Living Wholeheartedly

We have a lot going on in our lives, and that was before 2020 showed up with the pile of not-so-awesome presents it’s delivered so far and could have hiding for us in the last 4 months of this year. It has been an opportunity for us to explore what’s truly important to us and how resilient we are as a world, to consider simplifying our lives both in responsibilities and possessions, to reconsider the path we’re on, to appreciate the little things, and to get back out in nature. It’s been an opportunity for the Church to grow into the online world and share about Jesus digitally instead of just in person.

We also got a lesson in giving our full attention to something. The entire world shut down over this virus for weeks on end, many places for months, and some places more than once. Small medical centers were sharing their resources with hospitals and businesses were producing whole product lines that they never normally produce to support the efforts. We cleaned our homes and hands as never before. Some of us prayed harder than we ever have. Many people lost someone in a way they never expected to long before their expected time. All of this brought completely new perspectives about life and living to light.

In recent weeks I’ve been working my way through the book of Jeremiah. Most people are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, but I think we forget that there are another 20 some verses after that verse, kind of like we forgot how easily germs can spread and how invisible they really are. I don’t know what the rest of 2020 holds, but maybe we need to check in on more than just our cleaning and education practices before the year ends. Maybe we need to spend some of the time that we’re feeling especially at odds and ends this year pursuing God more and truly investing ourselves in our spiritual growth and health.

I brought up Jeremiah 29 because one of those verses after verse 11 spoke to me this week. Jeremiah 29:13 says: “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” If you feel like you’re missing something in your life, that something isn’t as it should be, maybe it’s because you’re not pursuing it wholeheartedly. Maybe you’re not giving it the amount of your attention that you should be giving it. Maybe you and God haven’t worked through what needs to be addressed before you can get to that part of your journey. Maybe what’s missing in your life is taking time each day to wholeheartedly pursue God and discover what He loves about you, His plans for your life, and what He’s trying to show you in this world that you’ve missed out on. What are you wholeheartedly pursuing?

Spring to Life

Today I am thinking spring. I’m thinking all things that come along with spring, from clearing out the clutter and cobwebs of winter to bursts of life to warmer weather and being more active. As I was reading through my Lent devotions for this week and the other regular devotions a couple of verses caught my attention:

Spring will have some dark days:
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” Psalm 23:4a

Spring is a time to be refreshed:
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:13-14 NIV

Spring is a time for thrive:
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Spring is a time to celebrate:
“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

Spring is a time to search for God (and find Him):
“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!”” Psalm 70:4

This spring can be whatever you make it out to be. It’s totally up to you. My hope is that you would take inspiration from spring slowly (or quickly) coming to life and you would do a little spring cleaning on your life so that you get rid of the things that are holding you back or down so that you can celebrate, thrive and grow into the person God has created you to be for this season in your life.

Faith for the New Year

When I look back over the past year, I can’t help but be thankful.  There were a lot of struggles and there were several not-so-good moments.  But there were so many lessons that I learned that have made me a better person, and have definitely encouraged me as I look forward to 2018.  I may not have all the answers yet, but I do know that changes and improvements are coming.  John Wooden eloquently states it:

“Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books – especially the Bible, build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.”

A new year is an opportunity for change, but in truth any change can be made at any time.  You can choose today to read your Bible again, you can choose today to fix your relationship with your partner or your kids, you can choose today to make better food choices, or you can choose today to let it all go and step into the plan that God has for your life. As Jeremiah 29:10a-13 says:

“”I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.””

I encourage you to listen to the plans God has for your life in this new year.  What changes or additions will you make to your life this year, especially in regards to the spiritual aspects?

Crossroads of Success

Life in general challenges us, so when it comes to success we often find that we’re more challenged than we want to be. If you’re struggling with life or success, know it may get worse before it gets better, but I know that God will be with you through whatever you go through. One of my favorite verses in Jeremiah showed up this week in my readings and it got me thinking about God’s timing in life. Take a peek:

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask where the old road is. Ask where the good road is, and walk on that road. If you do, you will find rest for yourselves…” Jeremiah 6:16

This verse is telling us a couple of important things about life and our success journey:

1-think through decisions
2-ask for help
3-take action

It may feel like you’re approaching a new crossroad every day, feel like you’re all turned around and confused, not able to find rest anywhere. I can empathize-I’ve been there many times myself, everyone has. So often it feels like we’re on a merry-go-round at these crossroads, just going in circles, not sure when to get off or where to go. Where do we find the clarity? How do we know which road to take?

Here are my suggestions:

1-realize what’s not working. Before you get anymore turned around, stop and take stock of your life. See where things are, what’s working for you and what needs to be let go.
2-consider where God has led you before. This has to do with your life purpose, the gifts God has given you and where you’ve found God’s presence strongest in your life before.
3-make a list of all possible roads. What ways could you go? Where could God lead you? Can you “map out” a plan for each idea? If you’re not feeling God strongly push you in one direction, and you can’t make a plan for the road, it’s probably not the way to go.

When it comes down to it, the best thing to remember is that each day is a new day, God is abundant in forgiveness, and there’s almost no mistake that’s too big to fix or learn from. Even if you go down the wrong path, God will give you opportunities to learn while on that path that will benefit you when you get on the right path. And above all else, don’t forget to ask God for his guidance. He’s the only one who really knows what’s going on and where you’re heading. He’s a big God, and is willing (make that jumping-up-and-down excited) to work with you on your life, both the big and the small. What will He show you today?

Finding Confidence in God

One of the biggest challenges to our lives and successes has to do with the fact that we’re sometimes insecure people, or lacking in confidence. Yes, each of us has little things that set us off or raise red flags and make us question, even if there is no need to question, even though we’re confident, strong people in every other area of our lives. Many of us have insecurities around whether we’re important or not, whether it’s at work, in a relationship or to our children. Whether we’re young or old, we sometimes feel that we’re not important, it’s unfortunately part of being human.

Ezekiel 37:14 says: “I will put My spirit in you, that you may live.”
Psalm 89:17 says: “You are their amazing strength. Their power comes from you.”
Jeremiah 31:25 says: “I will give rest and strength to those who are weak and tired.”

God gives us life, gives us the strength to become the best version of ourselves, and the encouragement to get through the times of doubt. This week, know that you do matter. Who you are, what you can do, your dreams, your goals, your hopes, your dreams, who and what you call home, these things all matter. To you, to me, and most importantly to God. He’s your biggest cheerleader and greatest coach, the voice of reason and little flame that spurs you on to do better.

If you’re struggling with confidence or feelings of insecurities, turn to God and ask Him to show you the confidence and strength that He revealed to so many leaders in the Bible who didn’t start out as amazing leaders. And don’t forget to tell someone this week that they matter to you, you may think they know, but they may not. Your vote of confidence in them and acknowledgement of their ability could be the encouragement they’ve been needing.

Thanksgiving Reflections

Thanksgiving is just a day away and I’m looking forward to it!  I love what it means, the gathering of family and friends and of course the opportunity to eat!  Today I wanted to share some verses of thanksgiving, verses that speak to what we have to be thankful for, and even verses to challenge us and keep us humble.

“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.”  Psalm 1:1-2

“”These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.””  John 16:33

“”For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”” Jeremiah 29:11

“But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 15:57

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things.” 1 Chronicles 29:11

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all we have, for the very gift of life, and for the gift of God in our lives.  Things could have gone so much differently for us, we could not have a God who’s so involved in and invested in our lives.  We could have fewer blessings and promises that we can depend on.  We could not be able to see the workings of God in big and little ways in our lives and the world.  We could be less individual and more similar.  We could all face significant challenges and threats on our lives.  And most of all we could be without hope in the future and in a permanent home in Heaven some day with God.  And those are just a few of the things we can think about this Thanksgiving as we gather around the table.

The Pilgrims created Thanksgiving because they were thankful for the most simple of things: being alive.  They were thankful to have found friends in the Native Americans and in their own ability to survive and work on thriving in a new world.  They weren’t celebrating billion dollar successes, curing serious diseases or finally helping world peace happen.  No, the were just thankful to be alive.  This Thanksgiving I encourage you to take time to be thankful for the big and little things in your life.  Everyone has something to be thankful for, even if it’s as simple as being alive.

An Encouragement for Freedom

This month we’re talking about families, and I know as well as you do that family can be some of the most challenging, constricting, limiting, frustrating experiences! So today I want to share 7 encouraging verses to reflect on this week. check out the passages, talk them over with your family, share them with friends and spend some time working with God on releasing yourself from all that entangles you and discover the freedom God wants for you.

“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

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8:1-2

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” 1 Timothy 2:1

What verses encourage you?

Strength to Overcome

Thanksgiving brings up a lot of things for people: the rush to Christmas, the crush of family, the pressure of parties and seasons greetings.  One of the challenges of the season we’re entering is the challenge of being sincere in our expression of emotions.  I’m sure that you’ve uttered “if I hear another Christmas song I’m gonna scream!” or some similar sentiment about the number of cheerful “elves” who have wished you a happy holidays.  For some this season is just a chance to watch football, party and eat a lot, and most of us do have some holiday spirit if we try enough.  But for some of us, the holidays are truly magical.  They’re a gift of joy, thankfulness, peace and togetherness, something we can’t always celebrate or recognize throughout the rest of the year.  It’s an opportunity for us to slow down a little and appreciate all we have.  It’s a celebration of all we’ve done in the year ending and all we hope is coming in the new year.  It’s a chance to celebrate the things we’ve faced and overcome in this year and in our lives.  Jeremiah 1:19 says:

“People will fight against you, but they will not defeat you, because I am with you.”

One of the reasons I write my Personal Victories newsletter each week is because we don’t always take the time to celebrate our lives and the things we work through each day.  We don’t always make the time to thank God for the victories He helps us have and the challenges we’ve defeated.  We don’t always recognize that God is that little bit of strength that helps us get through that day, that the little miracle of a parking space, perfect gift, coincidental meeting with a friend, or special bonus at work.  Yet throughout the Bible God claimed that He would indeed give us the strength we needed to get through those times.

As we think about Thanksgiving next week, I encourage you to take time each day to stop and recognize the moments that God helped you through.  Maybe you’ve been chalking it up to luck lately, but it’s more than that.  They’re the moments God sends a little blessing your way.  What are you thankful for today?

A Future Filled with Hope

This month our topic is hope, and what a better discussion to start it off than Jeremiah 29:10-14:

“After Babylonia has been the strongest nation for seventy years, I will be kind and bring you back to Jerusalem, just as I have promised. I will bless you with a future filled with hope—a future of success, not of suffering. You will turn back to me and ask for help, and I will answer your prayers. You will worship me with all your heart, and I will be with you and accept your worship. Then I will gather you from all the nations where I scattered you, and you will return to Jerusalem.”

I know it’s a really familiar passage (although maybe not in this translation), and that you’ve heard it thousands of times and it doesn’t seem that big or interesting anymore. But it’s also one of the most enduring statements of hope and encouragement in the Bible.  You probably could recite it, right?  Which means that not only have you heard it before, you remember it.

That’s one of the keys to hope: in order for it to actually matter and fulfill its purpose, it has to stick with you (like peanut butter or mashed potatoes).  The best kind of hope of course is hope placed in God, because He won’t let you down.  Maybe He won’t finish things exactly as you asked Him to, but He will finish them in a way that shows His care for you, his precious child.

If you’ve focused too long on the situation you’re in and not on the hope you have in God, it’s time to change that.  You can’t move forward in life if you’re stuck in reverse.  Look to and start planning a future that you actually want, and start walking towards it today.

The Heart of Happiness

In our lives much of our happiness is tied to other people, and especially the words they use in our presence.  As much as we try to deny it, we thrive or whither based on what other people say about us.  The wounds the words of others create in us can take a long time to heal.

While you may not believe that thinking positive would really have an impact on your life, it’s true, the words you hear and think do have an impact on your life.  If you think and speak positively about life you’re more likely to have friends, more likely to get the job, more likely to have better self-esteem, and have a more fulfilling life.  Granted, no one’s life is positive all the time, nor will thinking or speaking positively keep all the challenges and heartaches out of your life.

Jeremiah 15:16 says: “Your words came to me, and I ate them up. They made me very happy.”

The words Jeremiah is speaking about were words God spoke to him, but the words in the Bible can encourage each of us too.  Everyone needs a source of renewal, a way to deal with the negative and re-center ourselves and our minds.  It’s one reason we’re encouraged to read the Bible and other spiritual books, because they’re a source of encouragement and strength as we deal with the challenges and choices that we face each day.

This week I encourage you to remember that your words have power.  What words have you said lately to someone that made them happy or brought them encouragement?