Little by Little

15 Nov

Are you yearning for the future, eager for a dream to become reality? Perhaps you’re single and longing for a soul mate. Do you have a great idea for a new business, but can’t seem to scrape together enough money or investors to make it happen? Would you like to change careers but can’t afford the schooling required? What aspiration have you discarded as hopeless?

When my ex-husband left, I taught at a Christian school that paid poverty level salaries. I changed to public school to feed my kids, but the great desire of my heart was to become a psychotherapist. I wanted to help others as my counselor helped me. However, there was no master’s level course in counseling at the local university. I couldn’t imagine moving my hurt and confused children away from family and friends, so I gave up my dream. Disappointment piled on top of an already full load of grief and rejection.

Eleven years later, I took my first class toward getting my degree and becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. It was easy to spot fellow students who needed to work on their own stuff before they considered tackling other people’s problems. I saw myself in them as I had been eleven years earlier, with many issues to work through and much growing to do. I simply hadn’t been ready when God first planted that dream in my heart. God’s route for me was much like God’s message to Israel concerning the Promised Land.

“I will not drive [your enemies] out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land” (Exodus 23:29–30 ESV).

God know our capabilities, our baggage, and future obstacles. His timing is flawless and we can trust Him with our dreams and disappointments. Little by little, He prepares us to possess His best, but most of us aren’t crazy about “little by little.” We think we can handle our big dream now. That’s why I want to explore the context of an especially popular and encouraging verse—Jeremiah 29:11.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (NRSV).

I base my life on God’s goodness and the hope He offers in Jesus Christ. I’m absolutely sure God’s plans for our lives are best and we should cooperate and collaborate with the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish the good works He has for us (Ephesians 2:10). However, just like Israel, our choices affect our future.

Israel’s tribe of Judah wound up in Babylonian captivity because they chose to serve other gods and disobey the LORD . False prophets announced God would send Judah’s captives home within two years. Yet God’s unpopular prophet Jeremiah tells exiles to make a good life in their current situation (Jeremiah 29:5-7). Then he continues with God’s promise for their future.

“For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10–14 NRSV).

Perhaps you’ll realize your dream tomorrow, perhaps not. Perhaps first God will grow you, strengthen you, and prepare you. In the meantime, call upon Him. Seek Him with all your heart, not just for what He can do for you, but for who He is. Christ Himself is our hope and our future.

If you have a story of postponed dreams, please share. We’d love to hear from you.

Can I Get By with This?

8 Nov

Confession time: I customarily drive about three miles over the speed limit. I had a highway patrolman friend tell me they usually let drivers get by with driving 3-4 miles over the limit. Then our state raised the speed limit to 75. Cars traveling at least 85 mph often pass me and they usually get by with it.

Have we become a people who merely try to get by? Can I be one or two minutes late without upsetting my boss? If three minutes goes unnoticed, why not ten minutes late? If a subcontractor makes a mistake, does he correct it or leave it, knowing that “it will cover?” There are many opportunities for getting by—mop the center of a floor and skip the corners, inflate billable hours, scarcely study for a test, text instead of supervise the kids you babysit, and more.

Let Scripture guide our work ethic. “ Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24 NRSV). When we think we’re getting by, we’re really cheating ourselves of the reward God has planned for us.

But there’s a flip side to getting by—we’re not giving God His due. The quality of our work reflects on Christ. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NRSV). It’s crazy to think that my service could bring glory to God, but that’s what it says.

We have only One employer, One audience, One supervisor. It’s unrealistic to believe we can do all things well, much less, that we can do anything we set our minds to. However, whatever we find to do, we must do it for our Lord, Jesus Christ. We do our best because He is the best.

Not everyone will understand, appreciate, or even approve our attitudes and actions. Sometimes we’ll be blamed and criticized unfairly. That has to be secondary to pleasing God. “Live such good lives among [unbelievers] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV).

Christ followers aren’t to do just enough to get by. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:40–41 NIV). I haven’t always lived up to this standard, but it remains my goal and gets easier as I age. I don’t want to get by; I want to make a difference. How about you?

“Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11 NRSV).

Overcoming Darkness

1 Nov

I’ll never forget our family trip to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. Deep within the earth, I beheld unimaginable formations that sent my young imagination into overdrive. At one point, the guides turned off every light and the darkness became overwhelming. I held my hand close to my eyes, yet couldn’t see it even as I touched my nose. Although Papa seemed invisible, I felt his presence and his nearness kept me from being afraid.

Were you ever in a place so dark that you despaired of ever finding your way? My darkest places have been pits of despair or fear-filled emotional caverns. Hopelessness is such a liar. It envelops you and whispers there is no escape, no cure, no solution. Don’t believe it. Even though Father is invisible, He’s with you. You don’t have to remain lost, because God is literally the light at the end of your tunnel.

It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness (Psalm 18:28 NRSV).

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17 NASB95).

Please don’t trust unreliable emotions; instead, depend on Scripture. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 NRSV). God’s word will guide you one step at a time. What does that mean in a practical sense? It requires taking charge of your thoughts, which control your emotions. Quit repeating the same hopeless messages. Replace error with truth. Try writing some of the following verses on note cards and post them as visible reminders of God’s character and promises.

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. Psalm 18:30 NIV

The Lord your God is with you; his power gives you victory. The Lord will take delight in you, and in his love he will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you, (Zephaniah 3:17 GNB).

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you (James 1:5 NRSV).

May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy and peace through your faith in him. Then you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 GW).

God never promised a comfortable life, free from trials or suffering. In fact, Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NASB95).  That’s why we are to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12 NRSV).

I’ve experienced my share of heartache, setbacks, and challenges since God pulled me out of my darkest pit and filled me with hope. In spite of those dark places, Jesus remains my peace (Ephesians 2:14), my joy (John 17:13), and my light. I pray you’ll accept the light He offers.

In [Jesus Christ] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4–5 NIV).

How Many Chances?

25 Oct

Do you ever get tired of yourself? A friend recently said, “I get so tired of me.” This person had misplaced something—yet again. Sometimes our bodies disappoint us by not performing as they once did. Maybe we’re sick of an endless cycle of busyness that prevents us from intimacy with God. We may feel defeated by a disagreeable habit. Perhaps we exercised or ate healthy for a time but gradually fell back into our old identity as a snacking-couch-potato. We intend to spend more quality time with family and friends, but good intentions dissolve into procrastination.

At such times, we’re tempted to give up and convince ourselves it doesn’t matter. Jumping off the merry-go-round seems to take more effort or self-discipline than we possess. That’s where I was not long ago.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23 NRSV). Every day is a new day with God—for us and for others.

Peter came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, how often do I have to forgive a believer who wrongs me? Seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21–22 GW). That’s the standard for second chances for others as well as for us.

Rabbis traditionally taught an offended person should forgive three times. Peter, no doubt thought he was generous in proposing seven chances. Not even close. Jesus declares 490+ do-overs. We’re to offer the same limitless forgiveness God offers us. The situation isn’t hopeless even when we offend God by not loving and serving His people, not taking care of His temple (our bodies), or wasting the time He gives. It’s never too late too late for a fresh start.

Receiving another chance doesn’t mean we won’t experiences consequences of past behavior. We lose things, forfeit precious time with God, put on weight, and damage relationships. We may need to ask for help or seek an accountability partner, but a new start is possible.

The solution remains the same—renew our minds and be transformed. Believe the truth. Without realizing it, when we feel hopeless, we believe a lie about who God is and how much He loves us (John 3:16). We also believe a lie about ourselves. We forget Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (NKJV). I can’t claim this verse and begin performing brain surgery. However, I can accomplish all God uniquely planned for me (Ephesians 2:10).

I find both peace and excitement living in the center of God’s will. I experience anxiety, stress, and frustration doing life on my own. I need the Spirit of Christ to forgive and empower me. I’m so grateful for second chances.

O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. (Psalm 86:5 NLT).

Sharing Our Lives

24 Oct

I’ve recognized a common denominator between two retreats I’ve recently attended—WTAMU Wesley women Encounter and Women of Worship. I spoke at the first and attended the second. Both were highly successful because the women involved were able to share their lives with honesty and love. It reminds me of the letter Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.

“So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NKJV).

When we genuinely care about people, we’re willing to risk ourselves for their sake. The level of care and vulnerability in leadership made it possible for attendees to open themselves up for healing and spiritual transformation.

As Christians, we often put on masks. We think if people see our weaknesses, they will not only reject us, but will also reject the God whom we love. The opposite is actually true. When we pretend to have all the answers and to live perfect lives, God calls us liars (1 John 1:10) and others label us hypocrites.

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:15–16 NLT).

I heard women of all ages and stations in life tell how God redeemed them from sin, suicide, self-righteousness, abuse, and much more. In turn, others were willing to admit their needs and seek help. More importantly, they recognized God as merciful, eager to love and redeem. God lifts us from the ruble of pain and rejection until we recognize ourselves as new creations in Christ—each one His masterpiece. (See Miraculous New Creations.) Some of the women had to move beyond the pain they caused their families and begin to live joyfully forgiven. (See Forgiving Myself.) God prepares us to encourage others by first helping us in our time of trouble.

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NLT).

The entire Bible narrates a story of love and redemption. It doesn’t cover-up sin or portray God’s people as perfect—rather as forgiven and transformed. We can identify with the characters of the Bible because they’re real. We too need to be authentic and share the reality of God’s redemptive work in our lives. The resulting joy and power is overwhelming. I’m still praising God for the WT Wesley women and Women of Worship. Thank you for sharing your love, your lives, and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Retreat

11 Oct

I’m off to a weekend retreat with Women of Worship. I spoke to this great group of gals about three years ago and my daughter Regina and I have been attending since then. I’m looking forward to spending time with Regina, renewing friendships, and hearing from the Lord. I will be back to my regular blog posts next week.

I hope you are in a position to spend quality time with God and with loved ones.

Blessings,

Nancy

Miraculous New Creations

5 Oct

Last post I shared a link to the story about how God “miraculously healed” my camera. This past Saturday I witnessed how God continues to heal minds and spirits. I had the privilege of speaking to group of over 90 amazing young women at the West Texas A&M University Wesley Foundation retreat. The retreat theme was You Are God’s Masterpiece.

So many young women and men feel inadequate—never quite able to measure up to the expectations of their parents, teachers, coaches, or peers. Many experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Anxiety, depression, cutting, and eating disorders often result from such experiences.

God’s word has good news. We don’t have to accept the world’s performance based expectations and evaluations.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2 NKJV).

We renew our minds by changing the Source of our value. Consider the first Bible verse. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” After each day’s creation, “God saw that it was good.” The earth’s grandeur set a tremendous standard of beauty and functionality. But God topped that when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over [the earth and its creatures]” (Genesis 1:26 NASB95). After God created man and woman, He “saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a NASB95). Six goods and one “very good!” God regards people as His best work, His masterpiece.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

Sometimes trauma keeps us from seeing ourselves as God’s masterpiece, but there are many other ways we receive the message we’re inadequate. It can be a series of circumstances across the years. I remember the skinny 4th grade girl who asked my chubby self, “Why do you always wear the same dress?” I didn’t tell her about riding the bus downtown with a friend and choosing the fabric and pattern. I felt so “mature” as I shopped and so beautiful when Mom finished it. With one sentence and a roll of her eyes, I allowed her to make me feel poor and unattractive.

Everyone wants to feel accepted and valued which sometimes leads to destructive choices and the inability to stand up for our beliefs and our personal value. No matter what our past, no matter the false narratives we’ve believed about ourselves, God provides a fresh start. We can be pure and beautiful, strong and powerful, and greatly loved when we trust Jesus Christ to change us.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

Would you encourage others by sharing how you’ve made a new start? We’d love to hear from you.

Such a Little Thing

21 Sep

The little boy, so eager for independence, struggled to open his present. Finally, in desperation, he handed it to his patiently waiting dad. “Will you open this for me—please?” His father, gladly and effortlessly helped his son.

So often, I do the same thing. Anxiety overcomes me as I resolutely try to deal with a problem beyond my capabilities. At last, after all my efforts fail, I hand the matter over to God. He gently reminds me, “This is such a very little thing for Me. Why did you lose precious time in worry?” I have no good answer. Do you?

Perhaps, we lose our focus or forget God’s character. Do we forget He can add to our lifespan, calm a storm, and raise the dead? Nothing is impossible with God.

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?” (Luke 12:25–26 NASB).

I love the “very little thing” part of that verse. I learned that truth long ago, and yet I sometimes revert to handling life on my own.

Let’s consider a few examples of God’s limitless power.

Adonai, God! You made heaven and earth by your great power and outstretched arm; nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:17 CJB*).

Do you need some creativity or power? God’s available.

“I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:24–26 NLT).

Do you feel you’re somehow the exception, that God’s grace and mercy doesn’t extend to you? Think again.

Sarah in the Old Testament (Genesis 17:1-22; 18:1-15; 21:1-8) and Elizabeth in the New Testament (Luke 5:1-25) both became pregnant although they were past childbearing age. And most remarkable of all, the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38). As the angel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

What miracle do you need today?  My “Such a Little Thing” story can be found here.

All our problems are such little things to God. Yet I seem to need frequent reminders. Perhaps you need that same reminder. What problem will you allow God to tear open today? Would you share with readers how God handled such a little thing?

 

*Complete Jewish Bible

Forgiving Myself

14 Sep

“You must forgive yourself.” I’ve heard those words more than once. Maybe you have too.

I really enjoy the Patrick Bowers thrillers by Steven James. In his fifth book, The Queen, Bowers’ stepdaughter struggles with guilt. Her psychiatrist tells her, “You have to learn to forgive yourself.” Tessa threatens to break his glass coffee table, and then makes a profound statement. “Look, if I break this thing, you can forgive the debt I owe you if you want, or you can make me pay for it, but how can I forgive myself for the debt that I owe you?”

 Until I read that novel, I assumed I should/could forgive myself. However, I’ve come to understand that I have no power to cancel a debt I owe to another, nor can I pardon or excuse my wrong behavior. However, I can pursue forgiveness. I can humbly apologize, ask forgiveness, and where possible, make restitution. But there’s more.

David’s story reminds me of the heart of any offense. You remember David the teenage shepherd who slew Goliath. He grew up to be a mighty warrior king who surrendered to adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11, 12). Finally repentant and broken, David composed Psalm 51.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment” (Psalm 51:1–4 NRSV).

Although we hurt others, we sin against God. Yet we have God’s merciful promise, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV).

So why can’t we get past it? Perhaps it happened long ago, but the shame, guilt, and humiliation remains a festering wound of unworthiness. How can I forgive myself?

I find only one answer:  I can’t. I have no power to forgive myself. Instead, I need to accept the forgiveness that God offers in Jesus Christ. God forgave David, therefore, He can also forgive me and “restore to me the joy of [His] salvation (Psalm 51:12a).

“ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV). If I believe it, I will joyfully live it.

I close with wisdom from Andrée Seu, who wrote the following blogMonday, October 5th, 2009 | 7:47 AM

An Insomniac’s Psalm 103: Verse 11 “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.”

The Christians I admire most—and I know precious few of them—are those whom I can see are so confident of God’s undeserved love that they are not constantly revisiting their sin or crime, but they have moved on with their lives and have peace and joy. Oh, if the matter of their past comes up, they will not deny it, and will be the first to call it evil. But you will not suck them into a morbid dwelling on it.

I pray we will live courageously “confident of God’s undeserved love.”

The I’s Have It

7 Sep

Most conflict isn’t of the relationship-ending sort. It’s more often about who cooks and who washes the dishes. However, even small-unresolved conflict causes stress and wears on relationships.

I once taught peer mediation to 4th-8th graders. Even kindergarteners were able to settle disputes with the help of a mediator. I realized anyone could learn simple mediation skills. These skills pertain to parent/child, siblings, roommates, business associates, spouses, and more.

That was huge for me. As a people pleaser, I hated conflict. My heart and prayer is that we become problem solvers even without a mediator. Here are some tips.

An “I Message” can be a handy communication tool during conflict. It allows us to acknowledge our responsibility, emotions, and needs without blaming. It contains three simple parts.

I feel ______, because (when you) ______. I want (need you to) ______.

The goal isn’t to spew out pent up frustration. Instead, let’s problem solve. Give yourself time to think. “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (Proverbs 15:28 NIV). The prodigal son rehearsed exactly what he would say to his father (Luke 15). Let’s plan and practice.

Suppose roommates (Cici and Didi) disagree over cleaning. If Cici says, “You make me furious because you won’t carry your load,” she’s inviting defensiveness. Instead, Cici might say, “It seems unfair that I work fulltime and still have to do most of the cleaning. I want to divide the chores evenly.” Notice Cici covered the three parts of an I Message, but didn’t use the exact words.

Proverbs 12:15 Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others (NLT).

Didi, in a perfect world and after practice, resists the urge to explain and summarizes, “You feel I’m not doing my fair share of chores and you want to divide them differently.” Notice it’s a paraphrase as she absorbs Cici’s meaning. (See last week’s post.) Since Didi got it, it’s her turn. “Sure, I only work part time, but I’ve got school and studying. If I do more chores, my grades will drop.”

After both feel understood, it’s time to brainstorm for solutions. Write down each proposed solution without judgment. Cici might say, “You can pay me $15 an hour to do your part of the cleaning.” Incorrectly done, Didi might say, “Are you crazy? Where do you think I’m going to come up with $15 an hour?” More helpful—she’d offer another solution. “We can divide chores according to my class schedule.”

Cross off all ideas except solutions both consider workable. Discuss possible implications and consequences for each. Select the best alternative and agree on a timed trial. Each person writes how she’ll keep her part of the agreement. It might look like this.

“We agree to meet Sunday afternoon and make a list of chores and times we’ll do them. Cici promises not to nag, remind, or complain about chores. Didi promises to complete her jobs on time. We will meet again in one week to determine our success.”

(Signed) Cici             Didi

In a week, chores or times may need tweaking. If that solution doesn’t work, choose another and try again.

“Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble. Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8–9 NET).