Tag Archives: Ephesians

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.

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.

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.

Relationship Repair

15 Jun

The question is not if a relationship will need repair, but when will a relationship need repair. Only superficial acquaintances avoid conflict. We can stick to subjects such as food or fashion, golf or fishing, and never have a cross word. However, if we want to go deeper than the weather, we’ll eventually find points of conflict.

We grow up with rules, spoken and spoken, in our family of origin. There are certain topics we don’t discuss, certain emotions we don’t express, and secrets we don’t acknowledge. We may think, “If you love me, you’ll never make me feel guilty. That was my father’s favorite weapon.” Then when a mate or friend has a legitimate complaint about the relationship, we feel betrayed, unloved, and angry.

The same is true of unspoken expectations. Many couples have told me, “If he/she loved me, he/she would know what I need. If I have to ask, it seems forced and artificial. What’s the point?” Asking for what we need is an important skill anyone can learn.

A healthy relationship is based on love, trust, and growth. It will offer honesty, compassion, forgiveness, respect, and mutual responsibility for maintaining the relationship. If one person walks on eggshells and the other feels free to explode in anger, the relationship may not survive.

How then can we quickly repair relationships? Repair depends on the level of offense or pain. The “secret” is our attitude. First, we can simply overlook some things, realizing fatigue, stress, or even low blood sugar can make us grouchy. Maybe it’s not that important. Love and let it go.

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 quoting Prov. 10:12 NKJV).

Second, the issue or offense is irritating and important but not deeply meaningful. However, it could become a more serious problem if we don’t address it. It’s time for a simple to understand, but difficult to practice skill: The I Message. I’ve taught elementary students to use this simple, formula to express needs.

I FEEL (Use specific words to describe emotions: angry, confused, disappointed, attacked).
WHEN (Describe the upsetting behavior without character assassination or blame).
I NEED (a response from you, help with, a different tone of voice, eye contact. Be specific), please.

In a usually positive relationship, intimacy increases when we’re able to express our needs and feel heard and respected. Once again, attitude is key.
“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15NIV).

A third category is serious, painful, and threatens the relationship if ignored. It may be a flaw in the other person or touch a deeply held belief or fear resulting from a previous relationship or family of origin. This response is best thought out and, if possible, prepared in advance. Examine the source of such a powerful response and be ready to explain it. Then without blame, express your feelings, what the issue represents, and ask for compassion and understanding. The greatest success comes when both parties accept responsibility for their part and value the relationship.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4 NASB95).

With God’s help, we can repair relationships quickly.

Please share comments, questions, and/or how these tips worked for you. You can encourage and bless others with your response.

New Mind, New Me

25 May

I’ve kept a journal for many years. I sometimes read a page and ask myself, “Did I write that? Wow. That’s good stuff. God was really speaking to me that day.” But more often than I care to admit, I found repeated confessions for the same mistakes, and the same longing to be like Christ. In earlier journals, such longing resulted in new resolve and determined effort to “live the Christian life.” Yet I predictably reverted to my previous behavior.

Two verses helped me understand why resolving to change usually ends in failure.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. . .” (Matthew 15:19 NASB).
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 NASB).

Simply put, we can’t experience true transformation by just trying harder. In order to change our behavior, we must first ask God to change our heart. (See post It’s Time for Some Good News, May 18, 2013). I refer to the biblical view of heart—our spirit and our will. The heart is the center of our being, the part of us that’s under our control. God first loves us, forgives us, and gives us new life. Then we must do our part. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. God’s Spirit offers love, life, and power. We decide what to believe, think, and obey.

On the most basic level, that requires belief in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. When we trust Christ to forgive our sins and give us new life, we receive the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live like Christ. From that moment, we become collaborators with the Spirit, working together to mold us into Christ’s true disciple. In deciding what to believe, it’s our responsibility to learn God’s perspective on any situation.

Let’s take Ephesians 4:31–32 as an example. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV).

Trying to get rid of anger by dogged determination results in short term success at best and failure at worst. Yet Scripture holds that out as the Christian way of life. What then is our strategy? First, we desire change and believe it’s possible. Next, we choose to renew our mind (Romans 12:2) and cooperate with God’s indwelling Spirit. That means finding ways to place ourselves in God’s presence and allow Him to change us. That involves prayer, asking God to reveal what’s inside us that produces anger. Must I be in control or be appreciated? Do I allow others to take advantage of me? Do I need help with an abusive situation? Am I simply exhausted and need sleep? Perhaps, I need more alone time with God or Bible study.

The Holy Spirit answers our questions through Scripture, wise Christian counsel, His still small voice within, and common sense. Then we choose to obey or disobey. Obedience leads to growth and intimacy with Christ; disobedience leads to distance and spiritual immaturity. We repeat this cycle repeatedly in many different situations. Over time, we’re transformed into the likeness of Christ. Our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions flow naturally from His Spirit. At that point, we become unaware of Christ speaking or behaving through us, because such attitudes and actions come from our identity in Him.

I love how 2 Corinthians 5:17 in the New King James Bible describes this radical change.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

A new mind, a new me—-His gracious gift offered to every believer.