Maybe it’s time

This weekend I had the privilege of attending a local event called the IF Gathering.  Presenters and speakers included Jenny Allen (founder and organizer), Lysa Terkeurst, Jackie Hill Perry, Francis Chan, and David Platt, just to name a few of my favorites!  It was truly a wonderful weekend that challenged me spiritually, encouraged my heart, and provided some much-needed connection to women in a group setting, with a focus on the word of God. I’d go again next weekend if I could!

It was a refreshing time after such a long, dry, desert year of isolation, disconnect, distancing, and struggle.  Let’s be honest, 2020 took more from us than we realize.  And for me, a few of the things that I lost are only becoming clear now that some things are returning to normal.  Connecting corporately with my sisters in Christ is one of them.  There was power and encouragement this weekend in the large group setting, as we sang worship to God, we prayed together, and we all sat under the same teaching and were inspired toward spiritual growth.    

Because I was able to experience that kind of setting again, I realized then how much I had missed it!  And it got me to thinking about how much all of us have missed it too. 

Except for a brief time when my church stopped meeting in person, I didn’t stop going to church weekly during the pandemic.  But I know some of you did, and let me say, I understand.  I get it.  There was a lot of uncertainty about the safety of gathering, and there were procedures put into place that made church attendance a less positive experience. But it was difficult not being together.  Thankfully, there was the convenience of being able to have church at home through, online streaming. Online church is surely better than no church at all!

But can I dig deep, go low, and be super honest with you?  It’s not the same.

It is a temporary fix to a short-term problem. Church at home was never intended to be the “norm” for the long term.  I want to encourage you right now, to go back to church!  Staying only online is staying disconnected in many ways. Maybe for you, it’s just time to go back for the first time in a long time. Maybe the reason you’re not in church has nothing to do with Covid or 2020. But perhaps you have felt the call of God on your heart during the pandemic, to dig into His word again. If you’ve done that, you are probably feeling closer to God and ready for more.  God has always been about relationship and He will use His word to draw us to Himself in that way.  He will also draw us to other believers in that same way. There is strength in numbers, we need to be together.

What does scripture have to say about church attendance and fellowship with believers?  A great deal actually.

In the book of Acts, we see the Gentile believers gathering for teaching and encouragement.  There is a clear example for us there of the believer’s strength in being together with one focus and intent.  They gathered to support each other in tough times, and they gathered to hear the word taught to them.  In Hebrews 10:25, Paul gives us some instructions.  He says, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”  What God is telling us through the Apostle Paul, is that we need to be together as followers of Jesus. He’s telling us that it is important!

Now I can read your thoughts already….” Shelli, I still read my bible!” or “I watch church online…” or even “I worship when I’m in nature.”  But I want to tell you that as good as those things are (and they are good things), they simply aren’t enough.  I know, I know. I’m up in your business now……hang in there with me!

Several things happen when we gather for worship and teaching. 

The first thing is that we are able to encourage each other.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”  This verse immediately proceeds verse 25 which talks about about continuing to meet together.  I think the reason is because being together is encouraging.  When we are together, it is natural that we will encourage each other toward love and good works. And when we are not together, that becomes harder.  I don’t know about you, but left alone, I am selfish.  I become “me focused” instead of “others focused”.  I typically can’t see past my own issues, and I begin to feel like I am alone in my struggles.  When I am active in church (which is a family) I realize that others struggle too, that I am not alone in my brokenness.  And that I have a support system around me when things get tough.  They encourage me!

Another thing that happens when we gather is that the Holy Spirit shows up.  We see this in the early days of the church.  Jesus gives some important teaching in Matthew chapter 18. In that teaching He reminds us in verse 20, that, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  He is referring to the Holy Spirit!  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come after He was crucified. The Holy Spirit shows up when we are together!  I have been in church during a time of powerful worship and truly felt the Spirit in the room.  I treasure those times. Knowing that He is with you and me now, 2000 years later, is tremendously encouraging!

When we gather, we build community.  Together we can accomplish more for His kingdom.  Together we are unified and empowered.  When we grow together, we become the Body of Christ.  Romans 12:4-8 says this, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  The idea here is that we need each other, living in community, to be complete.  You and I have a purpose in church, and it isn’t only to sit and take notes.  It is to connect and encourage.  It is to be a part of The Body and to be there for each other.  When you aren’t there, something is missing.  It’s missing from your life, and it is missing from the life of the person you are not connecting with, in your absence.

We are less vulnerable to the enemy when we gather.  1 Peter 5:8 is a powerful image. It Reminds us that the enemy is real and determined.  “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  When we gather to connect, worship, and learn, we are harder for the enemy to harass, because we are not on our own. 

I imagine that you’ve seen enough nature shows in your life to understand this next concept.  Try to envision a pack of Hyena’s scavenging along, searching for food. Those ugly, vicious, scraggly looking predators!  Now insert a herd of zebras.  Those hyena’s, like the enemy, are surveying that herd, looking for the one zebra that will be easy prey.  Typically, that’s the one at the back of the group, traveling slower, and alone.  The hyenas will swoop in and attack when that lone zebra is far from the group, when the group is unable to come to its rescue.  He becomes easy prey.

Sister, you and I are more easily overtaken by the enemy when we are not connected.

Many of us have gotten away from our habit of going to church in the last year.  Many of us have “wandered from the herd” in 2020.  Now it’s 2021, and we’re still wandering. Sister, I understand, and I see the valid reasons why it happened. I don’t fault you for those decisions. But my plea to you is this. 

Go back.

It’s time for the church to rise up.  It’s time for us to be united in our faith.  It’s time for us to be connected again, and to grow together.  It’s time for us to sing together, to pray together, to study the word together.  It’s time for us to rejoin the body and encourage one another in the faith, and it’s time to gather again. Let’s be together in church, in God’s house, as a group.

I felt it this weekend, I felt that connection I was missing.  I hadn’t realized just how badly I was missing it until I had it again.  So, if you’re reading this now and you’re thinking “Yeah, but I’m ok.  I haven’t been to church in a while, but I feel ok.  I still read my bible, I still pray, I still sing…”  my encouragement to you is, to just do it.  Just go.  Make a commitment right now to get in your car next Sunday morning and go back to church!  Your soul needs it, and the body of believers in your home church need you there!

Do what you need to do to get there but get there!  You will be both encouraged AND an encouragement to others!

Chasing grace

I’m sure that you have heard of the Amish practice of shunning people.  The concept is that if an individual within their close knit community breaks one or more of their most tightly held beliefs, they are shunned.  Members in good standing “isolate, ignore, or otherwise punish someone for breaking community rules.”  When someone is shunned, the community does not eat with, do business with, accept gifts or rides from the shunned individual. It is an isolation meant to force the deviant person to see the error of their ways and re commit to the Amish ways, and beliefs.

This practice sounds like the exact opposite of grace.

Grace is defined as receiving something you do not deserve.  Like God’s unconditional love and salvation.

The grace of God is a concept that most modern religions do not recognize.  In religion, one must do good works, pay penance to God, or work to achieve a higher version of one’s self through reincarnation.  A person must try hard to become enlightened or ascend somehow in their spirituality to receive the favor of God.  These ideas are not biblical.  If you and I could do it ourselves, then tell me what the cross was for?  Galatians 2:21 tells us that we cannot attain righteousness in our flesh “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, (always doing only right things) Christ died for nothing!”  But Jesus did not die for nothing, He came that we may have life in Him!

So the grace of God is an unearned gift!   

The undeserved grace of God is a tremendous thing!  Ephesians 2:8-9 in the NLT says it like this “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  Do you see it?  None of us receive the love of God because of what we have done!  We receive it because of who HE is.

It seems a natural thing to try to win God’s love or approval.  But I want you to consider something that maybe you haven’t before.  If you have accepted the free gift of salvation that Jesus offered to us when He gave His life on the cross of Calvary, then sister, you already have God’s complete and unconditional love!  You can stop chasing grace…it is already yours!

The truth is, you and I could never be “good enough” to deserve God’s love.  We can never do “more good than bad”.  We can never ascend to a place of holiness on our own, that would cause God to say that we have earned our way in. Honestly, trying to earn it is what causes us to stray from His love in the first place.  “Earning grace” looks like rules.  It looks like legalism.  It surfaces as the false belief that if I just follow all the rules, never slip up, do all the right things, that God will see me as worthy.  But only if…

If we think that somehow, we need to earn His grace, then we don’t really understand the concept of grace.  Grace is love freely given, undeserved.

The moment we start trying to earn it, grace loses its power.  When we earn something like our paycheck or an award, it always comes as a result of our efforts.  A payment or reward for something worked for and earned.

However, when I understand that grace has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Him, I can rest in the peace and assurance that I don’t need to earn it, just let it flow over me like cool water on a hot day.  Soothing my soul and providing comfort and assurance, love and peace, hope and joy.

The result of receiving the love and grace of God, is what spurs us on to demonstrate our love back to Him, by following what He says in His word.  The kindness I receive from God through grace causes me to want to love and follow Him even more.  God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance, Romans 2:4 speaks to that.  Here’s what I am trying to say in a nutshell, we do not love and follow God so that He will love us, we love and follow God because He already does!

A favorite song of mine right now is Holy Water by We The Kingdom.  This song is one for the books!  I never get tired of hearing it.  There is a line in the song that goes like this;

“I don’t wanna abuse Your grace,

God, I need it every day,

It’s the only thing that ever really makes me wanna change”. 

It’s the kindness and grace of God that makes me want to change as a person.  It’s His grace that draws me into relationship with Him.  Grace leads me home.  The grace of God beckons me into His loving presence in a way that fear, and the Amish practice of shunning, never would.  Those things only serve to cause me to want to please people, to do the things needed for acceptance.  But they don’t really change the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7 tells us what God cares most about.  “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  He looks at our inner most desires (pleasing people or pleasing Him) and He sees our motives. 

I hope that you’ll let this sink in.  That you’ll stop chasing grace.  That, instead, you will turn and see that what you have been seeking, is already yours. 

Grace changes everything!

Losing power

Walking and talking with friends.  I love it!  There’s no better way to spend a couple of hours with a friend than getting fresh air, sunshine, and a good old heart to heart!

~walking buddy~

As my walking buddy and I ventured on a 5 mile “excer-talk” (I’m trademarking this phrase BTW!) this week, the topic of our discussion made its way to sin.  Sin is an uncomfortable and not very Politically Correct 2021 word, but it’s not something we should ignore, or sugar coat. 

Sin is something that we don’t like to admit.  We tend to gather with friends and talk about life, and family, fun things, and even the good things that God is doing in our lives.  And there is NOTHING wrong with that.  It’s all part of building relationships and connecting with others.  Something I feel very strongly about and encourage.

But, if we’re honest, we don’t often talk about sin in our lives.  We shy away from the truth of it to protect what we think should be our image as a believer in Jesus.  But sister, we ALL have sin in our lives.  We are humans, living in a broken world, waiting for Jesus to take us home.  And until He does, sin will be part of our existence.

So, what is sin?

Sin, by definition, is anything we think, say, or do that displeases God.  Well, alrightythen!  When you put it that way, I guess it’s easy to admit that we’re all guilty of sin. I know I am.  Every day.

I wish it weren’t true, I wish I was able to please God all the time, every day, and never hurt the Lord again with my sin.  Romans 3:23 tells us “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  Did you catch it?  Everyone. 

I have the most beautiful places to walk

Scripture is FULL of verses that lead us as to what to do about our sin.  The theme is always the same, no matter the verse.  Confession.  Confession is the answer to breaking the power of sin over us.

Imagine this for a moment if you will.  Imagine you have gone to bed for the night, you are cozy and comfortable in bed, the lights are out, and you are ready to really relax.  And then you hear it.  In the dark you hear something scratching across the floor in your room (ok, you also have to imagine that you have a wood floor if you have carpet but stick with me here).  You don’t know what “it” is really, but you can hear something scratching and crawling its way toward you.  In the dark, you can’t deal with or understand what “it” is.  Is it a bug, a snake, or a dragon (*wink*) coming at you?  There, in the dark, alone with your thoughts, the fear and power in your head just grows stronger.

You have two choices here.  You can lay there in the dark, hoping that you are wrong about whatever it is, hoping that it will crawl OUT of your room, and not into your bed.  You can continue to lay there, paralyzed by the thing that is holding you prisoner to your own fears, and letting it rule over you there in the dark.

Or…

You can do the brave thing, pull back the covers, find the lamp by your bed, and switch on the light!  Only then will you be able to really deal with whatever “it” is. 

Shining light onto whatever is holding you hostage has a way of breaking the power of darkness.

I really took that!

Think of it this way. 

I have sin.  You have sin.  Sin is not something we are proud of, so we hide it.  We don’t talk about it with anyone. 

We keep telling ourselves that “today is the day that I will get a handle on my sin.  I can do it.  I need to do it.  I will beat it, so that I don’t have to admit it or tell anyone else about it. I need to continue to hide it so that I don’t disappoint people by letting them know the truth about me.  I will be a better witness of faith when I fix it, and THEN I can share my faith.  I am different than other Christians because of my sin.  I don’t see them struggling with this sin; therefore, I need to handle this myself.  Then I will fit in with them.  I am only good enough once I have this is under control.”

LIES.  LIES.  LIES.

Straight from the enemy.

Let’s not forget what 1 Peter 5:8 says.  “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  The best way for the enemy to keep power over us as believers is to keep us in the dark.  And there we are afraid to admit our sin, even to God and especially to each other.  The enemy wants to keep us believing the lie that we need to live this way and be ashamed. He wants us to think that we need to fix our sin before God or people will love us. In this way, he can continue to hold power over our lives.

The truth of sin and forgiveness is all over God’s word.  Scripture is loaded with the solution to our struggles if we will just read and follow what it says.  I submit to you that in order to win the battle going on inside our minds and hearts about sin, that we must bring it into the light!  If we will bravely admit our struggles to one another, (a trusted friend or a spouse or a pastor, whomever you feel is most deserving of your trust) sin immediately begins to lose its power over you.  Immediately.

James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…”

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

And this one.  Proverbs 28:13 “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Confession is like shining a light on that thing crawling in your bedroom at night in the dark.  The light causes it to lose the power and stronghold of fear that the darkness creates.  Are you with me yet?

this lake is a favorite place to walk

Sin loses its power over us when we confess and let it into the light.

What is your struggle?  What is your sin? 

Is it overspending?  Overindulging?  Lying?  A sexual sin?  An addiction? A critical spirit? A bad temper?  A foul mouth? Constant fear? Continual worry?

Sin is anything we think, say, or do that displeases God.

Keeping it exclusively to yourself is only furthering the power it holds on your life.  I encourage you to talk to someone about it.  Not everyone, but someone.

I hope that you have a trusted someone in your life, with whom you can be honest about your struggle.  You will want to pray about this for a while before you choose that someone.  Naturally, you will want to share only with someone whom you feel will love unconditionally and who will keep you accountable.  Someone who has your best interest in mind.  Someone who will pray for you. Someone spiritually mature. 

And it’s scary.  It’s scary to admit your sin and your struggle to another.  Keeping it secret feels safer, but it isn’t always.  Only when the secret is out, does it lose its power

I encourage you to confess it first to God, and then pray, pray, pray about who you will trust with your struggle. 

I hope that you will choose to be free of the power of sin in your life!  Listen, we will not be able to completely stop sinning this side of heaven, but we do not have to live under the power of darkness.  Romans 8:1 reminds us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Christ did not save us to leave us the way we were.  He came to give us salvation through Him and a full life!  John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full!”

One of the many steps to living a full life is confession. First to God and then in honesty to another Christ follower. Sin most often loses its power when we bring it into the light of the love of the Lord.  There, He can begin the healing and strengthening process.  There, He can work with us on the freedom we have in Christ.  We do not have to be trapped and powerless.  We can be FREE!

Heavenly Father, I am sick of my sin.  I am sick of hiding it and letting it rule over me.  I was foolish to think that, on my own, I can stop.  That alone I can somehow win this battle.  Father, I confess I need your help. I also know that being honest about it with another will help break the chain.  Lord, show me who I may be able to trust with my struggle.  I know that in You and through confession, sin will lose the power it holds on me in the darkness.  Thank you that because of Jesus in my life, I do not have to live this way any longer.   Amen.

clouds are a favorite of mine to photograph

Grab your shovel

I bet you’re like me sometimes.  

I wish things in my life were different.  I wish I was different.  I wish change was easier.  I wish situations improved quicker. 

Matthew 17:20 says “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “move from here to there,” and it would be done.  Nothing would be impossible.” 

Do you have a “mountain” in your life?  I think we all do.  My mountain is likely very different than yours, but I imagine that we each have a mountain of some kind. 

Granite Mountain, near home

This past summer, my daughter and her hubby wanted to change the landscape of their back yard.  They had moved into their new home a couple of years before, and the backyard did not come landscaped.  Having two small children, a dog, and yard full of goat heads was not a great combination.  As time went by, they pulled together some money and ordered rock (rock is just what you do in Arizona!).  They ordered a lot of rock.  20 tons to be exact. 

I wish you could have seen this giant pile of rock!  It was delivered and unloaded into a colossal pile in the street in front of their home.  This pile of rock needed to be moved into the back yard, through a narrow side gate.  There were some tools to help, like a small tractor with a small trailer, and shovels.  But that giant pile of rock had to be moved from the mountain of rock, into the small trailer, one shovelful at a time.  It was hot, strenuous work.  (not that I helped…. yard work is a spectator sport for me!)  

It took several adults, two full days to move the rock, and spread it out evenly in the back yard.   

Now their yard is a wonderful place where the kids and the dog can play and run!  The feeling of relief and accomplishment when the last shovelful of rock went into the yard was tremendous!  Finally, they could all rest. 

Often, there is no other way to move a mountain, but one shovelful at a time.  The blessings are not only enjoyed when the work is finished, but they are realized in the process too. 

The mountain in Matthew 17:20 is a proverbial illustration.  It is not a literal possibility, if it were, people of faith would be reconstructing the landscape of this earth on a regular basis.  Furthermore, if you and I had the ability to boss mountains around, that “power” could easily and quickly be used for our own devices, and not as a display of God’s ultimate power and glory. 

Rather, it is in scripture to teach us a lesson.  Faith is most often developed one “shovelful” at a time. 

Exer-walking with my tribe this summer!

When you and I allow God to work on our hearts and lives through change, we “exercise” our faith.  Exercising our muscles makes our muscles strong, and exercising our faith makes our faith strong.   

Let’s pretend for a moment that we asked God to move a mountain, to change something in our life.  And He did it in a flash, a blink.  (Think Star Trek “beam me up, Scotty”).  We could arrive on the other side of our trial instantly and without struggle! (This is something that we spend a lot of time in life wishing were the case).  But, if that really did happen, we would miss so much.  We would miss the opportunity to grow our faith muscle.  We would miss the process of diligently, shovel by shovel, building trust as we watched the mountain be moved.   

Because God is almighty, He could choose to move our mountain anyway He chooses.  But there is a lesson for us when He chooses not to move it instantly.  God certainly does not need our help to move any mountain, but because He is always at work for our best, He often hands us the shovel.  Therefore, giving you and I the opportunity to grow! 

So, what’s your mountain?  What situation in your life seems insurmountable?  What situation seems so big that you can’t believe that it even could change?    Maybe it’s so big that you don’t really pray about it, you have just accepted it as fact.  But we serve a big God!  Our God can move mountains!  Both figuratively and literally.   

Maybe it’s time to talk to Him about it, whatever it is.  Maybe it’s time to pick up the shovel, and bit by bit, one shovelful at a time, allow Him to work.  Do you feel a call on your heart toward change?  Maybe it’s a personal change (like a goal).  Maybe it’s a relational change (like improving or starting one).  Maybe it’s a ministry change (are you feeling pulled to join one?). Or even a job or location change. 

There are also mountains in the lives of those we care about.  Situations in our loved ones’ lives that are not right, that cause us worry and heartache.  These mountains can often feel even larger than our own personal mountains, because there is so little we can do ourselves to change them.  But trust me when I say that I have seen the biggest mountains EVER, be completely thrown into the sea.   

Whatever your mountain is, Proverbs 3:5-6 speaks directly to it.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. (NLT) 

He will move the mountain when the time is right. We must reject the thought that He isn’t working when He doesn’t change everything quickly. He will almost always hand us a shovel, and give us a chance to grow.   

~~These Cana Lilies grow in my back yard~~My hubby is the gardener~~I just watch!

Storytelling

I just love a good book,  don’t you?

It’s so exciting to get drawn into the story line,  the characters,  and the emotions of a well written book!

I have a few Christian authors that I really enjoy.   I’ve read many of their books.   Some authors write such compelling stories that you cry at the sad parts,  and even laugh out loud at the funny predicaments the characters find themselves in.

But you always know,  when the story gets tense or difficult,  that there is still time for things to get better,  because you can see how many pages are still in your book.   You know it isn’t over because you’re not done turning pages.

If only life were like that.

You’re probably familiar with the tale of the Prodigal Son in scripture.  

Luke 15:11-32 tells of one families heartbreak over their adult sons.  The father in this tale had two sons.   One was obedient and a hard working rule follower.   The other was selfish and rebellious, demanding his inheritance from his father in advance.  

This son took the money,  left home,  and proceeded to party.   He lived quite a wild life for some time.  

There would have been many sleepless nights of worry  and wondering for his parents.  “Where is he?  What is he doing?  Did I do the right thing?  Is he going to completely ruin his life?”  Those parents were no different than you or I would be.   We would be grief stricken over it,  and so were they.

Imagine if this families story ended there,   with the son leaving and their hearts broken.
They certainly couldn’t see that there were more pages in their story….

Then think for a moment about the Israelite people.

They were lost and wandering in the desert.   They had their children,  their elderly parents and their animals in tow.  

They didn’t have the benefit of knowing that there was more to their story. They may have wondered if “this was it” for them.  

Imagine if their story ended here.  Lost,  hot, hungry,  and feeling abandoned.

And then there’s Peter.

Peter knew Jesus personally.  He had a front row seat to the miracles and teachings of Christ himself.   And when Jesus was close to his darkest hour,  Peter turned his back on him.  He claimed that he didn’t know him at all. And when that rooster crowed,  Peter broke.  He was filled with shame and regret.  He had messed up on a colossal level,  and he knew it.

Imagine if his story ended there,  with Peter weeping bitterly over his mistake.

But none of those stories ended that way!

The Prodigal Son came home,  the Israelite’s entered the promise land, and Peter became an incredible Apostle.   The Rock that Jesus said that He would build His church on!

My point is this; The story of YOUR life is still being written.

Sometimes we think that when something bad happens to us, or to someone we love,  that we have turned the last page in the book.  We worry that “this is it”.   That there’s no more time for things to get better.

But in enters hope!

Hebrews 1:11 says this;
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hope and faith are so completely intertwined that it’s difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.   Faith is CONFIDENCE in what we hope for!

Sometimes we hope for many things don’t we?  We hope our lives will be comfortable.  We hope to have good relationships.   We hope our children will turn out well.   We hope to have a nice vacation this year.   We hope our boss will notice all our hard work. We may even hope our car keeps running.

But the kind of hope I’m talking about here is different.   It’s not the kind of hope that we sometimes call “wishful thinking”.  This kind of hope EXPECTS good things.  It is Expectant Hope.

And Expectant Hope believes fully that God is still working for our good.  That our story is still being written.   It is “assurance about what we do not see”. 

When life gets challenging,  remember that there are still many pages left in your “book”.  The Author is not finished with the last chapter!  As long as you’re still drawing breath,  there’s still hope.  

Expectant Hope.  

Everytime I’ve been in a situation where I felt hopeless,  like things were so bad that they could never be good again,  God has come through for me in beautiful and amazing ways.  His timing is always perfect, and never late.  So when it happens that way,  we know it’s Him and not us holding the pen.   He gets the glory,  not me. 

God worked in the heart of the Prodigal Son,  and turned him around.   God worked in the lives of the wandering Israelite people and set their feet on the right path toward the Promise Land.   And He never gave up on Peter,  and changed his life of regret to a life of purpose and value for His kingdom.  

He finished their story in the pages of scripture.   He didn’t leave them desolate,  lost or broken.  He won’t leave you either!

When it’s hardest to pray,  pray the hardest.

Remember that He is always working,  even when we can’t see it.  

Trust God for the rest of your story.

John 13:7  Jesus replied,  “You don’t understand what I’m doing now,  but someday you will. “

Don’t give up on God,  He hasn’t given up on you.   Philippians 1:6 speaks to this truth  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Until Jesus comes,  God holds the pen,  and is still writing your story.

All wrapped up

Its that time of year again!  It’s Christmastime!

There are so many special things about Christmas that I look forward to each year!  Things that truly only happen at Christmas.  Things like attending the courthouse lighting in Prescott.  Driving through light displays, and neighborhoods to see Christmas decorations, having a Baking Day with my adult daughters, and wearing fancy clothes to church on Christmas eve. 

I love the glow coming from the lights on my Christmas tree early in the morning.  And I love Christmas music!

But mostly I love how Christmastime is special and different from every other month of the year!

And though the world does not always recognize the true meaning of Christmas, those of us that know Jesus do, and it is a beautiful time to reflect and celebrate The Savior!

This year though, this year is certainly different than all the years prior.  This year we could easily get lost in how different things are for us.  We could dwell on the fact that the usual celebrations we enjoy may not be happening.  We could focus on how even our family gatherings are different.  Or we may become lost in the hustle and bustle of preparations.  But the choice is ours.

How we celebrate this Christmas may look and even feel different, but “different” is how Christmas got started in the first place isn’t it?

Mary and Joseph certainly did not plan for the circumstances that God chose for them.  Their lives were vastly different than what they had imagined. 

An angel announced to Mary that she would bear a child as a virgin.  Different.

The shepherds saw a host of angels fill the sky and proclaim to them that the Savior, the One they had been waiting for, had been born in Bethlehem.  Different.

The Kings from the East followed a star on a journey that led them to the Christ child.  Different.

When things are different and new, it awakens our senses and even our souls, to a fresh perspective.  Otherwise we may just go through the motions of life without fresh joy and excitement!

So, while Christmas 2020 looks and feels quite different, we can rest in the fact that God never changes.  His plans and purposes cannot be upset.  He is still at work and He will never leave us.  In fact, it is when things are different, that God comes to meet us.  He uses times of “different” to challenge us and make us more aware of His presence.

Just like with Mary and Joseph. 

After the baby was born, and the shepherds came in from the fields, scripture says in Luke 2:19 says that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  That sounds like the wonder of Christmas to me.

Maybe this year we let “different” be a catalyst of change for us. Maybe we revisit what Christmas is truly about in the first place.  Maybe this shift in our normal practices at Christmas can turn out to be a beautiful time of remembering why we do what we do.

We need to remember that different brings change for us, and change brought Jesus, and Jesus is the true reason for Christmas! And different can be beautiful too!

And because that first Christmas was so different, you and I can have a relationship with Jesus, the savior of the world. 

The Wonderful Counselor.

The Mighty God.

The Prince of Peace.

The Everlasting One.

Emmanuel.

Mary wrapped her newborn baby in swaddling cloths because of the gift He was.  We wrap up the items we purchase at Christmas in pretty paper because they too are gifts.  And as we wrap up 2020, and consider all the different and challenging things the year held, maybe it has been a gift too.

Gifts under the tree are fun, as they are given and received from a place of love.  But the best gift isn’t the one under your tree.  It’s the one right under your nose.

 It’s Jesus!

Ephesians 2:8  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God!”

Hard things that were, and good things that are

Sometimes life is good.  Sometimes it’s easier than it is at other times. But I think it becomes easier to recognize the good times because we have gone through the rough times.  I am currently in a season of relatively good health, mentally, physically, and spiritually.  But as we all know, that can change without warning. 

In some recent emails with a friend, we have exchanged thoughts about good things for that day.  We have practiced being thankful for things like hot cups of tea, smiling grandchildren, unplanned coffee dates with friends and so on.  I have really been enjoying this practice, because it has forced me to think intentionally every day about the good things of life.

Because of this practice, I have been reminded about the recent times in my life that have been extremely difficult.  Times when my faith felt a bit fragile and trusting in God’s good plan was something I had to work at.  I felt trapped on a merry go round of events that would not stop spinning, and I was literally growing ill from the constant motion of it all. 

In Romans 8:28 we read “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  That’s you and I, sister!  If we know Jesus as our redeemer, then this scripture is for us.  This verse is a feel-good verse, at least it is for me.  It is all wrapped up in hope.  Because, when I read this verse, I know that God sees the whole picture, and that He is working through my difficulty with an end result in mind.  That result is my good, my best interest.

But when we slow it down, and only look at the first half of the verse, it changes just a little bit.  “In all things, God works.”  This implies that there are “things”, difficulties, and hardships in this life.  And I see there that being a Christ Follower does not make me immune to challenges and struggles in life.  I will experience “things” that will cause me to pause and know that, on my own, I am unable to understand it all.  But that God is working.

In the book of Acts, in chapter 9, we read an account of a woman named Dorcas.

Dorcas lived in Joppa, near Jerusalem.  Her brief but powerful life story, is told in just 11 verses.

Joppa was a seacoast town, and the women who lived there were typically married to seafaring men who made their living from the sea.  They were often fisherman.  The sea took the lives of many men in accidents out on the waters. Consequently, Joppa had many widows.  But the women there had a friend in Dorcas.  She was a Christ Follower, as well as the first (and only) woman in the New Testament, to be called a disciple. She loved and cared for the women there, when their husbands (and their support system) were no longer there to do it for them.  She sewed the women garments and undoubtedly put her arms around them in comfort as they mourned their losses.  She put her faith into action.

And then, scripture says, that she got sick and died.  Just like that, with no warning, their situation changed, and Dorcas is gone.

How the women in Joppa must have wept and mourned the loss of their friend.  She had done so much, loved so fiercely, and given so generously.  They were in a difficult time.  The widows of Joppa surely would have doubted God’s good plan for them. Perhaps they struggled to trust God, and maybe felt they were trapped on a merry go round of emotions.  Hard things.

But the apostle Peter was called to come, and God gave him the power to raise Dorcas back to life!  Imagine the great joy and praise happening in Joppa! The women felt joy and hope once again!  God had certainly seen into their difficult situation and chosen to revive Dorcas to prove that He was able to care for them.  Good things.

When the situation changed for the women, they reflected, and realize that there had been hard times before, but that they were experiencing good times right now.  They experienced a time of relief and relative peace in their still somewhat difficult existence as a widow in Joppa.  And many came to know God because of all that happened there.

That can be you and I, too.

The hard things that were, become the good things that are, in time. 

“In all things God works.” 

If you are in a heartbreaking time, I want to encourage you to exercise your faith and not get stuck where you are.  I’ve been there, and I will most likely be there again at some point.  That’s just how life is.  But God is always working.  And He’s working for my good.

He’s working for your good too. 

If right now, you are in a time of hard things, hold tight.  Nothing lasts forever.  We are not without hope when we purpose to let God work.  He will always bring about good in our lives. 

But remember, Dorcas’ story doesn’t end with her death, Paul didn’t stay shipwrecked, Ruth didn’t remain a widow, and Jesus didn’t stay on the cross.

In time, with God’s good plan for you, this too shall pass.  He will work it into something good. 

One day, your hard thing will be in the past, and you will be rejoicing in the good things that are. 

Trust in Him to take you there. Only He can make sense of the spinning, and turn your doubt into trust. God always has a plan, a good plan, and when we trust Him even when we can’t see it, we understand better what Jesus meant when He said “you do not understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” John 13:7.

Father, when I am in a rough time, and life is hard, draw me to yourself.  Show me in your word where those who love you are comforted and learn to trust you again because you are always good.  When my faith is fragile, wrap your love around my heart and remind me that your presence is always with me.  I want to choose to trust you even when I am still in the darkness.

Thrive!

This past Friday I had the joy and absolute privilege of witnessing the fulfillment of a dream!

You’ll recall that life changed drastically for most of us in the early spring of this year. Covid took the world by storm, and not at all in a good way. Most of what we consider “normal life” came to a screeching halt.

I work at a school, and since that was shut down like so many things, I found myself with more free time and quiet than I normally like. At first I enjoyed being in my beautiful craft room as much as I wanted, walking and hiking every day, and painting furniture! But after a while, I started to wonder if I spent my time, (even before covid) in a lasting and meaningful way. Basically, was my life good the way it was, or was there something else I should be doing?

I remember waking up one morning with a heaviness in my heart. Not sadness, or stress, but unrest. I started to really feel that God was calling me to something important.

The trouble was, I had no idea what that important thing was!

I spent months talking with my hubby, my closest and dearest friends, my pastor, and the Lord. And in time, I understood what I was feeling to be a calling from Him to host a faith based event for women, filled with connections, worship and a message.

Now, that may seem pretty basic to you, but I knew that that message was to come from my own lips! And I was honored and terrified at the same time!

I had never given so much as a “talk” at a church event, let alone prepared a message. Microphones don’t scare me, being in front of a group doesn’t scare me, but sharing my heart and a message that I felt was from the Lord? That was completely different!

But honestly, once I had some clear direction, the support of my husband, the encouragement of my closest friends in life, and the backing of my pastor, there was no stopping me!

A team came together, filled with the most wonderful women to help fulfill this dream, this event. And I could not have chosen a better group to work with! We planned a night full of worship, gorgeous decorations, a beautiful dessert bar, a coffee bar, wonderful gifts to take home, and a thousand other details!

And when that Friday came, and we saw all those women start to arrive for the first ever Thrive event, there was strong emotion flowing through our veins! The night we had been preparing for, for months, had finally arrived!

And what a night it was! It was so fun and so exciting to see God move!

One thing I do know; I cannot do justice to the pride and joy I feel over Thrive in this blog post. God used me, a sometimes mess of a woman, searching for meaning and purpose in her life, to bring together women and encourage them in the Lord!

That face!

The key verse from Thrive is John 10:10b “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” We talked about relationship and connection to the women in our lives who God uses to encourage and support us. And we talked about being connected in relationship to God. How these two relationships are vital to enjoying a full life.

Naturally, the enemy of our souls tried to steal the day. During all the months of preparing for Thrive, I had relied heavily on the counsel and encouragement of my husband. He’s always been a solid steady voice in my head and heart. And I took for granted that he would be there to cheer me on, to run the sound board and lights, and basically to fix anything and everything that went wrong that night. So when he (very unexpectedly) had to leave the church early in the day on Friday, and couldn’t return, I felt my foundation shake.

He would not be there to finish the day with me, would not be there to witness the event that we both been praying over and working toward for so many months. And I felt my stomach drop, like when you lean to far back in a chair…..

But in that time of struggle, God had already provided a “Titus” for me! 2 Corinthians 7:6 says “God who comforts the down cast, comforted is by the coming of Titus.” My Titus that day was the friend that I had asked to stand by me through Thrive. For some time, neither of us was exactly sure what her true purpose was for the event, but we pressed on knowing the Lord would show us. And He certainly did!

When my ground became uneven and shaky, she came along side of me, held up my arms, prayed with and for me, and together we purposed not to let the enemy win that day! She reminded me that God was all that we needed, and we pressed forward. And you know what, God showed up at Thrive big time! He was there ensuring that the lights and sound and details all came together. It was nearly flawless!

Thrive was a dream come true! I am blessed down to my socks, that God used me for something long lasting! That He allowed me to be part of something meaningful for His kingdom!

Today I have a full heart, and a more full life because of Thrive. The purpose of Thrive is to deepen the connections between women with each other, and to deepen the connection between those women and the Lord.

My own connections with the women who partnered with me for Thrive grew deeper than I anticipated. And as I relied on God to fulfill what I felt was His purpose for me through Thrive, I experienced a full life! A deeper connection to Him.

Now, prepare to be photo blasted!

Spring Thrive is on the calendar for April 30, 2021❤ I already can’t wait to see what He’ll do!

Marching Orders

I’m about to make you uncomfortable. 

In Joshua chapter 6, we see an incredible event take place.  The people of Israel had just crossed over the Jordan River and into the land of Canaan.  This land was the land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised to give them possession of some 500 years prior.

Imagine their excitement!  They had heard stories from their ancestors for as long as they could remember of how God would finally deliver them and give them their own land, a place to be, a wonderful place full of everything they could ever want or need!  They had just spent 40 miserable, exhausting years aimlessly wandering the same plot of desert.  They had children, and those children had children, and all the while they had told them the story of the land flowing with milk and honey.

And now they were here!

And they were prepared for battle. 

They had rallied the troops, so to speak.  They needed to be ready, because the walls of Jericho were thick, impenetrable walls.  These walls were roughly 11 feet high and 14 feet thick.  These walls would not go down easily.  It was going to take a battering ram, a lot of muscle, and most likely there would be a substantial loss of life to win this battle and take possession of the city.  Winning this kind of battle would have taken months of planning, and weeks of consistent fighting.  The walls of Jericho wouldn’t come down without a fight!

Or would they?

The people were prepared for a battle to be certain.  Imagine their surprise when Joshua gave them the word from the Lord.  They were to march in silence around the city, something that would have taken roughly an hour.  The priests were to blow their horns, but no battle cries, no shouting, just marching.  I can imagine that this was most difficult for the fighting men.  I imagine that they were amped up and ready for battle, so the idea of marching in silence must have seemed odd.  Even foolish. 

They did this for six days.  Each day they rose and marched around the city in silence.  All the while, some were probably questioning the odd battle plan that the Lord had given Joshua.  Possibly even doubting that it could work.  Maybe even feeling foolish as the inhabitants of the city jeered and mocked them and their God. 

But they did it.  Faithfully.  Obediently.

There’s that word.  Obedience. It makes us uncomfortable. It’s not a popular word in today’s society is it?  In a society where some like to give children freedom to make their own decisions.   In a society full of social unrest.  Obedience has an overtone that we just don’t really care for or like to talk about.

But God told the Israelites to be obedient to His instructions, and to simply march.  So they marched.

Close to home

And what happens next is absolutely incredible!  On the seventh day, they were told to march around the city seven times.  Seven hours.  Seven hot, tiring, hours.  Seven hours on the seventh day of absolutely NOTHING happening.  The people inside the city walls must have had more confidence on this day than ever, that the God of the Israelites was not powerful enough to do anything, much less defeat the impenetrable walls of their fortified city.

But after that seventh time around, Joshua commanded the people “Shout!  For the Lord has given you the city!” Joshua 6:20 tells us what happened next, as a result of their obedience.  “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.” Can you say CRAZY?

I strongly encourage you to read the full story of this incredible battle. You’ll find it in Joshua chapter 6.

But don’t miss the lesson.  It was not the swords, the fighting men, the battle plan, the strong force of weaponry or a genus military strategy that brought the victory.  It was obedience.  Plain and simple.  Obedience.

I think too often, we try to “do more” for God when what He really desires is that we trust and obey His word.  1 Samuel 15:22 says “But Samuel replied, ‘What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice.’”  The word obedience can make us uncomfortable.  But there is freedom in obeying God.  If you imagine obedience as chains, holding you back, shift your focus. 

Obedience is peace. 

Obedience is victory.

Obedience is protection.

If God can bring down the mighty walls of a fortified city with first marching and then a mighty shout, think what He can do for us when we follow more closely and listen to Him more faithfully.

What situation in your life do you need God to handle?  What battle are you fighting on your own? Do you need to hand it over to Him? Are you fighting, or marching?  Are you charging or waiting? Sometimes we need to “march around the city” so to speak.  God will knock down the walls, in His time, when we obey. Then we will have victory!

Dear Lord, my humanity often struggles with the concept of obedience.  Since The Fall, we have wrestled with doing life our own way.  Remind me often of the story of Joshua and the Jericho walls.  Remind me of the power I can have over difficulties in my life and heart when I surrender to you and allow you to lead the battle.  Show me where I need to trust and submit to you more.  I know you want what is best for me always.  Your love for me is greater than I can imagine.  Help me to honor you in my heart first, because I need my heart to be right with you to allow you to work out your plans for me.  


Try reading Psalm 51