New Year’s Resolutions Worth Making and Keeping

Picture of a calendar

When you review 2019, the highs and the lows, the goals you began with and those unexpected yet precious moments experienced along the way, does it change how you view 2020? Does it change what you’ll prioritize and what you’ll release?

It does for me.

I’ve discovered how fleeting grand achievements can be. Last decade, years before I received my first publishing contract, I often dreamed of the “call.” For a time, this longing became my obsession, causing my emotions to rise and fall on every step forward or rejection. And now, nine titles and countless articles later, though I’m grateful for every opportunity God allowed, those accomplishments aren’t what I hold most dear.

Similarly, as a former high school dropout, it took me nearly twenty years to earn my college degree. Twenty years of moves and starting over, of switching majors, juggling motherhood and canceled babysitters and studying and tests. But though my family celebrated—with flourless chocolate cake!— when I finally graduated, that event wouldn’t make my “end of life” list. Too many other, much more monumental and sacred memories will occupy that spot.

On New Year’s Eve, as I sat across from the love of my life and, together, we reminisced on all of our successes and failures, some patterns emerged—patterns of beauty, of growth, of healing. Of heart-purging and filling, adding clarity to my days ahead. I want to live with intentionality, absolutely! But I want to make sure I’m pursuing what matters most, what adds beauty, purpose, and joy.

In 2020 …

  1. I want to prioritize prayer

Each morning, before I write one task on my ever-lengthening to-do list, I want to prayerfully offer each moment to my Savior. I know He has a plan, not just for my life, but for my every day as well. He knows what’s ahead, whom I’ll encounter, and when my loved ones will need an extra hug. Ultimately, I want to live as if God truly is my Lord—my master and my guide.

  1. I want to practice gratitude Gratitude notebook

The other night, my husband said something that briefly took me aback. He said I was a positive person, and this brought me joy, not just because I believe that’s such a godly trait to cultivate, but also because there was a time when he likely would’ve said the opposite. There was a time when my thoughts instantly jumped to the negative and I complained much more frequently than I praised. But as my intimacy with Christ deepened, my perspective changed. My heart changed, and I realized how blessed I truly was. God has given me so much—a husband I adore, a daughter who daily makes me laugh, loved ones who see the best in me, and a faith-family who continually points me to Christ. But even if all of those things were absent, I’d still be abundantly blessed because I always and will forever have my Savior, the One who knows me, sees me, stands beside me, and loved me enough to redeem me.

  1. I’ll take a regular Sabbath rest

If you know me well, you’ve discovered how easily bored I can be. How much enjoyment I receive from productivity, efficiency, and forward momentum. My husband often jokes that I have “ants in my pants,” claiming I can’t even watch television without having other tasks to complete. He’s not wrong. I’m a writer, editor, mentor, ministry leader, teacher, and speaker who often works long hours and ruthlessly eliminates distractions. But amidst all my busyness, I’ve learned to fiercely guard my Sabbaths. Sundays are my rest days and have been since my daughter’s preschool years. Those are the days I set my manuscripts and computer aside, turn my phone to silent, and spend my afternoons and evenings reading or napping.

Those moments of reprieve give me the energy I need to successfully tackle the rest of my week.

  1. I’ll diligently live in grace

I used to waste so much time and energy on guilt and regret. When I’d say something I wished I hadn’t or maybe acted rude rather than loving, I’d rehash the scenario in my brain for days. I routinely lived in shame rather than grace, in essence, elevating my sin above the cross. But no more! Jesus paid much too high a price for me to hold on to my former self. I most honor His death and most clearly represent the gospel when I live in its reality. When I anchor myself so deeply in Christ’s love and forgiveness, that everything else fades so far in my periphery that I forget it entirely.

God doesn’t ask me to live perfectly. He doesn’t expect me to strive or perform. Rather, He invites me to abide and accept, fully and deeply, the precious gift of atonement He granted.

  1. I’ll diligently dish out grace

I cannot simultaneously live in grace while withholding it from others. Whenever I cling to an offense, whenever I harbor bitter thoughts and emotions against another fallible but deeply loved human, I’m demonstrating I’ve lost sight of the cross. I’ve lost sight of my Savior. I’ve lost sight of hope. But when I begin to view others through the same lens through which Christ views me, healing prevails. Christ’s love purifies my heart and draws me closer to Himself and others.

  1. I’ll live generously

God, my Provider and Sustainer, invites me, daily, to live in full dependence on Him. That is where my generosity stems from. When I realize I belong to the God who owns a thousand cattle on a thousand hills, I find the courage to release my grip on my time and resources. As I do, His joy flows, unhindered through me and my heart and life align more closely with His.

  1. I’ll dance often woman dancing in the sunset

Years ago, my daughter came home from school one afternoon feeling down. I don’t remember why, but it was a situation I had zero control over. I stood there for a moment, saddened by her pain. Then not knowing what else to do, I grabbed her hands and pulled her into a goofy dance. At first, she was stiff, reluctant. I’m sure she rolled her eyes with a huff. But soon, she relaxed, and together we danced about the kitchen, both our days momentarily lightened.

The next day when she returned home, she grabbed my hands and began to dance as I had done with her. I realized how much that silly yet special moment had meant to her. This soon became our tradition—on good days and bad, hard days and those filled with celebration, we learned to hit pause, to intentionally create moments of joy.

  1. I’ll laugh often

Ladies, we often set the tone in our homes. We can sprinkle gloom and frustration or stir our family to laughter. Both types of environments are contagious. One leads to increased tension while the other binds hearts, defuses stress, and infuses our days with life and light.

  1. I’ll guard my peace

We’ll likely face numerous challenges in the year ahead, many we won’t have control over. But that doesn’t mean we must absorb the tension and chaos. We certainly don’t have to reflect it. God invites us to live from a higher plane—seated in the heavenlies with Him (Eph. 2:6). In other words, to remember where our true home lies, where our Power Source resides, and to live, continually, yielded to our guide.

Perhaps God leads us to remove ourselves from certain situations, or maybe He’ll call us to persevere in love. Regardless, when we’re following Him, seeking to honor Him above all else, everything will feel much less consequential. Because our eyes will rise above the drama of today and center on the things of eternity.

  1. I’ll embrace godly risk

Scripture tells me I have the power of the risen Savior living and breathing within me, stirring and empowering me to do His will. I refuse to allow my fears or insecurities to hinder what God might want to do in and through me. I belong to Him, to be used as He wills—for His glory, not mine. When I daily squash my pride to give God’s Spirit free reign, my fears begin to die as the strength and courage birthed through surrender take hold.

God has so much planned for 2020, plans He’s inviting you and I to participate in. He’s not calling us to change the world with superhuman faith. All He’s asking is that we’d yield, live in and breath out His grace, and grab hold of every moment of joy, so that He can change the world through us.

Speaking of moving boldly into 2020 … I invite you to join me for my Faith Over Fear challenge, which I’ll launch next month. Keep an eye out!

Additional resources:

Better Than New Year’s Resolutions by Jennifer Slattery

10 Steps to Help You Think Through Your Goals for the New Year by Jennifer Slattery

More Than a New Year’s Resolution by Girlfriends in God

 

Everyone and Every Role Has Eternal Significance

Three women sitting together outside.

There are no inconsequential roles or people. We all have the capacity to create a lasting, Christ-centered legacy. To be used by God to change lives and communities.

When our daughter was young, I often felt insignificant. I stayed home, spent most of my time changing diapers, wiping snotty noses, cleaning spilled and splattered food off the tile, and tossing the same toys back in the toy box.

Granted, there were countless precious moments I wouldn’t change for anything. But there were times, like when I overheard my husband telling one of his employees to do important things or watched one of the neighbor women pull into their garage dressed all professional and important, that I felt frumpy and … ordinary.

But then one day, I lifted my eyes off of all my insecurities and onto my Savior and diligently sought His will in the middle of the crazy. As I did, a few beautiful things occurred. First, He showed me, every dish washed, tantrum endured, and room tidied could be an act of worship. Second, He helped me see Him–His plans and heart–in my every day and the eternal value of building into a precious young life. Third, He invited me to step outside of my home and to look around and notice others who were feeling insignificant and discouraged. To speak life and joy into other people’s lives.

This perspective shift led to some of the most amazing, eternal conversations, often with strangers; interactions I believe, in faith, God built upon, maybe for generations to come.

I thought of this, and of the capacity for impact we all hold, as I was reading through Acts 16.

In this chapter, we learn about a woman named Lydia whom Paul, an early church planter, encountered and shared the gospel with. Soon after, she welcomed him into her home, and thus, the first Christian church in Europe began.

Here’s what struck me.

First, she was female, during a time when women weren’t often included in religious discussions. Yet Lydia was not only included, but invited to serve alongside one of the most influential men in Christendom.

Second, she lived in a pagan, primarily Roman and Greek city. Residents worshiped many gods, including the emperor who claimed to be “lord and savior.”

Philippi, where Lydia lived, had a nearly nonexistent Jewish population. It was also on a major trade route, and therefore would’ve received a lot of foot traffic in its market.

Of Lydia, Luke says she was a “worshiper of God.” The original word used here was sebomenē, which referred to Gentile Jewish converts.

My question was, how did this Gentile living in a pagan land learn about Yahweh, the One true God?

Most likely not from one of the few Jews in her area. I suspect she learned about God while selling in the market.

Scripture says she sold purple cloth, which, in ancient times, was purchased by the wealthy. I highly doubt the wealthy did their own shopping.

I suspect Lydia learned about Yahweh from a slave who was simply doing his job. Serving his master, receiving no credit or respect. In fact, others likely looked down upon this slave and treated him rather poorly. He may even have assumed his life didn’t matter. I mean, he was just a servant, buying things for his master with his master’s money.

But this slave, whomever he or she was, became the catalyst to the first church in Europe, as did Lydia, a woman who spent most of her time selling cloth.

All that to say, you’re life matters, whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re at, God has background color splash with words pulled from post.aplan for you. He has someone for you to show love to. Someone for you to encourage. Someone who needs hope and the light of Christ to pierce through their darkness.

No one, and no role, is inconsequential because we belong to an intentional, miracle worker, grace-revealing, life-transforming God

Who might God be calling you to love on today?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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What Your Heart Needs For Today

It’s easy to neglect but imperative to guard. Each day, we’re either caring for or starving our hearts, and the results of each necessarily follow. As my guest Mirachelle Canada shares below, when we put first things first and allow Christ to nourish our deepest depths, life follows. Abundant, filled to overflowing life.

Picture of a heart drawn in the sand.

 

What Your Heart Needs for Today

By Mirachelle Canada

It’s there. I’ve passed it several times now. I promise myself I’ll get to it after I finish the other needs on my mental checklist…

Eat a breakfast granola bar. Check. Take my daily vitamins. Check. Pack an easy to eat on-the-go lunch a teacher is able to scarf down in less than 20 minutes. Check. Make sure the cap is secure on my travel mug to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s accident. Check.

As I head to the garage, weighed down by everything I’ll need for work, I pass it again. No, not the growing pile of dirty clothes in the laundry basket. I’m talking about the Bible on the end table next to my favorite chair. A layer of dust covers it. Dusting! Gotta add that to my list for later! Check.

I keep walking despite the invisible heart tug. There’s no time to spare for a daily reading, meditation, or responsive prayer. I promise myself I’ll get to it tomorrow. Maybe I’ll have time to look up something inspirational on Google when I log into my classroom computer? Or maybe there’ll be a program I can listen to on the car radio?

The garage door closes.

There it all remains among the repetitious soft tick of the hall clock and consistent swishing swirl of the ceiling fan. Exactly what my heart needs for today. That word of encouragement to recall for a colleague who tells me of a sudden family death. Inspiration for an internal pep talk while I endure the hours long after school staff meeting. Hope and wisdom to respond with when my sister texts that she’s going in for a biopsy of a suspicious mass. The power to claim ever-present joy instead of being overcome with road rage when I get cut off in rush hour traffic. Strength to press on even when I get home at the end of the day and don’t feel like cooking dinner for the zillionth time.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV)Quote regarding the Bible from Augusting of Hippo

Ah. The reason for the heart tug. God knows what my heart needs. My heart comes first.

Wait. Stop. Let’s rewind.

It’s there. I’ve passed it several times this morning. I promised myself yesterday I’d get to it after I finished my mental checklist. There’s an invisible tug on my heart. I stop. Take a deep breath.

The tea kettle will stay hot. Vitamins are easy to put into a sandwich bag. Eyeliner isn’t a necessity. The cat won’t starve. A teaching colleague I’d like to get to know better mentioned a new deli that just opened next to my school. I can stop and pick up something to share.

I curl up in my comfy chair, wipe the dust from the cover, and open God’s Word and my daily devotion. I read, consider, meditate, and pray. I feel lighter, more awake. Better. Stronger. Prepared. Now anything is possible because I know I have everything I’ll need for today.

Do you feel God’s heart tug to spend time in His Word? What pressing needs can you let go of to spend more time seeking what your heart really needs?

***

Scripture points to the Giver of life and reveals how we can find real and abundant life in Him. We weren’t meant to merely survive. Christ created us to thrive! Join us for the Fully Alive Conference, hosted by King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha to learn how to experience, daily, the filled to overflowing life Jesus promised. (Registration HERE!) And if you haven’t already done so, make sure to grab a free copy of our (Wholly Loved) Bible study, Becoming His Princess! You can do so HERE.

Get to know Mirachelle!

Mirachelle's author photoMirachelle Canada is a writer, playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director/producer from Northern Virginia, where she teaches television production at her high school alma mater. She is passionate about awakening creativity and the gifts of God in everyone.

She is currently working on her first historical fiction novel set during WWII, inspired by her time studying theatre education in London, England.

Connect with Mirachelle at:

her Website  on Facebook,  Twitter, and  Instagram.

 

Making Room for the New Stuff God Has in Store

Do you feel as if you’re continually fighting against negative behavior patterns and attitudes? As we approach a new year, and thus a chance for each of us to begin afresh, my guest today, author and speaker Donna Jones, suggests some ways we can make room for the good God desires to display in our lives.

How to Make Room for the New Stuff God Has in Store for You

By Donna Jones

I tried to look like I wasn’t listening, but truthfully I wanted to hear their conversation.

“I don’t get it. How do you always look so good? What do you do that I don’t?”

Image of a well-dressed woman sitting in a restaurantI stole an inconspicuous peek at the woman who was about to reveal her secret. Yep. She looked good, even in jeans and a t-shirt. It wasn’t that she was stunningly beautiful, so what was it? I strained to hear what she’d say next.

“I live by two simple rules: First, when I want something new, I get rid of something old. Second, when something gets damaged I immediately fix it, or toss it. I never have anything in my closet that’s dated, damaged, or doesn’t flatter me.”

She sounded so wise. So organized. I made a mental note to be more like her.

Two days later I opened our guest room closet–the one where we keep things we don’t use, but aren’t sure we want to get rid of. Suddenly, the well-dressed stranger’s words replayed in my head. I couldn’t deny it; instead of getting rid of my dated and damaged stuff, I simply rearranged them.Image of a cluttered closet

And then it hit me. My closet was a picture of my soul.

I’d try to add kindness, but forget to toss impatience.

I’d try to add love, but neglect to toss pride.

I’d try to add persistence, but refuse to remove distractions.

Even worse, I’d become blind to all the damaged pieces I stuffed tightly into the back corners of my life, much like I stuffed old clothing into my spare closet. Did I immediately fix the causes of my impatience, or address the reasons for my pride? I had to admit I didn’t. No wonder I felt like I could never quite get it together.

Tossing the old before acquiring the new is a habit God’s people practiced long before the well-dressed gal in Starbuck’s did.

Before God brought the Israelites into the land He’d long promised them.

“Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you’” (Joshua 3:5, NIV).*

Before Jacob, an ancient Hebrew who fled his homeland after deceiving his brother, returned home to be reconciled with his family.

“Jacob told everyone in his household, ‘Get rid of all your pagan idols, purify yourselves, and put on clean clothing. We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has been with me wherever I have gone.’” (Genesis 35:2-3 NLT)

Before God’s people could be victorious.

“Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you. (Joshua 7:13, NLT)

Before first century believers became spiritually mature.

“But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him (Colossians 3:8-10, NLT).*

We’re no different from God’s people in the past. Who among us doesn’t want to claim God’s blessings? Or be reconciled with family? Or overcome defeat? Or grow in spiritual maturity?

God’s pattern is abundantly clear: To grab the new thing God has in store, we must make room for it. We can’t embrace new things if we hoard old things.

Not even in secret.

Is there anything in your life that is dated? Damaged? Doesn’t flatter? If so, it’s time to toss it or fix it, rather than stuff it or mix it.

It’s time to make space for new things to come.

Let’s talk about this! What resonated most with you in Donna’s post? Can you relate to her “closet inventory”? What are some ways you intentionally clean out old, sinful behavior patterns to make room for God’s good to flow in and through you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Get to Know Donna!

speaker image of Donna JonesDonna Jones is a national speaker and pastor’s wife who travels from coast to coast helping people find the biblical wisdom they need, for the life they want. A self-described Bible explainer, she’s the author of three books, including, Seek: A Woman’s Guide to Meeting God and Taming Your Family Zoo, and is a frequent guest on radio shows, including Focus on the Family and HomeWord. Donna finds her greatest joy being mom to her three young adult kids, who frequently sit on her kitchen counter, just to chat. Donna would love to connect with you at www.donnajones.org or on Instagram @donnaajones.

*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

When Love Involves Risk

quote on love

Relationships can be messy and confusing. We long to build bridges, to point others to Jesus, and really, to love others well. But sometimes it can feel crazy hard to live that out. If only Scripture provided a clear road map: When they say X, respond with Y.

I felt the tension between grace and truth most acutely a few summers ago when my husband and I fostered a troubled teenager. We’d gone through extensive training and felt certain, prior to placement, that we knew when and how to set boundaries and for what behaviors.

The black and white decisions we saw on paper muddled into gray when transferred to the real world. We weren’t working with hypotheticals anymore. This was real life, a human life—a deeply broken teen rapidly spiraling into self-destruction.

We knew we needed to address her behaviors, to hold her accountable for them. But we longed to do so in a way that built or at least, didn’t harm, our relationships with her. I can’t say I always did that well, nor that my actions and reactions were always Christ centered.

Relational tension often reveals my weaknesses and insecurities, but more than that, they provide an opportunity for me to quote pulled from text on a hazy blue backgroundpress into Jesus. Only He knows the right response to every situation.

My responses more closely resemble His when I intentionally set myself aside—my pride, will, fears, and expectations—and yield to the Holy Spirit within me.

I imagine the apostle Paul felt a similar tension when he addressed his brothers and sisters in Corinth. I don’t know what all was going on, but Jewish believers had attacked Paul’s ministry and division and sin had infiltrated the church. Apparently, he’d written the Corinthians a “severe” letter, which scholars believe has been lost.

The Corinthians may have assumed, based on Paul’s letter, that he didn’t care for them. That his heart had turned against them. Those fears may have been magnified when one of Paul’s previously planned visits were delayed. But in 2 Corinthians 2:4, he assures them this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was because of his love for them that he wrote the letter, delayed his trip, and was now planning to visit them again.

He said, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV).

Can you sense Paul’s anguish? Having had his ministry and character attacked, while facing ministry challenges, persecution, and the constant threat of death, he was in need of support and encouragement. Of community. The easiest and most self-serving thing he could’ve done would’ve been to simply allow the issues in Corinth to slide.

But out of His love for them, he wrote a rebuking letter, one where he anguished over each word. Perhaps you’ve been there, when the most loving thing you can do is address a behavior, even if it causes someone pain. Temporary pain. A pain that, by God’s grace, can lead to healing and restoration.

That was Paul’s goal. He wasn’t lashing out in anger, frustration, or indignation. He was pouring every part of him out in love.

Sometimes that love is quiet; other times, like when Paul wrote his chastising letter, that love is bold. But when it comes from Jesus, it is always pure and honorable and truth—focused on others and centered in Christ.

Let’s talk about this! Pause to think of the people in your circle. What is the most loving way you can respond to them today? How might “self-love” (self-protection, pride, feeling offended, etc.) get in your way? What can you do to move past self-love tendencies? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Would you like Jennifer to speak at your next book club gathering, Bible study, or women’s event? Contact here HERE.

Pursuing Intentional Growth

verse image for 1 Timothy 1:7Unless we fight against it, entropy will get us every time. Inactivity, laziness, choosing what’s convenient over what’s beneficial … Those habits may satisfy in the moment, but ultimately leave us weak and, potentially, diseased. My guest today shares how a 22-day challenge motivated her to change and what God showed her through that. But first, I’ve got fun news to share! I recently signed a contract (well, my agent did) for a Love Inspired Contemporary set in a fictional town located in the Texas Hill Country. I’ll share more info soon!

How learning to do pushups helped my faith walk

By Jessica Brodie

With spaghetti-noodle arms, I never could do a proper pushup. My version of this exercise involved me on my knees, arms splayed wide, barely bobbing up and down.

“I’m just not built for it,” I’d insist when my well-muscled husband encouraged me to try one the traditional way. “Easy for him,” I huffed to myself. He can lift twice my body weight. I, however, was that kid in elementary gym class who couldn’t last longer than three seconds on the pull-up challenge. Nope—I could power-walk all day long, but pushups were out of the question.

Then about four years ago, I started working out with weights. The trainer on the video, also a small-framed woman, had great abs and biceps. She inspired me to think maybe I could step up my abilities if I worked hard enough.

One day, my brother-in-law posted a Facebook video about a 22-day pushup challenge he was doing. This involved doing 22 pushups a day for 22 days to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who take their life each day. I’m not sure exactly what seized my heart, but I knew right away—I needed to participate. So I trained ever harder, built up the strength, and soon did my own 22-day awareness challenge—without doing any on my knees. Motivation teamed with training allowed me to achieve what I thought impossible.

In 1 Timothy 4:7, the apostle Paul tells a young pastor, “Train yourself for godliness.”

Reading those words reminds me of what we can accomplish with dedicated training. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he lays out criteria for his mentee and encouragement for other church leaders to be trustworthy, righteous, self-controlled, hospitable, and gentle, steering clear of drunkenness, evil, and love for money (1 Timothy 3:2-11).

Paul knew well that all people are sinners and cannot be saved except for true faith in Jesus. But he also knew God loves holy living, and as followers of Christ, we’re expected to turn from sin to embrace the way of the cross—the way of Jesus. We’re to imitate Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds by loving God with our whole heart and loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Everything we do is to be done for the Lord.

Paul didn’t say, “Be godly.” He knew this took effort. He urged Timothy to strive to set the best example possible in spite of his youth. What he modeled, Paul knew, would lead others to Christ.

Just like it took me some time to build up the muscles I needed to do a proper pushup, it takes time to learn what godliness looks like—and to live that out. But we have tools to help us develop those spiritual muscles: prayer, daily reading of Scripture, spending time with other Christians, wisdom from pastors and other faith leaders, and quiet time in nature with our Lord.

In my example, my love for veterans motivated me to reach my goal. Similarly, our love for Christ should stir us to live in a way that pleases Him.

Now it’s time to train.

***

Let’s talk about this! Have you participated in any challenges similar to the one Jessica shared? Did the challenge help motivate you? In what ways do you intentionally train yourself in godliness? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage each other!

Get to know Jessica!

Author Jessica Brodie's headshotJessica Brodie is a Christian author, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach. She is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her blog at http://jessicabrodie.com/shiningthelight.

Before you go, I encourage you to pop over to Crosswalk to read my article on ways to increase marital intimacy. You can read that HERE.

 

 

God Opens Doors

God Opens Doors by Sarah Foust

God opens doors. Sometimes I don’t feel like walking through them, but He makes them available. A few years ago, my husband and I felt called to become foster parents. It was a tough process. Scary. More like terrifying. But, God presented us with an opportunity and we chose to follow. I’m so glad we did. It led to personal growth, parental growth, and to adopting our fourth daughter and first son. What a blessing they’ve been in our lives.

If we’d chosen to ignore God’s prompting, we wouldn’t have these two beautiful children. And, I wouldn’t be writing yet. It was through the process of becoming foster parents to our son that I realized I could no longer work full-time. When my job as a medical transcriptionist disappeared the week he arrived in our home, I knew it was time to pursue my dream career.

Through this, we stepped through another door, and I chose to write. I love writing. I’ve dreamed of it since I was in second grade. I remember sitting in the desk, zoning out while the teacher talked as I pictured crafting a real, long, tons-of-words novel.

I put that dream off for a long time because I feared I would fail. What if I pursued this career and fell on my face? What then? My dream would be dead and I’d have nothing to hope for my future career. But God gently nudged me forward, and I am so glad He did.

On November 4th, my first real, long, tons-of-words novel comes out. It’s an idea that originally popped into my head in high school (a few years ago). But with prayer for direction, it has become so much more than that initial spark. I poured my heart and soul into my book baby and it is about to arrive! I cannot wait to hold it in my hands and read my name—my name!—on the cover. I’ll probably cry. No joke.

I don’t know what the next door God will present me with will be, but I plan to step through it. I know that He only wants good for me and that He has a plan. If I’m to do my part, I need to be obedient, brave, and trusting. Who better to place blind trust in than God? If I were to encourage you to do any one thing, it would be to step through the door God has placed before you. He won’t let you fall, or if He does, He will pick you up. He’s waiting on the other side. Waiting to take you where you’re supposed to go. Waiting to lead you to who you are supposed to be.

Let’s talk about this! Do you have a dream career you’ve never pursued because of fear? Is God presenting you with a door of opportunity? Do you plan to walk through it?

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Speaking of living your dreams, or living out your identity in Christ and who He created you to be, as I like to put it, if you’re in the Omaha Metro area, I encourage you to come to Wholly Loved’s Bold and Brave conference. Our first one will be held at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Papillion, NE on February 11th; our second one will be held at Good Shepherd Presbyterian in Lincoln, NE on June 24th. Mark your calendars, and follow us on Facebook for more information. And if you’re a writer living in the Seattle, WA area, I invite you to join me in October at the NCWA monthly meeting where I’ll be talking about overcoming the fear that hinders us from fully living out our calling and the freedom, creativity, and power that comes from surrender. And on the 28th, again for those in the Omaha area, I’ll be speaking at the local Wordsowers meeting on developing a mind of success. Find out more HERE. Because successful people think differently than unsuccessful people do, and science is discovering more and more, our success (in pursuit of our dreams) is much more dependent on our grit than our talent.

You might also enjoy:

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith

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Sara Foust writes Inspirational Romantic Suspense from a mini-farm in East Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and their five homeschooled children. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Tennessee Mountain Writers. Her debut novel Callum’s Compass won second place in Deep River Books’ 2017 Writer’s Contest. Sara finds inspiration in her faith, her family, and the beauty of nature. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, camping, and spending time outdoors with her family. To learn more about her and her work or to become a part of her email friend’s group, please visit www.saralfoust.com. And make sure to connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Collum’s Compass:

Kat Williams’s brother died in a gruesome accident in the mountains of East Tennessee. She blames herself.

Ryan Jenkins’s fiancée was murdered. He couldn’t protect her.

With the death of her brother, Kat believes she is unworthy of love from anyone—even God. When a good friend elicits a promise that she will stop living in the past and then leaves her clues to a real-life treasure hunt, Kat embarks on an adventure chock-full of danger. To find the treasure, Kat will have to survive wild animals—and even wilder men. Can she rely on Ryan, the handsome wildlife officer assigned to protect her . . . without falling in love?

Ryan swore off love when his fiancée was murdered, but feelings long-buried rise to the surface around Kat. He volunteers to help with her treasure hunt, vowing to keep her safe. Together they venture deep into caves and tunnels . . . and even deeper into the depths of their unplumbed hearts.

Available soon! Find information at www.saralfoust.com under the books tab

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Shining Light in the Dark

Every day is a battle—for truth versus deception. For relational intimacy versus isolation. For growth and godliness versus sin and self-destruction. Ultimately, for agape love (toward God and others) versus self-love.

This—the battle against self—is by far my greatest battle. This is what threatens to derail me more than any outward casualty or setback I may experience. Self-love leads me toward self-elevation (which is idolatry). Agape love centers me in the will of Christ.

At their root, each of these is a battle between light and darkness.

Two extremes, continually pitted against one another. The only solution? Surrender to Jesus Christ.

It’s almost ironic, as I type this this morning, over a week before it will go “live,” I am and have been in the throws of this battle, one I thought I’d won but a week prior. And the week before that. And the week before that as I prayerfully “crucify my flesh” as Scripture puts it, asking the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to offer all of me to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

And yet, here I am again, resisting the ugly within me so the pure, honorable, self-sacrificing love of Christ can shine forth.

My battle plan? Prayer and praise as I seek to be filled with more and more of Christ, knowing when that happens, all else will fade away. Because He is my treasure, and this present world is short but eternity is forever.

About five years ago, I spoke to women living in a women and children’s shelter in Kansas City, women who had lost nearly everything—their homes, their livelihoods, their self-respect. Some were experiencing the consequences of poor choices. Some were, but not all. Others were simply in a really rough place, likely crying out to God, asking Him why. Why had He allowed them to reach that place?

Did He not see them? Was He deaf to their cries? Had He forgotten them?

Did He not care?

But what if, in fact, His attentive eye was zeroed in on them, in the middle of their darkness, as He shined His love and light through them?

That night, I shared the story of Joseph, a man who, from the very beginning had been given an incredible promise from God—that God would raise him, second to the youngest of twelve sons, to a place of leadership, where the rest of his family would “bow down” to him.

photo by Viktoria Hall-Waldhauser from Unsplash

If you’re familiar with this account, you know God had much more planned for Joseph than simply familial leadership. But first, Joseph went through some incredibly hard years facing struggles and humiliation that would, quite frankly, send me hiding in by bedroom with the blankets pulled up to my chin and a big ol’ bag of tootsie rolls within reach.

You can read his story in its entirety in Genesis 37-51, but to paraphrase, God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, dragged to a foreign land where he was stripped of all rights and forced to spend his every waking moment in service to another, and then thrown into prison. And at each step, he was given a choice: focus on himself and all he’d lost or perhaps all he “deserved,” (after all, he’d been called, personally, by Creator God!), or surrender and live, 100% in obedience to and for the glory of His Creator.

Because he chose the latter, he shined the light of God in the middle of some incredibly dark places.

I believe this was the battle God had called him to, and make no mistake, it was an intense, moment-by-moment battle! This was also the battle God called Timothy to, as he pastored that church, filled with false teaching and division, in Ephesus. And it’s a battle God calls each one of us to, as we stand against discontentment, selfish ambition, and greed—the very attitudes that had caused the false teachers in Ephesus to wreak such destruction (1 Tim. 1:6-7, 6:4-5).

And so, this brings our study full-circle with the reminder that it’s all about love. God’s kind of love. A love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.

We can fight many battles in any given day, but the battle that wars within is the most vital, because everything else stems from that. We are most effective when we are most yielded to God’s Spirit at work within and through us. He has a plan, a good, victorious plan, for tackling whatever battle is warring around us, and He may (or may not) use us to fight it.

But make no mistake; He’s the One who will do the fighting. He’s the One who will win the victory. Our role is quite simple—to surrender and obey. If we do anything else, we’ll merely be getting in His way.

For those who’ve been following the 1 Timothy Bible study, this weekend, I encourage you to take time review what you’ve learned in the previous weeks. Journal what God has shown you, and simply take time to rest at His feet. Make Romans 12:1 your prayer:

Dear Lord, in view of Your mercy, in view of all You’ve done for me, help me to offer my body—my time, my thoughts, my will; my whole self—to You, as a living sacrifice because of all You have done for me. May that be how I, daily, worship You.”

Pray this prayer often, and then wait and see what God does. Wait and see how He uses you to bring healing to the hurting, life to the dead, and sight to the blind.

What resonated most with you in today’s post? What inner battle do you tend to fight the most, and what can you do today to strengthen your connection with Christ–the One who has equipped and empowered us for victory? What are some ways you fight the battle against self-love?

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Living as an Example

Perhaps it’s because I’m a child of the seventies (or a product of the 21st century), but I can be incredibly stubborn. I tend to think I’ve got all the answers, and when I don’t, I’d much prefer to figure them out myself. Though I’ve gotten better with age, when my husband and I were first married—whew! I was a feisty, opinionated thing who believed I knew, well, everything.

My poor husband! Needless to say, I didn’t take instruction well.

To make matters worse, I was quite literally a mess with zero understanding of what it took to run a household. Back then, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a small, railroad/ranching town in Western Nebraska. My husband worked for Union Pacific, and though I waitressed some and sold makeup in the mall, I largely “played house.”

I have no clue what I did with my time, other than watch an obscene amount of “Gilligan’s Island” and “I Love Lucy.” I certainly didn’t clean!

One day, my husband returned from work and I met him at the door with a large bowl filled with black water. “Look!” I said. “I dusted!” I was so proud of that filthy water, as if I’d done such a great thing that day in dusting our tiny home, not realizing the reason the water was so black was because it was the first time I’d dusted in … ever. And we’d been living there for six months.

Needless to say, I wasn’t rocking my role as a wife. So what’d my husband do? Did he follow me around, nagging?

Nope. He simply started picking up. He vacuumed, did the dishes, whatever needed to be done, and all without griping or complaining.

As he did, I watched and learned, a lot.

‘So this is how one manages a home,’ I thought. It sounds pretty ignorant, but there were so many things I hadn’t even considered. I was learning a new role, and with it, I needed to develop a new skill set—a new way of living.

In some ways, this was true for the Ephesians, too. They lived in an incredibly sinful city and many had probably come straight out of paganism. Through Christ, God had given them a new heart and had changed their entire trajectory. Though some of them had probably been in the church for four or five years, they were still learning how to live for Christ.

Paul wanted Timothy to teach them, and in many ways to bring them back to the basics. And to show them with how he lived—in the words he spoke, in his faith, and in his purity—what it looked like to follow Christ. (1 Timothy 4:12-13).

 

Timothy was to be the Ephesians living example, just as Paul had been for Timothy and Jesus had been for the disciples. You may have heard the phrase: more is caught than taught. That’s not to say one shouldn’t actively teach, because Paul definitely wanted Timothy to do that, but if we want to have eternal impact, our actions must line up with our words. Otherwise I fear we’re simply making noise.

Let me close with this: Would you be able to say, with Paul, “Follow my example as I follow Christ”? If not, what needs to change so that you can more accurately represent Jesus? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or in our Facebook discussion page HERE.

If you’re following Maria and my online Bible study–for today’s Scripture reading, I’d like us to look at some of the ways Paul, Timothy’s mentor, set an example for other believers. Read 1 Corinthians 4 verses 1-5 and 14-21.

What stands out to you in these passages? In what ways is your life an example to others?

Before you go, I have fun news! My latest release is free (Kindle version) for a limited time! You can get it HERE!

You can read a short excerpt HERE!

If you missed Maria’s post on Tuesday, which introduced this week’s theme, you can read it HERE!

Speaking of Bible studies, for those who in the Omaha Metro, I wanted to invite you to King of Kings Bible study fall kick off on Sept. 12th. I’ll be speaking on finding rest and nourishment in Christ, no matter how busy and crazy our schedules are. You can find out more HERE.

 

The Danger of Words

It’s interesting how vehemently the Christian community come against some sins while others are tolerated. Almost expected. Entertained even.

When we lived in Southern California, our church went through an ugly split. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew people were hurt. I could hear it in our pastor’s voice, when he spoke to the congregation. I could see it on his wife’s face, when her tears flowed during worship.

Though I was ignorant to the issue, I could feel the toxic tension every Sunday.

I wonder if this was what Timothy felt whenever he stepped up to speak. Did he sense the tension that arose from the false teachers who, though small in number, had such influence over the congregation? And what was going on with the women who appeared to be jockeying for position and fighting for prestige. (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

What did their conversations look like?

You’ve probably encountered women like them—ladies who are so consumed with pride, in impressing others and gaining power, they don’t care who they hurt. Under the guise of venting, they gossip and slander, creating an infectious mess that hinders the work of Christ.

When you read 1 Timothy 3, you may notice, verse 11 is directed specifically to women. Why do you think that is?

Perhaps because we tend to sin with our tongues?

Paul tells Timothy the women “must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do” (NLT).

The Greek word translated as slander (or slanderer) here means an accuser or one who makes charges that bring others down.

John MacArthur says, “It’s a title frequently given to Satan.” (Matt. 4:5, 8, 11, 13:39; Luke 4:3, 5, 6, 13; 8:12 …)

That doesn’t surprise me. Satan is a destroyer bent on thwarting God’s plans, causing confusion and disunity, and shattering the most sacred of all relationships.

In Southern California I had a friend with a child my daughter’s age. We’d meet on occasion, at the park, her house, or mine. Most of the time, our conversations remained surface level, until one day she started to “vent.”

She’d gotten herself swept up with whatever was going on in the church and “verbally processed” her feelings and conclusions to me., much of which involved not facts but her opinion of our pastor.

I left confused and concerned. I still didn’t know the full situation—only this one woman’s perceptions. And even though I didn’t want to be involved, even though I had no business being involved, I began to question.

Was our pastor really like she said? As I was driving home processing all this, a thought emerged: This is how Satan works. This is how he destroys churches and relationships.

That ended my “musings” immediately.

Granted, there are things we should investigate and get concerned about. We must protect truth. We should lovingly confront sin. But not through “venting,” or gossip or trying to pull everyone else into the mess. Jesus laid out clear instructions for how we should handle conflict in Matthew 18:15-19, and if you’ll read them, you’ll notice, never once does He tell us to stir the pot or spew our feelings to whoever will listen or even to our besties. We’re to go directly to the individual.

Our tongues can speak life or death, can foster unity or disunity, can create healing and reconciliation or hurt and destruction. If we want to verbally process, may we go to God. He’s the only One who knows the full situation—and solution—anyway. And in everything we do say, may we follow Paul’s commands in Ephesians 4:29:

“No foul (unwholesome, useless, rotten, or of poor quality) words come from [our mouths], but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.”

Can you sense God’s call to love in that verse? Not self-love that focuses on our feelings, the offense done to us, or our need to verbally unload, but rather what is good for the body of Christ and God’s kingdom. Rooted in a love that is other’s focused—a love that comes from “a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

What are some things can you do when your in a conversation where a person or the group begins to gossip or slanderous things?