Archive for the “Blessed Life” Category

Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

At 6:24 on 4/26 – 6:24 in the morning on April 26 – a lullaby rang through the halls of St. David’s Medical center.

That lullaby was an announcement to the world of the birth of Zoey Grace Martinez.

This was Zoey’s birth day – the day of her birth.

There was rejoicing in the hospital when we heard the lullaby because we knew what it meant. Zoey had breathed her first breath of life outside her mother’s womb.

There is Rejoicing in Heaven

I was reminded that Scripture says that there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner turns to the Lord (Luke 15:7). Rejoicing over my birth! Rejoicing over your birth! Wow!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

What a miracle that first breath is. In the womb, a baby’s lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. Near the end of pregnancy, the baby actually breathes the amniotic fluid in and out as they take practice breaths. Were they to do that outside the womb, they would drown. But inside the womb, somehow it prepares them for breathing air soon.

Then, suddenly, the baby enters the world and instantly they can breathe air. What an amazing and miraculous thing! “We are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Scripture says (Psalm 139:14). The New Living Translation puts it this way:

13You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT)

As you read the passage, do you feel the loving care of the Creator as you were created? The angels rejoice when we are born again…but it was the Lord who carefully knits us together before we were born.

Profoundly Impacted

I was blessed to be in the hospital room while Zoey’s mom was in labor and in the halls of the hospital, right outside the nursery window waiting as Zoey was born. And I was profoundly impacted. God revealed His love for me in a way that was fresh revelation for me. And I was blown away by it. I want to share that revelation with you. I hope you are changed by it as I’ve been

He Loved Us First

About eighteen hours prior to her birth, the long labor process began. I was one of about a dozen people at the hospital, watching, encouraging, praying and rejoicing.

I watched as Zoey’s mom would have painful contractions and Zoey’s dad would come over and rub her back to help her through the pain. The contractions would come more frequently and then less frequently. She eventually got pain medication and then the day just went on and on…and on and on.

I couldn’t help but see the relationship between our physical birth and our spiritual birth. Just as there are labor pains that bring physical birth there are spiritual labor pains that bring spiritual birth.

When I think back to my own coming to the Lord, I remember the ebb and flow of the process. There would be a spark of interest, then there would be a kicking against the truth. And there would be a drawing near to God and then a pushing away…A drawing near and a pushing away. All the while Phil was there trying to coax me along, helping me over the trouble spots. It took quite a while for me to be born again. For a long time, I just wasn’t ready to be born. But the Lord kept calling me. I’m so thankful that God is persistent.

Zoey wasn’t ready to be born for a long time either. Her poor mama was in labor for eighteen hours. During that time, what really impressed me was how very much her parents loved her. What they were willing to go through just to bring her into this world is a testament to the love they have for her – even before she was born.

Scripture says that “While we were still sinners Christ loved us.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) That’s how God showed His love for us. He loved me first, and He loved me fully and with His life. He loved you first – fully and with His life.

Again, the spiritual implications have just blown me away. Seeing what these earthly parents were willing to go through…seeing their love in action – love that is so imperfect compared to the love of God, love that is so shallow compared to the love of God – seeing that gave me a glimpse of how very much God loves His children.

Extravagant Love – How Can I Ever Be Afraid of the Future?

He not only forms each of us in our mother’s womb, miraculously creates us so that we can breathe air the instant we leave the womb – He not only created us for our first birth, He then bought us back after we had sold ourselves into slavery. He paid the price so that we could be born a second time – free from the condemnation and ultimate consequence of our sins. Christ’s suffering on the cross was another sort of birth pains, another sort of labor pains. He hung on the cross while God heaped the sins of the world upon Him…so that I could be set free from those sins…so that I could live not just 70 or 80 or 90 years here on earth, but for eternity.

That’s love in action.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him, whoever hopes and trusts in Him, should not perish but would have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) 

“But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Well, there’s one other thing that I experienced that day that is so over the top it has led me to ask – it has held me in the place of asking – with the Apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) In other words – “Since God loves us so incredibly, how can I ever be afraid of the future?

“This One’s Ours”

I’ve never been a baby person. Phil and I are childless by choice. Shortly after Zoey was born I sent pictures to Phil and he said “Sandy, All babies look alike.” And I said, “I know…but this one’s different.” The truth is that I was experiencing so much love for Zoey and I couldn’t figure out why. I just knew that “this one’s different.” Not different in terms of her outward beauty – she’s a baby. Yes, she’s an adorable baby, but objectively, she’s just a baby like any other baby. But there was nothing objective about Zoey. Somehow she was different. It took a while for me to verbalize it, but when Phil said “All babies look alike” I knew what it was. This baby – baby Zoey – is different and the way she’s different is that she is ours.

“This one is ours.” That’s the phrase that kept going through my mind. “This one is ours.” It is impossible to put into words the full implication of that phrase, but it embodies a fierce love and protectiveness and so much more. “This one is ours.”

Now Zoey is not mine in any sense of the word. I’m the great aunt that lives a couple thousand miles away. (Or put more specifically, a thousand dollars away, because that’s about what it costs to visit her (oh – and her mom and dad and other family members.) By the time she’s 16, I’ll be lucky if I see her a dozen times. And given my lousy track record for sending packages, she’ll be lucky to get a dozen packages from me.

Still, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind… “This one is ours.”

And God continued to impress upon me His great, great love for us. That He looks down…or over…Scripture says He’s with us all the time, so it’s not really a looking down. But God looks at us and says “this one is mine.” “This one is mine.” “I created that one,” He says, “and I went to great lengths to buy her back.” “She’s mine.”

And I’m blown away.

How much does that God  love me, and how much would a God like that protect me, lead me and care for me? A God who has already done what he’s done, gone through what He’s gone through for my birth – how far would He go to help me? And knowing that He feels toward me much the same way I feel toward Zoey, only to a significantly greater degree than I feel toward Zoey – He says “This one’s mine” – knowing that, how can I ever be afraid? How can I ever not trust Him?

Leaving Me is Not in His DNA – He Can’t Do It

Zoey, about one day old

Zoey, about one day old

Scripture says He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). I don’t think He can, even if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, but I don’t think he could leave us or forsake us even if He wanted to. Is there anything God can’t do? That’s a question theologians can argue, but I don’t think He can leave us or forsake us. Because He looks down and says “This one’s mine.”

Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. (Jeremiah 31:3, NLT)

“This one’s mine.”

If God is For Us…

A few days after returning home, I came to Romans 8 in my Bible reading. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Let me translate it in light of my recent experience and all of Scripture – “if God who loves us so passionately – if the God who looks at me and says ‘This one’s mine’ – if that God is for me – and we know He is – what does it matter if anyone else is against me?”

Friends, every time I feel overwhelmed or scared for the future, I return to that moment when I realized that God says “This one’s mine” and I am filled with peace and joy.

If you’ve trusted Jesus as your Savior, you’re His, too. He rejoices over you. Rejoice in Him. And rest in His peace knowing He will never leave you and He will move heaven and earth for you.

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Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful.
2 Corinthians 13:11a (NLT)

As I put the finishing touches on my last blog, I went to back to Scripture and looked up verses with the words “be joyful” in them. I found a lot of reasons for which we can be joyful. I didn’t think they belonged in the previous blog – that one seemed to be more restful than instructive. So let me follow it up with this list of reasons to be joyful.

Let me first say that there are many reasons people don’t allow themselves to experience joy. Guilt and fear are two of the most prominent.

  • Guilt that you are experiencing joy and others aren’t, guilt that you’re taking the time to experience joy when you should be doing any of a number of things, or guilt over anything the enemy can convince you to feel guilty about.
  • Fear that the joy will be taken away from you, fear that you have made a mistake (and therefore shouldn’t be relaxing in the joy), fear of living in general, or fear of anything the enemy can convince you to be afraid of.

My goal is to remind us that God wants us to be joyful and to identify some specific things that He’s told us to be joyful about. I want to open the door for the Holy Spirit to remove the guilt or fear that keeps you from experiencing joy, as well as open some new doors to rooms in which perhaps you’ve never experienced joy before.

Be Joyful for Holidays and Take Joy in Them

Be joyful at your Feast–you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.
Deuteronomy 16:14 (NIV)

It may seem that I’m stretching this a bit, and perhaps I am, but in the Old Testament God established and commanded a series of feasts throughout the year. They had different purposes, but many were simply celebrations of God’s goodness and provision. Most Christians do not celebrate the Old Testament feasts. (I do not but think it would be a fascinating year if I were to incorporate all the feasts – and I’m guessing I would greatly benefit from it. If this interests you, the best approach may be to find a Messianic congregation to become a part of. Don’t be shy – go for it!)

I think we can extend the spirit of the feasts to recognize that God has given us times of rest and rejoicing and that we should be joyful in those. As I read about the Old Testament feasts, they seem like holy vacations that the Israelites were commanded to take each year! Vacations! Holidays! And they were commanded to take them! And they were to rejoice in them.

Incorporating the Lord in your next vacation is another blog waiting to be written, but suffice it to say in this blog that you can enjoy your vacations! Take them responsibly (that is, don’t spend the money for your next mortgage payment on them), then enjoy them.

Be Joyful in Your Success

Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
Deuteronomy 16:115 (NIV)

You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!
Psalm 128:2 (NLT)

We’re not to be prideful when we’ve completed a job well and when we are successful, but we are to take joy in it. “God will bless…all the work of your hands so that you will be altogether joyful.” God blesses us for many reasons, but this verse tells us that one of those reasons is to increase our enjoyment of life – to increase our joy. So don’t feel guilty about your success. Enjoy it!

Experience the Joy of God’s Protection and His Refuge

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
Psalm 5:11 (NLT)

We can have joy because we know – we know – that God is our defender. When it seems like the world is against us, we can be joyful in God – in the One who knows us best and defends. In the one who says “that one is mine.”

We can look for the adventure because God will work it out. He will come riding in on a white horse and save us. What joy that will be! That’s the shouting kind of joy.

In the meantime, He gives us a place of refuge and we can rejoice in that. That’s the quiet, inner peace kind of joy.

Be Joyful in God’s Salvation

And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD;
It shall rejoice in His salvation.
Psalm 35:9 (NKJV)

So the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 51:11 (NASB)

God has saved you. Rejoice in His love and in your salvation. Don’t just celebrate, meditate on it so that you experience the joy of freedom that is possible through the salvation He has given you. We have been ransomed! We were slaves to sin. Christ paid the ransom to set us free. That’s how much He loves us. Rejoice! Be joyful!

Be Joyful in Knowing that God will Rescue You

25:10  [The Lord says:] “I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out.”

33:10“This is what the LORD says: You have said, ‘This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more 11the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD. They will sing, ‘Give thanks to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, for the LORD is good. His faithful love endures forever!’ For I will restore the prosperity of this land to what it was in the past, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 25:10 , 33:10-11 (NLT)

No matter what you’ve done or where you have been exiled – God will rescue you because you are His. No matter how dark your situation seems today, God will turn it around. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning – and there’s always a morning after every night.

Be Joyful Knowing that You Are Loved

The LORD your God is with you; the mighty One will save you. He will rejoice over you. You will rest in his love; he will sing and be joyful about you.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NCV)

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Not only can we take joy in God’s salvation – or rather, the salvation He has given us – we can be joyful knowing the joy He takes in us. We sing in worship to the Lord. We sing for joy when life is good. God sings for joy about us! Wow! The Creator of the Universe rejoices over me. I am blown away by that.

Be Joyful Because You Have Hope

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.
Romans 12:12 (NCV)

There is no such thing as hopeless for the one who Trusts in Christ. We always have hope. Always. And that’s reason enough to rejoice. As I said earlier, we can experience life as an adventure, watching with anticipation to see how God is going to come through in the current challenge…and the next one and the next one.

Friends joy need not be an elusive thing for the believer. When our hearts, minds and spirits are focused on these things, we can have joy – abundant joy. It’s part of the “abundant life” package God has given us.

Enjoy it!

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Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)

The closing of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was part of my reading this morning, and I was arrested by these words. They are words I needed to hear.

“Be joyful” he wrote. He didn’t write “try to be joyful.” He wrote “be joyful.” This has been a year of hard work for me. We have been so busy in our office that nearly our whole life has been about work. Every other area of my life has suffered except for my personal relationship with God and with Phil. OK, maybe they have suffered, too. They are still solid, but I recognize that I am missing those special times that keep them solid. Phil and I haven’t had a nice dinner together in quite a while.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re thankful for the work. Last year was an exceedingly slow year for us, so God is using this busy time to pay our bills and fill up our depleted reserves. He is providing and we are thankful. But am I joyful? Well, in all honesty, I am probably more tired.

I feel like my life has become too “business” and “busy-ness” and joyful has been put aside a bit. Lord, help me to be joyful.

As I write that, the question that immediately pops into my head is…how do I do that? Is it another thing I have to work at? And the answer comes…well – yes and no. Our joy comes from the Lord, but we must position ourselves to receive it. Metaphorically speaking, we must put our hands out to receive the gift of joy that He wants to give us. OK, how do I do that?

  1. Rest in Him – Enjoy the gift of the Sabbath He’s commanded. OK, I’ve been falling down on that a bit. On those Sundays when I minister at nursing homes, I’m not setting aside another day to practice a Sabbath. God uses the Sabbath to refresh us and open our spirits to Him.
  2. Ask for it – During a recent Bible study one of the topics of conversation was an encouragement for us to ask God for what we want. So often we just wish for something. We are to ask. We are to ask in faith and persistence. Lord, help me return to your joy!
  3. Look for it – We find what we look for – that was the subject of my last blog. Sometimes I forget to look for joy. If I want to find it, I need to look for God’s joy – the way my dog jumps and spins around in the air, the way plants grow from little seeds to sprouts to vegetables or flowers or trees, the intricate pattern of a spider’s web, the smile on my husband’s face, the feel of the warmth of the sun or cool of the morning. Those are all kisses of joy from the Father. Am I looking for those things and pausing to appreciate those things, to allow them to restore my joy?
  4. Rest in Him – Yes, I’m repeating this one. It’s hard to find joy when you’re overtired. I believe that the creativity God has given each of us is a little corner of His joy. Resting in Him restores our creativity.

There’s a whole lot more in Paul’s closing remarks, but it feels to me like pursuing the next thought would cause me to lose this one. And for me, this first thought is enough for today. Perhaps it is for you as well. Do you need to experience more joy? I do. Will you join me in pursuing it? Don’t let life keep you from finding it.

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God created each of us uniquely – we’re all wired differently. When life causes those wires to get twisted, things inside us begin to go haywire. A few days and we’re just a little out of sorts. A week or two and satan is there at our side ready to capture us with temptations to return to old sinful patterns or try new ones. I’m sure you’ve been there. Too much work, too many crises, too much isolation or too little adventure and you’re ready to jump at change.

Usually that change isn’t following God. Yes, God can bring us to a state of holy discontent which launches us into a new ministry or new level of intimacy with Him. A holy discontent isn’t the same as a life that has gone haywire.

Whether we like to admit it or not, it is routine (which sometimes become tradition) which grounds us, and it is that grounding that we need when our wires get jumbled.

This morning, I returned to my Saturday morning pattern of sitting in my reclining chair alone with God. For a number of years, I have reserved my Saturday mornings for time with God. It was His idea – He began waking me up early on the only day of the week I could sleep in. And I love to sleep in. At first I was frustrated every week when I awoke early no matter what time I went to bed Friday night. Eventually I remembered one of my life rules – if something out of the ordinary happens repeatedly and it’s not sin, it must be God! It’s not rocket science, but sometimes I’m a bit slow at recognizing the hand of God.

So I started getting up when God woke me and going to my reclining chair, sitting, reading, writing and praying. It had become such a special time each week.

Then life got really crazy. I remained consistent with reading and praying throughout the week, but I missed my Saturday mornings with God.

This morning, after taking the dog for a walk, I am back in my reclining chair with my laptop. Ahhhh….I feel grounded in a way I haven’t for a couple of months. Simply being here, reading, writing, and praying has calmed me in a way I’ve been missing. That’s what grounding is. It takes the negative sparks of energy and dissipates them. Ahhhhh…..

My daily reading and prayer ground me, but they are more of a maintenance level grounding. My Saturday mornings are my reboot and refresh level grounding.

Each of us is grounded by many things throughout the day. Here’s just a few of things other than Bible reading and prayer that ground me throughout the day:

  • I like to stir my tea. Most people stir their coffee or tea or hot chocolate once and then take the spoon out and drink their tea. I leave my spoon in and before I take each sip I stir my tea. The motion of stirring the tea is very calming for me.
  • I pause to kiss my husband and tell him how important he is to me.
  • I stop what I’m doing and evaluate my to-do list and schedule. That causes my husband stress. It grounds me.
  • I take a dance break when a great song comes on the radio at work. (Fortunately, I am not subjecting coworkers to my dancing. Typically I am working alone or with my husband in our basement office.)

How about you? What is it that grounds you? Perhaps a date with your husband or dinner as a family are things that calm your world. Maybe it’s reading a good book before bed or exercising or cooking or cleaning. (Man, I wish cleaning calmed me. It doesn’t.) Maybe it’s snuggling with your children at night or sitting on the porch in the morning with your Bible and coffee. It’s important to take time to do the things that bring calm into your life.

It’s critically important that connecting with God be a part of your grounding. There are a number of ways to do that:

  • Read your Bible and pray daily. This daily connection with God, even if it is shorter on some days than on others, keeps you grounded on a regular basis. It needs to be enhanced by those weekly, more intense times with Him, but it provides a minimal safety net when life goes crazy. If I had not maintained this pattern over the past few months of craziness, I can’t imagine how off-kilter I would be today.
  • Meet with God’s people regularly – go to church! Some think that attending a regular Bible study is a substitute for church. I would caution against that. There are few Bible studies that provide the corporate worship experience that a church gathering does. That experience includes worshiping together with other believers and being inspired and instructed through His Word. Each one of those activities are part of our grounding with God. Each provides a different interaction with Him. Most Bible studies provide fellowship and study, lacking intimate worship and inspiration.
  • Enjoy a weekly Sabbath. God created and commanded the Sabbath for many reasons, but one of them is as a gift to His children – a gift of time set aside to reconnect with Him – to become fully grounded before facing the world for another week. Read more about the Sabbath and the joy of keeping it in my series of blogs that start with this one.

For me, the above three activities are non-negotiable for staying grounded in God. Do I miss reading my Bible some days? Yes. Do I miss church some weeks? Yes. Do enjoy a weekly Sabbath every week? No. I’m not perfect in anything yet. Still, I protect each of those activities pretty fiercely, committing to them even when it’s inconvenient or I just plain don’t feel like it. Because God is faithful and will meet us when we make the sacrifice to meet with Him.

So, friends, I ask again: what is it that grounds you? Is God in the mix? Does He play a prominent enough role in your grounding routines? Let me encourage you to find those things that ground you, and especially those things that connect you to God, and make them part of your routine. Then fiercely guard those routines. Because life without grounding isn’t pretty or fun!

Symptoms that you need more grounding:

  • Impatience – When I’m in the car and all the drivers around me seem to be out to get me or determined to make me late, I need more grounding.
  • Quick to become annoyed or angry – When clients call with routine inquires and I get annoyed, I need more grounding.
  • Always tired – When everything seems a chore because I’m just so tired, I need more grounding. (You might think it’s sleep that I need – it is – and when I’m well grounded, I sleep well.)
  • Lacking in creativity – When I have no solutions to the challenges of life, I need more grounding. It means I’m just going through the emotions and grounding dissipates the negative energy and infuses us with positive energy. Positive energy brings creativity.
  • Seeking escape – When all I can think about is getting away or vegging in front of the television after work, I need more grounding. Grounding is our escape and takes away the need for an escape.
  • Always making excuses – That’s called sin. “The woman you gave me caused me to do it.” Those were Adam’s words to God after he also ate the fruit of the tree. He was blaming both his wife and God with that single statement. When I am well grounded, I am able to call sin “sin.” I am able to confess my sin to God and others and enjoy forgiveness and freedom.

If you looked at this list of symptoms and recognize that you experience many of them (and perhaps made excuses for why you experience them), you need more grounding in your life. Yes, your life is hectic and crazy; and yes, there may be others in your life that impact your ability to develop your grounding routines. But God – those magically inspiring words – but God can change that when you ground yourself and your life in Him. Find those grounding patterns, create those grounding patterns, and fiercely protect them.

You will be honoring God and He will honor you. You will begin to experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. Perhaps not tomorrow – because some of us need a major rewiring before we can become grounded – but God can and will do it! He’s that creative with solutions and He’s that good!

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14“So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone.

15But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)

What a crazy, crazy few weeks it’s been. Phil and I found ourselves in the middle of commitments at work that were a combination of poorly made agreements on my part and life just being life…only on steroids for some reason. All leading up to a seemingly hard deadline of a trip to visit my niece on the birth of her first child.

Well, I’m on the plane to visit that niece now. A day late and still without the deadline met (technically the due date is still about 5 days away, but with me gone, it’s not going to get met). Phil remains at home diligently making progress and I’ve had to explain missing a deadline to the customer. In the meantime, both Phil and I have been working crazy hours and sleeping little for the past three weeks.

It was all coming to a head yesterday as I tried to do some project planning with Phil. I kept using the wrong phrases when referring to different elements of the project. A few sentences in, I looked at him a bit discouraged and said “I’m sorry. I’m going crazy.”

His answer was simple and profound. “Well don’t. Going crazy is totally optional.”

What?

“Going crazy is totally optional!”

It is, you know! Every day, in every situation, we choose how to respond. We choose love or hate. We choose compassion or turning a blind eye. We choose anxiety or trust. Going crazy is optional – we can choose to trust God instead.

Phil went on to point out to me that “going crazy” is really another form of worry. Ugh! And I thought I’d gotten so good at not worrying!

13When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.
Luke 4:13 (NLT)

Yep, the enemy had simply left me for a while – until the next opportunity came – the next time I was overworked and overtired. (It’s easy to give up worrying when life is going according to plan and I’ve been practicing so it’s becoming easy not to worry when faced with the “normal” level of things not going according to plans.) I’ve also gotten better at recognizing the signs of worry, enabling me to choose trust instead of worry. So I guess it only makes sense that the enemy would change his disguise and come at me looking like “craziness” (i.e., chaos) instead of worry.

But as Phil pointed out, “going crazy is totally optional!”

So I began to choose peace. I continued to work diligently but I added faith into the mix – I chose to trust God to enable me to complete the tasks or give me grace with clients. Or find me a new clients or a new job if this project causes me to lose all my current ones! After all – all provision comes from His hands and He promises to provide. I don’t want to limit Him by lacking faith that He will provide or by prescribing how He should do it.

You know what! It works! Yes, sometimes I have to remind myself every few minutes to grab ahold of faith instead of craziness. But when I do, I find that the peace of God settle around me. And I find that the need for those faith refreshers stretches from every moment to every few minutes…to every half hour…to every hour…to …

Friends, going crazy is totally optional! Will you join me in choosing peace? Will you join me in choosing to trust God? It is a wonderful way to live – and it honors God more than you think.

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:2 (NIV)

I love Paul’s blessings and this is one of my favorites.

One of the blogs I’ve written that has impacted me the most personally was about this verse. Back in July 2007, I wrote one of my shortest blogs. It was about grace Paul’s double-powered prayer. It’s one of those teachings that has stuck with me and comes to mind almost every time I hear the word “grace.” You can read about it here.

In my previous blog in this series on Philippians I focused on our relationship as slaves to Jesus. It is only by His grace that we can have that spirit of immediate obedience I prayed for. And that kind of obedience gives us peace. When I delay in my obedience, my stress level rises quickly. Responding – even when I only know the very next step and there are so many unanswered questions – brings peace. My obedience gives me an assurance that I’m leaving it up to God and He will provide.

While studying another letter of Paul’s during a Bible study last week the discussion turned to the topic of the power of our words and the power of blessings. Unfortunately, we agreed that none of us speak or write blessings as Paul did. Imagine how different our culture would be if we did speak in blessings.

First, the impact on the one doing the blessing would be tremendous. I am convinced that I would think differently if I were to develop the pattern of speaking blessings more frequently.

Secondly, the person receiving the blessing would…well, I’m not sure how they would feel about it. At the very least they would have had a blessing spoken over them and if you believe that your words have power in the spiritual realm, that blessing is a big thing. Beyond that their experience will vary based on their perspective of spiritual things and their experiences. When someone speaks a blessing to me, I experience an unexpected moment of joy. And it becomes something my mind goes back to throughout the day. Someone who has less experience with blessings may be confused or uncomfortable. That’s OK. A blessing spoken in an upbeat and positive way will work its way through the confusion and discomfort into the person’s spirit. God’s Word does that. If the person is alien to the Gospel, they may be taken aback by it, but it is the rare person who will take offense at it. And if someone takes offense, we can always apologize for offending them (and silently pray for them).

Thirdly, the impact on our society could be pretty exciting. I believe our words have power in the spiritual realm. I believe that speaking blessings change the spiritual atmosphere in a home, a business and a community.

Lord, teach me how to speak and write blessings as a natural part of my day. I want You to be on my mind and on my lips throughout the day. I want to bring You into the lives of those around me.

Will you join me? Let’s start a revolution of blessing. Don’t wait for someone’s birthday to bless them. Do it today!

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1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

In my last blog, I wrote a tribute to my mom. She is an example to me of a person who lives in difficult circumstances but remains thankful, joyful and positive. I ended by saying that she is God’s living example to me of someone who lives Colossians 3:1-4. I had preached on it a week or so ago but mom had been bedridden and unable to attend. Yet upon receiving sad news she did what the Apostle Paul encouraged – she directed her thoughts to things above. Let’s look at the Colossians passage in more depth.

Paul was writing to the Colossians – a city that had once been a thriving, important city but at the time of Paul’s writing was a dying city. Although it was located on a trade route, cities had grown up to the east and west of it and it somehow became overlooked. The population had declined as people moved away to the larger cities where most of the trade was occurring.

If you’ve ever lived in such a place, you know that they are depressed and depressive places – they have seen glory days but are now in decline. Living in that kind of place has a way of seeping into your psyche and it’s easy to become depressed yourself. At the very least, it’s hard to stay positive and creative and hopeful when living in such a place.

It occurs to me that Colosse is also an analogy for many of our lives. At some point in our lives, our “glory days” seem to be over and our health and prospects for an exciting future dwindle. Don’t get me wrong – I believe that God has purposes for us to fulfill in all stages of our lives. Still, there can be times when we are tempted to succumb to the aches and pains that come with aging and there are times when it is easier to let our culture – which worships youth – to seep in and drag us down.

It’s in those times, when Paul’s words to the Colossians are especially important. Paul is saying “It’s time for you to hit the reset button. Your lifes aren’t working quite the way God intended it work – you’re not living in the Kingdom while still here on earth.” Scripture is clear that eternal life isn’t something that we wait to experience once we’ve gone on to be with the Lord. It says that eternal life has come to all who receive Christ. Eternal life is, or at least ought to be, a part of living on earth. With the Lord beside us and the Holy Spirit in us, we can live lives that are full of peace and joy and purpose no matter what our circumstances are. Here’s how Paul put it:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

Paul first gives a reason for hitting the reset button – he begins by saying “Since you have been raised with Christ.”

In other words…you are thinking and acting as if you live here in this city that is declining. I’m here to tell you that you have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms. You are thinking and acting as if the boundaries of your life are related in some way by the limitations of this world. They are not. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:6 (NIV)

So, even before you hit the reset button, you need to remind yourself that this place is not your home, you are just passing through on your way to your eternal, heavenly, glorious home.

Now with that firmly planted in your mind – since you have been raised with Christ, Paul says, set your hearts on things above.

Set your hearts on things above.

Hit the reset button on your heart – reset the longings of your heart to things above. We long for things from our hearts. Our minds reasons, our hearts long. Our hearts desire. Desire the things of heaven. Let the things you long for be the things of heaven.

What are those things? What does Scripture teach us about heaven? It’s where God lives eternally. It’s where we will be face to face with God. It’s where we’ll sit with Jesus and reason together. It is where we have a mansion – a home created just for us. It is where our loved ones who have trusted Jesus wait for us. It is where there is no more sorry or sadness. It is where there is no sin or pain. It is where we will understand and fully experience the deep richness of God’s love.

Hit the reset button and set your heart on things above instead of things here on earth. Don’t long for the things of this world, long for the realities of heaven. That’s how the New Living Translation renders this verse: “Set your sights on the realities of heaven.”

Now I realize that’s not always so easy, because this world often seems more real than heaven. This world presses in on us and blocks out the realities of heaven.

The Apostle Paul realized that, too, so he continued, saying that there are two reset buttons we have to push to get our life headed in the right direction. The first, is that we need to set our hearts on things above.

The second reset button is found in verse 2:

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)

We are to set our hearts on things above, and we are to set our minds on things above. Our hearts are the center of our longing. Our minds are the center of our thinking. The Apostle Paul is very appropriately telling us to hit the reset button on our thoughts. Set your minds – in other words, center your thoughts – on things above.

Our minds are very powerful muscles. You will find that they are very suggestible and whatever we tend to occupy our mind with, our desires quickly follow. So one big way that we reset our hearts is by resetting our minds. Set your minds on thoughts above and your heart will follow. If you want to long for heaven more, think about what is waiting there for you.

Are you at a place in your life where you have something in common with the Colossians – perhaps your life today doesn’t compare well with the life you once had. If that’s the case, let me challenge you to take the Apostle Paul’s words to heart this week and hit the rest button – reset your heart and mind to things above.

This week, when you wake up each morning, do two things:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And each day at lunch, use your mealtime prayer as a reminder to

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And then again at dinner, before you eat, pray and use it as an opportunity to hit the reset button:

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

And finally, when you go to bed at night – be sure to be thankful as you

  • Set your heart on things above
  • Set your mind on things above

Colossions 3 continues:

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

You are hidden – kept safe from the worst this world has to throw at you – with Christ in God. He is your protection. He is your safe place. He is also your ultimate reward – if you know Christ, you will one day appear with Him in glory.

Trusting Christ is the first step in living the Kingdom He has given us here on earth. It is the first step in a journey that takes us through our death into eternal life. That journey is made easier when our hearts and minds stay with the One who loves us more than anyone, who protects us, and who leads us home.

I sign most of my emails with the simply closing “Enjoy!” It is my shorthand for “Enjoy God! Enjoy life!” We do that by keeping our hearts and minds on Him. Friends, enjoy!

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A Tribute to My Mom, Leona Jane Miller Parks Vinck

My mom had a stroke sixteen years ago. Prior to her stroke, she had an active life working, dancing, traveling and organizing bus tours for friends. Many of you may remember the Promise Keepers Stand in the Gap rally in Washington DC in 1997. Phil and I took a busload of men and women to it. (We women in attendance served as volunteers.) It was my mom’s suggestion and planning all the way.

Then she had surgery on her shoulder because the bone was infected. They removed most of her shoulder bone and socket. At some point during that first evening after surgery she had a major stroke that no one in the hospital recognized until the next morning. They attributed the symptoms she was exhibiting to coming out of the anesthesia. I’m sure if we were suing people we would have won the case against the very prominent hospital that missed her stroke for more than twelve hours.

Mom’s world instantly changed, and it changed dramatically. The short version is that from that moment on she never walked again, never drove car, never stood on her own and for many years now has not been able to feed herself. Since that time she has required total care. She has been fully paralyzed on her left side and has limited use of her right arm. Having been in a wheelchair for sixteen years she now has chronic pain and her skin is beginning to break down – which often requires that she cannot even get in her wheelchair but must remain in bed while the sores heal.

Today is her birthday. Today I had to tell her that her baby sister died. I drove to the nursing home where she lives to deliver the news in person. Many, including me, were concerned about how she would take the news. On the way to her room I explained to the nursing home staff that I was about to give mom news of her sister’s death on her birthday.

My mom is my hero. Her first words were “that just leaves me and my brother.” That was quickly followed by “I feel so badly for her children because they have now lost both parents.” She went on to say how my aunt is so much better off because she loved Jesus and she’s sitting at his feet and she’s meeting up with her mom and her sister and her first husband and her baby who died in infancy and their favorite aunt and their favorite cousin, and…so many other saints who have gone before.

This wasn’t the pie-in-the-sky “she’s better off now” comment that so many people make when someone dies. Mom was making a statement of fact and adding specifics.

While I was there several staff members stuck their head in the door to wish her a happy birthday and she would say “It’s a happy birthday but I got bad news on my birthday.” They would say they had heard and they were sorry. She would consistently say “It’s sad for us but she’s much happier now. So we should celebrate how good it is for her.”

As I sat and talked with mom this morning, at one point she said “I have so much to be thankful for. Oh, if you could hear my prayers at night, you’d think I was crazy. They’re almost the same every night. I tell God how thankful I am for my mother and father, my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They all made me the person I am. I thank him that I’ve always had a place to live and food to eat. I’ve never really been without. I thank Him for you kids and my grandkids.” And she went on and on telling me what she’s thankful for.

I was around for a good part of mom’s life. She went through some pretty hard times and it was a struggle to make ends meet. She and my dad went through a very bitter divorce. “Us kids” didn’t always act lovingly toward her. In fact, we didn’t even always think lovingly toward her. (Lord, forgive me.) And for sixteen years she’s been in a wheelchair. She used to love to do crafts. She cannot. She used to love to dance. She cannot. She used to love to go places. She cannot. She used to love to pick up the phone and call a friend. Even that is a challenge and she can’t always do it.

Many would see her life as having no purpose. Those people would be wrong. She lives today to encourage those around her and to build up their hope and faith. When she’s not bedridden, she seeks out residents of the nursing home who are the loneliest and in the most pain and she does anything and everything she can to brighten their day. And every day she teaches me that no matter what your circumstances are, you can experience the joy of the Lord and bring it to those around you. I absolutely love to hear her laugh and every time I am amazed that she does it. In the midst of her constant pain and difficult circumstances, she laughs – big belly laughs – often.

I preach at mom’s nursing home on the first Sunday of every month. Mom wasn’t able to make the church service this month. But she’s living my sermon. The key passage was Colossians 3:1-4.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)

In my next blog, I’ll expand on these verses. Today, just know that Leona Vinck, my mom, lives them every day. And I am a blessed woman because of it.

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Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Proverbs 4:7 (NIV)

 If you are following the Treasure Seeking in God’s Word reading schedule with us, you are reading through the Proverbs this month. I have to be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of the book of Proverbs. Yes, I recognize its value, but I don’t enjoy reading it – largely because of the writing style. The content is good (uh…it is the Word of God, perhaps I should say the content is inspired and holy and awesome – “good” seems a bit pathetic now that I think about it)…but the writing style is off-putting for me. I guess God’s Word has styles for everyone, right? Still, whether it’s my style of preference or not, I recognize the value of reading the whole Word of God, so I’m in Proverbs.

Just in case I didn’t recognize the value of reading Proverbs, the first four verses describe that value:

 1These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
2Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
to help them understand the insights of the wise.
3Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
4These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
knowledge and discernment to the young.
Proverbs 1:1-4 (NLT)

The purpose of the proverbs is to teach us wisdom and discipline. Who wants that? OK, most of us want wisdom, but most rebel at discipline. (Have you eaten healthy and exercised regularly this week?) These verses tell us the consequences of making the Proverbs part of our lives:

  • Gives us insight to the wise
  • Teaches us to live successful lives (yes, we learn that, it’s not a matter of luck)
  • Gives us insight to the simple – in other words, we can understand people, both wise and simple
  • Gives knowledge and discernment to the young – we don’t have to wait until we’re older and more experienced, the Proverbs can give us wisdom while we are still young

Those are pretty valuable benefits of embracing Proverbs – the Solomon, the writer of the Proverbs, says they are a source of wisdom and knowledge. In today’s reading, Solomon takes his discussion of wisdom further. While the first chapter taught the purpose of the proverbs, chapter 4 teaches us about the value of wisdom.

6Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
7Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
8Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.
9She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.”
10Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.
11I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.
12When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
Proverbs 4:6-12 (NIV)

“Do not forsake wisdom” Solomon writes – because here are some of the benefits:

  • Wisdom watches over us – it protects us and gives us security
  • Wisdom exalts us – it will bring us success
  • Wisdom brings us honor
  • Wisdom will “set a garland of grace on your head” –our lives will be characterized by grace
  • Wisdom crowns our heads with beauty – our lives will be beautiful (to ourselves and others)
  • Wisdom leads to a long life
  • Wisdom keeps us from stumbling over the pitfalls of life

If you want security, success, honor, grace, beauty and a long life that avoids the major pitfalls this world would throw at you, what you really want is wisdom. The book of Proverbs consistently tells us that wisdom is something we must pursue, practice and guard. In other words, it doesn’t come naturally. It also tells us that wisdom is found at the feet of the Lord. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning [or foundation] of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10, NIV/NLT)

By pursuing God, we are pursuing wisdom. Let’s continue together.

You can download our Treasure Seeking in God’s Word from this blog – it provides a schedule for reading through the Bible in 2014. Starting late? No problem. Start today and read a little more each day and you’ll catch up to us, or use the schedule as is and finish a year from today. Either way, you’re seeking treasure – God’s Word is full of them!

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I live a blessed life. I’m not rich and all my dreams haven’t been fulfilled – I’m guessing the same is true for you. But being blessed isn’t a matter of how much money you have or what you’ve been able to experience or accomplish. Living a blessed life has to do with your relationship with Christ and living in that relationship. Jesus said that He came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. He came so that we might have the promise of eternal life and the experience of a blessed life while still on this earth. I undoubtedly enjoy God’s many blessings.

Still, I find myself in the group of people who fight the holiday blues. As I grow older, I find that the battle waged in my mind grows more difficult to overcome.

Fortunately, as I’ve grown older, I’ve chosen to pursue God consistently, so hopefully my ability to win those battles has grown as well.

I’m tempted to give examples of things that cause me to be bluesy. That would be falling into the enemy’s trap. It would be encouraging a bit of self-pity. You can all fill in the blanks if you like or just understand that I’m a lot like many of you – feeling down at a time of year when it seems that the world is feeling joyful.

So it seemed a good blog would be the transparent one that shares how I’m dealing with my blues. Maybe they will help you fight the good fight.

  • Don’t dwell on the reasons for your blues. It’s really tempting, but don’t do it.
  • Without dwelling on the reasons for your blues, if you’re aware of specific issues, make plans to counteract your feelings or change the situation. For example, something happened today that made me feel isolated and therefore lonely. Don’t rest in that place, take action – In my situation, I need to call a friend and arrange a “play date.”
  • Pray, asking God to reveal Himself to you in a new way during this season. I’ve done that this year and God has been so faithful.
  • Plan activities that don’t draw attention to the reasons for your blues. For example, the first year after Phil’s mom died, we had a very unconventional Christmas. I knew it would be a very hard time for him, so we didn’t do have a “normal” Christmas. We painted our living room over the holiday weekend, taking time out only to visit family for dinner. We had the opportunity to be a part of the celebration but kept ourselves busy at other times.
  • Focus on praise. Yes, I know that’s hard work, but there is much to praise God for even when we’re feeling bluesy.
  • Be more intentional about playing your favorite Christian music in the background (or foreground).
  • Practice more giving – especially of yourself. Volunteer to serve meals at a shelter, visit nursing homes, organize food drives and gift-giving opportunities. You will be blessed. And you’ll sleep better each night when you’ve given of yourself during the day.
  •  Spend some time in prayer reviewing your year and asking God what your focus should be for 2014.
  • Give a gift to Jesus. Again, spend some time in prayer – ask Jesus what He would like you to give Him this year.
  • Cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to be busy all the time and you don’t have to be the perfect wife, mother, daughter, friend at a time when there’s too much to do. Don’t over commit, and if you do, graciously bow out.
  • Smile and be friendly when you’re out and about. It’s so tempting to ignore everyone you pass by as you shop or run errands. Resist! You’ll be surprised at how better you feel when you make the effort to smile and be friendly to everyone you see – everyone!
  • Enjoy your memories. If/when they start to swallow you, change the subject. But let yourself enjoy them in the meantime.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations. My mom lives in a nursing home. I miss “real Christmases.” I’ve learned to let go of the expectation that our Christmas gatherings will be enjoyable in the way that we used to enjoy Christmas. We’ll enjoy Christmas differently. I’ve come to learn that pretty much no one has the idea Christmas we all look forward to. Every family has their own difficulties. So let go of your unrealistic expectations and you’ll enjoy your Christmas season a whole lot more.
  • Be proactive in your planning over the holiday. If being too busy makes you vulnerable to becoming depressed, be sure to allow enough down time. If being alone leads to the blues, plan to be active. This year we’ll spend Christmas Eve day with my mom to celebrate Christmas, then Christmas Eve at a church service; Phil has to work 7am-3pm on Christmas Day and then 3-11pm on December 26 and 27. I am sure part of my blues is feeling like I have no Christmas with my husband. So I’m praying that God will give me a creative way to enjoy the holiday with Phil. (I’ll be honest – the praying is a new thing on this issue. I’ve been wracking my brain over this for a week or so…then I remembered that praying is more effective. :-))
  • Enjoy some special foods without feeling guilt! In fact, let go of guilt about everything over the holidays (and beyond). Stay close to the Holy Spirit and yield to conviction, but reject guilt.
  • Ask for help if you find yourself battling the blues unsuccessfully. Don’t let them take root because they are hard to uproot.

God is good, but we live in a fallen world. Don’t let the enemy of this world steal your joy for the next one! Enjoy your Christmas season.

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