Missing the Mark

Instant replay caused him to instantly recoil.

Ah, the director’s right! In that scene, he’d missed his mark. The taped “X” seemed to suddenly glow as he felt his face flush.

How could this have happened?

He knew. Although he’d rehearsed it a dozen times, he’d taken his eyes off the mark. He’d assumed his mind knew where to lead his feet. He was so confident, he never even looked.

Now the director needed to reshoot the entire scene, all because the lead actor missed his mark. He knew that the end result of not being completely on his mark meant the cameras couldn’t catch him in complete focus. The strength of the story might be lost. Not only the story lines blur but the actors themselves are often unseen or distorted.

Living as a Christian can be difficult, especially when we take our eyes off the mark: Jesus.  Lines of right and wrong can become blurred or distorted when we take our eyes off Christ. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us how to live life, with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Thankfully God doesn’t record our errors so adamantly and rematch our actions so blatantly.  Unlike a TV director, He doesn’t often employ the instant replay either.

Instead of lashing out at His children He redeems what they’ve done.

Romans 8:28 promises us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to 
His purpose.” (NIV)

He doesn’t need us to redo decisions in life to make everything turn out right. While we need to carefully consider our choices and fully expect consequences when we choose folly, God promises to weave good into everything, even the not-so-good things.

He doesn’t highlight when we missed the mark. Instead, He extends mercy and grace, and yes, even blesses our mess. He uses our choices to create a marvelous testimony that He indeed is Lord of all.

Lavish Love

She smiled as she handed me a cup of tea. I had a cold and our nine-year-old daughter insisted on caring for me.

“Did you remember a little honey?” I asked.

She started to shake her head then stopped. “A little more than a little,” she confessed sheepishly while covering me with a favorite blanket.

I had to smile, momentarily wondering just how much “a little more than a little,” literally was!

One sip confirmed it was definitely more than I would have added, yet tasted much better too!

She certainly had gone above and beyond.  All because she loves her mom and was concerned about her.

We each have a heavenly Father who loves each of us lavishly. His heart is concerned about each one of us. And He certainly demonstrates His love lavishly.

Have you sat and recounted how God has lavishly loved on you? If you’re like me, when the storm comes and I’m swimming in disappointment, I can easily forget all of life’s blessing.

Maybe it’s time to come up for a breath of fresh air. No matter what has been happening, take a mental inventory of the last few years, or even decade. How has God blessed you abundantly? How have you witnessed lavish love?

Thank God for His many blessings.

“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deed of the Lord, or declare all his praise?” Psalm 106: 1-2 (ESV)

 

Humbly Saved

Have you ever been condemned for telling the truth?

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 4:15

In Mark 14:62 and Mark 15:31-32, we see Jesus telling the truth. He admitted who He is. The problem? No one believed Him.

He was honest. He also understood that no sinful human would understand His actions, that day, or, today.

Recall, Jesus was not really fighting against His human captors. The human voices shouted Satan’s accusations. They would hurl insult and heap mental and physical injury upon an innocent Jesus.

While even today, centuries after the fact, it’s amazing, even miraculous, that Jesus didn’t defend Himself.

He knew He was in the right.

Even if no one else knew or understood.

Even when the people questioned His authority and authenticity.

He also knew after Satan had done his absolute worst to beat down Jesus in every way, the fulfillment of the most important miracle to mankind would materialize. The barrier between God and humanity would be burned; our Jesus bridge built.

And Jesus Himself saved, raised from the dead and reunited with His father.

Sometimes, doing the right “God-ordained” action might cause others to see us as weak or simple. I do not pen that lightly, knowing the agony and pain sometimes perpetuated by such choices.

Yet, I want to follow Jesus’ example. I want to joyfully greet God one day in heaven, knowing I was willing to do whatever He requested.

Oh Lord, on this Good Friday, as we recall Your intense, personal sacrifice, we humbly Thank You.

We thank You for constructing a concrete way to reach our heavenly Father.

We thank You for showing us how to live this life on earth and how to learn to fix our gaze on God.

Please help us to recall it, to live it, and to treasure it. In Your Son’s precious name, Amen.

Your Love Never Fails

“What would I say to Jesus on Christmas Day” was a prompt for a writing contest I recently entered and won one of two grand prizes. I want to share this entry with you. I don’t know where you are today as you contemplate the New Year. I do know God will be with you.

It’s been a long, heart-wrenching year. Full of events I would not have chosen. Full of heartache I could never fathom. Maybe you also have had a really rough year.

It all began in early January, after ringing in the New Year. A time I usually anticipate, full of hope and wonder of what the near future might hold. I had no idea just nine days in our family would witness the tragic death of a beloved pet.

As we trusted in God to heal our hearts, more tragedy struck. This time of a personal nature that is not my story to tell. But for those who have witnessed someone who is dearly loved endure a personal disaster, you would know how frantic I felt, whispering words of panicked pleading to my Heavenly Father to step in and immediately intervene.

But He had other plans.

As the weeks stretched into months, my heart plunged with fear for the future. I clung with a desperate faith as the hot sun warmed up the summer weather and tried to be a positive person although I felt anything but. I could not share much with friends because it was not my story to tell. But I knew, God knew. I knew He saw me. I knew He was holding me. And when I came to the end of myself over and over again, I felt Him lift me up and care for me.

The autumn held a surprise I never could have authored. I was uncertain I should proceed where God seemed to lead me. Every time I prayed, I ended with, “Lord, close this door if I should not walk through it.”

You see, I thought I knew what those months should hold. This autumn, after years and years of serving my family full-time, I would finally pursue my passion. I knew God would hear me and of course, slam that other door shut! I also knew I was in a desperate place where I needed God to intervene in a mighty way and I told myself to trust Him.

Instead, He swung that other door wide open. I was instantly thrown into a career move I could not have authored myself. Yet, He knew the plans He has for me and He knew it was exactly what I needed.

As autumn leaves swirled around my frenzied feet and I adjusted to a new chapter of life that was way-too-busy, I had, for the first time in months, to smile.  I realized that although I never would have pursued this opportunity on my own, I really relished most moments of my days.

Driving daily in the dark to work, I would blare the radio station singing praises to God and found myself humming those very songs throughout my day. His light shown in my life. The more I focused on Him and the work He gave me to do, the less I focused on the fear and darkness shrouding my heart. As the days grew shorter my tears fell less and my joy returned.

 

The situation which captivated my heart was not fully resolved but was slowly improving. It was not my story to write and aside from prayer not much I could do. I learned to fix my eyes on Jesus, and not set them on the sad situation. I learned to be happy despite what this world might throw at me. I learned to enjoy serving in a capacity I would never have foreseen. I learned as the storms swirled around me I could still hold onto hope. Hope in a future held by Jesus.

Hanging Christmas ornaments on a lovely little tree, I stop and reflect on this year. My eyes reflect back at me in a glass ball. Eyes that hold a glimmer of hope, full of expectation for a miracle this Christmas. Maybe the miracle will be complete, instant healing.

Maybe, the miracle is in my heart. God teaching me yet again, that He is indeed King of this world.  All things are in His hands.

I can trust Him. Period.

Dear Jesus, You know the bizarre, heart-wrenching year our family has experienced. You also knew it would happen before we lived it. You planned ahead just how you would carry us through.

Dear Jesus, if I were to have the awesome opportunity to meet you face-to-face this Christmas, how could I thank you?

Would I stare in awed wonder and be struck silent? Would I sing praises and dance before you? My heart whispers the response: Dear Jesus, Thank you! Thank you for loving me! Thank you for protecting me!

Thank you for carrying me through when I thought I could move no more. Thank you for giving me sweet sleep as I fell into bed in tears.

Thank you for the gift of close, caring friends who You used to sustain me and make me smile.

Thank you for a place where I could go to serve You by serving others.

Thank you for caring for people more than I ever could, no matter how much I love them.

Thank you for taking my soul’s fears and soothing them as only you could. Thank you for that peace which passes understanding.

Thank you for your trustworthiness.

Thank you for your great love.

Thank you for coming to earth. Thank you for your birth and your sacrificial death. You came not only to give the gift of eternal life, but also to give abundant life to our days, our hours and our moments. You came to breath hope into whatever we are experiencing at any particular moment in time.

Jesus, without my soul knowing you, I am certain I never would have made it through this year.

 

 

A Heart Hearing

Waking the next morning before dawn, Marcy silently slid out from the covers. Christmas day! The house was quiet and a cup of tea sounded inviting. Moving slowly and quietly through the kitchen, she prepared her cup and her heart a she reached for her Bible.

Sitting down in the old rocking chair at the big picture window, her back to the Christmas tree, her eyes gazed into the dark as her mind contemplated the last few months.

Always under deadline, she never had a moment of peace. A time where she could just sit and think about and pray to God.

Lord, I believe You have called me to this. But how can I have a better balance? I feel like I’ve slipped away from You. Something I never intended.

She reflected on a sermon she had heard a few years before. “We don’t often intend to wander away from God,” the pastor had said, “but we often allow other things to distract us from Him.”

Indeed.

Lord, forgive me. I never meant to become so consumed with school and overwhelmed by the suffering I see. Show me where I should place limits, where I don’t have to do everything. Show me where to carve out time for You. I am so truly sorry.

The last sentiment was accompanied by a single tear trailing her check as the gravity of what she had done began to dawn.

As the day broke and light began to cross the mountain and brush the fields outside the window, her heart lightened as she remembered God’s open arms always available whenever one of His children came running back.

Draw nearer to me and I will draw nearer to you, was his promise in James.

She knew what she needed. A specific time every day to spend some time with God. Rising fifteen minutes earlier would not take a toll on her sleep but she instinctively knew would ground her feet for whatever the day might hold.

She knew she could face anything as long as the Lord went with her.

She also knew she needed to watch herself as she went forward into another semester. It was so easy to focus on all the requirements of school and forget about anything else.

She knew she needed to have someone who would keep her accountable to herself, to her faith, to the life she knew she was called to live as a daughter of the King.

She knew just the friend. A friend who faced the same struggles but had a stronger faith and a gentle heart.

A soft purring filled the air as Marcy felt Taffy brush up against her leg. She stooped over to scoop up the warm cat and settled back into the old rocker. Yes, her heart was light again. She smiled as she determined how next semester would go. In the midst of the classes, the clinicals, and the chaos, she would make time with God each day.

She knew it would make all the difference.

Little Lies?

Cringing, she settled back into her chair. Replacing the receiver, she knew she had to take a break.
Now.
Walking out of the office down the corridor, she locked herself in the ladies’ room.
How had this happened?
Lord, forgive me. I just lied.
The fact that many would consider it a white lie didn’t ease her pain.
The fact the she would probably never be found out didn’t assuage her dismay.
The fact that she knew and God knew heaped conviction onto a heavy heart.
She recalled a Bible verse recently read, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murders, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all the liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” (Rev 21:8 NIV)
She felt sick.
But she knew how to find the cure.
Repent.
Accept His forgiveness.
Then, guard herself against it happening again.

Days later she replaced the receiver and bolted down the corridor to the ladies’ room. It was a busy day, but one in which she felt light-hearted and free.
She hadn’t allowed her sin to separate her from her Savior.

 

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank You for Your word to convict and restore me into Your arms. Remind me not to rank my sins, not to minimize them according to the worlds’ standards. Sin is sin. It can separate me from You. Remind me to restore myself to You through repentance. Thank You for You forgiveness and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

He Will Be Praised

Frustration coursed through him as he sped away from the one person who so easily broke his heart.

It only took three words: I can’t believe.

He dearly loved his heavenly Father. He knew his life was a testimony to God’s goodness; without God he would never have become a decent person.

Watching his sister struggle so profoundly with faith tore his heart out.

He’d witnessed with words on countless occasions. He’d acted with love when love wasn’t returned.

He’d held his tongue while harsh words rung in his ears. He’d forgiven when she had cut him to the quick.

As he sped away he heard God’s gentle retort,

You don’t need to defend me. You don’t need to change her heart, that’s my job. You only need to love.

Be still, my son, and know I am God.

His heart stilled as he pondered the familiar Psalm. Be still and know I am God.

I don’t need anything from you, be still, calm down. I’m in control here. I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

God will be praised simply because He said it. And He isn’t relying on any of us to bring it about.

We can each relax and trust that He is God. He will orchestrate it all, and it will happen.

Braking the car, he thought to himself, God doesn’t need my defense. With that final though, he pulled into the driveway and parked the car. He also parked his heart directly on Psalm 46:10.

He would stop talking, doing, and concerning himself over things God hadn’t called him to do. He would instead trust that God would indeed fulfill His word.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank You for my calling. And Lord, thank You for limiting that calling. Please remind me to be obedient to that calling and only focus my words and actions on your instructions. Please help me recall your promises. They will happen because You declared it. Not because I did anything. There is such freedom in You limit! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

A Healed Heart

I read the thermometer: 104.7 I was in desperate trouble.

As a breast cancer survivor I’d recently undergone reconstructive surgery. Finally finished with chemotherapy, radiation and a full year of IV Herceptin therapy, I had begun the reconstruction process seven weeks earlier. A surgically-placed implant was injected with more saline each week in an attempt to stretch the skin. Only radiation had decreased the elasticity of the flesh. A few days earlier, stitches had proved necessary to reinforce an opening surgical site.

Now, a high fever.

Time to call the doctor and rush to the hospital. Met in the ER by the on-call physician, a simple blood test confirmed infection. I needed surgery stat. If the implant remained, the infection could go septic and my life would again be threatened.

After surgery I was hospitalized for five days, the longest confinement of my cancer experience. I had my own room on the oncology floor and generally only saw the nurses once per shift. After two days of constant IV antibiotics and near-continuous sleep, I awoke.

I recollected what happened.

“God, how can this be? The doctors said the mastectomy was necessary. I’d never dreamed I’d lose that. But I hoped after reconstruction I’d look normal.” With tears streaming down my cheeks, I stared at the pale hospital wall.  “I’m only 34!”  Now it had failed. What I anticipated rectifying the effects of cancer on my body, on my appearance, on me, had failed. Now the only option left was for me to gain thirty pounds and have a procedure requiring six months recovery.

I knew I’d never opt for it. I had three daughters ages 11,7, and two. I’d already lost two years with my family, stolen by cancer, no way I’d voluntarily surrender more.

God,” I cried, shaking and sobbing alone in my hospital room, “I know You’ll redeem this. I just can’t imagine how.” I stared ahead, trying to comprehend it all. “But You will find a way somehow, some way; You’ll use this for good.”

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Man may judge by appearance, but I judge by the heart,” Scripture burned in my brain. “Your heart is beautiful,” His voice whispered into a mind struggling to comprehend such a concept.

I sobbed all afternoon, praying, “God help me fully trust You.”

As a girl who’d never thought she measured up in the physical appearance department, I needed God’s love more than ever.

I couldn’t imagine how He could help me.

               I couldn’t imagine what He might do.

I can’t believe what He did!

               Over the next two years, slowly, about the same rate as my hair re-growth, God built my confidence in ways I’d never known. I studied entire books of the Bible, breaking down verses, memorizing them and applying them.

I took greater interest in fashion, dressing modestly, enjoying fun colors and cute clothes.

But the biggest change? I clung to Jesus. I repeatedly asked Him to change me on the inside so I could be a positive, faith-filled mentor to my girls. That I would slowly shape into the Stefanie He envisioned when He knit me together inside my mother’s womb. I learned His unconditional love, and I felt beautiful, basking in His presence.

It’s been seven years since that fever. My curly hair’s half-way down my back. You’d never guess by appearance I’m a cancer-survivor.

It took losing a piece of my physical body to yield to Jesus to make me spiritually whole. I gained confidence in Him, as He’s molding and shaping me. I am beautiful to Him, and surprisingly I really don’t miss that anymore. The personal relationship I have with Jesus, that soul satisfaction, is what consumes me, not the incessant thoughts of what I can do, should do, to look better.

I never would have written that journey, but I’m so thankful He authored the outcome: I now understand what it is to be truly and completely loved.

 

A Healed Heart

I read the thermometer: 104.7 I was in desperate trouble.

               As a breast cancer survivor I’d recently undergone reconstructive surgery. Finally finished with chemotherapy, radiation and a full year of IV Herceptin therapy, I had begun the reconstruction process seven weeks earlier. A surgically-placed implant was injected with more saline each week in an attempt to stretch the skin. Only radiation had decreased the elasticity of the flesh. A few days earlier, stitches had proved necessary to reinforce an opening surgical site.

               Now, a high fever.

               Time to call the doctor and rush to the hospital. Met in the ER by the on-call physician, a simple blood test confirmed infection. I needed surgery stat. If the implant remained, the infection could go septic and my life would again be threatened.

 

For the rest of the story, please visit …http://purposefulfaith.com/encouraging-words-2/

Grace Wins

“But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 (NIV, emphasis mine)

I cannot believe this is a struggle, I thought as I quietly listened. I knew her story. I knew she had an immense Biblical background. She had many family members serving in ministry. Years ago at our first meeting, I was overwhelmed at her deep theological standing.

Today I was underwhelmed by her lack of faith. My heart broke as I heard her deep internal debate.

I was also overcome by my mental reaction to her words. I had judged her.

I didn’t mean to.

But, it was there, first thought in my mind. When the realization smacked me full force, my heart fell in deep anguish.

What would Jesus do? What did Jesus do? He gave even more grace.

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Proverbs 3:34

She, who was struggling, was gently held in the palm of God’s loving hand, His grace heaped upon her.

I, on the other hand, who sat entertaining judgmental thoughts would receive God’s opposition. That is not a position I want to play!

Heavenly Father! How to change my heart, my mind, my reflexive thoughts?

James 4 outlines the answer.

Verse 7 Submit. Submit to God. I must submit myself, my mind over to God. Take captive every thought. Use Philippians 4:8-9 as measuring stick. If my thoughts are not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, or praiseworthy, I must banish them.

Resist. Resist the devil and He will flee. He won’t always be there badgering; he will flee if I ask God to help me resist him.

Verse 8. Come. Come near to God and He will come near to you.

That’s a promise! I’m not left alone here. When I come to Him, humble and sincerely seeking Him, He will come near to me.

He will help me overcome any struggle, even a judgmental spirit. He helped me rid my mind of a judgment and He grew a deep compassion. That compassion prompted me to respond with grace, a grace similar to what He showed me.

Matthew West is right, Grace Wins Every Time!

 

Reflections:

What do I need to submit to God?

How has He answered me in the past?

 

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your great grace. When we tap into Your grace, we are more than conquerors, and indeed, we can do anything through Christ. As I stumble into an unpleasing thought, help me to identify it right away and take it captive. Please assist me in submitting to You, resisting the enemy, and draw me closer to You. Thank You for Your great love and great grace, In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thanks for reading! Please return Friday, August 12, for the next post.