The Lord Is My Shepherd

This week, we are looking at the character of this One to whom we are called to submit. And one way we know the Lord is as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 begins with the Hebrew words “Yahweh rohi,” the Lord my Shepherd. Yahweh, in our English Bibles LORD (in all caps), is the unique and sacred name of the Everlasting and Eternal God – the almighty, omniscient and omnipotent Creator.

The New Testament focuses on God incarnate, God in human flesh, Who we know as Jesus Christ. He is identified in John 10:11 as the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” So both Father (Yahweh) and Son (Jesus Christ) are the Shepherd of those who have surrendered to their rule.

Psalm 23 was written by David, who during his youth had been a shepherd over his father’s flock. He took seriously his responsibility as the protector of the sheep.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read of some of young David’s experiences as a shepherd. In answer to King Saul’s concern that David was only a youth, not able to go against the Philistine giant Goliath who was taunting the army of Israel, David recalls some of the dangers he faced and overcame as he was tending sheep for his father, saying this Philistine would be like one of the lions or bears he battled as a shepherd.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.” (1 Samuel 17:33-34 ESV)  

Sheep are definitely not the smartest animals God created! They constantly need to be under the watchful eye of a shepherd as they graze. In the hilly terrain of Palestine, sheep faced many dangers. For example, if one sheep jumped off a cliff, and there was no shepherd there to protect them, the whole flock would likely follow. Therefore having an alert and vigilant shepherd to watch over them was essential.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 verse by verse. In these six short verses, we are promised:

* RELATIONSHIP AND PROVISION:The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:1a‬) (The word translated “want” ‬refers to not lacking anything we need.)

* REST AND RESTORATION:He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3a)

* GUIDANCE AND PURPOSE: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:3b‬)‬

* GOD’S PRESENCE AND COMFORT:Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:4)‬

* BLESSING AND ABUNDANCE: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:5)

* GOD’S GOODNESS AND MERCY AND AN ETERNITY WITH HIM: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:6‬)‭

Like sheep, we are helpless, defenseless, and even purposeless without God in our lives. We need a Shepherd who will protect, provide, and give purpose to our lives. And God wants to be that good Shepherd in our lives.

There’s just one problem. As sheep we are not always wanting what our Good Shepherd provides. W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, wrote, “It takes some of us a lifetime to learn that Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows exactly what He is doing with us. He understands us perfectly.

We want the care of the Good Shepherd while still reserving the right to do things our way. But that’s not the way it works. Surrender to the One who is our Good Shepherd is to key to being able to partake of all the benefits of being one of His sheep. On this Thankful Thursday, let’s make sure there are no areas of our lives we are refusing to surrender to the Lordship of Christ and then give thanks to God for all the blessings that are a part of the life of surrender.

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The Vine and the Vinedresser

My “One Word” for 2020 is ABIDE, and one of my planned Bible readings this week was John 15:1-11. As I sat down to read this well known passage, my thought was, “this shouldn’t take long.” I already knew that the passage says Jesus is the true vine, we are the fruit-bearing branches that need to stay attached to the true vine in order to bear fruit, and the process includes pruning. Since this is such a familiar passage, I expected to spend five or ten minutes in this chapter and then get on to something else.

But that’s not at all how it turned out. I read John 15:1, where Jesus says (in ESV) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The word “vinedresser” jumped out at me, and I realized I had no idea what a vinedresser did – other than prune the vine, which is mentioned later in this passage. I felt a strong impression that the Lord wanted to use this single verse to teach me some new understandings from this passage I’ve read hundreds of times.

As I did some research, I learned of several of the tasks that a vinedresser does, the first found in the first half of verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away…”

As I read this, I decided to look up the meaning of the Greek word using one of my favorite online reference sources, The Blue Letter Bible. The Greek word translated “takes away” is “airo.” While this word can mean “to take away,” this isn’t it’s primary meaning. Instead, the usual meaning is “to lift up, to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised.”

Unlike fruit trees, a grapevine cannot stand upright on its own. As a grapevine grows, the natural growth is downward. Before long, the lower part of the vine is laying on the ground where it gets wet on the bottom. One of the responsibilities of the vinedresser is to take hold of the vine and entwine it on a trellis or wires, to keep air flowing underneath it so it can bear healthy fruit.

Remember, these verses in John 15 are using the illustration of a vine to teach us how to live attached to the vine so we can bear spiritual fruit. Have you ever been in a place where you had become comfortable, only to have God in His wisdom determine it was time for an adjustment, a change in position in order for you to continue bearing spiritual fruit?

Like the wise vinedresser, our heavenly Father has the right to adjust our position in life to help us bear more fruit. Whether it’s an actual move to another location, or simply a change of circumstances, we may find ourselves facing change, moving from a place of comfort and self-assurance to one of uncertainty and even fear. Could it be that God is at work in your circumstances, preparing you for greater productivity for His Kingdom?

Now, let’s look at the rest of verse 2, “…and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

In addition to repositioning us for greater productivity, our heavenly Father like the good vinedresser prunes us so we can bear more fruit. Grapevines, when left untended, will sprawl out and produce leafy canopies. While their green leaves look healthy, they yield very little fruit. Since the purpose of a grapevine is to produce grapes, pruning is needed.

This reminds me of some rose bushes that were in front of a house our family lived in several years ago. When in full bloom, the bushes were beautiful. But I learned quickly that without pruning the beauty didn’t last. As winter began drawing to a close, around the end of February, they needed to be pruned.

When I finished pruning the bushes the first year, they looked almost like they were dead. I was afraid I had ruined our beautiful rose bushes. But by late spring, the bushes were filled with gorgeous blossoms.

Like roses, grapevines should be pruned during their dormancy, usually in late winter. When it comes to pruning grapes, the most common mistake people make is not pruning hard enough. Light pruning doesn’t promote adequate fruiting whereas heavy pruning provides the greatest quality of grapes.

God has the right to prune our lives, removing us from people and situations that are hindering our spiritual growth. When God prunes our lives, it isn’t because He is angry at us. It is because pruning is necessary for maximum productivity.

These aren’t all the works of a vinedresser. He also needs to remove any detached and dried up branches (verse 6: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”), because disconnected branches don’t bear fruit. He delights in the abundance of fruit, much as God rejoices and receives glory from the spiritual fruit bearing He sees in our lives (verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”).

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Does your life feel like God has been doing some repositioning for greater productivity through your life? Or has God been doing some painful pruning in your life? Remember you are in the loving hands of your heavenly Father. Let’s not lose sight of the ending verses of this passage. It’s all rooted in the love of our heavenly Vinedresser!

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭15:9-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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Living For Eternity

SOMETIMES LIFE HURTS. That’s definitely been true in my life during the last fourteen months. First, we lost our special-needs son David, then I found myself dealing with a long list of new health issues that seemed to have no simple solutions. During such times, it’s easy to become disheartened.

As I was praying this morning about this Wednesday’s RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE post, one of the first books we studied in God-Living Girls came to mind. Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, is the life story of Sara Frankl, co-written by Mary Carver.

Sara Frankl knew what it was to live with chronic pain. As a young woman, she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease and form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine but can also attack other joints. As Sara’s disease progressed it became clear that her health was not going to get better.

The pain and loss could have easily become Sara’s primary focus, but she decided this wasn’t how she wanted to live. Sara chose to place her trust in a God Who is good all the time and to find hope and purpose in the midst of the pain. She chose joy, not happiness which she described as being “flimsy as a shirt blowing on a line in the breeze.” She chose “true heart joy, which sustains through obstacles, disease, death.” She lived with an “unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it.” 

Sara lived with relentless pain, but she chose to focus on the blessings instead of the burdens. She believed God had a purpose for her illness or He would have taken it away. And she accepted God’s plan, though it was difficult, and focused on what God wanted to do through her life. She wrote, “It’s not about me; it’s about what He can do with me. My job is simply to pay attention and enjoy the rainbows.”

Sara made it her goal to live the best life she could with what she had been given. She knew it wouldn’t be the life she had expected to live before this disease touched her life, but accepted it as the one God meant for her to live. Though Sara may never have used the term RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE, that’s how she lived.

Sara Frankl came up with six life goals which she wrote on her wall. They were a constant reminder of what was most important to her and they became the motivation for every choice she made.

As we focus this year on reclaiming what chronic illness has stolen from our lives, I felt Sara’s Life Goals would be a good launching pad for each of us to come up with our own life goals as we press on to live in the fullness of what God has in mind for our lives. The following verses encourage us to forget what is behind and press on toward fulfilling the goals God has set before us.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sara’s Life Goals:

  1. To not be ashamed to stand before God.
  2. To fulfill God’s plan by living the best life I can live with what I am given.
  3. To be aware and present in every moment.
  4. To love what I have, not yearn for what I lack.
  5. To spread the Joy, not the fear.
  6. To be intentional in all things.

Now, it’s your turn. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you will one day stand in His presence. Let’s look beyond our earthly desires for a while and focus on eternity. What are the goals you hope to fulfill before you see Jesus face-to-face? What principles do you go back to over and over again to guide your decisions? Share some of your personal life goals with us in the comments.

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A Mosaic of Grace

Last week, my husband was in the kitchen getting a slice of birthday cake when the cake container hit the Corelle plate he had planned to use and knocked it to the floor. He said it hit the floor like a hand grenade exploding and glass went everywhere.

In this world, broken things are usually counted as useless and thrown away. And that’s exactly what happened to that plate. It was now unusable so it was discarded. But this is not how God responds to our brokenness. In fact, He uses the breaking as a part of the process of helping us grow into what He created us to be.

On the inside, we all have areas of brokenness. Chronic illness affects our bodies, but that’s not all. Has life with chronic illness left you with broken dreams, broken relationships, even a broken heart? If so, how do we deal with the brokenness in our lives? How do we embrace our brokenness and allow the Lord to put us back together into a vessel that brings Him glory? But first, what exactly do I mean by brokeness?

One of the best definitions I’ve read of brokenness was from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in her book ‬‬Brokenness: The Heart God Revives.

“Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will – the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. It is saying ‘Yes, Lord!’ – no resistance, no chafing, no stubbornness – simply submitting myself to His direction and will in my life.”

She says when you know God, you don’t have to face any difficulty alone. He is there in our time of need, all we need to do is reach out to Him for help. Yet so often we think we can handle it on our own.

“You can try, and God may let you try to handle it on your own. But part of what He is doing with trials and afflictions is He’s trying to strip us of self-reliance and make us utterly dependent upon Him and His grace.”

A spiritually mature life begins with acknowledging our need for help. We are not able to save ourselves. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Yet many of us think once we have experienced the new birth, it’s up to us to live the Christian life. But that’s not what God’s Word says. Colossians 2:6-7 says we are built up in the faith in the same way we came to Christ. Self-reliance is one of the biggest obstacles to spiritual growth.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Do you feel broken today, in any area of your life? If so, the answer is found in Romans 12:1-2.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When life pulls us down, when we feel like we can’t move forward – when like Humpty Dumpty we are beyond repair – this is the answer. Only God has the power to put us back together and make us useful. We are to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Surrendered vessels to do His good, acceptable and perfect will. By His amazing grace, He can then take our shattered pieces and make of them what Ephesians 2:10 in the New Living Translation calls “God’s masterpiece.”

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

We can become what some have called a “Mosaic of Grace.”

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Reclaiming Your Life: The Place of Self-Care in Chronic Illness Management

What do you do when there is no cure? When the doctor says there is nothing more that he can do?

That is what I faced last fall, when an MRI showed complex tearing in the meniscus of my left knee and no remaining cartilage. My orthopedic surgeon said with the severe nerve damage to that knee, knee replacement surgery had a high risk of making the pain even more severe than it already was. He suggested corticosteroid injections in the joint and physical therapy, both of which did nothing to reduce the pain.

Medical science was basically out of options. It was time to accept that the deterioration was most likely permanent. It was time to examine self-care options that would allow me to live the best I could with this new normal.

The February focus for our Reclaiming Your Life Challenge is on self-care. Self-care could be defined as the actions individuals take to lead the healthiest lifestyle possible with their current chronic pain and diseases.

Self-care is important for every part of us, body, soul and spirit. Remember, our heavenly Father cares about our whole being. Let’s start with the most obvious area, our bodies which are so greatly affected by our chronic illnesses.

SELF-CARE FOR THE BODY
God cares about how we care for our physical bodies – which if you are a Christian is the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬

What changes do you need to make to take better care of your body? Are you getting enough sleep? Eight or more cups of water daily? Do you need to eat a more healthy diet? Perhaps add more fruits and vegetables to your daily dietd? Do you need to lose weight? One thing I’ve found helpful in this area are keeping a daily log of what I eat using the MyFitness Pal app.

How about exercise? Is there a way you can become more active, in spite of the limitations caused by your chronic illnesses and pain? As 2020 began, this was an area I knew God wanted me to add back to my schedule. I was able to put together two 20-minute routines of exercises physical and occupational therapists have recommended for me over the years, some that I do in bed and others sitting on the side of the bed. Yes, there are days I don’t feel up to exercise, but on days that this is an achievable goal I start my day with some light exercise.

Another area where we can become more active is by doing household responsibilities. As this new year began, I felt the need to take over a little more of the daily and weekly housework our daughter had been doing. I’m washing the breakfast and lunch dishes, a job I can do in less than ten minutes, and one other small job that needs to be done most days. When you live with the limitations of chronic illness, pacing yourself is very important, but for me a small job that takes around ten minutes is doable, and it takes a little of the pressure off of our daughter, who deals with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

SELF-CARE FOR THE SOUL
Our souls are made up of our mind, will, and emotions. Romans 12:2 deals with our minds and thoughts. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans‬ ‭12:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do your thoughts line up with the truth of God’s Word? Or is your thinking “conformed to this world”? Renewing our MIND to see our lives through the lens of God’s Word is an area of self-care many of us need to work on. Lasting changes, even those that mainly affect the body, must start in the mind. That’s because our actions are a direct result of what our thoughts are focused on.

The apostle Paul spoke about our WILL in Philippians 2:13, saying we are to work out the salvation God has worked in us through His Spirit, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” While God won’t violate our self-will and force us to do His will, He will work in our will to help us embrace His will and then to empower us to do it.

The third area of our soul is the EMOTIONS. A passage that has helped me many times when my emotions are out of control is found in Philippians 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

SELF-CARE FOR THE SPIRIT
1 Corinthians 4:34 encourages us to be holy – set apart for God’s use – in both our spirit and our body. Just as our bodies need physical nourishment, our spirits need spiritual nourishment. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do you have a daily time in God’s Word? Are you taking time to listen to see if God has some truth that you need to make it through the obstacles before you today? Reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on Scriptures are spiritual disciplines that are essential to spiritual growth.

Prayer is equally important. Prayer is an acknowledge of our need for and dependence upon a God who is bigger than anything we may be facing. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭ESV ‬‬

This is no where near a complete list of all the areas where self-care would help us better deal with the daily challenges of life with chronic illness. But it gives a starting place for choosing some self-care actions that will enable you to better manage the daily challenges of your life. I encourage you to share in the comments an area of self-care that has helped you cope better with the limitations and struggles of living with chronic illness.

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Reclaiming Your Life: The Importance of Prayer & Bible Reading in Setting Personal Goals

The January theme in our RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE focus is on personal growth. So what is personal growth? Personal growth is a transformational process, in which improvements are made in some area of your life. Whether the personal goal you choose to start with is physical, emotional, social, financial or spiritual, the same principles apply.

Our goal for January is to choose one area of our lives where we recognize a need for personal growth. For example, do you need to learn how to control anger? Do you need to overcome procrastination? Would life be better if you changed your negative mindset and began to focused on the good things in your life? Maybe, you want to take some practical steps to improve your health or to better manage your daily responsibilities. Pick one area where you want to become a better version of yourself.

What does the Bible tell us about making plans that result in transformation? How does prayer move us forward in the process of accomplishing our personal growth goals? Answering those questions is the focus of this week’s post.

Proverbs 16:9 (NASB) gives some insight in the area of planning. It says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Planning ahead is something that God encourages us to do, but Jehovah is the One directing us and enabling us to accomplish what we have planned.

Jesus also spoke of the importance of planning ahead. He said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke‬ ‭14:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬) When we are planning goals for this year, we need to realistically count the cost of completing our plans so we don’t end up discouraged when the year comes to an end and our goals have not be accomplished.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER IN SETTING GOALS
Before you actually begin choosing a personal growth goal to work on, spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you wisdom in setting realistic goals and to take away any roadblocks that will hinder you from accomplishing your goals. Recognize there will be times when you want to quit and feel like you can’t go on, and ask the Lord for strength and perseverance to not give up.

An important part of setting goals that we will be able to complete is making sure our goals meet five characteristics. SMART has been used as an acronym for setting effective goals. A SMART goal is one that is:

  • Specific: Well defined, clear, and unambiguous
  • Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress towards the accomplishment of the goal
  • Achievable: Attainable and possible to achieve
  • Realistic: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose
  • Timely: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date, short term goals along the way, and a finish date

Transformation is a process that is addressed in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This verse makes it clear that transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who lives within us. It is a part of working out the salvation Jesus provided for us, of working out what is within us by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear an trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:12-14

Notice these verses say God will work in us both to make us willing to change and also empowering us to work out the needed changes. Our attitude toward change is important. Do what you believe God wants you to do with an attitude of gratitude and contentment.

As these last few weeks I’ve begun this process of transforming an area of my life where personal growth is needed, one Scripture has come up over and over in my study. When that happens I recognize God is showing me a principle I need to take hold of the succeed in accomplishing my goal.

The verses God has brought to mind over and over again are found in Ephesians 4. It is a passage that speaks to believers in Christ, saying they are no longer to walk in “the futility of their minds.” The word translated “futility” (or “vanity” in other translations) means “devoid of truth and appropriateness.” What we need is truth that is appropriate to our goal. This is found in verses 20 – 24, which show us a better way to live.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Put off your old self. Your former way of life, in the area you are asking God to help you change. Put off your beliefs and behaviors that do not line up with the truth of God’s Word.

Be renewed in your mind. Another verse that speaks about renewing our minds is Romans 12:2, which says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We renew our minds by learning the will of God, which is revealed in the Bible. The best way to do this is by reading and meditating on Bible verses that apply to the area you believe God wants you to change, memorizing one or two that deal with the problem area.

Put on the new self. ‭‭Having recognized the negative pattern that we need to change, and then learning God’s will in the area we’re hoping to change, we are ready to “put on” the new behavior. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This is the process of transformation in whatever area you choose to focus on during January. The biblical name for this process is sanctification, and it is an ongoing work the indwelling Holy Spirit does in our lives as we learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience. Yes, we have a part. But the power to change comes from the Holy Spirit who lives in the heart of everyone who has surrendered their life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We may feel weak in the area where we are hoping to see change. But God spoke through the apostle Paul that our weakness does not keep God from working. When he struggled with what he called a thorn in the flesh, God spoke to him.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9-10‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

One thing that has helped me change habits that I’d felt powerless to change is turning the truths of God’s Word into a prayer. For example, James 1:22 teaches us the importance of being a doer of the Word. Let’s turn this into a prayer.

Lord, please help me not to merely listen to Your Word, and so deceive myself. Please help me to do what it says. God’s Word works, but if I am to experience it personally, I must be obedient. I need Your help, Lord.

Remember, sanctification is a work the Holy Spirit does within us. My prayer for you as you choose to cooperate with His work within you is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
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Reclaiming Our Lives: Embracing the Life We’ve Been Given

Can you imagine what it would be like to live on a submarine? According to an article I recently read, some civilian submarines have windows – technically called “viewports” – but when the submarine is deep underwater, all you see when you look out is blackness. Without artificial light, the crew on a submarine would be unable to function.

Trying to live with chronic illness solely on human perspective can be compared to living on a submerged submarine without any artificial light. To make sense of our lives when we are struggling with the pain and limitations of chronic illness, we need the light of God’s Word to push out the darkness. Having God’s perspective is like having a periscope that allows us to see beyond the darkness and obstacles in our path and navigate safely toward our destination.

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As we continue with this year’s focus on reclaiming our lives after a chronic illness diagnosis, today I wanted to focus on the truth that sometimes we need to let go of our life plan and embrace the life we have been given. The first steps to reclaiming our lives when chronic illness and the limitations it causes don’t go away are acceptance of what is and trust that God really does love us and knows what is best for us.

As a young child, my dream was to be a teacher. After finishing high school, I enrolled in a state college in my home state of Maryland and graduated with a degree in early childhood education. During this time, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and I was confident I was right where the Lord wanted me. My plan was to teach kindergarten, which I did for two years before I heard the Lord calling me to attend Bible college, where I met my husband Mitch.

My life plan was to get married, find another teaching job in Texas where I was now living, and continue living out my dream of being a teacher. But it wasn’t long before we faced a major obstacle.

My husband and I, with our toddler Teresa, were on a trip to see some friends in Fort Worth and pick up some construction supplies for Mitch’s boss, when a drunk driver ran into our vehicle and forever changed our lives. My husband came out with a cracked rib and knee, and lacerations on his face and knees, but Teresa and I weren’t quite so lucky. Teresa did not survive the accident, and my doctor told Mitch that, if I survived, I might never walk again. Though we mourned the loss of our precious daughter, God was gracious and I did survive. Though the injuries I received in this accident were the beginning of a battle with degenerative arthritis and neuropathy, I was able to walk without assistance for many years.

In 1977, our daughter Amy was born, and when she was four years old I was able to return to teaching, this time in a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten program our church started. The following summer our son David was added to the family. We quickly noticed David had an unusual sensitivity to light, but we weren’t worried about his health.

When David was around three months old, we decided to move to Houston where Mitch’s family lived. A couple weeks later, we took him in to see a new pediatrician. She was extremely concerned that something was wrong, and before the day was over David was admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital for neurological testing.

To cut the story short, David was diagnosed with Massive Infantile Spasms, a seizure disorder that basically stopped his mental development and left him unable to do anything for himself. Now we were facing an obstacle that was so big we had no idea how we would navigate it. It truly felt like we were in a submarine, deep underwater, and unable to see beyond the darkness and obstacles ahead.

I could go on and tell you about the next thirty-four years, which ended with the Lord taking David home to be with Him last November, but this is enough of my story to help you understand that my life definitely has not turned out the way I planned.

To continue functioning, my husband and I had to release the life we had pictured when we first married and to embrace the life we had been given. So how is this possible? Here are some steps to take, along with a few Scriptures that have helped me navigate this path that was so far from what we had planned. (All verses are in ESV)

• We must choose to let go of the past and turn our focus on the future.

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13b-14‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

• Remember God more highly values inward renewal above what is going on outwardly.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭4:16-18‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

• Do you feel like outwardly your body seems to be “wasting away”? Is chronic illness the “thorn in the flesh” that you’ve begged God to take away? For me, God’s answer, for now at least, has been similar to His answer to the apostle Paul.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

• Scripture makes it clear that life on earth involves warfare and suffering.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:8-10

• Finally, while Jesus has already defeated the enemy, we won’t experience the full effect of His victory until we go to be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. Until that time, let’s hold on to the promise that it won’t always be like this.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation‬ ‭21:3-4‬ ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬

Are you still mourning what you’ve lost from chronic illness? Are you struggling to embrace the life you’ve been given and begin moving forward? If so I hope you will join me in the following prayer.

Father, I am choosing to embrace the life You have given me. You know this is not what I had in mind for my life. But for now at least, it is reality. I will not lose heart, even though it feels like my body is wasting away. I believe Your grace is sufficient for me, even in this situation. I will be content with weakness and hardships, because when I bring You my weakness You replace it with Your strength.

Father, I recognize life on this fallen earth is a battle. I have an enemy, the devil, who wants to devour me. Help me to be sober-minded and watchful, to recognize his attacks and resist him as I stand firm in my faith.

Lord, thank You that Jesus has already defeated the devil by His suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. This time of suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns to set up His Kingdom. Then there will be no death or mourning, no crying or pain. These will have passed away never to be again. Until that time, help me to seek Your will daily, and to walk in the fulness of what You have for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Getting Unstuck from Unhealthy Habits

As I took down my 2019 calendar and replaced it with a new one a couple weeks ago, my heart was heavy. Last year was a very difficult year, and I was struggling to be hopeful about 2020.

It seemed like each time I began making progress last year, something negative popped up to slow or stop my progress. I was grieving the loss of our special-needs son in November 2018, missing David and also his nurses who had been a big part of my daily life for many years. And my health seemed to be falling apart.

I was struggling with a recurring case of eczema, probably caused by the stress I was walking through. After an improvement in my ability to walk, the condition of my left knee suddenly deteriorated to the point where walking even from room to room was agonizing. Tests showed no cartilage left in the knee, and because of the nerve damage in that knee the orthopedic surgeon said I was at a risk that heel replacement surgery would actually make the pain worse. And as the year neared an end, I started experiencing intense pain and inability to move use my left arm, probably from a problem with the rotator cuff.

Throughout the year, it seemed like for each step forward I took, circumstances would cause two steps backward. I felt stuck both physically and emotionally, and had no idea how to turn that around.

Have you ever been at a place like I described above? If so, finding a way to get unstuck is essential if we hope to move forward in God’s plan for our lives. As God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness begins a new focus on RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE (after a chronic illness diagnosis), our first emphasis will be on Getting Unstuck from Unhealthy Habits.

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When our plans don’t go as we had hoped, it can leave us feeling frustrated, disappointed and discouraged. These emotions leave us vulnerable to either forming new or falling back into old negative habits, sometimes even those we thought we had finally gained victory over. We also have an enemy who is quick to take advantage of any doors we leave open to his influence. He knows our areas of weakness, sometimes better than we do, and his purpose is to use them to cause us to lose the victory Jesus Christ gained for us on the Cross.

Getting unstuck from the habits in our lives that are keeping us bound begins with recognizing the specific habits we need to deal with. In essence, bad habits are areas of temptation that we have given into over and over again until they have become our automatic response.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Getting unstuck from unhealthy habits begins with prayerfully identifying the specific habits that we need to change. Here are a few of the habits common to us as Christian women:

FAILING TO HAVE A DAILY QUIET TIME IN GOD’S WORD
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” One of the ways we do this is by making a daily quiet time a priority. If you are a mom with young children or if you have a 9 to 5 job you must go to daily, you may feel you don’t have time for this. Do the best you can. Even five minutes in the Word of God in the midst of a busy schedule helps us to redirect our focus onto the Lord.

NOT MAKING TIME FOR PRAYER
Matthew 6:6 says, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Prayer is simply spending time in God’s presence, and Psalm 95:2 says we come into His presence with thanksgiving. Prayer includes sharing the burdens of our hearts with the Lord, then listening for His response. I’ve learned to pray with an open Bible, often using promises of Scripture to guide my prayers.

NOT FULFILLING OUR DAILY RESPONSIBILITIES
As women with chronic illnesses, this can be a tough area to deal with. Pain and exhaustion often limit what we can do. Rest during the day may be needed to just keep our bodies functioning. But all of us have some responsibilities we are called to be faithful in completing. One Bible verse I go back to over and over again in this area is Colossians 3:23, which says “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Some days, “whatever you do” may be one small task such as washing the breakfast dishes. Other days, you may be able to do more. But whether you do little or much, do it with a good attitude, working from the heart to love your family and to please the Lord.

POOR EATING HABITS
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, ‭‭“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Are you doing your best to take care of your body? Chronic illness and the medications we take often make it easy to gain ‭‭weight, so this is not to condemn those who are overweight (this is a problem I’ve battled since childhood, so I understand). But are you doing your best to glorify God in your body, His temple? Or are you using food for comfort when you’re struggling? God’s will is for us to do the best we can in this area, in spite of the limitations our chronic illnesses cause.

Have one of these areas stood out to you as an unhealthy habit where you need God’s help to become unstuck? Or perhaps a habit I didn’t list is making you feel stuck. My suggestion is that you choose the one negative habit, the one you have the biggest problem with, and with the help of the Holy Spirit begin the process that leads to freedom.

The first step of this process is prayer for God to make us willing to change and also to empower us to change.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The foundation of poor habits is often believing a lie. For example, if overeating is the issue, you may be using food as an emotional crutch, instead of taking your problems to the Lord and asking for His help.

The second step is to examine your thoughts in the light of God’s Word, recognizing the lies you are believing.

Once you see the lies, those things we are believing that do not line up with our standard of truth, God’s Word, it’s time to begin what Romans 12:2 calls “renewing our mind.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Renewing our minds is simply learning to exchange the lies we have been believing for the truth of God’s Word. It is asking what God says about the area you are struggling with and spending some time reading verses that reveal the will of God in this area. Sometimes a specific verse or several verses may come to mind, other times we need to do a search to find verses that apply to our area of struggle. And once we find the verses, use them in a prayer of commitment to God. Recall that self-effort alone won’t result in lasting freedom, we need to power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to change deeply entrenched habits. Take time to pray, asking God for His help in changing this area of my life that is hindering you from God’s best.

Finally, renewing our minds doesn’t happen by simply finding applicable verses and learning the truth. It requires doing this each time we fall back into the habit we want to change. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Getting unstuck from negative habits requires building new habits. It requires practice at living out the truth until you have become a habitual doer of this truth.

As I’ve spent time over this last few weeks setting goals for 2020, one thing the Lord has reminded me off over and over again is to look at the new year as a blank canvas, unblemished and waiting for us to fill with the image He has for our lives in 2020. I encourage you to take some time today and address this first challenge in our new focus on RECLAIMING OUR LIVES this year. Let’s get started on the process of getting unstuck from the habits that don’t serve us well.

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