Check out what I learned about emulating the Master in the video below.
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)
Every good story has a moment of crisis. That watershed moment when something happens. It will impact the life of the character. And even though the character can not control the events that are happening, they can control their reaction to the events.
These moments are crucial to a good story. Why? Because that is how change happens. A good story proves we can change. We can grow.
We all have crisis moments. Moments when events loom so large in our lives that we have lost the illusion of control we cling tightly to on the ordinary days. It doesn’t take much thinking to bring them to mind after we’ve come through the crisis. But in the moment, we are rarely aware that how we react will set us on a path toward our future. Our reactions guide that path. We can almost always control our actions if we avoid the knee-jerk reactions that bully us down one path or another, usually same the path we have been on.
I was thinking that in my life there have been big national or international events that have presented such moments, not just for our country, but for me.
After 911, which certainly impacted our national narrative, my career changed drastically. I still had the same employer, my job description did not change. But it immediately redirected my daily tasks toward work called “preparedness”. I could choose: change along with my job responsibilities and be a part of steering the direction of laboratories I worked with, or find a new job. I could also choose my attitude. Choose to be a positive force for change or I could skate through with an attitude. Another option was expressing anger about the changing responsibilities of my job.
Many of you will face challenges, forks in your path. Your response is your choice. And it will determine your future. Will you walk into the future with an awareness that your reactions will determine your outcome?
Every life has these same crisis moments. I pray you don’t take these moments lightly. They are the gateway to your future. Strive for awareness. Pray for awareness. Moments when you feel hijacked by circumstances beyond your control are opportunities. Pause before you react. Think about who you want to be down the road and make choices accordingly.
A Better Illustration
Have you heard of the widow of Zarephath? If not, you may want to look up her story in 1Kings 17:8-24. It’s worth reading.
She’s a widow and a single mother. She’s down to the last groceries in the house. There’s a famine in the land, caused by a drought, and no more supplies are coming. She’s not of the clan of the Israelites, on whom God appears to be focused. They are on the verge of starvation, and a scruffy old prophet of Jehovah Jireh (God our Provider) shows up at her door. He asks, “May I have a cup of water?” She’s low, but thinks, why not? I can be hospitable, I can share my water such as it is. And then he says, “Oh, and can I have a loaf of bread too?” This stops her in her tracks. Taken back at his audacity. Her minds screams, “you must be kidding, are you blind?” But, she responds, “I have only enough to make one last meal for my son and I. We will eat it and then we will die.”
She didn’t feel like offering hospitality to a dinner guest while she and her son looked on as their stomachs growled and the last glimmer of hope ebbed away. But a fork suddenly appeared in the path that she had been plodding along with dread and despair. She chose generosity, and it saved her; it saved her son, and it changed the trajectory of her life.
God offered an opportunity to the widow in the form of a choice. Huddle the little family and hang on tight to what little she had or open her hand, her table, her home, and her life to a God she probably saw as the enemy behind the famine. She chose the illogical. She changed paths.
What about you? Do you find yourself at a crossroads that looks a bit like a crisis? If so, don’t miss the opportunity. And if you aren’t in crisis, let me challenge you, since I firmly believe we can learn much from history, even our own, let’s look back at our own crisis moments.
- Did you react with purpose or did you react with a knee jerk or out of habit?
- When did you recognize that even in the crisis you had choices? Was it in the moment or was it after the fact?
- How did your life change? Not one of us can out imagine God, but take a moment to dream of wildly different paths you could have taken from that moment.
We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.2 Corinthians 1:8b-9 (NLT)
“How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children!”Luke 1:25 (NLT)
Childlessness in the time of Elizabeth and Mary was a symbol of a life that harbored sin. A life that God could not bless. Elizabeth, an older woman, had lived her entire life under the gaze of her neighbors wondering just what she had done to offend God. And the wife of a Priest, no less!
Joseph, her financè, being a just man, decided to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publicly.Matthew 1:19 (NLT)
Mary, just barely over the threshold of womanhood, was about to enter into an act of service that would render her the subject of gossip for her neighbors. Or, as her soon to be husband described it, disgrace. The pregnancy and delivery of a child for Mary would shade her entire adult life with whispers of infidelity and sin.
What Was God Doing?
The same situation, One woman’s release from disgrace, another woman’s entry into disgrace.
God was sending two miracle babies to the earth. One to prepare the way, one to make a way back to him for all of us. Both babies had a personal impact on the lives of their mothers that went beyond the joys and heartaches of motherhood. One was vindicated, the other was shamed.
I wish I had an insightful explanation to offer you for God’s actions. But I don’t! God can do whatever he pleases. He does not offer us all the same life. We each have our own private path to walk with him. But he offers us all the same salvation. And the two women who meeting with similar challenges in life played an important role in making that possible.
What I do see here is that God had intended for these women to encourage each other. My heart swells at the love and care he displays for two women doing hard things.
What are the chances that a teenaged girl from Nazareth and a silver-haired woman from the hill country of Judea would even know each other, much less be related? Only God could do that. And why? Well, I believe in my deepest being that Elizabeth was a gift to Mary.
Elizabeth had already experienced years of the whispers that Mary would suffer. She was experiencing her own miracle announced by the angel Gabriel. So when Mary ran to her side, they spent those three months marveling. And Elizabeth believed Mary before she was even told the story, unlike most of those around her, including her espoused Joseph. She walked with Mary as she prepared and just as her son would prepare the way for our savior, this soon to be mother, prepared the way for the woman would bear the savior.
Serving One Another
They brought out the best in one another. Elizabeth encouraged. Mary moved from faithful obedience to joyful praise. No doubt Mary was hands and feet for the ponderous Elizabeth since she was a strong young woman not yet burdened by the physical weight of her babe. Elizabeth likely shared with Mary from her years of faith and experience with the local gossips.
God has given us each other. Even when we don’t understand. When it makes little sense and our personal circumstances are hard. As I think more on this, I realize that God’s goodness manifests in so many ways we overlook. I want to resolve to look around. To ask myself where is God at work to offer me encouragement and a friend on life’s path?
How thankful I am that God may allow challenges into our lives, some that are incredibly difficult, but he never intended for us to walk into these challenges alone. When we ask “Why” we may never get our answer in this life. But do not believe for one second that God is not answering because of disinterest. And even when we don’t have answers, we still have his tender care lavished on us in so many ways. And that way may very well be a friend. So walk alongside those who are older, or younger. Those with less faith or more. Those just beginning the hard path and those who are finally seeing the exit ramp to a difficult road. Be there.
Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
For who can know the LORD’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice?
And who has given him so much
that he needs to pay it back?
For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)
One More Thing…
In case you wonder, I was researching Elizabeth because I’m writing a story about her. I can’t wait to share it with you! Stay tuned.
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”Ezekiel 36:25-27 NIV
Idols are so easy to create. We can make them out of anything. We need not carve stone or whittle wood, we just need to take our eyes off Jesus and put them on something else.
Because of the ease with which we create idols, it’s hard to recognize them, especially when they are not staring at us from the little niches in the wall that held them in Biblical times.
What is an idol?
Anytime we put something before Jesus in our priority lists, we make idols. The world we live in, even the Christian world, condones our practices. We do not call one another to account because we do not want to unveil the truth in our own lives. But, idolatry damages us. Slowly, our hearts harden as we place veils between ourselves and our Lord.Anytime we put something before Jesus in our priority lists, we make idols. #Steepedintheword Click To Tweet
If we will listen, the Holy Spirit that God has placed in us as Christ-followers will call us to account. He will do for us what we fail to do for one another. He will show us the idols that stand firm in our lives.
We live in denial
At times, we cover our eyes, unwilling to let go of our idols. Like Rebekah of old, we dig a hole in the ground and bury them, sitting over the hole to keep them hidden when the Spirit comes questioning with a pail of clear cool water that would wash away the heat of our shame.
I’m weary of idols that don’t deliver what they promise. I’m weary of hiding reality from myself and from my friends. I’m ready to be clean. But I know that as I unload idols one after another from my life, I’m going to look different. My life and my spirit will sparkle. Some will look on the shiny new me and will say look at that bling, it must be fake. But it’s genuine if we let the spirit make us over.
A heart of flesh is soft and easily burdened. It is harder to protect, so we often prefer the shell of stone. Living in an idol-filled world with no idols at all leaves us a target. It leaves us needing to run to Jesus for consolation and comfort. And I believe that’s right where he wants us.
This appeared first in the Facebook group Balanced and Beautiful in Christ where I am a regular contributor. Thanks to Jessie Courson for the lovely artwork and to Nicole Williams for her editorial assistance.
We had one of the biggest Bradford Pear trees you have ever seen in our front yard. My husband used to prune it every year so that the wind could blow through without breaking the tree. But my husband just crossed his 72 birthday celebration off the list. I am no longer comfortable with him climbing a tree to prune it, so we cut it down.
My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT)
You may have heard it said, “if you do what you always do you get what you always got.”* Well, my God is about new creations and he has bumped us all out of the “way we have always done it” mindset.
It’s been an upside down year. But I am thankful that my Father has forced me out of my routine, or rut if you will. I’m forced to innovate and I have ample time to connect with both him and others.
So, as I move forward, I move in fresh ways. The wind of the Spirit blows through my pruned life, just as wind blows through a well-pruned tree rather than splitting it asunder. It ruffles the leaves, to be sure, but we learn to move together with the spirit rather than fighting for territory. I know growth involves change, and I am thankful that my good Father has brought it to my attention.
I think all of us who follow Christ can feel the wind of the spirit blowing through our lives, calling us to change. God is refining us. God is refining his church too. He is burning off the excess before it does irreparable damage.
So this thanksgiving choose thankfulness. Choose to cherish the “less” over the “more”. Will you join me as I use the space to ask God, what would you have me learn? What should I let go of?
*This quote is attributed to Henry Ford.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV)
Attitude can be such a blind spot for us. We can’t look in the mirror and see that our attitude is untidy or does not match our life as a Christ-follower. This force that drives our conduct may go unseen by us, but it is like the stuffy butler in an old movie who announces guests as they arrive at a party. Our attitude colors everything. It enters a room or a relationship ahead of us and announces the tone for an encounter.
As Christ-followers, we are called to be transformed. Our mission is to replace our own self-centered attitudes with God’s attitude, which is guided by love for others rather than selfishness. Changing our attitude is difficult. In fact, the scriptures say we must die to self–not simply push selfishness aside or stuff it down, but take something integral to who we are and set it aside. Then, the void we carve out can be filled with righteousness and holiness.
As humans, we can’t do it at all. And we don’t have to! God has placed his Spirit in us to do the heavy lifting. Change does not happen overnight. Yes, we are transformed as we accept Christ, but this verse helps us understand that we are being made new. We are slowly being revised. Or to put it another way, we are maturing. We learn to put off our own desires and practice putting on God’s desires for us. It’s a lifelong learning process.
The trouble with a lifelong process is our human impatience. I would like to flip the switch and be changed overnight. But there is a lot of change needed in my life. I couldn’t handle it all at once. The key is that I must daily invite the Spirit to reveal what is in my heart and to purge my old attitudes.
And even as I write this, illness has changed our traditional family gathering. We normally have an exuberant crowd of family around our table. But God has called us this year to a quieter season. I am determined thankfulness will mark it all the same. I know that as seasons come and go, our good Father remains unchanged. Ever loving, ever watchful, and always calling us to a deeper relationship.
“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”Proverbs 28:13 NIV
I’ve had an inexplicable lifelong love for paper. In fourth grade when I visited the class box of construction paper, it drew me in. Among the random pieces in the box were a series of strips. My teacher, Miss De Bour, had taken the paper cutter to one end of a package of assorted paper. I wanted them so I took them. I tucked them under my sweater and returned to my desk.
Miss De Bour stood near my desk as the bell rang for recess and placed her hand on my shoulder, pinning me to my seat—the silent signal to remain behind. My heart beat fast as I hoped that this was not about the paper strips. I knew stealing was wrong.
Miss De Bour gently asked what I had underneath my sweater. For a moment, I thought about claiming that my shirt was bunched up. But my conscience prompted me to come clean, and I did.
She didn’t ask why; she didn’t lecture. She smiled with forgiveness and said, “Put the paper back in the box and run out to recess.” Furthermore, she never notified my parents, and my report card did not reflect poor conduct (yes, that used to be measured and reported). She forgave me completely and wiped my slate clean.
As I sit here years later, I know that Miss De Bour modeled God’s grace to me that day. Our conscience, or if we are a Christ-follower, the Holy Spirit, nudges. When we confess, we find mercy—normally without drama.
God simply forgives and sends us on. Oh, sometimes there are consequences, but God does not lecture us, mark us as a “bad girl” or shout our transgressions to the world. He forgives. He covers our sin with His son’s blood and gives us a fresh slate each time we sin.
This appeared first in the Facebook group Balanced and Beautiful in Christ where I am a regular contributor. Thanks to Jessie Courson for the lovely artwork and to Nicole Williams for her editorial assistance.
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“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”James 5:16 NIV
There was a time when I worked in an abusive workplace environment. Two of my coworkers had personal issues that they made public by targeting other employees in the office. I don’t know why. Maybe they were jealous that other lives were not in melt-down. Or, perhaps the abusers’ personal and work lives were filled with turmoil because of their own attitudes and actions.
At one point, I received an apology from one of these coworkers, but nothing changed. An apology without change is about as powerful as a puff of air. But I get it. I hate admitting I’m wrong. Change is even more difficult.
I’ve given my attitude toward owning my failures a great deal of thought and prayer. Do I fear the consequences, am I resistant to change or do I simply hate appearing flawed?
I find accountability essential in my life. I need trusted friends who are also Christ-followers in my life. I know that they will love me no matter what and that they are a safe place. We can speak the hard truths to each other… Click To Tweet
Despite these facts, I find accountability essential in my life. I need trusted friends who are also Christ-followers in my life. I know that they will love me no matter what and that they are a safe place. We can speak the hard truths to each other without condemnation.
Do you have one or more of those friends? If you don’t, I’d have to ask why not? Starting these relationships is well worth the risk.
And James Says…
In this verse, James is talking about two things, confessing our sins to others and the prayers of the righteous. How are they related?
This verse is talking about confession to fellow believers. Sometimes, the person we need to confess to may have been the very person who wronged us, and we need to forgive. Prayer is essential in these cases. We don’t want to miss out on their “powerful and effective prayers” because we are unwilling to confess our own sin or point out when we believe we have been sinned against.
Confessing our sins to each other serves several purposes:
• It works humility in us. We have to humble ourselves and admit our sins before others.
• It causes us to practice honesty. Authenticity is one mark of a Christ-follower.
• It helps us practice forgiveness, especially if the sin involves actions toward another. If we need to seek reconciliation, we must live out real change, and not just say we’re sorry.
• It holds us accountable for how we live and treat others.
In our walk through life, we need companions who will pray for us when we can’t pray. We will all have seasons or days when life is just too hard to spend the needed time petitioning for God’s blessing. Perhaps we are very ill or maybe overwhelmed by work. At times, we are too distraught to voice our prayers. We need faithful warriors who will fall to their knees for us.
James tells us prayer is a powerful part of the Christian walk and that prayer for others is an essential part of Christian community. Holding onto sin is not worth the cost of leaving powerful prayer out of our lives.
This post appeared first on the Balanced and Beautiful in Christ Facebook page. Thanks to Jessie Courson for the graphic and to Nicole Williams for her editing assistance. Nicole, you always improve what I write.
“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.”Deuteronomy 11:13-15 NIV
I love spring, it’s colors of green and watching for flowers to pop out of the ground. I know for many it’s the season of fresh starts. But it’s not my favorite season. Fall is my favorite.
I have always enjoyed autumn, it’s color and crisp days invigorate me. They remind me of the joy I experienced as I stepped onto the college campus I attended and had the opportunity to soak up new knowledge. That is something that really fills my cup! And for me at that time, it felt like a fresh start. I still experience the thrill of a fresh start each fall. I am currently in the autumn season of my life. To be honest, this season feels like a fresh start for me too.
God blessed me in the spring and summer. He set my feet on solid ground and despite some challenges I thrived. Sometimes the rains were brutal too. I’m so glad that during those days I had a firm foundation under me. I am so grateful that even as a child I had learned the value and the joy of memorizing his word. I walked those paths in the days before Google and a computer in your pocket. Memorized words were of great value to survive the storms that life threw my way. They provided row markers when I was feeling overwhelmed. Pointing me in the right direction.
I loved the summer days too. Days when I had a career that challenged me and served others. I loved my work. However, I worked with some difficult people. And by the time I reached my 60’s I was a bit worn, like your petunias at the end of a long, hot summer.
So, it’s fall. I’m reaping the harvest of all God has sown into my life. He has planted his word. He’s watered my heart and soul with joy and trials, and he’s provided skills I never dreamed that I would need as I embark on a new phase as a writer. If you don’t know, writers must be entrepreneurs too so they can sell their books. But somehow God saw to it that I learned many needed skills.
I love this season! I feel like I’m living on the bounty God has planted deep in my life. I am walking down all sorts of new paths but the truth is I see familiar landmarks all over the place. Like those worn and faded seed packets, I put on stakes at the end of my garden rows to mark them. It may have been so long ago that the skill was developed. It may be many years since the experience that taught me empathy or provided wisdom, but if I look closely I see that many things I thought were rainstorms were really watering the seeds that God laid down long ago. It is a satisfying time of life. That comes a bit unexpected. I didn’t imagine I’d be enjoying it so much. I didn’t dream that God was preparing me for this path, but I am certain that he did. God has kept his promises to me.
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”Psalms 126:5-6 NIV
I’ve been battling stick-tight weeds in a flowerbed I neglected through two summers when I was dealing with life’s hard things. But this year, with renewed energy, I attacked the beds.Those sticky little seeds clung to my clothing as I pulled at the weeds. I had to pick them off one-by-one because they could hold on through both the washer and dryer! Why are these things so sticky? It’s all about survival.
We too must learn to cling tightly in the tough seasons. We must be as tenacious as sticky weeds to make it through the trying days with our faith intact.
I have endured times in my life that were all hard; I don’t remember any redeeming moments. Thankfully, God does not keep us in seasons of despair like a bully who holds your head underwater until you either give in to demands or drown. No, he holds our head above water until we can get our feet under us again. He carries us through lessons and consequences from our own poor decisions. And he carries us through attacks instigated by the enemy. My friend, it’s all about faithfulness—his and ours.
Although God always displays his faithfulness first, there is still a part of us that wants to rail at our Father during tough days. Perhaps, after we bargain for a reprieve and it doesn’t come, we decide that there is no good place in faith. So, we walk away from the only one who can sustain us through tears and trials. But know this, even as you walk away, he sticks to you out of ferocious love.But know this, even as you walk away, God sticks to you out of ferocious love. #steepedintheword Click To Tweet
In one particularly hard season for my family, I finally emerged from the pain that had turned to numbness. I lifted my head and looked around. During this and every trial of my faith, God proved faithful. I can see that my heart emerged in a better place than my sisters’ hearts. They had walked a similar path without faith to guide. Now, I look back and I am overcome with gratitude for my Father’s faithfulness. I am glad I serve a stick-tight God.
I am thankful for those sticky seeds planted in my heart. I am thankful for the mentors and teachers who helped plant them. I experienced the value of faith in the fire, which strengthens me for the next hard season.
We know hard seasons will come. Remember this: if your faith is firm, and the Spirit of God lives in you, there is nothing stickier than our God. And even though you are in over your head, he won’t let you drown.
My relationship with God is tried and true. I do not just hear about his sustaining power; I experience it. These experiences of faithfulness make the next wave easier.
If you’re enduring a hard season now, look back. Recognize the provision of a stick-tight, never-failing God.
This post appeared first on the Balanced and Beautiful in Christ Facebook page. Thanks to Jessie Courson for the graphic and to Nicole Williams for her editing prowess.