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!

And if you haven’t done so, join Wholly Loved’s Facebook group, a safe, grace-filled place where you can connect with other women seeking to grow in Christ, ask questions and share struggles and celebrations.

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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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Rethinking Failure

 

contemplativeThe big F.

When you sense a divine nudge, step out in faith even though your knees are buckling, sweat is cascading down your spine, and your stomach feels as if an army of ants not only took up residence but are engaged in some crazy acrobatics, and nothing, absolutely nothing, goes as planned.

In those moments, we may be tempted to raise our fists at God or hide away in our nice, safe homes, determined never, ever, not in a jabillion years, to do ministry again.

But what if our interpretations are wrong? What if what we perceive as failure is but a stepping stone–and a necessary one at that? The hard thing about faith, about having a finite and often faulty brain, is that we may never fully see the results or reasons behind our actions this side of heaven. I’ve shared before, looking back on my life, I remember countless patient, loving Christians whom I have no doubt were called to reach out to and love on me.

In fact, I remember one family in particular. They lived in Ferndale, and they had a daughter my age. In those days, I was a mess. And I imagine, there were many times I was quite difficult to be around. But this family took me in. Fed me, sheltered me, loved on me.

But despite their love and patience, I continued my downward spiral. I imagine they felt they had failed. Or like maybe they’d heard God wrong. Because if God calls us to do something, we have to succeed, right? We’ve got the power of Creator God behind us!

But what if His version of success is different from ours? What if He sees something we can’t–like the slow but persistent softening or healing of a heart?adultchild A heart that might take decades–maybe even a lifetime–to change? And what if in the process, He was working on our heart as well–molding, guiding, teaching, equipping, transforming us from who we are now to who He created us to be? What if every action, every assumed failure is necessary training toward our future calling?

You see, I believe God is sovereign over our successes and our failures. In fact, I believe each moment, He is watching over us with care and love, keeping an eye not only on our hearts but on our final destination as well.

As a reminder of this, I often consider two Scripture passages. They have become my life verses. I recite them when it feels as if God is raining blessings upon me and when it feels as if He’s deadbolted every door.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

“Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16 NLT).

We are God’s masterpiece. Camp out on that for a moment.

These verses have shaped my definition of success. They remind me God has a glorious plan for me, my life, and every person I touch while here on earth. And He’s taken full responsibility to perfect that which concerns me. (Psalm 138:8) My role is simple: To surrender fully and obey without hesitation, seeking to learn and grow from each and every event or encounter.

That’s it. And here’s the beautiful thing: If I do that, I have succeeded, regardless of how things turn out.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! How often do you contemplate your assumed failures, looking for the hidden lesson God might be trying to show you through them? Are you basing your success on those things you have no control over, like how many people will come to Christ during your ministry events, how many promotions you receive, or how large your paycheck will grow if you do X and Y? Or are you basing your success on the only thing you can control and that which will bring your Heavenly Father exceeding joy–the extent of your surrendered obedience?

Other blog posts you might enjoy:
Rejoicing in Closed Doors
What’s Your Jericho

Books you might find helpful:
<em>Beyond Me by Kathi Macias
Called and Accountable by Henry and Norman Blackaby

Falling Forward by John C. Maxwell

At Just the Right Time

I don’t know about you, but often I think God and I are on totally different schedules. When I want to go forward, He pulls me back. When I’m dragging my heels, He nudges me forward.

About four years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a place of unemployment. Now that’s one of those times when you really want God to hurry. And as we watched our savings dwindle, we prayed and prayed for a miracle. Guess when it came? Yep, at the last minute. And as usually is the case, it was unexpected, and totally a God-thing.

We quickly put our house on the market. It sold in one week. Another God-thing. We loaded most of our things in three storage units, packed the rest in our van, and headed west. We found a small, five-hundred square foot rent-by-the-month apartment and crammed our stuff inside. This was a difficult and frightening time, but it was also a beautiful time. During those two months of living elbow to elbow, our family grew closer than ever. And we clung to God like never before.

I remember waking up every day saying, “Okay God, what now?” We had no idea how long we’d be staying, or where we’d go once my husband’s contract work was up. But we were trusting God to provide—at just the right time.

Meanwhile, we found a local church and jumped right in. I started teaching youth classes. I’m still amazed the educational minister let me, but I came with my “volunteer resume”, so I think that helped. And I think God knew I needed the connection, stability, and feeling of being needed, so He opened that door. And He had a bigger plan. A year later, after we moved to Missouri, I got a phone call. The church we had visited the summer before wanted to use a Vacation Bible School curriculum I had written (that’s another God-story entirely) and wanted me to come back as their key-note speaker.

Funny how God works. While we were in Texas wishing God would move faster, save us out of the mess we were in, give us that five year plan that’d let us know everything would be okay, He was busy working out a bigger plan. A better plan.

Our experience reminds me of the Israelites and all the ups and downs they’ve faced throughout history. For four hundred years, they slaved in Egypt waiting for their deliverer. Or think about David, the anointed king, who spent years hiding out in caves as the ruling king sought his life. What about Joseph? You remember him—the dreamer—the one who would one day rule over his brothers? The one who was thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, spent seven years in prison, to one day stand as the second in command to all of Egypt. What do you think he was thinking while he slept on the prison floor? How many nights did his heart cry out to God, asking, “Where are you? When will Your promise come?”

But each time God did come through, at just the right time.

For years the people of Israel waited for their Messiah. They had the promises—from Genesis chapter three all the way through Malachi. While evil kings rose to the throne, Isaiah spoke of an eternal just Ruler. When the Israelites were taken into Babylonian captivity they cried out for a Savior. I’m sure many felt as if God had abandoned them. That God couldn’t see them.

But God hadn’t forgotten, and He wasn’t off-duty. He was waiting for just the right time. Jesus came at just the right time.

Step back about 2000 years to the Roman world. Greek and Roman development helped make the first century AD the perfect time for Christ to come on the scene. The roads created by the Romans increased traffic and commerce, allowing the rapid-fire spread of Christianity to the ancient world. The Romans developed a sense of unity under their universal law that helped pave the way for the idea of monotheism. (A large proportion of ancients were polytheists.)

“The sense of solidarity within the empire created an environment favorable to the reception of a gospel that proclaimed the unity of the human race in the fact that all men are under the penalty of sin and in the fact that all are offered a salvation that makes them part of a universal organism–Christianity.” (Cairns, p. 35)

Non-Romans could become Roman citizens and people could move freely throughout the Roman Empire. Such travel would have been difficult prior to the reign of Augustus Caesar in 27-14 BC. As Rome conquered neighboring lands, natives began to question their polytheistic views. If their gods had abandoned them into the hands of another, then perhaps their gods were not as powerful as they thought.

And then came the Greeks and the expansion of ideas that they brought. They brought a universal language that later aided in the communication of the gospel. They also brought the  study of philosophy and a love for debate. Philosophers like Plato and Socrates encouraged people to look for an eternal Being. All of these things set the stage for Christianity.

And I could go on, but in a nutshell–Christ came at just the right time. At the fullness of time. When all the pieces of the puzzle were locked in place.

Just like Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”

And the Bible records this story–God’s love story–throughout its pages. A love story that will ultimately conclude in a great wedding feast. Are you coming?

Maybe you’re in Babylonian captivity right now, crying out for a Savior. Now is the  time of salvation. Maybe you’re enslaved by the problems of this world. God sees you. He loves you. And He’s coming. Even now He’s working out His plan. His good plan. His loving plan.

Hold tight.

1) Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through the Centuries. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 1954.

Living By the Seat of my Pants

We’ve talked about this a bit before–about God’s plan for each of us and the improbability of our understanding of it–until it’s staring us in the face, anyway. Lately I’ve been clinging to two different passages. Ephesians 2:10 and James 4:13-17.

Ephesians 2:10 tells me God has a plan for my life, a plan that was set into motion before I was even born. A plan He Himself will bring to fruition. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

James 4:13-17 reminds me to move forward with my eyes wide open, ever ready to turn at the drop of a hat when God changes my direction. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

So much of my life has hit me by surprise. In a good way. At age twenty I was convinced I was never going to get married. At age twenty-two, I pledged my love and commitment to my soul mate. Ten years ago, I didn’t give Kansas City, MO a passing thought. Today I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. (Unless God changes our plans.) And most of the opportunities that have come my way have been a complete surprise.

This morning I received an invitation to join a worldwide ministry and as I read the email, I thought back on all those “surprises” that have occurred throughout my life. And suddenly, they all fit. That VBS I wrote for that small church in New Braunfels taught me about curriculum development and skit production. The dramas I wrote for Community Baptist in California showed me the effectiveness of drama. My time with ACFW has shown me God’s big picture plan with Christian media. The invitation to join Reflections showed me I can write on assignment and the invitation to join Clash of the Titles showed me how much I love getting to know other authors. And again, all of these opportunities were surprises–wonderful, perfect surprises.

So what am I trying to say here? Don’t get so caught up in “your passion” that you miss out on God’s design. And pray long and hard before turning down those surprise opportunities that come your way. See them as bread crumbs sprinkled along the path as God leads you to His ultimate plan. And always, always be ready to make that hard right the minute God presents a detour.

I love this song and the constant, eyes-wide-open, fluidity it represents:

Where You Go by Chris Tomlin

Spend a moment meditating on these words:

All Your ways are good. All Your ways are sure. Light unto the world, light unto my life. I will live for You alone.

Our pastor in California used to say, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Let go of the reigns. Toss out the road map. Let God lead you by the hand, step by step.

A Glimpse of the Bigger Picture

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent last weekend soaking up years worth of information and decades worth of hugs at the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference. And I got a tiny glimpse of how God is and has used Christian fiction to touch hearts and change the world. I’m kind of a newbie in this arena. I was first introduced to Christian fiction maybe ten years ago with Francine Rivers‘   Mark of the Lion Series. Wow. A must read. I heard the buzz of Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, but to be honest, I never thought much about it. I was too busy devouring the books to analyze their impact. I didn’t see God’s bigger–like much bigger–plan. Until I listened to Chip MacGreggor, Janet Oak, and Tim Downs. These pioneers in the writing industry get it. They see the bigger picture, from the very first brush stroke to the soon to be completed masterpiece filled with vibrant colors. And they shared their vision with all of us. They invited us to pick up our keyboards and join in God’s creative, loving, victorious plan.

Christian fiction has a new face–an ever-expanding, alluring, innovative face. Christian fantasy? Yep, it’s here. Christian horror? You betchya. Sound like an oxymoron? Maybe even a tad non-Christian?  And yet, through various stories, plots, and creative twists, God’s message of redeeming love is penetrating deep into the hearts and minds of people around the world. Those books that used to be hidden in the far back corner of a tiny, unknown bookstore can now be seen on the front shelves–face forward. In most stores, they’ve even got their own section. Sometimes even an entire room.

And we thought it was all about entertaining and selling a book or two.

But God had bigger plans. He always does. And His creativity knows no bounds.

That’s why I’m so excited about our new website, Clash of the Titles. By uniting readers with new authors and introducing them to knew genres, we’re partnering with God in the expansion of Christian fiction. God’s message never changes. He came to seek and save the lost and to heal the broken. His method, however, will always change as He translates His message to our worldly, ever-changing, confused ears.

What’s your part in God’s big-picture plan?

Visit Katie Johnson’s website and Nike Chillemi’s Crime Fictionista to find out more.

First weed down!

About a week ago, I shared my struggles with discouragement. It’s funny how often I want to keep these internal struggles to myself, to present a false image of spirituality to others, but I am beginning to realize how important authenticity is. In my latest novel (still in the editing stages) the majority of Alice and Trent’s struggles arise from self-isolation. Sure, they’ve got issues. Major issues. (Don’t we all?) But I think their issues would be much more manageable if they would only reach out and let others help them. We weren’t meant to go it alone. As I like to say, we’ve all got skeletons in our closet but they’ll never go away if we keep the doors locked.

I think there’s something freeing about open, honest confession–when we share our deepest struggles with one another and allow others to help us. Not only does it free us to live truly authentic lives, it also adds a level of accountability. When I shared my struggles with discouragement with you, it added an additional level of motivation to overcome them. And now, when I share my first step on this road of truth-claiming, (I call it this because I am tossing out the lies and laying hold to the truth I have in Christ), knowing my previous struggles, you can rejoice with me. So it’s a win-win situation!

The other night I was over-tired. I had company coming from Uruguay and I really wanted to finish the first draft of my current novel before they arrived, so I was pulling some horrendous hours. Mind-numbing, eye-blurring hours. But I did it! By Monday night, I had written almost 89,000 words and had three scenes left and one more day to write them. No problem, right? After two months (I write fast. Either that or I’m slightly ocd, but that’s another post.) I could finally see the finish line. You’d think I’d be rejoicing, but I wasn’t. As I set my computer aside, a wave of discouragement washed over me, threatening to steal my joy of accomplishment. Self-doubt spewed through my mind like popcorn kernels popping off a hot kettle and those tiny little weeds of doubt tried to sink their roots into my heart.

So what did I do? I grabbed my weed-killer! The first thing I did was make the determination that I would not, would not, absolutely would not, allow those nasty thoughts to camp out in my brain. I threw them out like the trash they were. I have a phrase I like to repeat to myself when I am frightened, discouraged or sad. It’s “Just you and me God.” I find myself saying that a lot, but it reminds me that none of this peripheral junk matters. God loves me, and I’m holding on to Him, and whether my novels thrive or flop is inconsequential.

And then I went to bed, in peace. The next morning as I was reading my Bible, God spoke words of encouragement that both reaffirmed my commitment the night before and strengthened my heart to complete the final leg of my first. It came from two verses. The first I just happened upon as I was flipping to my page marker. It was in Exodus 34:6 and it reminded me of who God is.

“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

I tucked this in the back pocket of my mind and moved on to the Psalms. I follow along verse by verse and just happened to be on Psalm 139 this morning. We’ve all heard this passage a hundred times and would be quick to agree with its premise. We are created by God, known by God, loved by God and guided by God. But this morning, verse 16 jumped out at me.

Psalm 139: 16  “Your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

Putting those two verses together annihilated any remaining weeds and filled my heart with excitement for the day to come because I knew whether this novel soared or fell flat on its face, it was all part of God’s plan for me. All of my days are written in His book, even those I may initially deem to be failures. And because God is a God of love and mercy, even those painful days when I feel like I have egg on my face are steps forward as God works out His loving plan. Which means all I have to do is take that next step, resting in His loving, guiding and protecting hand.

You may be happy to know that I completed my novel and I am now working on a book proposal which I hope to present to an agent by the end of the month, and I’m sure a few weeds will try to sprout as insecurities fight for prominence, but laying hold of the promises in these two verses, I’ve already got my hand on the trigger! Watch out crabgrass, here I come!

Just you and me, God. Just you and me.