My Independence Day

Today we celebrate America’s Independence Day with picnics, food, time with family, and fireworks. A multitude of people celebrate without recognizing the great sacrifices that were made in order to gain autonomy from Great Britain. We need to remember the lives that were given, the homes that were burned, and the families that were forever changed when America made her bid for independence.

Photo by Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash

While I love July 4th, today I want to talk about my own personal Independence Day. It is a day I still remember vividly even though it was many years ago. I came from a good home, but not a home where we learned about Jesus and made faith a foundation. My life changed when a neighbor volunteered to send me to church camp. I had absolutely no idea what church camp was, nor did I understand why I was chosen to be sent since there were six of us children in my family. But God had a plan for my life and he used MacGomery Christian Camp to set me on my path to independence.

I think somehow God wires our DNA with this hole in our hearts that can only be filled with him. So many people spend their whole lives searching for that one thing that makes them whole, while God is waiting and longing for them to let him be the one true way to peace and fulfillment. Deep inside of me was this longing for God. As I heard the Bible taught, as I listened to the prayers being lifted to the heavens, and as I experienced watching people living out their faith during my week at church camp, I recognized that God could fill that hole in my heart.

I don’t remember the exact words of the challenge to give my life to Christ, but I do remember the nudge of the Holy Spirit to take the plunge (literally and figuratively) that would make Jesus my Lord forever and give me my Independence Day. All of the sins I had committed, all of the shame and sorrow from being sexually abused, all of the past was let go the minute I confessed his name as Lord and Savior and was buried in baptism. That was my Independence Day.

I often look at Galatians 5:1 where Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free (meaning free from sin and free from the Jewish law). Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” I actually like the way The Message puts it: “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” It does my heart good to know the sacrifices that Christ made for my freedom. He left the glory of heaven when he came to earth and walked among man. Despite his miracles, signs and wonders, people still doubted him and mocked him. He freely gave his life on the cross, and took on all of our sins (that is a lot of sin and depravity) and shed his blood as the final sacrifice for us. The cost of our freedom was high so that I could have an Independence Day that set me free.

While I hope you have an awareness and appreciation for our United States Independence Day, I think the Independence Day given to us when we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a true independence that will last forever. So what about you? Have you found your freedom in Christ? I hope so because I think the glories of heaven will far eclipse the awesomeness of fireworks here on earth.

I Love You More

When I was growing up my parents were not good at saying “I love you” or giving out hugs. It really wasn’t until my early 30s that I started hearing those words when I would come home for a visit. Do not misunderstand me—I knew my parents loved me, they proved it over and over by their actions. But they did not say it until I was older. I am not sure why it changed, but I remember being surprised the first time my mom actually said “I love you” when she hugged me goodbye. Those were words I treasured because I did not hear them very often.

When I was in high school, I remember going to my friend’s house and she would say to her mom, “I love you” and her mom would always reply, “I love you more.” I would longingly think how nice it would be to hear those words. They really were not a contest about who could love the most, but an affirmation that their love was deep and abiding.

I have been thinking about the phrase ”I love you more lately and decided to look it up on the internet. It was interesting to see the different contexts in which it was used. “I love you more than the stars in the sky.” “I love you more than coffee.” (Now that might be up for debate with some of my friends!) “I love you more today than yesterday.” “I love you more than chocolate.” I am sure by now you get the gist of all the comparisons of loving you more.

When I was thinking of “I love you more,” I thought about what it means to love someone more. I love my children more than I ever thought possible, and certainly hope I could lay my life down for them if necessary. But then I thought about how much I love God. I would like to say that I always love him more than anything in my life, but sometimes it is not reflected in my lifestyle and the things that are important to me.

Looking at Romans 5:6-11 and we get a good snapshot of the “I love you more” of Christ. Through his death on the cross where he took on our sins, he truly showed us how much more he loves us.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by this blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life. Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” – Romans 5:6-11 (NIV)

We were lost in sin, but God loves us more than anything or anyone. Because he sent Christ, his only son, as a sacrifice by the shedding of the blood on the cross, we can walk in a new life. When I think about the fact that Christ shed his blood for all sinners and took our sins upon his sinless self, I recognize what a great burden that was. All sin: gluttony, pride, lying, cheating, sexual sins, murder, and the list goes on.

I believe when I tell Jesus “I love you” and he tells me back “I love you more” he truly does.

Who do you love the most? It is good to love our family and friends, but it is best if we can say of all of those things, “I love you more” to Jesus.

Resilient or Defeated

re·sil·ience/rəˈzilyəns

  1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. “the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”

Today I was reading through the book Successful Women Think Differently by Valorie Burton. I sincerely wish I had been able to read a book like this when I was in my twenties (which is way further back than I like!). The chapter I read today was on resilience. As I read through the chapter I realized that resiliency is one key thing that makes all the difference in the world for people who have faced adversity.

Burton defines resilience as “the ability to bounce back from setbacks.” She further notes that “resilient people thrive and grow in the face of adversity, challenges and change.”1

While I was in the Ozarks I noticed that throughout the rocky ground, there was life. Bushes, trees and even weeds managed to thrive and grow despite their less than ideal environment.

I thought about that and realized that I have needed to be resilient my whole life. From at least 20 moves in my lifetime (I do not remember the ones before I was 5), to losing my husband, I have needed to practice resiliency. If you would have asked me at the time if I was resilient, I may have said no, but looking back I realize that I really did learn to grow and change during those times.

I think about all of the individuals I read about in the Bible who recovered from adversity and showed resiliency in the their lives. There are so many it is difficult to just chose a few. I am not sure how I would have reacted to being thrown in a pit or put in a fiery furnace.

Joseph showed resilience when he was sold by his brothers, accused by his master’s wife, and languishing in prison. He eventually rose to a prominent position and was able to assist his family during a time of famine. Moses came back from the act of murdering an Egyptian taskmaster and running away to the wilderness, to lead the nation of Israel to freedom from enslavement. Ruth showed resilience after losing her husband when she followed her mother-in-law to a new land. Esther showed resilience when she was chosen for the kings harem and eventually was chosen to be queen and risked her life by going before the king and pleading for the lives of the Jewish people.

All of the apostles showed resiliency after the death and resurrection of Jesus. They all faced difficult circumstances when they preached the gospel, but the continued on even until their death. Paul showed resiliency when he had an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and turned his life in an entirely new direction.

I think about all of the people I know who have shown resiliency in the face of adversity and trials. When I think of resiliency I think of one of my sisters who has faced the death of a child, the serious illness of a spouse, her own rare illness and the death of two of her grandchildren and more. Every time she comes back stronger and wiser, determined to learn from the trials in her life and become a better person. Not only that but she has undertaken the challenge of writing a book about grief (I cannot wait to see a final copy!). I have known people who lost loved ones, lost their homes, lost their jobs and still they weather their crises with fortitude and determine to learn from their challenges.

But then I have noticed individuals who seem to be stuck in their grief and bitterness and cannot move beyond the horrific things that happened to them. They deal with depression, negativity, and angst most of their lives when they do not have the resiliency to move forward. They fail to realize that cultivating resiliency can help them have a better life.

Frequently it is difficult to make the determination to move on in life. It is easier to wallow in grief or depression and not take the steps needed to make the resolution to learn from experience and move forward. The things that have helped me overcome the tough times are encouragement from family and friends, focusing on the positive instead of the negative, and most of all, relying on God to be my source of comfort and my guide.

Where do you go when the hard times strike? Do you immediately become gloom and doom or do you face your trials with an attitude of positivity and hope? Do you draw on the resources of family and friends? And most of all, do you look to the God who is the source of comfort during times of trouble?

Resiliency is a key to living a happier and more productive life. Are you living a life that is resilient or defeated? Only you can make the choice.

1Successful Women Think Differently by Valorie Burton. Published by Harvest House

©Linda DeLay Wallace 2021

Counting the Cost

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:25-27. (NIV)

These are the words of Jesus to the crowd that was following him. It was not long before this that Jesus had fed loaves and fishes to the crowds. Most them following still anticipated watching him heal someone or waited to be fed. They listened to his words and parables, without fully understanding what he was saying. But when Jesus spoke his words they probably were wondering if he really meant what he said. He did.

Although there is much debate as to whether Jesus meant this literally or figuratively, the fact of the matter is that he wants us to follow and we need to weigh the cost. Sometimes I wonder if I really have what it takes to follow him no matter what is happening in the world around me. Would I still follow Jesus if my rights were taken away, if my property was forfeit, if my family disowned me and if it meant my very life? I would like to think, yes, I can. I hope and pray that I love Jesus enough to turn my back on everything I know to serve him.

I would give credit for artwork but have been unable to find the original source.

I look at people through the ages who have counted the cost and paid it willingly, even with their very lives. I think of all the disciples who were killed, with only John dying a natural death. Stephen (in the book of Acts) is considered to be the very first Christian martyr for Christ. I think of the many martyrs through the ages who gave their lives doing what God called them to do (sometimes even opposing the organized church), From the apostles to William Tyndale in the Reformation era to the relatively recent death of Jim Elliot, individuals have given their lives for the sake of the gospel. Even today in many communist nations to become a Christian is to risk death. In Muslim countries to even entertain the thought of converting to Christianity can result in death.

I think the majority of American Christians have become complacent about counting the cost for serving Christ. Although I think there is a time coming that being a Christian in America will be risky, we are not there yet. While I think this passage is really about loving Christ above everything else, even your own life, sometimes I struggle with it. I find myself thinking if I am not brave enough to share the gospel with my neighbor, how am I ever going to be brave enough to die for Christ if the occasion warranted it? Counting the cost. That is really what every Christian needs to seriously consider when they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Can you pay the price if God asks it of you? Can I?

Unexpected Detours

Most people I know type in an address and their car’s navigational system gets them to their destination. I have heard that the GPS even talks. But for some strange reason, mine doesn’t. No matter what we do, no matter what buttons we click, my Google maps does not voice activate. EVER. I have had multiple techie people look at it, and in the store the voice will activate. But as soon as my car starts moving it quits. So I have learned to navigate the old fashioned way, by printing a map before I go anywhere. Or I can bring the map up on my phone, but I need to look at it frequently for directions. Neither solution works well for me since it is hard to drive and look at directions at the same time.

I was in the Branson area and needed to go to Walmart to pick up a few additional items. I was told, “Oh it is easy. Just turn left at the stop sign and turn right at the first light.” Somehow I missed my turn and unexpectedly found myself driving out of town on a small, two-lane highway. At first as I drove the hilly, windy road on my unexpected detour, I was tense, my shoulders were tight, and my jaw was clenched. As a person who sits short and cannot see over the hood of the car, getting to the top of a steep hill and then starting down can be scary because there is a moment when you can only pray that the road will be underneath you as you cross the hill. I eventually was able to see the beauty of the Ozark Mountains on each side of me. As I became more relaxed, I decided that I was going to enjoy this detour and kept driving, not knowing for sure where I would end up. I drove for the next thirty minutes and spent that time marveling at the beauty of God’s creation.

As I drove I thought there are not too many things as beautiful as an Ozark Mountain springtime (except maybe an Ozark Mountain Fall). The soft green of the trees is lovely to see, and the blooms of the redbuds and the flowering dogwoods compete for the best in show. The smell of the rich, verdant earth and the sound of creek water flowing merrily over rocks is a part of the magic of the Ozarks. It all shows the beauty of God’s handiwork.

As I reached a town I knew wasn’t near my final destination, I reluctantly realized it was time to regroup and head back to where I started. My little detour took me to somewhere new and unexpected. I saw a little town that was just a sign on the highway before. I turned my vehicle around and headed back to my original destination with a renewed appreciation for a part of the Ozarks I had not seen before.

In life we tend to think about a detour as negative. Frequently detours take us to roads we do not want to travel and in directions we never anticipated. Detours can be difficult but sometimes they can be a noteworthy reminder of the handiwork of God. So we have to decide how we are going to handle the detours of life. Are we going to be tense and view every detour negatively or are we going to lean into them and look for all of the beauty and wonder around us while we are on the journey? Deciding how we view detours can make all the difference in the beauty we see in the unexpected.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) ESV

©Linda DeLay Wallace 2021

When I Love the Church the Most

I have just returned from church. Yes, I attended in person and it was a wonderful experience to step through the doors this morning and be greeted by friendly faces. It was a great feeling to have my friend ask if it was okay to hug me and I answered in the affirmative (because finally she and I have both received our vaccines). I soaked in the opportunity to participate in praising God and worshiping Him. I listened carefully as our pastor shared God’s Word.

As a church we are reading through the New Testament and each week the sermon is based on something we read during the week. This morning was the story of the Good Samaritan and as our pastor always does, he gave a thought provoking, challenging-me-to-be-better sermon. But then the one thing about the church that always tugs at my heart and makes me realize how much I love the church happened. After the closing song and invitation, our pastor stepped up and asked if we could be seated. You never know what to anticipate when that happens. Did someone resign? Is there an important event coming to talk about? Who knows what it will be.

As he spoke, our pastor reminded us that the church as a body needs to pray for one another and asked if we would take time to pray for some special needs this morning. He explained that we have three families in our congregation with critically ill children. A family walked up to the stage, the father carrying his son, with his wife by his side. As he sat with his obviously ill son cradled on his lap, we prayed. How do you pray for a child who has been given no hope of living? How do you pray for parents who are walking this valley of the shadow of death–not theirs but of their child? I listened as the petitions were made to God for healing. I heard the sound of weeping and sniffling throughout the entire gathering place. Silent tears rolled down my cheeks as I prayed, hoping that the promise that the Holy Spirit would take our tears and our unknown groans to God’s throne for us would be fulfilled.

As prayers for Enzo’s family ended, another family took their place and I watched as the two moms hugged each other tightly. NatG has such a rare disease that there are only seven known cases in the world. These parents did not have their child with them, because she is in the hospital in dire need of healing. How do you comfort a mother and father who are walking this difficult road? What words can you say that will convey your empathy and sympathy? Maybe nothing. But you can pray. And pray we did. Once again we asked for God’s healing, his will, and his strength and joy to abide deeply in this family. Once again we cried together. And once again I have no doubt that God has heard our prayers.

This is the part of the body of Christ I love the most. The one that prays together. The one that weeps together. The one that loves and supports fellow members of the body when they are hurting. The one that brings their needs to the throne and prays in the name of Jesus. The one that realizes that God does not always see things the way we do and His plan is not necessarily our plan, but is willing to praise Him anyway. Being part of a church that loves God and loves our neighbors truly brings joy to my heart.

Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash

We do not know the outcome of our prayers but I am convicted that this is when the church is at its best–not when she is gleaming and holding out her precious programs and wonderful music, and even great preaching, but when we are petitioning God on behalf of our sisters and brothers. It is at our best when we drop to our knees, praying for God’s strength, His will and His comfort; when we are united in sharing someone’s pain and deepest hurts; when we are vulnerable and unsure of the future. God shows himself the most when we humble ourselves and cry out to God for his mercy and grace.

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. 14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. 16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. –James 5:13-16 (NLT)

©Linda DeLay Wallace 2021

The Color Fan

When I built my current home I had my entire villa painted white. I wanted to live in it a while so I could soak up the atmosphere and decide on the personality of each room. When I finally got to the job of choosing colors for some of my rooms, I looked at my paint fan and was overwhelmed with the choices offered. It seemed like every color in the spectrum was presented and they all reflected unique perspectives. Each color had subtle differences, making my choices difficult.

When I was looking at the different options available, I thought about how much this paint fan was like people. People come in all different personalities, made up of different shades that are formed by their innate gifts, culture, experiences and beliefs. When they intersect with our lives, we find some of them we love and instantly connect with, and others take time to grow on us. 

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Worth Something

Recently I ran across a quote that said, “Every kid needs adults who love them in a way that convinces them they are worth something.” I have to admit there was something about that statement that resonated profoundly within me. As I thought about it over the next few days, I had to dig deep to see why it struck such a cord with me.

photo by Gean Montoya on Unsplash

Without going into a ton of detail and lots of history, I realized that one of the reasons it resonated so strongly with me is because I struggled with my own worth as I grew up. Having a mom who was a perfectionist taught me all kinds of things about doing stuff right, but it also placed a lot of unrealistic expectations on me as a child. I always felt no matter what I did, it was never enough. That really did influence my feeling (or lack) of self-worth. To this day, I still struggle with believing I am worth something.

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How Far Is Too Far

Our church has been going through a sermon series entitled “Rescued.” Each week as I  hear the stories of people whom God has delivered from a life without Him, I am humbled by these individuals who are willing to be vulnerable and share their stories.

I know someone who was in a witness protection program when he turned state’s witness on a mob. His past was full of violent, unspeakable actions–things that would chill you to the bone if you knew what they were. When he met Jesus, he became a new man. He now works with inner city young men who are at high risk of becoming the same way he was before He met Christ.

Sometimes we forget that no matter where we are, no matter what we have done, no matter how dark of a place we go, no matter how much we have turned our backs on God, he is there waiting for us. When we turn all of the darkness, all of the heartache, all of the rage and bitterness, all of the hurts and deep scars to God, he will meet us in a place of healing and forgiveness. How far is too far for God to forgive us? Nowhere. That hole in our life that never seems filled? It is waiting for God.

Please listen to Natasha’s rescue story and hear how God rescued her. I love when she said, “I had a Father and I had a home and for the first time in my life I had peace.” You have never gone too far for God to rescue you.

Video by 2Rivers Church, O’Fallon MO

©Linda Delay Wallace 2020.