “…I will make you even more prosperous than you were before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel 36 continues saying that when God displays His holiness through Israel – not because they deserve it, but because He is protecting His Name – then everyone would know that He alone is the Lord.

Today, do you know where Israel is? Could you point to it on a map or recognize the name when it’s on the news? Do you find it “coincidental” that this is the only nation that we read about from Biblical times until now? I hope you don’t miss that God has built this place and protected its name to bring Himself glory and honor! He is faithful even when His people aren’t!

And my hope for you as you read this is that you KNOW that there is one true sovereign Lord.

I have been seeing some horrific stories in the news lately – stories that make my heart ache. And I wonder, where is our fear of the Lord? If we know God – if we truly believe that He exists, that He is the Judge and that all His promises (blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience) are true – then our behavior ought to reflect some fear of our Maker. I’ll give you a few recent examples receiving media attention. In Baltimore (not all that far from Lancaster, PA where I grew up), a man died potentially as a result of how he was arrested and subsequent rioting began. Opinions about the story were everywhere, and I saw one amusing picture on Facebook that said “Don’t want to be mistreated by a cop? How about trying not breaking the law?” And there’s some truth to that – having fear for God and respect for the laws of the Country in which you live will prevent you from having such encounters. But, on the other side of the coin, did the police officers in question have proper fear of God as well? I’m not judging anyone here (I know many folks who are cops and I am grateful that there are people willing to walk into the worst of situations to protect others from harm! They are truly heroes!), but I’m just looking at all sides of the story as a complete outsider. Do the rioters fear the Lord and recognize Him as judge? Do those in the media fear God when they pick which sides of the story to tell? If we would all start with recognizing God as THE Lord and understand that He sees all and knows each one of us, perhaps it would help keep us “in check” when the temptation arises to mistreat others or let a situation get out of hand.

Another appalling story (which I’ve only read a few of the details on) was about a man who was shot in the parking lot of a restaurant we used to enjoy by another driver due to a road rage incident. Sadly, the man was shot IN FRONT OF HIS KIDS WHO WERE IN THE CAR. How do you get so angry behind the wheel of a vehicle that you find it necessary to pull over and shoot someone? I understand anger – anger so deep that it makes you not think! But a genuine fear of God – knowing that He is the sovereign Lord – should keep us from pulling any triggers (literally!).

I’m concerned for our nation. Just like the Israelites, we have witnessed prosperity and blessing and abundance. But, also like the Israelites, we have allowed pride and the subtle “worship” of our blessings to cloud our judgment. Have we lost a sense of Who God is or what He has promised in His Word? Have we missed that there is one Judge (so thankfully any opinions I have on any of these situations are truly of little value!) and that He knows each of our hearts? Do we recognize that God has been merciful to us, even when we don’t deserve it? Can we take a moment to pause and reflect and realize that many of His actions have been so that we can KNOW THAT HE IS THE LORD!?

This is National Day of Prayer. Will you join with me in interceding for our nation? Can we ask God to give us all a healthy fear of Him, which the Bible tells us is the beginning of wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 9:10)? Will you choose this day to KNOW and accept that God is the One and Only Sovereign Lord? Can we praise Him together and ask for His undeserved mercy?

Dear Heavenly Father, we love You and praise You. We acknowledge that You are the One and Only Sovereign Lord. We confess that we have been guilty of the same sins the Israelites committed – we have taken for granted the many blessings You have given us and spent our time, resources and love on things that are of lesser importance and value than You. Will you please forgive us? Will you forgive that we have lost our fear of You and have been proud of “our” accomplishments that are truly Your blessings? Will you forgive us for mistreating others in rage or hatred or unbelief? Will you forgive our nation and spare us the destruction You could easily and rightfully bestow upon us? Instead, will you treat us with mercy and grace like You did the remnant that You saved for Yourself out of the Israelites? God, You even promised to give them a new heart and mind that would seek after You and know You! Through the blood on the cross, can we boldly ask for these same blessings? Not that we deserve it, but that we have been honored with changing spots with Jesus…I ask for a new spirit and new mind – to KNOW You and to love You and Your Word. I ask these same things for my children and my neighbors and friends and country. For the sake of Your holy name, will You preserve Your people for Yourself? We humbly ask these things in the power of the name of Jesus. Forgive those who have made the headlines for sin – for we have ALL sinned and fallen short of your glory (Romans 3:23). Not one of us has the right to throw that first stone. So, we ask that You keep us from sinning through Your spirit inside of us. We are all a hot mess without You! Thank You for being a gracious and loving God, forgiving sin and providing a way back to You. Thank You for not giving up on us even when we have done wrong. Help us love others the way You have loved us. We are grateful for all You do and who You are! AMEN!

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