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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Another Christmas of Faith-building Mishmash and Miracles

MEME - Merry Christmas to share with photo credit - Dec 2016As my husband, Alan, and our son, Xavier, helped me hang ornaments on the Christmas tree this year, I reminisced about the precious moments attached to each decoration.

The homemade ornaments brought back sweet memories from Xavier’s childhood. When he was only two years old, he brought home his very first December craft from school. Every year, he created a new ornament that I hung with joy. And every year I carefully packed away each priceless treasure so we could place them on the tree the following Christmas.

We have souvenir ornaments to commemorate our travels. Each one triggers conversations about our trips.

We remember. We laugh. We thank God for the countless blessings symbolized by those souvenirs.

Friends have given us ornaments. Some of those friends we still embrace like family, some we miss but haven’t seen in years, some are no longer a part of our lives, and some have gone to be with Jesus. Hanging those gifts fills my heart with both joy and sorrow, as I thank God for bringing those people into our lives . . . even if only for a season.

Tears streak down my cheeks as I admire the ornaments my mom sent Xavier, every year since she bought him his very first ornament in 1996. Now that she’s gone, we buy him a yearly ornament that we hope he’ll enjoy hanging on a tree in his own home one day.

But my favorite ornaments are the ones I bought after I received Christ as my Lord and Savior, after I learned the true reason Christmas was worth celebrating.

A beautiful shiny heart proclaims the Lord’s name and reminds me of His perfect love. A delicate slice of Olive wood with three crosses carved in its center celebrates Christ’s victory on Calvary. A jeweled cross that we used on a display at my mom’s Celebration of Life service hangs on a satin ribbon, comforting me with the hope of eternal life.

Almost lost in the branches, a simple nail hangs with a yellow slip of paper attached on a fading strand of curling ribbon. Inside, a poem by an anonymous writer declares Christ as Savior and the nail as evidence of His intimate love for each of His beloved children. The last two lines of the poem read:

“ . . . I know it was His love for us that held Him to that tree. But when I see this simple nail, I know He died for me.”

This Christmas, our family is rejoicing over all the wonderful ways God has worked in and through our lives. We’re also placing our heart-wrenching prayers at His feet.

We’ve endured great losses and faced difficult obstacles, but our Lord continues to fill us with peace and hope. Though we’re grieving much, we can’t stop counting the ways God has blessed us, ways that have nothing to do with material blessings.

We’re struggling with complications in my healing journey, as well as with finances and family strife. But we’ve also witnessed the Lord restoring relationships, giving us wonderful opportunities to serve Him, and giving our family all we need to continue trusting Him in this moment . . . one step . . . and sometimes one breath at a time.

Like the ornaments on our tree, this year and this Christmas is filled with faith-building mishmash and miracles that represent God’s proven faithfulness, sovereign goodness, limitless love, and endless grace.

As we approach the holiday that shines a light on Christ and consider the ornaments on our Christmas tree, I realized we’ve been celebrating Jesus all year and every year.

The circumstances we’re in currently won’t decide the measure of our love for the Lord, or the measure of His boundless love for us.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for affirming You are with us always and worth celebrating every day of every year . . . not just on Christmas. Help us acknowledge the wonderful ways You’re working in and through our lives every single day. Please help us accept the tears and the cheers in life as priceless opportunities to experience Your constant presence, rely on Your limitless power, and surrender to Your immeasurable and trustworthy grace. Please, Lord, help us look beyond ourselves and our current circumstances, so we can love You and others with joy. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

What faith-building mishmash and miracles has God entrusted to you this year and this Christmas?

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Living with Surefire Faith: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 33 v 22 - Photo by Lidia Hu

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 33)

Staring out the window of our hotel room, I scowled. We were supposed to be celebrating my husband’s birthday while in Kauai. Instead, I remained bedridden for the first few days of our vacation. My frustration quickly nudged me into a funky mood that triggered a full-blown pity-party.

The more I complained about my unfair circumstances, the more discontent I became. My grumpy attitude began to rub off on Alan, who had been doing all he could to nurse me back to health and improve my usually positive perspective.

While my sweet caregiver braved the rainstorm to pick up dinner from one of my favorite restaurants, I crossed the room and stared out the window.

Who was I to be complaining when my loving spouse was driving through the storm to make my evening a little brighter? Who was I to think I deserved better than the incredible blessing of celebrating my husband’s birthday in Kauai? When had I allowed discontent to demolish my hope?

By the time Alan returned, the Lord had given me a much-needed attitude adjustment. I apologized and thanked my husband for the delicious meal. We watched a movie that night and were able to enjoy short outings for the rest of the week.

Whether our lives are going well or we’re right smack in the middle of difficult trials, griping can blind us to the wonderful glimpses of hope God places right before our eyes.

We can miss the opportunity to experience peace in the presence of the only One who can offer a foundation of everlasting hope.

No matter what kind of day we’ve had, even when our circumstances feel bleak, we can find reasons to celebrate God, to rejoice in the surefire hope He’s placed at the tips of our fingers, to enter His presence with a joyful song of praise (Psalm 33:1-3).

Why? Because “the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.” (v. 4)

Every infallible, life-transforming word of Scripture affirms God was and is and always will be “faithful in all He does.”

The sound of God’s voice holds eternal power to make and maintain everything in the world, yet He makes time to hear us and care for every detail of our lives (vv. 6-7).

When we gripe about our circumstances, we’re telling God that He isn’t enough for us.

But God is enough.

As the psalmist proclaims the evidence of God’s divine power and supreme greatness, we can confidently place our hope in the Lord and submit to His authority. He’s proven to be worthy of worship and reverence (v. 8).

The Maker of all secures it all (v. 9). His plans for each of His beloved children are ordained before we took a breath.

Still, we doubt Him when things don’t go our way?

We can stand firm on God’s purposes and promises, because we can count on His unchanging character (v. 11).

He who formed our hearts, knows our hearts and all we think, say, and do (vv. 13-15). The greatest leaders of the world combined are no match for our God (vv. 16-17).

So, why do we push Him away or feel betrayed when things get rough?

We can’t run away or hide from Him. We can’t make Him stop loving us, caring about us, or pursuing us.

We may feel far from God, forgotten by God, or even failed by God when the days are long and hard. But we can be sure that “the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love” (v. 18).

Fear, meaning to revere, honor, acknowledge His majesty, know and trust His sovereign goodness and limitless might.

Hallelujah!

God’s trustworthiness ensures our hope in His reliability, so we can live with surefire faith and join the psalmist in singing:

“We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and our shield” (v. 20).

Even when we feel rushed or anxious to lunge forward, we can be certain God works at the perfect pace for our personal journeys.

He longs for us to sing: “In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name” (v. 21).

We can rely on El Shaddai‒Lord God Almighty.

We can cry out to El Elyon‒The Most High God.

We can lift our hands to Adonai‒our Lord and Master.

We can rest in the arms of Jehovah Shalom‒the Lord is Peace.

We can follow Jehovah Raah‒the Lord our Shepherd.

We can trust the heart of Jehovah Jireh‒our Provider.

And we can wait expectantly for Jehovah Rapha‒The Lord that Heals‒whether our healing comes on this side of eternity or when we’re welcomed into the arms of our Savior.

When we’re self-focused or dedicated to self-help, it’s too easy to start losing our joy, shattering our peace, and dimming our once radiant light of hope. Even the blessings seem a little duller when we’re devoted to seeking self-satisfaction.

But when we cry out to the Lord, asking Him to empower us to live in surefire faith and grateful joy, we place every ounce of our hope in the infinite and immutable power and promises of His name.

“May Your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in You.” (v. 22)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Photo taken by and used with permission by Lidia Hu.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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From Hopeless to Hopeful: The Voice of Hope Series

MEME - Psalm 77 v 11

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 77)

During a flare-up a few weeks ago, I suffered severe muscle spasms and nerve pain that triggered a debilitating headache. As the hours ticked by with no relief and the pain increased, hopelessness closed in on me.

Help me, Lord! Have mercy on me! I can’t take it anymore!

I couldn’t think of the Bible verses that had lifted my heart so many times before. I couldn’t remember the attributes of God that had anchored my faith in the One who promises to never change, never leave me, and never let me down.

Curled up in a wah-baby-melt-down, I could barely whimper prayers for mercy so I thanked God for the prayer warriors who, though struggling with their own trials, stood in the gap to pray for me when I had nothing left to give.

Eventually, God relaxed my muscles and wrapped me in a deep sleep. But for the next few weeks I had limited energy. The Lord refreshed my spirit, as I rested in His presence, listened to worship music, and savored His Word in small bites.

Today, I’m still struggling with fatigue and trusting the Lord with my daily battle with chronic pain. I’m reflecting on the overwhelming sense of despair that had smothered me, that feels as if it’s closing in on me during the harder days.

How did I get in the deep, dark pit of hopelessness when I know God is and always will be faithful and trustworthy?

These feelings can tempt me to slink into shame for being faithless, but the Lord reminds me that the valley moments He’s brought me through are behind me. The faith He has authored and is perfecting in my life is still intact. He promises to remain true to His character and true to His Word whenever I face trials.

Was it a hard road? Of course.

Did I feel like giving up? More than once.

Did I truly believe I couldn’t take one more second of suffering? Absolutely!

But even though I felt helpless, I was still praying . . . though some of those prayers were silent tears slipping down my cheeks.

And even though I felt hopeless . . . somehow . . . I still knew my hope was secured in these truths:

God is listening. God is with me. God is the same trustworthy and loving God He’s been and always will be.

So why didn’t I feel like I knew those facts when I was focused on my circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by my suffering?

Because faith has nothing to do with feelings.

Faith doesn’t depend on the way I’m feeling when I’m suffering, the measure of my strength or weakness, or my ability to remember the right verses when I can’t even think straight.

When we’re drowning in despair, the Lord patiently allows us to process without leaving our side, without changing His character, without losing control of the situation.

As I continue to recover from the flare-up, I’m thanking God for being constant and true, loving and faithful and abounding in grace . . . especially when I can’t feel Him, when I can’t see His hand, or recall His words, or even attempt to say I believe.

We’ll all have times when we feel as if our faith is faltering.

Like the writer of Psalm 77, most of us have “cried out to God for help” (v. 1).

“When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (v. 2).

As the psalmist struggled through weariness, doubt, discouragement, and hopelessness, he rested in the unchangeable, secure foundation of faith‒God . . . simply God.

When he questioned the Lord (vv. 7-9), he opened his heart and reached toward God’s consistency (v. 10).

“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds” (vv. 11-12).

The psalmist turns to praising what he knows to be true, the surety of who God is and what He’s done (vv. 13-15). 

He affirms God’s majesty as Creator and Sustainer of the Universe (vv. 16-19). He remembers that the strong people of faith never relied on their own strength (v. 20).

The psalter is filled with examples of God’s people coming before Him with raw emotions, struggling with suffering, doubting and dipping into despair.

As we read through these verses, we can see where the writer switches from being self-focused to being focused on God and how He’s worked in and through the lives of others who’ve come before him. But we can’t tell how long this process takes.

We don’t have to beat ourselves up or be ashamed of our times of weakness. We don’t have to hide our hurts or shy away from our moments of hopelessness.

During those inevitable difficult times, instead of sinking into isolation, we can reach out to others and ask for prayer. We can pray for others, remembering all God has done and reminding ourselves that the truths we’re proclaiming apply to us, too.

And we can experience the Lord’s power intimately, to feel His grace carrying us through because we cannot possibly imagine taking one more step on our own.

Every breath is a testimony of God’s sustaining grace. Every tear is a prayer caught in His loving hand. Every sob is a song of proclamation that affirms God hears, God cares, God is with us.

Every time a prayer warrior intercedes on our behalf, every time we pray on behalf of others, God proves He remains the same yesterday and today and forever.

When hopelessness overwhelms us, we can inhale a sense of peace.

We can trust God to anchor us to the unfailing hope of knowing Him and knowing He will stay true to His Word and His character no matter how we feel or how long these valley moments may seem.

Lord, thanks for affirming that we’re never too far for You to cradle us in Your everlasting hope. Please give us all we need to trust You one step at a time. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Relying on God, Not Self: Living Brave Series

MEME - Relying on God Not Self - Blog

(Suggested Reading – Judges 7:1-25)

In 2014 my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia, which required a bone marrow transplant. I was recovering from my first of two shoulder surgeries and working with doctors to manage the constant high-level pain caused by my upper thoracic back injury.

Still, I immediately agreed when my mom asked me to serve as her caregiver. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that reality hit.

How was I going to care for her when I was right in the middle of my own healing journey?

My husband comforted and encouraged me, as I sobbed and prayed. What were You thinking, Lord?

A few months after my second shoulder surgery, an injection in my back, and a new medicinal plan that would hopefully help me manage my pain while I cared for my mom, I flew to Seattle.

I suffered constant pain every day. And every single day, the Lord showed up and carried me through.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any harder, I tore muscles in my hip and pelvis.

The injuries in my shoulders and upper back flared up as I hobbled on crutches for weeks, cooking, cleaning our small living space, and monitoring my mom’s meds (and mine).

I learned how to depend on God the most on those days when I had no strength of my own.

My faith deepened as I watched my mom trusting God through her healing journey, too. She would read daily devotions from Jesus Calling, pray for others, and rely on the Lord daily.

During our time in Seattle, my mom and I were like our own little army against the world.

We took every step by faith, depending on God completely, surrendering to Him totally, and trusting Him implicitly.

To this day, I’m in awe at how the Lord brought us through the ordeal, how He blessed us with joy, peace, and strength we couldn’t have mustered up on our own.

I think back on those difficult months often, with my mom now at peace with Jesus and me heading into the sixth year of my healing journey.

I consider how Gideon must have felt when the Lord asked him to face an army with a whittled down troop of soldiers.

God had already guaranteed Gideon the victory and proved He would be with him through the battle. He remained patient when Gideon struggled with fear and doubt. He reminded Gideon that his own strength was irrelevant.

With pared down troops, Gideon would have no choice but to put his trust in God’s power, not his own abilities or the strength of his support system (Judges 7:1-6).

“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped [the water] I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.’” (v. 7, emphasis mine)

God didn’t snatch the soldiers away.

Gideon had to choose to embrace his weakness, to let go of his safety net, before he could experience the power of God.

 In compassion, the Lord still offered Gideon comforting reassurance (v. 10-11).

God knew his servant would experience moments when doubt or fear muscled out every ounce of courage he had managed to muster up.

So, He allowed Gideon to hear testimonies of what others saw in him as the Lord worked in and through his life (vv. 13-14). Though Gideon couldn’t see past his own weaknesses, those around him witnessed God’s power surging through his obedience.

The “mighty warrior” God had called forth rose up to the challenge before him, using the simple tools he had been given (vv. 15-16). There was no doubt the Lord alone defeated the enemy Gideon had once feared (vv. 17-22).

Gideon’s courageous faith, made stronger through his moments of doubt and discouragement, emboldened those who witnessed the small army’s victory against the Midianites (vv. 23-25).

We’ll all face obstacles, enemies, or battles that seem impossible to overcome and make us feel inadequate.

When we feel too weak, too unprepared, too afraid to walk the path the Lord has paved for us, we can guarantee victory by lifting our arms in complete surrender to God.

We’re strongest when we let go of the false sense of security wrapped in self-reliance and embrace our weaknesses, admit our absolute need for God, and rely on Him for everything.

Like Gideon, we may have a few set-backs that will require God’s patient and loving pep-talks.

Because Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of our faith, there’s no way our skirmishes with fear and doubt can determine the measure of our faith.

The Lord knows when we’re weary, insecure, and in desperate need of His affirming love.

His sufficient grace is more than enough to help us when we’re tempted to give God our own brand of fleece-tests (Judges 6:36-40) to determine His proven faithfulness.

As we rely on God, not self, we can embrace our weakness and experience the peace of His constant presence as we walk in the power of His Spirit.

Lord, thanks for being patient when we waver and for being our strength when we’re weak. Please help us show that we accept the power You’ve placed in us by relying on You in all circumstances. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Carrying Shields of Faith, Not Fear: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 23

(Suggested Reading – Judges: 33-40)

For years after receiving Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I functioned with fearful instead of fearless faith. I prayed for protection and provision with inklings of doubts that raised my levels of anxiety instead of peace. Rather than proclaiming who God is with confidence, I pleaded for affirmation and begged God to give me favor and grant my wishes.

Once I stopped treating God like my personal vending machine of pleasure, I began to understand the interdependence of believers and the trustworthiness of God’s sovereignty.

I’m so glad the Lord’s answers to my prayers aren’t dependent on my limited vision or fear-filled desperation for personal comfort.

In His sovereignty, God knows what I’m going through. He also knows what’s around the corner and what I’ll need to get through an upcoming crisis or over an unsavory obstacle. I don’t.

In His goodness, God cares about my needs . . . more than my list of wants. He grieves when I suffer and desires what’s best for me, even when what’s best requires a personal cost physically, emotionally, or mentally. I, on the other hand, usually don’t mind settling for the more feel-good roads of least resistance.

It took a while, and I sometimes still forget, that what’s best for me doesn’t always mean what I want or what will make my current situation easier.

Even though God is all good, my journey in this world on this side of eternity will often include too much heartache, too much waiting, too much struggling. But the Lord always remains in the know and in control.

When God nudges me forward or beckons me to follow, I can trust Him as Promise-Keeper and walk with courageous faith . . . even when I’m fearful.

As believers, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. He is with us, empowering us, guiding, encouraging, comforting us. He speaks the truth of His Holy Word, assuring us of His proven faithfulness.

So, why do we sometimes hesitate when the Lord leads us to do something we’ve always dreamed of doing or something that requires us to depend on His strength because we know we can’t do anything in our own strength?

When we know God fights our battles and provides our strength, promising to be with us wherever He leads us, why do we sometimes shy away from risking failure or facing fierce opposition?

Because, sadly, our vision is often blurred by our human frailty and we act as if the measure of our faith depends on us.

Fear demands absolute proof of provision and protection. Spirit-empowered faith moves forward on the promised assurance of who God is and what He’s declared to be true‒the Bible.

Yet, in His goodness, the Lord knows we’re feeble. He’s persistently patient with us.

With awe-inspiring kindness, God respects our need to process our emotions and work through the layers of fear, insecurity, and self-sufficiency that prevent us from walking in the power of the Spirit.

Scripture affirms “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon” (Judges 6:34). This “mighty warrior” had all he needed to follow God with bold confidence.

Still, doused in unbelief, Gideon tested God’s honor by questioning His abilities: “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised . . .” (v. 36).

If? Gideon’s two-lettered badge of faithlessness basically implied God was a liar.

The Lord had promised, but Gideon didn’t trust His integrity.

In love, God tolerated Gideon’s self-focused insecurities and his vain attempts to surpass faith with fleece-filled litmus tests (v. 37-40).

While it may be tempting to judge Gideon and criticize his limp faith-muscles, it’s more than likely that we struggle with the same desires for God to give us confirmation before we step out in faith.

Unfortunately, it often feels safer to stand in reluctance, waiting in the pit of disobedience, unwilling to walk in the power we’ve been given through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Why? Because, like Gideon, we settle for a perspective distorted by our own imperfections and limitations.

God has given us all we need to live brave.

As we shift our thoughts to God’s reliability, we can risk rejection and face the possibility of failure.

 By embracing the power of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in all believers who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, we can abolish fruitless fears and carry a shield of faith molded with the surety of God’s inerrant truth and unchanging character.

Mighty King of Kings and loving Father, please help us accept the power You’ve given us to trust You, rely on You, and follow You with fearless faith. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Believing God When It’s Easier to Doubt: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 12Suggested Reading: Judges 6:1-16

In January 2014, I asked God to help me be braver. I longed to follow Him, even when He asked me to try new things, hard things, and, yes, even scary things.

That commitment led me down unexpected, exciting, and excruciating detours and delays on the path God paved and used to challenge me, sculpt me, and deepen my faith.

I had decided to pray for guidance daily and say “yes” whenever the Lord led me to serve. It wasn’t always easy discerning when it was God leading or other people insisting He’d put me on their heart so the task must be my responsibility.

As I continued seeking Him, drawing near to Him, and asking Him to show me “the next step” He wanted me to take, He increased my discernment and blessed me with the strength and courage I needed so that I could obey Him.

I had no idea saying “yes” to God would require me to say “no” to some good things, that following His lead might land me in some incredibly physically and emotionally difficult seasons or seemingly endless waiting periods.

Obedience to God often thrust me into painful in-your-face-moments that revealed how much I needed His life-transforming love to penetrate every aspect of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve discovered one thing I needed to do before I could serve the Lord as He intended.

I needed to believe God.

I needed to believe what He said about who He was, is, and always will be and who I am because of Him.

I needed to believe Him, especially when it felt easier to doubt.

As God helped me know Him, He helped me believe Him, which helped me to trust Him as He slowly, patiently, lovingly stripped away the doubts, fears, and insecurities that kept me from following Him with courage.

Focusing on my limitations, my lack of qualifications, my shortcomings, my uncertainties, and my past failings kept me from living for God.

How could I serve Him and fulfill the purpose of sharing Him with the gifts He’d given me, when my greatest naysayer and biggest adversary discouraged me and mocked me every time I looked in the mirror?

It seems obvious that Gideon fought his inner-critic, too. He seemed to have a hard time believing the LORD would consider him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:11).

But the angel of the LORD got close and personal with Gideon. He came alongside this ordinary steward who was doing ordinary tasks, using the gifts and fulfilling the purposes he’d already been given.

The divine messenger assured Gideon of God’s promise to be with His people. He labeled Gideon with a badge of strength, a role of persevering courage, pointing out the potential God had placed within him (v. 11).

Still, Gideon’s thoughts flipped back to the times when he didn’t get his way, when God didn’t meet his expectations, when his circumstances felt too hard, when life seemed uncomfortable, unfulfilling, and unjust (v. 13).

I don’t blame him. It often feels easier to keep our attention on the difficulty of the task at hand, the unfairness of our journey, the disappointments of our shattered expectations, and the ways we feel God let us down.

When we cast blame on God or others for the tough times in life, we can almost feel justified when we avoid trying, when we reason our way out of obeying, when we convince ourselves we can’t risk trusting the Lord again.

If Gideon’s “But Sir-speech” could prove God untrustworthy, maybe he could still end up looking like a good guy, a reasonable, wise, and safe guy. Or maybe he could just avoid being hurt, scared, disappointed, weary . . . or maybe he could avoid losing.

Who hasn’t wanted God to promise a risk-free road of obedience?

Fortunately, Gideon’s story assures us that the Lord understands our weaknesses.

The LORD turned to Gideon. Talk about an intimate vote of confidence.

“Go in the strength you have . . .” (v. 14)

Gideon didn’t need anything extra to accomplish what the LORD asked him to do, and neither do we.

“Am I not sending you?” (v. 14)

The LORD simply reminded Gideon that he was not alone or without purpose.

When God sends us down the pre-ordained path He planned for us, He remains with us, providing all we need to do all He entrusts to us as we follow Him, rely on Him, and surrender to Him every step of the way.

Yet, like Gideon, we can be tempted to turn our gaze to our limited resources and lack of status, listing the many reasons we aren’t qualified for the job (v. 15).

Of course, we’re not qualified! God doesn’t need us. He wants to use us to spread His truth and love to the ends of the earth, to serve Him by serving others, and to bring glory to His name by simply doing what He asks with what he provides.

We can go wherever God leads, in the strength we have with the gifts we have, because God is the one sending us.

When Gideon obsessed over his lacking, the LORD didn’t flatter him with words of affirmation to help him feel better about himself.

He simply confirmed He would be with Gideon and fight on Gideon’s behalf (v. 16).

God will help us surrender to Him, depend on Him, and trust Him to carry us over and through every obstacle He intends for us to face.

He doesn’t ask us to save the world, change the world, or carry the world on our shoulders.

He simply asks us to listen to Him, to look to Him, and to live for Him as we believe Him, even when it’s easier to doubt.

Lord, thanks for assuring us You’re with us. Please help us to be brave, as we seek You, obey You, and share You with every gift and every opportunity You’ve given us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Is God asking you to try something new, something hard, or something a little bit scary?

How can focusing on His faithfulness, His power, His grace, His goodness, and His constant presence make us brave, even when it’s easier to doubt?

I hope you’ll join me for my new blog series “Living Brave.” I look forward to drawing closer to God, trusting He’ll empower us to try those new things, hard things, and, yes, even those scary things as we serve Him and share Him with courageous faith.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Gina Latta Kelly.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First

MEME - Forgiveness Frees the ForgiverThe first day I had the courage to step into a church, I came prepared for battle. Masking fear with my angry scowl, I shifted in my seat, picked my cuticles, and hoped no one would notice the too-huge-to-hide scars of my sinfulness.

As I heard the Gospel preached, the Lord patiently peeled back layers of my self-imposed guilt and shame. He knew my tender heart desperately needed His grace.

Still, I struggled. How could Christ, in all His perfection, forgive me for all the bad things I’d done, for all the times I’d rejected Him, for all the ways I’d hurt Him and others?

With loving gentleness, the Lord drew me deeper into His story.

The Father painted a perfect picture of mercy . . . Christ’s arms stretched wide, heart overflowing with undying and unconditional love for the very ones who hated Him.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

At first, I viewed God’s lovingkindness as a reason for me to hang my head in disgrace and stamp my passport with endless guilt trips.

I had no idea how to process or accept the completeness of God’s forgiveness possible through His grace.

I longed to feel forgiven.

But as I continued to focus on myself, I tightened the chains that bound me to guilt, shame, and feelings of unworthiness.

How could I forgive others when I hadn’t truly received God’s offer of forgiveness?

The Lord extended undeserved mercy, but I insisted on the self-imposed penance which hindered me from intimacy with Christ and others.

It wasn’t until I gazed closely at the cross that I began to realize that me being undeserving was the reason Christ offered forgiveness as a gift.

I didn’t have to, and couldn’t possibly, deserve it, earn it, buy it, or work it off with good deeds.

After I rejoiced and eventually received His priceless treasure of salvation, I understood why I couldn’t hold others under condemnation.

If I didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness, how could I demand others to deserve my forgiveness?

If I didn’t earn God’s grace, how could I insist others earn my grace?

If God didn’t force me to pay off my debt of sin with good works, how could I expect others to keep trying to make up for hurting me or others?

If God didn’t condemn me, why did I think I needed to live under the weight of guilt and shame after I’d repented, turned away from my sin, confessed and received His forgiveness?

King David racked up a list of sins when his idleness thrust him into a downward spiral into a pit of sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4). Soon, the consequences of his sin couldn’t possibly be hidden (v. 5).

Instead of repenting, he dug a deeper ditch of deception that led to the murder of Bathsheba’s husband and the death of their son, who was conceived through their adultery (2 Samuel 11:6 to 12:19).

Though David begged God for mercy, he couldn’t choose the consequences of his sin, limit the reach of those consequences, or prevent more innocent people from suffering.

Yet, he didn’t blame God, either.

David couldn’t change the past or fix what he’d destroyed, but he could repent and worship the Lord he trusted.

The king did his best to comfort his grieving wife, refusing to nullify the power and extent of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness by clinging to guilt and shame (vv. 20-25).

David and Bathsheba accepted God’s forgiveness and forgave themselves, as well as one another (vv. 24-25).

“Forgiveness is worthless to us emotionally if we can’t forgive ourselves.” (Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall, p. 52)

Once we’ve received God’s forgiveness personally, accepting the completeness of His gift, the Holy Spirit can empower us to live in peace and freedom from guilt and shame.

Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

If we forgive as we’ve been forgiven, we won’t feel the need to shame our offenders or demand they feel guilty.

Radical forgiveness requires us to release our desire for punishment, which Kendall refers to as evidence of our own fear (p. 52).

But when we’re prone to making others feel bad when they’ve failed or hurt us, it may be a sign that we’re living in a cage of self-imposed condemnation.

Once we’ve repented and embraced the freedom of God’s forgiveness, we can experience the elation of being guiltless and loved by Christ, the hope of being saved and renewed by grace. We can begin to see our smallness in light of God’s majesty.

Repentance is an expression of gratitude and love for God and all He is and always will be.

If the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe loves and forgives us, who are we to hold ourselves or others under the wrath of guilt and shame?

Lord, thank You for the gift of forgiveness and grace that You offer freely and generously. Thanks for empowering us to repent and receive Your forgiveness, and in turn forgive others. Help us trust You to remain good, just, merciful, and loving to all. May You be glorified and Your power magnified, as You help us truly receive Your grace and extend grace to others as an expression of gratefulness and love for You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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