2020 was supposed to be the year of clarity. We were so excited to leave 2019 behind us.
The allusions to perfect vision were only illusions. Now we hope to elude this year without too much damage.
Our world is under attack from things we cannot see, A virus so named for its crown shaped spikes, and we have given it so much power – a tyrant king.
Ideas and judgments about fairness and justice lead to violence against each other. Anger causes us to fall into traps and steals our peace, love, and joy.
We need empathy – walk a mile in my shoes . . .. But what happens when my shoes and your shoes are equally misinformed, misguided, and limited in perspective?
We live in a state of Emotional Exhaustion. We struggle continuously with plagues of mental health.
We have become slaves to our screens – Prisoners in our own homes.
Resistance is futile is the silent message, And we react according to our personalities – Fight, Flight, or Freeze.
Can we wait it out? Some of us are out of time, out of money. Can we ignore it? We intoxicate ourselves with distractions. Can we fight an invisible enemy? We are damaging so much in the trying!
Who could have imagined a worldwide pandemic would actually happen in our lifetime? Who could have imagined that we would lose so much?
But the world has experienced tragedies before, and not that long ago. We thought we learned, we thought we were above and beyond such disasters.
2021 has arrived, “We are coming in and sitting down quietly, not drawing too much attention to ourselves, and we do not expect too much from this year,” said someone wisely.
Shall we keep our heads down and not expect too much from this new year? Maybe.
But I know I don’t want to endure another long season of waiting for something to get better. Many things are not in our control. So, how do we press on?
Lift up your head!
Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. Psalm 121:2
The LORD is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life–whom shall I dread? Psalm 27:1
Keep proper perspective!
A person plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9 ISV
But seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
Remember that you are loved and valued!
For God so loved the word that He gave His only begotten son, that all who believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Know who is the real enemy!
For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16
Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. (CEV) 1 Thesalonians 5:18
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19-20
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD. Psalm 31:24
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law,” Galatians 5:22-23, (NIV).
Right now, we have been living under the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions for about 2 months. The news continues to be frightening with reports of deaths, joblessness, and national security scares between countries. There have been places where restrictions are easing and not easing, with predictions of second waves, and talk of the loss of our freedoms by politicians hungry for power using this as an excuse to gain control.
As someone working in the mental health field (school counselor), I see the strain on families, school teachers, and leadership who are trying to create a system for home learning while under incredible pressure. I have my own concerns for my personal family, and I am constantly confronted with the consequences and challenges many of us are facing. I won’t list all the difficult factors here. Let me just say, anxiety is high all around.
May is mental health awareness month. There are clinical practices that are truly helpful for those who have anxiety issues. Therapies and medicine can and should be considered for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. However, spiritual health is also part of our well-being, and I wonder if we can take a moment to see how some of what is practiced by mental health practices aligns with scriptural teaching.
Peace with Ourselves
Mindfulness is very popular right now. It is practiced in a controlled and calm environment so you can better understand what is happening in your body in response to different sensations and thoughts. Fear is a helpful and natural reaction to danger used by our bodies designed to keep us safe and alive. The problem is when that natural reaction becomes hyper vigilant, and there is an overreaction that prevents us from living a fully engaged life – anxiety. Mindfulness is designed to help people take a step back as an observer of self, to determine the next steps, and learn how to better regulate our reactions. It is not to stop anxiety from happening; rather, mindfulness works when acknowledge the anxiety, and we learn how to take control over our anxious thoughts and feelings.
Here’s what scriptures say:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9, (ESV)
“We tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, BSB)
I don’t think we are wrong to feel anxiety. I think when we feel anxiety, we can turn to the Lord, practice gratitude, and challenge those uncomfortable thoughts with what we know is true from God’s Word. All thoughts are not equal, valid, or wanted.
Peace with Others
I know it is hard to live in close contact day after day with others. It is also hard to see people respond to the “COVID crisis” in ways that are different than ourselves. Some might view others as being too fearful, and others as too risky. Both ends can behave quite ridiculously. I think we can all agree that a balance is necessary. And, I think we all have times when we get on each other’s nerves. Grace needs to abound. Kindness is necessary.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.Romans 12:18, (ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.Ephesians 4:32
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Philippians 2:3-4
Peace with God
The fear of death is very real, and it is something we cannot escape.
“Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah” Psalm 89:48-49
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; . . .” Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
Most of us will come through this time experiencing significant losses. Some have lost loved ones, and others have lost their livelihood, relationships, financial security, and the opportunity to celebrate things like weddings, birthdays, graduations, or even be beside someone who is facing the end of life in a hospital or nursing home. We need time to grasp and grieve the impact of all of these things.
Here is the bottom line. Jesus has overcome and conquered death.
We have an appointed time to live and die. Everyone gets to make the choice to accept or reject him. But the Bible also tells us that “every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.” We will all face God on judgment day.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
“But God raised Him from the dead, releasing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its clutches.” Acts 2:24
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:20
We refer to Jesus Christ as our savior because he has made a way to be in a right relationship with God. He has made us righteous by paying for our sins through his death on the cross, and his resurrection.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:14-17
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
So, may we allow the fruit of the Spirit to live in us through peace with our God, each other, and ourselves. May we practice gratitude, kindness, and put our trust in the Lord, our savior. Meditate on what is true, and if at all possible, live in peace with one another.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
It’s OK to ask for help. We need to be there for one another. If you are considering suicide, reach out and ask for help. US National Suicide Prevention Hotline phone number is: 1-800-273-8255
May the peace that passes all understanding be with you.
This post is long overdue. (It’s a good thing I don’t get paid to write or publish!)
My excuse is that I was busy, and my reason is that I was struggling with the topic of JOY.
I started and stopped several times, and I didn’t quite know why joy was such a difficult topic. I am not a particularly unhappy person. However, each time I sat down to write about joy, I found myself overwhelmed with frustration as I kept being reminded of so many obstacles and hardships that many of us face. Joy just seemed too lightweight compared to things like depression, anxiety, death, grief, loss, fear, and especially now – loneliness. And, I was especially confronted with those experiences in my own family, especially as a mom.
And then this morning, I finally felt released to revise and publish this post according to what the Lord shared with me.
I still am not a fan of this empty nest thing. I miss my kids a lot, especially now. (I was supposed to be back in the US right now helping my daughter move. Stupid COVID-19.)
Apparently, it is quite obvious how much so. Our young adult children were able to come visit us in December, and I made sure they made it to my school so I could take them around to meet as many staff and friends as possible. Over and over, my co-workers greeted them by saying, “I’ve heard so much about you,” and “Your mom is really glad you’re here.” As I’m standing there grinning from ear to ear, I realize the refrain is becoming a bit of a joke. I am not a bit ashamed of how much I talked about them.
I love my kids a lot, but I can’t love like God. I know this because I recognize that as much as I devoted and poured into them, I still don’t know or love them as our Heavenly Father does. I did a lot of things right, AND I made lots of mistakes. Even as hard as I tried (and still do), I couldn’t (and can’t) love them well enough to keep them from experiencing fear, doubt, grief, and losses – sometimes from my own choices and words.
But God is their Heavenly Father. He has provided redemption for me, and He can heal what I harmed. There is no room for pride. There is all the room for joy.
Have you heard the song, The Joy of the Lord is my Strength? I mentioned this song briefly in the post, Music in Me.
It is my joy in the Lord that strengthens me – my joy in knowing the Lord and trusting Him. I trust Him to complete the work He started in my family and me.
Perhaps joy is like a muscle we all use, but don’t realize how it works until we try to isolate it. It’s important, and it needs other muscles working collaboratively to be effective.
More importantly, we need to work collaboratively with God.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 – 30 “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (HCSB) This is what I read this morning that helped me feel free to publish this post. I will continue to collaborate with the work God is doing, and trust Him.
This is how I find my joy in the Lord and find strength.
Joy in knowing that God loves them more than I do.
Joy in knowing that God knows them better than I do.
Joy in knowing that God has heard all my prayers.
Joy in knowing that God has a plan for them, and He will work it out according to His will, a plan that has been arranged since well before they were born.
Joy in knowing what He has done for me, He will do for them.
Joy in knowing that God understands our weaknesses, and He has provided a way to bring us into a right relationship with Him.
I used to privately call myself, ‘Lady in Waiting’.
Even now, I always hear the clock. Ticking, ticking. Time’s ticking away!
It seemed I was always waiting for something to change. (Finishing school, growing up, getting married, having kids, etc.) I’ve done all those things, and there are STILL more things I’m waiting to happen.
Now, I’m more comfortable with the waiting. Things will happen when they happen. I still want to make the most of my time, but I do it differently.
Patience and Long-suffering are two words used in different translations of the virtues in the Fruit of the Spirit verse in Galatians 5:22-23. Another word that is closely related is perseverance.
“Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (BSB). Romans 5: 3-5
I see perseverance as the ability to keep on, keeping
on. It requires grit, hard work, and a
good amount of stubbornness. It’s like, ‘Bring
on the rain!’ and ‘What doesn’t kill you
makes you stronger.’ TOUGHNESS.
Or, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV). Galatians 6:9.
Where patience feels like there’s an end in sight, long-suffering, not so much. It’s right there in the name, long.
This is the kind of long that happens when a husband and
father goes on deployment after deployment, with the wife and mom doing her
best to handle the kids, house, work, and pets on her own.
This is the kind of long when someone lives with a chronic
disease or handicap that isn’t ever going to go away.
This is the kind of long that prays for something or someone consistently, and not seeing the results of those prayers for 20, 30, or even 40 years. Like walking in the desert.
This long-suffering belongs with the other virtues like joy, gentleness, and kindness because if it didn’t, it would lead to bitterness and death.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (NIV). Romans 12:12
Long. Time. Coming.
In education, we work to help students build up their
reading stamina – the energy, focus, and length of time students can sit still
and read. It’s the same in crosscountry
and most other cardio sports (soccer, basketball, etc.).
We recognize the strength and power in that kind of
stamina. Let us practice the same
through our daily disciplines of prayer, study, and loving one another.
“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled” (NLT). Romans 15:4
One day, we won’t have to wait patiently, suffer, or
persevere. Time will no longer be a
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (AKJ) Romans 8:18
You Got This! (Well, actually, God’s got this, and He’s got you.)
“The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (NIV). Isaiah 60:19
I’ve heard a lot of jokes and funny stories from preachers. One that has stuck in my mind was about a little boy who kept looking behind him as he was walking home from church with his grandmother. She asked why he kept looking back, and he responded that he was looking for Shirley Goodness and Mercy. The grandmother didn’t understand and asked what he meant. The child explained that the preacher said that Shirley Goodness and Mercy would be following them, and he wanted to see who they were.
In the last post, Goodness Gracious, I wrote about goodness that comes from the Holy Spirit, and how we all need grace. Because the post was so long, I posed a question that I didn’t answer – “Really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful virtue?”
There is a counseling theory that has proven to be effective for many people in a variety of situations, cognitive-behavior theory or CBT. I won’t get into the details of it here, as this is not a counseling blog, and my counseling is still in its infancy, but essentially, it looks at how our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interrelated. When we change our thoughts (or emotions or actions) it affects the other two (Corey, 2015).
This brings to mind one of my favorite Bible verses.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.” Philipians 4:8
So, what are the good things we can think about? We know it is good to be with people we love. It is good to laugh with friends. It is good to forgive. It is good to help others. It is good to have what we need, to drink cool water when we’re hot and thirsty, to have enough money to pay bills, and to prepare for what is coming ahead. It is good to acknowledge someone’s hard work.
Sometimes, we don’t have those good things. I’ve had times when I was lonely, hungry, broke, and worked hard with little to no appreciation or acknowledgement. It can lead to bitterness and anger, am I right? I got all caught up in bitterness and it choked a lot of good things in my heart.
One of the ways goodness was choked out was that I was disappointed and hurt when my expectations for how people should treat each other was not met. Then all the good things I read in the Bible, or heard, seemed false and unrealistic. I was trying to see a correlation between the two, and it just wasn’t there. It’s especially painful when these problems are within your own family.
Here’s a quirky kind of thought I’ve had about Jesus. Essentially, He’s the ultimate, perfect, big brother. He tells us how to live, sets an unattainable example that none of us can compete with, and has the best relationship with the Father – is the Father. When families get together, there’s always that fun teasing – “Remember when. . .” to remind each other of embarrassing moments and shortcomings. What can anyone say about Jesus? ‘Remember when you stayed at the temple, and mom and dad didn’t know where you were?’ Maybe it sounds a little too familiar to think of our Savior like that, but it helps me remember that He is real, and really knows what it’s like to live in a family.
But then, God gave me His grace – and mercy. He could have given up on me. I thought He had.
Mercy. Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
I think the power of goodness is in having a free, strong mind.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV)
The power in goodness is that even in hardships, even in front of enemies, we can do good things, keep our minds on good things, and feel good things because we know we have God’s mercy.
Think about it.
(2015). Theory and practice of counseling and
psychotherapy . Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Exams – Graduations – Selling Our House – Leaving Our Son at College Making Our Nest Truly Empty – Managing 3 Moves in 1 Summer – Starting New Jobs – Adjusting to Living Overseas
Right now, we’re still waiting for the majority of our belongings to arrive, we’re working through getting acclimated to new stores, new places, new road rules, and for me, it’s all in a new language.
God has been Good, and I’ve witnessed His Grace extended to our family and me over this whole period. It hasn’t been easy; we’ve all had times of fear, grieving losses, saying good-byes, and loneliness. But, there are also feelings of excitement for all the new beginnings.
Eventually, we’ve all had to come to a place where we have had to let go and move forward – again. God has been faithful to provide and orchestrate so many good things. Things having to do with timing, relationships, and working through mistakes we’ve made.
By all means, the transition is far from over, but I think
the initial jolt has passed.
As an aside and reintroduction – I wasn’t sure if I would write again. I am fighting my natural tendency to hide and stay private. I’ve learned that is a pretty safe thing to do – especially when in a new place. But – I don’t think God wants me to stay hidden and safe. As long as the Holy Spirit puts on my heart something to put on this blog, I will stay obedient. I don’t understand how what I write matters much, but I know it’s not about what I think or imagine as long as I commit and submit the whole of it to God.
So, full disclosure, I am not a theologian. I have not attended seminary, and what I
write is based on what God is teaching me through His Holy Word, prayer, life
experiences, and spiritual growth. I can
only share my perspective, and knowing that, I understand others’ perspectives
may differ. As long as you, the readers,
understand and agree that we are all going through life together, learning as
we go, when we have disagreements, may we do so in good faith that God is
teaching us through His Holy Spirit and one another.
I know that with rebooting this blog, I want to post with greater consistency, committing to at least one post a month. I love getting feedback from you, the readers. I do review the comments before they go public, so if you don’t see your comment right away, it may be because I haven’t seen your comment yet. It may take a little time especially since I am in a drastically different time zone than anyone in the US.
When I was young, memorizing scripture was part of Sunday school, Sunbeams, and the many other organized church activities that was just a basic expectation for our family. The emphasis was to learn it in order to apply it.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” Psalm 119: 11 (ESV).
The verses I memorized as a child were instrumental in how I
developed my faith and guided my decisions.
As an adult, I find it exhilarating to review those simple, basic verses
to see the absolute beauty and truth in them.
One of the earliest memory verses I can remember is the Fruit of the
Spirit, found in Galatians.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5: 22 – 23 (HCSB).
Two simple verses with a nice, tidy list that should be
simple to memorize, right? Yet, I still
have trouble remembering all nine virtues, so I know it is good to spend some
I will be writing about those virtues for the next several posts. This will be kind of like a Bible study series. I am sure there are many other Bible studies, sermons, and devotions written on the Fruit of the Spirit. In order to maintain originality, I am choosing to not read and present someone else’s thoughts. If I do find something that I think is valuable to add to the conversation, I will most certainly give credit and reference the author. However, as someone who grew up with these kinds of scriptures as foundational building blocks, I think it’s important to consider them again through the eyes of an adult, rather than a child.
Let’s start with Goodness.
“Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Psalm 34:8
Since goodness and righteousness are so closely related, it can be a bit tricky to not get sidetracked to issues that are sensitive and divisive, like self-righteousness and condescending judgmental attitudes. I’ve touched on those topics in previous posts, specifically Judgmental Christians and Not That Big of Deal. I want us to consider the positive associations of goodness.
Yet, good and righteous are so close, that there are times when I am faced with a real dilemma. As an example, there’s a question that is often found on surveys that I find difficult to answer. I’ve seen it in one variation or another, but essentially it asks –
‘Do you believe most people are basically good?’
I struggle with this question because on one hand, yes, I do believe most people do try to be good, make good choices, and view themselves as mostly good, myself included. However, scripture tells us that no one is good, or righteous, and that we all need salvation.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” Romans 3:22 – 24 (NIV).
Like the word “love”, I think “goodness” gets used in a variety of ways. It starts to become diluted, weakened, and even twisted to mean the opposite.
Someone can be labeled a goody, two shoes, something can be called too good to be true, and even lyrics are used to show that it isn’t good to be good as in “The Good Die Young.”
And of course, the quote often used to justify bad or rebellious behavior of women – “Well-behaved women seldom make history” (1976, L. T. Ulrich).
I mean, really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful
virtue? There’s excitement in doing the
wrong thing sometimes.
Paul writes about Moses, “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin” (NLT). Hebrews 11:25
First, I think we need to discuss moral development and our tendency to put goodness on a rating scale. For example, children often see the world in black and white, something is either good or bad, with nothing in between. If a young child has a bad or scary experience with a dog, then in that child’s mind, all dogs are bad. As an even better example, we’ll use the “rule” that most children learn, that it is bad to write on walls.
As we get older, and we develop more advanced cognitive
abilities, we soon find our childhood beliefs challenged and we test the
So, a child decides to write on a bathroom wall or desk. The “rule” becomes a little grayer as we begin to rationalize our actions as not so bad, better, or worse. That’s when we here things like, “Everyone else is doing it,” “She did it first,” “I only wrote . . .,” and so forth. If you wrote something small where others had already written, and nobody seemed to get into trouble, then you were still pretty good. You weren’t going against what was socially acceptable. But, if you wrote something like a threat with curse words in a conspicuous area, where no one was supposed to write, for everyone to see, then, you were a “BAD” kid. And bad kids were ostracized and punished. (Or by some students, completely accepted and considered heroes, especially in middle school where rebellion is normal and developmentally appropriate, depending on the target of the threat.)
As adults, we have pieces of our childhood lessons mixed in with our ability to think abstractly and greater experience. We are able to rationalize even more, and we can hold several different positions at the same time. The action of the child was bad, the child is not bad, and if we know what the child is going through at home, or in the school, we are likely to blame the parents – then the parents are bad.
Okay. Enough. There’s a vicious circle to it.
Society says we all have our own truth. We certainly all have our own perspectives and experiences, and those are what inform our beliefs about the world. Comparisons and experiences can create confusion causing us to doubt what we thought we KNEW to be true. Unfortunately, sometimes good things get twisted into looking bad and the other way around. I think most often, we just jump to conclusions without having a clear picture. Especially with social media – we are still in that middle school, join the crowd or be pushed out, rejected, mentality. It all becomes relative.
We (general population) believe the church says you have to be good to be acceptable to God, to the church, and you have to follow all the rules or you won’t go to heaven. I’m sure there are some churches that still teach that. Or maybe there are some churches that seem to give off the, ‘you are all guilty and worthless sinners, so do what we tell you to do’, kind of vibe. There are many churches that don’t teach that, but if one thinks that’s what church is about, then why ever go?
By the way, I was a good girl. Shocker, I know. I don’t think I ever wrote any graffiti anywhere. I wanted to be obedient, but I was also questioning the whole time. For example, I grew up in a church denomination that said, No drinking, No dancing, and No cussing. Real life Footloose. However, when I learned to read, the church’s covenant was posted on the wall, and I read to see where it said drinking wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t on there. I wondered where that rule came from. I still didn’t drink until I was legally allowed to, except for a sip here or there. (See – not that bad, still mostly good.)
In the Bible, there are lists of things that are good and bad. We most often hear of the bad things, the things we aren’t supposed to do. The Ten Commandments are written in negative form – “Thou shalt not . . .” There are many things listed in the Old and New Testament as examples of sinful, wicked, or evil behaviors. For example, just a bit earlier in Galatians we read,
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” Galatians 5: 19 – 21 (BSB).
Furthermore, we have Jesus telling us even our thoughts are evil.
“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.” Matthew 15: 18 – 19 (BSB)
If our thoughts, even the ones that pop up uninvited, are considered bad, how can we ever display goodness? How can we be good? We know we can’t, so we justify our thoughts and actions by saying things like, “if it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” or “he/she deserved it,” or “no one knows, so it doesn’t matter.”
But God knows. He’s the only one who does know our hearts.
“A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart” Proverbs 21:2 (NIV).
When you read the whole of Galatians, even if it’s just chapter five, you will find that Paul is comparing the natural inclinations of people without God with those who have the Spirit of God guiding them. The virtues listed are the natural good things of God. Without Him, without His grace, we will continually fall short. And He knows how much we need His Grace, even if we don’t recognize the need ourselves.
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior” John 3: 16 – 17 (GNT).
Sometimes we use the scaled list of good to evil to help us feel better about ourselves. Some of us who have received God’s grace, forget how much we still need it – EVERY SINGLE DAY. This can lead us to arrogant thinking that we are just naturally good and deserve the gift of grace over others. We twist the good and precious gift of grace as if we earned it, using it against others who we think are messed up more than ourselves.
Friends, we have all done or thought something bad, and we all need the gift of grace. And those of us who have experienced that precious, amazing gift of grace, need to remember to share it with others. To not hold it like a secret possession that is rare and reserved for only for a few.
Who is excluded from God’s gift of grace?
What about people out there who have been told that they are unworthy to receive God’s grace? What if there are people who believe that there is no way God will ever accept them? What about the people who believe they rejected by the church because of their tendencies, actions, and preferences? Because this is what is all really about – acceptance and rejection.
Is God’s love for everyone except ——–?
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” Mark 2:17 (NLT).
God doesn’t offer grace because we are good. God offers grace because we are not good – even those of us who are considered pretty good.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let’s be careful about how we represent the grace and love of God to those most vulnerable, the most in danger of missing out on the Amazing Grace that God freely offers. Let Him take care of working His goodness through us and in the lives of those around us. He is patient and kind, slow to anger.
We are reminded of the importance and reality of God’s judgment, the necessity of God’s goodness and grace with the words Paul wrote to the church in the book of Romans. There was a debate regarding whether or not Greeks, or Gentiles, were acceptable to God:
“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew, then for the Greek. For God does not show favoritism” Romans 2: 9 -11 (NIV).
The only ones who miss God’s grace and goodness are those who reject Him with an unrepentant heart. May we never become arrogant in our salvation, but rather, remain humble servants, cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit through obedience.
Just a fun little ending here. I had been working on this post for a while, but I had been struggling to figure out how to wrap it up, to know if I was supposed to restart the blog. My husband and I were visiting some beautiful places here in Germany, including a famous church that is hundreds of years old. As I’m walking around the back, I see this:
Who would think it’s a good idea to carve on a famous, historical church’s pew? Goodness Gracious! I bet there’s a great story there.
Again, it is up to our own choice, our own free will, to accept God’s grace and salvation. We get to accept or reject Him.
Finally, I leave you with this encouragement:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” 2 Peter 3:18 (NIV).
Because I believe in reading things in context, here are links to the scriptures I used to guide what I wrote:
Here’s the reference for the quote about well-behaved women. Although I haven’t read the article yet, and I suspect I will want to write about it much later, it’s important to reference and cite properly!
On December 6, 2017, I published my first blog post, The Rock Tumbler. In it I discussed how my plans and purposes had disappeared and dissipated. My children were leaving the nest, teaching hadn’t worked, and I was at a loss of what I was supposed to do.
The following month, I began the journey to get a master’s in school counseling through Liberty University’s online program. I was scared to say the least. The obstacles loomed over me. My age, debt, moves still in the works, I hadn’t had to take any courses in over 20 years! Fearfully and prayerfully, I made the commitment to take on this mountain. My husband pushing and encouraging me that I could do this.
Last weekend, the journey came to completion, and I want to take a few moments to express my gratitude. God put the idea and desire in my heart to work as a school counselor long ago as I taught students that needed help that I couldn’t give as a teacher. He confirmed this drive through scripture, through prayers, through circumstances, and through people.
I would never have taken the first steps without the support, encouragement, and proactive measures taken by my husband. I am so grateful for his patience and understanding as I disappeared into the studying zone of reading, research, and writing. He kept me from dissolving into fearful and tearful inaction more times than I can count.
I am grateful for the many people, friends, teachers, and colleagues who encouraged me all along the way. Many heard my hesitant, far-away dreams, and told me they thought counseling would be a good fit. I tucked those words into my heart, each one like a layer of sheer colored ribbon placed one over another until there was a bold hue I couldn’t ignore. Other students, the ones who were going through the classes while working full-time, parenting young children, and had other responsibilities earned my respect for the hard work they demonstrated. I used their examples to press on, and I am so grateful for those friendships, even if they were limited to a week long intensive course.
And then there are my professors. When I started the program, I entered into a late registration class. I had to take what I called a “remedial writing class” for master’s students, and I felt so behind and ill-equipped. I fought panic as I struggled with the format of online courses, of fitting all the coursework, practicum, and internships into a tight schedule. I looked at the amount of work, and I almost choked, thinking how will I ever be able to get all of this done, and done well. My professors were sensitive, attentive to my many emails, and offered wise counsel. Many of them shared their own personal stories and struggles with me, a sort of personal disclosure designed for relevant encouragement. And the professors at Liberty, they pray for you. I learned to trust what they had to say.
Last weekend was graduation weekend. Instead of attending the ceremony at Liberty University, I joined my family in attending my daughter’s graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University. That, on Mother’s Day weekend, was an incredible bookend for the last few years. I am grateful for my children, for the ways they supported and encouraged me to pursue this degree. My son stayed with me and watched me push through as he finished high school and started community college. My daughter and I were able to appreciate each other’s struggles as we faced the college version of “senior-itus”, final deadlines, and looked for jobs.
We are about to move again, the third time in four years, hence the tumbleweed. I have a job lined up, and I am still under tight deadlines with many things out of my control. Almost three years later, I know I don’t need to panic. I can go back to the verses in that first post, and remember the ways God has been faithful. When I started this blog, I felt lost and directionless, without a purpose. Is this the end of the blog? I don’t know. It has been in many ways a public journal of this empty nesting process. But this change feels bigger and more than a life stage transition.
God knows what He has planned next. May we continue to trust Him with all our unknowns.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (NIV).
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (NIV).
How does that even happen? Am I somehow picking up radio signals floating through the air? Or is it some leftover subconscious remnant from a forgotten dream?
Usually, I can identify why a song is at the top of my mental jukebox. But last week, I woke up with snippets of a song, a hymn mind you, that I haven’t heard or sung in decades! I just heard in my mind –
“ . . . let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our troubles . . . ”
That led to me thinking about –
Sweet Hour of Prayer and Heavenly Sunshine with undercurrents of In the Garden, It is Well With My Soul, and What a Friend We Have In Jesus.
The hymns I grew up singing played a significant role in developing my childhood foundations of faith, and even now, help sustain truths that are often buried under the weight of so many distractions and adult responsibilities.
Last month, I wrote about the Voices of Encouragement seminar I attended and J-L’s statement of affirmation. After letting the idea of creating my own affirmation statement stew for a while, I decided to put together key phrases from some of those important hymns and scriptures to read each day.
Here’s the draft I have so far:
I sing because –
Love Lifted Me
What A Friend I Have In Jesus who has
Established a (How) “Firm Foundation in His excellent Word”
This knowledge is like Heavenly Sunshine “filling my soul with joy”
And even when I am weary and dismayed
I can –
Have a Little Talk With Jesus in my Sweet Hour of Prayer with
My Blessed Redeemer who gives me peace so that I may say
It is Well With My Soul as I kneel and remember
My salvation purchased At the Cross, The Old Rugged Cross
Then I’m Standing on the Promises and move confidently
Onward Christian Soldier Because of His Amazing Grace.
I’m new at this affirmation thing, but I’ve noticed on the mornings when I read this, I feel more confident going into the day.
My hope in sharing this is that you will find your own way to put together the things God has shown you, to strengthen, and encourage you.
Interestingly, you may have heard the song, The Joy of the Lord is my Strength. I’ve always wondered, what is the joy of the Lord? How can I bring joy to the Lord, and how does that give me strength? Is it by being more obedient, giving more in service, having more faith?
I don’t know for sure yet, but maybe I’ve had that idea backwards.
This week, it occurred to me that maybe it’s not about what brings joy to the Lord that strengthens me. Maybe it’s when I find joy in the Lord that gives me strength.
What do you think?
I’d love for you to share your own affirmation statements!
As women of faith, how often do we really encourage each other? Do we allow others to see that we need encouraging? Or even better, do we even realize we need encouragement? I didn’t.
Photo by Brandon Montrone on Pexels.com
At the end of last month, I had the privilege of attending a woman’s conference that was hosted by the organization, Voices of Encouragement (VOE)
Now, how I came to be there is an interesting story. I have a neighbor, Edna, whose daughter is the same age as my son. When our children were both in high school, they hung out together, but Edna and I never really seemed to find the time to connect and get to know one another. We were friendly, saying “Hi,” when our paths crossed, but we didn’t really have too many shared activities. I had heard about some kind of vague reference to her starting a non-profit to encourage women, but I didn’t really think it was relevant to me.
Then around December, I was looking for someone to go to a concert with me, someone who might enjoy the kind of music that is not typically appreciated by many middle-aged women. I timidly asked her husband first if this musician was someone my neighbor enjoyed, and was pleased to hear that yes, she did like the musician, and she might be interested in going to the concert.
We finally got together to discuss the concert plans, and in the course of our discussion, we began sharing and finding more things in common. For example, she wrote a Bible study devotion for her youngest daughter to take with her to college. She had it published, shared it with me, and I found it to be quite perfect for the busy college freshman’s life. I shared with her that I had written a Bible study for my daughter, and I shared it with her as it is published on this website in the form of the Daughters and Disciples series.
From this conversation, Edna invited me to attend the VOE conference as her guest, and encouraged me to consider what else God might want to do with this blog and the Daughters and Disciples.
So, I went.
The theme of the conference was on Wisdom, Wealth, and Wellness. These are similar to the themes I wrote about in Daughters and Disciples. The speakers were amazing, the women were very accepting and welcoming, and yes, I was encouraged.
See, I was sitting at a table with a group of women who were invited for one particular reason or another, and none of us knew each other. As we began to share how we came to be there, I tried to describe how it was that Edna thought I should come and referenced the blog. One of the women asked what it was called, and I said, “Moving Forward in Faith, but I know that’s not very original. I am looking for a better title.” And let me tell you, my apologetic, I know it’s not very good, disparaging comment did NOT go over well with these women. Lovingly, but firmly, they responded that I should embrace what I have done, and keep “moving forward.” That really stopped me in my tracks, and I realized that I have not developed the confidence in what I’m doing nearly as much as I thought I had. I didn’t even realize I needed encouraging. So, even while I am in the midst of my final semester of getting this school counseling master’s, I realize I cannot just stop posting, even if I can only do so once a month.
There are two things I want to share with you that different women shared at that conference. The first is an affirmation statement by J.L. Bolton, and the second is a poem by Anita Gill-Anderson.
The affirmation statement inspires me because I know the unkind thoughts, the tendency to disparage and devalue my work, are habits I need to break. I haven’t written my own affirmation statement, yet. But, I will. Just read it and see what I mean –
My life is a mess,
There’s just so much stress!
NO, those thoughts are history,
I now live in victory!
I’m fearfully, wonderfully made.
On me, holy hands have been laid.
My help’s from above,
I’m redeemed by his blood
Sometimes there’s attacks,
But then there are comebacks!
With those I grow stronger,
Defeat is no longer.
God gets the glory,
For my winning story.
Plus there r twisters,
He gave me some sisters –
I got V.O.E.
To always lift me.
With God on my side,
There’s faith in my stride.
The devil…wants me brokin’
But JC, he ain’t jokin’
I AM said I AM,
I AM J-L Bolton!
I am thankful that Ms. J.L. Bolton allowed me to share this with you. What if we all reminded ourselves of the things we know to be true? What things do you need to remind yourself of each day?
Anita Gill-Anderson has given me permission to publish the poem on this blog, and she asks that if anyone would like to share it, to please make sure you give her the proper credit. If you would like to contact her directly, just send me an email, and I’ll share your contact information with her. (The comments button is at the top of the page, and direct messages can be sent to me on the Contact page.)
Hello again. It’s been a while. January 2019 is so welcome, isn’t it?
Although I haven’t written anything for 6 months, I have been thinking about what I would write if I could. I expected to be able to write at least one or two posts over the fall, but life threw things in the way. I just read a couple of the last blog posts (Moving Summer and I Know Better). I noticed they both had the theme of expectations even though they were written months apart. Expectations still pose a problem for me, and I am being challenged to consider my beliefs, the desires of my heart, and my actions and reactions.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
My attitude was a bit sour this past Fall. I was angry and frustrated about not being able to set up the house properly before the semester started. I have been increasingly fearful about our plans to move overseas next summer and my ability to get a job where I don’t know anyone, fresh out of school, and with no experience. And, we had to put our big dog down due to a sudden and unexpected health issue even though he should have lived several more years. He’s the fourth dog, all different breeds, where we’ve had to do that. I allowed circumstances to pull me under into a sense of desperation and defeat.
It’s time to deal with that properly.
I’ve noticed there’s a trend in choosing a word for the year. The thing I’ve been thinking about this last semester is Belief. And more specifically, what does it look like to live out what I believe? I have been struggling with what I believe about God’s grace and love for me, right now, even when I act petulantly and faithlessly. Perhaps you can relate. I think God’s grace is something we think we understand, but allowing that grace to fully saturate our lives and relationships can be a sticking point. I invite you to join me as I see what God shows me through this particular lesson.
The verse that began this theme is this:
John 6: 29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (NLT)
This statement by Jesus challenges all kinds of inherent beliefs I have about my responsibilities and the way I choose to live and engage with others. When I became a mom, I knew I had the privilege to raise and influence my children for a limited period of time. I took my responsibility seriously, and I tried to do all the right things. As a wife, I tried to support and honor my husband in a way that would please God and help us grow closer spiritually. I prayed over my marriage, my children, my relationships with my parents and siblings, our many moves, my husband and his work, and even my children’s friends. I attended and led Bible Studies, church services, volunteered at VBS and youth activities, did Bible studies at home, and tried to set a good example for what loving and believing God looks like expecting that all this love and doing good stuff would result in my family wanting to experience God in the same way. I love doing all those things!
Here’s the thing – my expectations haven’t been realized. And I don’t know if they ever will. Meaning, I don’t know if my children and husband will ever want to be as devoted and engaged that same way. So the thought occurs to me – Does their not wanting to be as involved in church mean I failed in setting a good enough example of love, forgiveness, and kindness? I can tell you, I know where I’ve failed. Even in all my attempts in doing things right. I have and continue to fail again and again.
So, when I don’t see the expected fruits of my labor, then my perseverance in doing good is weakened, and I feel worn out. I don’t have the heart to keep going. I stop praying. I stop having those amazing quiet times where God is speaking to me, encouraging me. I think about all the ways that I messed up, didn’t pray well enough, acted in doubt instead of faith, was impatient, and I take on the responsibility for what’s not right – according to my expectations.
I mix guilt with a little bit of truth, and I feel even more defeated. I know God loves me. I know I have received salvation and grace for later. I know I have asked for forgiveness, and that God forgives. I know I am a child of God, but I must not be (good, faithful, obedient, fill in the blank) enough because I don’t see the fruit from my labor. Inherent in that belief is that although I’m forgiven, grace doesn’t apply to my life at the moment, and I am still responsible for the fallout of my faithless actions.
Do I really believe that? Is that the truth? Or are my failures so significant, that God can’t redeem and restore what I’ve broken? If I believe and act as if the results of my messed up attempts at life and love can’t be fixed, then I am saying that my sin is bigger than God’s redeeming love and salvation through Jesus Christ. Basically, I’m saying God’s grace doesn’t apply to me. And I recognize the lie.
Guess what, making others believe and act in a certain way is not my work. God’s work is something more significant, creative, loving, and perfect than anything I could ever imagine. And, I need to trust Him with my mistakes. I need to trust His forgiveness is just as real and relevant in the present as it will be on judgment day. And, my work or joy in doing the churchy things I listed above are not the only ways people can show their own love of God. How arrogant of me!
Back to scripture:
Regarding the fears I have about getting a job next year:
Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Regarding the areas where I know I mess up:
2 Corinthians 12:9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
And regarding my efforts:
Ephesians 2: 8 – 10For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Berean Study Bible)
God gives grace. His grace. Not just in the time to come, but now. And my work is to believe in Jesus Christ, the person of His Grace. If I doubt God’s grace is applicable to me as I live right now, then I undervalue that amazing and precious grace not just for myself, but for others as well. And there it is, the lie hidden in the works. I know God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. His grace is not just a one-time thing, at the point of salvation that just sits there until judgment day.
I didn’t even realize what my belief of limited grace implied until I was challenged by that one verse.
God gives grace. God gives faith.
And, I know that God has been patient and gentle with me. Why wouldn’t He be the same with everyone else? As far as the guilt I feel for the ways I have messed up, said hurtful things, or lacked discipline and wisdom, I imagine God as a teacher, knowing the mistakes I have and will make, and allowing me to make them because He’s got it all worked out already.
My work is to believe in Jesus, the one God sent. And believing in Jesus means I need to trust God’s grace – for me, for others, and for right now. He knows it’s going to be all okay in the end.