Posted in Character, Faith

When Our Best Isn’t Enough

chess

It can be hard to give our very best to do something we believe the Lord has called us to do, and have our efforts fall short. Sometimes our best simply isn’t enough. We don’t meet our organizational goals. Troubled relationships are not mended. Our exemplary work isn’t recognized. Living for Jesus doesn’t mean that we will always win or succeed. In the midst of disappointment or heartache, we can be grateful for the chance to shine for Him. Regardless of the outcome, we can rest assured that the Lord is pleased. I shared the following as a post in 2012 on Facebook as a note.

“It wasn’t supposed to end this way.” My aunt’s face was somber. As our eyes met, her disappointment coursed through me. She had driven an hour to watch me compete in the annual Klamath County Potato Festival. “You were, by far, the best contestant here. You had the best stage presence and the best talent. You were the best. You should have won.”

I thanked my aunt and gave her a hug. A stream of supporters cut through the auditorium. I pasted on the sincerest smile I could muster and listened to their condolences, “Sorry you didn’t win. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.”

It was the fall of 1984. Months earlier I had seen the announcement for the Potato Festival. It was a local competition, designed to honor the potato farmers in our region and recognize their important contributions. Every participant was given a $50 savings bond. The winner was awarded a $1,000 scholarship to the college of her choice, plus served as the Potato Festival Queen for the year at various community functions. Throughout high school I had imagined participating in the Miss Klamath County pageant and beyond, but I was not eligible because I was a Canadian citizen. The Potato Festival would be my opportunity.

I was thrilled to be chosen out of a group of girls to represent Henley High School, but I had a greater purpose in mind–to represent Jesus Christ and be His ambassador throughout all the Potato Festival festivities. “Lord, I don’t care if I win. Help me to show You to everyone around me.” I prayed that prayer often, and would immediately be filled with a renewed sense of purpose. The Potato Festival contestants, chaperones, and committee were my mission field. Wherever we went, I determined to show God’s love to others. I cheered on the girls, encouraged and expressed appreciation to the chaperones, and shared my faith in Christ every chance I got.

“Jesus loves you.”
“May I share with you how Christ has changed my life.”
“How may I pray for you today?”

The competition spanned two weeks, with a parade, multiple interviews, and two performances. The first performance showcased the girls’ poise on stage and their ability to answer a question on the spot. My question was about church discipline, and I excitedly and confidently shared what the Book of Matthew said on the subject. On the night of the second performance, the auditorium was charged with electricity. Two of the girls were crying backstage. Stage fright had gotten the best of them. I prayed with them and helped to calm their nerves.

The Master of Ceremony introduced me, and I glided onto the stage. As I sang, the Holy Spirit carried me along. “Go ahead, drive the nails in My hands. Laugh at Me where you stand…Go ahead, and say I’m dead and gone. But you will see that you were wrong.”

I captured the attention of my audience. “I’ll rise again. Ain’t no power on earth can tie Me down. I’ll rise again. Death can’t keep Me in the ground.”

The notes lilted through the air, and God’s love reached out to the people. As I scanned the crowd, some were contemplative, others had tears streaming down their faces. I finished the last syllable. A pause of silence. Then applause and cheers erupted. The message had been delivered and received by many.

During the finale, the runners up were announced and then the Potato Festival Queen. My name was called as the First Runner Up. Several gasps came from the crowd, followed by loud whispers. The audience had followed me for two weeks. They had watched me come in first in “poise,” first in “the interview,” and first in “talent.” They knew I had been selected by the chaperones as the one who best exemplified Potato Festival qualities. What the audience did not observe was my struggle to sell raffle tickets. The fourth category of the competition was ticket sales, and I had done poorly, coming in second to last place. When all the points were tallied, my wins were not enough to off set the fourth category. I had come in second place.

I lay in bed that night–after I had finished putting away the chairs, thanked the straggling crowd for their support, and congratulated the Potato Festival Queen a final time. I reflected on the Potato Festival with tears of disappointment and exhaustion. I had given everything and still had not emerged the winner. The loss overwhelmed me. The parting words of my supporters bombarded me. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this.”

And then I remembered all the opportunities to care for people and to share God’s love with them. I had tried to encourage everybody and had gotten to pray with some. I had done my very best to be Christ’s ambassador, making a positive impression, and many lives had been impacted. It wasn’t supposed to end like this? I settled my head into the pillow, wiped away the tears, and grinned. “Thank you, Lord. This is exactly the way it was supposed to end.”

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand (Psalm 37:23-24, NIV).

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, You know that I can be competitive and driven. You know how hard I work to do my best, and how hard it is when things don’t go the way I want. Help me to remember that when trying my best isn’t enough, I have done what is more important–to live for You and to shine Your light in this world. No matter what the results, encourage my heart with Your loving presence. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Advertisements
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 Personal Development, Vision & Goal Setting

Sometimes Less is More

simple

As a young woman, I didn’t need much sleep. I believed that sleep was a necessary evil that robbed me from living an exciting and productive life. I wanted to do great things for the Lord and I packed my schedule from early in the morning until late at night. I aspired to have an amazing marriage, raise fabulous kids, work full time in meaningful ministry, invest actively in my community, build close friendships, and pursue my education, all at the same time. In addition, I wanted to keep a spotless house, cook delicious dinners every evening, have a healthy body, and keep up with my hobbies. And of course, cultivating a growing relationship with Jesus was the top priority. I was definitely ambitious, and coffee was my constant companion.

At some point, though, my body began to rebel against the break-neck pace, and I became allergic to the caffeine in coffee. I can’t seem to remember which one happened first. What I do remember is the frustration and anger I felt at not being productive. Although I hadn’t successfully juggled everything in my life according to my excellent standards, that didn’t matter. Now there was no chance at blazing a big trail of glory for the Lord. After all, isn’t being busy the same as being productive?

You may be laughing or shaking your head at my belief system. The truth is, I didn’t really think about why I did what I did back then. All I knew is I wanted a life that really mattered. It wasn’t until I had to stop and take a step back at the situation I had created that I realized my crazy way of thinking.

It doesn’t seem that our culture has changed much in thirty years in regard to being busy. I know there are people that embrace the simple lifestyle. And, there are Christ-followers who adhere to practicing regular quiet time, Sabbath, and spiritual retreats. But still, what seems to be the most common compliant when you ask someone how they are doing?

“I’m so busy!” Although they lament the fact, they still wear it as a badge of honor.

I have learned and continue to learn that busy does not equal productive, and it certainly does not equal meaningful. Sometimes less is more. This applies to managing our time well.

A powerful strategic business plan will target three to five strategic initiatives on which to focus. Any more than five will dilute effectiveness. In a similar way, if we are going to live powerfully, we cannot spread ourselves too thin. Narrowing our focus to fewer things will increase our ability for real impact.

As I prepare to begin a doctoral program in January, I have been reminded that I cannot add 20 hours of study per week to an already full plate. I need to approach my education seriously and remove some good things off my plate. I haven’t figured out what that looks like yet. Thankfully (hopefully) I have some time.

There are some questions to ask ourselves as we consider how to spend our time.

  • Am I able to spend time on the things that are truly important to me rather than on just the things that are urgent?
  • If I could only spend time on five areas, what would they be? Remember to include relationships.
  • How much room is in my schedule to accommodate divine interruptions?
  • Does my pace of life center on tasks or people? What can be changed to allow more time to invest in others?
  • If my life were to end today, what regrets would I have?

It’s a constant temptation to pack our schedules with good things. It takes diligence to be prayerfully intentional about how we spend our days. Sometimes less is more. Saying yes to less will yield blessings and empower us to be more fruitful.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, teach me to number my days that I may gain a heart of wisdom. Help me to be mindful that each day is a gift from you. Help me to be intentional in how I spend each day. Show me Your ways and Your will, so that I may honor You above all things. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Not a Fair Weather Follower

stormy weather

On February 19, 2017, my family and I experienced the trauma of an armed invasion of our home. The last three weeks I have been asked several times by well meaning inquirers if it has shaken my faith. To be quite honest…No, it has not. While it has shaken my faith in some people, it hasn’t shaken my faith in Jesus.

I understand where their questions are coming from. After all, how could a loving God allow such a violent crime to happen to His children?

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t need them. Nearly three decades of serving in ministry and caring for people in the throes of tragedy have taught me there are no easy answers. I have read many excellent theological works examining the problems of evil and suffering, but none of them truly soothes the anguished soul.

There is only one thing that brings comfort and peace to me in the storms of life: Running to Jesus.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:8).

It’s so simple that we miss it. Many of us run away from Jesus when we are hurt or disappointed. We become jaded that our faithful God-honoring prayers haven’t been answered or when we encounter difficulties that don’t make sense. We close ourselves off from our Helper and Healer, and bitterly rely on our own strength and the power of our own intellect. We shake our fists at the Lord rather than raise our hands in surrender.

Yet, in this broken world, groaning under the weight of sinful choices of past generations as well as our own, the only thing that makes sense to me is finding refuge in Jesus.

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18:10).

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:7-8).

Thirty-six years ago this month, I committed my life to Jesus. As a young teenager, I sat on the front steps of my grandparents’ house, talking to the Lord. “I give my life to You. Even if nobody else in my whole world understands, I will follow You all the days of my life.” I meant it with every fiber of my being.

However, like a bride madly in love on her wedding day, I really had no clue what that meant. When a couple vows to stay together “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us,” they are sincere. But they can’t possibly know what “worse,” “poorer” and “sickness” will look like. I was thoroughly captivated by the One who loves me and gave His life for me. I was determined to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As is always the case, life happened.

The early years of walking with Jesus and serving in ministry were filled with blessings and miraculous answers to prayer. Somehow I came to expect that the blessings were a reward for faithfully following Jesus and believing God’s Word. Eventually though that castle of cards came crashing down. I had to ask myself, “Why am I following Jesus?”
Is it because…
…I want my sins forgiven?
…He promises to bless me?
…He will protect me from bad things?
…All the people I care about follow Him?
…He will make my life easier?
…I feel called to the ministry?                                                                                                                   …I need my own genie in a bottle with unlimited wishes?

 

I realized that if I follow Jesus, because of the blessings I think I am entitled to here on this earth, then I am really a fair weather follower. Trials will come, disappointments will set in, and I will walk away from a faith that is no longer working for me.

When my youngest daughter was born with spina bifida, my faith was tested. I was devastated that she had a serious birth defect. I was angry that God hadn’t revealed Himself as the Great Physician, even though thousands of people around the globe were fervently praying. For a period of over two years, I did some serious soul searching. “Why am I following Jesus?”

Would I be like Job who despite the physical and emotional agony of losing everything continued to praise the Lord?

Or would I be like Job’s wife who advised him to “curse God and die.”

Would I be a fair weather follower like the crowd in John Chapter 6? They were offended because the teachings of Jesus were too hard. They turned away and no longer walked with Him.

Through the years on this journey with Jesus, I may not have always gotten what I thought would be good. But I have found to be true what the Apostle Peter declared long ago.

So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

I am not a fair weather follower of Jesus.

Recently I texted my dear friend that struggles with Multiple Sclerosis. She is a follower of Jesus whose trust in Him inspires me. I wrote:

“This life doesn’t always make sense and the only way I know to navigate the difficulties is to desperately rely on Jesus.”

I sent these words 12 hours before three criminals entered our home and stories.

Though trouble may visit my family and my own life be threatened, I follow Jesus. He is my Refuge. He causes me to be resilient. Through the power of His Spirit I thrive.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26).

My friend, let me encourage you. Don’t be a fair weather follower. No matter what, follow Jesus.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, here I am with a heart of surrender. I choose to trust You when things don’t make sense. I choose to follow You wherever You lead. During times of trial, help me to run to You and not away from You. You are my Refuge and my Strength, always near in times of trouble. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.