Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The First Step in Conquering Resolutions

Statisticians tell us that 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, yet only 8% of people accomplish them (according to statisticsbrain.com). That’s an astonishing statistic! I find that success in goal setting boils down to one important component, which must be the first, vital step in conquering a New Year’s resolution.

I spent many years failing to meet New Year’s resolutions, in fact, I failed so often that there was a season in my life when I stopped making them at all.  However, targeted and intentional ambition is vital when one desires personal, spiritual, and professional growth.  Goals provide us with the road map to pursue our dreams. 

A goal can formulate at any time - the start of a new year, or on our birthday, during back to school season, or any other day on the calendar.   Every goal should pass the S.M.A.R.T. test:  is my goal  specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely?  If not, my goal needs some polish before I can work to achieve it.  Another effective way to evaluate a goal is determining whether it is important enough to protect, even when it costs me something. Am I willing to make the necessary tradeoffs to reach my goal? 

These are important points to consider when establishing goals or New Year’s resolutions.  However,  the most valuable component to goal setting is one that will help me press on and keep working when things get tough.  It’s easy to pursue a goal when it’s a new, great idea that I’m excited about, but I need something that will keep me walking through the trenches when distractions, temptations, or sheer exhaustion get in the way. 

The most helpful component in achieving goals is a compelling reason to succeed.  We must have a firm handle on the reason we want to achieve a goal and an intimate understanding of what’s at stake if we fail. When setting a goal or establishing a New Year’s resolution, the first step to achieving it is to clearly identify our “why.”

Our “why” is what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning.  It’s what generates excitement and helps move us from a great idea into tenacious action.  A strong “why” helps us picture our goal so vividly, we can’t imagine not achieving it.  It becomes the force that drives us when we’re tired, or bored, or fresh out of ideas about what to do next. A strong enough “why” helps us consider the cost as more of a trade off than a sacrifice.   

Our pastor pointed us to a particular Bible passage on Sunday and the Holy Spirit used it to speak new life into my “why.”  

Galatians 6:7b-9 For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. (HCSB)

This reminder of God’s Truth made my spirit sing.  Yes, this is the drive that helps me press through weariness, and distractions and, sometimes even boredom. This promise poured into my cup:  if I continue to walk in obedience and pursue Kingdom purposes, I will reap at the proper time.  When I’m so tired that my bones ache and so burdened that I feel I can’t take another step, knowing that God is with me, that He sees my every need and promises to provide a harvest to reap at the exact moment He sees fit, THIS is what compels me forward.  

THIS is what helps me continue working on small, seemingly insignificant practices because I know this is the process of sowing and reaping.  A seed sometimes seems insignificant, too, but each seed is what we sow to reap a harvest. When I continue to sow into the things I seek, I will reap what I sow.  It’s a Kingdom principle.  One doesn’t plant a corn seed and harvest a watermelon.  When we sow corn, we reap corn. 

And, our pastor reminded us, when we plant a single corn seed, it produces a stalk of corn that’s covered with multiple ears of the sweet, juicy vegetable.  One seed produces a small harvest.  Lots of seed produces an entire crop and an abundant harvest.  The Kingdom principle is that our efforts are multiplied, often far beyond what we can ask or imagine. 

This compels me forward.  This moves me to action. This drives me out of bed in the morning and pushes away any thoughts of giving up on my goals.   This is my “why.”  I’m so grateful that the Lord reached into my cluttered life, pulled out this nearly forgotten Truth, dusted it off, and wrapped me in it.  

Your Turn: 

What is your "why?"  What will keep you pressing on toward your goals in 2014?

What seemingly insignificant steps will you take to begin your journey?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Are You Wishing... Or Waiting?

When I was learning to ride horses as a young girl, I discovered, rather suddenly, a passion for English Pleasure. English riding requires entirely different tack than I was already using for Western-style events:  a separate saddle, blanket, and bridle, not to mention all-new show attire including britches, riding jacket, helmet, and boots. This was an expensive dream and we were a one-income family. I wondered, “How is this going to work?”

My Dad was a very soft hearted and compassionate man who spoiled me rotten. Very few times in my life did I hear the word “No,” but this was one of those times. I knew my dad’s heart and his desire to give me every opportunity. When he said “No,” he meant it and I could tell that this particular “No” broke his heart nearly as much as it did mine. 

To make matters worse, my very best friend also decided she’d like to ride English and her parents had all of the needed equipment in her hands within a few days. Meanwhile, I was babysitting, doing extra chores, and trying to find ways to earn the money I needed to pursue my new dream. I waited for what seemed like a lifetime.

That Christmas there was a large, baffling box under the tree. It had my name on it but for the life of me, I couldn’t guess what might be inside. Christmas morning finally arrived and when I began to open the box, the saddle flap, compressed beneath the box lid, flipped out. I let out one of those “ugly” cries and I was sitting on my dad’s lap hugging, and thanking, and bawling before I ever took the English saddle out of the box. 

Waiting involves a measure of expectation. When we wait for something, there is anticipation that we’ll see the thing in our lifetime. Without the hope and belief that it will soon arrive, we’re not really waiting, are we? That’s more like wishing, then forgetting we ever wished it and feeling surprised when it actually happens. Waiting is different than wishing. It includes watching and preparing for the thing with expectation that it will, at last, take place. 

I had fully expected to own an English saddle and gear eventually, and I was working hard to attain it. When it came with such surprise, this thing I had so deeply desired and prepared for, it’s arrival looked different from anything I had imagined. It was overwhelming and beautiful! As of today, even though I haven’t ridden a horse in nearly 30 years, the saddle still hangs in the rafters of our garage. I don’t ever plan to let it go. 

This precious memory, especially because its culmination was at Christmas, makes me think of the nation of Israel and their long wait for a Messiah. The nation waited with expectation and hope, and they looked forward to the coming King who would offer deliverance and salvation.  Micah 7:7 expresses such expectation beautifully, saying, 

“But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD ; I will wait for the God of my salvation.” (NASB)

The Hebrew word for “wait” is the transliteration Yachal, which means to wait, hope, expect.

At the appointed time, Israel's wait for the Savior was over. The angel Gabriel brought the news, not to the priests or the king, but to an unsuspecting young girl. The news came in a way that looked differently from anything the people expected or imagined. They’d continued to wait and watch for centuries, and when the time came, God sent His messenger to a town in Galilee called Nazareth.

The coming of the Christ was overwhelming and beautiful. The salvation that Israel anticipated and awaited was delivered for more than the Jewish nation - it is for you and me. Only by the blood of Jesus can we enjoy relationship with God. Only by His atoning sacrifice that was provided not only for us but instead of us, can we receive redemption.  Our sin, all of it, which creates a deep chasm between the Lord and us, is washed away and the chasm bridged by the work of the cross. Having Jesus in my life makes me want to leap into the lap of my heavenly Father, hugging, thanking, and bawling for such a precious gift.

God provides in ways that exceed anything we can ask or imagine. Israel expected political deliverance. Instead, God brought a ministry of reconciliation for eternity by loving the world so much He gave his only begotten Son. I’m thankful for the words of Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth who, through the Spirit, immediately recognized that the child in Mary’s womb was the Lord:

 “She who has believed is blessed because what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled!” (Luke 1:45, HCSB). 

Believe, beloved daughter of the King, and be blessed.  Don't just wish, but wait with expectation for the truth which you believe. God's promises never fail. 

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Monday, December 16, 2013

Who Carries Your Load?

Do you have a pack mule? I’m not asking if you know what a pack mule is or if you know someone who works as hard as one, but rather, do you have one?  A human one? Is there someone in your life who carries a load that many (including you) should share? If so, then you have a pack mule – someone who will carry your load.    

In my estimation, the analogy of a pack mule represents one with a strong back, broad shoulders, who can carry a load that most aren’t capable of carrying.  We’re most apt to take advantage of them and take them for granted. Over time, we reach a point where we’ve heaped tasks and responsibilities onto one person, our pack mule, until she is barely able to stand. Most of us know someone we might consider a pack mule at church, or in the workplace, or the home school co-op, or among the elementary school volunteers, or in the homeowner’s association, or in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.  When they first started their given role, they felt like the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem. Joyful. Honored. Chosen. Appreciated. (The donkey’s emotions aren’t Scriptural, just part of my imagination). But unlike Mary’s donkey, over time as more and more was added to the load, our pack mule began to feel neglected. Abused. Weighed Down. Weary. 

Let me give an example. A friend of mine attends a small church in another city and sadly, the church has continued to reduce in its congregational size. For each former volunteer who exited, my friend accepted more tasks because she’s capable, she makes herself available, and she is willing to help. At least she began with a willing spirit. I’m not so sure she’d consider herself willing at this point, because she’s so worn down and exhausted.

As things have progressed, my beautiful friend has not only carried much of the emotional burden of a church that’s been close to shutting its doors, she is also the person who picks up the work load and continues to ensure that everything is done and done well. Why? So that when guests enter, they feel welcome and see more than a struggling church, but one that loves and honors the Lord in all they do. She wants guests to see Jesus, not the distraction of a church that neglects important details.

Pack mules often go unnoticed because they refuse to complain and they carry their load quietly. But they’re often sinking into an emotional and spiritual pit. We don’t intend to make them feel this way, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize we’re the ones who allow it to happen. We allow the pack mule to accept too many tasks and responsibilities. Often we let ourselves relax believing that our pack mule has a handle on things. We know we don’t have to get involved because she’ll handle things so well, and often catch ourselves thinking, “that’s what she signed up for,” or

“if the load were too much, she’d say no” (the truth is, pack mules rarely know how to say no), or

“I don’t know how to do what she does.”

We might think, “I’ll help her after the holidays because I have a lot on my plate right now.” I promise you, our pack mule has a lot to do for the holidays, too. She’d love your help now!

When we see a need and meet a need, the work is soon spread out evenly and we can prevent making pack mules out of our sisters in Christ. Here are a few ways to put this idea into practice: 

1)      Take Notice.  (John 13:34-35; Philippians 2:3)
Everyone likes a little attention from time to time. Let’s do the math and realize that when we look at all of the “stuff” that gets done around us, it’s often done by one very faithful and very exhausted person.  When we realize what’s happening, we can take action.

2)      Show gratitude.  (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Hebrews 10:24)
At the very least, we can express thanks for all that our pack mule does. Gratitude goes a long way in spurring on endurance and keeping a heart focused on what’s important.

3)      Lend a Helping Hand.  Often.  (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:35)
Let’s stop thinking that “this is so-and-so’s job,” and start pitching in. If we don’t know what to do or how to do it, we can simply ask appropriate questions then get to work. The job is most often too big for just one. Once we learn how, we can help on a consistent basis and start removing some of the load from our pack mule. 

I’m very excited to report that my weary friend’s church is turning around. God is clearly on the move. He’s bringing new families through the doors of the church and has breathed new life and energy into the Gospel spreading within the community. The once alive and vibrant church that dissolved into almost nothing is growing again with new life. It’s exciting to see and, in my mind, is due in no small part to the faithful and diligent effort of a dedicated person - the one who remembers WHO she serves, and continues to carry the load, no matter how hard it is.

We serve that ONE, our Savior Jesus Christ, too, so why, oh why, do we let the faithful few carry such huge loads? If you know a pack mule, will you reach out to her today? Will you serve Christ by honoring her? And for heaven’s sake, will you help her?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

For Obsessive Preppers Like Me

At a women’s Christmas event over the weekend, I had the distinct privilege of introducing someone who has quickly become a very close friend. Anyone who knows me well understands that I labor in preparing every word that I speak in a public setting. I pray, think, rehearse, rework, restate, and agonize any time I’ll address a crowd. (It’s clearly a Martha vs Mary mentality.) As I thought through what to say, I considered both the audience and the friend I’d introduce. Most of the audience had not yet met her and I wanted them to love her as I do. Which of her characteristics should I share? What points from her past would provide connection? How should I describe her impact on my personal walk with Christ? 

In the afterglow of the event, I began to reflect on how my words were stated and wondered if I said all I’d wanted to. You see, no matter how much I rehearse and try to memorize, my words come out differently than I plan nearly every single time I face an audience. Knowing that about myself makes me wonder why I agonize as I do. It’s somewhat of an obsession that I’ve developed from knowing the trouble that my mouth can cause. I’ve learned that I can’t prepare too much, even when I’ll provide a simple 60-second introduction for someone I adore.  

This morning’s contemplation, however, brought a new twist and I wondered… 

Do I put as much time, energy and effort preparing to introduce Christ to those I know and love? 

I adore the Lord and wish for everyone I know to love Him as I do. Therefore, which of His characteristics should I share? Which points from my past with Him would help to provide the most connection? How should I describe my Savior and speak of my personal walk with Him? Do I give proper attention to the manner in which I’ll introduce Him? Do I pray for opportunity and preparedness? 

The spirit brought conviction to my heart because if I’m honest, no, I don’t give intentional witness the focus it deserves. The Christmas season is a wonderful time to share Christ and people seem more open than normal to hear about Him. I have a new resolve to pray that I don’t squander the opportunities that God provides and that I don’t hesitate to share about the Lord. 

The Bible teaches that we are not to worry about what we are to say, particularly as it relates to our witness, because in that very hour, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak (Mark 13:9-11).  I can’t possibly rehearse every potential scenario and I must trust that the Lord will instruct me on what to say. But I can prepare in other ways. I can pray and ask the Lord for greater willingness to share. I can ask that He show me when, where, and with whom to speak, and I can pray that He prepare hearts for what He’ll speak through me. As I take these steps to prepare, I’m sure to find myself more willing to walk in obedience and better able to see the opportunities that He presents.

I take it to the Lord in prayer:  "Father, I pray that Your children will feel a sense of urgency to share Your Truth with a lost world. Make us ready, and prepare the hearts of those who share and those who hear. We ask for your strength and power to go before us and pave the way. We trust that we walk in Your path to accomplish what You purpose in each life. Thank you for Your faithfulness!"

Your turn:

Over which events or situations (holiday or otherwise) do you “obsessively” prepare?

How does this compare with the way you prepare to share Christ with others?

What changes would you like to make in either area?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Monday, December 2, 2013

6 Simple Strategies to Connect With Your Busy Spouse

Mike and I have one of those marriages.  The kind where we’re rarely at the same place at the same time. Our schedules feel almost like working opposite shifts. Our travel itineraries can be hectic and not infrequently, we see each other for a day or two every few weeks.  On a typical day, we don’t have “face time” until very late in the evening, just as our heads hit the pillows for much needed rest.

Throughout our 26 years of marriage, we’ve never connected well without our quality time together, yet as we agreed just last week - even as hectic as things are, we’ve never felt closer as a couple.  We’re often asked, “How do you two stay so connected?” 

It’s no accident.  We’ve learned to prioritize intentionality in our relationship and follow six simple and effective strategies to keep us on track.  We don’t do any of these things perfectly, but we strive to do them well and the effort brings huge reward.

1.   Establish and protect shared priorities. 

Our individual relationships with the Lord are our top priority and without that in place, none of what I’ll continue to share has any bearing. We also share the belief that our family is our next highest priority and we’re committed to do whatever it takes to protect it. Whatever it takes. If that should mean leaving a job or any other aspect of our lives to protect our marriage and family, we’d do it in a heartbeat.  This is not a lofty, false illusion, in fact, it’s part of our history. We’ve done it in the past. It’s not enough to set priorities; we do everything in our power to protect them.

2.  Don’t go it alone.   

About a year ago, our pastor saw a potential storm coming when he realized all we were about to undertake in the public service and ministry arenas.  He encouraged us to recruit a team of prayer warriors and we didn’t hesitate to do so. Our faithful prayer partners intercede often and on demand for our marriage, our family, our ministry and our public service. We do the same for them. Prayer support is a vital asset to our marriage and family.

3.  Date unconventionally.  

Hebrews 10:25, Philippians 2:3

Our schedules rarely give us evenings together and we’ve had to learn to date during other, non-prime time windows. We meet for morning or afternoon coffee as often as possible. We try hard to meet for lunch once or twice a week. Sometimes we have to act spontaneously, but if one of us is free for a daytime meeting, we try hard to make ourselves available. Sundays are our family day. While it’s a workday for me, we attend worship service together, serve our congregation together, and then enjoy time with one another in the afternoon and evening hours. We protect Sundays at all costs and rarely commit to appointments or accept invitations on that one day each week.

4.   Maximize the minutes.  

When afforded brief windows of time together, we stop multi-tasking and give each other our full attention. When we have 10 minutes together, our focus is on each other, not on our iPhones or unfinished tasks.

5.  Keep the air clear.

There’s not much time together and we don’t have time for guessing games. We’ve learned to keep short accounts and when something begins to bother us, we share it quickly and honestly. I can’t fix a problem that Mike doesn’t share with me and vice versa. I can either choose to let a problem escalate, or let him know he’s pushing one of my hot buttons then work toward a solution together. We choose to communicate kindly, openly, and in honoring ways toward one another. This takes practice, especially when emotions are raging, but it’s well worth the effort. We’ve learned to navigate most conflict with trust and calm hearts.

6.  Trust the other’s motivations.

We came to the obvious realization a number of years ago that we never intentionally set out to hurt each other. Of course, there are seconds that tick by from time to time when we may wonder, “Is he / she just trying to get my goat?” But we are intentional in giving each other the benefit of the doubt and reminding ourselves that we’re a team. We’re in this marriage forever, and we have no reason to wish the other harm or pain. We trust that when we do something to offend the other, it’s not intentional and we’ll work as hard and as fast as possible to make it right.  We choose to fight together as a team rather than fighting against each other.

Our marriage is far from perfect, but I won’t hesitate to call it magnificent. I adore my husband and I believe that he adores me. When we are intentional about working on these simple (but not always easy) strategies, they resolve about 98% of problems before they even start, and make our marriage dramatically easier to navigate. They keep us on a higher plane of communication where we can get to the heart of a matter without feeling blindsided or criticized, enjoy our time together, and not squander it on pent up and unresolved issues.  

Your turn:

How do you connect with your spouse when life is hectic?

Which of these 6 strategies would you like to implement right away and why?

Be strengthened today, by His Word,

Psalm 119:28

Monday, November 25, 2013

For Dad

Just days after surrendering to the Lord and professing His faith in Christ, my dad passed away on June 20, 2001.  It just happened to be the very day that Mike and I observed our 14th wedding anniversary. 

Our house flooded on my dad’s birthday this year (2013) during the torrential rains we experienced in Colorado.  We lost a lot of “stuff” kept in storage areas and as I sorted through box after soggy box, I was surprised to find an old day planner that was somehow perfectly dry.  Inside, I came across this poem of praise that I’d written just a few weeks after dad passed.  It was a beautiful, nearly forgotten, memorial stone.  

My heart remains full of gratitude. Dad’s conversion to Christ was nothing short of a miracle.  To God be the glory.

You Saved Him

You’ve shown me your glory, Oh, Lord.
I never dreamed it would turn out this way.
You called me to prayer,
And asked for my praise.
“Do this,” You said, “and you’ll see.”

You touched him, You loved him;
You opened his eyes and You saved him.

My words alone were never enough.
He wouldn’t listen and couldn’t see the truth.
My burden was great, but You carried it for me.
You knew Your perfect will would be done.
You knew the instant he’d receive Your love.

You touched him, You loved him;
You opened his heart and You saved him.

You showed him Your majesty
And with his lips he confessed to me.

You are mighty, Oh Lord, Faithful and true.
I give You all the glory
For Your works are marvelous
And worthy of praise.

I thank You, Father, for You are sovereign
And have control of all things.
I thank You for loving me
And showing Your enduring love.

You touched him, You loved him;
You opened his eyes and You saved him.

My Savior, You have shown Yourself
Once more to me.
I never doubted that you could
But often wondered if you would.
You whispered the truth to his heart and
He received new life in You.
You gave me peace
In knowing he loves you too.

I have him no more and I miss him greatly
But your love is sufficient
And always sustains me.
My heavenly Father, You’ll forever be.
My earthly father was taken from me,

But You touched him, You loved him;
You opened his eyes and You saved him.

You touched him, You loved him;
You opened his heart and You saved him.

He resides with You in heaven.
I promised to dance with him
when we meet again in Your eternal glory.

Written August 17, 2001 in memory of Calvin W. Caywood

© Cathy McIntosh 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

More Than a Pile of Rocks

What do you do with the memories of how God proved Himself faithful in your life? When God does something that you know could only have been the work of His hand, do you commemorate it somehow? We must not waste His victories. I believe that when the Lord does something significant in our lives, He whispers to our spirits, “Now don’t you forget that!”

In Old Testament times, God commanded His children to pile up stacks of stones as reminders of victories. Those memorial stones – or stones of remembrance – were to remain for all to see and remember. 

After crossing the Jordan, the Lord commanded Joshua to establish a memorial stone and, speaking to His servant in Joshua 4:6-7 the Lord said, “Let this be a sign among you so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” (NASB)

King David had his memorial stones too. When facing the giant form Gath named Goliath, David kept memories of overcoming a lion and a bear close to his heart. When the Lord led him in to the difficult battle, He remembered God’s great faithfulness and provision in earlier trials, and that strengthened him for what he was about to face. After defeating Goliath, God’s word tells us that David took the giant’s weapons into his tent. Perhaps this, too, was a reminder of what God had done. Perhaps David kept the weapons alongside the lion’s skull and the bear’s paw.

There are many ways to establish memorial stones today. Perhaps you like to journal, or keep a scrapbook. Maybe you write a blog or document short stories and testimonies in your Bible. The style of memorial stone really isn’t important, what matters is that you establish memorial stones in your life so that when your children (either physical or spiritual) ask later, you’ll be able to recount the stories of all that God has done in your life. 

We encourage one another through our stories. We spur on the faith of others by allowing them to hear the events that take place and giving the glory to God!  

Your Turn…

I’ve encouraged groups at many women’s gatherings to establish memorial stones and remember the way that the Lord’s hand has moved. What creative ways do you establish memorial stones? 

One way to begin is to make a list in headline style (without detailed narrative) times in your life when God’s hand was visible. Next, list a way that you can establish a memorial stone for each instance. Some have shared that they hang photos, quotes, or Scripture verses as reminders of the Lord’s activity in their life. Others literally pile stones of remembrance in a prominent location. Some keep a small stone in their pocket or purse, with a single word or a Scripture reference written on it. What will you do? 

Next week, I’ll share a memorial stone of my own. 

Be strengthened today, by His Word,

Psalm 119:28

Monday, November 11, 2013

4 Simple Ways to Connect at Church

Not so long ago, I considered myself nearly anti-social. Fellowship and connection at church were at the bottom of the list of things I wanted to do in a week. On a scale of one to ten, fellowship may have been a one, but only because zero wasn’t on the scale. 

Our congregation meets for Sunday school and shares about twenty minutes of fellowship before beginning our worship service. It is embarrassing to admit that even as much as I love studying the Word of God, I skipped Sunday school for a long time to avoid the twenty minutes of fellowship between the class discussions and worship. 

I have no tolerance for idle chitchat, and that often gets in the way of meaningful fellowship. After all, most friendships begin with casual, safe conversations that grow in depth over time. Since  I have difficulty connecting with some I’ve known for the majority of my life because discussions still don’t get past superficial topics, it was hard for me to keep working to build friendships with people I’ve just met.

But more than that, at the root of all of those feelings was the true problem of why I had trouble connecting:  My own independence. I wanted to buzz into church, get my fill of spirituality for the week and buzz out before I had to talk to anyone. My attitude was that I didn’t need church people, and they certainly didn’t need me. The quicker I could escape the passing chitchat, the better. I was independent and didn’t want anyone thinking I needed friendship. I had friends already.

Now, I said that independence was my problem, but isn’t independence a good thing? Don’t we teach our children to feed themselves and care for themselves, and become increasingly independent? When we’re seeking a job, aren’t the terms, “independent thinker,” “self-motivated,” and “self-sufficient” positive phrases to include on a resume? 

Let’s think through this. The world values independence. But as we learn more about God and following Christ, what is it that He values? The place to discover Him, of course, is Scripture, so let’s learn together. 

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is speaking about the thorn in his side and says in verses 8 – 10:  “Concerning this, I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”This passage clearly speaks of Paul’s dependence on God. 

Although Paul desired to be self-sufficient, He walked in humility knowing that His dependence on God made him stronger than He could ever be in his own flesh. The Lord stated, “My grace is sufficient…” and He desires our dependence on Him.

1 Corinthians 12:12-25 emphasizes God’s design for the people within the body of Christ to be interdependent on one another. Just like the parts of a physical, human body, the parts of the body of Christ need each other to accomplish the whole of what God has purposed for us. He united us into the body of Christ and has a plan in place for us. As we surrender to His will and work toward His Kingdom effort, as we are interdependent on one another, we will accomplish all He planned for us.

The world values independence but God values dependence on Him and interdependence within the body of Christ.

How can we become more interdependent on the body of Christ? I offer what I see as the top four ways to see immediate connection within the body of Christ:

1)     Build relationships. 

This is difficult for me, but God has shown me that I need to allow people into my real life… let them see the real me, not just the prettied up version. When I begin to share my real struggles, my honest insecurities, my genuine burdens, two things happen. Those with whom I share often say, “You too? I thought I was the only one,” and it brings a deeper sense of connection.  Secondly, I become more and more comfortable living in my own skin and walking with confidence as the person the Lord uniquely created me to be. When I’m the real me, people around me sense that and they start showing the “real them” too. 

2)    Show up.  

Learn together, worship together, serve together, and pray together. Any opportunity you have to gather with the body of Christ, do it! You’ll soon find yourself knit together in love with others who love the Lord. It’s a beautiful and fulfilling sense of community. It’s difficult to connect with those we rarely see, so if you desire connection, make an intentional effort to show up. 

3)    Reach out to others who may not feel connected. 

One practical way is to save conversations with established friends for days other than Sunday. I’ll connect with my girlfriends during the week, but on Sundays when our congregation gathers for corporate worship, I try to connect with someone I’ve never met, someone who might need an encouraging word, or those who seem to stay on the “outskirts” of our church body. I try to draw them in and help them know they’re welcome. 

4)    Serve together. 

There is nothing like rolling up our sleeves and working for God’s glory! When we serve side-by-side with other believers, our own unique gifts start to shine and we realize how we all need each other to complete the work of the Lord! My gifts and talents are different from yours and when we work together, we can certainly accomplish more for the glory of God! As a byproduct of our efforts, relationships will form and we’ll transition from acquaintances to friends, and Lord willing, to family!

I've come a long way in embracing fellowship and working to connect.  I'm realizing my dependence on God and interdependence on the body of Christ, but I still have a lot of learning to do.  I need these reminders along the way.  God honors every effort and rewards those who earnestly seek to honor Him.   

May you find blessing and encouragement as you connect within your church body in new and deeper ways!  

Your turn:

In what ways do you intentionally cultivate interdependence within the body of Christ?

How has the Lord shown you His desire for dependence on Him?

I’d love to hear your stories and comments!

Be strengthened today, by His word,

Psalm 119:28

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wisdom through Fear?

Fear is a real, personal struggle for me.  Not the jump-out-at-me-and-make-me-scream type of fear, but the daily fight with anxiety that multiplies within me until it becomes full blown fear. Because of my ongoing struggle, it was difficult to wrap my mind around the distinction between my unhealthy fears and the healthy fear that we are instructed to have toward the Lord.  I’ve wrestled a lot with this notion.  Maybe you have too. 

What, exactly, does it mean to fear the Lord?  Bible scholars teach that it means holding Him in a position of reverence.  That’s a solid start to be sure, but I believe fearing the Lord involves more than revering Him.  

Recently, I completed a word study on the word “fear” as used in the Psalms and Proverbs where it states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  While “reverence” is, indeed, a part of its definition, the term also carries the meaning that we’d expect as we use it in other contexts, such as, “I fear the worst will happen.” Or “What I fear most is _____.” 

According to the NAS Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon, the term fear as used in Psalm 111:10 means:  
fear, terror, fearing, awesome or terrifying thing (object causing fear), fear (of God), respect, reverence, piety, revered.

Keeping that definition in mind, if we fear the Lord are we to be frightened of Him?  Or are we to revere Him?  The answer to both questions is yes!  

The Lord provided a comforting revelation and helped me reconcile the two thoughts that seem to oppose each other.  I considered how I “feared” my earthly father while he was alive, and it brought a blurry concept into focus.

I was a daddy’s girl until the day the Lord took him to heaven. My dad taught me a lot about life, and he expected me to obey him – always and immediately.  When he told me to do something, he expected that I’d move to action before he took his next breath.  I’m certain that his dad expected the same from him.

I loved to spend time with my dad and would rather build a shed with him than play with friends or toys.   He taught me how to ride a horse, how to train a dog, which type of screwdriver to choose, how to use it, and where it belonged when I was finished.  He taught me to finish what I started, and to think before speaking. He taught me that God works everything together for good.  Dad helped me know that he was my biggest fan.  He was for me.  Always.  And he wanted the best for me.  I had great respect for my dad and I still do. He was one of the greatest men I ever had the honor of meeting.

However, my dad had a quick temper. When he was angry, he’d explode like a stick of dynamite with a short fuse.  As mad as I’d make him sometimes I never feared for my physical safety, but I was frightened of his terrifying anger.  I feared the loud volume that filled the air like an explosion. I feared the consequences of my mistake. I knew he could make my life miserable by adding chores or taking away privileges. I was afraid of being out of his good graces, even for a moment, and I dreaded disappointing him. It broke my heart when I knew he was upset with me because I had a strong desire to please him.  It made me happy to bring a smile to his face. 

In some measure, I feared my dad in the way that God’s Word commands us to fear the Lord.  While I did not worship my dad, I do worship the Lord, and I offer Him my reverence.  I have a great fear of disappointing the Lord and know that He will allow consequence in my life any time I am out of step with His Spirit.   He will allow my life to be miserable if I am hardheaded enough to require it (and I am sometimes), but He will work all things together for my good because He loves me (even more than dear old dad), and has called me according to His purpose.  He is for me.  Always.  He will not repay evil for good, and I can trust that He will supply all of my needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. 

To fear the Lord means to love, revere and obey Him.  To fear Him involves a reluctance to disappoint Him and a strong desire to please Him.  When we fear the Lord, we are frightened of the wrath suffered by those who reject Him, and the consequences of those who disobey.  Fearing Him causes us to strive to do what is right in His eyes.

May our fear of God our Father bring the beginning of wisdom and the promises of Scripture.

The fear of the LORD is
the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow His instructions
have good insight.
His praise endures forever.
Psalm 111:10 (HCSB)

Your Turn:

Have you struggled with the thought of fearing the Lord?  

How is the Lord moving you toward greater reverence toward Him and a desire to please Him?

Thanks for sharing your stories!

Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Monday, October 28, 2013

3 Things I Didn't See Coming: Blessings of Obedience

We’ve all felt “the nudge.” The gentle nudge God uses to let us know He has Kingdom work for us. Maybe we’ve acknowledged it but handed God a rain check saying, “When circumstances settle down, I’ll get to it.” Sometimes we feel the nudge but dismiss it as a great idea… for someday. It’s possible that we’ve felt the nudge and thought, “There’s no way the Lord wants me to do that! I couldn’t possibly pull it off!” Yeah, Moses felt that way, too.

No matter how we’ve handled God’s nudges in the past, consider this a challenge to take them seriously from now on. How? We can write them down. Pray over them, and ask the Lord for confirmation. If truly from Him, He’ll confirm it through a stirring in our hearts, a friend that makes a similar suggestion, insight from His Word, or repeated messages heard from sermons, podcasts, blogs, and other unexpected sources. Most of all, let's get to work and act on what the Lord is prompting us to do. We won't be sorry!

The short version of the story about when the Lord nudged me to write Finding Joy in the Journey: Savoring the Fruit of the Spirit, goes like this:   
·         My pastor suggested what I thought was a crazy idea and I said, “no way!”
·         I sensed the Lord had more to say on the matter (the “nudge”) and took it to prayer.
·         I took a few baby steps.
·         God’s people confirmed the project.
·         I dove in and went all the way.

When we move in obedience, blessings follow. That’s not what drives us to move, but I submit that it’s impossible to lean on God and His strength through a project and not receive blessings. I’ll share three blessings of obedience in my "nudge" to write that I simply did not see coming:

1)      Some in my circles disregard the project. And yes, that’s a blessing.

A few of my closest friends (whom I’d hoped would be wildly supportive) declined invitations to read the book, or hear me speak, or get involved on my Facebook page, or read this blog. One or two have quietly pulled away from the fellowship we once shared. After a period of hurt feelings and imagining every reason my friends might provide, God drew me to surrender. 

While I didn’t see it coming, this, too, was part of God’s confirmation. Looking to Scripture, Jesus’ friends and close acquaintances didn’t want to learn from Him, either (see Matthew 13:54-58). If the Lord, Himself, experienced rejection in His hometown, why should I be surprised when I face something similar? 

I believe the Lord is strengthening my muscles – providing tougher skin, greater endurance, and stronger perseverance in me. He is making me stronger so that I can face future, more difficult situations. That’s not exactly something I’m excited about, but I’ll walk in confidence knowing He’s prepared me well. 

2)      Many others warmly embrace my work.

Unexpected encouragement from my church family inspired me to press on in the early stages, without knowing the fuel they provided. As I’ve delivered the message to women’s conferences around the country, I’ve heard comments about the book like, “This is one of the best studies I’ve ever read. ” I don’t share that to toot my own horn, but to demonstrate the ways that the Lord confirms His calling. I never dreamed I’d hear such words. I didn’t see it coming.  To realize the Lord is using the work He’s done through me is a blessing that is extraordinary and extremely humbling.

3)      The book has inspired at least one eight-year-old girl to get into God’s Word.

Madison is a lovely young lady whose mom works alongside me in our church office two mornings a week. I consider them both dear friends. This fall, she asked her mom if they could read Finding Joy together.

There is a chapter where I share my morning quiet time routine. If my feet hit the floor before I open God’s Word, it’s likely I’ll miss my quiet time that day. The Lord blesses us in our obedience and when my sweet husband noticed my routine, He started delivering coffee to my bedside.

Here’s how the story went in Madison’s house after reading that chapter:

Maddy:         That hits me, Mom.
Mom:            How so?
Maddy:         Well, you tell me every morning to read some of my Bible, but I should want to do that on my own. So when I get up in the morning I want to read my Bible and you don’t have to tell me.
Mom:            Would you like me to bring you hot tea?
Maddy:         Yes, please! 

It’s precious. In my wildest imagination, I never dreamed that words I penned could help deepen a young lady’s desire for time with the Lord. I didn’t see that coming. 

When we do what God asks, He will use our work in ways that only He can orchestrate. Our role is to do what He calls us to do, and the rest is up to Him. Let's step out in faith and DO what God has called us to do. He has a plan for all of us. Through you and me, He will touch lives, inspire others, and minister to lost souls.  Let's walk in obedience, step out with purpose, confidence, and determination, and then enjoy the blessings that come.

Be doers of the word and not hearers only
James 1:22 (HCSB)

Your turn:

What do you feel the Lord prompting you to do?

Share a time when the Lord used your obedience in unexpected ways.

I’d love to hear your story. Please share your comments!
(If you received this post via e-mail, comment by clicking here.)

Find strength today, by the Word, 

Psalm 119:28

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Do You Know God Loves You?

I fell into a spiritual slump not long after the Lord led me through a profound area of repentance.  I’d made some life-changing confessions to others and myself and I was free at last!  But the enemy didn't want me to feel comfortable in this fresh feeling of freedom. Underlying doubt played on continuous loop in my mind. I knew God could, and had, forgiven me but I sensed uneasiness in my spirit and had a hard time making the pieces of the forgiveness puzzle fit together.   

A business trip took me to Dallas, close to where a dear married couple of spiritual giants lived, a great Aunt and Uncle of my husband’s. When I refer to them as “great”, I mean that literally and genealogically. These two souls lived, breathed and loved Jesus Christ.  They made their home close to us in Colorado for a number of years and I’d known them since before we married, but I’d stayed in the background at most of our family gatherings.  I admired them from afar but didn't feel that I had much of a personal relationship with them.  At this crucial moment in my life, I had an important question that I not only wanted - but needed - to ask them.  

They thought it somewhat surprising when I called and asked if I could stop and see them during my trip to Texas, but they were most obliging and extended the famous southern hospitality. As my anxious heart pounded in my chest, we spent an afternoon and evening together talking about their new life in Texas, what church they attended, how they spent their days as retirees, giving updates on family members, and what brought me to the area. Finally, our discussions turned to spiritual matters and I heard the remarkable stories of when their hearts caught on fire for the Lord. They captured my full attention and at the right moment, I blurted out the question I’d come such a long way to ask,

“How do you know God loves you?”

I referred to myself, of course. I needed to know how God could love me after all I’d done. For me, this was the missing piece of the forgiveness puzzle and I needed an answer to silence my plaguing doubts.

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Because God tells us in His Word.” And at that moment, I received one of the most profound, life changing gifts I've ever received.  This dear couple took my heart by its spiritual hand and showed me two passages in Scripture that I’ll forever call my own.   They encouraged me to read them, and not just read but devour, and not just devour, but to meditate and allow them to penetrate. For when we meditate on God’s Word, it can penetrate the deepest places of our heart.    

That’s the day I discovered my two favorite chapters in all of God’s word:  Psalm 139 and Ephesians 1. They've become personal love letters to me from a God Who asks that I cast my cares upon Him because He cares for me. I continually cast, and He responds with grace, mercy, and most of all, love. Not just in my moments of need, but also in times of rejoicing. The more I cast, the more He responds, and the more I'm filled with His love.

God speaks to us through His inerrant Word.  When He tells me He loves me I make a choice to believe Him, even when I don’t feel lovable. He knows more about me than I know myself and through the blood of Christ He sees me as holy, blameless and without blemish. I don’t have to understand it, for it is a mystery. My role is to accept it as truth. Embracing that truth has changed my doubting heart into one of strengthened faith. I pray the love of Christ brings life change for you as well.   

For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Romans 8:38-39 (HCSB)

Your turn:

What are your go-to passages of scripture and why are they important to you?

Did you discover the passages by yourself or did someone share them with you?

How have they helped you through a spiritual slump?

I’d love to hear your story. Please share your comments!

Find strength today, by the Word, 

Psalm 119:28

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Walking in Confidence

I'm struck this week by the words of Hebrews 10.

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of great endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised."  (Verses 35-36)

I don't know about you, but when wearniess sets in, I quickly lose my confidence, my focus, and often lose sight of the vision that God provides for my calling.  I daydream about quitting and retiring somwhere oceanside where I can succomb to my introverted personality.   I often feel weary when trials set in, or when work piles up, or when I've disappointed someone. And yes, as Hebrews 10:36 says, I have need of great endurance to do the will of God.  When that endurance doesn't come immediately (and it rarely does), I long to crawl under the covers and bury my head in the pillows.  God can do His work without me, after all, so the temptation to simply go back to bed is strong.  

But I read on in Hebrews 10 and see that, "in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.  But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him."  (Verses 37-38). 

While our time of earthly service to the Lord seems long and sometimes exhausting, it is truly no more than the blink of an eye.  Before we know it, Christ will either return or call us home.  Will I be one who presses on toward the goal?  Or will I be one who shrinks back?  Will I be one who counts all there is to lose or one who sees how much there is to gain? 

Lord Jesus, fill me with Your power and strength and ensure that I am not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.  (Hebrews 10:39).  You don't call the equipped, You equip the called  - so may I walk in confidence knowing that I never walk alone.