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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To receive daily encouragement devotions from Our Daily Bread and join me in reading the Bible in a year, using ODB’s reading schedule, please click here.

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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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To receive Our Daily Bread devotions with the Bible reading schedule, please visit our website and subscribe today. I look forward to growing with you!

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I Want to Know You More, Lord!

MEME - BLOG - 2 Timothy 3 v 16 - EDITED Jan 2018

The first time I read the Bible, I acted like a giddy schoolgirl. I couldn’t believe God’s story, His actual history, was available for me to read. The more I read, the more I realized the Bible was more than just another book. I can’t get enough of God’s Word and I can’t stop sharing His truth and love with others!

When I share that my husband and I have read through the Bible in a year since 2005, people have asked me several questions.

How can you finish that huge book in one year?

When following most Bible-in-a-Year schedules, the daily readings only take 15-30 minutes per day. We can break up the readings or savor the day’s planned chapters at one time, depending on our personal preference, our reading speed, and our available time. The important thing is remembering we’re not just reading. When we open up our Bibles, we get to spend time listening to God’s voice. Hallelujah!

Why are you so excited about reading a book that’s so boring and no longer relevant?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Talk about an amazing start for the greatest story in history! The Beginning and the End, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Maker of time itself . . . God . . . created every single thing in the heavens and on the earth.

As if that’s not enough, the God-breathed words of Scripture records God’s story and ends in the most thrilling cliff-hanger . . . Jesus will come again. Hallelujah!

While we wait, we’re invited to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and be known, loved, and forever changed by Him.

If you’ve read the Bible once, why bother reading it again?

Every year, I learn something new, love the Lord more, and accept the fullness of His love for me more. Whether God has changed my heart, my perspective, or my situation, His infallible truth remains the same. Through the power of His Holy Spirit, He reveals His immutable character and His unchanging plan and promises through His Word and equips me for what He has prepared for me each day. I need to connect with my Maker, my Sustainer, my loving and good Father every single moment of every single day.

What do you do when you don’t understand what you’re reading?

Faith isn’t about me being able to completely comprehend my eternal and sovereign God. We can ask Him to help us understand and trust Him. In His goodness, He provides resources to study Scripture, with the help of His Holy Spirit.

Why don’t you read smaller chunks so you can study deeper?

I do! I read through the Bible in a year for familiarity, to learn how His whole story connects from the Old to the New Testaments and into my life. For deeper study, I use resources, like concordances, commentaries, and word studies. Most importantly, I begin with prayer and invite the Holy Spirit to change me and make me more like Jesus.

How do you keep your reading from feeling like something you’re just checking off a list?

When we’re reading the Bible, we’re spending time with God. While we read Scripture, we’re experiencing God’s presence and hearing His heart beating with every syllable. We can commune with the Lord, talking to Him through prayer and listening to Him by reading the words He inspired and preserved in the Bible. What a wonderful gift!

How do you keep from giving up, especially if you fall behind?

When we’re focused on nurturing our relationship with God, we don’t have to worry about our performance. Perfection is not possible or expected. If we miss a few days, there’s no reason to feel pressured to catch up or to succumb to discouragement and give up. We can just brush off those guilty feelings and enjoy God’s abundant and all-sufficient grace.

Our time with God is as personal as our relationship with Him. As we spend quiet moments with Him, we can come as we are and ask Him to increase our desire to spend time with Him every day.

Why should we bother reading Scripture with a reading schedule?

While schedules are not necessary, they can help us develop consistency and accountability. Whether we choose to read the Bible in a year, use another schedule, or commit to a certain number of minutes per day, our main goal is to enter God’s presence daily and say, “I want to know you more, Lord!”

Lord, thanks for the privilege of hearing Your voice, placing our prayers in Your hands, and growing closer to You and others as we bask in Your endless love and saturate our hearts with Your truth every single day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Have you read through the Bible?

What have you enjoyed about daily Bible reading? about reading the Bible in a year?

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced and joys you’ve experienced while following a Bible reading schedule?

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To join Alan and me in reading the Bible in a year with the Our Daily Bread schedule, please click here.

If you’re going to choose another daily Bible reading schedule, please let me know. I’d love for us to pray for one another, as we seek the Lord through His Word and love Him with all we’ve got!

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Rejoicing Because God is God

MEME - Psalm 5 v 11bOn Thursday morning, I woke up praising God for blessing me with minimal instead of high-level pain. I thanked Him with grateful tears for over twenty-four headache-free hours. My body ached after a week of constant muscle spasms and nerve pain that caused debilitating headaches.

Though the painful days are an expected part of the recovery process after my recent nerve ablation in my neck and injection in my upper thoracic back, the journey often wears me out physically and emotionally.

By mid-afternoon, I praised the Lord for allowing me to enjoy a wonderful time of reading His Word and writing for His glory.

Then, I received bad news over the phone.

After sobbing prayers, God comforted me with His promise to be with me every step of the way, even if I wasn’t sure what my next step would be.

The Lord assured me He had already planned ahead for my needs and made a way for me to follow Him, if only I would be willing to place my confidence in His unchanging character and integrity.

I called my husband to let him know about what had happened and together we made a decision in the matter. As we trust the Lord to provide in ways we can’t even begin to figure out, we remain certain He’ll care for us. He always has and always will.

A few minutes after hanging up with my husband, I checked the mail and smiled when I saw a card from a friend.

Her timely, encouraging note felt like a hug from God.

I spent some extra time reading my Bible and shed a few more tears when the Holy Spirit drew me to this familiar verse:

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You.” (Psalm 5:11, NIV)

Soon after, I received another call. This time, the news was great.

After a roller-coaster-day of emotions, I praised the Lord with yet another sobbing prayer.

Those tears expressed an unexplainable joy.

My pain hadn’t gone away or improved, but it hadn’t gotten worse. My bad news hadn’t changed, but God had revealed His care once again.

Even as I type this blog post, my focus isn’t on the ever-changing good or bad circumstances in my life, the uncertainty of the future, or the complex emotions the inevitable changes evoke.

When we take refuge in God, we can rest in the knowledge of who He is and who He always will be.

When we place our hope in knowing God won’t change, we can feel secure even when the world around us feels totally out of control, which it totally is.

We can be glad because our good and loving God is constant, present, dependable, trustworthy, and faithful.

We can sing for joy because He is our Protector and Provider.

We can love His name, as revealed through Scripture, because His name affirms His unchanging character.

God is Jehovah, the Existing One, the Lord who wants to be known (Genesis 2:4).

He is Elohim, Creator (Genesis 1:1).

He is El Shaddai, The Almighty (Genesis 17:1).

He is Jehovah Jireh, Provider (Genesis 22:14).

He is Jehovah Rapha, Healer (Exodus 15:26).

He is Jehovah Shalom, “The Lord Our Peace” (Judges 6:24).

He is Jehovah Rohi, Johovah Raah, “The Lord Our Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).

He is El Roi, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13).

He is El Olam, The Eternal God, everlasting (Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:31).

Because God is the Great I AM (Exodus 3:14), the Beginning and the End, we can call Him Adonai, our Lord and Master (Genesis 18:2).

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for Your infallible truth through which You reveal Your unchanging character. Please penetrate the deepest corners of our hearts and minds with Your loving, God-breathed words.

Help us seek You and rely on You to transform our hearts and minds, as You strengthen our resolve and deepen our faith. You are our peace, our refuge, our quiet strength, even when we feel our weakest. You guide our steps and make a way where there is no way, as far as we can see. 

You will never change. You will never grow weary. You will never abandon us. You will never forget us or ignore the cries of our hearts. Thank You, Lord. Thank You for loving us in ways we don’t even see.

Hallelujah!
In Jesus’s name, Amen 

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

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For further study on the names of God, you can visit Bible.org or the Blue Letter Bible websites.

(At the time of this posting both of these websites were active and God-honoring. Though I am doubtful this would be the case, I would appreciate readers informing me if there is any questionable content on these sites in the future.)

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Finding God’s Fingerprints

MEME - Psalm 145 vv 1-2 - FREE Pexels Cross Photo Downloaded April 30, 2017

(Suggested Reading: Psalm 145)

As I continue to grieve the loss of a beautiful sister in Christ, I’m missing her Facebook posts. I’d always enjoyed the way she praised God in all circumstances and prayed for others, her hope firmly anchored in unshakeable faith, even as she battled cancer.

I’ve noticed a common thread as I read posts and comments shared by others who are grieving her loss and celebrating her inspiring life. Suzanne loved God and saw His fingerprints in every aspect of her life, much like David−the writer of Psalm 145.

David begins his love song by committing to a lifetime of praising the Lord:

“I will exalt You, my God the King; I will praise Your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise You and extol Your name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:1-2, NIV)

David proclaims God’s greatness will be passed on to future generations, as His people share who He is and all He’s done (vv. 3-7).

The psalmist affirms the Lord’s goodness, graciousness, compassion, and loving patience (vv. 8-9). While pointing out God’s fingerprints in his life and in the lives of those around him, David gets caught up in praise and changes his focus.

Instead of merely telling others about the wonders of the Almighty, he immerses himself in worship.

The recording of his testimony becomes an intimate conversation with the King of Kings.

I often find God’s fingerprints more easily in situations when I’m writing about the things He’s done, the things He’s taught me, and the things He reveals about His character as I read His God-breathed words in Scripture.

By inviting Him into my writing process, I can get so caught up in what I’m sharing about the Lord that I become drawn into a time of intimate worship, praise, and prayer.

Like David, in Psalm 145, my focus switches from serving God by pointing readers to His Word to sitting at my Master’s feet and gazing into His face.

Whether we’re writing, singing, teaching, or chatting with a friend, something powerful happens when we join forces to help others find God’s fingerprints in the world around us:

They will tell of the glory of Your kingdom and speak of Your might, so that all men may know of Your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom.” (Psalm 145:11-12, emphasis mine)

As we point to the Lord and proclaim His greatness, our own faith deepens and our testimonies become psalmist’s songs that we can’t keep to ourselves (v. 13).

We can burst out in joyful praise and say:

“The LORD is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” (v. 13b-14)

Like David, we can become so enthralled by God that we turn back to Him with grateful confidence in His provision (v. 15-16).

We can celebrate His loving righteousness toward His people (v. 17).

We can rejoice in His constant presence, His sovereign care, and His promise to listen to those who call on His name (v. 18-20).

The psalmists and my precious friend Suzanne recognized God’s fingerprints in their lives, in the lives of those around them, and in Scripture.

When we do this, the Lord can strengthen our resolve, comfort us, and empower us to tell everyone how wonderful He is and always will be, no matter how hard our current circumstances feel.

We, too, can sing:

“My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise His holy name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:21)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Thank You, Lord, for the allowing us to experience Your loving grace, encounter You intimately as we prayerfully study Your Word, and exalt You as we share Your truth and love. Please fill us with wisdom and courage we need to speak or write words that will glorify Your name and testify about who You are and all You’ve done. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon, using free photo from Pexels (April 30, 2017).

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Thanks for Listening, Lord! (A Prayer)

MEME - Psalm 116 v. 1 - Photo by Linda Newsome(SUGGESTED READING – Psalm 116)

Thanks for hearing our voices, Lord (v. 1).

You’ve proven Your faithfulness time and time again.

You’ve revealed Your great love for us, demonstrating patience and grace even when we’re impatient with You.

Thanks for caring about every sob that pours over our lips and every silent cry triggered by the pain we can’t put into words.

Thanks for delighting in every song of praise we sing to You and every whispered prayer of thanks we offer You.

You invite us to be honest with You as we process our emotions. You never minimize or ignore our feelings.

And You always, always respond in love, mercy, compassion, sovereign goodness, and wisdom.

How can we ever thank You enough, loving and dependable Father?

When we can’t see You working or understand Your purpose, when the wait or suffering feels unbearable, and when we can’t even begin to imagine any good coming out of our situation, You−Almighty and Sovereign God−will always make Your presence known and offer to carry us through.

And we can trust now and forever, Lord.

You will be available when we need to call on You all the days of our lives (v. 2).

You are gracious and righteous and full of compassion, Lord (v. 5).

You are our Protector and Rescuer, our Refuge and Good Shepherd (vv. 6-9).

Please give us the desire and diligence to seek You daily in the treasure of Your Holy Word, made accessible by Your Holy Spirt, who lives in us and empowers us to live for You.

Give us ears to hear You clearly and hearts to love You by obeying You, one day at a time.

We can do nothing without You, Lord. Nothing.

Thanks for listening, Lord. Thanks for reminding us You really do care.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Linda Newsome.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When He Calls Me a Sinner?

MEME - Luke 19 v 10 - Photo by Dee Reeves Bright

(Suggested Reading: Luke 19:1-10)

Seeped in sin. Sometimes oblivious. Sometimes . . . okay, most of the time, completely and intentionally rebellious.

I believed God existed, but I’d never had a personal encounter with the Person−God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit−the loving and faithful One, the mighty and merciful One, the one and only True Triune God.

I’d grown up confused by wrong-thinking that led to seeing God as a punisher, a cruel judge who delighted in pouring His wrath on people. I couldn’t imagine turning to God just to be judged, condemned, and shamed into changing my life.

How could I love God if He called me a . . . sinner?

I perched in that tree of confusion, looking at Jesus from a safe distance, never daring to get close and personal, until He whispered my name and invited me to spend time getting to know Him.

The more I study the Bible, the more I know about God’s story, the more I submit to God’s Holy Spirit, the more I spend time loving Jesus and being loved by Jesus, the more I discover the extent of God’s incredible love for me.

I enjoyed sharing a part of my journey through blog series: “Meeting Jesus Face-to-Face in the Gospel of John.”

Contrary to my past belief, Jesus didn’t expect me to come to Him cleaned up and sin-free. He accepted me, drew me closer to His heart, and wrapped me in compassion and mercy, while I was still chained by my brokenness, my fears, and my sins.

Overwhelmed by Jesus’s love for me, I fell in love with Him.

He didn’t shame my sins away or make me feel like a total loser, like I’d expected.

Jesus showered me with grace, drew me so close I could hear His heart beating, and loved me.

He loved me and held on with gentleness and compassion, until I had the strength to lean toward Him.

Eventually, I wanted nothing more than to love Him, to please Him, to praise Him, to live for Him because of His love for me.

The more I lived for Him, the more I understood Jesus’s declaration that loving Him leads to obeying Him (John 14:15-27).

Sobbing on a cold cement floor of my garage on December 14, 2001, I had my Zacchaeus Moment. But it’s during my ongoing face-to-face encounters with Jesus that He helps me love Him more, receive His love more, and turn toward Him and away from my sins more and more each day.

What’s a Zacchaeus Moment?

Scripture says Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus when He entered Jericho (Luke 19:1-4).

Short in stature, the chief tax collector scrambled up that tree because the crowd kept him from seeing the Lord (vv. 3-4). His status, his money, his heritage couldn’t spare him from the badge of condemnation his community placed on his chest (v. 7).

Jesus could have passed the tree without glancing at Zacchaeus. The Lord could have rebuked him in front of the entire community, listing his sins, shaming, condemning, and demanding him to change.

Instead, Jesus called Zacchaeus by name and let the whole world know He wanted to spend time with the man He knew was a sinner (v. 5).

With a sense of urgency, his tone dripping with joy, gratitude, and even surprise, Zacchaeus “welcomed” Jesus into his home “gladly” (v. 6).

When his neighbors reminded him how unworthy he was (v. 7), Zacchaeus didn’t wait for the Lord to rebuke them. He repented and offered restitution before Jesus even said a word (v. 8).

And when the Lord called him a son of Abraham (v. 9), how did Zacchaeus feel? How could he hold back the emotion after being acknowledged as a rightful member of God’s family, because of who he belonged to, because of who loved him, not what he did or didn’t do?

Jesus made it clear that Zacchaeus belonged for one reason: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (v. 10), to save those lost in their sins . . . all of us.

Why should I love God when He calls me a sinner?

Because I am a sinner.

I am compared to God, who is holy, not anyone else.

I am a sinner in desperate need of rescuing, a sinner saved by God’s grace.

Being a good person will never save me, because I can never be good enough. Only Jesus is perfect, only Jesus is good enough, only Jesus can save.

And that’s why He came, why He died on the cross, why He rose, and why He whispers our names until we turn to Him and receive all that wondrous life-transforming love He offers us.

I lived the life of Zacchaeus, fending for myself, not caring who I hurt as long as I benefited, as long as I avoided pain.

But Jesus . . . oh, but Jesus . . . Jesus called me by name.

Jesus invited me to spend time with Him. He helped me accept His love and gently cracked my armor until I gladly welcomed Him into my home, my heart, my life.

Like Zacchaeus, I’ve had to repent and even offer restitution. But I’ve learned to enjoy the freedom of complete surrender to and total dependence on Christ, and shared a part of my story in “Accepting My Wings of Freedom.”

But, the Lord helps me remember what He revealed and affirmed during my Zacchaeus moment:

The Father sent His Son to save all sinners, which means all people. When we choose to receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, He blesses us with His Holy Spirit who dwells in all Christ followers.

He invites us to commune with Him through prayer and the study of His Word. He helps us to know Him and know His Word, the more we spend time with Him.

He helps us receive the fullness of His grace, as He empowers us to repent and turn away from our sins so we can live for Christ and share His life-transforming love with others . . . because we are all lost without Him.

Lord, thank You for loving us and wanting us to know You intimately. Thank You for reminding us that when we surrender our lives to You, we are sinners no longer enslaved by our sin because we are saved by Your grace and renewed by Your eternal and unconditional love. Please help us love You, live for You, and share You, every chance we get. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Dee Reeves Bright.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When I’m Rejected?

MEME - Romans 8 v 38-39Eight year old me didn’t like baseball, at all. Still, my dad insisted I participate. Although one day I’ll share the miracle story about the only time I ever caught a fly ball, I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life. I still haven’t hit a ball and I’m well over a few double-digit birthdays.

I enjoyed dancing, singing, drawing, acting, reading, and writing. So being picked last for a baseball team didn’t surprise me. My teammates’ responses, however, shocked me and wounded my tender heart.

Don’t let her play. She stinks. She always strikes out. She can’t even catch. She’s a loser.

I wish I could say that was the last time I ever felt like a total reject, but it wasn’t. 

Growing up, I never found that place where I felt understood, accepted, or even liked. Although in high school I managed to put on an act of apathy laced with an attitude that could have been confused with confidence or even arrogance, insecurities and fears plagued me.

As I fought inner battles and nursed deep wounds, I pretended I didn’t care who liked me. I even behaved like a bully at times, proving that familiar saying: Hurting people, hurt people.

Not liking myself led me to a stream of bad choices that stained and scarred my body, mind, and spirit. I’d mastered that life until I met my husband.

We lived in sin for over a year before getting married then suffered the devastating loss of our first child during the second year of marriage. Viewing the Lord as a punisher, before I knew Him personally, I thought He was punishing me for all the bad things I’d done.

I thought I knew what God thought about people like me . . . sinners . . . rejects. I was wrong, wrong, so wrong.

But when grieving our first child overwhelmed me, I crawled through depression. A few friends tried to introduce me to Jesus. They encouraged me to pray, but my prayers back then were rooted in fear . . . and shame. Wallowing in heart-wrenching sorrow, I considered divorcing my husband. I felt utterly alone.

I’d never even seen a real Bible and I trembled at the thought of stepping into a church.

How could I turn to God after I’d lived my life rejecting God, certain that He’d rejected me and would continue rejecting me?

After a few long pain-filled years, with loved ones praying for my salvation, I finally surrendered my life to Christ. And yes, God restored my marriage, blessed us with a beautiful son. Alan, Xavier and I were baptized in August 2003. Hallelujah!

Still, I doubted God would fully accept me. Considering the sins I’d racked up in my past and the sins I still struggled with, I treaded carefully on the edge of faith.

But as I continued prayerfully reading Scripture, I discovered how God loved people who others rejected, people stained with sin, people who struggled with sin . . . people like me.

I couldn’t stop myself from falling in love with Jesus.

One of the stories that still triggers grateful tears is found in Matthew 8:1-4. Lepers weren’t greeted by others, welcomed into homes, or comforted with hugs. So, when a man with leprosy approached Jesus, it’s easy to imagine the crowd scattering in fear of the man’s contagious skin disease.

This man braved the scorn, desperate but confident that the Lord could help him. He knew Jesus was able, if only He would be willing.

Did his chest tighten, his lips quiver, his hands tremble?

He knelt before the Lord, probably having heard how Jesus could heal with one spoken word.

Then, the remarkable happened. The Lord spoke clearly, “I am willing,” and reached out to touch him.

Jesus touched the rejected one, the marginalized one, the forgotten one. Jesus touched the despised one, the feared one, the lonely one. Jesus touched the grieving one, the desperate one, the condemned one, the hopeless one.

He cleansed this man beyond the surface wounds others could see and sent him to be a living-testimony of God’s life-transforming love.

He wants to do the same thing for us, for me, for you.

Jesus is willing to reach out and touch us with His mighty and merciful love. We are wanted, accepted, and loved by our Savior. We’re always within His reach, because He’s always with us.

Not only does He think we’re worth dying for, He knows we’re worth living for.

The love of Christ changes us, healing wounds others can see and the deep scars we thought we were able to hide.

His love invades our personal space, seeping into every crevice of our armored hurts, coaxing us into a confident, courageous, and contagious faith.

Wherever we’ve been, wherever we are, Jesus reaches out to us and invites us to be cleansed by His limitless love.

He empowers us to shrug off the chains of our false identities as rejects, so that we can experience the rewards of righteous living empowered through the Holy Spirit.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

Lord, thank You for assuring us that no one is out of Your reach or too far gone to be touched by Your heart-penetrating love. Please help us approach Your throne of grace boldly, kneeling before You with confidence as we receive Your Word as truth and live in the power of Your Holy Spirit. Help us love others out of the abundance of love You have for us. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Have you ever struggled with feeling like a reject?

How has God helped you feel accepted, loved, and valued as His child?

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Get ‘er Done? Or Get Closer to God?

MEME - John 3 v 21

(Suggested Reading: John 3:1-21)

Last year, I invited women to join me in reading through the Bible in a year, something I’ve enjoyed doing since 2005. But when health complications impacted my energy levels, I had to make some changes.

After much prayer, God showered me with peace. Accepting my slower-than-a-tortoise pace, I started savoring each God-breathed word in Scripture by highlighting key words and phrases.

I focused on words I hadn’t realized I’d skimmed over, due to my familiarity with the text. And when I read one of the verses I’d memorized years ago, the emphasis I discovered as I highlighted the words brought me to tears:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV, emphasis mine)

How had I gotten to the point where these words landed with a thud in the empty well of my heart?

How had I forgotten the sacrificial pain endured by the One who died for me, rose for me, lives for me, as He forever guarantees my eternity in the presence of His loving grace?

When did I start focusing on slurping up the words of Scripture, instead of spending time with the Person who reveals Himself to me and affirms His love for me through each God-breathed syllable?

I’m not the first person in history, and probably won’t be the last, who has confused knowing Bible verses with knowing God intimately and personally receiving Him as ultimate Lord and redeeming Savior.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have prided himself in memorizing the Scriptures. But his late night venture demonstrated a longing for more.

Proudly familiar with the Scriptures, Nicodemus came to Jesus cloaked by darkness and carrying a bag full of assumptions.

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2, emphasis mine)

Minimizing Jesus’s identity blocked Nicodemus from seeing that only God in the flesh could perform those miraculous signs that perked his interest.

The fulfillment of all those Old Testament prophecies pointed straight to Jesus as Messiah.

Still, Nicodemus clung to false-understanding.

It’s easier to believe what we think we know, what feels safer to say out loud, what doesn’t set us up for risking rejection, heartbreak, or the need to admit we need change.

But Jesus led this seeker to the familiar Scriptures that circled right back to the One who stood before Him.

Jesus didn’t stutter when He said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up . . .” (v. 14, emphasis mine)

Nicodemus had the story of Moses tucked into his bag of Bible knowledge. He could probably recite the verses backwards, with a smug smirk on his face.

But could it be true “. . . that everyone who believes in [Jesus] may have eternal life” (v. 15)?

Could Jesus referring to what happened with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, mean that He confirmed God’s plan was put in place before the beginning of time?

Could God love the world so much that He acknowledged all people deserved death and earned wrath, but still chose to offer the priceless gift of forgiveness through repentance and freedom through Christ, resulting in eternal life?

Yes. Yes. And, by God’s endless grace, Yes.

“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (v. 21)

God saves us, because there is no way we can save ourselves.

The Father never altered His original plan as He paved the way for the Spirit to connect the dots that led to Jesus as the awaited Messiah and Savior of the world.

Death never stopped being a requirement for life to be received through the Risen King, our living and loving God.

Even today, in a world where evil glorifies people shrouded by sin, death remains a required part of the deal.

Death of self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, self-reliance, and self-centeredness. Death of our sinful nature.

As we foolishly grieve over the death of these things that prevent us from experiencing an abundant life in Christ, God faithfully waits for us to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him.

Like Nicodemus, we can become so familiar with Scripture that we miss getting to know the only One to whom Scripture reveals as the Savior this world desperately needs−Jesus.

Skimming through the Bible or neglecting the daily reading of Scripture, we risk missing out on the big picture God paints through His whole story.

Some important words can fall through the cracks when we dash through assigned readings in a foolish rush to get ‘er done, instead of to get closer to God.

But if we approach Scripture as living and active, asking the Holy Spirit to shed the light of understanding on each and every God-breathed word of truth, our personal love-encounters with Christ will changes us forever.

Lord, thank You for knowing us and inviting us to know You more. Please help us approach prayer and Bible reading as an opportunity to meet You face-to-face and bask in Your constant presence with absolute wonder, grateful praise, and a complete willingness to submit to Your authority in courageous obedience. In Jesus’s name, amen

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How does your approach to Bible reading change when you focus more on getting to know God instead of getting ‘er done?

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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