Time to Move Forward

MEME - Deuteronomy 1 v 21

(Suggested Reading: Deuteronomy 1:1-10)

Sudden stops, deliberate delays, U-turns, and even moving forward can shake up the firmest foundation of faith.

What’s next? What if I make the wrong decision? What if it’s too hard? Should I wait? Should I walk away? Should I move forward . . . and if so . . . when and where should I go? How long should I stay?

As the Lord helped me through a few more unexpected twists, turns, and time-outs in my healing journey over the last year, I began to feel like I needed to do something.

In an effort to feel useful, to feel needed, to feel like I was a part of something beyond my recliner, I jumped into a volunteer position that seemed so good for me. Maybe if I busied myself, I wouldn’t be consumed with the things I couldn’t control.

I believed in the ministry’s purpose, but the Lord quickly revealed I had slipped into the sidelines of His sovereign plan for my life. The path I thought would lead me to the center of His will ended up stopping me from accomplishing the great things He was preparing for me.

Still, I stayed. Afraid of what others would think of me if I quit so soon after I started, fearing what others would say about me behind my back.

As usual, the Lord allowed a little restlessness to settle in as He shifted the ground beneath my feet.

Then, as my pain increased and my energy decreased, I felt the Holy Spirit drawing me into a resting position.

For months, I prayed for direction as He wrapped me in peace during the wait.

The Lord affirmed my worth wasn’t determined by what I was a part of, what I was doing, or what others thought or said about me.

He reminded me to stay focused on Him, draw closer to Him, and stick to the purpose He had repeatedly affirmed for me.

I prayerfully sought wise counsel from my husband and several writing friends. With confidence, I made some tough decisions and stepped away from a few good things.

As I worked through the wait, enjoying the blessings of serving the Lord by sharing Him with others, I continued praying for direction, clarity, and courage.

God began opening doors widely and quickly.

I embraced the adventure, certain it was time to move forward and step boldly onto the path He’d been preparing.

My waiting season led to a windfall of opportunities to share God’s truth and love with others, while equipping and encouraging other writers to use their beautifully diverse voices for His glory.

If I hadn’t left the comfortable spot where I’d dug in my heels, I would have missed out on all the wonderful things the Lord is doing in and through my life right now.

The Israelites struggled with a poor sense of direction, the longing for comfort and security, and impatient pacing, too. At Horeb, God’s people stood at the edge of their inheritance (Deuteronomy 1:1-5).

The Lord said to His people, “You’ve stayed long enough at this mountain” (v. 6).

The time to move forward had come.

So, led by the Lord Himself, Moses and the people prepared for the road ahead (vv. 9-18).

God gave them all they needed. His unchanging promises secured their path and prepared them for the journey (v. 19).

“See, the LORD your God had given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be distracted.” (v. 21)

When the Lord plants us by a mountain, or even in a valley, He’ll give us the grace we need for the seasons of stillness and preparation.

When He calls us forth, He provides the supplies, the energy, and the pre-ordained steps for the assignment He’s entrusting to us.

We can avoid distractions by being patient as we seek His will and the wise counsel of others. And we can be courageous when we remember we can fully rely on the Lord’s strength, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His unchanging character.

We won’t know what lies ahead in this world. We won’t know how long or how hard the road will be. But we can be certain that our loving Father is always in control.

We can depend on the Lord as He remains with us during every sudden stop, deliberate delay, and U-turn.

God will remain true to His promises as we rest in His presence and when He calls us to trust the firm foundation of our faith and move forward with boldness.

Lord, thanks for being loving as You lead us, one step at a time. In Jesus’s name, Amen.  

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Walk by Faith . . . with Jesus in Sight!

MEME - Matthew 14 v 27 - Feb 14, 2018

(Suggested Reading: 14:22-33)

As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I appreciate that God has blessed me with a vivid imagination. When writing flash fiction or novels, I enjoy creating intriguing story-worlds and relatable characters.

I orchestrate plots that push my characters toward life-altering decisions. I nudge them closer to the edge of desperation, causing them suffering and loss before allowing them to slip into a hope-filled final scene.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize I often use fiction to process my real-life feelings. Still, the stories aren’t true. The high stakes that each character faces aren’t real. My wild imagination creates circumstances that test and threaten my characters, but they have nothing to lose . . . no skin in the game. Being blessed with an endless imagination works for creating fiction, but can cause real-life problems.

The habit of imagining the worst that can happen can tempt us into excessive worry or fear.

Fretting over things-that-could-be can raise stress levels and sink hope into the depths of an imaginary world that has no business meddling with real emotions or relationships.

When my eyes are zeroed-in on the what-ifs that cloud my vision and interfere with real-life, it’s hard to focus on God‒the Creator and Sustainer of true life.

A creative mind can lead to a worry-burdened heart.

So, His Spirit empowers us to understand His Word, through which He reveals His unchanging character. As we rely on the Lord, He helps us avoid the pitfalls that can make our faith falter at the most inconvenient times.

In His goodness, He gives us opportunities to pump up our spiritual muscles, usually after He’s proven His trustworthiness and generous provision.

When Jesus fed the five-thousand-plus group (Matthew 14:13-21), the disciples witnessed a miracle. The Lord used what little they had to accomplish more than they could have dreamed possible.

Still, they fretted over things they couldn’t even control. They allowed fear and doubt to sway them from trusting God and doing what He’d already proven possible with them.

Oh, how many times have I done the same thing, Lord?

Scripture says that after Jesus fed the five-thousand-plus group, He “immediately” nudged the disciples into a faith-stretching situation (v. 22). Then, He made Himself scarce. While Jesus prayed on a lonely mountain (v. 23), the disciples rode a boat with the current . . . into a brutal storm (v. 24).

Beaten by the waves and discouraged by the force of the gales against them, the disciples trembled instead of rejoicing at the sight of the Lord’s power in action (vv. 25-26). Jesus comforted them (v. 27).

While Peter’s response could be interpreted as testing Jesus, I often wonder if the disciple was making sure that he, Peter, was in his right mind as he sought clarity and direction (v. 28).

Is that You, Lord? What do You want me to do? I’m too scared to step out in faith. I need You. Command me. Make me brave. Help me hear You, see You . . . trust You. (Paraphrase totally mine.)

Peter hopped out of that boat, “walked on the water and came to Jesus” (v. 29).

Peter walked on water.

After he had already made it to Jesus, he realized what he’d done. As the disciple stood within reach of the Lord, his eyes flicked to the left . . . and probably to the right. The reality of the impossibility of his circumstances hit him.

Scripture says Peter “saw the wind,” (v. 30) but wind can’t be seen. What he actually saw was the power of that wind, the effect that wind had on the waves.

What Peter failed to consider was the power of the One who created and controlled both the wind and the waves, the very One who had empowered Peter to walk on water (v. 30).

In that instant, Peter’s faith wilted at the realization of his own inabilities. I can’t possibly walk on water! What was I thinking?

In that instant, he began to sink into doubt . . . and into the raging waters (v. 30).

Once again, I stand in awe and am comforted by the compassion and love of Jesus’s immediate response (v. 31).

How many times have we persevered in the power of Christ and flicked our eyes to the right . . . and probably to the left?

How many times have we lifted our gaze off our Lord’s promises and proven power and toward the impossibility of our circumstances?

How many times has God proven His faithfulness, nudged us lovingly into faith-stretching situations, and gently affirmed He is always right on time and right where we need Him?

As disciples of Christ, we know we can do nothing without our Lord.

 We know He hears us and will lift us out of deep waters and shower us with unlimited grace.

 We know we have no need to worry or fear the things we can’t control or those horrible what-ifs our overactive imagination can whip up.

And God knows we forget sometimes. God knows we need Him to patiently extend mercy and compassion, as He strengthens and refines us.

He will continue nudging us on, pulling us up.

God will keep on cupping our face in His mighty and merciful hands, as He reminds us to believe Him, to trust Him, and to keep our eyes on Him and His abilities . . . no matter how high the waves rise or how strong the winds blow around us.

Then, and only then, can we truly walk by faith . . . and only with Jesus in sight.

Lord, thanks for affirming Your faithfulness and power does not depend on our abilities. Though we may be tempted to focus on our troubles and lean toward anxious thoughts, please help us remember we can rely on You‒the Maker and Sustainer of the wind, the water, and everything else in this world You’ve created. Help us look to You and cry out to You, embracing our powerlessness without You, and thankful that crying out to You is considered a powerful act of faith . . . because we know You will answer according to Your perfect timing and perfect will. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Honoring God When Loving Family Ain’t Easy

MEME - Genesis 45 v 8 - Jan 22, 2018 Blog Post - Honoring God When Loving Family Ain't Easy

Note to Reader: My heart aches for those of us who have been wounded by the sins of abusive family members. Please note I’m not referring to abuse when referencing conflicts or wounds caused by family members in this article. If you or someone you love is suffering abuse of any kind, please contact a professional and seek help immediately. I am praying for you as I write this note. You are not alone.

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Honoring God When Loving Family Ain’t Easy

While some folks enjoy healthy and holy communication within godly familial relationships, some of us endure more than our fair share of seemingly endless family drama.

Too many of us are grieving over estranged relatives or heartbroken watching loved ones reject family as they battle addictions.

A few are tired of those who blame others instead of taking responsibility for their poor life choices. Some struggle with family members who instigate arguments, shame or belittle, hold grudges, judge harshly, or gossip.

Family members mock or persecute us because of our faith. Some have lied to us or about us, stolen from us, cheated us, and some have even verbally, emotionally, or physically abused us. (Please see Reader’s Note at the beginning of this article.)

How are we supposed to respond to folks who exaggerate or deceive to prevent others from knowing who they really are or what they’ve really done to us or others we love?

But wait . . . what if some of us are the people I’ve just described . . . or have been that person in the past?

What if we’re the ones who need to seek forgiveness and ask God to change us and help us make amends and work toward restoring or renewing relationships with those we’ve hurt in the past?

The fact is, it just ain’t easy honoring God when we realize we’re all imperfect people who have a tough time loving our kin or being lovable ourselves.

Over the last couple of years, the Lord brought me through some heartbreaking relational conflicts. I wrote a six-part series entitled “Radical Forgiveness” as I prayed over broken or barely surviving relationships with family members. As of today, I have continued praying over several of those still-broken relationships.

Family strife is a fact of life that we don’t have to allow to steal our joy or destroy the genuinely loving relationships we can experience with God and others.

It’s tempting to get stuck on the merry-go-round-of-complaints, get caught up in being angry, get even, or get as far from the drama as humanly possible. Instead, we can take a closer look at how God worked in and through familial discord in Scripture to help His faithful servants thrive despite family strife.

In Genesis, we see how Jacob favoring Joseph caused his other sons to hate their younger brother (Genesis 37:3-4), so much that they sold him into slavery (v. 28). They even lied to their father for years (vv. 34-36).

God remained with Joseph and blessed his life (Genesis 39:2-6). Though he wasn’t exempt from more painful trials or injustice (vv. 9, 11-20), the “LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (v. 21). Whatever Joseph did, “the LORD made it succeed” (v. 23).

Instead of allowing his experiences to taint his attitude or shake his faith, Joseph honored God by living with integrity and treating others with love, compassion, and kindness (vv. 6-7).

Two years of being wrongly imprisoned didn’t stop Joseph from glorifying God (Genesis 41:14, 16). Rejoicing over the family the Lord gave him through marriage, Joseph proclaimed, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (v. 51).

Joseph was happy. What could possibly go wrong?

Well . . . those scoundrels who sold him into slavery showed up. For the first time in years, Joseph stood face-to-face with the strangers he recognized as the brothers who betrayed him and his father. Though Joseph wasn’t upfront with his siblings when they came begging for help, he didn’t fake forgiveness either.

God gave him time to process his emotions (Genesis 42-44). Even though Joseph had plenty of reasons to be mad, he didn’t cast blame, hold a grudge, run to Pharaoh and gossip about his brothers, or demand punishment.

Joseph accepted how God had caused him to thrive despite his suffering. He didn’t waste time trying to prove to the world that his brothers were wrong for what they’d done.

Instead, Joseph trusted that the Lord had remained in control and stayed with him through everything that had happened in his life (Genesis 45:5-9). He knew from experience God could bring good out of painful circumstances (Genesis 50:20). So, Joseph didn’t fear extending grace, or being generous in love and kindness (v. 21).

As we deal with challenging familial relationships, God can empower us to surrender to His mercy, live in the freedom of forgiveness, and love others as selflessly as He loves us.

God will stay with us, protect our reputations, guide our steps according to His perfect will, and enable us to experience peace and joy as we choose to honor Him . . . even when others do not.

Unfortunately, since we’re all imperfect people who live in a fallen world, family members will hurt us and we’ll hurt those we love. But we can protect our mental, emotional, and spiritual health by placing our trust in the Lord.

We can ask Him to help us make time to process our feelings, remain calm, and be courageously and respectfully honest with Him and others.

We can ask God to help us create and respect healthy and holy boundaries, as we honor Him with our words, attitudes, thoughts, and actions.

We can trust the Lord to give us all we need to keep on praying for and working toward building stronger familial relationships.

And we can thrive as we honor Him . . . even if our closest family relationships end up being connected through Christ’s blood (The Church) instead of our genealogy.

Father God, thanks for helping us honor You in the ways we love others in healthy and holy ways. Though sometimes it’s unsafe, unhealthy, or unwise to restore a broken familial relationship, please help us trust we’re all in Your hands as we choose to forgive and pray we will all be forever changed by Your love and grace. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

How can we benefit from extending forgiveness to someone who doesn’t apologize?

How does it help to know forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing, ignoring, justifying, or minimizing sin?

How does it help to know reconciliation doesn’t require us to pretend things are fine or the same as before (restoration), or better than ever (renewal)?

How can we honor God when we can only show love from afar, because a familial relationship is reconciled through forgiveness on our part, but not physically or emotionally restored?

How can we honor God and love family members who do not want a relationship with us?

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Radical Forgiveness Series

Part 1: Radical Forgiveness Begins with a Prayer (July 7, 2017)

Part 2: Radical Forgiveness is Loving Obedience to God (July 15, 2017)

Part 3: Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims (July 24, 2017)

Part 4: Radical Forgiveness is Possible (August 5, 2017)

Part 5: Radical Forgiveness Diminishes the Power of Hate (August 14, 2017)

Part 6: Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First (August 23, 2017)

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Don’t Worry! God Knows We’re Weak!

MEME - Matthew 6 vv 33-34

Over the years, people have asked for prayer and apologized as they admitted struggling with worry, which usually stems from doubt and fear. Scripture affirms we have no reason to feel guilty or be ashamed in our weak moments.

We’re only in week two of the Our Daily Bread Bible in a Year reading schedule and we’ve watched quiet a few worry-warts processing their feelings and then persevering under God’s care.

Eve worried the Lord was holding back on her, while Adam feared taking responsibility for his actions (Genesis 3).

Abram worried God wouldn’t protect him if the Egyptians found his wife attractive (Genesis 12:10-20), and later, she doubted the Lord would keep His promises (Genesis 16:1-6).

The name changes didn’t stop them from wrestling with worry. Abraham claimed Sarah was his sister . . . again . . . when he had a run-in with Abimelech (Genesis 20:1-3). Their son, Isaac, followed their fearful footsteps and lied about his wife being his sister when he settled in Gerar (Genesis 26:9-11).

The line of worriers didn’t end there. Isaac’s son, Jacob, feared he wouldn’t have enough and deceived his father while stealing from his brother . . . with his mom’s help (Genesis 27).

We could claim these folks straddled the line between faith and fear-based worry because they hadn’t met Jesus face-to-face. But the disciples wrestled with a fair share of worrying, too.

They walked and talked with Him every day. Yet, Jesus still found it necessary to teach about the anxious, fearful worries that often stemmed from unbelief.

Why? Because our Lord and Savior knew we’d need assurance of His sovereign goodness and loving care.

Though Jesus warned about placing prosperity on the tippity-top of our priorities list (Matthew 6:19-26), His red-flag led to a comforting promise of His ongoing provision and protection.

When my husband lost his job a few years ago, these verses took on a whole new meaning. Sure, it’s easier to proclaim our trust when we’ve got a safety net in a savings account and a steady income. But when we can’t save ourselves, when we can’t fix a situation, God is still able to do above and beyond all we can imagine. Hallelujah!

While God provides for our needs and affirms His power as Creator and Sustainer of all, He also assures us that life isn’t centered around what we can consume or wear (v. 26).

He invites us to consider the futility of anxiety, the wastefulness of allowing worry to dominate our thoughts.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:27, NLT)

In my experience, the answer is nope-not-a-chance-and-in-your-dreams.

Obsessive worry can actually steal our peace, smother our joy, and even cause health and relational problems.

When we experience hard times, when situations work out in ways that seem unfair and sad in this world, worry has a way of sneaking up on us.

It’s tempting to fret, especially when we or the people we love seem to be buried under the growing burden of financial strife, physical suffering, or emotional trials.

What about the homeless and those who suffer in other countries?

If we start listing all the things beyond our control, of course we’ll be whacked over the head with worry.

Focusing on our endless limitations and inability to fix everything, may lead us to a form of idolatry when we shove God into the margins of our lives and become obsessed with excessive worry, anxious thoughts, and fear.

This is much different from being concerned and planning to be a good steward of our finances and health, as a responsible adult.

Don’t worry! God knows we’re weak and has planned accordingly.

He knows we’ll worry, fear, doubt Him, and have anxious thoughts. But in our weakness, our loving Lord and Savior remains strong.

He invites us to seek Him first when we’re in need (v. 33), living in this moment as we walk by faith and hear His voice assuring us, guiding us, and eventually washing our worries away.

When we come to the Lord honestly, He can bring us peace, even when we don’t get relief.

Lord, thanks for the empowering us to trust You’ll carry us through every moment in our lives, as we remember You ordained our days before one of them came to be. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and He will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NLT)

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God’s Persevering Promises

MEME - Psalm 119 v 140

At the end of November, my physical and emotional endurance waned.

I praised God for some exciting ministry opportunities He’d brought my way. I thanked Him for helping me through some tough but necessary relational changes in 2017. He’d empowered me to support some friends through heartbreaking situations and provided in surprising ways as He helped our family process unexpected health setbacks. Though I continued trusting the Lord, my prayers began to sound repetitive.

Feeling like I needed a drastic change and spiritual refreshment, I asked God to wrap me in peace as I sat in His presence.

Day after day, He affirmed that I didn’t need a change. I needed continual reminders of His unchanging character and the consistency of His persevering promises.

My husband and I committed to connect with God daily by using the Our Daily Bread Ministries Bible in a Year Reading Schedule. I chose to read an unfamiliar translation, to help me prevent skimming through familiar chapters. Even though we’ve read through the Bible yearly since 2005, I had a hard time waiting for the start date.

If I wanted to thrive, instead of hoping to just survive in 2018, I needed more of God!

Over the last week, I’ve inhaled peace and highlighted verse after verse that affirmed the trustworthiness of God’s persevering promises.

The Holy Spirit tugged my heart toward repentance, as I realized I’d been worrying through the wait when I was weary from battling chronic pain.

How are You going to provide, Lord?

 What am I going to do now, Lord?

 How much longer? How much harder?

Before I realized it, I was wah-wah-whining.

At this point, I thanked the Lord for my husband. When one of us is weak, the other is strong. When he wants to jump in and fix things, I encourage him to rest in God’s presence. When I want to rush God along for fear of Him not coming through like He has every time in the past, my hubby reminds me to be still and trust.

Praying for an increase of faith during a rougher-than-normal week, I reflected on Abram’s responses to God at different times during his waiting journey.

When Abram first received God’s call, he didn’t even hesitate to follow Him into the unknown (Genesis 12:1-6). Abram accepted God’s promise (vv. 7-9), though he often struggled with fear (vv. 10-16). The Lord remained faithful (vv. 17-20) and reassured Abram of His persevering promises (Genesis 13:14-16; 15:4-6).

Unfortunately, Abram chose passive complacency instead of reminding his wife of God’s trustworthiness. Sarai refused to sit still on the sidelines. She hopped up and took the reins away from her husband and God, worrying her way through the wait.

When the Lord didn’t meet Sarai’s standards, or work according to her preferred timeline, she forced her own way and opened the door to generations of conflict (Genesis 16).

The Lord stayed true to His Word, affirming the now-99-year-old Abram wasn’t forgotten (Genesis 17:1-2). He transformed Abram and Sarai, beginning with their names (Genesis 17:5, 15), though it seemed He knew His servants still weren’t ready to receive the fulfillment of His promises.

They wanted instant gratification and quick relief. I’ve been there!

The Lord must have known they needed time to grow as His plan played out. He waited another year for Sarai, now Sarah, to give birth to Isaac (Genesis 17:21).

Though we can learn so much from how Abraham and Sarah responded to God, we can also find wisdom in Hagar’s prayer:

“You are a God of seeing . . . truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:13)

Oh, how many time I’ve compared my timetable to God’s, as if I could see the future or control my circumstances.

I’ve begged for relief, to be whisked out of the wait, without even realizing I’d be missing out on the rewards God was carving out for me.

As we remember the Lord’s consistent character, we can rely on His persevering promises.

He will comfort our hurting hearts, strengthen our resolve, prepare us for the path He’s paved for us, and help us to stop worrying through the wait . . . if only we take time to listen to His words and remember He stays true to His Word.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on Your promises.” (Psalm 119:148)

Lord, thanks for blessing us with the privilege of communing with You through the Bible in a Year reading schedule. Please help us trust Your plan and pace are perfect. Help us secure our hope in Your sovereign goodness, unfailing love, infallible Word, and persevering promises. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Are you more like Abram, Sarai, or a mixture of both when trusting God through the wait?

 How has God helped you wait without worrying or wah-wah-whining when you were weary, tempted to rush past the Lord, or determined to force God’s hand by demanding your own way?

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