Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development

Finding Peace Anywhere and Everywhere

Peace(1)

What image come to mind when you hear the word “peace”? I used to think peace was the absence of all conflict or trouble. I pictured a sailboat in the middle of a placid lake with little or no breeze. Today I visualize a completely different scene.

The biblical definition of peace has an element of the absence of trouble. However, it embraces other aspects, as well. Peace can mean “being in right relationship with another.” It also includes “completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.” It’s comforting to know that when situations and relationships are far from peaceful, I can still be at peace.

The Advent season is the perfect time to remember God’s gift of peace. The Prince of Peace arrived during a time of Roman oppression. In Bethlehem, while the little town was overcrowded by the great influx of people coming to register for the census, God visited in the form of a newborn. Born to the Virgin Mary and Joseph, His cries pierced the darkness. His divine life brought supernatural peace to human kind.

As followers of Christ, we enjoy peace on many levels.

We enjoy peace with God. The angel chorus announced it to the shepherds.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14).

We do not struggle under the load of sin. We are no longer separated from God. We are brought near to Him and are in right relationship with the Lord.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

We enjoy peace with ourselves. Long after I knew I had peace with God, I continued to be in conflict with myself. I had a long list of “shoulds” and could never measure up. I extended kindness and grace to others, but was a brutal task master to myself. I constantly strove to excel in every area of my life. Thankfully the Lord, in His great love and patience, established His peace in my soul. Now I have serenity with my weaknesses and deficiencies. I know I am deeply loved by the Lord regardless of my performance. Perhaps you can relate with being hostile toward yourself. Rely on the Lord to help you be in right relationship with yourself.

We enjoy peace in our circumstances. We live in a fallen world with broken people. Life can be so hard some times. We experience disappointment, heartache, setback, and trauma. We encounter illness, injustice, violence, and death. Sometimes things don’t make sense. However, no matter what we may encounter in the moment, it does not have the power to shake the well being of our souls. The wonderful message of Christmas is that we are never alone. Emmanuel—God with us—has come. We have completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Today when I think of peace, it looks like the eye of a storm. The winds of destruction may rage, but there is a place of calm in the center. Christ is our Center. We can face anything and everything, because God’s peace is with us.

Jesus Christ came to this earth and provided peace. We have peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace in the midst of our circumstances.

You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the Prince of Peace. Teach me to trust You and to walk in Your perfect peace. This holiday season, may I reflect on Your great gift of peace and learn to always keep You at the center of my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

 

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Posted in Advent/Christmas

The Season of Hope

Hope

As a mom, I am often amazed at my love for my kids. They are all adults. Yet, when they struggle, a protective instinct rises up and this mama bear wants to fight any and every thing that causes them pain. Once the initial response passes, I carry concern and sorrow for them close to my heart. The weight stays with me until there is closure to the situation. I take it harder when something happens to my children or grandchildren than when it happens to myself.

I long for the days when I could hold my son or daughter, tend to an “owie,” say a prayer, and kiss it better. Their challenges are far more complex. They face the consequences of their own choices; they bear the results of other people’s actions. Sometimes they find themselves in the middle of a situation that is entirely outside of their control, simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Discouragement, despair, rejection, injustice threaten to unravel their well-being. The darkness tries to settle in the valley of my soul.

The light of hope is my saving grace. I know how to hold onto hope for myself. Now I am learning to hold onto hope on behalf of my family.

The Advent season is a season of hope. Four hundred years before Christ made His entrance into this world, the prophet Malachi spoke to God’s people.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies (Malachi 3:1, NLT).

This inspirational message was followed by 400 years of silence, a period in which there were no further prophetic words recorded. Four hundred years! I find it unbearable to go four days when it seems that the Lord is silent in my life.

That’s when I turn to God’s Word and find hope.

That’s what God’s people did during the 400 years of silence. They recited Malachi and other prophets, encouraging each other that one day a messenger and the Messiah would come. In the midst of some very dark days of governmental oppression, persecution, and poverty, they encouraged each other with God’s promises.

Then in the fullness of time, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth, a couple who were well past their child-bearing years. Three months later, the angel announced the birth of the Savior of the World to Mary, a devout teenager who was a virgin. The Lord overcame huge obstacles and performed miracles to bring forth His promises. He demonstrated that “no word from God will never fail” (Luke 1:37, NIV). Or, as stated in the KJV version, “with God nothing shall be impossible.”

Hope is founded on an immovable confidence in the Lord. No matter how difficult life gets for us or the people we care about, there is always hope. God is faithful. We can trust Him to direct steps and use lives for His good purposes. His hope is a firm and secure anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19a).

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:3-5, NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are the God of hope. Help me when I get overwhelmed in the moment by circumstances. During this season of Advent, help me to remember that Your Word will never fail and that nothing is impossible with You. Let me trust in You and find lasting hope in You. Lord, You are good and Your steadfast love endures forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

~Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

Posted in Character, Faith

Growing in Gratitude

Thank You

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I had several activities in mind for this Thanksgiving weekend. My daughter and I figured out a cooking schedule for all our dishes. Family from the Seattle area arrived Wednesday night. We were ready for a fun, food-filled celebration. Then, later that night, one of the granddaughters got sick. My daughter was up with her every hour. Some time during the night, my grandson also got sick. There was lots of laundry on Thanksgiving Day for the soiled bedding and towels. We still managed to prepare and enjoy our meal. Everyone was in good spirits, and it seemed like the worst was over. However, on Friday afternoon some of us started to feel sick. My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson went home for their second Thanksgiving celebration. By the evening both our households were miserable.

This isn’t the first time illness has visited a holiday celebration, and it probably won’t be the last. There have been many Christmases, Easters, and Mother’s Days when one or more family members got sick, requiring adjustments to my expectations. Each time I am faced with a decision—Will I practice gratitude? Or will I practice self-pity?

I have lots of experience practicing self-pity. During my child-rearing years, feeling sorry for myself came easily. “Why is this happening to me?” “Bad things always happen on special days.” “It’s so unfair!” My mopey attitude would take an unfavorable situation and make it worse.

Many years ago I felt convicted by a passage of Scripture.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:14-15, NLT).

I have never liked arguing, but I can be really good at complaining. If I don’t guard my thoughts and attitudes, complaining can flow like water. Complaining spreads negativity and affects the people around me. Additionally, complaining damages my example as a Christ-follower. The light of Christ in me does not shine as brightly. I certainly don’t want that!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done (Philippians 4:6).

Giving thanks is the opposite of complaining. (It is also a remedy to worrying.) I want to grow in gratitude. This Thanksgiving was a perfect opportunity to practice it. I was concerned that my family members felt terrible, and I did my best to help care for them. But, I wasn’t discouraged. I was out of commission for two and a half days. In the midst of my discomfort, I thanked the Lord for His continual presence with me and I prayed for healing of my family. I felt thankful that we had a long weekend to recover. I appreciated the kindness of a friend who went to the store to buy Gatorade when none of the adult in our home were able.

Every time we encounter circumstances that are less than what we would like, it is an opportunity to practice gratitude. When are you tempted to complain? How can you turn complaints into words of thanksgiving? Take the challenge to avoid complaining and practice gratitude.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are good and perfect, always loving and faithful. When times are tough at home, in the workplace, or other places in my life, help me to focus on your blessings and develop an attitude of gratitude. Help me to shine as a bright light of Christ through my attitude, words, and actions. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

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.

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

desert-drought-dehydrated-clay-soil-60013

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.