Hope in the Midst of Dark Times

candle-in-darkI think we’re probably all familiar with the song, “This little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine.” We tend to think of this song as a children’s song. But to be honest, the meaning of this song is just as much for adults as it is for kids.

The challenge from this song is, are you going to let your light shine? Are you going to let the light of Christ in you shine brightly in a world that’s becoming increasingly darker by the day?

We’ve been studying the kings of Judah this fall in our women’s Bible study at church, and it was obviously a dark time for the nation of Judah. Leadership was not good, many of the kings were evil, and they were leading people away from God. Idolatry was rampant. It could have seemed like a hopeless situation, and they probably found themselves wondering if God had lost control.

But God was still on the throne then, and He is still on the throne now.

We’re in a dark season of history today – not only in the world, but right here in our own country. Our nation, once founded on Christian principles, is moving farther and farther away from those principles. Every day we read about murders, shootings, protests, racial tensions, terrorist threats. People attack each other with their words, and biblical principles are being pushed aside as no longer relevant in today’s times.

In a few weeks, our country will vote and choose the next president to lead us over the next four years. People have strong emotions about this election and the candidates, and there is frustration and anger. We could easily feel like we are back in the time of the kings of Judah, with no hope of a bright future.

But, no matter how bad circumstances may seem today, God is still on the throne. He is still in control. And our hope is found in Him, our heavenly King – not an earthly ruler.

Will we let our light shine in the midst of this dark season of uncertainty? Will we keep our focus and trust on Him as our sovereign King? Will we point others to Him as we allow our light to shine for Him?

“The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” Psalm 103:19

Let your light shine for Him.

When God Has to Slow Us Down

sleeping-catOh, no! The one thing I was hoping to avoid happened this past weekend.

I guess I was way overdue. I’ve been faithful every year in getting the flu shot, and I was planning to get the shot this Friday when I had my regular appointment with my doctor. The only problem – I got the flu last weekend – before I could get the shot.

It wasn’t what I had planned for this week. I was on the Women’s Retreat over the weekend when the symptoms started. Thanks to a roommate who had plenty of Tylenol, I got back to Memphis Sunday afternoon, and then nursed my high fever. I’ve been home all week – working from home as much as I can.

But God has been teaching me through this, as He always does through everything He allows into my life. I have been pushing myself nonstop for the past several months, and I wasn’t slowing down. We weren’t designed to go at that pace nonstop. So, God slowed me down. I didn’t have a choice.

It’s been a good reminder. Yes, I need to work hard! But I also need to balance hard work with time to slow down and rest (and not feel guilty about it).

Jesus even understood the importance of slowing down and pulling away. In Mark 6:30-32, after the disciples had come to Jesus and reported all they had done and taught, Jesus told them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” It even said they were so busy, they didn’t have time to eat. Sound familiar?

You would think after writing a Bible study on Rest, I’d be applying these principles. But, I’m still learning how to rest. It isn’t a luxury, but an important part of life. And God is not going to give me more to do than the hours He gives me to do it.

I am thankful that He “forced” me to slow down this week and rest. But I hope I can learn to rest without Him having to take me down this road again any time soon.

I’d love to hear from you. What hinders you from resting? And for those of you who have a good handle on rest, what are some helpful tips you can share with us?

Photo: Pixabay.com; CC0 Public Domain

Your First Love

lost_loveRecently, I was listening online to one of my seminary professors speaking at the Dallas Seminary Chapel. He shared how he had received a letter from a seminary graduate expressing gratitude for the education he had received there during his time in seminary.

But the graduate went on to write something that was deeply disturbing. He said that when he arrived on campus, he was deeply in love with Jesus Christ. But when he left, he was more in love with the biblical text.

He left seminary loving the Bible more than He loved the Savior. Since graduating from seminary, it had taken him some time to recognize his drift and to reorient his life so that Christ was once again in the center.

Dr. Constable went on to tell of another conversation he had that summer with a student who had just finished his first year of seminary. He told Dr. Constable he wasn’t planning on returning in the fall because his walk with the Lord had dried up while he was in seminary, and he wasn’t willing to make the sacrifice in order to get a seminary degree.

These students had something in common with the church at Ephesus. They had left their first love. They had lost focus of what was most important in life. We read about this in Revelation 2:4 about the church at Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

Some thoughts to ponder:

  • What is most important in my life? Relationships? Material possessions? Prestige? A dream I’m pursuing? Or Jesus Christ?
  • What can potentially push aside my love for the Lord and take first place in my life?

I want to pursue Jesus Christ with my whole heart, but I need to be on guard against those potential things that could draw my love away from seeking Him first.

2016-09-19-16-50-12My two cats, Hobson and Hannah, have given me a vivid picture to remind me of this. I recently changed their diet to canned food, and it has turned them into demanding lions. When I come home at the end of the day, they don’t run  to me and love on me. They run straight to their food bowls and start meowing (loudly), demanding I give them what has become their first love – Fancy Feast cat food. But, I want them to love me, not just what I give them. I wonder how many times God has thought that about me.

I want to pursue and hunger after God the way my cats have set their hearts to wholeheartedly seek Fancy Feast dinners.

Whom or what is your first love? If not Jesus Christ, what can you do to put Him first and foremost in your life?

Diagnosis: DO Syndrome

stressed womanI suffer from the DO syndrome. Have you heard of it? Here are some of the symptoms of the DO syndrome:

  • Is easily distracted from the task at hand
  • Has difficulty focusing on just one thing
  • Can’t seem to finish one project before starting at least five others in the process
  • Is a master at multi-tasking (That’s not necessarily a good thing.)
  • Can push aside the most important things in order to take care of the urgent things

I suffer from the DO syndrome – Distraction Overload. Do you?

Those of us who struggle with DO find ourselves running in circles, exhausted, and losing sight of what’s most important. We’re pulled in many directions – family, urgent needs, ministry, job, housework, on and on. And when we’re on Distraction Overload, our attention is diverted away from the Lord, the One who gives us strength to handle one thing at a time.

So how do we overcome DO (Distraction Overload)? How can we keep our hearts and attention focused on Him and not distracted by other things?

I don’t have a simple answer, but I can share with you how I’m dealing with the Distraction Overload Syndrome.

I made a list of the distractions (or potential distractions) that are trying to pull my heart and attention away from God. Then beside each one, I asked God to show me what I can do to push that distraction aside. What does His Word say?

I was convicted this past week of a distraction in my life while reading Dwelling Places by Lucinda Secrest McDowell. In this devotional book, she focuses on one word a day. The word that day was “worry” from Matthew 6:25 – don’t worry about your life, what you’re going to eat or drink or wear.

She wrote this about the word worry:

“The New Testament Greek word for worry here means ‘to be distracted’ or ‘divided.’ Isn’t that what happens when we choose to dwell in worry? We have a divided mind and a divided heart. . . Worry pulls us in opposite directions: part of us wants to trust God, but the other part is listening to the enemy’s whispers of doubt and distress.” (p. 216).

Ouch. I had to add worry to my list of distractions. One of the things I can begin to do to keep this distraction from dividing my heart and devotion for God is to trust Him – trust His sovereign hand and provision instead of worrying and listening to the enemy’s whispers of doubt.

As Solomon exhorted the people after dedicating the Temple to God in 1 Kings 8:61, “Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the LORD our God. . .”

What helps you push aside those distractions vying to get your focus off the Lord? What helps you overcome the DO Syndrome?

The Perfect “Crutch”

my-grace-is-sufficientYears ago, I stepped off a curb without paying attention and sprained my ankle. It was painful, but I was thankful I didn’t break any bones. However, I had to use crutches for a week. They helped, but they were never meant to be a permanent fix. Their purpose was to assist me in getting around for a short period of time while my ankle healed.

We all have potential crutches in our lives – things or people we lean on for support instead of the Lord. Some potential crutches that can take our focus off Him are people and relationships, abilities, strengths, position, success. God does put people in our lives to support us and come alongside us when we’re limping along or need some extra strength. But they should never replace our dependence on the One who constantly upholds us and strengthens us – Jesus Christ.

He is the One we should lean on when we’re hurting, wounded, weak, weary. And He may choose to bring people alongside us, but we should look to Him first.

Meditate on these truths from God’s Word today. He is the One who upholds us and strengthens us.

Deuteronomy 33:27 – “The eternal God is a dwelling place (refuge), and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Psalm 37:23-24 – The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (who sustains him with His hand).”

Isaiah 40:28-31 – “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weary.”

Isaiah 41:10 – “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you; surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Just reading these words strengthens me today. I am in the middle of a crazy, whirlwind season of life and asking God, “How am I going to get everything done? I can’t do it.” And He gently reminds me, “No, you can’t. But I can. Lean on me.”

Whom or what are you leaning on today for strength and support?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

making decisionsI don’t enjoy making decisions. Sometimes I can’t even decide which brand of yogurt I want to buy for the week. Decisions like that aren’t critical, but they’re still not easy for me.

Some decisions are major. Do I take this job? Do I marry this person? Do I buy this house, or that one? How do I know God’s will for me?

When I have to make a major decision, I like to use a seven-step process to guide me. Several years ago, I was considering the possibility of changing jobs and moving, but as I walked through these seven steps, God made it very clear that I needed to stay put. It was the right decision, and I’ve never looked back.

Maybe you’re facing a major decision in your life today. Let these steps guide you in the process.

1. What is the decision you’re facing?

2. What factors from God’s Word affect this decision? What are some commands or warnings in God’s Word that would influence your decision?

3. Look at all the options. Write out the choices you are considering. Then for each option, list the pros and cons. If you have a long list of pros and very few cons, that’s a good indicator that this is a good direction to move toward. If there is a long list of cons, I’d be careful.

4. Are there any circumstances that are directing you one way or another?

5. What counsel are you getting from other Christians who know you well?

6. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I putting God’s desire ahead of my own, or vice versa?
  • Will it help me love God and others more? In what way?
  • Will I be using my SHAPE (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, life experiences)? How?
  • Will it glorify God? How?

7. Is there an inner peace after you’ve made the decision (Philippians 4:6-7)? Step out and make a decision. Ask for God’s confirmation and peace. If it doesn’t come, ask Him to redirect you.

I still don’t like making decisions, but these steps have helped me walk through the process.

I’d love to hear from you. What helps you make those major decisions in life?

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?