Help My Unbelief

Recently I have been wondering why I ever thought I could retire. I have been trying to avoid taking money out of my 401K until I hit 72, but in all honesty with today’s inflation I am thinking that may not be possible. I went to the store today to buy something to make a dessert for my home team and was shocked when the items cost $18—just for one dessert made with Jell-O and strawberries. Like many individuals on a fixed income, I worry about having enough money to meet my daily needs, let alone all the things on my “want” list.

The past couple of weeks have been a little rocky for me. Without going into detail, let’s just say God and I have been having conversations about the depth of my faith and trust in Him. But recently as I was reading the story of the widow and the oil in 2 Kings 4:1-7 it reinforced what God has been telling me all along. Trust me. I will meet your needs.

Sometimes I feel like the father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. In Jesus’ encounter with the young boy’s father, the man said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  Jesus replied, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.”  And then the father said something that most of us can identify with on occasion, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Are you filled with doubts? Do you sometimes wonder if God has left you alone to cope with life the best you can? Do you feel like you are abandoned and there is no hope?  Satan wants us to buy into these lies.

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God is faithful and true. He cares for us. He wants us to believe and trust in Him. When we do, we can watch Him at work in our lives. Believe. Sometimes it is the simplest things that are hardest to do.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

My View from the Pew

Well, technically my view from the pew is really from the chair. We never had pews at my church. Believe me, chairs are far more comfortable and during the height of Covid-19 they were able to take out a lot of chairs in order to provide safe distancing. But I digress from the real point.

I am short and usually I sit toward the front of the church because I can see better. Invariably I will end up moving because someone tall sits in front of me. Last week, I came into the auditorium just before service started and had to sit toward the back. It was interesting how different the perspective was for me. But the cool thing was, I saw from the back what I normally did not see from the front.

I saw an arm with a tattoo sleeve lifted high in praise and a row back I saw a tiny older lady with her silver hair and dangling bracelets lifting her arms in praise also. I saw a man with black earrings in his gauge piercings, singing with all his heart. In the row in front of me sat a man dressed in a plaid flannel shirt who could have been an double for Paul Bunyan, beard, height and all. I saw black, white, and Indian cultures represented; and they were all brothers and sisters, worshiping the King of Kings.

Every Sunday you can count on two things being said from whomever is speaking. The first is, “Jesus is the lead story” and the second is, “This is a safe place for you to ask your questions.” The wonderful thing is, this is a body of believers who take that to heart. In an age when many churches are closing their doors, our church is reaching people with the powerful love of Jesus. We encourage everyone who comes through our doors to become involved in a ministry and be part of a home team, where they build relationships with other Christians.

As I observed from the back, I thought this is what the church should be–People from all walks of life who desperately need Jesus. We all have sin and we all have been recipients of Christ’s love when he ultimately shed his blood for us. From my seat in the back of the church I watched in awe as I saw God’s Spirit at work in a group of diverse people who crave a relationship with him.

We are not perfect, and anyone looking for flaws, can certainly find one. But the fact of the matter is when a church embraces their love for God and their love for people, God can work powerfully. What about you? What do you see when you watch from the back? What you see can tell you a lot about your church. I hope that it is God’s love shining through.

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love our neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.'” – Matthew 22:34-40

Chariots of Fire

Do you ever have those days when you think, “I have no clue what God is doing.” I look at the world around me and sometimes I feel so defeated. I see so much hatred and strife, and so many spiritual battles of good vs. evil. I feel like I should be out there doing something and yet, I am not experiencing clear direction from God. Yes, I do have direction to love others, develop fruit of the Spirit and keep on having faith, but sometimes I feel that God has something in store for me that I just have not recognized yet! Have you ever been there? Have you ever questioned God and wonder why he hasn’t shown himself? The response I keep getting back is: Trust me, I have it covered.

Not long ago I was reading 2 Kings 6:6-23 and God reminded me that He’s got it covered. The Arameans were in a war against Israel, and God used the prophet Elisha to protect the king from harm. When the king of Aram discovered that Elisha was telling the King of Israel battle areas to avoid, he decided to take matters in his own hands and sent a strong showing of his troops to surround the city of Dothan, where Elisha was staying.  When Elisha’s servant went out and saw the troops, he came back to Elisha, saying, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” I imagine we are a lot like that servant sometimes. We wring our hands and cry out, “What shall we do?”

Elisha replied for the servant not to be afraid because, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The Lord then opened the servant’s eyes to see that the hills were full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. God had not left them unprotected. The story ends peacefully as Elisha struck the soldiers blind and led them to the King of Israel. The king was gracious to them and spared their lives and the raids on Israel’s territory were subsequently stopped.

I take great comfort in the fact that we are surrounded by a mighty army of God. Metaphorically speaking, sometimes I am like Elisha’s servant and do not see God working and I feel paralyzed because I feel like the world is winning this battle of life. I just need God to open my eyes so that I can see it. But that is where faith comes in. I need to remember God is aware of my needs, and he is faithful. But sometimes like Elisha’s servant, I just want to be shown the army of God around me.

 What about you?  Do you feel sometimes like there is a skirmish raging around you and you are not sure of the outcome? Do you think you are alone in this battle of life and all is lost? Take comfort. God has not left us abandoned. We may not have the literal privilege of seeing the hills full of horses and chariots of fire, but we do have the assurance that God is at work on our behalf. Sometimes we just need to pray for God to open our eyes to let us see the chariots of fire, and then remember the battle belongs to the Lord.

Songwriters: Brian Johnson / Philip David Wickham

Battle Belongs lyrics © Bethel Music Publishing

Exposed to the Light

Our church is going through the New Testament together for the second time in as many years. I love the fact that so many of our family has been taking this to heart and participating in the challenge to read scripture daily. Each week our pastors read the same passages we read and share insights in ways I may not have seen before. It never ceases to amaze me when I read a scripture I have read multiple times before, God shows me something new. I do not know why I am surprised by that. He has been doing it ever since I became a Christian at the age of 12.

I was reading Matthew 10 recently and I cannot tell you how many times I have heard studies on Matthew 10:29-31. You know, the passage that says not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing, and the fact that God knows the very number of the hairs on our head. I have heard this passage used countless times to tell us that we do not need to worry because God knows our needs and is active in our lives.

But I rarely hear anyone do a study on the verses prior to this. Matthew 10:26-28 says, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. ” (NIV)

The fact that Jesus came to earth to save mankind is not a secret to be kept, but something to be shouted from the rooftops. In this scripture he is letting the disciples know the things he is teaching them will be revealed in the light. Which is the good news of Jesus. But sin will also be revealed and brought to light despite the fact that so many people think their sins are secret and no one will find out.

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It hurts my heart every time I hear another prominent Christian who has been caught in sexual sins. People like Ravi Zacharias, Josh Duggar, and more who have caused untold damage to the body of Christ by their actions. Not only did they somehow justify their sin, they deceived themselves into thinking that no one would find out. Their sins have been exposed for the world to see. How much more will God expose our sins on the day of judgment?

We as Christians should be holding out the truth of Jesus, who was sinless. He was tempted in the same ways we were. Satan dangled power, riches, and more in front of Jesus, and yet Jesus knew the will of his father and stayed true to the things of God. If Jesus came to our church and started listing our sins for the world to see, we would be horrified. Somehow we think that all those sins we do in secret will never be exposed.

But don’t be deceived. Jesus makes it plain that the one we should be afraid of is the one who can destroy both soul and body. How about you? Do you have hidden secret sin that may some day come to light? Do you bury your actions, thinking no one will know or see what you are doing? Bring them to the light and repent. Because only then will you find the freedom and joy that can be experienced in Christ.

Finding Joy in the Chaos, Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the stress and chaos that often robs us of our joy. Today we are going to focus on some things that help us in regaining and maintaining joy in our lives. Having joy does not mean that we are happy all the time, or that we never have problems. Instead, for the Christian, it is a deep contentment and happiness that is centered on the Creator.

So how do we find this contentment and joy? I believe a large part of the answer is found in Philippians 4:8-9. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Consider this–if we focus on the untrue, ignoble, wrong, unpure, ugly or abominable, then our minds will fill with depression and fear. But in focusing on the good things, we are much more likely to find joy.

Key to finding joy in our lives is to have a solid relationship with God.

Photo by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash

If you are struggling spiritually, learn to study his word, spend time in prayer with him, and listen to the Holy Spirit as he guides us. Not only will our spiritual walk continually improve, but this will help us by giving us the faith to hand our problems to God and let him work on them. Of all the things we can do to bring a deep, abiding joy in our life, it is to develop a deep relationship with God.

Colossians 2:6, says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

The fact of the matter is that joy is one part of the fruit of the Spirit and should be embedded in every Christian’s life. Galatians 5:22 reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” By focusing on whatever listed in Philippians 4:8, we will find ourselves changing and growing, and it will be easier to leave the joy stealers behind us.

Identify unrealistic expectations holding us back from true happiness.

We are bombarded on every side by media and even people we know who are telling us what we need to do to in order to have a better life. If we just peruse through a magazine, we will see how many products are being promoted to entice us into thinking if we buy them our life will be better. John F. Kennedy said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” We listen to lies and myths daily. And they set up unrealistic expectations in our lives.

Women especially are bombarded by the messages of being better and being perfect. Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda, becomes a catch phrase for us as we review ourselves from a lens that is frequently skewed and sometimes even detrimental to us. Learn to discern your unrealistic expectations and let them go. Learn to lean on Jesus and let go of the expectations of others.

Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28 

Define ways we can actually bring joy back into our lives.

Immerse your self in God’s Word. Try some soul nurturing. Have a mini-retreat with just you and God (even if it is only 1 hour long!) Have a special place set aside where you can read your Bible, journal and pray. I found that was especially difficult when I had young children, but it can bring such joy to your life when you are at a good place with God.

Surround yourself with Christian friends. Good friends help provide perspective, companionship, a place to vent, accountability and encouragement. However, if you have a toxic friend, they provide doom and gloom and are critical and negative influences on your life. Finding friends is not always easy and I would suggest looking at common ministries at church, small groups, or even in a MOPS (Mothers of preschoolers) program.

The right kind of friends can share our faith and values. Choose someone who is positive, is a good listener, believes the best in you, communicates honestly and directly, and can keep confidences.

Learn to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. It is sometimes hard to find all the good around us, but sometimes we just need to focus on the little things that cross our paths every day. Finding a cheerful heart is important to our mental health. Psalm 119:111 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

If you are having difficulty finding joy, the following are a few ways to enjoy life’s simple pleasures:

  • Reconnect with the world around you
  • Take a walk in nature
  • Garden
  • Cook or bake
  • Develop a daily gratitude practice (I keep a gratitude jar and fill it with things I am grateful for)
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Sing and Dance
  • Laugh–a lot. Laughter is proven to relieve pain, reduce stress, and build our immune system
  • Get enough sleep
  • Take time to journal or read something that nourishes your soul
  • Meditation, Prayer and Bible study releases feel good hormones, reduces stress and improves cardiovascular health
  • Do Good for others
  • Maintain realistic expectations
  • Play
  • Dress Happy
  • Do volunteer work
  • Set goals – not only for where you want to be in life, but include some relaxing such as a spa day, getting your nails done, reading a good book, taking a bubble bath.
  • Send letters, poems, or drawings to first responders, essential workers, or elderly people on their own, for example.

I am sure we can find the joy that can be ours if we look for the “whatever” in life. One of my favorite scriptures is found in Isaiah 55:12. It paints such a rich picture that it fills my heart with joy each time I read it.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

So while joy may sometimes seem elusive to us, if we practice some of the suggestions above and make Philippians 4:8 a habit in our lives, we will find ourselves much more attuned to having joy. God wants us to have joy in our lives. A deep, abiding joy in him that is not contingent on our circumstances but rather rooted in his love and grace. Let’s start the journey today.

More Scriptures about joy: Psalm 5:1, Psalm 5:11, Psalm 71:23, Psalm 94:19, Jeremiah 15:16, John 16:24, Acts 2:28, Romans 15:3, Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Peter 1:8-9,

Finding Joy in the Chaos, Part 1

If most of you are like me, the last two years have been frustrating. Covid has changed our world and stress levels are at an all-time high. Our lives are nothing like we envisioned them. I retired when Covid-19 hit such high numbers in 2020.

My expectations for retirement were drastically changed. My bucket list hit the trash can. There would be no road trips to see family and long-time friends, no cruises, and no extra vacations. Suddenly instead of the retirement I envisioned, I was left with the fall-out of Covid and it was hard to find joy in my life.

The fact is that many of the women I talk with are struggling to find joy in their lives amidst the chaos right now. They are tired and worn out. They are juggling their lives, trying to be everything to everyone. You are not alone if you are struggling.

According to Dr. Steve Stephen, in his book The Worn Out Woman notes studies done estimate there are more than sixty million worn-out women in the US alone and just as many are on the fast track to becoming exhausted and overwhelmed! It is no wonder we are having difficulty finding joy in our lives. I suspect those statistics are higher since 2020.

The fact of the matter is what we are feeling now is not new. Psalm 6:6 says, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” Psalm 10:1 is a cry from David, “Why O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

I want to find joy in my life and instead it seems that stress has become a daily part of it. So, what happens when you are stressed?  Stress can lead to health problems, broken relationships, severe depression, and a number of other difficult consequences. If you ignore these issues, they do not go away. Trying to tap into joy when you are struggling is extremely difficult because the issues sometimes grow and steal our joy.

And the thing about joy is not that we are happy all the time. Instead it is an intrinsic emotion that helps us know that things are well with our soul. The Webster definition for joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, but for the Christian it combines that with a deep satisfaction and knowledge that no matter how our lives are going, God is with us every step of the way.

Joy is a term that appears approximately 165 times in the KJV translation, 182 in the NASV, and 218 times in the NIV.

Crosswalk website notes, “As we read in Scripture, joy is a state of being, and it differs from happiness, which may come and go. Happiness is usually measured by our circumstances, whereas joy is measured by what we have been given. As Christians, we have been given something that cannot be taken away. We have joy because of the grace of Jesus Christ that lives in us. We can hold onto joy, we can feel joyful, and we can rejoice with praise no matter what our circumstances may be because no matter what is going on in our lives God is always near.”1

Valorie Burton, A Christian life coach who regularly appears on the Today Show says, “If you want to be happier on a regular basis, there’s one really simple piece of advice to follow… Happiness is actually contagious, so be intentional about surrounding yourself with happy people.”

So, how do we find joy in our lives? The first thing is to recognize that we really do need to identify the areas in our lives that are joy stealers. In others words, we need to evaluate what circumstances take away our joy and then try to develop healthy habits that help us renew our joy in life. So how and why do we do this? Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow as I lay out a key Scripture to focus on to help you find your way to joy.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. Continue reading