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Book Review: “Whenever You Come Around”

Whenever You Come AroundI enjoyed visiting King’s Meadow again with Robin Lee Hatcher this week. Her newest book in that series, Whenever You Come Around, is one of the sweetest I’ve read this year. In this book, readers meet successful author Charity Anderson who has been avoiding King’s Meadow, her hometown, for years, refusing even to visit her parents there. But her house in Boise requires major renovations following a flood. With her parents in Europe for the summer, Charity figures she can hide in their home, write her next book, and avoid contact with anyone for just a few months.

But then her dog accidentally trips the boy next door causing him to break his ankle and wrist. Charity feels obligated to help him out since she’s living right there and, well, his dilemma is her dog’s fault.

Yes. It’s a romance. But it’s also a story of community, of people taking the time to notice another’s pain and to not let that person hide behind it, missing all the good things that life can bring. It’s a story of God gently nudging people away from their self-placed limits on life and toward the gifts He has for them. It’s a story of trusting God to love in order to be able to love.

I liked everything about this story: setting, characters (new and old), message, pace. If you appreciate contemporary Christian romances, you’ll like this book, too.

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a complimentary copy in exchange for this review.

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Yielding the Outcome to the Lord’s Authority

 “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’
   Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ And immediately the leprosy left him.” –Luke 5:12-13

Jesus canThese two verses reveal so much about having the right attitude toward God when we pray for our own wants and needs. The leper wanted to be healed. He knew Jesus had to power to heal him. But he didn’t demand this healing. He left the outcome in Jesus’ hands: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” In this case, Jesus was willing. He chose to heal the man.

But what if He hadn’t? The leper realized that this was Jesus’ right. He chose to trust Jesus with the outcome either way. The Bible doesn’t tell us how the man would have reacted if Jesus had said, “I’m not willing. No healing today.” But I’d like to believe the man had heard enough about Jesus to know that He Is God and He Is good and He always chooses what’s best for His children—even when they don’t understand why. And I’d really like to try to always pray with that same faith. Though it’s hard to understand when God says, “No,” it honors Him with the trust and respect He deserves.

When we present our requests to God, let’s remember the leper’s prayer:

“Lord, if You are willing, You can!” . . . and if You aren’t willing, we choose to trust You with that. You are God. You are able. You always choose what’s best for the glory of Your Kingdom, for the good of everyone. Help us to know this regardless of any prayer’s outcome. We love You, Lord. Amen.

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Because He Said So

When we become parents, we vow we’ll never say it. Our parents said it and drove us crazy. We decide we will not do that to our kids. We’re more patient, more creative, more understanding than that. We determine that our kids won’t hear that phrase coming from our lips.

But then the day comes when they ask for something they can’t have.

We say, “No.”

They say, “Why?”

We patiently explain.

They look at us with big, sad eyes and ask, “But why?”

We try again to explain.

They get frustrated, stomp their feet, and ask again, “But why?”

And before we know what’s happening, those four little words come out of our mouths of their own volition:

“Because I said so.”

And suddenly we understand. Our parents weren’t being impatient, uncreative, or insensitive. They desperately wanted us to understand the why, so we’d accept the disappointing answer and not be unhappy with them, so we’d trust that they were doing their job as parents and choosing the best for us—even when it hurt.

But sometimes, kids, still learning and experiencing and maturing, just cannot understand. That’s why they’re still kids, living under our roofs, dependent on our care. “Because I said so” has to be enough for them. Someday they’ll thank us for it. (We hope.)

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” This is God’s (through Moses) “Because I said so” to the Israelites. They were still relatively new to this whole being-God’s-chosen-people thing and there was much about Him and His plan that they could not understand. Moses assured them that, though God had the right to not tell them everything, He had told them everything they needed to know. He told them Who He Is. He told them what they could expect from Him. He told them what He expected from them. Their job was to obey the law He’d given and to trust Him with the rest.

For. Their. Own. Good.

God maintains His rightGod has revealed so much more of Himself and His plan since that time. Thanks to Jesus, we know things the Israelites couldn’t have imagined. Yet God still maintains the right to keep secret things. We won’t always know why. There’s much we cannot understand. Sometimes Because I said so has to be enough.

But we do know that God loves us and that all His plans for us are good. He has told us Who He Is. He has told us what we can expect from Him and what He expects from us. He has even sent His Spirit to help us in our quest to live His way. Our job is to follow His Son and trust Him with whatever we can’t yet understand.

Better yet, He’s given us His Word. As we study it, His Spirit helps us to grow in wisdom and understanding. Just as our children grow in knowledge, experience, and maturity, so do we. We’ll never understand everything, for only God is God. But as we faithfully study and pray, God will reveal what He wants us to know. Let’s thank Him now instead of waiting until someday.

Father, there is no one like You Who understands all things. Therefore please help us, Your beloved children, to trust You. When Because I said so is the only answer we can handle in our humanity, help us to be thankful for what You have revealed. Help us to follow Your Son’s ways. We’re so thankful to be Your children. Please teach us what we need to know, so our lives will please You. For our good and Your glory! In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Living in the New-Covenant Kingdom Now

Purple Flower“But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” –Deuteronomy 8:18

A new thought came to me when I read this verse this morning. When we compare the old and new covenants of the Bible, we talk often about the fact that anything accomplished by the old sacrificial system was temporary, so that those sacrifices had to be offered again and again and again. Jesus’ sacrifice, the sacrifice of the new covenant, happened once for all people for all time. No sacrifice for sin will ever be required again.

Deuteronomy 8:18 hints at another difference between the two covenants, though. Whenever the old covenant is referred to, the rewards for honoring it are temporary things. Throughout the Old Testament, God promised His people wealth, land, long life, big families, and status. Jesus, in the New Testament, didn’t promise any of those things. In fact, regarding this life, He promised suffering!

Don’t get me wrong. People in the Old Testament suffered, too—and sometimes for reasons they couldn’t understand. But when they did, their restoration or “happy ending,” so to speak, involved only temporary things. Joseph became a ruler, second only to Pharoah, and was reunited with his family. Job got his wealth, family, and reputation back. The Israelites in exile looked forward to the day when God would restore His Kingdom on earth.

But God had a bigger plan. Jesus talked about it all the time before His death and resurrection, but His followers couldn’t understand until after those events. When Jesus died and rose again, He brought the hope of eternal life into the picture in a whole new way! He tore the veil between the physical and the spiritual. Because of Him, we live with a dramatically different understanding of what it means to be saved. Before the resurrection, people expected to be saved for this life. After, they knew Jesus had saved them for eternity!

None of the disciples got a “happily ever after” ending like Job did. All were martyred except for Judas, who took his own life, and John, the beloved disciple, who probably suffered more than any who were killed! At the very least, he had to wait the longest to be reunited with Christ in that promised heavenly home.

New-Covenant KingdomBut none of them were looking for Job’s happy ending. Their hearts were set on eternity. Yes. Jesus promised them suffering, but He also promised freedom from sin, comfort, strength, character, wisdom, His Presence, the fruit of the Spirit, citizenship in His Kingdom, adoption into His forever family, a new name, an eternal home in Heaven, crowns they’d be honored to throw at His feet and so. much. more.

If we’re looking for wealth, health, and status in this world, we’re living with an old covenant mindset. Jesus invites us to follow Him and His disciples into His New-Covenant Kingdom now.

Jesus, this life can be confusing, disheartening, even hurtful sometimes. But we choose to trust You. Our hope is not for the rewards this world can offer but for the eternal ones that You promised. Help us to keep our focus on eternity with You as we faithfully serve you here. Help us to boldly follow the example those early Christian set, knowing that eventually, just like Your beloved disciple did, we’ll see You face to face in our new home. Nothing can separate us from Your love! Amen.


Giveaway news!!! If you have a Goodreads account, there’s a Home Is Where God Sends You giveaway going on now! Click here to enter.

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When Going Back Is Moving Forward with God

The Four Phases of the Flower Hunt . . .

Flower Hunt1. New in Town

Look at all these new flowers! Can’t wait to grab the camera and hunt them all down.

2. There One Year

Must hurry to catch all the flowers that died last year before I could photograph them.

3. Second Anniversary

Why do these flowers only grow along the highway?! Surely they’re hiding somewhere else where I can actually take their picture. I. will. find. them.

4. After Year Three

Got it. Got that one. Yep, that one too! No new flowers . . . time to move.


Wait! What?

We’re going back?

There are no new flowers at back!

But we were only there for a year that first time. And I was just a flower hunting novice then. An opportunity for better pictures? Flower hunting season—here I come!


Going back doesn’t feel like going forward, but with God even the old becomes new.

A New ThingIf you find God leading you back perhaps He has:

  • A fear for you to face.
  • An anger you must confront.
  • A missed or brand new opportunity for you.

Even when God sends us back, we can rejoice in the knowledge that He’s doing a new thing—in us, around us, with us—for the glory of His name!

Father, thank You for life’s surprises and for the grace You give us to adapt. There is always much to look forward to—especially when we’re trusting Your lead. Amen.


Home Is Where God Sends YouAre you getting ready to move? Take this daily devotional with you! Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway. Available at Amazon.com.

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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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Siesta Scripture Memory Team, Verse #6

Blue Pansies“Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” –Matthew 7:10

It’s been a rough couple of months expectation-wise. More than one company I’ve trusted with my business has let me down. Disappointments: appointments missed, promises unkept. Frustration. Fear. Broken heart. In one case, it was like running downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought only to discover a lump of coal in my stocking. But I’ve been a very good girl. Sometimes life just is not fair.

That’s the beauty of Matthew 7:7-11. God promises that if we ask, we’ll receive. If we seek, we’ll find. If we knock, the door will be opened. No missed appointments or promises unkept. We can count on God, the one perfect Father, to provide us with everything we need. And we don’t have to worry about unwanted substitutions like snakes in place of fish or stones in place of bread or coal in place of a wanted gift. Our God only gives good things.

I’ve been talking to Him about these businesses that did not. They didn’t deliver, but God knows what’s going on. I know that since He allowed this, I can trust Him to make it right—in His way and in His time. Maybe He has a better means of meeting my needs. Or maybe I don’t need what I thought I did, so God is sparing me.

When I was a little girl, I used to order books from Scholastic through my school. (My kids all got to do this, too!) I remember one time when I ordered one book I really wanted but received another in its place. Scholastic said they’d run out of the book I wanted. Rather than refund my money, they sent a substitute—of their choice—in its place. I did not think that was fair and refused, for a long while, to read the book.

But it had a pretty cover. And it did sound intriguing. Eventually I gave in and read it. It turned out to be one of my favorite childhood books!

I’m not saying that what Scholastic did was right or fair. They were a business dealing with a customer. Their job was to provide what the customer ordered or refund the customer’s money if they could not. But God is a parent dealing with a child. When He makes substitutions, His decisions are always best, always right, always trustworthy. If I ask for a fish, He might say no—if it’s not good for me. But He won’t give a snake in its place. He’ll give something better—something I never imagined—something I really need.

I’m continuing my Siesta Scripture Memory Team challenge to memorize Matthew 7:7-29 plus the verses I’d already committed to memorize—and keep memorized— this year. It’s going slowly, but well! I’ve added 1 Corinthians 4:3 to Proverbs 16:33 and I’m keeping up with Matthew 7 so far, adding verse 10 this week. My newest memory trick is to place the verses on digital sticky notes on my computer screen.

  • What verses are you trying to memorize right now?
  • What new memory tricks have you invented to help yourself?
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Siesta Scripture Memory Team, Verse 5+

I have a confession to make. I’m really struggling with the memory thing this year. Of the four verses I’ve chosen this far, I’ve only fully committed one to memory. I sincerely want to memorize these verses, but my brain keeps getting distracted by other things.

To fix this, I’m going to spend the rest of the year memorizing a passage from God’s Word, adding one new verse from the passage every other week. I’m thinking the continuity factor, one verse attached to another to another, will help me keep up.

The passage I’ve chosen is Matthew 7:7-29. There are 22 verses in this passage. I only need 20, but I already have the first two mostly memorized, so they won’t count toward my grand total for the year. Of course, I’ll keep working on the four verses I chose in January and February. I will memorize them.

Matthew 7-9Matthew 7 is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Verses 7 and 8 say, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” In the following four verses, Jesus uses a simple analogy to help us understand why we can trust God to give us the good things we need and how we are to act in response:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

God, the perfect Father, loves us, His children, even more than good parents love their children. Even good parents are flawed, yet they provide the things their children need to the best of their ability. God is not flawed, and He is more than able to provide. Therefore we can trust Him. We can go to Him at any time and ask for what we need. (And then, because He is perfect, we can trust His answer. If He says no, there is a reason—a reason that will ultimately work out for our good. We know this because God loves us. We are His children.)

I’ll be memorizing verse 9 as Siesta Scripture Memory Team, Verse #5: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”

What verses are you memorizing right now?

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God Gives and Enables, So We Can Practice Faith

“Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath, that is why on the sixth day, he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out. So the people rested on the seventh day.” –Exodus 16:29-30

When I read Exodus 16 this morning, my attention was drawn to some truths about our God. In case you’re not familiar with the passage, though, I’ll quickly summarize:

God Provided for His GiftGod has just set the Israelites free from Egypt and led them safely across the Red Sea and into the desert. They are hungry. And they are complaining about it. Rather melodramatically, in fact. They wish they were back in Egypt. They wish they were dead. And I kind of wonder if Moses doesn’t wish they were back in Egypt or dead, too. Just what has God gotten him into?

God doesn’t waste any time diffusing the situation. He tells the people that He will provide. He will be sending manna in the morning and quail at night, and when the people receive it, they will know He is their God.

God gives specific instructions about the manna, though. The people are only to gather what they need for one day, trusting God to provide for the next. Some of the people gather more and try to hoard it, though. That ends in a stinky mess. On the sixth day, however, God tells the people to gather enough for two days, so they can rest on the Sabbath. Those who obey discover that the manna doesn’t go bad overnight when stored for the Sabbath. (And those who don’t obey go hungry on the seventh day.)

So here are the truths that caught my attention this morning:

1. When God gives His people commands, He also gives them the means to keep them. He told His people to rest on the seventh day. He knew they would be hungry, though, so He kept the manna from going bad. He made it possible for them to rest by meeting this basic need.

2. When God gives His people good gifts, He also gives them all they need to enjoy them. Imagine giving dinner in a nice restaurant and tickets to a musical as an anniversary gift for a couple with young children. To be sure they could enjoy the gift, you would also offer to watch their children that night and, if necessary, pay for parking in the theatre lot. The gift would be no good if the couple couldn’t leave their children or afford extra expenses that went along with it.

Likewise, Sabbath rest was a gift from God to His people. He wanted them to enjoy it, so He provided all they needed, so that they could. In covering all the details, God gave the Israelites no excuse to disobey Him. He showed that He is not unreasonable. He is aware of all that His children need. He is able to provide. The Israelites learned to trust Him (at least for a time). They rested on the Sabbath day.

Father, thank You for Your provision, Your generous gifts, and Your attention to all of the details surrounding these. You’ve given us every reason to trust You with our lives. Help us to follow You in faith. We love You, Lord. Amen.

  • How has God revealed Himself to you as the God Who provides what you need?
  • What is God asking You to trust Him with right now?
  • What can you do about it to exercise Your faith?

 

Congratulations to Marina B., winner of the Parachute Prayer book giveaway! Thank you to everyone who participated.

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When Life Changes Your Plans

Life Happens When You Plan“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” –John Lennon

I found this quote in a book I was reading last week. It made me laugh because it’s just so true. Just the other night, my husband and I were marveling over all we’ve encountered so far in our 27 years of marriage:

“How’d we get here, Janet?” Mike asked.

I smirked. “Well, we started in San Diego . . .”

He laughed. But we did start in San Diego, then we moved to Kansas City for school, then we were offered a pastorate in Maine . . . who could resist that adventure? . . . and life has offered one surprise after another since then. Starting out, we never could have imagined even half of it – and might have been tempted to bypass some of the adventures had God warned us in advance. It’s a good thing He didn’t do that.

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

We keep trying to figure out what will be next, well, after this coming assignment . . . that we know . . . maybe . . . we’re in the military, after all. More significantly, we’re following God. I don’t think with either you really know where you’re going until you get there. And then you might be needed somewhere else. We make our plans using the information we have, but circumstances tend to change. We’ve learned, or maybe we’re still learning, to roll with that.

Proverbs 16-9As Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

Or, in King Solomon’s words, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” –Proverbs 16:9

God is the One in control when it comes to life.

I recently stumbled upon a translation of Philippians 4:11-14 that helped me understand this idea of rolling with life in a new way:

“I have learned how to manage on whatever I have. I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.” –Philippians 4:11-14, The Jerusalem Bible

The translation I’m most familiar with says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (NIV). Another translation says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (NLT). These put the focus on learning to be content in any situation which prompts the question, “How do I do that?”

The Jerusalem Bible tells us. In this translation, Paul says, “I have learned how to manage on whatever I have.” This tells me that being content is managing to do what you need to do with whatever you have, whatever God has provided, for whatever situation. And it’s not a matter of deciding to be content. Instead, it’s a matter of trust.

Which is why we have to learn it. Trust comes with experience.

When I look back on each circumstance of my life: each home, each state, each country, each financial state, each stage of marriage, of parenting, each new ministry or career— I can see God’s hand at work. There were times when we didn’t know how we would manage.

But we always did. God always provided enough. He always helped us to manage on what we had.

Therefore . . .

As I face new unknowns, as life happens to me while I make other plans, I can trust my God. He’s proven Himself faithful. All will eventually be well. I can be content knowing that.

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness and wisdom. Thank You for this life and all of its adventures, for meaningful work, for family, for surprises around every bend. Thank You for providing all we need to manage in whatever circumstance and for making us ready for it. Thank You most of all for Your presence. You are with us. That is all we really need. We love You, Lord. Amen.

If you struggle to find contentment in changing circumstances, my first book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, may encourage you. Available at Amazon.com.