Resolve to Believe God in 2016

images-2Did you make any resolutions for 2016? With two weeks into the new year, are you standing firm?

I rarely make New Year resolutions because I usually forget them or throw them aside by April. And my resolution is usually something that I should’ve been doing anyway, so why not start it in June or November? This year, however, I really wanted to tackle some goals. Having finished the final edits on my first devotional book, I determined to write two more books this year. Since I want to write several days each week, I have to manage my time more productively. So, I’m waking up one hour earlier to exercise, and then, after my family leaves for the day, I’m writing or studying and planning. With two weeks behind me, I’m still committed.

LifeWay Research, a ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources, found that “when Americans make New Year’s resolutions, a better relationship with God ranks almost as high as better health.” Many Americans will make resolutions to be kinder or pray more or go to church more.

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Instead, how about resolving to believe God for more in 2016? Believing God will cultivate a better relationship with Him. Believing God means we know that all He has said is true. Like this: I’m believing that He  ________. You fill in the blank.

images-1Here’s how I’m filling in the blank with what I’m believing: “I’m believing that He chose me and has put me in a place to be fruitful.”

I’m believing that truth based on John 15:16: “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.”

I remind myself daily about what I’m believing. “Hey, don’t forget: You are chosen.”

I preach to myself. “You are chosen by God to be fruitful. Keep believing that!”

I tell others what I’m believing. “I believe that God has chosen me, so my life has purpose.”

I tell Him. “Father, I know that you chose me and have a plan to bring fruit from my life.”

And my faith grows!

The best resolution you could make this year? Believe God. What will you believe that He has done for you or had said about you? Let me know how it’s going. Let’s pursue greater faith in 2016.

 

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He is Always Enough

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Thanksgiving is in my rearview mirror, but the cleaning and cooking left me feeling worn out. How about you? Maybe the preparation didn’t wear you out. Maybe the people wore you out.

As we prepare for another holiday, I am keenly aware that not everyone eagerly anticipates Christmas.

My recently divorced friend will pick out a tree by herself and decorate it alone.

My recently widowed friend will face another holiday missing his wife of nearly thirty years.

A friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer and endures weekly chemo treatments, may not feel well enough to shop, wrap, and celebrate as usual with her children.

A friend who recently filed bankruptcy will not be able to buy gifts for her family.

When we come up short in life…when we feel tired…when there’s too much conflict…too much loss…too much work…He is there. And where He is, there is always enough. Enough time. Enough energy. Enough patience. Enough strength. Enough ideas.

Lately, when I feel like I’m unequal to a task, I just show up. When I show up, I bring what I have to give, no matter how small. Then, I depend on Him to bring His power.

To the wandering Israelites who believed that they could be free from slavery in Egypt, He gave manna every day. Enough manna every day for forty years.

To the hungry crowd of thousands beside the Galilean lake, He added His power to a boy’s small lunch. That lunch fed them all with left overs. It was more than enough.

To the amazement of all, when He was killed and buried, He came back to life!

To John Newton, who “concluded (his) sins were too great to be forgiven,” He died “a death for sins not his own, but…for the sake of those who should put their trust in him.” His death was enough. His grace is enough.  Mr. Newton penned the beautiful hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

If you are coming up short this season, remember that He is for you, and He is always enough.

 

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Children Are Like Snowflakes

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Children are like snowflakes. In mass, they are similar and share common characteristics like curiosity, laughter, dreams, simplicity, play.  However, each child is uniquely shaped and creatively gifted. My second child landed in this world eager to play and make friends.

As a middle child, she learned early how to adapt to her siblings. Let’s face it, if you want someone to play with, you have to be willing to do whatever they want to do. She played with dolls until her older sister outgrew them, and then she played with tractors and trains with her younger brother. Those adaptability skills have been useful in college!

She loves spicy food. As a toddler, she begged for salsa on her tortilla chips We cringed as she took the first bite and laughed as she smiled and said, “Mmmm.” Later, I found her pulling chives out of the ground to munch on while playing outside. And when I cut onions at the counter, she would reach a chubby little hand up to steal a few. For awhile, we wondered if she had taste buds.

Her spiritual antennae is tuned to the needs of hurting people. At eleven, she confided that she wanted to be a missionary. From an early age, she has devoured missionary biographies. When she wanted to learn how to share her faith, I pulled Witnessing Without Fear by Dr. Bill Bright off of the family bookshelf. And during a visit to Chicago, I discovered that she had stuffed her purse with snacks to give away to homeless people.

As children often do, they end up teaching us as much as we teach them. One day, she taught me a lesson about hope that I’ve never forgotten. She was about five, during the Beanie Baby craze, and she came to me with the kneeling bear Hope. Hope’s hands were joined in prayer, and her eyes were closed. She declared, “Look, Mom. Hope always prays.” She smiled satisfactorily and ran back to play. I still hear that phrase: “Hope always prays.”

Happy 21st birthday , Middle One. We’re glad you came to us. Or should I say, “We’re glad that you invited us to your party.”

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What Does Jesus Say about Rest?

This week I’m sharing an entry from my new devotional book, Led by the Shepherd.

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I have always loved sleep, and I especially love naps.  As a child, I begged for naps until I was in the first grade! I can sleep anywhere. Once, I fell asleep at a concert while sitting in the front row.  In my defense, I was three months pregnant with our first child, and it was after nine o’clock!  Unfortunately for me, though, the biblical concept of rest has more to do with being awake than with being asleep. 

“Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).

Jesus said that rest involves coming to Him. Only He can give rest to our souls.  Here, we learn something about the kind of leader He is–a gentle and humble-hearted Shepherd who would never overburden me spiritually or otherwise.  The word “rest” found in these verses teaches us about a state of inward tranquility, felt even while we’re doing necessary work.  Is that kind of rest a foreign thought?  Are you racing from commitment to commitment?  Is it difficult to relax? Do you need some peace? If we are doing only those things that Jesus has crafted us for, we will experience inward peace or rest even though we may be busy.

Psalm 46:10 also tells us how to find soul rest. “Be still, and know that I am God” (NIV).  One translation says the verse this way:  “Cease striving, and know that I am God.” Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘striving’ as an “effortful attempt to gain a goal” or “straining.”  What do you find yourself straining to do lately? I often find myself straining to be the perfect mother to my children, the perfect wife to my husband, and the perfect friend.  The list of endless striving is still worn and lying in my hand as I doze off to sleep in my rocking chair late at night or when I awake to the buzzing alarm clock at five o’clock in the morning.

His invitation is clear: “Come to Me.”

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Are You in Life’s Waiting Room?

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I am impatient. Sometimes I’m demanding, a person with expectations too high, especially for myself. A high school teacher and mentor once compared me to a duck,  calm on the surface but paddling frantically under the surface.

Who doesn’t find waiting tedious? Waiting in the long line at Starbucks for my coffee order. Waiting for fingernail polish to dry. Waiting for cold, wintery days to turn warm again. Waiting to hear test results from the doctor’s office. Waiting through an engagement for the wedding day. Waiting nine long months for a baby.

Waiting is hard. It demands patience. It forces rest.

My impatience flared three years ago when I became too exhausted to return to my full-time teaching job. Disappointed, I landed in unfamiliar territory. “How long until I feel like participating in life again?” I asked my doctor.

She smiled and said, “How long did it take you to get like this? Then it will take about that long.”

She was right. I had been sinking in quicksand, feeling exhausted for a few years. A long nap wouldn’t be enough to pull me out. So, I began the journey of waiting, sometimes despairing that I’d ever feel well enough to do more than daily necessities: get up, brush teeth, eat.

During that first year, the words of John 15 came to me over and over: “I am the vine, you imagesare the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NASB). I would discover that true rest–soul rest–comes from abiding in Jesus. Nineteenth century preacher Andrew Murray explains in his book Abide in Christ, “There was a depth of meaning you cannot yet realize in His words: ‘Abide IN ME.'”

The John 15 grapevine is the picture of waiting. What else can a branch do but stay connected to the vine? From that position in the vine, the branch receives all that it needs to grow and flourish.

Abiding requires a certain amount of waiting. And while we wait, we give up our ideas about how life should go. Abiding cultivates humility, as I give up pride, self-reliance, and self-promotion. Abiding requires listening. So, I am learning to wait on God.

Well-meaning people ask me, “What are you doing these days?”

I give the only answer that I have right now. “I’m waiting on God.”

I have enjoyed this song by the Passion band, featuring Christy Nockels, “Waiting Here for You.”

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Is Anyone Really Listening?

imgresAs we exited the store, two-year-old Benjamin, suddenly tugged hard on my hand and broke free from my grasp. I yelled, “Ben, stop,” but he had darted into the road. An on-coming car screeched to a stop. I rushed after him, scooping him up and toting him to the car.

I was at my end. There had been other incidences. At the swimming pool. At home. Whenever his strong opinions and curiosity took over, I was either in for a fight or a life-saving attempt. Thus, we struggled through the two-year-old stage.

One morning, I stopped at a toy store to buy a gift. A new, red firetruck caught Ben’s eye. He played quietly with it on the floor of the toy store while I shopped and paid for my gift. When I finished paying, I said, “Let’s go, buddy.” He objected loudly, “No! I want the truck.” As his volume rose, I realized that I had to leave fast. I scooped him up and tucked him under my arm. At that moment, he exploded into a full-scale fit, squirming, kicking, yelling, and crying. I smiled weakly at the clerk and exited the store.

I sighed wearily as I strapped him into his booster seat. When would he learn to listen? Then, another thought intruded. You are behaving just like him. You have been throwing a fit about living here, and you have not been listening to me. I knew that voice, and He was right. We had moved to Denver, Colorado, two years previously. And though I wasn’t kicking and crying, I had quit listening to God, wanting my own way.

The heartbreaking reality of refusing the wisdom and comfort of the All-Knowing One flooded my heart. I had been as foolish as a two-year-old child who thinks that he knows what will make him happy and who refuses the care and protection of listening to his mother. I cried all the way home, resolving to listen.

I’m not the only one who has been guilty of not listening. God told the Israelites to listen to His voice:  “And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him” (Deuteronomy 30:19 MSG) Yet, over and over in the Old Testament, the Israelites refused to listen.

When Jesus came, He declared Himself the Good Shepherd and taught that His “sheep (would) recognize his voice and come to him” (John 10:3 NLT). Why do I sometimes refuse to listen to Him? Do I really believe that His plans for me are better than a brand new, red firetruck? 

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How Does Faith Survive Suffering?

Weakness and suffering are a reality of life, so how does faith survive suffering?

I attended two funerals this week. At one funeral, a son who watched his father suffer with cancer remarked, “These are the days when we find out whether our faith is real. Do we really believe those things? Or do we despair and give up?”

Life here can be so difficult.

This past year, I have watched my son live with physical weakness as he recovers from two mono viruses and their complications. It isn’t easy for a seventeen-year-old boy to sit the bench on his varsity basketball team or to struggle with six weeks of missed work and maintain top grades.

For the past two months, A friend has been sharing his grief openly after the loss of his wife. Not only has he suffered that loss, but he had already endured the loss of his business through a fire and the loss of his daughter a few years ago. But, he is still thankful.

Over the past two years, a dear friend has been rebuilding her life after the betrayal of her husband of 35 years. Despite the pain, she is living a real faith that gets up and goes to work every day, free of bitterness.

There are others. God knows your names.

Living daily with suffering is like walking a tight rope or standing on the edge of a cliff. The desire to jump into the self pity and let the pain engulf hope is strong. But a Savior who holds out His hand and invites us to stay by His side says, “I understand. I suffered too.”

Maybe, suffering is important for faith to gain a more intimate awareness of His Divine Presence. Maybe, suffering is important for faith to understand that we are held by Love and nothing else.  So, faith is not extinguished by suffering; in weakness it burns stronger, brighter. 

Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus, promises those who suffer:

“You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does”  (1 Peter 5:10 MSG).

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