Illness . . . violence . . . death . . . demands . . . Sometimes it seems more than we can bear. And, without Him, it very well could be. But we don’t have to face these hardships alone.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
Yes, He cares for all of us, but we can only access His peace and strength when we know Him as Lord and Savior. He is available to us, but are we allowing Him to work through our trials and weaknesses?
As we continue this difficult road with my mother, I’ve found Christian music to be the best way for me to prepare for worship and searching His heart through His Word. This song ministered to me this morning. I hope it ministers to you as well as you listen to the words, take them into your heart, and sing them to Jesus.
Our senior pastor at Renovation Church, Jeremy Havlin, said something in a sermon several months ago that has stayed with me. (Actually a lot of things he says stays with me, but this one is always close to my heart.) He said, “Sometimes set-backs are set-ups for greatness.” In other words, sometimes set-backs are set-ups for the next step to something greater than we could possibly imagine.
He went on the say that in living the Christian life, we don’t need to know what’s ahead, we only need to know the next step He wants us to take. Amen.
Now that Gary and I have had the experience of many birthdays, we’re on the other side of life. And even though some people look at that fact with sadness or with a determination to remain young, we both can see the joys associated with living for and trusting in Him over the long haul, in good times and in bad.
Gary’s diagnosis of cancer about 3 months after our wedding; a difficult period in our marriage in which we came close to losing our way; Gary being downsized from his long-term career job just a few years before his planned retirement; a land purchase that fell through after we had already sold our house; rejections of my early writings . . . these were all instances of going through difficulty in order to receive an incredible blessing. In each case, God poured out more blessing than we could have ever imagined!
Please know I’m not supporting a name-it-and-claim-it religion–quite the contrary! After all, John the Baptist was beheaded, many of the disciples were killed, and the martyrs . . . well, they were martyred. Yes, bad things really do happen to good people.
Instead, I’m supporting a believe-in-Him-and-His-Word-regardless-of-what-happens confidence that Our God is in control. Sometimes we don’t live to see the good that comes through our bad circumstances, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t good that eventually came from it. We may not even know the good until we reach eternity.
All that to say that we can become so used to His Word that we become underwhelmed by its truth.
For instance, consider Romans 8:28.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 (NLT)
We’ve probably heard or read that verse hundreds of times. Perhaps we’ve read it so much that we’ve lost enthusiasm for its powerful message: God uses all things. Everything. Good and bad. All things work together, and He uses it for our good.
The unpaid bill. The shocking illness. The divorce. The death. All can and will work together for good in some way.
So what set-backs are you facing today? Could they simply be set-ups for something good in the future? Could they be part of the next step He wants you to take?
One thing we can know for sure. Regardless of what happens, it’ll be good in some way.
As some of you know, my mother had a horrible fall 19 days ago that resulted in days in ICU, then on the trauma floor, then surgery, and eventually discharged to a rehab center to begin her long road to recovery. As is always the case with difficult situations, satan sees this as an opportunity to confuse and confound God’s people. And for a while, he was able to confuse and confound me. But not any more.
Most mornings, I listen to three or four worship songs on Pandora to prepare me for worship before I open His word, listen for His voice, and spend time in prayer. I had already listened to four songs and was ready to turn off the music when I saw the title of the next song, “In Over My Head.”
That was exactly how I felt at that moment: In over my head. I decided I’d listen to one more song. I’m glad I did.
The version I listened to was an 8-minute worship set and I listened to it for almost an hour, drawing closer to the Father with each repeat, claiming the words as my own.
What about you? Have you felt lately like you’re in over your head? Deadlines or debt got you down? Rejections and responsibilities weighing heavy on your heart? Or perhaps you’re like me and watching your parents or children struggle in life. It’s almost more than you can bear.
Would you join me and prayerfully listen to the words of the 5-minute version of this song by Jenn Johnson, offering them as a gift to Jesus, the Healer of all broken hearts?
After worshiping for quite a while–playing it over and over again–I felt the warmth and healing begin deep inside and work its way to my heart, mind, and spirit.
I realized that the evil one wanted me to dwell on the broken heart and the shock of all that had happened, but Jesus wants me to dwell only on Him, regardless of the circumstances. I gave it all to Him that morning. And every time that snake started replaying the what-ifs, I replayed the song for him . . . and praised God that He alone is in control.
I had to decide I was going to believe our Father who seeks and saves the lost rather than believe the father of lies who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy our lives. Powerful revelation!
Then the Lord took me to Isaiah 43:1b-3a.
‚Äú. . . Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine. ¬†When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior . . . .” Isaiah 43:1b-3a (NLT)
Powerful, powerful passage! The “a” and “b” are because He’s speaking to Israel, but since I’m adopted into the family, He’s speaking it to me–and you–when we fully trust Him, let go of the pain, and give it wholly to Him. I could not allow the evil one to win or confuse my heart and my mind any longer.
It’s a beautiful thing to be in over our heads, to lose control. That’s where, no matter whether we sink or swim, it makes no difference. Either way, when we allow Jesus to take over, we’re finally free.
Today’s scripture is one of those that has stayed with me as a writer. It’s from the last chapter of Ecclesiastes. Solomon says:
But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out. That‚Äôs the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone‚Äôs duty. Ecclesiastes 12:12-13
As I read that passage, I was struck by the words, “Be careful, for writing books is endless . . . ”
Uh, can I get an AMEN on that one?
It seems our work is never done, doesn’t it? There’s always another book to write, another article to submit, another devotion to share. Let’s face it, we never finish. As a matter of fact, I told someone today that unless I have something specifically planned, if I’m awake, I’m working . . . because writing books and articles and blog posts and devotions is endless.
Is he saying we’re not supposed to write?
Of course not. Further study helped me see that Solomon was most likely saying something like, “Don’t add to this book. Somebody’s always got another idea. Don’t study a bunch of other people’s opinions. Books are a dime a dozen and everybody thinks he’s got the answer. Instead of wasting your time chasing after every new concept, remember that everything comes back to this: Fear God and obey His commands.”
So even though we often know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has given us something to say, we must always remember that the truth is still the truth. The whole story is this:
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Jesus is God‚Äôs Son.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† We are sinners.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† We can‚Äôt be good enough to get to heaven on our own.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† We need a Savior.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† That Savior is Jesus.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† He is the sacrifice for our sin.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† He took the punishment we deserve.
Studying and chasing after anything beyond His truth will only wear us out.
I pray God’s blessing on the work of your hands and your hearts,
As you may know, we’re in the homestretch of preparations for the 2016 Christian Communicators Conference, which begins next Wednesday, August 24 and goes through Sunday, August 28 at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. And even though it’s a week of little sleep and lots of heart work, it truly is the highlight of my year. It’s the week I look forward to more than anything . . . once I get there.
I must say, I don’t look forward to the weeks leading up to the conference. They’re hard, long, and involve multiple, endless To-Do lists. Needless to say, some things that aren’t related to CCC just don’t get done. You may have noticed that the past couple of weeks.¬† ūüôĀ
These are the weeks I’m reminded how thankful I am that God created music and gave me ears to hear it. (Well, actually He gave me a solitary ear to hear it with, but He did allow that one ear to hear it very well!) Throughout the day, whether I’m working on emails or appointment schedules or novels or teaching plans, beautiful music, His music helps me stay focused, calms my spirit, and keeps the fiery darts away.
But it can’t be just any Christian music.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t listen to music with words when I’m creating. It doesn’t matter if it’s an email, an appointment schedule, a novel, or a teaching plan, my creativity is stifled by words in music. It’s as though I can’t create words when I’m listening to words others have created.
Which bring me to the topic of today’s post: Music to work by.
Perhaps you’re like me. Perhaps you like to have beautiful music–without words–playing in the background while you work. But perhaps you’ve had trouble finding it. Here are my two favorite sources for tender, soothing, music to work by. I hope their music blesses you as much as it does me.
I love spending time on the front porch at the lake. Each morning is similar in that I take our little four-legged baby, Chloe, out to potty. Then I go straight to the coffee pot and fill my mug with piping hot coffee.
Chloe knows that we then go out on the front porch to spend time with the Father. It’s a precious, precious time. At first, I simply sit and sip, allowing my heart and mind a few moments to begin unwinding. I listen to the quiet and the birds for a bit and then listen to a few songs of worship music, taking me to a place of rest and communication with the Father. And finally I open His Word so I can hear His message to me. Each passage is a personal love letter specifically for me.
Last week while I was out on the porch listening to the quiet, I recalled how I used to sit outside with my young grandchildren, trying to count how many different bird “voices” we heard. Way back then, we were amazed at the variety of birds shouting their praise. The birds had obviously been there all along, but we didn’t hear them until we got quiet and allowed ourselves to listen.
As I sat listening last week and remembering those precious times with my grandchildren, I decided to see how many unique bird voices broke through the silence. I listened intently as one, two, three, then four and five voices floated on the breeze. I concentrated even harder and focused my hearing, tuning out everything that wasn’t the language of birds. I had to want to hear them.
Six, seven, eight, and nine spoke to me as I sat, drinking my coffee, and listening for the birds. Then I turned to my scripture reading for the day.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . . . James 1:19 (NIV)
A new lesson touched me . . . at a much deeper place.
I realized that if I want to hear the words of my Father, I had to do the same thing I did to hear the birds’ voices. I have to be quiet and listen. I have to concentrate with everything I have and tune out everything that’s not the language of the Father. I have to want to hear Him.
How many times have I sat in my quiet time, half-heartedly listening for His voice as my mind wandered to the day’s To-Do list, the emails I need to respond to, the bookkeeping I need to catch up?
It was a beautiful truth, spoken from the Father’s heart and straight into mine.
What about you? Are you able to hear the voices of the birds? Are you able to hear the voice of God? If not, perhaps you’re like me and need to make listening a priority by “. . . being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
(Friends, I’m honored to have permission to share this poignant, beautiful post from Cheryl Morgan, a pastor’s wife, mother of six, grandmother of one, and–for eight years–a caregiver for her sweet mama. As a caregiver for several loved ones with Alzheimer’s through the years, I couldn’t hold back the tears as I read her precious writings. Like Cheryl, I’m concerned for my own brain and memory quite often. She wrote this piece for her children and I’m sharing it with mine . . . and with you, sweet friends. Thank you, Cheryl.)
What I’ll Say To My Children If I’m Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s
By Cheryl Morgan
I was skimming some other dementia blogs lately and a reader had written in saying, that though she felt guilty about it, she wished her mother would die in her sleep and not have to continue living through the pain and indignity of dementia. I‚Äôve heard others say things like, ‚ÄúI‚Äôve told my kids if I ever get Alzheimer‚Äôs just shoot me.‚ÄĚ
I understand where these comments are coming from, but they make my heart heavy. I feel like these attitudes devalue my Mom‚Äôs life right now. Even though they are not specifically referencing her, they are in effect saying that people like her are better off dead. It is hard to see Mom changing and confused and upset. But she still has sweet times of love and joy, too. And God still has a purpose for her life.
He is growing our patience as we care for her. He is developing our tenderness and mercy. God is giving us opportunities to show love to a dear mom who loved us all so well when she was able and strong. He‚Äôs sending us smiles and laughter with Mom‚Äôs quirky ways and funny words. He‚Äôs challenging us to love faithfully when she is angry and difficult.
People with dementia are still people. And God still has a plan for their lives. Even when they are bedridden and can do nothing at all, maybe their very life keeps us clinging to God more. Maybe their very existence draws us closer to God as we seek Him and cry out to Him.
I fear having AD someday myself. (My mind already concerns me too often.) But if that day comes I‚Äôm not going to tell my kids, even jokingly, to just shoot me.
What I would say to them is this . . .
Pray and trust God to guide you. Get as much help as you can. I don‚Äôt want you to sacrifice your life plans or family for my sake, but I want to always be part of your life.
If you need to find a nursing home for me, I understand. Pray about it and seek wisely. And then visit me often. Even if I don‚Äôt seem to know you, believe in your heart that part of me does. Hold my hand and talk to me. Tell me all about your life. Sing to me and read the Bible to me, please. Brush my hair and tell me memories of your childhood.
If I‚Äôm still able to chew be sure to bring chocolate. (You know your mom.) And hopefully I‚Äôll have some adorable grandchildren to marvel at.
And don‚Äôt forget to take some time to just sit quietly next to me. Hold my wrinkled hand and let God whisper to your soul. I‚Äôm so sorry you have to go through this painful journey with me, but God will give you strength and grow you through it all. Hold fast unto Him. Sink deep into His love.
Everything will be better in heaven. Meanwhile, when I can‚Äôt talk anymore; just know that I love you forever and that being a mom to you was an honor and the delight of my life.
That‚Äôs what I‚Äôd say to my children. Oh, and I might throw in a ‚ÄúBe nice to your brother‚ÄĚ for old-time‚Äôs sake.
Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. Acts 3:21 NIV
Cheryl Morgan is a Jesus follower, pastor’s wife, mother of six, and a new grandma! She’s also a caregiver to her mom, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s for eight years. She writes about this journey at God’s Grace and Mom’s Alzheimer’s because she feels compelled to, and is blessed when she hears from readers that it ministers to them.
What a joy to share Lucinda McDowell’s book and contest with you–But today’s the last day to enter!
Drown out the busyness and noise of everyday life and find a deeper faith with something as simple as a single word in Lucinda Secrest McDowell’s new book, Dwelling Places.¬†Through short and inspiring readings, McDowell unpacks a single word‚ÄĒsuch as mercy, beauty, gratitude, or grace‚ÄĒto reveal a biblical blessing or challenge relevant to where you are. Full of stories and illustrations to empower you to live the word you have just read, each devotional ends with a benediction, written as if God were speaking directly to you.
Join Lucinda in celebrating the release of¬†Dwelling Places by entering to win her Season of Refreshment giveaway.
One grand prize winner will receive:
A copy of¬†Dwelling Places
A¬†Dwelling Places necklace handmade by Lucinda
A kit¬†full of goodies you’ll need to make refreshing lemonade this summer
One second place¬†winner will receive:
A copy of¬†Dwelling Places
A¬†Dwelling Places necklace handmade by Lucinda
Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry!¬†The giveaway ends on July¬†5th.¬†The winner will be announced July¬†6th on¬†Lucinda’s¬†blog.
And here’s my review for “Dwelling Places.” Please note that I received a free copy of this book for an honest review.
“Dwelling Places: Words to Live in Every Season” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell is my kind of devotional. By focusing on one word through scripture, story, and application, McDowell provides the perfect environment for meditation and listening for the Father’s voice. In this day of constant noise and interruption, it’s a perfect prescription for one-on-one conversation with the God of the universe. The devotions are divided into four categories or seasons of the year, but rather than reading it through for each season, I appreciate that I can search for a word that fits where I am and what I need for that day or that time in my life. This isn’t a devotional that I read quickly and rush away to work on the myriad other things that have to be done that day. Instead, the word comes back into my heart and mind throughout the day, reminding me of His love and provision for me, regardless of what I’m going through.
Friends, I hope you’ll consider Dwelling Places for your next devotional. You won’t be disappointed!
Last Sunday, my pastor said something has stayed with me this week. He said, “No matter what the enemy does, our God is faithful.”
That statement was nothing new to me. It’s a known, simple truth among us Christians, and yet, I have to admit that sometimes I act as if my life depends on what the evil one does or says, rather than what our Father promises.
It’s as if I trust the words of the evil one over the words of God.
Satan says we’re unimportant . . . God says we’re so important that He sent His own Son to die in our place.
‚ÄúFor this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NLT
Satan says no one cares . . . God says to give our cares to Him.
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. I Peter 5:7 NLT
Satan says we’re not worthy of salvation . . . God says even though we’re not worthy, eternal life is His gift to us.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:23 NIV
Satan goes to and fro looking for people to devour . . . God says Jesus came to save us.
For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. Luke 19:10 NIV
Satan says we have to look out for number one . . . God says we must serve others.
Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 NIV
Jesus shares a few choice words about Satan in the New Testament. He calls him the evil one (Matthew 13:38), the enemy (Matthew 13:39), the prince of this world (John 12:31), and a thief (John 10:10). In John 8:44 Jesus says there is no truth in Satan, that he‚Äôs a liar, the father of lies, and a murderer.
But at least seventy-five times throughout those same pages, Jesus Himself says these words: ‚ÄúI tell you the truth . . . ‚ÄĚ
Yes, Jesus tells us the truth. And the truth is, Satan is a liar.
Jesus came to seek and to save. Satan came to steal, kill and destroy.
When times are hard and we feel alone, who do we believe? The choice is ours. I pray we choose to know and believe the words of Jesus, because knowing and believing the truth is the only way to recognize a lie.
I love to sing worship. I love the music and the words. But most of all, I love getting to that place where it’s just Jesus and me as I sing my praise to Him.
Sometimes I envision Jesus on the throne and I’m a tiny speck in the throng of worshipers surrounding Him, and yet He makes eye contact with me…and smiles. I see myself and millions of others dancing before Him, celebrating that we’re in His presence.
Other times I’m bowing at His feet with a heart of confession, singing the words of repentance from a contrite heart.
And still other times I can’t sing at all. I’m simply in awe, speechless in the confidence of His presence in my life. Of His grace, mercy, and love…in spite of my sin.
As the song says, “I could sing of Your love forever.”
Quite different from the services I grew up with. Four hymns, three verses each–the first, second, and fourth, of course. We stood for the first three songs, sat for the last.
Nobody dared change or challenge the tradition.
Nobody dared get emotional or feel the words or shutter over conviction. And the service had better end on time, or else. That’s the way it was done. Period.
And yet in John’s vision of the Revelation, he reported:
Day and night they never stop singing: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come.‚ÄĚ Revelation 4:8b (Good News Translation)
I have a feeling that when we’re there before Him, we’ll be singing more than four songs, three verses. I have a feeling we won’t be standing for three songs and sitting for one.
Instead, I have a feeling we’ll be on our faces one second…and dancing the next, mere specks in the crowd of worshipers. And through it all, Jesus will be making eye contact with each of us…individually…
I pray God’s blessing on the work of your hands and your hearts,
Now you can have your own affordable writer’s conference in the comfort of your own home and on your own schedule! Just visit Vonda’s Writing Workshop and you’ll be able to take your writing to the next level–and beyond!
“I left with a sense of destination, equipped and prepared for the next step in ministry.”
Verna Bowman, PA
“If Vonda Skelton is hosting another event, I am attending, and so should you!¬† If you missed this one, don‚Äôt miss the next one!”
Linda Parks, MO
“I‚Äôve been to a lot of Christian conferences in my lifetime, yet CCC would prove to be the most rewarding and the most life changing.”
Glenda Mills, WV
If you feel God has called you to develop or expand a speaking ministry to women, you’ll want to check out ChristianCommunicators.com. We’re speaking and writing for change!