Giving Thanks, Even in the Hard Times

give thanks2014Today is Thanksgiving Day, a day we slow down to give thanks. Yet, I was reminded this morning that I should be giving thanks every day of the year, not just on Thanksgiving. And I try to. I have a Thank You journal by my chair to write down what I’m thankful for each day.

It’s easy to thank God when things are going great, when my football team wins, when He answers my prayers the way I wanted, when He surprises me with sweet blessings I wasn’t expecting.

But it’s not so easy to give thanks in the middle of a difficult situation when life is overwhelming – caring for an aging parent or sick family member, dealing with a diagnosis you never wanted to hear, financial struggles, marital heartache, a wayward child, death of a loved one much too soon. And yet, God doesn’t tell us to only give thanks when we are happy with what He’s doing. We are to give thanks in all things at all times, not just one day of the year.

Today, I will spend Thanksgiving at the nursing home with my 98-year-old mom who may or may not know I’m there. Can I give thanks in this situation? Yes. Is it easy? No, but I can still give thanks, knowing that God is in control and He has a purpose in all He does.

Take some time today to reflect on these questions:

What blessings am I thankful for? What brings a smile to my face when I say “thank you”?

What hardships or difficulties can I say “thank you” for, even though I may be saying it through tears?

Who is someone you are thankful for today? Let them know.

From Chuck Swindoll: “Thanksgiving is a time of quiet reflection. . . an annual reminder that God has, again, been ever so faithful. The solid and simple things of life are brought into clear focus.”

Spend some time this Thanksgiving week in quiet reflection. What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for you.

Lessons from a Purse

A Full PurseLast night I watched a good friend empty her purse trying to find her USB flash drive, and I was amazed at how much she pulled out of that purse before she found it. I know all of us women have found ourselves in this same situation at one time or another. As I stood there watching, I thought about some spiritual lessons I could learn from this.

1. Just as I need to periodically clean out my purse and throw away the junk that is of no use, I need to consistently keep my heart clean. I shouldn’t wait to confess until things get so messed up that I realize I need to do something. Confession should be something I do throughout the day as sin creeps in. Storing up my sins till they overwhelm me is only going to lead to a bigger mess.

2. When I have too much clutter in my life, everything is disorderly, and I lose track of the important things. I need to de-clutter on a regular basis, and ask God to show me what’s important and priority. The other things can be put aside.

3. I need to be more intentional about what I allow into my life. My purse sometimes becomes a dumping ground for anything and everything that I don’t know what to do with. I get a receipt and I shove it down in my purse. Why don’t I just throw it away when I get it? I wouldn’t have to declutter and confess if I took care of things as they come up, instead of stuffing them for later.

4. A full purse weighs me down with unnecessary weight that I shouldn’t be carrying around. In the same way, I tend to carry burdens with me that God never intended for me to carry. But I don’t leave them with Him. Instead, I lug them around with me, and they wear me out.

Do you think I have enough pens in my purse?

Do you think I have enough pens in my purse?

5. As I watched my friend empty out her purse last night, I also watched her stuff everything back in after she found what she was looking for. It would have been a good time for cleaning out things that she didn’t need; thus, lightening her load. In the same way, I often tell God what is bothering me and weighing me down, but I don’t leave those things with Him. I pick them back up as I go out the door to work.

I’m sure there are plenty other spiritual lessons from this, but enough from me. What lessons for life can you learn from your purse? I’d love to hear from you.

Afraid to Disciple?

Woman in Fear How would you respond if someone asked you to disciple her? Would you be excited and shout, “YES!” or would it strike fear in your heart? What would I do with her? Where would I begin? I don’t even know what that means.

One of the questions I am often asked as the Women’s Ministry director at my church is, “Can you show me what to do with someone who wants me to disciple her?” I find that many want to disciple others, but they don’t feel confident in doing so. Perhaps you are feeling that way. You don’t know how to begin or what to do, or you are concerned that you may be asked a question that you won’t know how to answer.

It’s normal to have some apprehension and fears in discipling others. I understand the fears because I have had them myself. As a result, I put together a three-part study called Building Your Spiritual Toolbox for our Women’s Bible Study and for anyone who wants to learn how to disciple someone and to gain confidence in doing so. Building Your Spiritual Toolbox will give you the tools to disciple others and walk you through how to use these tools. Some of these tools are available on the Free Resources page. The entire Building Your Spiritual Toolbox (3 volumes) is available on my Bible Studies page.

Some of these tools may be review for you; others may be something new. Hopefully, they will spur you on as you move forward in your own spiritual journey and give you confidence to help someone grow deeper in her walk with the Lord.

I’m so thankful for the women who have discipled me and helped me grow in my walk with God. I want to do the same for others.

What do you think holds people back from discipling others?

Community Busters


What does healthy biblical community look like and are we experiencing it?

I’ve been pondering these questions as I am preparing to speak on the topic of community at a women’s retreat this weekend. God designed us for community, not to live in isolation from one another. But do we experience community in the way God wants us to?


Several years ago, Dr. Sue Edwards spoke on community at our women’s retreat and shared with us eight roadblocks to building community. Are any of these roadblocks a community buster for you?

  1. AngerI’m ticked off. I don’t want to be around people.
  2. HurtI’ve been hurt. I don’t want to be around people and let my guard down because they may hurt me again.
  3. ExhaustionI’m worn out. I don’t have the energy to spend with people. I need to rest.
  4. “Workaholism”I like being busy and working hard. I don’t have time for people because my work consumes my life.
  5.  LazinessI’d rather stay home and watch TV or sleep or get on the computer.
  6. FearI’m afraid if people get to know me, they won’t like me or accept me once they see what I’m really like. It’s just better to keep my guard up and not open up to anyone.
  7. SelfishnessI’m protective of my time and desires. I need to meet my needs before I look at anyone else’s.
  8. Comparison, envy, jealousyShe’s prettier than I am. I’m not as bad as she is. I want what she has.

To be honest, I struggle with some of these roadblocks. But I know I need Christian community. So what is the solution to overcoming these community busters?

I think Nancy Leigh DeMoss summed it up well in her devotional book, The Quiet Place. She wrote in her entry for November 2:

“Brokenness is God’s prescription for nearly every condition that ails human hearts and lives, because pride in one form or another is almost always at the root of our most difficult issues – fear, sinful bondages, fragmented relationships, communication barriers, generation gaps, unresolved conflicts, guilt, shame, self-absorption, addictions, hypocrisy, even insecurities, and excessive shyness… You may be hiding behind their high, thick walls, not wanting to relinquish control or admit weakness. But every one of those walls can crumble through genuine brokenness and humility.”

The solution is genuine brokenness and humility. We have to acknowledge and deal with pride and self-sufficiency in our lives. And as we humble ourselves and allow ourselves to be broken, it opens the door for authentic community to take place. I want authentic community, but I have to be willing to overcome these community busters.

What would you add to the list of roadblocks to building community?


Why, God?

whyWe’ve probably all asked God “why” questions. Questions like: God, why did you take my baby? Why did this tragic accident happen to such good people? Why do you let people die in the prime of their lives? Why do you let this person will no quality of life linger on? Why did my loved one get diagnosed with this disease? God, why?

I have asked my share of “why” questions, even as recently as this week. And I have to admit, it is hard to understand why God does things the way He does sometimes. How should we respond when we find ourselves asking, why, God?

There’s no easy answer that completely satisfies the pain and hurt in the middle of a difficult situation. But when I begin asking God why, I keep coming back to the truth that He is sovereign. He knows what He’s doing and why. I need to rest in His sovereignty and stop demanding to know why.

One of my seminary professors, Dr. Stephen Bramer, shared with us that one day  he is going to write a sermon on what he thinks will be the most spoken word in heaven. No, it won’t be “holy,” or “hallelujah” or “how beautiful.” He thinks the most spoken word in heaven will be “Ohhhhhhh….” “Ohhhhhhhh…. now I understand.” When we get to ask God face to face, why, and He shows us why, we’ll understand.

A good book I recommend that has helped me as I have asked the “why” questions is Why Me? And Why That’s the Wrong Question by Jim Davis.

God has also used a number of Scripture passages to help me walk through these difficult times of asking God why. One that I continually go to is Psalm 27:13-14: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” One day we’ll understand why.

What passages has God used to encourage you when you’ve asked, Why, God?


Sins That Will Tear a Ministry Apart

conflict4.jpgThere is no perfect church or ministry. We all struggle with sin, and if those sins are left unchecked and not dealt with, they can destroy a ministry or render it ineffective. Galatians 5:19-21 lays out for us some of these destructive sins.

Sexual sins – Sins concerning our bodies. These would include the sins of immorality, impurity, sensuality. No one is exempt from these. I have known pastors and ministry leaders who have fallen to the temptation of sexual sins, including adultery.

How do we protect ourselves from these sins?

  • By not putting ourselves in situations where we’re vulnerable
  • By having a friend who will hold us accountable

Idolatry – Worshiping false gods. Idolatry is worshiping someone or something that we have put in God’s rightful place. Idolatry goes far beyond worshiping wooden or stone idols. Today, we make idols out of people, money, materialism, status, control, even ourselves.

How do we protect ourselves from idolatry?

  • By keeping our focus on the Lord and looking to Him to meet our needs, not someone or something else

How would you recognize if you have an idol in your life? A good question to ask is: how would you respond if that person or thing is removed from your life? If it would completely devastate you, then it may have become an idol.

Relational sins – Sins we have toward other people. Paul mentions several in these verses: enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, and envy. We’ve all been guilty of at least one of these sins. We get jealous of someone because we feel they’re getting something we deserve and want. We become envious because we don’t have what they have, and it begins to consume us. We have disagreements with others, and those disputes and dissensions can tear down the body of Christ. We think we’re right and they’re wrong. We want our way and aren’t willing to listen to the other perspective.

How do we protect ourselves from the relational sins?

  • By remembering it’s not about us. It’s about Him – trusting Him, loving Him, glorifying Him.

How do we protect ourselves from these destructive sins and all other sins?

Paul gives the answer in Galatians 5:25: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” We protect ourselves from sin by walking in the Spirit and surrendering to the control of the Holy Spirit. We protect ourselves by not seeking our own way to please ourselves, but seeking to please God.

Be on guard against these destructive sins. Don’t be the one who tears a ministry or church apart.

A Wrong Focus

“My eyes are continually toward the Lord.”- Psalm 25:15

I want to introduce you to four women who have lost their focus and taken their eyes off the Lord. I was first “introduced” to these ladies by Mary Graham when I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ.

1. Polly Pious Polly Pious 2

Polly has a lot of strengths and is incredibly gifted, but Polly has taken her focus off the Lord and placed her eyes on herself, her gifts, and her strengths. She has come to believe that life is all about her and she wants to build a little kingdom around herself. Polly thrives on recognition from others. She wants to use her gifts, but for the wrong reasons – she wants to draw attention to herself, not the Lord. Polly no longer has a teachable spirit.

A lesson we can learn from Polly’s life: If I look at the gift apart from the Giver, I’ll get proud. Polly struggles with pride.

Focus on the Giver, not the gift.

2. Despairing Dora Despairing Dora

Dora is focused on her sin, past and present. She doesn’t believe that God could ever use her or that anyone could ever love her in light of her sinfulness. She can’t seem to accept that she’s forgiven and so she lives with a heavy burden of guilt. She is afraid to let anyone know the real Dora because, if they did, they would never accept her. She doesn’t accept herself.

A lesson we can learn from Dora’s life: If I look at the sin apart from the Savior, I’ll get depressed and discouraged. Dora struggles with discouragement. God doesn’t show us sin to discourage us. He shows us sin so we will deal with it, confess it, and move on.

Focus on the Savior, not the sin.

3. Cathy Christian Cathy Christian

Cathy is the model Christian – outwardly. She is busy serving the Lord in every way possible. But Cathy believes her spiritual growth and significance are directly related to how busy she is for the Lord and how much she is doing for Him. The more she can check off her to-do list, the more spiritual she feels. Cathy has lost sight of the fact that the Christian life is a relationship, not a list of to-do’s that she needs to check off to please the Lord. She is so busy doing for Him that she has lost the sweetness of just being with Him and getting to know Him better.

A lesson we can learn from Cathy’s life: If I look at the race apart from the relationship, I’ll become legalistic. Cathy struggles with being busy for the wrong reasons. The Christian life is a relationship, not a ritual of checking things off our to-do list.

Focus on the relationship, not the race.

4. Negative NellieNegative Nellie

Nellie has a critical spirit about everything. She has taken her focus off the Lord and always looks for the negatives. One of her favorite sayings is, “That’ll never work,” and she loves to point out all the reasons why it’s not a good idea. She doesn’t like change; she doesn’t like anything new. However, she doesn’t consider herself as being negative or critical –she’s just helping the church avoid mistakes by pointing out these flaws.

A lesson we can learn from Nellie’s life: If I look at the problem apart from the Provider, I’ll become negative and critical. Instead of criticizing something we don’t like and seeing it as a problem, we need to trust God’s sovereign hand and omnipotence. We need to stop being afraid of taking risks and stepping out in faith.

Focus on the Provider, not the problems.

All four of these women have taken their eyes off the Lord. I don’t want to be a Polly Pious, focused on my gifts and blinded by pride. Or a Despairing Dora, so focused on my sin that I am paralyzed by it. I don’t want to be a Cathy Christian, so busy for the Lord and checking off my to-do list for Him that I lose the sweetness of the relationship. Or a Negative Nellie who is always negative and focuses on problems instead of positives.

How do we avoid becoming these women? Psalm 25:15 – “My eyes are continually toward the Lord.”

Seeking God

1 Chronicles 16 11Are you needing direction or strength today? 1 Chronicles 16:11 tells us where to turn: “Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually.”

These words are part of a psalm of thanksgiving to the Lord, written by David after he brought the ark of the covenant to the city of David.

One simple instruction: seek the Lord. How many wrong turns would we have avoided if we had sought the Lord first? How much anguish would we have saved ourselves from if we had sought Him instead of things that can never fully satisfy?

He alone can provide the fulfillment and satisfaction in life that we long for – not a mate, or that “perfect” mate or any relationship. Not recognition or that perfect job or wealth or material possessions. Only God can completely satisfy and guide us. He knows the best path for us. But what hinders us from seeking Him?

  • Unconfessed sin – We are not going to seek Him if we have sin that we have not confessed and dealt with.
  • Self-sufficiency – When we think we’ve got everything under control and we don’t need the Lord’s help, we won’t seek the Lord because we think we can do it on our own. Big mistake.
  • Busyness of life – Our schedules get fuller and the demands of life get greater. We become so busy that we don’t allow time for seeking Him. We push Him further and further down on our to-do list.
  • Lack of trust – We don’t seek God’s face when we don’t trust Him and believe He wants what’s best for us.

Who or what are you seeking for guidance and fulfillment in life?

Seek the Lord.
Seek His strength.
Seek His face continually.

The Ministry of Encouragement

Welcome home sign 2When I came home from East Asia after four years, this sign was on my bed. Mom had written these words on a poster board to welcome me home. It made me smile and cry at the same time, in a good way. I felt loved. I took a picture of it so I could keep it with me as a sweet reminder.

How do you feel when you hear these words from someone? I believe in you. I’m praying for you. You’re doing a great job. You can do this. Thank you. I love you. When I hear those words, I am encouraged. They make me smile and spur me on to keep going.

Has someone encouraged you this week? Have you encouraged someone lately?

Paul was a great encourager to his disciples and children in the faith, as evidenced in his epistles. It is fitting that he began his final letter to Timothy with words of encouragement.

In 2 Timothy 1:1-7, Paul expressed encouragement to Timothy in five ways. What a great example to follow as we encourage others.

  1. Love them (vs. 2, 4). Don’t just tell them, but show them by your actions.
  2. Pray for them (v. 3). Ask God to keep reminding you to pray for them.
  3. Affirm them (v. 5). We all get discouraged or begin to doubt ourselves, and sometimes all it takes is for someone to affirm us to get us out of our “funk.”
  4. Exhort them (v. 6). Sometimes we have to give others a gentle shove to get them moving in the right direction or moving at all.
  5. Remind them (v. 7). Remind them of all the resources available to them in Christ.

Is there someone you can encourage today? Maybe you need to tell someone, I believe in you. I love you. You can do this.

Or perhaps you need to exhort someone who is not being all that God intended for them to be.

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Who can you encourage today?

Is God Still in Control?

Sept 11 tribute


I vividly remember where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001, when I heard the news of the terrorist attacks in New York City. The events that happened that day will forever stay etched in my memory. So many feelings and emotions swept over me that day and in the days to follow — anger, fear, insecurity, doubt. Today, I read back through my journal of what I had written during that time.


Here is an excerpt of what I wrote on September 13, 2001:

“Lord, thank you that you are in control. Thank you that even though it seems like our world has fallen apart, You are the stability of our times. When all around us is falling to the ground, You are the one constant in our lives. Thank You. . . You are already using this to show us that our security lies in You alone – not in our safety as a nation or wealth or prosperity. In You.”

Thirteen years have passed since that tragedy rocked our world here in the United States. We still mourn the lives lost on that day. And today, in 2014, we still live in a world that seems out of control.  Innocent victims suffer at the hands of the ruthless, and it can appear that evil is winning. We are tempted to question God. Where are You? Why are you allowing this to happen? Are You still in control?

But the one thing that gave me hope on September 11, 2001, is the same thing that gives me hope today in 2014. God is still sovereign. He has never lost control, no matter how bad things may seem. We don’t understand why things happen as they do, but God knows why. He is still on the throne.

Psalm 37 is a great reminder of the sovereignty of God and the destiny of the wicked. Take some time today to read through this Psalm.

I pray we never see another day like September 11, 2001. But if we do, God is still on the throne.