Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Finding Grace in Thanksgiving

I am grateful

The Thanksgiving weekend tops my list of favorite holiday celebrations. I love Christmas and Easter, because of their spiritual significance. I know the calendar dates are not accurate, but where would we be without the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? However, Thanksgiving is the pinnacle for me, as I reflect with gratitude on the many blessings of life surrounded by the people dearest to me.

We hear a lot about the importance of gratitude this time of year. The deliberate practice of gratitude comes to the forefront, especially for Christ followers. In fact, it is entirely possible to be thankful without expressing gratitude. We may recognize God’s blessings and appreciate the kindness of others (being thankful). The next step is to actively express that recognition and appreciation (being grateful).

There is another element we do not hear much about during this season. That is grace.

A thankful heart starts with finding grace. In the Old Testament God’s grace describes deliverance from enemies or adversity. It also speaks of empowerment, daily guidance, forgiveness, and protection. In the New Testament, God’s grace focuses on the provision of salvation. It is God’s love in action towards people who earn the opposite of love. (That would be all of us.) Grace is the undeserved favor of God.

The longer I follow Jesus, the more I’m aware that I don’t deserve any of God’s kindness. There is no way I can measure up to His standard of absolute perfection. He has already paid the penalty for every single wrong thing I have done and made the way for me to spend eternity with Him. I am truly entitled to nothing. Anything I receive is a beautiful gift of grace, and the Lord continues to give and give and give.

I am not suggesting that we become self-deprecating. We are highly valued and deeply loved by the Lord who created us and knows us by name. He desires to be in relationship with us. Nevertheless, His love and desire originate from the Lord Himself not from our own greatness.

Even though we have been given much, our human nature complains about what we don’t have and that what we do have is not enough. It zooms in on the suffering, the tragedies, the injustices and inequities. Thankfulness cannot be found among such negativity. I don’t want to ignore the sorrows or pretend that everything is rosy, but I want to view life through the lens of grace. The lens of grace helps me to see the good in the midst of messy relationships and a hurting world. It leads to a thankful heart, which I choose to express.

Cultivate an awareness of grace, and be thankful. Don’t let your thankfulness go unsaid. Practice gratitude by giving voice to your appreciation.

Have a grace-filled Thanksgiving, my friends.

PSALM 100 (NLT)

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
     Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.

 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I am so thankful for Your goodness and love. You have provided me salvation through Jesus Christ and pour out many blessings. Shine the light of Your Holy Spirit on the areas of my life affected by selfishness and entitlement. Teach me to see through the lens of grace, to recognize your gifts, and to express thanks. Empower me to be a person that practices gratitude well. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Faith

God’s Promises–Greater Than I Can Imagine

Imagine

Has the Lord ever spoken a promise to your heart? A word of direction and encouragement that kept you going? The Lord has spoken to my heart at key times in my life. It inspired me for the days ahead. Looking back I misunderstood everyone of those promises. I interpreted His promises with my limited perspective.

For example, as a young woman I sensed the Lord speak to my heart that Jonathan (my wonderful husband of 32 years) was the one He had chosen for me, and that through our relationship I would learn more about His love. I was thrilled, because experiencing God’s love and being married to a man who loved me were my deepest desires. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family with multiple divorces, I longed for loyalty, stability, and love.

Looking back I understand now that my marriage, while being a blessing to my life, has been a learning place for how to love with His love.

Several years ago, I went through a bit of an identity crisis. The last of my five kids was in high school. The other four kids had already graduated and moved away. I felt lost in our quiet house. My husband and I decided we could honor the Lord by being foster parents. We took the classes, filled out the application, and passed the background checks. However, our in-ground pool in the back yard was not fenced according to the code and in disrepair. We were denied on the basis of failing the home inspection. I was devastated by the decision. While crying out to the Lord, I sensed Him speak to my heart. “I have more children for you to love.” His peace settled over my soul, and I wondered what He meant.

Looking back I now can see more clearly. As the Executive Director of a pregnancy center, I have the privilege of leading an organization that helps women facing unplanned pregnancy to consider alternatives to abortion and choose life for their unborn babies. I am a part of loving God’s children—women and their babies in the womb—almost every day. Since then I have also been blessed with grandchildren, three of them. And two more on the way. My husband and I are involved in their lives and spend as much time with them as possible. Today there are lots of children for me to love!

I have held onto other promises from God’s Word, some for decades, others for a few months. Experience has taught me to wait and trust the Lord to fulfill His promises. It’s not my job to make things happen. My job is to be faithful in the things that are in front of me, and allow Him to provide in His time and in His wisdom. I don’t live for myself. I live for the Lord. “So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20b).

Looking back I see God’s promises are greater than I can imagine. It helps to remember that as I look ahead.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, Your promises are amazing and true. I trust that You are at work in my life. Help me during times of struggle to keep my eyes on Your faithfulness. Because Your promises are greater than I can imagine, let me live by faith with great expectations. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Finding Strength in Suffering

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This year has been a year characterized by suffering. I’m not saying this to be negative, and I’m not trying to gain sympathy. It’s simply a fact. As I look back over the last ten months, I can see personal trauma and multiple heartbreaking situations for those closest to me.

I am not a stranger to suffering, and I have learned to draw close to the Lord in the midst of it. Lately I have been pondering a passage in 1 Peter 5:8-11 that deals with suffering.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen (NLT).

The first thing I notice is that suffering is attributed to the work of our great enemy, the devil. His job is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). As he does his dirty work, he seeks to weaken our faith, because it is our faith in the Lord that keeps us strong. If we place the blame on the Lord, we become angry and bitter. There is nowhere else to turn. We stand firm against the devil and his plans by placing blame where it belongs and remaining strong in faith.

Isolation is another ploy of the enemy. In the midst of suffering, we may begin to believe that we are the only ones struggling. Nobody else can really understand, and we are all alone. We remove ourselves from our family of faith, the ones who can rally around us with support and prayer. The reality is that believers all over the world are suffering. It might not be the same situation or to the same degree, but they are suffering nonetheless. We must draw strength from each other.

Suffering, no matter how terrible, is temporary. My intention is not to minimize the pain that others experience. However, it is natural to feel that suffering (while in the middle of it) will last forever. We need to remember that there will be an end to it. Our God extends kindness to us. The enemy won’t win, because after we have suffered a little while the Lord Himself will restore, support, and strengthen us. The All Powerful One is absolutely trustworthy.

I know that suffering doesn’t make sense. Sometimes there are more questions than answers. Sometimes tragedy is so great and the pain seems unbearable. But we can find strength in suffering if we depend on the Lord and trust His goodness.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, may I lean on You in times of trouble. Help me to stand firm against the enemy through faith in You. Remind me that I am never alone. You are always near, and there are others in my life to stand with me. Help me to realize that suffering is temporary, and that You will make me stronger as a result. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

What’s the Point?

helping others

We sat in shocked silence. As a ministry team, we have witnessed plenty of brokenness among the people we serve. But on this day, destruction and heartbreak hit home. Each of us grappled with the weight of the ugly news we had just heard. And then someone dared to voice the question.

What’s the point?

It’s an honest question to ask, especially in the midst of despair.

We care about people, and reach out to the hurting.

We share the message of forgiveness and new life through Christ to all. No matter how far a person has fallen to addiction, violence, or other harmful choices, they are never too far from God’s love and a fresh start.

We live as examples of on-going transformation, mentoring and encouraging others toward the beautiful possibilities available to them.

We give generously to meet tangible needs without strings attached.

And, yet what good does our sacrificial lifestyle produce? How many people actually devote their lives to Jesus and break free from the darkness?

Too often the visible results are overwhelmingly disheartening. And our souls cry out, “What’s the point?”

As a Christ-follower, I have devoted myself to pointing others to Jesus. I deeply believe that as long as there is life, there is hope. No matter how terrible it may look in the moment, there is always hope.

My daughter, Jordanne Babcock, penned this response during a moment of sorrow.

“Today I witnessed the destruction and heartbreak that darkness brings to people. And, if I’m being honest, it’s breaking me. I hope to God that I never become apathetic when I encounter darkness. I pray that I always hate the shadows with this same passion. I hope the Light inside me continues to scream NO.”

I scream “NO” as I continue to hope for the Lord to work in people’s hopeless situations.

I scream “NO” as I extend love to people who are considered unlovable.

I scream “NO” as I chose to forgive people who do not deserve it.

And what is the point?

For me, the point is to shine Christ’s light in the darkness no matter what. His light is always greater than the darkness, and darkness will never extinguish it. I will not stop sharing His unfailing love with others, and the enemy will not be victorious.

In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:1-5, NLT).

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:14-16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, take my broken heart and surround me with Your healing. Take my discouragement and pour out Your hope. Take my weariness and infuse me with faith. Fill me with Your sustaining love, so that I can faithfully shine Your Light for all to see. Help me remember that my life has purpose as I live for You and point others to You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Communication Skills, Servant Leadership

Don’t Expect Too Much!

frustration

“Don’t expect more than they are capable of.”

On a road trip, a new friend verbalized something I had been pondering for several months. While taking her to a speaking engagement in a city a couple hours away, she shared what the Lord had spoken to her heart while praying about a difficult relationship. That simple statement helped her navigate some painful circumstances and experience peace in the midst of it.

That simple statement also shed light on what the Lord had been speaking to my own heart, to extend grace to the challenging relationships in my own life.

It’s good to have high standards for our personal and work relationships. There should be kindness when dealing with conflict. There should be respectful and safe behavior at all times. Abuse of any kind is unacceptable. However, many of my disappointments stem from expecting too much from others.

For example…

There are people in my life that are not detail oriented. Don’t expect more than they are capable of. They can come up with systems to help them become more organized and efficient, but they won’t become detail oriented.

There are people in my life that avoid dealing with emotional issues. Don’t expect more than they are capable of. Some people do not have emotional intelligence. They can learn listening skills and acknowledge the pain of others, but the emotional realm will not be a strong or comfortable area for them.

There are people in my life that seems to live in a completely different universe than I do. Don’t expect more than they are capable of. No matter how much I explain my perspective, it won’t help them to see things my way. A good friend recently shared why she thinks marriage can be so hard. “We only want our own way all the time.” I agree with her, and I believe this applies to all our relationship troubles on some level. My way is the right way. Your way is the right way to you. Different universes.

Acceptance of the way other people are wired or the way they see things allows me to extend grace to them. It helps me feel peace instead of disappointment, while adjusting my expectations.

All relationships are messy. Some more than others. Not expecting too much from others helps us thrive when relationships are less than smooth.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:2-3).

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the people in my life. Help me to see them through Your eyes rather than my own. Teach me to get rid of the plank in my own eye before insisting on helping others with the speck in theirs. Help me not to expect too much from others. May I approach all my relationships with realistic expectations and grace.

 

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Turning 50!

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The year 1967 is a very special year to me. It is the year of my birth, and last weekend I celebrated my 50th birthday. I always enjoy my birthday, because it is a chance to reflect on my life and see God’s faithfulness interwoven throughout my days.

This year was especially meaningful. My husband organized a party at a local pizza place, and we invited our family and friends to join us. We were blessed with more people than we anticipated, along with some surprise arrivals. It was thrilling to be surrounded by such a loving and supportive group. Some people have known me for many years, other people are more recent friends, but each one has a special place in my heart.

I soaked in the sweet camaraderie of the evening, and pondered the gift of life. The fabulous evening punctuated my resolve: I don’t want to waste this precious gift on meaningless pursuits or to secure my own comfort. Instead, I desire to focus my attention on a few things that really matter.

Jesus. My Savior and Lord is absolutely everything to me. I dedicated my life to Him at the age of 13 (which was a long time ago). It is easy to settle into a spiritual comfort zone, but I don’t want that. I want to love and serve and know Him with all that I am. I want to passionately follow Jesus Christ in joyful obedience, and live as a bright light for Him. I want to be in the habit of saying “yes” to Him, and step out in faith to do whatever He asks of me.

Relationships. I dearly love my family and friends. I am also wired to be task oriented and goal oriented. I like structure and organization. I like to check off my to-do list, preferably in order. Tasks and achievements bring peace to my mind. Unfortunately they can interfere with relationships. However, connecting with loved ones nourishes my soul. I want to engage in the sacred, messy work of building and restoring my relationships.

Growth. The older I get, the less I know. I won’t presume that I have ever arrived. Rather, I submit to the process of life-long learning. I want to become more like Jesus, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform me into His likeness. I want to continue to heal from the effects of childhood and more recent traumas. I want to develop the skills of being a better servant leader in myself and others.

Service. I don’t want to be guilty of being enraged by all the injustices in the world and not doing something about it. I can’t sit on the sidelines while people are hurting. I must invest in improving the lives of those who are disadvantaged or marginalized, the “least of these” who are so important to Jesus.

I just had the privilege of celebrating 50 years of life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. But I can live each day I am given with intention.

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:21-24).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life. May I not take it for granted. Help me to identify what really matters, and then live with intention. I know I cannot do this by my own strength and abilities. May I thrive through Your Spirit, as You empower me to make each day count. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

It’s Okay to Be Weak

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I don’t like feeling weak. It’s discouraging to know that I don’t have the skills, strength, confidence, or health needed to get the job done. I’m the lady who, when nine months pregnant, insisted on rearranging my living room furniture by myself. Don’t tell me that I can’t do something, because it will make me work even harder to prove you wrong. At least that’s the way it was when I was younger. However, for the last ten years or so, around the time I turned 40, I have started taking a more gentle and realistic approach, as the paradoxes of God’s Kingdom make more sense to me.

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs (Matthew 5:3).

The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:11-12).

The poor are blessed; the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them. The greatest are servants. The humble are exalted.

Jesus’ teaching are contrary to the way things run in the world.

The Apostle Paul makes a statement that also seems contradictory.

Each time [the Lord] 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. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Throughout the Bible we see that the Lord called people who doubted their own abilities to accomplish His plans. He used them in miraculous ways. We’re in good company.

There is a saying that describes this principle, “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.”

This doesn’t mean that the Lord will only use people who are unqualified for a position. Rather He uses those who rely on Him to go beyond their own natural skills. As the Creator of the universe, He can take what we have, no matter how small, and turn it into so much more. He is not limited when we are weak. Instead the power of Christ works through our weaknesses. His presence and anointing make us strong. He can provide unseen opportunities by making a way where there seems to be no way.

Two times Jesus fed the multitudes. He took the few fish and loaves of bread offered to Him, and provided for the masses.

If you’re like me, the tendency is to resist when encountering weakness and obstacles. I get frustrated with my perceived lack of resources or ability. However, such a response is counter productive. The Lord delights when we respond by surrendering to His will and trusting Him to accomplish it. It may not seem possible. It may not make sense. Yet, we rely on Him to do amazing things.

It’s okay to be weak. Really. It’s then that the Lord reveals His mighty strength through us.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are strong and mighty. Nothing is impossible with You. Help me to trust in Your faithfulness, believing that You use foolish and weak things to confound the wise and mighty. I surrender to Your will, and ask that You take my life and use it for Your glory. I offer You my weaknesses. Flow through me with the strength of Your Spirit. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.