Maggie’s Article Links from Other Websites

Hey guys! These are some of the articles I have had published in the last few months! I hope they are a blessing.

Following Jesus in 2020: Is It Worth It?:

https://www.ibelieve.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-january-7.html

Is God Trying to Stir Your Heart?:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-january-23.html

3 Ways to Be A Peacemaker:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-february-11.html

The ‘Rite’ Person:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-february-19.html

The Most Powerful Choice:

The Most Powerful Choice

When Our Children Face Rejection and Failure:

https://www.ibelieve.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-march-20.html

What to Do When You Feel Depleted:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-march-24.html

Dear Mama, I Have Seen that Look Before:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-march-31.html

Is God Really Big Enough?:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-april-7.html

For Those in the Waiting:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-april-14.html

Hope For Every Generation:

https://connectingministries.org/hope-for-every-generation/?olink=%2Fnews%2F&otitle=Blog&otx=16%2C82%2C77%2C89

The Crooked Tree

When I was a little girl, there was a tree in the curve of the road that I looked for with wide eyes each time we went to see a friend of mine. It was a young pine tree, mixed in with others that were much larger, but it wasn’t just any old tree. Its’ trunk had grown in the shape of an S…and we lovingly referred to it as our “crooked tree.” I had not been able to find it in many years, but not long ago, my sister went for a run and sent me a picture…of our crooked tree, all grown up.

You see, I couldn’t locate it because I had been looking for it as I remembered it. But as the years have gone by, our tree has grown with a straightened trunk and now stands above the others around it. I didn’t recognize it and couldn’t help but wonder how the base of the trunk straightened itself out, so I decided to do some research.

As it turns out, I found this on a blog by CLC Tree Services:
“…sometimes a tree gets a little crooked, not because of people or natural disasters, but because it is searching for the best place to grow. It’s called phototropism and it is when a tree grows towards the light…”

And it hit me. That crooked tree is a lot like me, y’all. And maybe, a lot like you.

When we start to grow up, we are surrounded by the voices and opinions and invitations of others, many older than us, to do things that might not be best. We may take a crooked path as we make mistakes and try to find our way. But above us, and around us, without fail, is the Light, Jesus, who is always trying to draw us to Himself. If we continue to seek Him, even though we get turned around and twisted up along the way, we will find Him. Just like my crooked tree.

But here’s the coolest thing. The S shape is still there. Just because my tree straightened up eventually, the bends that had been made over the years did not go away. They remain as a reminder of the growth journey that tree has had.

So, if you are in a crooked place right now…don’t stop looking for Jesus. Don’t stop trying to grow! On this weekend, thousands of years ago, Jesus came for the crooked. For those trying to find their way. For those who have made mistakes…and need the Light to straighten them out. He didn’t die for nothing, and His sacrifice must not be forgotten. He died for you…and for me. For all of us who so desperately need a Savior to straighten us out.

If you are “straightened out” to some degree right now (please know, we will still make mistakes). Don’t forget where you’ve been. Don’t take for granted the One who forgives and saves you over and over again. And don’t keep His gift to yourself. Share what Jesus has done for you, and don’t be afraid to stand boldly above the others as you show them the Light of this world.

And for all of us, Lord please open our eyes to really see others around us. I didn’t recognize my old tree because I was looking for something that was still small and bent. But plants grow. People grow. And by the Lord’s grace and mercy, many of us get straightened out.

Love Jesus. Love others. Be thankful for the crooked places in your life, and use them to grow toward the Light.

Happy Easter season, y’all.
Jer.29:13, 2 Cor.4:7

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Who Are You Listening To?

Ok, y’all. So something has been on my heart. We are mostly isolated right now. Social distancing…sheltering in place…quarantining…whatever buzz words you choose. And in doing that, we are separated from those who would normally be our voices of reason. Our sounding boards. Our reminders of Truth when a conversation turns south and fear or anxiety starts to win.

And in their places, we find the voices of the media, politicians, and a plethera of “experts” who leave us finding it hard to know who to trust. The news stream offers a consistent dialogue of uncertainty and doom on every front, with very little to lift our spirits. And I can’t help but feel that many are left wondering who will rescue them from this uncertain time.

I am reading a Psalm a day right now, and as I studied Psalm 3, I found that not much has changed when it comes to people searching for deliverance…and doubting the One who is the ultimate Deliverer:

So many are saying, “God will never rescue Him.” Psalm 3:2

Psalm 3 was written by David when his son, Absalom, was pursuing him, and he was literally running for his life. In verse 2, the people around him…the “so many”… proclaimed that God would never rescue him. And I imagine, his heart and mind were close to despair as fear, anxiety, and heartbreak threatened to overtake him.

But David knew the Lord. And he not only knew Him, but He believed that God would do what He said He would. And so immediately in verse 3, David replied, “But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.”

I’m sure that many of you have heard the Lord called our shield before, and in the past, I have always loved that image because I imagined him as a strong wall, protecting me and covering me in times of trial…almost like a shelter. But this time, I realized something I hadn’t before.

In verses 7-8 of Psalm 3, David exclaims, “Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked! Victory comes from you, O Lord…” Wow! A little harsh there, right? That didn’t match the image I had in my mind of the Lord as a shield, until I studied a little more and found that a shield was used for offensive AND defensive purposes. It could be used to knock an opponent back when needed…just as the Lord can be fierce as well. He is more than capable of handling the most fearsome adversaries, whether a person or a virus or an economic crash.

Y’all, the Lord has us covered on all sides as he fights AND defends. 

Not only that, but these are what the Lord does for us WHILE we are hidden behind His shield: He lifts our heads (v.3), He answers our cries (v.4), He watches over us and allows us to rest (v.5), He eliminates fear (v.6), and He fights for us and rescues us (v.7).

What an amazing picture, ya’ll! He is working on center stage and behind the scenes…even when others can’t see. Like the song says, even when we don’t feel it, He’s working. Even when we don’t see it, He’s working.

Y’all, I don’t know what the next few weeks, or months, hold for our nation, but I do know that as we “shelter in place”…our focus should not be so much on the action of sheltering…as on the type of Shelter we choose.

I don’t believe David doubted that God would rescue Him. That He would be his strength and shield. But the people around Him did. And the voices of fear and uncertainty and doom and gloom can be so very loud.

Decide today who you are going to listen to, my sweet friends. Be informed. Seek wise counsel here on Earth from those you trust. But don’t allow the background noise of your heart and mind to be those who promote anxious thoughts. Don’t listen to those who doubt the power and the might and the goodness of God.

David chose to trust his Lord. He chose the ultimate Shelter and Shield. And he ultimately, chose faith over fear. And we can too.

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3 Blessings in the Midst of Coronavirus Uncertainty

Y’all, this has been a week full of uncertainty. Fear for our health and those we love, anxiety over daily provision for small business owners, disappointment over cancellations of sporting events, and so many decisions being made that are out of our control. It can be scary and lead us to question what the Lord is doing in all of this, if anything.

So yesterday I just started reading the Word…no rhyme or reason…but just turning and flipping and soaking up all of the beautiful reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I went through Psalms and Ecclesiastes and then went back to Job. As I read the pages, I came to a verse I studied recently that jumped back off the page:

“By means of their suffering, He rescues those who suffer. For He gets their attention through adversity.” Job 36:15

For He gets their attention through adversity…

Y’all, if I’m honest, our country’s attention needs to be gotten. There is so much political strife and disregard for Truth. I think we’ve been “majoring on the minors” as my Pastor Steve used to say, and need so desperately to focus on what really matters most.

In Deuteronomy 8 and 9, we are reminded of our great need for the Lord and advised to never forget all of the ways He has taken care of us (I recommend reading yourself because they are loaded passages!) But more than that, they point out three ways the Lord gets our attention and blesses us in times of so much uncertainty. I pray these three areas will help you keep your focus on the majors in the coming weeks.

1.We lose the illusion of self-sustaining power and get to witness God’s provision.

My husband and my father, who I work for, own small businesses. As orders are cancelled and people don’t come in, it can be a scary time. And it brings the realization that we cannot provide for our families in our own strength. We must rely on the Lord for our daily bread and trust that He is the good, faithful Father we know Him to be…even when times are hard. He has provided in the past…and He will in the days to come.

“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, “I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.” Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…” Deut.8:17-18

“Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what He has made crooked? Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life.” Ecc.7:13-14

“When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn…” Psalm 142:3

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” Matt.6:26

2.We gain time to refocus on the Lord and our families as our schedules are cleared.

I like control of my own little universe. And it is full. I don’t know that there’s one date on my calendar without something on it. But do you know what else? I can’t tell you how many times I pass my Bible on the coffee table and want to sit down and spend time with the Lord, but something else has taken precedence as more urgent at the time. I am guilty of putting last things first and first things last, and I have a hunch I’m not alone. 

The Israelites were known for doing the same thing, as they chose one thing after the other over the Lord. I’d like to think I’m different, but the truth is, I’m not. Sometimes the Lord forces us into uncomfortable places when we won’t follow His lead to begin with. Sometimes He pushes us out of our comfort zones into slower paces and spaces so we can see Who matters most. And sometimes He opens our eyes to the precious blessings that are right in front of us when we don’t recognize them for ourselves because of the hustle and bustle of life. 

Take time to enjoy your loved ones during this time, y’all. Calm your little one’s fears with reminders of God’s goodness and how He has been faithful before. Use these days to point them to Him and refill your own hearts and minds with Truth. And show them the One to cling to when uncertain times come.

“Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn.” Deut.10:16

“Then I pray to you, O Lord, I say, “You are my place of refuge, You are all I really want in life.” Psalm 142:5

“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish…Be careful to obey all these commands I am giving you. Show love to the Lord your God by walking in His ways and holding tightly to Him.” Deut.11:18-22

3. We have the opportunity to make a stand and claim faith over fear.

There are people who are in panic mode about what is to come. They are afraid of sickness, economic downfall, and death. But y’all, as believers in Jesus, we know that this world is not all there is. We know that ultimately, there is only One who is in control. He knows what has been and what is to come. He goes behind and before. And He is not one bit surprised by the circumstances we find ourselves in now. 

Because we know that, we can hold on to a peace and a hope and a faith that says, “I know my God is for me. He loves me and those I love more than I ever could. And He will never leave me.” And then, we can share that with the world. I encourage all of you to post scripture around your home and workplaces, so that when fear creeps in, when the “what ifs” seem to be winning, that you have visual reminders to cling to and claim and speak out loud in the name of Jesus. Here are a few favorites:

“He hems me in behind and before, He has laid His hand upon me.” Psalm 139:5

“He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Col.1:17

“Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” Col.3:2

“The Lord will work out His plans for my life-for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.” Ps.138:8

“I look up to the mountains-does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the One who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, He who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as yoru protective shade…The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” Ps.121:1-5,8

“For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything He does.” Ps.33:4

“Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act.” Ps. 37:7

“Why am I discouraged? Why am I so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise my Savior and my God!” Ps 42:5

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe.” Ps.4:8

Sweet friends, times of adversity are never easy. There are more questions than answers right now. More inconveniences and frustrations and fears than we know what to do with. But there are blessings in the mess. There are lessons in the mess. And there is a Savior in the mess, who is always working for our good.

Pray for God’s provision in the coming weeks. Refocus on the Lord and your family. Claim faith over fear. And pray for those who don’t know the Lord to see Him in a very real way. 

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What Really Matters

Y’all, last night, we had one of our favorite families over for dinner. Our kids are around the same age, we have common interests, and they are just fun people! The kind of friends that are easy and laid back and comfortable inviting into your own crazy, ya’ know what I mean? Well, as my friend and I were chatting it up in the kitchen, she stopped, turned her attention to my refrigerator, and said something to the effect of, “Oh look at you being such a great mom…I want to hear all about this!” 

It took a minute for me see what she was referring to, but once I did, I immediately responded, “Oh we don’t actually do that!” with a little laugh. I explained that it was a chore-chart-rotation-thingy that I attempted to copy from a more put-together mom the summer before, that only lasted for a few weeks on and off. I kept it up in hopes that we would get it together at some point and stick to it. But that hadn’t happened so far…

She laughed, and I couldn’t help but feel there was a little sigh of relief too. Because she was realizing I didn’t have it all together either. And it occurred to me that things in my home could give off the illusion of an organized life if people didn’t know any better.

Little do they know that the dry erase calendar posted in my den has only been updated this month after staying on November for quite some time. That the “What’s Cooking?” meals and days of the week written on my kitchen chalkboard are from four weeks ago. That the end table in the playroom is covering a nasty, sticky, gunky something  that my children spilled and left there to magically disappear on it’s own, and we haven’t gotten to it yet. That the Christmas card pile on our breakfast table has only had two cards pulled to pray over in the last two months. Y’all, everything isn’t always what it seems.

I am here to tell you that I get a number of things right…but I get more wrong. And let me clarify.

The things I am working to get right are not so much keeping the chalkboard up-to-date or staying on schedule with the chore chart. Those are admirable goals. But I’m talking about the things that matter most.

Paul said, “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.” Philippians 1:9-10

We can get so bogged down with keeping up appearances and running to activities and checking off our to-do lists, that we forget what matters most, y’all. Or at least I do many days.

So, as I try to keep my focus on the three things that really matter, I thought I’d post them here for you too. This isn’t anything new, y’all. Just a refresher for those of us who tend to major on the minors sometimes.

1.Love God.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, yes and no. It’s easy to say, “I love you God.” But do we show it? Do we live out that love like other relationships?

I recently heard Shelia Walsh speak, and one of the things that resonated most with me was a story about how the Lord feels when we come to see Him. She said that He squeals with delight, “She came!” because He loves spending time with us so much.

Psalm 27:8 says, “My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” But y’all, there are many days I feel that calling…and I never make it. I choose other events or responsibilities over my time with Him. And when I am not as connected to Him, I am not as loving or peaceful or joyful or kind…because time with Him affects time with everyone else.

We have to nurture our relationship with Him the way we do others. He matters most, y’all.

2. Love people.

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39

This could be a long one.:) So simple, and yet so complex. But at the heart of it, I think it really comes down to this:

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” Philippians 2:3-5

To love others well, we have to be attentive to their needs…and not our own. We have to realistically look at our faults and recognize our own depravity and humbly say, “Lord, I don’t know why you love me, but help me serve others in your name. Help me to love others with a real love. Help me to see people as you see them and listen and respond to their needs not for what I will get, but because I serve you.”

3. Tell everyone what He’s done.

Once we are striving to love God and love people well, the only thing left to do is spread the amazing “reason for the hope that we have” (1 Peter 3:15) with others.

“Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.” Psalm 105:1

Your “whole world” may be your husband and kids. It may be your co-workers and friends. It may be more widespread through social media or a blog. But y’all, people need to know that the Lord is real. That He is continually working and loving and providing and protecting and teaching and saving us over and over again.

If the Lord has moved in your life, don’t allow fear or worry over what people will think hinder you from sharing. Tell someone, even if it’s one person. He can and will use you, no matter how small or insignificant you think your story might be, sweet friends.

Love God. Love people. And share what He is doing in your life, y’all. And if you come to my house anytime soon, the chore chart will probably still be on hold. Remember that I get some things right, and I get a lot wrong, but my heart is to love you well and show you Jesus. I’m working on majoring on the majors, and I pray you will too.

6 Questions to Help Our Kids Choose Friends Wisely

I recently read an article by Greg Trimble called “The Most Dangerous Temptation That Faces our Youth” and it was completely on point as it named that temptation as our children’s friends. Those friends, more than any other earthly influence, will help them determine their steps in the day to day.

As moms and dads who love the Lord, we share scripture, we try to plant seeds in their hearts for Jesus, we love and encourage. But then we pray, wait, watch, and hope for the best as they go out into the world each day. We do not have the privilege of making choices for our kids. We do not have the opportunity to help steer their steps as they approach each fork in the road. And we shouldn’t…even though it is so very hard to let them go.

But on many occasions at school, sporting events, social gatherings, and even church, our kids will not be making decisions alone. They will have friends whose opinion and direction they will seek. So how do we help them choose that inner circle of friends that we know will help them be men and women after God’s own heart and not the things of this world?

I have six things I pray out loud for my own children each morning on the way to school, and I believe they are some of the keys to look for in close friends as well. These are my go-to for thinking deeper about their own hearts…and their friends…when hard situations arise. So, here are six questions to help determine if a friend is one for their inner circle (and I would say that these apply to adults as well):

1. Do they speak life? So much of our influence comes through the words that we speak. Proverbs 18:21 says that “the tongue has the power of life and death…” and Luke 6:45 tells us that “what you say flows from what is in your heart.” When you are with a friend, are their words lifting people up, encouraging others, and bringing hope? Or are they tearing others down, gossiping, and making you feel bad about yourself? It’s very easy for us to say, “oh, I didn’t mean that” or “that came out wrong.” But as Paul David Tripp expressed, we should really be saying, “I’m sorry for saying what I really meant” even if it was hurtful and ugly. Listen carefully and take people’s words to heart because it tells you a lot about who they are on the inside.

2. Do they guard their hearts and minds from the things of this world? The Bible tells us that whatever goes into our heart and mind will eventually come out in our words and actions. Television, movies, music, apps, social media, YouTube…our world is bombarded with technology at our fingertips. And the things we watch and listen to can’t help but have an effect on the way we live and treat others. Kelly Knause shared a quote from a former pastor that said, “Big doors swing on small hinges of obedience,” and that’s so very true. Each little decision we make can have lasting consequences. When the choice is: rap song with cussing vs. one without, movie with intimate scenes vs. one without, YouTube star whose focus is outer beauty and material things vs. one who focuses on kindness…will there be a decision to go with the first because it’s “popular” or the last? Will they choose opportunities for obedience to God’s word…or acceptance from the world.

3. Do they do the right thing even when it’s hard or embarrassing? It’s so easy to bend to peer pressure. To take a step back and claim ignorance or lack of ability as an excuse for our inaction when we have an opportunity to help. If your best friend is making jokes about another kid, do you tell him to stop? If you have an embarrassing moment, does your friend laugh at you with the crowd or come to your aid? If your classmate sends ugly texts about a friend, do you just look away, or tell someone before it gets worse? In 2 Chronicles 34:2, it tells us about King Josiah and that, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right.” Who will you please? Whose example will you follow? It doesn’t tell us that all of his people did what was right. It says he did. We have to be willing to be that one and choose friends who are too.

4. Do they listen to and obey authority figures? We live in a world where so many tell us to make ourselves happy, to put our own thoughts and opinions above others, and that no one has “the right” to tell us we are wrong. Where parents step in and rescue their children from the consequences of their actions and those same children, as a result, feel free to talk back to their teachers, policemen, and others in leadership. In Deuteronomy, it tells us in numerous places to obey the laws, honor your father and mother, and “do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight” so “all will go well with you.” Rules and boundaries are put in place for our safety and the safety of others. To guard us from things that are not good for us. Story after story in my own life and others, paints a picture of how rebellion from authority figures did not “go well.” We must have a heart of submission and choose friends who do as well to help with the next step.

5. Do they apologize and ask for forgiveness when they’ve done something wrong? Nothing in our lives is more important than knowing how much we need Jesus. But to understand that, humility has to take root in our hearts. One way to know if someone has that is to see how they react and respond when they have messed up. Will they try to make things right…or allow their pride to have control? In friendship, in any relationship, we all mess up. We will all hurt feelings and let others down at some point. But to keep a relationship healthy, we must be able to admit our shortcomings and understand that Jesus is the only one who can help us make amends and do better next time…in His strength and not our won.

6. Do they help you understand how loved and valuable you are to the Lord? We were all created by the King of Kings because we were loved and valued and formed with a purpose in mind. And we all need reminding. We all need mercy and hope and faith and reminders of sustaining grace spoken into our lives from those closest to us. Their support just means more. Jeremiah 29:11 says that the Lord has plans for “good and not disaster, to give a future and a hope” for all of us. We need to know that we have cheerleaders rooting for us to succeed, reminding us of our strengths, and doing all of the things above so we can stand strong together.

Oh y’all, help your children navigate this crazy life by giving them support and encouragement to choose friends who will love them and stand by them like you would. They may not always take your advice. They may not always follow through like you hope. They may even break your heart through their choices, in spite of everything you have taught them. But know that every small seed you plant will not go to waste. One day, it may be watered and then harvested through others the Lord chooses (1Cor.3:6-9).

Keep praying, keep guiding, and keep modeling what true friendships look like. We are all in this together. Col.1:17

When You’re Stabbing at Tomatoes

Have you ever had a plan? Something you wanted so badly for your life? But it didn’t happen in your timing and under your conditions and as you so clearly arranged for it to fall into place? And then you ended up frustrated and ill and feeling like you would never attain that thing or place in life you long for? I have. And it’s a little like stabbing at tomatoes.

Not too long ago, I fixed a green salad for lunch. A little romaine, some cut-up baby carrots, a handful of croutons, a generous helping of Ranch dressing, and of course, some perfectly plump cherry tomatoes to top it off. I was in a hurry that day and decided to dig in so I could finish the salad and get on to the next thing. I quickly stabbed at the salad, trying to get one of those pretty tomatoes on my fork for that perfect bite, but that slippery little sucker shot to the left of the bowl. I stabbed again, and it shot to the right. I stabbed again, and it shot forward! I was feeling a little ridiculous at this point and praying no one was watching(ha!). At this rate, it would take me 30 minutes to finish eating! But then I slowed down, carefully placed the prongs, and was finally able to get that silly tomato to stay put on my fork. I was able to eat each of them, but slowly, one by one. And the Lord showed me that’s a little like life, y’all.

In Zechariah 4, an angel of the Lord is talking with him about plans to rebuild the temple. In verse 6, the Lord gives this message, “It is not by force or by strength, but by my Spirit…” Wow.

Not force. Not strength. By My Spirit.

Oh, y’all. So often we get up in the morning, force ourselves to muster up all of the strength we can in our own flesh, and attempt to go forward with the day. We speak harshly, not in love. We try to move quickly from one task to the next, as we wonder why it doesn’t feel like we’re getting anything meaningful accomplished. We work and push and think and control and direct…and don’t get where we are going.

Because when we have a vision, a goal for our lives, if it is not led by the Lord’s Spirit, it isn’t led at all. No amount of human effort or thought will move us closer to the ending we desire.

Our longings may be big ones. They may be small. but no matter the size, they all have a starting point. In verse 10, the Lord goes on to say, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…”

I think so often, we have lofty goals, and in this world of growing instant gratification, we expect to achieve things right away. Want to play a song? Just say, “Alexa-play praise and worship music.” And whadoyaknow? There’s praise and worship music. Forget having to find your tape player, find your tape, fast forward then rewind then fast forward then rewind then fast forward then rewind to find the right song (anyone else been there?).

But y’all, the Lord tells us right here that the Lord rejoices in each tiny step. Each small beginning that is leading down the path He has for us should be celebrated. Isn’t that comforting to remember that though we want to finish the whole “salad” right away, the Lord is wanting us to slow down and just enjoy each perfect little tomato? To take our time, enjoying one bite at a time, instead of chasing tomatoes all over the bowl and eating nothing?

Not force. Not strength. But by His Spirit, y’all. Each small step at a time.

The Mercy in Surrender

The new year (and new decade) have arrived. People everywhere are making resolutions to do more of things and less of things and most of all it seems, striving to let go and be more present with their family and friends. I see the words typed neatly on the screen…but will actions follow?

Isn’t it strange that so many of us want to lighten our load…to have one less thing on our plate…to feel less weight on our shoulders…yet we don’t want to lay anything down? Almost like as long as we have a slight grasp (or tight hold in some cases) that we will be able to control the various situations in our lives, even though that longing for control causes stress along with physical and mental exhaustion in many cases? Thereby keeping us from being present and enjoying life to the fullest?

I recently read Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly, a book about the events leading up to the assassination of President Lincoln at the end of the Civil War. The two main players in the war were General Robert E. Lee from the South, and General Ulysses S. Grant from the North. When all of Lee’s resources and soldiers had been depleted…when he realized there was no means of escape…and when he saw that there was nothing he could do to continue on, he begrudgingly chose to surrender to General Grant. He dressed in his finest uniform with a fancy sword at his side and prepared to admit defeat. He looked like the picture of confidence, but weighing heavy on his mind were the terms of the surrender…and how they would affect his men.

However, as General Lee read the words written by Grant to end the war, all worry subsided. To quote O’Reilly, “the terms were remarkable in their lenience.” Grant accepted the Confederacy’s surrender. Lee’s men were to lay down their guns, go home, and focus on rebuilding the nation together. That was it.

Surrender means to “cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.” Cease resistance. And submit. I couldn’t help but think how the Civil War scenario mirrored the act of surrendering to the Lord and His will, and how often I fail at this task. Surrender somehow shows weakness or lack of purpose to some. But as a follower of Jesus, surrendering brings life, y’all.

Mercy was evident in the case of Grant vs. Lee. And mercy waits for all of us who are willing to lay down what we are carrying, go home to the Lord with empty hands, and focus on loving, serving, and rebuilding lives with the Lord’s strength and guidance.

The more I thought about the definition of surrender, I had to dig deeper into what it really means in relation to the Lord in my own life. So here are a few things I wanted to share as we enter this new year, new decade, and hopefully new season of surrender in our lives:

1. We must “cease resistance,” but what does that really mean?

Cease means to “bring to an end.” That’s easy enough. If we cease, we stop. We don’t allow a certain action to continue. But what about the word resistance?

Resistance is defined as “refusal to accept or comply with something” or “an attempt to prevent something by action or arguing.” Ha! I feel like I am in the test tube of resistance these days. Between an almost teenager, a ten year old, and a preschooler, my days are made of refusals to comply and attempts to prevent something by arguing. (I really need a laughing with tears emoji here). If you have children or cranky co-workers or work with the public in any way, shape, or form, you can empathize! And unfortunately, I know it when I see it, because I am guilty of doing the same thing.

So, we have to “bring to an end the refusal to accept or comply” with what the Lord is leading us to do in our lives (in other words, not act like our tweenagers or preschoolers when they just want their way:). When we know He is showing us the path to follow (but we want to choose another), when we hear Him telling us to do something (and we pretend we’re not listening), or when we see someone He has clearly put in our path to minister to (but we are afraid), we must cling to His promises and choose to be obedient and accept His will above our own. (John 14:15)

2. Our surrender is to “an enemy or opponent,” but does that really apply to God?

I would imagine that very few of us think of God as an enemy. But what about an opponent? Many of us might say no…we’re not playing against God. But aren’t we? I know I am many days. It’s the game of self vs. Jesus. And unfortunately, there are days I seem to win, only to find out later that the consequences of putting myself first are harder on my heart in the long run. The challenge is to resist self, so that we can then comply with the Lord’s will instead of our own. It’s very convicting to think about…(John 3:30)

3. Confronting that very difficult phrase “submit to authority.”

Submit is one of the most controversial words you can say from the world’s perspective. It implies weakness. And we women are supposed to be strong and independent. What those who balk against submission fail to remember, though, is that submission is a choice. I’m actively putting my wants and needs aside, at least for a time, because I humbly believe that there is one who knows better than me and has my best interest in mind. And I know that Jesus does.

But isn’t it interesting that the word “authority” seems to be becoming a negative word as well? All authority figures used to be respected and revered. Policemen, teachers, our military, and our President. But more and more, the world wants us to voice our own wants and needs and opinions, and put them first, above rules or boundaries or even the sacredness of life. But above all of those, God has ultimate authority, and we will all answer to Him one day. Therefore, I choose to yield, or give way, to His way.

In submitting to the Lord’s authority we find the blessing of humility, the rest we long for, and the safety He promises. (1 Peter 5:6, Psalm 139:5, Psalm 4:8)

Oh, y’all. The mercy in surrender is the sacrifice of self. Only when He becomes greater, and we become less, can we truly lay it all down.

May we all lay our empty palms face up, with ears that long to hear, and eyes that long to see, expectantly waiting for all the Lord will do when we surrender to Him. Happy New Year, yall.

P.S. I have surrendered to the Lord many times. Laying down all that I was carrying…only to pick it back up again not too long after. But even in my fear and stubbornness, the Lord calls me back to try again. If you have done the same thing don’t stop trying. The Lord’s mercy is there waiting when you are ready.

New Article Links

 

Hey y’all! These are links to articles I’ve written for other websites in the past few months. I hope they are a blessing!

The Gift of This Complicated Life:

http://www.blogsbychristianwomen.com/the-gift-of-this-complicated-life/

Where Are You Dwelling?:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-november-20.html

Trust the Story God is Writing For You:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-november-7.html

What’s the Pattern of Your Days?:

https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women/ibelieve-truth-a-devotional-for-women-december-2.html

A Story of Darkness and Light: What Christmas is All About

Oh my sweet friends. As I sit here tonight, reading the Word by the light of the Christmas tree and a candle flickering before me, my mind cannot seem to wrap itself around this day that is almost here. This Christmas Day, the day of Christ’s birth, and what it all really means.

I’ve read the Christmas story so many times and there are different things that jump out at me each year. Like the bold obedience of Mary and Joseph, the sweetness of Mary pondering everything in her heart, or the humble beginnings of our Savior. But this year, the past few months have brought so many unimaginable stories of loss and heartache, and there is only one part of the story I can keep my mind on: the story of darkness and light.

The world is filled with so much darkness, y’all. So much evil that threatens to overtake any glimmer of good in this life. It seems that just reading the news or social media these days can make your whole body tense as you take in the harsh words and hateful comments directed at anyone with opposing viewpoints. The deaths of so many that have left holes in the hearts of their precious loved ones. Just breathing is a challenge many days for some of those I love. There is darkness.

But this darkness isn’t anything new. Before Jesus came into the world, there were those without hope. Those who felt they couldn’t make it one more day. And those who felt they would never have peace.

But then, Zechariah shared this in Luke 1:78-79:

“Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”

If you feel you are sitting in darkness lately. If you are kneeling in the shadow of death. If you have no idea where to turn. I have good news. Our God is a God of action, and He is moving all the time.

Here are three things we can lean on for hope this Christmas season, even in the midst of dark times…because light is coming:

1. Jesus came “Because of God’s tender mercy.” This just fills my heart with thankfulness because it is a sweet reminder that God does see us and our struggles, y’all. Psalm 116:2 says, “Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Job 34:21 reads, ““For God watches how people live; he sees everything they do.” Sometimes I find myself wondering if He really cares what I’m going through, though. If He is really aware of all the small details of my days and how they are affecting me and those I love. If He is even really hearing my prayers. But, this verse…this reminds me when I begin to doubt, that yes! 100 times yes, He is right there and in His great mercy, sent Jesus for me…for all of us…because He saw and heard so long ago how much His people needed a Savior who would see what they saw and feel what they felt. His tender mercies are never ceasing.

2. “The morning light is about to break upon us.” Oh y’all, the morning light. What a tender mercy. I am not a morning person. Not even a little. And definitely not when it is dark outside still. But on those days when the light streams through the blinds, it does my heart and my head so much good. It’s almost like the day is saying, “Come on, you can do it…” but really, it’s the Lord’s way of reminding us that He is the morning light. Our morning light. And as it (He) breaks upon us, He makes all things new. New day. New words. New actions. New chances to live for Him and not ourselves. New opportunities to speak life instead of death. New everything.

But he doesn’t want us to stop there. It says he came to “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” So as that light breaks upon us, we have the responsibility of sharing that light with others. To tell them what He’s done in our lives and give the hope that He offers. Small acts of kindness: a smile, a hug, a compliment, an encouraging word, a Coke from the drive-thru…don’t let the day’s little opportunities pass you by.

3. His light has a purpose: “to guide us to the path of peace.” This part is so interesting because it implies that we can’t find peace without light to guide us. And it’s so true. When I have chosen to dwell in darkness, to make choices that were not in God’s will…I could not find peace. But when I have asked forgiveness for those things and drawn near to the Lord through His word and prayer…I have walked that path to inner peace as He’s taken me under His wing.

There is such a thing, y’all. It’s not always easy to find. Some seasons it takes longer than others. But it is there because of the Lord’s goodness and mercy. It is something nothing and no one in this world can give. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

I can only imagine the judgment Mary and Joseph had to endure as she began to show her pregnancy, with everyone knowing they had not yet married. Then the long, uncomfortable trip to Bethlehem, only to find they had no place for their baby to be born. I imagine there was fear…and some choice words…as those last days before Jesus birth came to pass. Then the intense labor, in a cold stable, with stinky animals…it must have felt very dark at times.

But then…there was light. The angels glowed with bright light. The star shone above with great light. And the light of the world was born for you, and for me.

God sent his one and only son to rescue us, to save us from our sins, to give us hope, because He knew how much we needed Him. He is the light of the world… for all of us. Merry Christmas, y’all.

“God loved us and sent His son.” 1 John 4:10

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