Archive for the “Confidence in God” Category

Hi Folks! I initially published this blog in March 2012. It is so appropriate to yesterday’s blog that I wanted to re-issue it – with a bit of updating. Enjoy! Sandy

It All Started with Edward
In 1855 there was a man named Edward Kimball. Edward taught Sunday School at a church in Boston. There was a 17-year-old boy in his Sunday School class who Kimball described as having one of the darkest hearts he’d ever seen. One day Mr. Kimball felt lead to visit the boy outside of Sunday School, so he went to the store where the teenager worked. By his own admission, Mr. Kimball was unsure of himself. He wrote about it later:

“I began to wonder whether I ought to go just then during business hours,” he latter reported. “And I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned, might taunt [him] and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out of him. Then, I decided to make a dash for it and have it over at once.”

Can you sense Mr. Kimball’s insecurity from his own words? He later described himself as having made a rather anemic presentation of the gospel with the young man. But the boy was ready. God had been working on him.

That young man’s name was Dwight L. Moody.

I see several things in this story…

  • We never know what is in another person’s heart or when they are ready
  • Trust the Spirit’s prompting
  • Believe that God is going to use you! (Need a reminder of that? Read yesterday’s blog!)

Dwight Moody was holding a meeting in the late 1870’s at Lake Forest College in a suburb of Chicago. After the service, he counseled a student who was struggling with the assurance of his salvation. That young man later became a friend and co-laborer with Dwight Moody.

That man was J. Wilbur Chapman.

Mr. Chapman was an evangelist like Dwight Moody and later hired a young man to assist him in his ministry. That man was an former baseball player who had come to know Christ at a city mission in Chicago.

The man was Billy Sunday.

Billy Sunday was saved in 1887. Many years later he told the story like this:

“Twenty-seven years ago I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball players who were famous in this world … and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we got tanked up and then went and sat down on a corner. … Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments – horns, flutes and slide trombones – and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa and back in the old church where I used to go to Sunday school.

“And God painted on the canvas of my recollection and memory a vivid picture of the scenes of other days and other faces.

“Many have long since turned to dust. I sobbed and sobbed and a young man stepped out and said, ‘We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won’t you come down to the mission? I am sure you will enjoy it. You can hear drunkards tell how they have been saved and girls tell how they have been saved from the red-light district.’

“I arose and said to the boys, ‘I’m through. I am going to Jesus Christ.’”

His story tells me some things:

  • God uses seeds planted in our childhood.
  • God used the Christians playing various instruments and singing on a street corner to touch long-overlooked memories.
  • God used the gentle boldness, enthusiasm and compassion of some unknown person to bring Billy Sunday to the mission and another nameless person in history to bring Billy Sunday to Christ.

Billy Sunday became a well-known evangelist. He held a series of evangelistic meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1924.

Out of those meeting an organization of businessmen with a heart for evangelism was formed.

This group held an all day prayer meeting in the cow pasture of William and Morrow Graham. During that prayer meeting, someone prayed “Lord, raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

That summer the businessmen invited an evangelist named Mordecai Ham to hold evangelistic meetings in their town. There was a high school student in town who knew his mom and dad wanted him to attend the meetings – but he had determined to have none of it. He would not attend. During the meetings, Billy Sunday challenged students to attend and the student became curious. One evening he jumped in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, went to the meeting and sat in the back row.

That man was Billy Graham and he gave his life to Christ that night. He was the oldest son of William and Morrow Graham, owners of that cow pasture where they held that all day prayer meeting.

In June 1994 Billy Graham held his second crusade in Cleveland, Ohio. My Aunt Dolly attended one evening and gave her life to Christ. My Aunt Dolly died earlier this year. She is now with her Lord and Savior, Jesus. Thank you, Edward Kimball.

Trace it backwards, friends, and you see that Billy Graham (and my Aunt Dolly) came to Christ because Edward Kimball allowed God to use him in his fear and ineptitude. As I wrote earlier, Kimball later reported that he felt like his presentation of the gospel to Dwight Moody had been pretty anemic. It might have felt that way in the natural, but God added to it His dunamis power and a miracle occurred. Again, thank you, Edward Kimball for letting God use you to impact eternity.

Edward Kimball obeyed the whisper of God and stepped into the works God had prepared in advance for him to do.

Lots of Names, One Theme
Well, I’ve just thrown a lot of names and details at you, but the theme is that history is full of people – people just like you and me – whom God has used in extraordinary ways.

Beginning with Mr. Kimball – he was a Sunday School teacher of teenage boys, and by his own admission his presentation of the gospel was pretty weak – but God used him to bring one of the greatest evangelists of all time to the Lord, Dwight Moody. But Mr. Kimball’s influence didn’t end there. There is a direct line of influence from Dwight Moody all the way down to Billy Graham and then my Aunt Dolly. And of course the influence continues. Billy Graham’s son Franklin leads an organization called Samaritan’s Purse that provides food, clothing, shelter and medicine to people in need all over the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands, perhaps millions of people have been impacted by this ministry. Billy Graham’s grandson is a good preacher in his own right. And let’s not forget about my Aunt Dolly – the people she influenced are no less important than those influenced by Billy Graham. Her children and grandchildren influence those around them to love Christ – including Aunt Dolly’s great grandchildren.

And we can trace all of them back to Edward Kimball, a Sunday School teacher in a church in Boston. And we can trace it back to a young man who struggled to believe Scripture that says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

And we can trace it back to men and women who played instruments and sang gospel songs on a street corner where drunk ball players took a break from their drinking.

And we can trace it back to some businessmen who attended an all-day prayer meeting.

We can even trace it back to that one individual who boldly prayed “Lord raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

The thing that stands out so clearly to me from all of this is that within this chain of historic events there are a number of Christians who had large ministries that were used by God to sweep multitudes into His kingdom, and there were a number of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived out their calling and obediently ministered to the few whom God put in their path. The chain of events would have broken down without the obedient and faithful action of the ordinary Christians. While Edward Kimball and the slide trombone player on the Chicago street corner were never called by God to have a worldwide ministry like that of Dwight Moody or Billy Graham, both of those great evangelists can trace their spiritual ancestry back to those faithful Christian workers.

God has a plan for each one of us. Scripture makes that clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jeremiah 1:5 (God is speaking to Jeremiah) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

There was nothing extraordinarily special about Jeremiah. What God did for Jeremiah, He has done for each of us – not necessarily calling us to be prophets to the nation, but creating us for a purpose.

The Psalmist wrote this awesome passage that has the same message:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139: 13-16

The message is repeated in the New Testament:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

So, everyone in that chain of history that began with Edward Kimball and ended with Billy and Franklin Graham stepped up to the plate to swing at the pitch God threw them. They had given their time and their talents to God. Instead of staying home and watching the latest episode of their must-see-TV, they spent all day in prayer. Instead of going out drinking with his buddies, Billy Sunday said “Today, I’m going to Jesus.”

I want to encourage each of us to get in the game. Let’s not be satisfied with life as we know it, but allow God to use us in ways that leave a lasting impact on this world.

I want to see God move. I’m not going to see it without getting in the game. I’m not going to see my community won to Christ by just going to church every Sunday. I’m not going to see men and women grow in their faith by just enjoying fellowship with other believers. I’m not dissing those things. Both are very important. But we can’t change the world without being in it and being purposeful in it.

What has to change for you and me to accomplish the purposes that God has prepared in advance for us to do? Here are some ideas:

  • Believe that God wants to use us (see yesterday’s blog)
  • Change our patterns and schedules
  • Know what He has called us to
  • Step out in faith, even when we don’t have all the answers

A Final Encouragement

Phil 1:4, 6 “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…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.”

God will bring the work He’s started to completion, but we have a role to play. Your role may be large, but more likely it will be small. You may not be used by God to lead thousands to Christ, but you may be used by God to lead the world’s next great evangelist to Christ. You are a part of God’s chain of events in human history.

Others can’t keep us from accomplishing the things God has ordained for us to do, but we can. We can step out of the chain of events and not have that impact that God wants us to have. God will still accomplish His purposes on earth…He’ll just use someone else. Don’t let someone else receive the blessing of serving God that He has set aside for you. Get in the game. Step up to the plate. Start today!

Comments Comments Off on Impact of One Life, Revisited

On the third of December I sent myself a fairly cryptic email. The subject line read like this: “Journal/Blog: 2015 – Year of Hope.”

2015 – Year of Hope. I didn’t identify any specific Scripture I was reading when God dropped that into my spirit, but I remember feeling the nudge from God so strongly that I sent myself an email so that I could later transfer the thought to my personal journal and seek God for what else He might want to say about it. Maybe I would develop it into a blog or series of blogs.

That was it. I haven’t done any more writing on the topic or study or research. But God planted the word in my spirit on December 3rd and it’s been growing.

I suspect there will be a number of blogs on the topic of hope in 2015, but I wanted to start with sharing the thing that gives me the greatest hope on a day-to-day basis.

What is it that gives you hope when you are tempted to feel less than hopeful. When life beats you up a bit, or even perhaps when life just continues in the constant sameness day after day – How do you answer the question that comes unbidden into your mind “Is all this worth it?” What is it that gives you hope?

Now as Christians, we have many reasons to be hopeful. As a believer in Christ and one who desires to make Him Lord of my life, I can have hope regardless of my circumstances because I am…

  • forgiven
  • saved
  • sanctified – a fancy word for “made holy or acceptable to God” (a pretty amazing and wonderful thing)
  • filled with the Holy Spirit
  • the bride of Christ
  • seated with Him in heavenly places

And on top of all that, I have the promise of spending eternity in heaven with my Lord. Hallelujah!

Those are all tremendous reasons for rejoicing and for having hope…all great reasons that I’m not going to write about today, except to say that if you are not totally confident in all those things – if you’re not totally confident that you’ve been forgiven, if you’re not totally confident that you will spend eternity in heaven, check out these blogs:

Made Right with God

How Can I Know I’m Saved

There’s another reason to be hopeful that sits at the top of my list. I can get pretty jazzed about the reasons I’ve just identified, but they’re all very future. Yes, they have a “for today” element, but they’re largely reasons I can be hopeful for my future.

The reason I get most jazzed about is a present, for today, reason. That one reason is this: God – the Creator of the Universe and everything in it – the One who holds the world together – the One who created me and knows me better than I know myself – that God has plans and purposes for my life that have eternal significance. He has things for me to do today that will have impacts that continue through all eternity is what I get jazzed about.

And you know what? I can step into those plans because I know that He is the God of the impossible. So no matter what my circumstances are, no matter what my physical or intellectual abilities are, no matter what my personality limitations are, He is the God of the impossible and He wants to use me to impact eternity! Wow! Hallelujah!

You see, I am sometimes tempted to be discouraged by my circumstances or physical abilities. I am tempted to think I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the personality or natural abilities I need to do something for God. But you know what? A God who can do the impossible – a God who has miracle working power – that God (my God) operates outside the boundaries of our circumstances and abilities.

That’s important enough to repeat: Our God is not limited by our circumstances and abilities – He works outside them. Yes, He works within them in the sense that He uses our circumstances and our abilities to accomplish His purposes, but He works outside them in the sense that He is God. He can do what we can’t even begin to imagine. And the thing is, He wants to do it in and through us. He could do it on His own…but He says “come on, let’s do it together.”

Friends, that’s what I get jazzed about. Let’s look at Ephesians 3: 20-21:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the New King James translation, it reads “to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Hallelujah!

Let’s break look at the passage a bit more closely.

“Now to Him who is able” – are you convinced that God is able? That’s the place to start.

We’ll come back to this passage, but let’s look briefly at Hebrews 11:1. A very common verse…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says it this way:

Now faith is the reality [or assurance] of what is hoped for, the proof [or conviction] of what is not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (HCSB)

Choosing to engage our faith – in other words, choosing to say and hold to the “I believe” – comes before the reality of seeing – it is the place where hope lives.

Do you want to have hope? Choose to believe God and His Word. Every day, in every moment, in every circumstances, in every inadequacy, in every discouragement. Choose to believe that God is able.

I’m not asking you to believe that you can do whatever God calls you to do. I’m asking you to believe that He can do it. That He is able.

I know that’s not always easy. But it is where hope lives. When you believe God is able, hope rises in your heart and your spirit.

Even though believing isn’t always easy, there’s an element that’s even harder – choosing to believe means more than simply saying and holding to the “I believe”, it means living the “I believe.”

It isn’t enough, to simply say “I believe” – even if you are believing with all your heart. It must be lived! Faith is living in that confidence that God is the God of the impossible. Living in a way that shows you believe He is able to do the impossible in your life. Not just in Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s lives. Not just in the Apostle Peter’s life and in Paul’s life and in John’s life. But in your life and in my life.

And if it’s true that God is able to do the impossible in our lives (and it is), then no matter what our circumstances or physical abilities are, we have a choice to make over and over again many times every day – to believe and live in hope or to back away from it.

Friends, I am exhorting us today not to back away from believing God. Don’t back away from hope.

Let’s return to Ephesians 3:20:

“Now to Him who is able” – Lord we believe that You are able – to do what? “more than all we can ask or imagine.” This verse jumped off the page at me during a Bible study in early November. I felt like God was challenging me to improve my imagination. If God can do more than that, I want to imagine more.

Later, however, I noticed a little word that hadn’t hit my radar before. Scripture says “more than ALL we ask or imagine.” Not more than a little bit of what I can imagine, or some of what I can imagine, but more than all I can ask or imagine.

That’s what the God who is able can do! Lord, I believe you are able. Improve my imagination, give me bigger dreams. And help me choose to believe that you can do it all – that You can do more than all of it.

And even as I say that, the enemy whispers, but…but… you’re 58 years old…you can’t jump as high as you used to jump and you can’t run as fast as you used to run…you have obligations to take care of parents who live 50 miles away…you are overwhelmed with work sometimes…you’re tired…you’re…

And so I am tempted to step back from hope. But the Lord is prompting us to say… “Get thee behind me satan.” “Lord, I choose to believe that you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine.”

Hallelujah! Are you with me? Do you believe that God is able?

Well if so, hang on because there’s more to this verse.

As if God’s ability to do more isn’t exciting enough, here’s the part that I get super jazzed about…How is he going to do that immeasurably more, that exceedingly abundantly more? By the power IN US.

The power – the word is dunamis – the word from which we get dynamite. The explosive power. Miraculous power. When you read the words “mighty works” or “miracles” in the gospels, it is probably the word dunamis in the Greek.

In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know God’s “incomparably great power” – dunamis (Eph 1:19). He went on to say something about that power – He said that the incomparably great, dunamis power, is the same power that He “exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20).

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is work within us – that dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead.


The word dunamis occurs in many places, but I want to share one curious place. In Matthew chapter 13 we have the story of Jesus returning to his hometown.

54[Jesus] went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? 55Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?”

57And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”

58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:54-58 (HCSB)

That word “miracles” in verse 58 – it’s dunamis.

Friends, I don’t want to limit or diminish God’s use of His dunamis power in my life because of my unbelief. I want to believe God’s Word that says He is able.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasureably more…by the power – dunamis – at work in us.

We’ve answered the question “is God able?” – how about the question “does He really want to work through me?” Does He really want to work through you? Ephesians 2:10 answers that for us:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We were created for a purpose – to do things that God has prepared for us to do. We are not here by happenstance. We are not living in our community, seeing the people we see, going to the places we go by happenstance.

There is a verse in Acts that says God determined the exact times and places where we should live. It’s not happenstance.

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

Did you get that? God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

And that, friends, is what I get jazzed about that. That gives me hope on a day to day, even hour by hour, basis. When life gets boring, I know that God is working – using His dunamis power in me to accomplish immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine to accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. When life gets tough, I know that God is working. When life is good, I know that God is working. In all the situations, God is working in and through me…if I continue to pursue Him. If I plug myself into the plan. Because the sad news is that at any moment, I can choose to step out.

I want to encourage all of us not to step out of God’s plan. As we look into the new year, tell God you want to plug into the plans He has for you. And then believe it is happening. Live in that place of faith and hope, whether you see it or not.

Here’s an important point, though: God’s dunamis power doesn’t always look like a TNT explosion. It is at work in the every day things. I can be sitting listening to a message at church, and the pastor can say something that rocks my world. And those around me won’t have a clue. My husband may not even have a clue until I tell him. But in my spirit something arises that spurs me on to love God more and to serve God more. And that is no less an example of God’s dunamis power than the more explosive, miracle workings we think of. When God works in one person’s heart to grow in obedience and love for Him, eternity watches with anticipation to see what God will do next, how He will use his dunamis power in that person’s life.

The works God’s created for us to do may very well be low-key acts of obedience – offering a cold cup of water to a prophet, for example. And here’s a cool thing – God promises us that when we do that, we will receive the prophets reward! (Matthew 10:40-42) Why, because we believed that God was working through us, so by faith we acted. And our cold cup of water enabled that prophet, that evangelist, that Sunday school or Bible study teacher, that preacher, that missionary, that lay person, to accomplish the work God has prepared for him or her.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

And so we act, we step into the good works that God has prepared for us to do. We say, “Lord, thank you for using me today. What small or large work do you have for me to do? I believe it will have impact throughout all eternity.”

That’s how I want to approach life.

Here’s my hope and confidence: Some day, I will be sitting with the Lord, and someone will come up to me and they will say “Sandy, you don’t know me, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. In 1981 you led a girls club and you encouraged the girls to share Christ with a friend. I was a friend of one of those girls.” And a while later someone will come up to me and say “Sandy, you wrote that blog and it woke me up out of the spiritual slumber I was in.” Or “you preached that message and made it so simple that I understood for the first time that God wanted to use me.” Or “you shared that facebook post and it made me angry but I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Or “Sandy, you built that Operation Christmas Child shoebox or gave that offering and someone worlds away from you introduced me to Christ.”

Friends, I get jazzed about that. That’s my greatest reason for having hope on a day-to-day basis. And not just that, but for what follows it – that person I impacted will impact someone else who will impact someone else who will impact someone else…should the Lord tarry.

It’s not that I have visions of grandeur. It’s not that I’m so great. Quite the opposite! I have confidence – faith – in my God to do phenomenally cool and exciting things – to use His dunamis power in and through me…if I let Him. If I give Him control. If I follow His lead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ballroom dance lessons, it’s that two people can’t lead. One must follow. That’s my job. I’m the follower. It often goes against my nature, but that’s what being conformed to the image of Christ is all about – conforming my will to His.

Lord, as I look forward to 2015, help me hold onto faith – that place where hope lives – believing that You are able to do cool and amazing things that will impact eternity through my typically ordinary life.

Comments Comments Off on 2015, Year of Hope

15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
Philippians 1:15-18 (NIV)

When was the last time you rejoiced because someone was doing something just because it would make your life harder? That’s what Paul is doing. He isn’t living in Pollyanna. He sees that people are preaching the Gospel not for the sake of Christ, but for the sake of causing trouble for Paul. Yet Paul says – “Who cares? The important thing is that Christ is preached!”

I sure don’t have that perspective yet.

The phrase “stirring up trouble for me” is the first thing that catches my eye, but there’s a phrase that comes before it that is also a bit shocking to me. Paul says people are preaching “out of selfish ambition.” OK, maybe I can get over that someone is trying to cause trouble for me…but quite honestly, I can easily see my “righteous indignation” rear its ugly head at people preaching out of selfish ambition: “They don’t love the Lord. They only want to draw attention to themselves.”

Paul says “What does it matter? The important thing is that Christ is preached.”

But it does matter (I say) – the pulpit is a sacred place. To stand before people and proclaim the Word of the Lord is a privilege, an honor and a holy and humbling calling.

Yes, friends, it is. And yet some will preach Christ out of selfish ambition instead of out of a love for God and a reverence for Him. And Paul says “I rejoice. Because Christ is preached.”

Paul says “Don’t lose sight of the important thing. The important is that Christ is preached.”

There is so much inside me that wants to argue with that statement. In the end, won’t the person who is preaching out of selfish ambition cause more harm to the Gospel than good? God whispers in my ear “leave the end to me. You take care of your own heart.”

I don’t want to take care of my own heart, I want to condemn that person who is preaching with ulterior motives. And God reminds me that such an attitude reveals that my heart lacks the full expression of His love. Lacks it by a long shot.

It’s always easier to be “righteously angry” than pursue love. I am not saying that there is a time and place for righteous anger – Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple. But look at the whole of His ministry and you will find more love for the lost than I have and you won’t find Him condemning anyone who is preaching the Gospel.

He reserved his righteous anger for those who made it more difficult to get into heaven or who were preaching a different gospel. Paul is talking about those who are preaching the Gospel of Christ simply from wrong motives. Right message, wrong motives.

Lord, help me to have proper discernment, but mostly…help me take care of my own heart. Help me to rejoice when the Gospel is preached. Period. No caveats.

Comments Comments Off on Paul’s Kingdom Perspective the Preaching of the Gospel

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!

Comments 2 Comments »

3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being 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 1:3-6 (NIV)

“I thank my God every time I remember you,” the apostle Paul says. You know what? The Philippian Christians weren’t perfect! We’ll see in chapters 2 and 3 that there were some problems in the church. But Paul doesn’t begin his letter praying for those issues. He chooses to be thankful for His friends. He chooses to pray for them with joy. Not frustration. Not defeat. Not discouragement. Thankfulness and joy. I am challenged by this. Sometimes, even with those I love, I pray with some of those other things – frustration, defeat or discouragement. Or I am tempted to pray to “fix” something that is causing me to be frustrated with that person. That’s not how Paul prays. Paul prays for them with thankfulness and joy.

As we’ll see in chapter 2, we’re to do all things without complaining and grumbling…that goes for praying for others, too. There’s no grumbling in praying…or at least there shouldn’t be any grumbling in our prayers for others.

In the natural world, we may not see reason to pray with thanksgiving and joy. But we’re not to be looking with our natural eyes. Paul goes on to say that he is confident – confident – that God – who began a good work in the Philippians would carry it on to completion! Another translation of this verse says that Paul is “fully persuaded.” As I was studying this passage and came upon that translation, the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear – “Are you fully persuaded?” In other words, am I fully persuaded that God will finish the work He’s started in me? Are you?

God’s Word is full of encouragement that He is at work in us. If and when we believe His Word – truly believe it – we can pray with thankfulness and joy – for ourselves and for others. God is at work in us and in those around us. He is working out His eternal plan in our lives and the lives of those around us. That’s exciting stuff! Believing that overcomes fear, uncertainty and doubt about our future.

So, my friend – are you fully persuaded that God is at work in you and will work out His purposes in your life? I hope so. If you have doubts, may I suggest that you write out this verse and put it where you will see it several times a day. Say it out loud – God is at work in me and will bring that work to completion.

Let Him whisper it in your ear…

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Comments Comments Off on Thankful and Confident

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!

Comments Comments Off on Hit the Reset Button – and Enjoy Life

The Old Testament clearly portrays the Messiah as both a suffering servant and a conquering King, but the concept of the Messiah coming as a suffering servant was so beyond anything the Israelites could embrace, they were looking only for the conquering King.

What happens when Jesus is not who you expect Him to be?

The Pharisees and Saducees took offense. They allowed their pride to take the lead, blinding them to the real Messiah because He didn’t come as the conquering King. Instead of pausing, listening, watching and – most importantly – praying for discernment, the assumed they were right so anything or anyone who didn’t match their expectations was wrong. And they missed the miracle of the Messiah.

I don’t want to miss the miracle because I allow my pride to overshadow God’s messenger and message.

You know, the disciples were also expecting a conquering Messiah. Yet they watched as Jesus was killed by their fellow Jews. I can only imagine how devastated they felt. Then, hearing that He was alive – how very confused they must have been! I’m sure they were devastated by the week’s events, but trying desperately to hold onto hope. Then, suddenly, Jesus came into the room where they had locked themselves away because they were so afraid of the Jews. But Thomas was not among them, and upon hearing about it, he chose not to believe the men he had walked beside for the previous three years.

25So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
John 20:25 (NASB)

Jesus did the unexpected and Thomas doubted. I don’t know, but I wonder if it was bitterness that caused Thomas to react as he did – bitterness born out of shattered hopes and dreams. The Messiah had been crucified. He had made them so many promises. Then God allowed Him to be crucified. Thomas had given up everything to follow Jesus. Now Jesus had abandoned Him. He had believed Jesus when Jesus proclaimed to be God. How could he have been such a fool?!

Shattered hopes have a way of worming their way into our thinking and turning everything upside down. Bitterness is often the byproduct of such upside down thinking.

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20:26-28 (NIV)

Jesus can cut through upside down thinking, and upon seeing Jesus, Thomas let go of his bitterness and doubt. He immediately humbled himself before the King. It no longer mattered whether Jesus came as a conquering King or a humble one – He was still worthy of being “my Lord and my God!”

How do you respond when Jesus is not as you expect Him to be? Do you “require” Him to prove himself before you believe? Thomas did and Jesus was gracious and merciful enough to do so. Jesus went on to say that those who believe without requiring such proof are supremely blessed.

Yet how do we keep from being deceived? That’s the question that pops into my mind as I write about believing even when we don’t have full understanding. I think the key is in staying close to Jesus. What should happen when Jesus is not as we expect Him to be? It should drive us to our knees in prayer and into our Bibles in study. When He’s not what we expect, perhaps we need to get to know Him better.

Finally, remember that you are seeing just a glimpse of the whole picture. The story of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch teaches us this is (Acts 8:31-34).

What’s interesting is that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading about the suffering servant and Philip came along and “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35, NIV)

Philip taught the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus from a passage Isaiah 53:7-8, which includes phrases like “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter” and “In his humiliation he was deprived of justice…For his life was taken from the earth.”

What happens when Jesus is not who you expect Him to be? Remember that you are seeing only a small part of His plan. Remember that He is the author of bringing good out of bad.

Jesus was not who the Jews expected. They expected the Jesus who is still to come, the One who will be a conquering King. But their pride caused them to miss the first King – the One who would forgive them and be merciful to them.

What Happens When Jesus is Not Who You Expect Him to Be? Sometimes you just have to love Him in spite of your limited understanding.

Comments Comments Off on What Happens When Jesus is Not Who You Expect Him to Be?

Woman Reflecting by the WaterThis afternoon I was reading about the many tensions that exist in planning a typical worship service — competing values and goals that those of us sitting in the pews are happily ignorant about. Tensions like planning for both a personal and a corporate worship experience, honoring the heritage of the past while still meeting the needs of the present, and balancing the teaching of objective truth with every believer’s need for a subjective experience of God are just a few of the challenges that make planning any service much more difficult than most of us realize.

As I pondered these issues, I began to think about the Christian life in general. As we begin to walk with the Lord, we become aware of how short we fall of the glory of God. Walking a little further, we begin to get a glimpse of who He wants us to be and how He might want to use us. Even further down the path, that glimpse comes into sharper focus until at some point we have a picture with some definition to it. We can see that He wants to shape us and mold us into an image of His Son that is still uniquely us.

But we’re not there yet. So we begin to live our life in the dynamic tension of being one person while we’re becoming another person; of seeing both the present and the future and remaining both “content” and “discontent” with the present while we look and work toward the future. That tension can cause guilt and frustration or excitement and joy.

Sometimes I get so excited about the person God is slowly changing me into. That person is so very much better than the person I am today. And yet, I can also see that the person I am today is at least a little better than the one I was ten years ago. And she’s definitely much better than the person I was twenty years ago! The difference between living my life in guilt and frustration or excitement and joy is a result of which of these three “people” I’m focusing on.

Focusing on the person I am today generally leads to a discontented Sandy. I periodically say to Phil “If I were really a good daughter, I’d _________________” (I can fill in the blank with any of a number of things that I’m apt to feel guilty about not doing for my parents). That’s focusing on the incomplete person I am today. And that person isn’t doing all those hundreds of things I sometimes think I “should” be doing. That person is tired, frustrated and guilty. She is just one step away from being ashamed and defeated. That person doesn’t see God at work in her life; she just sees her life as it is here and now – falling far short of the glory of God.

Focusing on the person I was twenty years ago can lead to either totally inappropriate shame or the very dangerous emotion of pride. I’m not the person I was ten or twenty years ago, so it isn’t appropriate for me to be burdened with guilt for my shortcomings in the past. God has already changed me. My sins of the past are forgiven. If I compare my “twenty-years-ago self” to my current self, however, I might easily exaggerate my improvements in my mind and say “Wow, look how much better I am today.” I pray that when that happens, the Holy Spirit reminds me loudly and clearly that “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18)

The best place to be is focusing on the person God is changing me into. When my focus is on that person, I have hope. I have excitement in my life, because I can begin to see how He is using even my failures to move me closer to becoming that person. When my focus is on that person, life is more fun because I can enjoy the process of growing. I can view my maturation process as an adventure with God instead of Him pounding me into shape. It is this view that actually transfers my focus from myself to God and His work in me.

I’m not denying that life is difficult at times; in fact, I’m going through one of those “difficult seasons” now. Aging parents and increasing responsibilities can be a heavy load at times. But I can see, and others have told me that they can see, how God is using this to soften some of my sharp edges. And that is good, because the person God is molding me to be (and has shown me glimpses of) needs softer edges. So we’re working on softer edges right now. Next week (month, year?) we might be working on something else. I don’t know. I’m just along for the adventure! And the joy. And the relationship with Him.

Perhaps this is some of what Paul was feeling when he wrote to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)

Of course the ultimate prize is Christ Himself. Along the way, though, there are many preliminary rounds with prizes to the winners. Prizes like softer edges and the wonderful adventure of becoming the person God already sees. What a God we serve! Let’s serve Him well in 2014.

Comments Comments Off on The Adventure of Living in Dynamic Tension

After a couple years of “practicing,” I began blogging in earnest on March 30, 2008. (My first blog is here. My March 30, 2008 blog is here.) That’s nearly six years ago. During those 269 weeks, there have only been 8 weeks when I didn’t post a blog. Why? Because it’s important to me to fulfill the call that God has on my life, and I believe that call includes blogging regularly. It doesn’t matter whether ten or ten thousand people are reading my blog. What matters is that I’m faithful and obedient. I’m not posting for the sake of posting. I’m posting because God has laid something on my heart and I’m a teacher, writer and speaker, so, like Jeremiah, if I don’t share it feels like “fire in my bones.”

Why do I tell you this today? Because it’s been seventeen days since my last blog. This is the longest I’ve gone without posting. Over the past month we have had extraordinarily short deadlines at work and other unexpected activities that simply left absolutely no time for writing and posting blogs. It’s been a pretty chaotic time and even when I’ve had the time to write blogs, I didn’t have time to post them.

The cool thing is that during the past couple of weeks, I have been very aware of my neglect of Apprehending Grace and totally at peace with it. I have a pretty strong sense of “ought to” that I regularly have to push away from. Over the past few weeks, God has taken care of that for me. So getting back into the swing of things, I thought I’d reflect on that peace and how it happened.

Things I Did Right

  • During this time, I very purposefully looked at my schedule each morning and asked God to identify the top priorities for the day. I’d pray, review my To Do list, pray again, then write numbers next to the tasks indicating their priority. I took time to do this no matter how busy we were. Each day I’d have “AppGrace blog” on the list. Each day it either didn’t get a number next to it, or the number was so low I never got to it. Because I had started the day asking God to put things in priority, I was able to sleep in peace each evening. I knew I was working as hard as I could, so if it didn’t get done, then it wasn’t God’s priority for my day.
  • Throughout the day I was intentional about pausing to breath in God’s presence when I moved from project to project. It was my “presence of God pause” – I’d take a deep breath and concentrate for a few seconds on God’s goodness. I was reconnecting with God’s presence in the midst of the chaos around me.
  • When tempted to complain about our season of busyness, I repeatedly spoke of the good things associated with this season. (Most notably that God was using it to supply our needs in a year when business has been very slow.)
  • I purposefully prayed each evening thanking God for His goodness and faithfulness. At bedtime God’s peace would try to slip away as all that was left undone would try to flood my mind. I kept that from happening by praying – sometimes aloud to keep the enemy at bay.
  • Each morning, no matter how tired I was, I thanked God for the day ahead.
  • I read God’s Word each morning. I didn’t always read as much as I typically would, but I read something.
  • I didn’t overdo it. Sometimes it felt like I was about to cross over that fine line of doing all we can and not overdoing it, but I was always able to pull back. I took a lunch break and dinner break each day. When I couldn’t work anymore, I quit. No matter how much was left on the To Do list. Not overdoing it is one way we show that we trust God. Pushing ourselves too hard is evidence that we’re relying on ourselves too much. I even had folks come help me clean my house twice during the past few weeks. (Special thanks to Linda who recognized the need and offered before I even asked.) Resting says that I trust God to enable me to accomplish what needs to be done in the time I have available or He’ll give me grace with clients for the work that isn’t accomplished. (Or He won’t give me grace with those clients, but He’ll provide for my needs in some other way. I’m OK with that option, too.)

Things I Did Wrong

  • One morning (very near the end of the busy time) I realized that I was putting my makeup on like a wild woman! My hands were moving so fast dabbing at the powder (with more force than necessary) that it was actually adding to my stress. When I realized it, I stopped and purposefully slowed my movements. It made a huge difference in my stress level. I realized that I was adding to my stress by acting as if I were under stress. I didn’t need to be under stress. I was experiencing God’s peace, yet I was still letting my mind and body register stress. In other words, I truly had peace about what wasn’t getting done, but during the day I was allowing myself to feel stressed about all I needed to do. I’m not sure that makes sense but it was my experience. What I found was that the moment I relaxed my movements, I felt less stress and greater peace. I have a tendency to move too quickly when I’m stressed. All that does is increase our stress. It really doesn’t help us get things done more quickly. More often than not it causes us to drop things or spill things or make mistakes. At least that’s my experience.
  • I didn’t do any of the things I did right as consistently as I’d like. I forgot to pause between tasks to breath in God’s presence, I did complain, and I didn’t ask for help as much as I could have. There’s always room for improvement.
  • Exercise and healthy eating fell by the wayside. Ugh. Time to recover the good habits I’ve lost over the past 2 months.

God’s peace is a wonderful thing. He promises that He will keep us in “perfect peace” when our mind is steadfast on Him (Isaiah 26:3). I wouldn’t say that the peace I experience was “perfect peace” – it slipped at times. But then, my focus wasn’t always on the Lord, either. But I experienced much more of it than I usually do. Thank You Lord! Sometimes we really do see ourselves making progress!

It feels really good to be back in my routine. I’m looking forward to more writing. And enjoying the short time left before Christmas. Merry Christmas, friends. Enjoy God this season! Despite my busyness, I sure have been. More about that in my next blog!

Comments 2 Comments »

As I read through Jeremiah 17 a few weeks ago, this passage stopped me in my tracks:

4“The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

It’s not one of those verses that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s not one of those verses you hang on to when things get tough. Nevertheless, it’s the Word of God – God-breathed “is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT). This would fall into the category of correcting us when we’re wrong. We need that sometimes. At least I do. I’m assuming you do, too.

As soon as I finished this paragraph, the Holy Spirit posed a question to me: “Who do you think you are that you can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to His judgment?” We stress the promises of God, but we turn our backs on the discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Discipleship requires obedience and discipline.

Verse 5 makes a strong statement “Cursed are those who put their trust in human effort.” Cursed. That’s a strong word. Think back to (or take a 60 second side trip to go read) Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of blessings and curses. There’s a long list of blessings that accompany obedience. There’s an even longer list of curses that follow those who are disobedient.

We put ourselves in that cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Be sure you get that sentence down – we put ourselves in the cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Remember, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. We move ourselves out of position to receive it.

In what ways are we trusting in human effort? In the times we live, I believe the most significant way we rely on human strength is when we set our own agendas and determine how we will use our time, money and talents. When we make these decisions on our own, it’s the equivalent of saying “I don’t have time to ask God how He wants me to spend my time.” Or put more bluntly, “I don’t have for the Lord.” Whether it’s not having enough time to worship, read, pray or serve, it all adds up to the same thing – we’re trusting in our own efforts or the efforts of others instead of subordinating our to do list to God’s priorities. We are trusting in mere humans.

As I considered this, I began to think about how much time I spend with God. Let me share with you the calculations I did. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say I spend 2 hours on Sunday morning and half an hour each day with God – that would be 5.5 hours each week. (Now in all honesty, I’m being a little generous because I don’t always spend 2 hours at church on Sunday morning and it’s not all that unusual for me to spend less than half an hour in morning devotions.) But if that were my pattern, I would be spending 5.5 hours with God each week. That’s less that 3.3% of my week! If your pattern is like mine, you spend less than 3.3% of your week with God!

Now you may say “but I pray throughout the day.” OK. But be honest with yourself and with God. How much time, really, are you in fellowship with God? My guess is that if you added up all the time throughout the day that you are praying – talking and listening – you’d have another half hour or so each day. So when we add that in, we’re up to spending about 5.5% of our week with God.

Do I really think God is honored by that? No, I don’t. What do you think?

Another important question to ask is “Do I really believe that God will bless that person?”

Out of His goodness, He will bless that person. But not in all the fullness and richness of blessings He offers.

Both the Old Testament Israelites and the New Testament Church lived in community that centered around God and His presence and His commands. Today, our lives center around our jobs and our families and our hobbies with God attached on the side. Most of our lives don’t reflect God as the central focus.

What did the passage say? Verse 4 said “The wonderful possession He has reserved for us slips through our fingers.” And verse 6: “We live lives that are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. We live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.”

If you feel like that, perhaps it’s because you’re only giving God 3.5 or 5.5% of your time.

Friends, it’s not my intention or desire to bring condemnation on you. That’s not God’s desire either. It might, however, be His desire to bring conviction. If we want to see revival in our lives and in our land, it’s time to up our game. It’s time to pursue God more wholeheartedly.

I wrote most of this blog about three weeks ago. In the past week, I’ve read a letter and a blog from two very different sources – but they were on the same topic: The need for the church to feel a sense of urgency about our mission. I didn’t go looking for these articles. One came in a regular newsletter I get from a missionary. Another came through a Christian ministry group I belong to on LinkedIn.

Church, it’s time to set aside some of the good things in our lives for that which is better. I love the story of Mary and Martha. Scripture says that Mary chose the “better” part. Martha wasn’t choosing a bad thing, she just wasn’t choosing the better thing. She wasn’t choosing to spend her time with Jesus.

We can’t give more to God unless we specifically set aside those things that aren’t the better part – that is, sitting at Jesus’ feet. We can’t give more to God unless we specifically and purposefully schedule times throughout the week to be with Him and to serve Him. Pause to look at your calendar. When during the coming week can you sit at Jesus’ feet? Write it in ink on your calendar. Make it a “#1 priority” in your electronic calendar. Do whatever it takes to choose the better part.

Turning Our Hearts Away From God
There was another phrase in verse 5 that caught my attention: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”

Friends, the very act of relying on human strength turns our hearts away from the Lord. The two go together. One thing I’m learning is that there are actions that have the direct result of pulling us away from God. Worry is one of those things. We can’t hold on to faith when we are worried because worry is like a force that pulls the suction cups of faith loose from the hope to which it’s attached.

Trusting in ourself or others is like that as well. It has the direct result of pulling us away from the Lord. As your worry rises, your faith falls. As your trust in yourself rises, your trust in God falls.

You can make a conscious decision to turn your heart from the Lord, but what I think happens more often is that our hearts are turned from the Lord as a byproduct of placing our trust in what we can do on our own.

And that leaves us no hope for the future. There is no hope because we have put ourselves under a curse.

Curses or Blessings
In Deuteronomy 28, God identifies the blessings for those who follow God’s ways and then describes the curses for those who disobey. Jeremiah 17 follows the opposite pattern. We’ve just looked at the curses for those who trust in human effort instead of God. God’s prophecy to the Israelites balances them out those curses starting in verse 7.

7“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. 8They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

This is a familiar passage that many people love: I’m guessing the earlier verses have been passed over by most of us. I love verse 8. I want to have roots that reach deep into the water. I don’t want to be bothered by my environment. I’d rather produce good fruit than be a stunted shrub. The key is trusting in God – putting all our hope and confidence in Him, not in our own effort.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. His desire is to bless us. When we trust Him, we put ourselves in the place of receiving His blessing, His Kingdom. God has been encouraging me and I want to encourage all of us to give more of your day to God, to give more of your week to Him. Challenge yourself this week – start with just a week – and this afternoon look at your calendar and carve out an evening or a morning to spend a longer period of time with God.

Don’t put yourself under a curse by relying on your own strength. Put yourself in a position to receive God’s tremendous blessings.

Comments Comments Off on Are You Positioning Yourself to be Under God’s Curse or Receive His Blessings?

© copyright 2009-2013, Data Designs Publishing and Sandra J. Hovatter