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Our Most Inspirational Heritage

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.” -1 Timothy 1:3-4

Oh, no! I hear the old lady singing – again. Now the spunky island princess. Softly. Building . . . building. Brace yourself – here it comes! Four adolescents and their beloved hero, all at the top of their lungs: “I AM . . .”

Can you name that princess, star of the latest cartoon musical slowly driving parents out of their minds? When our boys were little, I could almost quote Pocahontas line for line. Now Moana is getting all the air time.

Every few years, a new princess. I’m okay with that. I love the movies almost as much as my children do. I’d just prefer to see them only once or twice instead of over and over . . . and over . . . again.

I’ll come back to this.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I knew why genealogies were so significant in Bible times. She was reading through Chronicles. Talk about endless genealogies! I told my friend that if I remembered correctly, it was more cultural than theological. The people of that day found their identity in their ancestry . . . not unlike our island princess. Moana struggled to understand her purpose until she learned that her ancestors had been voyagers. Suddenly all became clear; she knew what she was called to do and found the strength to do it in knowing who her people had been. People in Bible times were the same – and so are some people today.

But what if your people didn’t leave you an inspirational legacy? What if, instead of being the son of King David, you learn you are a child of Saul? Because of his poor choices, he was rejected as king by God. Or even more confusing, what if both David and Manasseh, Judah’s most notorious king, are in your family line? Are you bound to go one way . . . or the other, enslaved to your ancestry? Truthfully, we’ll all find both heroes and villains when we climb our family trees. I think we tend to think we have to follow in the footsteps of those closest in lineage to us. This can be troubling for those whose parents or grandparents made hurtful choices for their lives.

Thankfully, though, once we receive Christ as our Savior, we’re adopted into God’s family, grafted forever onto His family tree. We may trace our biological family lines for the fun of it, discovering the unexpected people and places we’re connected to. But we won’t find our identity in these. Our identity is in Christ, Who gives our lives a meaning and purpose and direction and power and calling greater than that of any spunky island princess. We are not bound to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors. Jesus came to give us the perfect legacy.

You wanna sing with me? Nevermind, I still can’t sing. But I know who I am. I am God’s child. I am a child of the King of Kings.

Lord, may our lives reflect this heritage. Amen.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” -Romans 8:15-16

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Finding the Meaning in Meaningless

I woke up early this morning. Following my usual routine, only earlier, I got my first cup of coffee, sat down with my Bible, devotional books, and journal, and started my day. I asked God to show me His message for me today. Then I opened my Bible to find this:

Ecclesiastes

Our God has a sense of humor. I laughed right out loud. Thankfully, I know that life isn’t meaningless and that the author of Ecclesiastes knew it, too. At least he’d learned it by the time he finished writing his book. From some of what I read today, though, I think he knew it sooner, too.

In chapter 2, verses 24 and 25, he wrote, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Then in chapter 3, verse 14, he wrote, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

Before these verses, he had written about all of his failed experiments in finding meaning in life. He concluded that wisdom, pleasure, folly, and toil are all meaningless, meaningless, without any meaning at all. Between these two verses, he wrote about there being a time for everything, about God making everything beautiful in its time, about God putting eternity in the human heart. In 3:13, he came to the conclusion that finding satisfaction in life is a gift from God.

And so, if “everything that God does will endure forever” and “nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” and if satisfaction “is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” then our lives and activities only have meaning and purpose if we are participating in God’s work at His leading. He doesn’t need our help, but He invites us to join in because He loves us. He created us with a desire for Him. He created us with a need for meaningful work, for relevance. We find the second when we seek Him first.

Wait! Haven’t I read that somewhere else? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”Matthew 6:33. Those are Jesus’ words from His Sermon on the Mount. To find meaning and purpose, we need to seek God and do whatever work He has for us to do. With Him, daily drudgery becomes a relevant contribution to His kingdom. Challenging opportunities become joyful privileges because we know they show our Father’s recognition of our growing maturity. We find our life’s significance in living every day for Him.

Father, thank You for inviting us to participate. Open our eyes to whatever activities You have for us to do. All of life is meaningful when we’re serving next to You. Please find us faithful. Amen.

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Surprising Lessons from the Mighty Bay Leaf

Bay LeavesI tried a new recipe today. I made my very own red beans and rice from scratch. Well, according to the recipe, they were Jessica’s Red Beans and Rice, but I made a few adjustments—such as leaving the jalapenos out and cutting the amount of red pepper flakes in half. Trust me, there was plenty of heat without that extra bit!

As I was nearing the end of the cooking time, I saw the bay leaf sitting on top and pulled it out to discard just as the recipe told me to do. I looked at it for moment and couldn’t help but wonder if adding one little leaf to a recipe for such a short time could really make a difference. I asked my Facebook friends.

Wow! I had no idea people felt so strongly about the bay leaf! My friends quickly spoke up in its defense. I promised never to question its power again.

Along with his defense of it, my brother made a helpful suggestion, though. He told me to boil a bay leaf in water then smell it and taste it, so I’d know just what flavor I was adding to my recipes. I tried it! I think I understand now why I’m not a big fan of Italian food—that’s the taste I don’t care for. But I can see it adding something worthwhile to beef stew.

My friends were absolutely right! The bay leaf is a powerful addition—even after you pull it out and throw it away. And my brother’s suggestion will help me to use this power with wise discrimination. I may get a handle on this cooking thing yet.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I feel like that little bay leaf. I wonder if my presence is really making any difference in this great, big world chock full of amazing people. Would anybody notice if I disappeared? Would the aroma of my life linger? Does it make a difference now?

The answers to those questions, though, if I’m trusting God, I don’t need to know. God has already told me everything I need to know about the significance of my life. I know God loves me. I know He created me with purpose—whether I recognize it or not. I know He placed me here—right here, right now, intentionally, knowing exactly what He was adding to this world and the impact my life would make.

Lavender PansyHe did the same for you! Knowing what we know, we can trust that since God chose to add our lives to this world’s mix that He did so with purpose. (Kind of like I can now add bay leaves with purpose—or choose to leave them out. Regarding bay leaves, I know what I’m doing now. God has always known what He’s doing regarding each of us!)

There’s one more factor to consider, though. The bay leaf won’t release its flavor alone. It needs the heat from the water or soup or sauce or stew. Likewise, we can’t be the people God planned for us to be without Jesus. His sacrifice, the one we especially consider today, provides redemption from sin and makes it possible for us to live for Him. When we choose to accept Him as our Lord, to gratefully accept His sacrifice on our behalf, He begins to transform us into the people He always planned for us to be. Best of all, He invites us to get to know Him right now, to grow closer to Him every day—probably the greatest purpose and privilege we can enjoy. As we live in submission to Him, what our lives add to this world turns out to be just what the recipe needs.

Jesus, thank You again for all You have done and are doing for us. We don’t deserve any of it, but You gave Your life—and now You offer Your life that we can seek You and find You and get to know You better each day. You have blessed us greatly! We thank You. We adore You. We’re Yours, Lord. Amen.

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Loving Just Because

The Four LovesI started reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis this week. I’m still working through the introductory material, but I’ve already gained so much insight into this word, Love. Today’s revelation was so powerful, I’d like to share it, and some of the practical applications that came to my mind as I read, with you.

In the pages I read today, Lewis was discussing what he considers to be the lowest form of love, pleasure. He identified two kinds: Need-Pleasures and Pleasures of Appreciation. We only experience the first kind of pleasure when a need is being met. For example, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy drinking water, but if I’m really, really thirsty, finally being able to drink water will be a pleasurable experience because it meets a need. On the other hand, if I’m walking on the beach with my bare toes in the sand and a cool breeze with a slight smell of salt comes up to touch my face and play with my hair, I will enjoy that, not because I need it but because I appreciate the gift, the existence of the breeze. I like carrots if I’m hungry. I like chocolate because it tastes good. I like air-conditioning in the summer because it keeps me cool. Once the need is met, however, I don’t like it so much. Wildflowers, I like all the time. Just because they exist. They don’t meet a life-need, but they make the world a prettier place.

Lewis goes on to compare this to love. If we love people only because we need them, the love is temporary. It’s real, but not really. It’s not unconditional or forever or true. If we love just because, however, the love is lasting and sincere. Of course, only God can truly love in this way. He has absolutely no need for us, and yet He loves us more than anyone else ever will.

Loving Just BecauseIn a perfect world, that would be our primary reason for loving Him back. A primary reason among countless others: He created us. He redeemed us. He is preparing a home for us in Heaven with Him for eternity. He is with us. He will never leave us. He provides and protects. He is everything; He is love.

But the truth is, we need Him. Every heartbeat, every breath comes because He allows it. We are absolutely dependent on the God Who loves us perfectly. We truly are clay in His hands. That makes me very thankful that He loves me; I can’t imagine what life would be like if He did not.

Two practical applications came from this train of thought:

1. In order to move from a need-love relationship with God to a pleasure of appreciation relationship, we need to spend time praising Him every single day. Yes, it’s important to thank Him for all His gifts, for all He does for us. We must continue to do that, but we also must worship Him sincerely for Who He Is. We need to get to know Him, discovering every aspect of His character we can. We need to grow in our appreciation of His very existence every day.

2. We need to examine our relationships with the people in our lives. If any are based solely on need, these are unhealthy (except in the case of babies, who are born completely dependent and must learn how to love). Genuine love is unconditional. It loves just because the other one exists (which means, perhaps, that one comes closest to being able to love in this way when one becomes a parent). I think this is why Jesus told us to serve one another in love and to reach out with hospitality to people who can’t pay us back. It’s in service, in showing and giving love, that we learn to appreciate just because.

Along these lines, if anyone loves us just for what we can provide, we need to be aware that once the need is gone, the love will probably go, too. (It may even go sooner. Just as addicts come to resent the drugs they depend on, people often come to resent people they depend on.) This doesn’t mean we stop loving, but we hold the relationship loosely, refuse to let people idolize us, point them to the One they truly must depend on, and ask God to help us love wisely and well.

We can’t control how others love. It hurts to be loved only because someone wants something from us. It hurts to be rejected when we no longer have anything to offer that someone wants.

Thankfully, there will always be One Who loves us just because He does. He loves us perfectly. Our value rests in His opinion alone. And if we learn to love like He does, He’ll lead us to others who love well and whom we can also love.

Father, please teach us to love as You love because You do. Amen.

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Siesta Scripture Memory Team, Verses 1 and 2

Wow! Just wow!

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Beth Moore’s Siesta Scripture Memory Team or not. In case you haven’t, every other year, Beth Moore invites women from everywhere to join her in memorizing Bible verses. I’ve been participating since 2009, so this is my fourth year. If you would like to learn how you can participate, click here. It’s not too late!

DSC00284eIn years past, I’ve written blog posts about the verses I’ve chosen, explaining why I’m memorizing each verse and inviting readers to memorize with me. I am going to do that this year, too. I’m just a little behind because a) I was in Northern California on January 1 and b) when I saw how many women are already participating this year, I was completely overwhelmed and almost changed my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so excited to learn that nearly 21,000 women from all over the world are memorizing Bible verses together this year. God will use that to build His Kingdom and to bless each one of those lives–along with the lives of everyone they know. This is phenomenal!

But I tend to disappear in a group as big as three, so the thought of a group of 21,000 . . . My mind had to think about that. At first, I figured if I was going to vanish anyway, then maybe I should just memorize my verses privately. I wondered if it was really necessary to post them on Beth Moore’s site.

Then I realized that a) as one of God’s children, I’m one of a much larger group than that! Yet God still sees me, still values my life. I never disappear from His view, no matter how big the crowd. Wow! Just wow! and b) if I don’t post the verses, I may give up before the year is over. My verses may or may not disappear in the midst of all those comments, but I’ll know they’re there, so I’ll want to continue memorizing throughout the year and c) maybe, just maybe, one of the women who “happens” to post about the same time I do will see the verse I chose and read it just when she needs to get that message from God. God will use this whole adventure in ways we can’t even comprehend. I do believe that!

So . . . I’m in! And I hope you’ll join in, too. Memorizing Scripture is always a good thing.

Here are my January verses:

1. “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”Proverbs 16:33, NLT

This verse made me laugh, then it made me think. It’s not really about gambling. We do our best to make right decisions, to do what we think God wants us to do, to serve Him in whatever way we think He is leading us to, but ultimately, God is in control. We don’t have to fear making mistakes that will throw God off course. We don’t have that much power. God’s will will be done.

2. “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself.”1 Corinthians 4:3, NIV

I found this verse this morning, and I want to remember it. How did Paul get to this place? How did he get over worrying what others thought of him or being hard on himself? I’m not there yet, but I know it’s where God wants us all to be. He loves us. We live for Him. If we’re seeking His favor, no other opinion matters. We can (or should be able to) serve confidently. I’m hoping that memorizing this verse will eventually make it true for me, as it was for Paul.

  • What Bible verse are you currently trying to memorize?

I’ll write about a new memory verse on February 1.

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A New Understanding for Any Age

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”1 Timothy 4:12

DSC00248eI came across this verse during my devotional time one recent morning and couldn’t help but feel a little sad. You see, it used to be one of my favorite Bible verses. It’s a call to be bold and take on the world in spite of youth with the energy, idealism, and strength of youth. Who doesn’t love that?!

Someone who’s reluctantly beginning to realize that there are fewer and fewer people out there looking down on her for being young. Let’s face it, when you’re praying this verse for your adult children . . .

Heavy sigh.

God didn’t let me mourn for long. He drew my attention right back to that verse and helped me understand it in a currently applicable way.

Timothy was a young minister working with the church Paul had established in Ephesus. Because he was young and, perhaps, a lot of members of that church were a little older, Paul knew Timothy’s age could become something that would hold him back. Timothy might have been tempted to let himself be intimidated by others because of his age. So Paul told him not to let anyone look down on him because he was young. So . . .

  • If Paul were writing to you, what potentially intimidating factor might he see?

Don’t let anyone look down on you because . . . you’re quiet? You have a disability or chronic illness? You’re, um, not as young as you’d like to believe people think you are? You don’t have as many credentials as someone else? You’ve been abandoned by someone you counted on?

  • How would you fill in the blank? Don’t let anyone look down on you because . . .

This is what Paul might have written to you.

But that’s only half the point of this verse. The truth is that none of us, not even Timothy, has the power to control what others think of us. If someone in the Ephesian church wanted to look down on Timothy, he wouldn’t have been able to stop them. Timothy’s only power was to keep their opinions from keeping him from doing what God called him to do. In other words, Timothy was to “keep people from looking down on him” by proving their opinions wrong, by capably doing what God called him to do—in spite of his age.

New UnderstandingWhat a relief! This favorite verse of mine can still be a favorite because, in truth, it applies to people of any age. It remains a bold call to take on the world in spite of whatever we think people may look down on us for. We do so with the energy, optimism, and strength God provides. We do so for the glory of His name.

Father, please help us to identify anything in our lives that we fear others look down on us for. Then help us to entrust that thing to You. You created us at the perfect time with all we need to fulfill Your purpose for our lives. Therefore, we shouldn’t let anyone intimidate us, even if we think they’re looking down on us. Please fill us with your energy, optimism, and strength regardless of our age or any other thing. We thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Book Review: Veil of Secrets

Veil of SecretsVeil of Secrets is the story of one, highly influential, political family (along with their friends, colleagues, and associates) trying to make right choices in an environment that gives them every reason to choose what’s wrong. They are trying to make a positive difference in a world that sometimes seems to be trying to destroy them, a world that has already inflicted heavy casualties on almost every family member.

Melanie and Will Connors are fighting for their marriage and over how much independence/shelter their teenage daughter, Sophie, needs in order to become a healthy adult. Will’s sister, Carrie, is struggling with a life-changing decision, a matter of life and death that’s either a consequence or a gracious gift. The whole family is working on their friend’s presidential campaign, preparing for the early primary elections. And a cyberterrorist is threatening the security of the whole nation.

The story itself is intense and well-told. Authors Shannon Ethridge and Kathryn Mackel raise many issues through the lives of its characters and give readers much to think about. Then they show how, with determination and prayer, lives really can be changed for the better when people seek, with love and hard work, to do what’s right.

A theme verse for this book could be: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Veil of Secrets reveals the blessings that come from seeking God’s way out of temptation and into lives that honor Him.

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for this honest review. I’m glad I read this book.

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Book Review: A Broken Kind of Beautiful

I think A Broken Kind of Beautiful may be the best kind of beautiful to be. Katie Ganshert has written yet another simple story full of profound messages relevant to every life.

A Broken Kind of Beautiful is Ivy Clark’s story. A model in her mid-twenties, Ivy is fighting to convince the industry that she is still competitive. For Ivy it’s personal. With a father who rejected her and a mother who didn’t fight for her, Ivy believes her beauty is all that gives her worth.

This book is also about Davis Knight, a once-promising photographer who vowed to sacrifice his career as a penance of sorts. Both characters, and their related careers, are drawn together by one determined woman who cares deeply for them both: Davis’s Aunt Marilyn, wife to Ivy’s late father.Ganshert Quote

Of all the characters in this book, Marilyn was my favorite. In fact, I think she’s one of the most amazing fictional characters I’ve had the privilege to meet. Her unconditional love for the people God has placed in her life–no matter how they treat her–is a gracious example, worthy of note. I highlighted several passages in this book, and many of these were Marilyn’s words. Others belonged to Davis’s sister, Sara, another character worth getting to know. I’m thankful that Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers sent a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss A Broken Kind of Beautiful.

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Book Review: Running Lean

Running Lean by Diana L. Sharples is a Christian fiction novel for teens, published by Blink. It’s the story of two teenagers who have been dating for several months. Stacey is from a non-Christian family who moved to town to escape a hurtful situation. Calvin is from a large Christian family still reeling from the death of the oldest son. Stacey and Calvin were drawn together by their shared pain, yet are running into obstacles trying to help each other move past it.

Overall I liked this story, but I had a few concerns. First, few of the adults in the story were aware of or sensitive to Stacey and Calvin’s needs. Rather, the adults were self-absorbed and out of touch. Teenagers see adults portrayed this way enough on secular TV. They don’t need to have this idea reinforced in the Christian novels they read. Ultimately, the parents came through in crisis, but I would have preferred more competent involvement from them throughout.

Second, in the hands of a girl on the edge of an eating disorder, Stacey’s dive into anorexia will read like a how-to manual. I understand that the author wants to warn young girls away from this, but I am concerned that some will write the consequences off as fiction while noting Stacey’s methods of hiding what she’s doing. I wouldn’t recommend parents give this book to any girl at risk of this.

I liked the three-fold concept of “running lean,” though: Stacey’s lack of food, Calvin’s motorcycle’s fuel deficiency, and both teens trying to fix all without God. The lesson was clear, easy to grasp, and memorable, as well as interesting. I thank Blink for sending me a copy of this book to read and review.

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Praying for Victims of Abuse

Parachute PrayerWhile out running errands a few days ago, I noticed a car stopped across the intersection that had some truly unusual dents. It didn’t look like it had been hit by a car. The paint wasn’t damaged. But both driver’s side doors had people-sized indentations–like two people had literally thrown themselves up against the car with all the force they had. I can’t imagine anything else that would have made dents like that. Knowing that people don’t throw themselves up against cars just for fun, I’m pretty certain that the situation which resulted in the damage to that car also resulted in some damage to people. It probably wasn’t a pleasant sight, and people may still be recovering both physically and emotionally.

These thoughts prompted a new Parachute Prayer. When we see dents in cars, let’s pray for damaged people–people who suffer from physical, verbal, and/or emotional abuse. Except in the case of extreme physical abuse, we may never see the wounds these people have received. The bruises are real, however, and these people are hurting.

If you have time, add prayers for those who self-inflict such pain. Pray that people who care will notice and gently steer them toward the help they need–or that they’ll recognize the need for such help themselves.

Finally, don’t forget to pray for those who abuse. Those who hurt others usually do so because they are hurting or because they have been hurt. Pray they’ll recognize their own suffering in the eyes of those they abuse. Pray they’ll choose to stop hurting others and seek healing. Pray they’ll seek forgiveness, too, from God and from those they’ve caused pain.

Father, this world is full of pain and sometimes people are cruel. Please bring an end to such suffering! Protect those who are being abused. Lead them to shelter. Help them to recognize their value in Your eyes and to seek refuge in You and with people who can help them escape. Stand up for those who are helpless by helping others to see what they are suffering. Bring hidden pain to light that victims can be saved. And please cause those who inflict pain to realize that what they are doing is wrong. Prompt them to do what they must to stop. We thank You for seeing what we don’t. We thank You for caring always! We pray that You’ll act to bring relief in all situations. Thank You, Lord. Amen.