He is Enough

Some of my most precious moments have also been my hardest, because it was then that I felt God’s love and embrace most strongly. When, curled into the corner of the couch, Bible opened on my lap, and He spoke tenderly to me, words of encouragement, of strength, of blessing–of victory. In so many ways, on countless days, God has shown me what my sweet friend Shannon expresses through her inspiring post this morning.

But first, I wanted to share some things I’ve discovered about Shannon. First and foremost, she loves Jesus with every fiber of her being. She and I have been critique partners for a few years now, and I’ve learned so much, on a spiritual level, simply by interacting with her. I’ve been blessed by her continual encouragement and selflessness, by her frequent prayers, and her perseverance to do all she can to show the love, power, and truth of the gospel.

This sweet woman continually gives of herself. It’s not surprising to me, then, that there are times she feels depleted. In the following devotion, she shares how she replenishes. Or should I say, how God replenishes her.

Be blessed.

He is Enough

by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

So I was low in spirit. On the verge of getting our taxes done for the year, I was terrified of what we might owe. Add to that, a church issue everyone is ignoring. A deadline. A leaky roof. A dead air conditioner.

I’d taken the day off from a church yardsale–fundraiser for Samaritan’s purse–to attend a writers meeting. I was feeling guilty about it even though I’d helped organize the sale and worked it the day before.

Though I was interested in the topic being taught that day, I made a point to go because writer’s meetings always inspire me and lift my spirits. A room full of like-minded believers uplifting Jesus with their words. What could be better?

On the way to the meeting, I had my favorite Christian radio station turned on. Cue the music—the right song at the right time. From an old BarlowGirl favorite, “Never Alone”:

(Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8QubLxJI54)

In it, they sing about crying out for God and not receiving a reply, of not being able to feel God by their side and choosing, in that moment, to hold on to what they know to be true–that God is always there.

And boom, God reminded me that I’m never alone.

I’ve always loved music and songs often touch my soul. For the rest of the drive, I played my favorite Todd Agnew CD I keep in the car. My favorite, Martyr’s Song:

You can listen to it here:

I don’t pretend to be a martyr, and none of my troubles measure up to a tiny iota martyrs have faced. But living in this world often makes me feel like one and I never listen to that song without getting teary-eyed.

By the time I got to the meeting, my spirit was soaring. And it only got better as the day progressed. My writer friends made me laugh, helped me remember why I write, and reminded me to count my blessings.

My much-needed private church service concluded on the drive home listening to Agnew’s, I Need No Other Argument:

You can listen to it here:

What do you do when your spirits need a boost? Do you have a favorite song that reminds you of what is important?

Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife/award winning author. She once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots. Shannon writes inspirational contemporary romance and it took her nine years to get published in the traditional market.

She hopes to entertain Christian women and plant seeds in the non-believer’s heart as her characters struggle with real-life issues. Their journeys, from ordinary lives to extraordinary romance through Christ-centered relationships, demonstrate that love doesn’t conquer all—Jesus does. In her spare time, she loves hanging out with her family, flea marketing, and doing craft projects.

Visit her online at her website, on her blog, connect with her on Facebook and Goodreads, and follow her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Winning Over the Cowboy:

The Rancher Stakes His Claim 

When she inherits half a dude ranch after losing her best friend, Landry Malone is determined to see Eden’s legacy flourish. That is if her friend’s broad-shouldered cowboy brother will give her the chance. Chase Donovan isn’t happy that his sister left their family business to an outsider—and he’s determined to test Landry’s mettle, hoping she’ll give up her claim. Soon Chase is impressed by Landry’s ability to rise to every challenge he puts in her way—and worried that his attraction to the perky spitfire seems to know no end. Finally working together to ensure the ranch’s future, will their business partnership be the foundation for something more?

Share your thoughts, examples, and experiences with us. Can you remember a time when you were feeling down about something and you sensed God speaking to you? When do you tend to feel closest to God? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all encourage one another!

 

Why is it, the moment we start to pray, our mind jumps to a thousand other things? Why does an hour in church service launch launch thoughts of our to-do list? These questions arose as I read my guest blogger’s post this morning. Fellow ACFW writer Sue Barr shares a comical yet thought-provoking analogy below, from a writer’s perspective. Enjoy, and happy Easter!

Spiritual Bunny Trails

By Sue Barr

Being that the Easter weekend is only a few days away, I thought I’d share a small story about bunnies. Plot Bunnies to be exact. Cute, fuzzy, totally adorable and can lead you down a merry path where you lose focus and ultimately don’t meet any of your goals. I know of which I speak.

Plot Bunny dropped a single line into my brain and then proceeded to hop around adding ideas, characters and exciting scenes. Soon I found myself scouring sites for character inspiration and the whole story consumed me. I lost a few days of precious writing time before the Lord gently reminded me of my current work in progress.

Ultimately, I believe I was allowed to run amok because God had a plan to link plot bunnies with the way we behave as children of God. Fitting, don’t you agree?

How often do we lose focus in our Christian lives? We become sidetracked by social activities within our church family as well as our blood families. Ever catch yourself thinking about where you’ll go for lunch after service when you should be praising God? Do you tune out the pastor as you quickly send/receive a text or peruse the church bulletin? Do you wonder if, or think about, or…the list is long.

Why is that?

In the big picture called Life, our loving Father asks very little of us and we sometimes struggle to spend a few precious minutes focusing on Him. The plot bunnies of life intrude and all they really do is take away our joy.

Then you will call upon Me and you will go and pray to Me and I shall heed you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with your heart. (Jeremiah 29:12-13 One New Man Bible)

What a promise.

God does not lie, and this is a promise we can cling to. We will call. We will pray. Ergo, we will focus, and He shall heed us.

This Friday is Good Friday, when we reflect on the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. He laid down His life so we could stand before our Holy Father blameless and forgiven. Let’s focus our attention on what is true. Cast aside those plot bunnies which threaten to sidetrack us and steal our joy. Give God the Glory, for the things He has done. I love that hymn.

***

Sue Barr is a wife, mom, grandmother and a Christian fiction writer. She’s a member of ACFW as well as Romance Writers of America and their satellite chapter, Faith, Hope and Love. She writes small town contemporary romance as well as Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF).

Her latest release, Caroline, is first in the series Pride & Prejudice continued. Reviewers agree that although Caroline Bingley is a character we all love to hate, they reluctantly find themselves rooting for her throughout the book. Which is exactly why Sue penned this novel. God placed on her heart to write a story of redemptive love and healing of shattered dreams. Something He’s exceptionally good at.

Caroline:

Whatever happened to Caroline Bingley after her brother and unrequited love interest married a Bennet sister?

Caroline Bingley, beyond frustrated with her brother and Mr. Darcy both proposing to the Bennet sisters, dreads their upcoming nuptials. For three years her sole focus has been on attaining a marriage proposal from one Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, only to be foiled by a country miss with ‘fine eyes’. Adrift and not sure of her place in life, she meets the devastatingly handsome Lord Nathan, who equally vexes and intrigues her.

Lord Nathan Kerr, third in line to a Dukedom, had a well-earned reputation as a Rake. He cast all that and his noble title aside to become Mr. Darcy’s vicar in Kympton, finding contentment in leading his small flock and doing the Lord’s work. His plan for a quiet, country life is thrown into upheaval when he meets the fiery Miss Bingley. Can he reconcile his rising desire for the spoiled miss with how a vicar’s wife ‘should’ behave?

Buy the book HERE.

Visit Sue on her website and blog, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

You might also enjoy:

Taming ADD Prayers

Grabbing Hold of God Moments

And for those who like to follow the devotions on Wholly Loved, this week guest blogger Eileen Rife shared how we can find peace and fulfillment when our life-roles shift. You can read that HERE. (If you’d like Wholly Loved to come to you, email us at contact(at)whollyloved(dot)com, and visit our website to learn more.

 

 

Freedom From Entitlement

 

When in the middle of a crisis, one word dominates my mind—help! I’d do anything, give up anything, if only God would come through. But oh how quickly pride and entitlement creep in, once the chaos has passed.

It was maybe ten years ago, we were living in a beautiful, spacious home in a gated community, attended a church we loved, and I spent my days doing what I loved—homeschooling our daughter.

In a flash, everything changed, leaving me scrambling, fearful, and crying out for aid.

Our daughter and I were sitting at the breakfast bar, completing her lessons, when I heard the familiar screech-rumble of the garage door opening. I glanced at the time, finding it strange that my husband would come home so early.

When he walked past me without a word a moment later, heading straight for our bedroom, I knew something was wrong.

I immediately followed.

The defeat I saw in his eyes tore at my heart, but what he said after weakened my knees.

That morning began a six-month bout of unemployment that left us scrambling and me crying out to God, “Help us, please! Fix this.”

Then one day, He did. By this point, we’d depleted the last of our savings, and, with all our belongings in storage, we’d moved to a 500 square-foot, furnished, rent-by-the-month apartment. My husband had found temporary contract work while continuing to seek something more permanent.

It’s interesting what happens, when life hits hard and everything is reduced to necessity. In that tiny apartment, with its cheap used furniture, paper-thin walls, and stained and torn linoleum, I learned to become content. To rejoice, actually, in what I had. By taking away our big, fancy house and all the other fluff I’d come to rely on, God granted me an incredible gift—the ability to cherish those things that mattered most—time with my husband and daughter.

So when His aid came and He opened a door for my husband at Union Pacific railroad in Kansas City, MO, I thought I’d arrived. I’d learned my lesson, had found contentment, and could move forward, receiving God’s blessings with open hands.

Open hands that, once they quit clinging to Christ, quickly grasped and strived, until my easily-swayed heart became consumed with a sense of entitlement. It started while house hunting. Needless to say, our budget had changed drastically, and the houses our realtor showed us looked much different than the large, newly built home we’d frantically sold in Louisiana. As we toured smaller, older, and less aesthetically appealing homes, a sense of entitlement emerged, initiating an ugly and growing discontentment.

It was as if I’d forgotten all God had done—how He’d held my family together, kept us from debt, and provided for us at just the right time.

I had fallen into the same pattern the Israelites had, after God miraculously freed them from slavery to Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and personally led them, by a pillar of fire by night and a sun-shielding cloud by day, to the Promised Land.

“They forgot what He had done—the great wonders He had shown them” (Psalm 78:11 NLT).

They forgot and became discontent, and their discontentment turned their hearts from God, from the One who saved them, the One who loved them, and who cared for them as a parent for their young.

There’s danger in forgetting. Or perhaps I should say, there’s incredible power in remembering all God’s done. It frees us from entitlement, keeps us humble, grateful, and I believe, surrendered with a heart that’s ready to receive whatever God has for us.

Let’s talk about this! Do you ever find yourself slipping into a sense of entitlement? Do you notice, when you do, that your discontentment and misery increases? What do you do to stay centered in gratitude and surrender? In what ways has God used life circumstances to purge the sense of entitlement from you? Share your stories, suggestions, and examples with us, because we can all learn from each other!

You might also enjoy:

 

“Be Joyful Always” by Chaka Heinze

“Have Faith Like a Child” by Brooke Williams

Choosing to Praise

Whatever we focus on tends to dominate our thoughts, and our thoughts determine our emotions. Is it any wonder then that our misery grows when we obsess over the issue or difficulty? And yet, when we choose to praise … Today my sweet friend, photographer, and gifted devotional writer, Susan Aken shares some thoughts on how we can choose to praise God, no matter our circumstances, and why we must.

Choose to Praise by Susan Aken

My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your faithfulness reaches to the clouds” (Psalm 108:1-4 ESV).

God called King David a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). There are many reasons God said this about David but Psalm 108 shows us one clear reason. David was fixed on praising God. He was fixed on praising God not because things always went his way. Not because he never suffered. Not because he was perfect. It was a choice he made. He told God, “My heart is steadfast!” To be steadfast is to be firm, stable, established, fixed. He was set on praising God and nothing would sway him from that. He said:

I WILL sing and make melody with all my being!

I WILL awake the dawn!

I WILL give thanks to You, O LORD!

I WILL sing praises to You among the nations.

David determined to sing for God with all his being. He chose to start his day praising God. He made the choice to give thanks to Him. He was set on praising God in his heart and also chose to praise Him among the nations.

Why? Why would he praise Him in spite of trouble and oppression? Why would he praise Him in spite of his own weaknesses? Why would he praise Him in the midst of daily struggles?

For Your steadfast love is great above the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let Your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 108:4-5)

Why would he praise Him? Because God’s love is great above the heavens! His love never fails. His love is everlasting! Because His faithfulness goes on forever!   

He deserves all praise and all glory! His love and faithfulness will never fail us.

Like David, I can choose to praise Him. I can say with David:

I will sing and make melody with all my heart!

I will wake up in the morning praising Him!

I will give thanks to you, O LORD!

I will sing your praises to those around me.

It’s a choice I can make. I can praise Him in spite of circumstances because He never changes. His character is firm in spite of my problems and struggles. I can praise Him because His love for me never fails. He will never love me any less. I can make the choice to sing and make music in my heart. I can thank Him everyday for all He does for me. I can also choose to praise His name to those around me. I can tell them how great He is.

God’s love for me is steadfast. It will never change. His faithfulness goes on forever. He is worthy of all my praise.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD! I will sing your praises to others. Praise your Holy Name!

This is a choice we can make every day! It’s a gift we give to our Lord.

Let’s talk about this! Choosing to praise isn’t always easy, but man, is it important. It draws our hearts closer to Christ and helps us appreciate all the abundant blessings He’s provided. When life is going well, it’s easy to praise. But when life is hard, what can we do to really fix our thoughts on Christ and praising Him, remaining steadfast in our praise? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from each other.

 

Susan Aken is a homemaker, substitute teacher and writer. She lives in Nebraska but was born and raised in Oklahoma. Her greatest love is for the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed her and set her free. Her other loves are her husband and son (she is now an empty nester). Susan enjoys reading, photography, spending time with family and friends and writing. She has a heart for prayer ministry and loves her church! Visit her online at Soaring With Butterfly Wings and check out her inspiring photos at SusanAkenInspiringPhotos

And be sure to check out her wonderful devotional!

Amazing Hope: Reflections on Hope in the Midst of a Crazy World:Amazing Hope - cover sunrise and sea

This is a 40-day devotional book on the topic of hope. Each day’s devotion includes verses from the Bible, inspirational thoughts by the author, reflection questions and a prayer. The topics include many of the struggles common to us all such as parenting, death, fear, sin, and the futility of daily life. There are also devotions on the character of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the power of God’s word and other topics. These writings express the hope that gets me through each day and I pray they will also help you.

You might also enjoy:

Big Me, Little God Syndrome by Jennifer Henn

When There Are No Answers by Tara Johnson

As I’m linking to all these great posts, I’m reminded that I haven’t shared some of my devotions, written for Wholly Loved Ministries, with you. Sorry! For those of you who would like to check them out:

Fearless When Ill-equipped

The Freedom of Living Wholly Loved

And on Crosswalk:

Five Ways to Destroy Your Marriage

How to Develop the Mind of Christ

Also, if you’re in the Omaha/Bellevue/Papillion area, I’d love to see you Saturday! Stop in at Divine Truth Christian bookstore and grab an autographed copy of my latest release, Restoring Love! Reviewers are calling this my best novel yet, and I’ve been told it’d make a great witnessing tool. Plus, it’s set in Omaha, which is crazy fun!

Marked With a Seal

person-1821412_1920For years, I spiraled into self-destruction, ultimately ending up homeless. Well before my eighteenth birthday. I don’t know the statistics, but I do know the probability of one climbing out of that mess aren’t high.

But God.

If not for Him, if not for His grace, and honestly, if not for a sweet woman named Dorothy who shared the gospel with a frizzy haired, poor trailer park kid decades before my life spiraled, I’d still be roaming the streets or Tacoma. Or dead. (Join me for one of our Wholly Loved Conference to hear more of my story, how God pursued me, a woman from the Bible named Sarai, and what it means to live wholly loved.)

These were my thoughts as I read June Foster’s devotion the other day, because I do believe, that afternoon when sweet Dorothy shared the gospel, and when God grabbed hold of my heart, He marked me as His, pursuing me, wooing me, and surrounding me with His healing, restorative, life-transforming love.

Marked With a Seal by author June Foster 

A rewarding way to study the Bible is to select a few verses of scripture and as a Sunday school teacher from long ago said, “eat them.” To devoir every word and see what the Lord wants me to learn.

Recently I did that with Ephesians 1:13-14. I discovered something remarkable.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Yep. That’s me. I heard the message and after a few months of stubborn rejection, I received the truth into my own life, asking Jesus to be my Savior.

But what happens when we do that? “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” I could picture myself tightly gripping a deed to a house, a document that guaranteed the dwelling belonged to me. But the Holy Spirit is much more than a deed on a house or a stock certificate. He is the guarantee that proclaims our future home—an eternity with the Lord.For God so loved the world

So then I thought about the seal with which I am marked. I laughed and asked God if He would show me a picture of it. I got the impression He was telling me it is not seen with physical eyes but with spiritual. I called on my Abba, Father and asked, “but if I could see it, what would it look like.”

A beautiful image formed in my mind. It was a golden cross sitting over my heart. Praise God for His deposit guaranteeing our salvation. Something we can hold onto until the day we see Him face to face.

***

Have you heard the following song:

We’re hidden safe. He’s holding tight to us, in the good, the bad, the uncertain–through it all. Rest in that this morning.

For those facing difficult situations, and with them, questions you can’t find answers for, I encourage you to read Julie Aruduini’s guest post on Wholly LovedWhen You Do Everything Right. 

***

june-fosterAn award-winning author, June Foster is a retired teacher with a BA in education and MA in counseling. In 2013, June’s book Give Us This Day was a finalist in EPIC’s eBook awards and in 2014 a finalist in the National Readers Choice Awards for best first book. Ryan’s Father was one of three finalists in the published contemporary fiction category of the 2014 Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Writing Contest and Awards. Deliver Us was a finalist in COTT’s 2014 Laurel Awards. June has written four novels for Desert Breeze Publishing. The Bellewood Series, Give Us This Day, As We Forgive, and Deliver Us, and Hometown Fourth of July. Ryan’s Father is published by WhiteFire Publishing. Red and the Wolf, a modern day retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, is available from Amazon.com. The Almond Tree series, For All Eternity, Echoes From the Past, What God Knew, and Almond Street Mission are available at Amazon.com as well. Misty Hollow is published by Helping Hands Press. June enjoys writing stories about characters who overcome the circumstances in their lives by the power of God and His Word. Recently June has seen publication of Christmas at Raccoon Creek and Lavender Fields Inn. Visit June at junefoster.com.

lavender-fields-innLavender Fields Inn:

Love grows amid the flowers in the magnificent Rockies at Lavender Fields Inn, but romance can be deceptive at times.

Wren Tabor hopes the cool Colorado air at Lavender Fields Inn will heal her aching heart after her former boyfriend betrays her. When she literally bumps into handsome accountant Graham Maier, the painful memories from the past begin to fade. But after she sees Graham kissing another woman, she figures no man can be trusted.

Graham Maier needs to prove to his father he’s as capable as his brother Greg. The Rocky Mountain Anglers’ Tournament at Gold Pan Lake will give him the chance. But he must win first place. After he meets Wren, a woman like the unnamed girl who’s occupied his dreams, he can’t understand why she suddenly won’t speak to him.

Can Wren learn to trust men again? Can Graham understand how valuable he is in God’s sight?

Buy it HERE!

Obedience in the Mundane

Have you ever felt invisible? Wondered if anyone would notice, should you stop doing whatever it is you’re doing, day JohnStudy1in and day out?

When our daughter was younger, I often wondered what would happen if I didn’t make the bed–after all, it’d only get messed up again. Or what if I left the laundry and dishes untouched.

There were times, many, when the tedium of the day wore me down and left me feeling … insignificant.

They say integrity is doing what you know is right when no one is watching.

Except, Someone is always watching, right? Psalm 139 tells us God is attentive to our every move. He knows every detail of our lives and every thought that flits through our brain. More than that, He takes great delight in us.

Psalm 37:23 says, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord upholds them by the hand” (NLT, emphasis mine).

Pause to consider that verse for a moment. The Lord delights in every detail of our lives–when we’re doing something grand and exciting and when we’re folding towels for the umpteenth time. Perhaps because He knows our character, that part of us He’s continually molding, is grown in the big and the small.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a woman of integrity.

I want to be known for my character and obedience. I want God to look down on me, when I’m elbow deep in dishwater, and smile, and I want to do it all–everything–for Him and His glory.

For obedience sake.

These emotions and thoughts were triggered as I read Luke 1:5-7. Elizabeth and Zechariah, an old and childless couple, were known for being righteous and carefully obeying God’s commands and regulations. When we read this passage, it’s easy to skip over that, probably because we know the end of the story. They were faithful, and God rewarded them with something they’d deeply longed for–a child. Not just a child, but the one birthed to proclaim the coming of Christ.

Wow. Pretty awesome, right?

But let’s step back. Back to when, still childless and likely unnoticed, John’s parents lived obediently. Scripture tells us Zechariah was a Jewish priest, and as such, his responsibilities were to maintain the workings in the temple, instruct the people, and on occasion, if the lot cast landed on him, to enter the Holy Place of the Tabernacle to burn incense on the altar of incense.

I’m not a statistician, but it seems likely he could go his entire life and never, not once, receive this honor. He was one of 20,000 priests! Though Scripture doesn’t tell us, I think it’s safe to assume there were times he felt unseen and wondered if what he did mattered. After all, should he simply cease performing his duties, there were 19,999 other men ready and able to take his place, many of which likely had children.twins-1628843_1920

Let me explain the significance of that for a moment. In Bible times, children were seen as a blessing from God; barrenness was seen as a curse. Meaning, Elizabeth and Zechariah were likely judged for their infertility. The common assumption of their day–They’d likely done something wrong or had displeased God in some way, and that was the reason they were barren.

In other words, Elizabeth and Zechariah served God faithfully in the midst of their sorrow. Despite the fact that He hadn’t granted them the one thing they likely longed for above all else.

That’s integrity.

They obeyed in the mundane, in the hard and painful, simply because it was the right thing to do.

They obeyed because they knew God is worthy, amen? colossians-verse

This leads me to this week’s memory verse: “Whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17 NLT).

romans12-1-verseThere’s a verse I love, and one I pray often: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him” (Romans 12:1 NLT).

In view of all God has done for us, in view of Christ’s sacrificial death so we might live, may we offer our whole bodies–all we are. Our time, our gifts, our words, our thoughts–to Christ, as a living sacrifice.

Sometimes life is a sacrifice, right? Obedience isn’t always easy or glamorous. But that is “truly the way to worship [God].” Or to put it another way, every time we scrub toilets, mop floors, wipe snotty noses, or answer phones, if we’re doing it in obedience to Christ, we’re worshiping Him.

Isn’t that cool?

For further discussion, I invite you to join Cynthia Simmons and I for a video discussion on today’s passage.


livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this!

What were your thoughts as you read today’s focal passage? Is there an area in your life or something you do that feels insignificant? How does it feel knowing God is watching you every time you engage in that activity? How does it feel knowing that thing, whatever it is, can be an act of worship?

Did you have any other insights to share?

For those wanting to learn how to dig deeper into Scripture, join me in our Facebook group where we’ll be talking about reading biblical passages in light of their historical context. We’ll also touch a little on what I encouraged you to do last week–jot down observations and any questions you might have.

Before I go, I wanted to share information on a complimentary study that was recently launched by a dear friend:

How do we win the battle against selfishness? Outrageously Fruitful is an 11-week online Bible study that explores the characteristics the Spirit longs to develop within us. Traits like: love, joy, peace, and goodness. Let go and let God make your life outrageously fruitful! For more information and to register: http://www.mariaimorgan.com/its-time-bible-study

Other articles and videos you might find helpful:

Meaning in the Mundane

In Absence of Integrity

The Invisible Woman

Pulling Back the Veil on Christian Love

ID-100201732Scroll through social media long enough, and chances are you’ll read a few (or more) negative posts regarding Christians and Christianity. Some say we’re intolerant, others that we’re hateful, close-minded, or out of touch, or whatever. Find a negative adjective, and I’m pretty sure you can find a statement connecting it to Christ-followers.

Granted, there are those among us who do indeed fit those descriptions, but from my experience, when I step back and truly consider, those angry (or perhaps confused) individuals are the minority. The vast number of Christians I know are doing amazing things. They’re feeding the hungry, adopting orphans, walking beside single moms, bringing clean water to the sick and thirsty, medical care to the ill, and more. So much more.

Yesterday I considered all the ways God’s children have shown up in my life lately, of all the sacrificial giving of time and resources I’ve seen displayed, not by one, not by two or three, but by a large number of believers with whom I have contact.

All this points not to the good of the human heart, nor to the quality of my friends (thoughgirl-1186895_1920 I think they’re amazing) but rather to the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in us. And every act of love displayed by one of God’s children points to His ever-reaching, ever-faithful Daddy’s heart.

Let me explain:

God has called our family to something hard, amazing, beautiful, and frightening. He has called us to help initiate life change and healing, to show the truth and depth of His love, even when–especially when!–that love is spurned.

This in and of itself is not unique to Christians. I believe we all as humans long to make an impact, to help others, and to see our world change. But wanting and doing are entirely different things, and on our own, in our own strength, we lack the power to truly live “all in,” sacrificially, for a significant length of time. 

Let me explain–from my experience. Lately, many have showered me with accolades, saying they view me as giving, loving, and … saint-like. But I’m not. So not. On my own, I’m selfish, fearful, distracted, impatient, ever-viewing the world through a me-centered lens.

And that’s where the tug-push-pull comes in–an inner wrestling of God’s Spirit with mine, and an intimate time where He personally meets with me, changing my thinking, softening my heart, and empowering me to follow, wholeheartedly, His leading.

Here’s how it starts. I’ll step out in love and faith, only to have my love spurned. My natural, human reaction? To get frustrated, maybe even angry, discouraged, and to want to pull back. To self-protect and withdraw–to take the easy route.

But then, in the midst of my selfish thinking, God speaks gently to my heart. Sometimes He’ll remind me of His love. Always, He’ll help me see the situation and the other person through His eyes.

Let me pause here. That is the most powerful, most attitude and heart changing aspect of walking in a close relationship with Christ–being granted the ability to see, truly see, other’s through Christ’s eyes–to catch a glimpse past behaviors and words to the hurting, bleeding heart within.

When that happens, everything changes, in an instant. Anger is turned to compassion. Frustration to peace. Discouragement to hope. Selfishness to love. And suddenly, one is filled with a passion so strong, they cannot not act, cannot not love.

Gal 2-20verse jpgThis has been my journey lately, a daily teeter totter, and praise God, He has been winning–love has been winning. Not because there’s anything remotely good within me, but because God has proven strong on my behalf. Again and again and again. And through it all, I’ve grown even closer to Him as He overwhelms me with the revelation of the depth of His love for our hurting world.

When I started this post, I planned to share all the ways God’s children have shown up for our family as we seek to obey Him. But as I wrote, it took a bit of a detour, hopefully one that was God directed.

For now, I leave you with this–if you’ve never experienced the love and life-changing power of God’s Spirit living within, today can be the day–the day you quit trying to live on your own and in your own strength, the day you stop seeking temporary fillers to the emptiness within, the day you know what it’s like to be loved deeply, at your core, and held close by your heavenly Father, from now to eternity. (Find out how HERE.)

For those of you who do have a relationship with Christ, I challenge you (and me) to get and stay connected–to Him. Make your relationship with Christ your top priority and to carve out time when you rest in His presence, allowing Him to change your perspective, soften your heart, and empower you to do that which He has called you to do. Because in Him, you have everything you need to live the life He desires.

I leave you with one of my favorite verses:

“By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of 2Peter3-1versejpgthis by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! What is God calling you to do? In what ways has He empowered and equipped you to do that? In what ways has He revealed His love to you through others? Share your stories with us here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because God is worthy of our praise and the whole world needs to know about all the great things He does and has done!

But before you go–an invitation to my Omaha Metro friends. Join me and my sister in Christ, singer Shelly Conn, at Chocolaterie Stam for a fun afternoon of live music, books, readings, and chocolate!

Chocolaterie Signing-page-001

A Thankful Heart

turkey-532962_640Sometimes gratitude pours from us, unbidden. Other times it’s an act of will; a determination to praise God in the hard and sad. Either way, God is worthy of our praise and worship. And regardless of what we’re going through, I believe cultivating a grateful heart makes life sweeter.

November is the month of giving thanks, but in today’s guest blog post Jodie Wolfe explains that thankfulness should be a part of our everyday lives. As you are reading don’t forget all the reasons you have to be thankful, this month and everyday.

A Thankful Heart by Jodie Wolfe

Can you believe it’s only a week until Thanksgiving? I don’t know about you, but this year has been flying by for me. Seeing Thanksgiving photos make me in the mood for a succulent feast. Of course I’ll be the one cooking it.

Thankfulness seems to go hand-in-hand with this month. As my boys were growing up we had a family tradition each Thanksgiving where we listed our praises from the following year. We kept a journal and recorded our appreciation so we could re-read it.

Being thankful doesn’t have to be limited to a certain holiday or time of year. In fact, according to this Bible verse, fall-591800_640anytime is a good time to be thankful. I’ve found the more I choose to be thankful, the more I’m aware of God’s many blessings He pours out each day.

Along with choosing to be thankful, don’t be surprised if you get thrown into situations which challenge your resolve. Keep firm in your decision. Don’t be swayed or falter.

Giving thanks each day is something you won’t regret. The more you do it the easier it is. Now is a good time to start having a thankful heart.

Jodie 2015Jodie Wolfe was bit by the writing bug as a young girl after reading and watching Little House on the Prairie. She loves writing stories about feisty heroines and strong, godly heroes. The power of story to influence lives and change hearts is what motivates her to weave tales that tell of the Savior’s faithfulness and forgiveness. Jodie is a columnist for Home School Enrichment magazine and had a devotion featured on Christian Devotions. She achieved semi-finalist status in the 2013 ACFW Genesis Contest and 3rd place in the 2015 Novel Beginnings at St. David’s Christian Writer’s Conference. She is represented by Linda S. Glaz of Hartline Literary Agency.

Jodie’s Website

Facebook Page

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! A couple years, after reading a verse I couldn’t for the life of me find this morning, I started something similar to what Jodie in our home. The verse talked about how God was revealed in all He’s done, and this really struck me–the idea that we could come to know God better, His heart, character, and love, by staying alert to His hand each day. So, at dinner, our family talked about something God had done that day and also something He’d done in our past, discussing what that event or God-moment revealed about Him. It was such a sweet time of really reflecting on the goodness of Christ and of bonding as a family.

Perhaps start a similar tradition in your home this Thanksgiving, one that, like Jodie suggested, extends beyond the holiday season.

Have you paused to count your blessings, and if so, what were the results? What are some ways you can create an atmosphere of praise and gratitude in your home this holiday season? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook. Because we can all learn from each other!

Won’t Be Defined

Photo by makunin taken from pixabay.com

Photo by makunin taken from pixabay.com

What if we viewed ourselves through God’s eyes? Imagine the peace we’d have. And what if, maintaining that vision, we then zeroed in on what He was calling us to do, and pursued that with everything within us.

What might we accomplish?

This is something God has been encouraging me to do. If we’re Facebook friends, you likely read my post this morning with the quote from Real Women Leading With Proverbs 31 Values (an awesome book!). I’ll post the quote I pulled from the book here:

Speaking of influencers, the author said, “They are driven to do something that matters. They seek God for what His call is on their lives, and they are focused on what He created them to be.

Focus. Unwavering. Obedient. Surrendered.

Todays post, by a sweet sister in Christ who is pursuing God’s call with everything within her, shares her journey from the beginning of a dream to full pursuit.

GIVE-AWAY ALERT! As a special bonus, Jessica is giving away 3 of her albums. Winners will be randomly selected from the comments and shipping is only available to those living in the continental US.

But first, I want to announce last week’s give-away winner. Jennifer Hallmark, congrats! You won a copy of Cherie Burbach’s latest release, 100 Simple Ways to Have More Friends. I’ll message you shortly to chat about getting that to you.

Won’t Be Defined by Singer/Songwriter Jessica Angelique

“I won’t be defined by what other say. I won’t be confined. They won’t get in the way of God’s love and His perfect plan. I won’t be defined in His strength I’ll stand. I won’t be defined.”

-from the title track “Won’t Be Defined” on 14-year-old Jessica Angelique’s album “Won’t be Defined.”

When I was a young girl there was this inner joy inside of me that made me happy. I never could imagine my life without God. I always remember believing in God. In the years before I started school I had no trouble being defined by God and not what others said about me, even through challenges I faced.

I have an eye condition called Duane’s Syndrome and I have trouble seeing and reading. The good news is that it’s hardly noticed, but I still struggle even today to read, but I am overcoming it.

photo taken from freedigitalphotos.net by Ambro

photo taken from freedigitalphotos.net by Ambro

My first few years of school were challenging. I was in Dual Language spending half the day speaking English and the other half speaking Spanish. Halfway through third grade I went to a different school without Dual Language. At my new school, I was bullied at the young age of nine and I had no friends, no hope. I felt alone like an outcast. I was being me, and that wasn’t accepted.

In school you’re supposed to like sports and dance, but I loved to sing and instead took piano and guitar lessons.

When I went into fourth grade I moved schools again because of the extreme bullying. I left the school so I would never have to see that bully again.

I was the new kid again. I felt excluded, but not as bad as at the other school.

When I started middle school in fifth grade, it got a lot easier and I made friends. I felt like the same kid I was before I started school, remembering I’m defined by God and not by what others say. A huge bJessica Angeliqueurden was lifted. I did not have a care in the world– except math class.

I’ve always loved music and singing. When I was very young I would sing songs at the top of my lungs and my brother would scream at me to shut up, but I never did. I always knew I wanted to be a singer, like every other girl in my class. Instead of just daydreaming, I decided to do something about it.

I started doing talent shows and playing for family and friends. Participating in a national talent competition gave me the inspiration to do this for the rest of my life. One day I attended a Christian concert featuring Moriah Peters. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a Christian singer. I started in the Christian music field and I don’t think I could do anything else.

I was encouraged to write songs and then wrote enough to make an album. My dream became a reality. Your dream can too with God’s guidance and with the help of those who nudge you in the right direction.

If I didn’t know God, my life would be hopeless. I’ve just started, and I have a lot more to do to make a difference and inspire people to be defined by God, not by what others say. My goal is to inspire one person at a time, follow God, and see where He takes me.

Like Brandon Heath sings, “He’s not finished with me yet.”

Jessica Vogt_021
14 year old, Jessica Angelique has a God-given gift beyond her years to write music that helps others going through doubts and insecurities, inspiring people to love Jesus and love themselves.
Through her own struggles with bullying she wrote the title track to her debut album,”Won’t Be Defined,” telling the story of a young girl learning that God defines us, not what others say. It’s a story every Mom will want their daughter to embrace.

Visit her online HERE.

Let’s talk about this! First, for those of you who joined me at Reality Church’s Women’s Connection Weekend last weekend, hopefully,  you’ve been prayerfully asking livingbygracepic.jpGod to help you do as Jessica encourages, which is to allow God and God alone to define us. (For those who weren’t able to come, I may be posting all three main sessions online. I’ll let you know…)

In what ways have you allowed others to define you? What inner lies are you clinging to, regarding your identity, and what Scripture can you meditate on and pray to center your heart and mind in God’s truth? Are you pursuing God’s call on your life, and if so how? If not, what’s holding you back? Share your comments here below or on Living by Grace on Facebook.

 

The Key to… Everything!

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Photo by stock images found on freedigitalphotos.net

Do you feel frazzled, confused, anxious, defeated? Like you’re running in circles, wearing yourself out without getting anywhere? Are you spending your days and nights stressing and angsting over everything from your children’s spiritual health to your job security?

Whatever we fear, whatever the struggle, there’s one answer: Fear of the Lord. Because fear of the Lord and fear of the world cannot coexist. At each moment, we’re fearing one of the other.

One depletes us, the other, like Proverbs 3:7-8 promises, nourishes us. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (NIV).

Fear of the Lord, which is the act of surrendering to God in reverence and awe and resting in who He is, what He’s promised, and what He’s done, changes everything!

Duffey_Myers300In the following post, today’s guests Betsy Duffey andLaurie Myers reminded me of this life-encompassing truth as they shared their thoughts on a pack of stupid, smelly animals. Read her thoughts then share yours. But first, I wanted to let you know, there’s still time to enter last week’s book give-away drawing. Go here to learn more.

AND… We’re launching another give-away today! The Writing Sisters are giving away a copy of their latest release, The Shepherd’s Song, to one of you (in the continental US), randomly selected from the comments left on today’s post.

Learning from The Shepherd by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers 

Have you ever thought about yourself as a sheep? In the Bible people are often compared to sheep. As we wrote The Shepherd’s Song we needed some firsthand IMG_0398experience with sheep so we found a farm in North Georgia and set up a visit. See if you can find yourself in what we learned.

The Shepherd prepares good things for us

As the shepherd filled up the feed buckets, he explained the importance of the formula of the food. Sheep cannot eat regular feed because it contains copper, but the feed he prepares is safe.

Carefully, the shepherd measured the quantity. “Sheep don’t know when to stop eating,” he explained. “Their appetite is bottomless. They will eat anything and they will eat until it is unhealthy.”

IMG_0380The shepherd poured out the healthy food into troughs so that each sheep could get to the food without crowding or leaving out the weak ones. The food was for all.

Our heavenly Shepherd knows what we need. He gives spiritual food that will satisfy, not like the world. And He gives the right amount and He gives to all.

The Shepherd protects the sheep

We were leaning over the wired enclosure to get better photographs when the shepherd called, “Be careful that’s an electric fence!” Quickly we jumped back. It turned out that only the bottom wire was electric. The electric fence may shock the sheep at first, until they learn to stay away, but it also keeps out predators that can kill them.

Our heavenly Shepherd protects us in ways we do not know or understand.

The Shepherd lets the sheep experience consequences.

Ultra, one of the bigger sheep ate too fast. The dry food caught in her throat and she began to gag. The shepherd shook his head. “She eats too much, too fast, and then can’t swallow it all. She has to work it out for herself.”

It was painful to watch her struggling to heave up the dry oats in her throat. She coughed and jumped and strained. But the shepherd could only watch. He was with her, but let her work out the problem caused by her own actions.

Our Shepherd may, at times, let us work out our problems, but He is always there with us.

Gratitude pleases the Shepherd.

The sheep’s pen was bare of grass, but we could see the meadow adjacent where the shepherd had planted rye grass for the winter. “What I love,” he explained, “is when I take the sheep to the grassy meadow to feed. They have all the food they want, they don’t need me, but some of them still come to me.”

Our Shepherd loves it when we come to Him in gratitude.

Time with the Shepherd makes the sheep love Him more.

Amanda was the oldest sheep, and older sheep have acquired wisdom. Amanda was a stabilizing force in the flock, and the most savvy about dangers. She was also the most grateful. She never misses an opportunity to spend time with the shepherd. “Even when there’s no food involved she’ll come out to see me,” he said.

Time with our Shepherd helps us love Him more.

Our field trip to learn about sheep and shepherds turned into a rich learning experience, one that we will not forget. God always grows us and teaches us sometimes in unexpected ways! Did you see yourself in any of the examples?

The Writing Sisters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers were born into a writing family, and began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars.  They went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, The Shepherd’s Song, is being released in paperback April 2015.

You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books. Contact them at WritingSisters.com and find them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Grab your copy of The Shepherd’s Song here.

Grunge ornamental cover for an album with photosThe Shepherd’s Song:

Follow the incredible journey of one piece of paper—a copy of Psalm 23—as it travels around the world, linking lives and hearts with its simple but beautiful message.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

Shortly before a tragic car accident, Kate McConnell wrote down the powerful words of Psalm 23 on a piece of paper for her wayward son. Just before she loses consciousness, Kate wonders if she’s done enough with her life and prays, “Please, let my life count.”

Unbeknownst to Kate, her handwritten copy of Psalm 23 soon begins a remarkable journey around the world. From a lonely dry cleaning employee to a soldier wounded in Iraq, to a young Kurdish girl fleeing her country, to a Kenyan runner in the Rome Invitational marathon, this humble message forever changes the lives of twelve very different people. Eventually, Kate’s paper makes it back to its starting place, and she discovers the unexpected ways that God changes lives, even through the smallest gestures.

With beautiful prose evocative of master storyteller Andy Andrews’s The Butterfly Effect, this story will touch your heart and remind you of the ways God works through us to reach beyond what we can imagine.

Let’s talk about this! Besty said, “God always grows us and teaches us sometimes in unexpected ways! Did you see yourself in any of the examples?”

What are some unexpected ways God has grown and/or taught you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.