Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Bad Year, Good God

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I’ve heard people joke that 2016 is a year they’d like to forget. Daily headlines remind us our nation and our world have seen more than their fair share of ugly circumstances: tragic accidents, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disturbing racism and political upheaval. Our nation is deeply divided, confused and disillusioned. Our world is in turmoil. People are losing sleep and shedding tears as they agonize over the variety of complex issues that have plagued us this year.

And yet, in the midst of all of these ugly and awful things, I am thankful. Not because of them, but in spite of them. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful that my hope isn’t in human leaders, or manmade institutions. My hope isn’t in people, prosperity or earthly peace. I’m thankful because my hope is in the living God, who is sovereign over all things. I’m thankful because my ultimate citizenship is not in this world, but with God in heaven.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture seems especially fitting this week as I reflect on my thankfulness for God and his sovereignty. Below I’ve included excerpts from Isaiah 40 that cause me to feel thankful, hopeful and reassured, no matter what is going on in our nation and world:

Isaiah 40:21-25

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.”

Thankfulness Point #1: People who seem important or influential in this world may make a positive or negative impact for a time, but they will ultimately blow away like chaff in the wind. No earthly leader, no matter how wise or respected could ever compare to God. Likewise, no earthly leader, no matter how corrupt or questionable, could ever thwart God’s plans.

 Isaiah 40:26

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Thankfulness Point #2: God knows the stars by name and calls them out one by one. He also knows the number of hairs on my head and the head of every other person who has ever lived. (Luke 12:7) Nothing escapes his gaze. I am deeply thankful that the God of great power and mighty strength knows and cares about me personally.

 Isaiah 40:27-28

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

Thankfulness Point #3: Even when we don’t understand what God is allowing in this world, we know he is trustworthy. His understanding is beyond anything our miniscule minds could comprehend. We can be thankful even when God’s ways and purposes are hidden from us. He is everlasting and sees world events from a vantage point that has a much larger scope than anything we can see.

 Isaiah 40:29-31

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Thankfulness Point #4: God renews our strength. No matter how weary and beaten down we become, we can always find refuge in him. His strength is available and accessible to us whenever we seek it. Not only does he renew and restore us, he enables us to soar like eagles so we can rise above even the most distressing situations.

Final Thought

No matter how ugly or distressing the events in the world are, we never have reason to despair. We can put trust and hope in the living God. He is our rock and refuge. Anything else we’re thankful for builds on that one truth. God is God and we are not. And that’s something we can celebrate at Thanksgiving and all year long.

For further reassurance on God’s sovereignty, click on the link and enjoy Natalie Grant’s song “King of the World.” Make it your prayer this Thanksgiving season.

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Infinitely Large, Intimately Small

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Stepping out onto the sunlit terrace, it took a moment to realize the intricacy of the vast wall before me. A sea of green in countless shades fluttered in the bay breeze. Moving closer to the Living Wall at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I marveled at the thirty-foot high, 4400 square foot expanse in front of me. It was impossible to count the number of different plants that were growing out of tiny fist-sized outcroppings in the concrete wall. The more I looked, the more amazed I became. Stepping closer, I began snapping close-up photos to capture the stunning array of shapes, sizes and shades of green.

Eventually, my friends and I moved on to enjoy man-made works of art inside, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that wall and God’s infinite creativity even in the simplest things. He had a whole world to build yet he chose to make leaves in more colors and shapes than I could count. That’s pretty awe-inspiring and more than a little humbling.

The God of the universe sees the big picture and cares about the smallest detail simultaneously. He can be attentive and engaged with every person that calls upon him. We never have to wait our turn, take a number or be placed on “hold.” We can pray about anything and everything, trusting that he listens and cares because we matter to him.

 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV)

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I overlook God’s attentiveness. I try to work things out on my own strength and wisdom and I end up anxious, exhausted and no less burdened than I was before. I forget the invitation Jesus extends to us:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:27-29, NIV)

When I accept this offer, I find peace even in the midst of the challenges I’m facing.  The best part is that God is strong enough to carry my burdens, yours and everyone else’s simultaneously. Not only that, he loves it when we ask him. And he does all of this while he holds the world together, without overlooking a single detail.

It’s hard to comprehend that God is infinitely big and infinitesimally small. The Living Wall exemplifies this paradox so beautifully. From a distance it’s just a massive expanse of green, but the closer you get, the more you realize its subtle nuances and minute details. The more you look at it, the more beautiful and complex it becomes.

Jason Gray’s latest song “Sparrows” reminds me to appreciate our God that is exponentially larger than we can comprehend. At the same time, he is intimately involved with the smallest details in our lives and in the wide world all around us. Click on the link to enjoy the song and be encouraged today.

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God + Me = A Majority

 

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The music from my car’s radio turned to static as I wound my way through the Santa Cruz Mountains on Highway 17. I clicked the knob off and breathed a prayer: God, thanks for being with me wherever I go. I’ve prayed a lot about this trip and you know what I need, so I’m not going to keep saying it. Please help me to be silent now and just feel your presence.

Half an hour later I was pulling into a parking space at the conference center. My heart thudded in my chest as I walked past a cheerful sign saying “Welcome Mount Hermon Christian Writers.” I chastised myself silently: Yesterday you spoke to a room full of women and assured them that “God + Me = A Majority.” Do you believe that’s true in your own life today?

It was my first time to the conference and I’d felt some dread in the months leading up to it.   I was nervous about spending four nights away from my family with several hundred writers, literary agents, editors and publishers. Knowing I was a rookie and that I didn’t know a soul attending didn’t help. To say it was a step out of my comfort zone would be an understatement.

I found reassurance reminding myself that I wasn’t alone and never would be. I tried to let the title of my talk travel from my head to my heart: “God + Me = A Majority.” I repeated the line several times to grasp its truth. God came up the mountain with me. He would also meet me there and connect me to others who knew Him. I could trust Him because His promises were true.

I thought about all of the people I’d referenced in my talk the day before. Throughout the Bible God promised many people He would be with them: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Jeremiah and Gideon—to name a few. In Hebrews we find this promise for all who follow Jesus: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5b)

The only reason we can claim this promise is that Jesus made it possible for us. His death on the cross allows us to have direct and permanent access to God. As we celebrate Holy Week, it seems only fitting to consider the price Jesus paid so that we will never be forsaken by God.

While He walked the earth, Jesus took great comfort in knowing His Father was with Him. On the night before He was crucified, He told His disciples in the garden: “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (John 16:32) He knew His closest friends would desert Him in His hour of greatest need, yet He took comfort knowing His Father was there with Him.

A day later, Jesus had been arrested, beaten and nailed to a cross.   His pain was not only physical, but also spiritual and emotional. This was the only time in His earthly life He could not find comfort in His Father’s presence. As He suffered in agony, He cried out the words of David from Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains: “The Father withdrew from communion with the Son. No longer did he evidence his love toward the son. Instead Christ had become the object of the Father’s displeasure, for he was the sinner’s substitute. Christ became ‘sin for us’ and a holy God cannot look with favor upon sin.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1990 edition, p. 1024)

Jesus took the punishment that we deserved so that we never have to experience being forsaken by God. The very thing that comforts us most as Christians was denied to Him.

Thinking about this makes my heart swell with gratitude. His sacrifice on the cross not only enables us to have eternal life, it also allows us to have the comfort of knowing He walks with us daily.

Knowing this truth should make us passionate about sharing it with others. How could we keep it to ourselves when there is a world desperately in need of hope?  One of the best ways we can show Jesus gratitude for His work on the cross is by being lights for Him.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

There are so many different ways we can do this with our actions, attitudes and words. Our neighborhoods, schools and secular workplaces provide abundant opportunities to shine for Jesus.  When we help an underserved population locally or overseas, we are bringing light to darkness. Sometimes it can be as simple as showing love and grace when we’re tempted to dish out judgment and criticism. The options are limitless. God gives us the gifts we need and equips us to bring light to the darkness. Our job is to step out obediently to use what He’s given us. This might sound a little intimidating, but we can rest assured that He will be with us and that “God + Me = A Majority.”

Click on the link below to be inspired by Christy Nockels’ song “Life Light Up.”

If you missed my talk at Focused Living, you can access it through my Facebook page:  Marybeth Mc Cullum – Author (due to privacy settings I am unable to post it here)

(The title “God + Me = A Majority” was borrowed from an episode of Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey).

 

 

 


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The Aftermath of Being “Punked”

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Beth Moore told a story in Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still about a time when she was duped by a woman with a testimony that seemed too amazing to be true.  When Beth learned that she and her ministry had been deceived, one of her staff members said: “We’ve been punked!”

I decided to look up the word “punked” online to see some of the definitions for this slang term that has become popular in recent years.  Here are a few of the definitions I found:  punkedA way to describe someone ripping a person off, tricking, teasing; humiliated completely, as in disrespected; putting oneself in a position of being open to ridicule; having been lied to or fooled.

Like Beth, I still wince when I think of a few times that I’ve been “punked” by Satan through hard circumstances with others.  While I’ve never had someone “punk” me in such a deliberate way, I’ve experienced my fair share of pain.  What I chose to do with the pain often led me down a path of being spiritually attacked. People may hurt us intentionally or unintentionally, but it is really Satan who does the “punking.”  First Peter 5:8 says it clearly:  “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  When we’re hurt, we can either draw closer to God or look for unhealthy ways to cope that leave us spiritually vulnerable.

Looking back, it’s clear there were times when I made myself pretty easy prey for that prowling lion looking for someone to devour.  Beth Moore gave a big and extreme example of when Satan used a situation to “punk” her, but we all have situations that can lead to being “punked” by him. It’s just one of the down sides of living in a fallen world.  We can be sure that even if someone didn’t intentionally mean to “punk” us, Satan looks for ways to capitalize on our hurt and use it against us.  Here are a few situations he can use to “punk” us when we’re not staying alert:

-A pastor or ministry leader disappoints you personally causing you to withdraw from Christian community or to stop attending corporate worship services

-A pastor or ministry leader’s sinful nature is suddenly exposed and you stop trusting anyone in a leadership position and cynicism begins to take root in you

-Your tight knit community of friends fractures and goes its separate ways causing you to feel hurt and wary of engaging in deep relationships anymore

-Your spouse, friend or business partner betrays you, leaving you choking on your own bitterness and unable to see past your own problems

-Your teen or adult child seems to do the opposite of everything you taught him, leaving you disillusioned about the Christian parenting tools you thought were foolproof

-The ministry where you’ve been serving seems to be changing in a way that doesn’t fit with your vision so you disengage and stop seeking ways to use your gifts

-You have a difference of opinion with someone you serve with and decide it’s not worth it to be involved in ministry anymore

-A close friendship falls apart and your fear of being hurt prevents you from cultivating new friendships

If you can relate to any of the scenarios above, you are not alone.  What if it’s too late?  What if you’ve already been “punked?”   Here are a few thoughts on dealing with the aftermath and moving back into a place of health and wholeness.

-Don’t let being “punked” make you bitter

Ephesians 4:31 tells us:  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”  When bitterness takes root in us, it flavors everything in our lives negatively.  Bitter people rarely exude joy, peace, or grace.  It’s hard to share the love of Christ when bitterness plunges its roots deep into the soil of our lives.   Pray and ask God to remove the bitterness you feel welling up inside of you.

-Don’t lose trust in all people because you were burned

In Matthew 10:12-14 & 16 Jesus says:  As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet…I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Being shrewd and innocent means having discernment to know the difference between people who are trustworthy and people who are not.  It is unwise to assume the negative about all people you encounter because of one or two bad experiences.

-Pray against cynicism

Colossians 3:12-14  “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Cynicism doesn’t coexist well with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love.  It makes us sarcastic, jaded and unable to be authentic in our relationships with others.

-Don’t lose sight of the other good things in your life

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the hurt we feel and to miss all of the other places good things are happening.  Good things and hard things usually co-exist in our lives.  We show wisdom when we can be thankful noticing the good and instead of fixating on the bad.

-Get help to access the tools you need for healing

Matthew 18:15-16 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”    Often we try to muscle through hard situations on our own when what we need is the help of others.  There was a time when the same person was repeatedly emotionally hurting me.  I was afraid to talk to anyone about it for fear of being a gossip.  When I finally confided in a wise friend, she spoke the truth and reassurance I desperately needed to hear.  Eventually a Christian counselor equipped me with the tools I needed to heal and learn from what I’d experienced.  The ways I grew by facing my pain caused much good to come from a very difficult situation.

-Practice Forgiveness

Matthew 6:14-15 says:  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  I don’t think I could say it any clearer.  If we love God, then we need to forgive.  This is a choice we make, not a feeling.  Think of forgiveness as a cycle that may need to repeat rather than a one-time transaction.  You’ll feel tremendous relief when you’re able to release your hurt at the feet of Jesus.

-Take time to heal, but don’t withdraw permanently

Matthew 5:14-16 says: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Taking time to heal is healthy and good, but we can’t hide our lights forever.  If you need to push the “pause” button for a while to re-group, that is a good thing, just don’t let it become your new “normal.”  Hebrews 10:25-26 says:  “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

-Don’t let Satan sideline you and keep you from using your gifts to bless others

1 Peter 4:10 says: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  If you’ve been hurt while serving in a specific area and want to step back, take some time to pray and see what is next.  Maybe there are some issues you need to confront in your current situation.  Maybe it is time for you to find a new place to plug in and use your gifts.  Just make sure you don’t leave any unfinished business behind before you move on.  Running from a difficult or frustrating situation doesn’t bring healing– it just delays it.

-Put on your spiritual armor

Ephesians 6:10-18  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”  Be aware that you are vulnerable to spiritual attack and access the spiritual armor God gives you to stand firm against it.

Just in case you need a reminder if you’ve been “punked”, you are not alone.  You might be wondering how I compiled the list of suggestions above.  It’s all from personal experience.  I’ve let the messiness of life open me up to being “punked” by Satan more than once.  Hopefully, the things I’ve learned will bless you and enable you to avoid having to learn the hard way like I did.

There are many helpful resources to assist you if you’ve been “punked” and don’t want to find yourself there again.  A few books that have made a difference for me are:

Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes (Don’t let the title fool you- this book is about learning from your hurt so that you won’t be doomed to repeat it)

Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

If you have other resources that have helped you, please make a comment and share them with others.

Need a little encouragement right away?  Click on the link below to hear the song “Holding Nothing Back” by Ryan Stevenson. It will remind you that it’s best to keep our eyes on Jesus in the midst of our hurts and disappointments.  There is no better way to safeguard against getting “punked.”


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When Praying Expectantly Wears Thin

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  –Proverbs 13:12

California is having its driest winter in the state’s 164-year history.  While I know this is bad news for our water supply, I must admit I’m enjoying the dry days, warm weather and clear blue skies.   I can’t make it rain, so I might as well enjoy the sunshine.  Who could blame me?

Recently our family took advantage of a warm and sunny Saturday to go mountain biking together.  My younger son had been asking to ride on a specific trail that he spied a while back, so we thought it was the perfect day to try it.  He knew that getting to the fun downhill part would require quite a bit of hill climbing first.  I was pretty impressed he wanted to do such a challenging ride.  At first the promise of that grand finale on the second half buoyed his spirits as we started our ascent.  Pretty soon, however, he started falling behind the rest of us. The excitement for the descent evaporated as his muscles burned and his lungs gasped for air.  When he finally reached the top, he’d lost all desire to finish the ride and wanted to turn around and go back the way we came.

I cheered for him as he walked his bike up to where we were waiting and reminded him of his goal.  “You can’t stop now, buddy!  The trail you’ve been waiting for is coming soon.  Just two more small hills and we’ll be on the fun part.  You can do it!”  I was trying hard to sound positive and encouraging, but he wasn’t buying it.

“This ride is stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore,” he grumbled as he dropped his bike to the ground and sat hunched at a picnic table nearby.

He’d been waiting expectantly for what he thought would be a fun ride, but the journey there was harder than he anticipated.  Maybe you can relate.  We all have those times when our enthusiasm begins to wear thin the longer our expectations go unmet.  I couldn’t help thinking about this as I did the lesson for Week 4, Day 4 of Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still.  I love that Priscilla Shirer is encouraging believers to pray big prayers.  She says  “Knowing God and the resources He’s made available to you … changes not only how you pray but what you feel free to ask God for.  You will begin to realize that you don’t have to pray small or with reservation.  You can ask the Lord for exactly what you desire no matter how outlandish or impossible it may appear to be”  (p.92).

I wholeheartedly believe Priscilla’s words to be true.  God can do anything we ask.  However, I also know firsthand that “whether God moves is a question of His sovereignty, not His ability.  What He does is His business.  Believing that He can is our business”  (p.94).  Sometimes praying expectantly gets tiring, maybe even a little discouraging.  Waiting with no clear sense of when a prayer might be answered is hard work when we try to do it on our own strength.  Over the years of waiting for different prayers to be answered, I’ve learned some things that have helped me not to lose hope.  Below are a few thoughts and verses on how to keep your focus wear it needs to be as you pray expectantly and wait for God to reveal His plans to you.

-Keep Your Eyes On God Instead of on the Answer You Seek

It can be easy to fixate on the answer we’re looking for instead of on God.  Praising God for who He is and reminding yourself of all Jesus did for you can bring you a peace that is not dependent upon your circumstances or a particular answer you’re seeking.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  –Hebrews 12:1-3

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.  –Isaiah 26:3-4

-Maintain An Eternal Perspective

Sometimes we get so consumed with the thing we’re praying for that we forget this world is not our permanent home.  It’s helpful to take a step back sometimes and see your situation from a different perspective.  We are just passing through this world on our way to our home in heaven.  A good question we can ask ourselves to keep in check is: “In the light of eternity, how much does this really matter?”

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

-Remember that God Does Things His Way, Not Yours

It’s easy to focus so much on the outcome we’re expecting that we miss the ways God is already at work in our lives (or even in a particular situation we’re praying for).  When we pray expectantly, it’s helpful to take God’s sovereignty into consideration.  We need to give Him room to move and work in the way He sees best instead of expecting Him to do things according to the expectations we have.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.  –Isaiah 55:8-9

-Focus on Gratitude

When we are praying expectantly about a specific situation, it might be easy to forget all the things God has done or is doing in our lives.  It builds our faith and our trust in God when we take time to list the specific things we can already be thankful for in our lives.  We can even thank God for how He is working behind the scenes while we wait.  In all circumstances, there is something for which we can thank God.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

-Pray for Strength and Confidence in God as You Wait Expectantly

It is okay to admit to God that we are growing weary or that our confidence in Him is waning.  We can ask Him to restore our strength, confidence and hope as we wait.  We can ask Him to show us what we can be learning as we trust Him for the answers to our prayers.  It helps to be honest and admit when we’re struggling and need help adjusting our attitudes.

I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord 
in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord;
 be strong and take heart
 and wait for the Lord.  –Psalm 27:13-14

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.  –Psalm 139:23-4

-Let Others Encourage You

It’s always easier to wait for something when we have company.  Enlisting a trusted friend to pray with us and to encourage us as we wait for God helps us to stay hopeful.  It also keeps us from getting bitter or disillusioned if the answer is taking longer than we think it should.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. –Hebrews 10:23-25

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. –Hebrews 3:12-14

You may be wondering how things turned out for my son on our bike ride.   After he regained his strength and listened to our encouraging words, he was willing to get on his bike and continue.  At first, he was sullen as he trudged up the next hill pushing his bike, but he was definitely trying harder.  Not surprisingly, all of his grumpiness disappeared when we finally reached the trail that wound back down the mountain.  When we stopped to enjoy the sweeping views part way down, he was back to his old enthusiastic self and couldn’t wait to keep riding.  He led the way down the hill and was thrilled with what he’d accomplished at the end.
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I pray that you’ll find hope and courage as you pray expectantly.  There can even be joy in the waiting if you’re open to seeing it.  God has great things in store, there is no doubt about that.

Click on the song “While I’m Waiting” by John Waller for some further encouragement as you wait.


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Practicing Gratitude

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Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  –Psalm 100

 Each time I walk into the grocery store lately stacks of canned pumpkin, boxes of stuffing mix and displays of cranberry sauce tell me that Thanksgiving is upon us.  There is no doubt; it’s the season for eating.  Although many people see the focal point of this holiday as a large meal, I love it because it is centered on the attitude of our hearts. The idea of gathering with those we love to pause and be thankful to God for all the He has done is something worth celebrating.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking at what the Bible has to say about giving thanks.  Some have convicted me, some have inspired me, and all of them have given me ideas about how to practice the art of thankfulness more consistently in my life.  Maybe you’ll be challenged to try one for yourself to make this year’s Thanksgiving even more meaningful.

God’s Faithfulness Through All Generations

Psalm 100 (written above) reminds us we have many things to thank God for:

1.  He made us.  2.  We are His.  3.  He is good.  4.  His love endures forever.  5.  His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Those are some pretty big concepts that I often take for granted.  The one that strikes me most right now is the last one:  His faithfulness continues through all generations.  I am thankful that I was blessed with parents who taught me to love God and to value His word.  My husband and I are striving to do the same for our kids.  I am thankful that no matter what the future holds, my children can rest assured knowing that God’s faithfulness to them will continue.  In this world of uncertainty where the future doesn’t always look bright, this is something to be thankful for, indeed.

People Who Have Impacted My Life

Recently I was leafing through my Bible looking through all of the letters Paul wrote in the New Testament.  I was struck by how often he opens with giving thanks to God for the people to whom he was writing and with whom he shared a common bond of faith.  They were people he spent time with, prayed with, taught and ministered to in a variety of ways.  A quick count revealed nine books in the New Testament where Paul gives thanks for people.   In case you’re wondering, here are the references:  Romans 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3-6, Colossians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 2 Timothy 1:3, Philemon 4.

My favorite is probably Philippians 1:3-6:  “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Like Paul, there are many people in my life with whom I’ve been blessed to share a “partnership in the gospel.”  There are friends who have enriched my life as they’ve walked with me work through hard situations; friends who have helped me to discover and use my spiritual gifts; friends who have pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone; friends who have helped me to see myself as God sees me… for them I give God thanks.   I might even take it one step further and write a few cards this week to let them know how God has blessed me through them.

Miracles, Both Large and Small

In her book One Thousand Gifts, author Ann VosKamp points out that Jesus often gave thanks to God before performing miracles.   One great example of this is in John 6:11 when Jesus is preparing to feed a crowd of 5000.  He takes the meager offering of five small barley loaves and two fish given to Him by a little boy.  Here is what happens next:  “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.  He did the same with the fish.”

So often when I’ve read this in the past, I’ve skipped right past the crucial phrase “gave thanks” and have instead focused on the amazing miracle Jesus performed.  How frequently have I done the same to God in my life?  I wonder when I’ve prayed for a miracle but skipped over the part about thanking God first–or recognizing the ways He’s already working in a situation.

I have a friend whose husband was out of work a few years ago.  In our weekly prayer requests at Bible study, she would often write “I’m thankful for the awesome job that God is preparing for my husband right now.”  Wow, that was humbling for me to read.  She was thanking God for a need He hadn’t met yet and trusting Him for a miracle.   Her example was an encouraging reminder when my own husband was in the midst of a job challenge earlier this year.  I was able to pray with true excitement and thankfulness for how God would work out a seemingly impossible situation (If you haven’t already, you can read more about this story in my blog post entitled:  God Margin:  When God’s 300 is Greater Than the Enemy’s 135,000).

Replacing Angst with Thanks

I like to think of myself as a “recovering worrier.”  I have a tiny problem with feeling anxious about things on a fairly regular basis (that might be an understatement).    It’s probably the reason Philippians 4:6-7 is one of my favorite verses:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

This passage challenges me to take my worries and turn them into prayers.  We can thank God for hearing our prayers and already having the answer figured out– even when we don’t know what it is.   The verse doesn’t say God will answer our prayers right away and do exactly what we want.  However, it does say that when we lay our anxious thoughts before Him, a peace that defies understanding will rest upon us.  It doesn’t guarantee that whatever is making us anxious will be resolved, but it does say thanking God gives us a peace that guards our hearts.   The act of thanking God changes our perspectives and eliminates the need for worry.

Being Thankful in All Circumstances

A few years ago my small group did a verse exchange for Christmas.  People wrote a favorite verse on a card and then we drew them out of a basket.

The verse I drew was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  Since that time, the verse has been a favorite in my life and one I’ve given to others often.  It is simple in theory, but challenging to put into practice daily: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Sometimes I can thank God for good situations and even hard situations, but I forget to thank Him for some of the more mundane things in my life that are easy to take for granted.  Sometimes the stuff of motherhood seems like a chore.  Laundry seems to reproduce at lightning speed.  Dishes always seem IMG_6265to be in the sink.  My kids regularly need help with school assignments or rides to sports practices and other activities.  Errands always need to be run.  Each of these seemingly mundane tasks can suck the life out of me if I have the wrong perspective.  However, when I take time to be thankful, something changes in me.  Those mountains of laundry mean that I have the blessing of a family.  They show that we have an abundance of clothing to wear and the luxury of a washer and drier to do the worst parts of the job.  Those dishes in the sink remind me to be thankful that we eat three meals a day and can have food whenever our stomachs grumble even slightly.  Helping my kids with schoolwork means they are being educated and will have an abundance of opportunities available to them as a result.  The fact that I can help them shows that I’ve been blessed with a sound mind and a good education as well.  With a thankful heart the mundane things that I “have to do” become the blessings that I “get to do.”  A simple shift in perspective is all it takes.

Practicing Thankfulness

No doubt, you’ll spend some time this week shopping at a variety of stores and preparing special food to celebrate Thanksgiving.  This year, try working in some time to practice thankfulness by looking at a few of the topics I’ve touched on above and taking time to name the things for which you’re thankful.  It will bless you with a more meaningful celebration. It will also leave you filled up in a way that feels considerably better than the usual post-Thanksgiving meal belly bloat.  Spread the gratitude by sharing some of your thoughts with others around the table or leave a comment below.

For more inspiration on being thankful, click on the link below to hear the song  “All I Can Do (Thank You)” by the band MIKESCHAIR.

 

 

 

 


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Christians Never Have to Say Goodbye

Kristi and Marybeth Inverness '91

Kristi and me in Inverness, Scotland 1991

I wrote a blog about heaven this past December called “Traveling Light with and Eye Towards Home.”  In it, I recounted the story of backpacking in Europe with my friend, Kristi.  What I didn’t mention in that posting was that Kristi was in remission after a nine-month battle with breast cancer.  We didn’t know that it was only a temporary reprieve.  The cancer returned with a vengeance in March of this year.  I had no idea that my blog on heaven would become so relevant so soon.

As Kristi’s health declined, I longed to see her face-to-face and prayed God would show me the right timing to make a trip to her home in Texas.   We’d talked, texted and e-mailed regularly throughout her illness, but it just wasn’t the same as being with her.  At the end of April the timing was right and after getting the green light from Kristi and her husband, I booked a flight to Austin.  Traveling alone, I had some good time to prepare myself emotionally and spiritually.  I also had a number of friends and family supporting me with prayer at home.  I asked God to use me to bless and encourage Kristi and her family.  I was anxious about seeing my spunky friend sick and wondering how the weekend would go.

When I finally arrived at her house, Kristi greeted me warmly and maneuvered across the room to give me a hug. She wore a headscarf and gingerly pushed a walker but her broad smile and cheerful spirit remained intact.  In fact, I was amazed at the amount of things we did over the course of the weekend considering Kristi’s frailty.   Her family was bound and determined to give me a full “Lone Star State Experience” when they found out I’d never been there before.  So, in spite of going to give them help, I got a big dose of Texas hospitality in return.

On Saturday morning I sat with Kristi at a hometown parade watching three of her four kids smiling and waving from one of the floats.  Afterwards, I experienced my first Texas thunderstorm- a two-hour deluge unlike anything we have in California.   I spent a quiet afternoon organizing Tupperware in the kitchen after painting Kristi’s toenails metallic blue (she was in desperate need of a pedicure).  While she was resting, her 6 year-old son appeared in the doorway dressed as Captain America and glumly declared “I’m bored.” As any mom would, I countered “How about showing me some of your toys?”  Thanks to my boys, I knew a thing or two about comic book heroes and Lego mini figures, which earned me serious status as I sat playing with him.  That evening I tasted my first “Texas Barbeque” without a plate or utensils at Rudy’s (a combination of a restaurant and gas station).

Sunday morning I was in charge of loading Kristi’s wheelchair into their Suburban and driving the family to church while her husband competed in a triathlon.   Later that afternoon we attended a family reunion in an adobe house that was over 100 years old.   It was a fun and busy weekend filled with moments of laughter and light-heartedness- definitely not what I was anticipating.

On Sunday morning after church, Kristi and I had a rare moment alone at the house.  Feeling prompted by the Holy Spirit, I asked if I could share Psalm 34 with her, which I’d read in Jesus Calling earlier that morning.  It seemed to fit her circumstances perfectly (funny how the Bible does that…):

“I will extol the Lord at all times;
 his praise will always be on my lips.

I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.

The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing…The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted 
and saves those who are crushed in spirit”  (Verses 1-10, 17-18).

Later, before leaving for the airport, I found another quiet moment with Kristi and her husband.  It was a blessing and privilege it was to lay hands on them to pray after being apart for the duration of her battle with cancer.  I left feeling at peace, so glad for the time we’d spent together and not entirely sure it was the last time I’d see Kristi in this life.  It seemed like she still had a lot of fight left in he and the family had definitely not given up hope.

As school let out in June, I received word that Kristi’s cancer was spreading and her doctors had run out of viable options for her. I was so glad I’d traveled to see her, but felt I had one more thing to do that I’d been avoiding.  So, I sat at the computer one afternoon and wrote Kristi a letter.  I’d been overwhelmed thinking of how to sum up a friendship that began when we were in 8th grade and spanned so many years.  We’d experienced so much of life together, how could I capture that in a few pages?  With the Holy Spirit guiding me, I wrote a simple letter and sent it with a CD of songs to encourage Kristi and her family.   Here is an excerpt from that letter:

In spite of all these milestone moments we’ve shared, I think the one that means the most to me happened over the course of summer and fall in 1988.  Newly graduated from high school, we both launched in different directions with the same purpose:  working at Christian camps to serve, grow and (of course) have fun.   Working at Houseboats was transformational to my faith and my life choices.  I remember coming home so excited that I finally really “got” my faith and loved God in a way I never really had before.  Returning to life and friends at home was hard and I felt like a stranger in a strange land.   Most people outside my family looked at me like I’d gone a little crazy from being around so many Christians for so long. 

The one exception to this was you.  I can remember talking to you and hearing about your experience at Redwood Camp and realizing that we had both had life-changing and faith-changing experiences that would forever alter the courses of our lives.  I can’t tell you what a relief it was for me to discover that I was not alone and that there was someone who understood the choices I was making and affirmed me for them.  A deeper bond grew between us from that day forward.  Our friendship wasn’t just based on fun times and shared memories, but on a passionate love for Jesus and a desire to follow Him with our lives.

As we headed off to college, we were both set on finding Christian friends and plugging into ministries at our new schools.  Like most of our friends, we both chose to join sororities.  Although the social scene was familiar to us, it felt a bit different now that we’d fully committed to God and were not “riding the fence” as we had in high school days. 

For me, this proved to be pretty challenging at first.  I can remember struggling to find Christian friends among my peers in the Greek System.  As a freshman, I wanted to fit in and make new friends. I called you for some encouragement and you admonished me not to fall back into the lukewarm waters of our high school years and to stand firm in my faith.  You told me it was good for me to stand out as different and pointed out that this could be a great avenue for sharing my faith with a group of people who desperately needed to hear the truth.  I can remember thinking “Wow, God has really given her a strength and conviction that are pretty amazing.”  I don’t know if I ever really told you, but that “pep talk” gave me the courage to press on, to be different and to be a light in a dark place.

If I’ve never said it before, let me say it now:  Kristi, thank you for being a voice of Truth when I needed it most.  The impact you had on me at that time made a significant difference in my life choices.  I’ll never forget your words of encouragement that day or in the days that followed.

Thank you for your partnership in the gospel for these many long years.  I rejoice knowing we will spend eternity praising Him together.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers…I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:3a-6

Kristi’s husband read the letter to her on Friday, June 28th.  I’m so glad I responded to the Spirit’s prompting to write it.  On July 2, I received word that my sweet friend breathed her last with her husband at her side.  She was freed from her broken body and finally at home in heaven.

A week after receiving this news, I had a dream about Kristi.  We were having a conversation and sharing some final moments together.  I don’t remember the words, but there was a feeling of warmth and peace between us.  She was smiling, confident and reassuring.   Moments later I awoke in the dark and realized I wasn’t just crying in my dream, but in reality.  As I sat up to wipe away the tears and blow my nose, I felt the relief of emotional release. Adjusting to this new reality has been hard; the sadness churns in me but tears have not flowed very freely.

I am still processing this huge loss, yet there is a peace in me that is deeper still.  Kristi lived every moment pointing people to Jesus until she took her final breath.  The faith and trust she and her family showed in her last 15 months impacted countless people and opened their eyes to God’s saving grace.   He used their hard circumstances to bring about much good in their lives and the lives of many others.

I walk in confidence knowing that I will see Kristi again.  I’ll paraphrase C.S. Lewis’ sentiments from the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken:  Christians never have to say “Goodbye”, only, “Until we meet again.”

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Georgetown, Texas 2013