Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

Focus on Today

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Happy New Year! Most of us approach January 1st with hope and expectation. The new year signifies a fresh start and new beginnings. Social media is filled with New Year’s resolutions and advice for goal setting. In the midst of the excitement for striving for greatness, I would like to offer a different perspective. Instead of looking ahead to conquer thirty pounds or set action steps to achieve a goal in the next twelve months, simply focus on today.

This may seem odd coming from someone who believes in goals. After all, I’m pursuing a doctorate degree in Strategic Planning. Sometimes, though, the quest for success can suck the life out of us. We get so fixated on the future that we lose sight of the present. Worry, anxiety, and stress rule our lives rather than the peace of God. If you can relate, this blog post is for you. (I am taking these words to heart, too.)

Here are suggestions to help narrow the focus to today.

View this day as a gift from God. There are no guarantees that you will be alive tomorrow. I’m not being morbid or fatalistic. Our days are numbered. Approach the tasks in front of you as a blessing and a chance to be a blessing to others.

Remember that each day is an opportunity for a fresh start. You do not need to be defined by the shortcomings or failures of the past (or even yesterday). Learn from mistakes, but do not be chained to them. This day is a new day.

Identify one thing you can do today to help you thrive. I know there are dozens of things clamoring for your attention. It is better to do one thing important to your well-being than to get pulled in so many directions that you end up doing nothing. It is also more manageable to make wise choices today instead of thinking long term. You can more easily give up sugar today than give it up for the next twelve months.

Open your heart to God’s presence. Don’t allow yourself to worry about possible outcomes in the future, whether at work, with your family, or in your personal life. Stop going down the road of potential worst case scenarios. Acknowledge the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. Express your trust in Him to take care of challenges.

When we live today, taking opportunities to honor the Lord and love others, it reduces the pressure caused by straining to achieve goals.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never ceases. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT).

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15 NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for this New Year. Help me to live it one day at a time, making the most of each opportunity to love You and love my neighbors. Remind me that You are always near every moment in the midst of every situation. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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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 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 Character, Faith

A Portrait of Perseverance

Uncle Al

I didn’t get to spend much time with my dad growing up. When I was little, he was busy pursuing his educational and career goals. My parents’ marriage ended when I was nine years old. Divorce was never an option my dad considered, and the break up devastated him. For reasons unbeknownst to me, my parents lived 3,000 miles apart. I got to visit my dad during the summer and every other Christmas.

Before I go on, you need to know that I’m not pointing a finger of blame. As a parent of grown children myself, I know what it’s like to do the best I could with the skills I had. Nevertheless, I made mistakes and those mistakes caused them pain. However, causing pain was never my intent, because I deeply love my kids. I also understand we are all broken people trying to make sense of a broken world. Jesus is the One who heals the damaged places of my life and gives me purpose. When I tell aspects of my story, it is not to wallow in the past as a victim, but rather to pass on insights I have gained along the way.

As a child and teenager, I missed my dad a lot. I looked up to him and longed for him to know me. Even though I didn’t get the time with him my heart desired, my dad imparted some important lessons that influence me today. Perhaps his greatest example was in the area of perseverance. In fact, when I think about the quality of perseverance, my dad is the first to come to mind.

The youngest of 14 children, my dad was the son of Chinese immigrant parents who settled in a small town in Ontario, Canada. Grandpa Chin died when my dad was a boy, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Education was seen as the key to social and financial success. My dad faced discrimination, and was subjected to more stringent requirements than other students. He had to worked twice as hard as everyone else, but he didn’t give up, and he reached his goals.

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In the midst of my dad’s graduate program at the University of Oregon, he and my mom found out that I was on the way. My dad took responsibility, married my mom, and welcomed me into his life. He continued his academic pursuits, spending long hours in the lab conducting research. He would come home in the wee hours of the morning and leave again after a few hours of sleep. Dr. Alan Chin earned his Ph.D in Physiology in 1970. My brother was born the next year.

My dad rapidly climbed the ladder of success. He became internationally known for his research and was involved in early studies on the physiological effects of stress. We eventually moved to Southern California, where my parents invested in real estate. After buying and selling condominiums by the beach, we moved into one of the first houses in an area where movie stars and other famous people soon resided. Tragically it all ended when my parents divorced. Within a few years, my dad had lost everything important to him—his family, wealth, and health.

While my dad’s hard work and achievements are remarkable, I respect even more his ability to persevere in rebuilding his life after all was lost. He trusted Christ as his Savior, and surrendered his will to the Lord. My dad recovered from the brink of death and personal devastation with a stubborn determination to honor God.

My dad re-established his career, married a godly woman, and raised a family together. They had four biological children and adopted four children from the Canadian foster care system. At the age of 76, my dad still has teenagers at home. The path of obedience to the Lord has not been easy, but my dad continues to persevere. He will be able to say along with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

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As God’s people we are called to grow in faith through perseverance. We know we will encounter challenges, problems, obstacles, trials, and tribulation. Perseverance is more than not giving up. It also involves persistence in doing well, bearing fruit, and running the race set before us. As we rely on Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered with hope and thrive in the midst of adversity. We are able to hang in there, because we know that nothing can separate us from God’s love. We keep on keeping on, because we are always triumphant through Jesus Christ.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:2-4, 12).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being my steadfast Rock. I confess that when life gets hard, sometimes I feel like giving up. Help me to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Because of the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. In the same way, help me to persevere knowing that I will have victory through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Finding God in our Midst

finding God

Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Obviously these statements aren’t true. But do you ever wish life’s situations could be neatly and simply categorized? What if, God only brings blessings to the righteous? What if, the devil only brings curses to those far from God? It would settle, at least in part, the age-old philosophical quest for why there is evil in the world. And living right would guarantee that we experience only good things. Unfortunately there are no such guarantees.

Thankfully it is possible to experience peace that surpasses understanding while in the midst of struggles. Unlike Eastern religion that seeks to eliminate the illusion of suffering, Jesus Christ not only acknowledges suffering, He addresses it head on by giving Himself. He promises to be with us in the midst of suffering, and He is faithful.

These days when friends ask me how I am doing, I no longer answer, “Fine.” My reply is generally, “Up and down with Jesus in the midst of it all.” It’s honest, and it expresses the truth. I don’t have to hide behind a smile. Whether the circumstances of my life are good, bad, or ugly, the presence of Jesus is with me.

The 23rd Psalm paints a beautiful picture of the Lord’s presence. He is with me when things are running smoothly and I enjoy great blessings.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

My Shepherd is just as near when things take a turn for the worse.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

He is with me when facing the darkest valley of death or the hateful threats of enemies. His presence dispels all fear and surrounds me with comfort. He takes care of me, providing the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

No matter what I encounter, God’s goodness and love are present. He is always with me. Lest I forget, there is more than just this life. I look forward to being with Him forever in His house.

There is absolutely nothing that can thwart the love of Christ. His loving presence continually flows toward us. We forget. We erect barriers. But He is constant. He is with us.

Friend, no matter what difficulties you may encounter, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and His precious love for you. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Right here. Right now. And always.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You for being near and walking with me every moment of every day. Strengthen me when I’m weak and can’t see You at work in my life. Help me to trust You and to sense Your presence even in the darkness, knowing that You have defeated the enemy of my soul. Let Your hope and peace arise in my heart, as I acknowledge Your faithfulness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

The God Who Sees Me

woman-praying

Hagar had run away from home. She had been treated unfairly by her mistress, because she was pregnant by her master. Her mistress had longed for a baby for years and decided that having a surrogate was the best way to accomplish this. However, now that Hagar was expecting her master’s child, her mistress had turned against her.

Hagar couldn’t bear it any longer and fled into the wilderness. Weary and discouraged she stopped by a well. It was there an angel of the Lord visited her, assuring her that God had seen her distress. Hagar was to name her baby boy Ishmael and was instructed to return home.

Hagar marveled at this heavenly encounter. “Have I truly seen the One who has seen me?” From that point on, she referred to the Lord as “You are the One who sees me.” The well where she had stopped was also given that name in remembrance.

Fast forward sixteen years. Hagar was again in the wilderness. The relationship between mistress and servant had grown more hostile over the years. Her mistress had miraculously given birth to a son and was determined to protect his inheritance. This time instead of running away, Hagar and Ishmael had been sent away with some food and a container of water. Eventually the water ran out, and Hagar despaired for Ishmael’s life. She placed him in the only shade she could find and burst into tears, resigned to the fate of certain death.

Suddenly an angel of the Lord shouted out to Hagar. Hagar must not be afraid. Ishmael would live and become a great nation. God opened her eyes and showed her a well nearby. The Lord had seen her again and provided deliverance. (Hagar’s story is found in Genesis Chapters 16 and 21.)

I can really relate to Hagar. In the midst of a great challenge, the Lord intervenes and reveals that He is the One who sees me. He has not forgotten me, but rather is well acquainted with my circumstances and promises to walk with me. My heart is encouraged for a little while. Until another challenge comes along.

You would think that I would remember my encounters with the One who sees me, that I would courageously face difficulties with confidence because of the powerful revelations of the Almighty in my life. But, alas, stress and the cares of life can cause me to become quite forgetful. My mind travels down negative roads, imagining certain failure and doom. Like Hagar, I need to be reminded again. The One who sees me, also hears me, and has a good and loving plan.

Last fall I had a Hagar moment. For the last three years, the Lord has been faithful to provide for the pregnancy center I lead. He has revealed Himself time and time again as the One who sees me. When I learned that our ultrasound machine was 10 years old and should be replaced, we launched a major fundraising effort. My hope was that we would raise the $30,000+ needed for a new ultrasound machine at our annual banquet in November. By the end of the evening, only about $3,000 had been designated for the ultrasound machine.

“Lord, now what?” I despaired. “At this rate it’s going to take a whole year to raise the money. And I don’t want to take that long!”

I sensed the Lord’s assurance. “Trust me. I will provide.”

“Okay, Lord. I really don’t have any other choice!” I quipped, my inner voice dripping with disappointment.

My Hagar moment. I wish I had responded with faith that the Lord would take care of the need. I wish my prayers and self-talk were filled with confidence. Instead I felt deflated and defeated.

I know God is the One who sees me. And sometimes I forget.

Two days later I received a phone call from one of my Board members. He had been contacted by a local foundation. They wanted to fund the purchase of the new ultrasound machine!

The One who sees me reminded me yet again.

What about you, my friend? Are you facing a troubling situation in your personal life, with a relationship, or in your workplace? Do you feel overwhelmed by the enormity or impossibility of your circumstances?

Allow me to remind you that the Lord sees you. Nothing is too hard for Him. He is working on your behalf. The One who sees you, also hears you, and has a good and loving plan.

 
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

 
The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them (Psalm 145:17-19).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, sometimes I feel alone and forgotten. Thank You for being the One who sees me. Thank You for reminding me often that Your presence is near. Teach me to keep my attention on You rather than my circumstances. As I focus on Your constancy, may my faith in You arise. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.