Words of Encouragement

Encouraging WordsOne of the most difficult seasons in my life was watching my elderly mom decline in the nursing home and wondering why God didn’t release her from her earthly body sooner.

I cried; I questioned God’s love for mom (and me); I had many honest conversations with God. But I look back at that season now and realize how God’s timing was perfect in my mom’s Home going, and how He used that time to deepen my relationship with Him. Now that I’m on the other side, I wouldn’t change anything about that season of life.

A few years ago, I came home in the middle of the night from the emergency room after mom had fallen. Discouraged and weary, I sat down with God’s Word. David’s words from Psalm 59 strengthened me when I needed it most:

“But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.” Psalm 59:16-17

Those words, focusing on God’s character, carried me through many a difficult day and continue to do so. God knows what we’re going through, and He is by our side the entire way. He is our strength, our stronghold, our refuge. He loves us, even when we question His love.

Maybe you need some encouragement today. His Word is full of encouraging truths that will carry us through those difficult seasons. Keep an encouragement journal, writing down those verses that God uses to encourage you when times are tough.

I’d love to hear from you – what are some verses that have encouraged you when you were walking through a difficult time?

Enjoying God’s Creation

imageI love the beach! This week I’ve had some rest time at the beach with my family, and it’s been just what I needed.

One of my favorite things about it is the beautiful sunsets. One night this was the picture of the sky from our balcony. When I see the beauty of God’s creation on this earth, I can’t even imagine what heaven is going to look like. As beautiful as this sunset was, it pales in comparison to what we have waiting for us.

This week take some time to appreciate God’s creation – a beautiful sunset or sunrise, birds singing, a running stream of water, the mountains …

Psalm 19:1 – ” The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

What is one of your favorite parts of God’s creation?

An Undivided Devotion

devotionTo whom or what are you devoted?

This past Sunday, I challenged the women at my church to an undivided devotion – a devotion for Christ, unparalleled by any earthly devotion. But how do we develop and maintain an undivided devotion for God?

I used the word devotion as an acrostic to give us some key words to keep in mind as we pursue an undivided devotion.

D – Distractions

What are the distractions in my life that are hindering me from a wholehearted devotion to God or have the potential to do so? Push them aside.

E – Exaltation

Am I exalting God and worshiping Him every day? Or am I exalting someone or something else in His place? One of the best things I can do to keep my heart focused on Him is to exalt and worship Him every day.

V – Voice            

Whose voice am I listening to? Am I listening to what the world is telling me, what Satan is whispering to me, or what God is speaking to me through His Word?

O – Obedience

Am I being obedient to His Word, to His commands, to His leading? Am I doing what He wants, or what I want?

T – Trust

Do I trust what God is doing with and in my life? Do I trust that He loves me, that He knows what He’s doing, that He has a purpose for everything He allows in my life, and that He has my best interest at heart?

I – Idolatry

Are there any idols in my life – things I look to for satisfaction that take the place of God in my life? Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” What would devastate you if God removed it from your life? That might be a good indication it’s become an idol.

O – Offering

Am I willing to offer all of myself to Him, including everything He’s given me and all my dreams? Am I willing to give Him every area and allow Him to use me as He chooses? Will I pursue what I want or what He wants for me?

N- Nearness

If I’m going to have undivided devotion, I have to draw near to God. Am I spending consistent time with Him, and not letting other things get in the way? Am I giving Him my undivided attention when I’m with Him?

I started an “Undivided Devotion” journal this week. At the top of each page I wrote a keyword to focus on from the acrostic. And then journaled about it. Each day, I focus on a different keyword, and journal my thoughts and my answers to the questions above.

My prayer is from Psalm 86:11 – “Give me an undivided heart, that I might fear Your name.” Will you join me in pursuing an undivided devotion for God?

I Love You, But the Answer is No!

heartI’m glad God doesn’t give me everything I ask for!

There have been things I’ve asked God for and He didn’t answer the way I had hoped. For instance, for years, I asked Him for a husband, and He said no. At first, I questioned His love for me, but now, I see where being single has freed me up to give myself wholeheartedly to ministry. I have found sweet contentment with where God has me. He knows what’s best for me, and He has a unique purpose for me. Being single has enabled me to carry out that purpose.

When I was on staff with Cru, I prayed for a specific house we wanted to rent. It seemed like the perfect house for me and my roommates – close to the campus, big enough to host ministry activities and dinners, and spread out enough that we would have our private space as roommates. When we didn’t get it, we were devastated. But a few months later, that house flooded during a storm, and the resident’s furniture was ruined. God protected us.

While finishing up at Dallas Seminary, I was praying for God to provide a job for me in Dallas, preferably at my church. I was already involved in the ministry there, and I didn’t want to move away and start all over with new friends and ministry. I interviewed at several churches in the Dallas area, only to face one closed door after another. “God, do you not love me?”

But, then He provided this job in Memphis as the Women’s Ministry Director at my church. And I can honestly say, what a gift! God knew exactly the best fit for me, and First Evan is where I need to be. But if I had gotten my way, I would have missed this blessing. Was it easy to leave sweet friends and my familiar environment? No! But, was it worth it? Absolutely!

God reminds me time and time again that He knows what’s best for me. So, the next time God doesn’t answer my prayer in the way I had hoped, I want to be able to trust His purpose in my life. He sees the big picture; I can’t. He knows what’s around the corner; I don’t. But I know my God, and I can rest in His love and sovereignty.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28

How have you seen God’s hand at work when He said no to something you wanted and prayed for?

Finding Your Purpose

(Because of a hectic schedule at work this week, I am sharing a post from several years ago.)

Finding His PurposeWhen I was a little girl, I came very close to drowning one summer in Lake Plain Dealing. That event had a huge impact in my life. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and crying out to God, “Lord, you didn’t take me home. You left me on this earth, so you must have a purpose for me.” Even as a little girl, I felt a sense of purpose for being here, but I just didn’t know what it was.

Every believer has a God-given purpose. And once you determine what that is, you will find joy and a sense of fulfillment as you carry out your purpose.

I encourage you to develop a personal mission statement if you have not already done so. Your mission is God’s unique purpose for your life as a believer. Here are some tips to help you develop your personal mission statement.

1. Understand your divine design. Recognize how God uniquely created you and shaped you for His purpose. Understand your SHAPE –your spiritual gifts, your heart, your natural abilities, your personality, and your life experiences. (SHAPE is an original concept from Rick Warren and Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California.) The way that God designed you and shaped you should give your clear direction as to what your mission is. God’s purpose for you will always be in line with the way He created you and SHAPED you.

2. Second, consider the desire of your heart. What do you love to do? What gets you excited? What are you passionate about? I love to teach, write, and disciple others. When I’m doing those things, that’s when I feel most fulfilled. God is not going to appoint you to do something you don’t have a desire to do. Your desires will be in line with His purpose for you if you are seeking His will.

3. Third, write out your personal mission statement. Use these three questions to guide you:

  • Who is your ministry focus group?
  • What needs are you seeking to meet?
  • How will you accomplish your mission?

4. Evaluate it periodically.

Under Personal Development on the Resources page, you can download a five-day lesson that will walk you through the process of writing your personal mission statement. You can also download a SHAPE worksheet to help you understand your divine design. You know when you’re fulfilling your purpose because it fits you – there is a sense of deep satisfaction.

My personal mission statement is to encourage women to passionately pursue Jesus Christ through teaching, discipleship, and writing.

What is God’s unique purpose for you? I’d love to hear your personal mission statement.

Hungering and Thirsting for God

Cats Eating 2My sweet cat Hannah takes her food seriously. When I get up in the mornings, she runs straight to her empty food bowl, demanding her food. She is passionate about eating, and if Hobson or I get in her way while she’s trying to eat, she swats us away. “Don’t get between me and my food!”

This morning, as I watched her chomp her food down (as if she were starving to death), I was impressed by her ravenous appetite and fearless tenacity. But then, it made me step back and ask myself some questions about my hunger and thirst after God.

Am I that passionate about my daily food from God’s Word?

Do I run straight to His Word first thing in the morning?

Am I focused on His food, His Word, more than anything else when I get up?

Do I push distractions aside and refuse to let anything get in the way of my feasting on God’s Word?

Do I love God’s Word as much as Hannah loves her food?

Do I find the satisfaction in His Word that Hannah finds as she eats with a wholehearted commitment?

It’s a vivid picture of what I want my hunger for God to look like. I want to hunger for His Word with the same intensity that Hannah longs for her food. And His Word is always available, 24 hours a day. I don’t have to wait for someone to dish it out to me.

Hannah also loves her water and drinks as if I’ve withheld water from her for weeks (which I don’t). Do I thirst and hunger for God and His Word in this way?

As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:103: “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

Psalm 63:1: “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Lord, help me long for You and Your Word as much as Hannah longs for her food and water.

Putting Things in Perspective

PierSometimes, I just need to get away from the daily routine and get a fresh perspective on ministry. I did that last week by attending the Speak Up Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hosted by Carol Kent. This conference is focused on helping women  grow in the areas of speaking and writing, but I came away with much more than that. This conference pointed me to Jesus. The message that penetrated my heart most is: What has God called you to do? Do it. Glorify Him.

 

So many women spoke to my heart during this conference and I want to share their words with you. I hope these nuggets of wisdom will encourage you as much as they did me.

“Are you willing to take on the mantle God has for you?” – Suzanne Kuhn

“You are anointed and appointed for such a time as this.” – Becky Harling

“Build Jesus’ platform, not yours!” – Becky Harling

“A community can have worldly success without Jesus as its center. But if you are following Jesus, your focus is not on success the way the world measures it. Instead, your focus is simply to do only that which He has called you to do for His glory and not your own.” – Jen Ferguson

“Do you believe God can speak through you?” – Jennie Afman Dimkoff

“No amount of activity in the King’s service will make up for the neglect of the King Himself” – Robert Murray McCheyne (shared by Cindy Bultema)

“Pull me into your Bible study. Draw me in.” Gloria Penwell

“Stop writing. See if you can. If you can, then maybe God hasn’t called you to write.” – Lonnie Hull DuPont

“Sometimes you have to push through the stink to get to the good stuff.” – Robyn Dykstra

“Sometimes, when we’re looking for a shortcut, we make a wrong decision.” – Carol Kent

“Write a letter of surrender to God, laying everything on the altar. Ponder these questions as you meditate on Hebrews 12:1-2: What do I need to throw off that might be hindering me from writing and speaking for His purpose? What do I need to put on to write and speak for His glory and praise alone? What does ‘fix your eyes on Jesus’ look like for me in my journey right now?” –  Judy Dunagan

These comments apply to all of us, not just writers and speakers. What has God called you to do? Will you accept His calling, “take on the mantle,” and fulfill His purpose for you? Will you trust His hand if He leads you in a different direction than you would choose?

I also had the privilege to be interviewed by Carol Kent about my newly released Bible study, The Gift of Rest. I invite you to watch this short video with her.

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Another Independence Day

freedomI’ve been waiting for the phone to ring and a voice on the other end tell me that my loved one back home in Louisiana passed away. She has been on hospice for several months and stopped eating and drinking 10 days ago. The doctor didn’t think she’d make it this long, so we’ve been expecting that phone call all week. But, God alone knows the exact day our time on this earth will end.

As I think about Darlene and how cancer has ravaged her body, even taking her eyesight, it makes me long for the day we’ll be free from pain and sorrow and suffering.

This coming Monday, July 4, we will celebrate Independence Day, the day we gained our independence as a nation. But, in light of Darlene’s impending death, I’ve been thinking about another independence day – the day we gain our independence from this earthly life. I long for that Independence Day when we are free from these earthly bodies and the presence of sin. That will be an Independence Day beyond anything we can imagine – the day Jesus takes us home or returns for us.

John described what that eternal Independence Day will be like in Revelation 21:3-4:

God Himself will be among them and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…”

John goes on to describe the New Jerusalem, where we will reign with Him for eternity, in Revelation 22:3-5:

“And there shall no longer be any curse, and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bondservants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face … and there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have any need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them and they shall reign forever and ever.”

I long for that Independence Day – the day I’m free from this body that is slowly deteriorating; the day I’m free from sin in me and around me; the day I don’t have to hear about another innocent murder or a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one; the day I’m set free from pain and sorrow; the day I can bow before His throne and worship Him face to face.

As we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day this fourth of July, let’s also celebrate what Christ did for us on the cross when He gave us freedom from the power and penalty of sin. And let’s look forward to the coming Independence Day when we will be free from the presence of sin – no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain.

Happy Independence Day!

I Don’t Want to Go to Jail

jailAs I read the transcribed voice mail left on my home phone this week, I had a feeling of uneasiness. The message basically said, “Hello, this call is officially a final notice from the Internal Revenue Service. The reason of this call is to inform you that IRS is filing a lawsuit against you. To get more information about this case file, please call immediately on our department number.”

My first response was, uh-oh, I must be in trouble. But then as I thought about the situation, I knew that I had paid my taxes, and my CPA is on top of things. So, something didn’t sound right with this message.

I checked around and discovered that some friends had gotten the exact same message. One friend’s daughter answered the phone and the guy proceeded to tell her they were going to send police to her house and arrest her if she didn’t immediately pay the money she owed. She was in tears, until her mom convinced her that this was a scam. “The police are not coming for you!”

As I did further research on this, I found out that the IRS never calls you about an issue like this. They will send a letter first and give you a chance to work things out.

Sadly, there are people who will receive this call and believe the lies. They will answer the demand to give a large sum of money in order to avoid jail. But it’s a lie. Not truth.

It reminded me how important it is for us to be able to recognize untruths – not just with telephone scams, but with what the world says about God’s truth, the Bible. There are plenty of people who are speaking untruths about God’s Word:

  • The Bible isn’t relevant today. Times have changed. That doesn’t apply to us anymore.
  • Everybody’s doing it, so it’s ok.
  • If it feels right, it’s not sin.
  • God forgives you, so go ahead and sin all you want.
  • The Bible isn’t the only Word of God. There are lots of other books out there that are God’s Word.
  • There are many ways to heaven. Just pick what feels good to you.
  • God doesn’t love you. If He did, why did He allow this to happen to you?

All are lies. They contradict what God’s Word says. And just like the telephone scams, we have to be alert and able to discern truth from lies.

I am often reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you received a phone scam that could have deceived you had you not been alert? What are some other lies the world tries to convince us are truth?

Sun and Sin?

beach umbrellaWhen I saw my doctor’s name show up on my caller id last week, my heart started to race. I knew what she was going to say before I even answered the phone. “Ms. Keeth, your biopsy on your lower right leg came back positive for squamous cell carcinoma, and it needs to be removed soon.”

This past Tuesday, my dermatologist performed the Moh’s procedure to remove the cancer. It was larger than I had expected, and because of the size, the doctor was unable to put stitches in to close the incision. So, I’m sporting the “bandaged look” on my right leg, protecting the open wound that will take months to heal.

As I’ve thought about the diagnosis and removal of this cancer, along with the healing process, it reminded me of the similarities between sin and cancer and what I can learn from this situation. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Be alert.

Know what to look for that would be a warning sign or symptom of sin. If I hadn’t been alert to something unusual on my leg, I would have missed it and let it go on for too long.

Be proactive.

Deal with sin as soon as you realize it’s there. As soon as I noticed the unusual spot on my leg, I made an appointment with the doctor. I didn’t want to wait till next month or next year. If I had waited, it would have spread and done more damage. Thankfully, we caught it early before it spread outside the original tissue. If we don’t deal with sin immediately, it grows deeper and spreads. The longer we let it go, the harder it is to remove, and the more damage it does.

Understand the urgency.

Once I received the call with the diagnosis, I was counting the days till she removed that skin cancer. I didn’t want it to “contaminate” my body one day longer than necessary. That’s how we should feel about sin. We should want it GONE! YESTERDAY! Don’t let it hang around. Don’t put it off, thinking, “It won’t hurt anything to let it be for a little longer.”

Expect scars.

I will have a significant scar from this wound that will remind me of what was done. Sin also leaves scars. Some are more prominent depending on how deep and long the sin was allowed to hang around and do its damage. But eventually, the scars will soften over time.

Protect yourself.

We all know the importance of wearing sunscreen when we go outdoors, but, if you’re like me, I don’t always do it. If I had worn the proper protection in my younger years in the sun, I wouldn’t be dealing with my fourth skin cancer. In the same way, we need to protect ourselves from sin by putting on the armor of God each morning when we awake (Ephesians 6).

Don’t let your guard down.

The dermatologist tells me every time she removes a skin cancer that this won’t be the last one. Once you develop a skin cancer, you’re prone to more. I can’t let my guard down and think, “ok, I’ve dealt with it. I don’t need to be alert anymore.” Sin works the same way. Just because we’ve confessed and dealt with our sin doesn’t mean we’re not going to sin again. We’re prone to sin. So, we need to keep our guard up.

Who would have thought that God could use a skin cancer to teach me so much about sin?