Raise the Flag But Never Retreat

ID-100149509Do you ever feel like you’re done? Wiped out, ready to toss out your clocks, to-do lists, and pocket calendars and head back to bed? For ever?

We all have those days, periods of time when it feels as if we’re on a rapidly moving treadmill. Or three. All going in different directions. I’ve heard it said the Christian journey is similar to a marathon. I’ve also heard it’s more like a series of sprints. I say it’s like sprints in the middle of a marathon. 😉 And when we’re in the middle of it, it’s easy to veer towards the sidelines. And sometimes that’s okay, for a period. But many times, I believe, God calls us to keep running.

Because time is short and eternity is long.

When I remember that, focus on that, everything becomes easier. But when I focus on me? Oh, my! Everything begins to snowball, and before long, my spiraling emotions take my energy down with them. It’s amazing how a shift in perspective changes everything!

Consider David, the biblical character whose story is told in 1 Samuel 16-2 Samuel 1 to 24, among other places. You can read his story here. I’ll paraphrase. Anointed king and proven to be a mighty, victorious warrior, by chapter 22, he’s hiding out in caves in fear of his life as a man David served faithfully relentlessly pursues him.

Relentlessly. Wearing David down day by day.

Perhaps you can relate. When facing a battle–spiritual, physical, or emotional–it’s fairly easy to approach it with strength, hope, and faith, in the beginning. But after a while we grow weary, and in our weariness, it’s easy to also grow hopeless. To start looking for our flag to surrender; to do an about face, ready to retreat.

And the more we stay there, the more we contemplate our weariness and struggles, the more drained we become.

Consider David’s words in Psalm 39:1-7 (NLT)

I said to myself, “I will watch what I do
and not sin in what I say.
I will hold my tongue
when the ungodly are around me.”
2 But as I stood there in silence—
not even speaking of good things—
the turmoil within me grew worse.
3 The more I thought about it,
the hotter I got,
igniting a fire of words:
4 “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude
6 We are merely moving shadows,
and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
not knowing who will spend it.
7 And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.

Let’s unpack this. According to the Tyndale study notes, in verse 1, David is resolving not to complain about his struggles. Though he is likely referring to the consequences he is facing for a sinful act detailed in 2 Samuel 11-12:1-24, I believe the principle applies to all trials. Complaining doesn’t help anybody. To the contrary. Negativity breeds negativity, within ourselves and our listeners. That doesn’t mean we can never share our struggles, but may we be known more for our praises, and may we never forget, we are NOT victims. No! For in Christ, we are more than conquerors.

Do our words and actions reveal that?

Are we centering out thoughts on that truth, or are we, like David did in verse 3, allowing negativity to dominate our thinking:

3 The more I thought about it,
the hotter I got,
igniting a fire of words:

What, then, is the solution? How can we combat this cancer of negativity and self-centeredness? Because that is exactly what it is. When we’re playing the poor-me role, we are focused entirely on ourselves, and self-centeredness leads to sorrow, defeat, skepticism, and frustration. Every. Time.

To combat this and to reignite our joy, we need to turn our thoughts to eternity:

4 “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.

This isn’t to say we should continually spend ourselves to the point of exhaustion for even Jesus our Savior took time to rest. But even then, our ID-10032933-1focus should be on eternity. When we rest, we do so in order to rebuild and refuel so we can jump back in that race.

We can raise the flag in surrender but may we never retreat.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this. As you read the above passage, what thoughts came to mind? In what ways has focusing on eternity helped you get through a rough or tiring stretch? For those who battle fatigue, does negative thinking ever exacerbate that, and if so, how? Join the conversation here or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

For those of you following my cyber-book tour, here’s where I’ve been this week.

For those of you who have read “Beyond I Do” (Still available in Kindle and Nook version for $2.99!) and would like to form a book club or simply did deeper into the novel, you can use the book club questions posted on my publisher’s blog. (I hope to launch an online discussion/Bible study group mid-November that will use the book as a discussion starter.)

I feel like I took up permanent residents down at KCRO/FM 100.7 The Fish’s studio this month with two interviews on KCRO (different times) and one on the Fish. I hope to have the recording of the Fish interview, and I think I posted my first KCRO interview. Here’s a link to the second one.

I’ll be on Deborah Piccurelli’s site all month. You can read my interview here (and get entered into the drawing to win a free book!).

For those in or visiting the Omaha area this Saturday, I’ll be at Barnes and Noble in the Oakview Mall doing a book signing. Details here.

AND for those wanting to hang about a little longer, I’d love if you’d follow me to my church’s Halloween Bash that evening from 5-7pm, located at Reality Church, 10695 Portal Road, LaVista, NE.

Yesterday I shared some stories of three men we’ve served at Takin’ it to the Streets–three very broken lives greatly changed by love. I hope you’ll be encouraged. You can read that here.

I camped out on Shannon Taylor Vannatter’s blog all week (and she’s doing a give-away). I shared my real-life romance story–an evolving love–on Monday. You can read that here.  On Wednesday, she interviewed my heroine. You can read that here. On Friday she posted an excerpt from the novel. You can read that here.

And before you go, if you’re a writer, I encourage you to read my friend Jennifer Hallmark’s post on ways to overcome writer’s block. You can read that here. 

You Know My Words Before I Spill Them

shutupSometimes I think I’d do well to bind my mouth with duct tape before going out. From blurted inconsideracies to complaints and arguments over trivial things that, when pointed out, reveal more about me than the actual issue.

Why, oh why is the tongue so hard to tame? Or am I the only one eating my feet a good chunk of the time? footnmouth-1

If only I’d remain safely behind my computer with its delete key.

My biggest problem? OJM disease–overactive jaw muscles and a very me-centered brain that likes to believe I have the answer to every question, the solution to every problem, and necessary input for every debate.

The problem with this? Proverbs 10:19 puts it so well: “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut” (NLT).

I suppose it’s a law of averages thing–you spew enough words some of them are bound to be sinful, hurtful, not productive or effective.

So what’s the solution? Invest in duck tape? Hide out in my bedroom? Throw up my hands with the concession that this is who I am?

None of those options progress the gospel, which is a huge problem, me being Christian and all as quite frankly, it is for the sake of the gospel I–and other Christians–are still here. On earth, I mean.

So once again I ask, what’s the solution?

Gritting my teeth and proceeding with the utmost determination won’t solve this, not long-term, anyway, because the moment I relax or get distracted I’ll revert to my old, verbose ways.

PrayerwThe best, the only solution is to continually draw near to God, allowing Him to work in and through me.

Pausing to acknowledge Him while I wash the dishes.

Praying while I fold the clothes.

Singing songs of praise, out loud or internally, while I go about my daily tasks.

Checking negativity and consciously focusing on my Savior and all He’s done instead.

For Christ-like behavior comes not from me but from Him.

Consider David’s words in Psalm 139:4 “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD” (NLT).

In other words, God knows, the moment you sit down to read your Bible each morning, when you’re going to flub it in the day ahead.

And He’s already got a plan in place. More than that, He’s ready and able to communicate that plan, to guide you, your thoughts, and your words to those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. (Phil. 4:8)

God is true. God is honorable. God is right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

See where I’m going with this?

What’s the solution to a wayward tongue? To fix our eyes–our thoughts and focus–on God, checking in with Him throughout the day, pausing to acknowledge His presence when we’re stopped at a stop light or waiting in a check-out line. Listening to His soft, gentle whisper that guides us throughout the day and continually draws us to Himself, the only place we’ll receive the strength and peace needed to speak words of love, grace, and truth.

Because living the Christian life isn’t about trying harder but rather, drawing closer to our Savior.

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this. What is your greatest struggle? How might checking in with God throughout the day help you in that area? How might centering your thoughts on Him fill your heart with praise and peace?

How much room is there for angst, frustration, or ungodliness in a heart filled–saturated–with praise?

If you enjoyed this post, you might find the following helpful:

Grabbing Hold of God Moments

Don’t Try Harder, Love More

Cultivating a Thankful heart

Oh, and since my book launch is but a few days away, and since some of you aren’t on Facebook, I thought you might want to know where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Yesterday I chatted with the editor of Family Fiction about my book, where the story came from, and what I hoped y’all would gain from it. You can read the interview here.

On July 4th and 11th, fellow ACFW writer Janet Sketchley interviewed two of my characters from Beyond I Do. You can get to know Ainsley here and Richard here.

On July 7th I chatted about books in general (and my addiction to them) on Writing For the Soul. You can join the discussion here.

On July 28th, I was honored to be on June Foster’s Author Spotlight. You can join me here.

My sweet friend Jennifer Hallmark was interviewed regarding her contributions to Sweet Freedom, the book itself, and her writing journey. You can read about all that here.

Next month, book launch month, I’ll be all over the web, but unfortunately, I’ve run out of time for link posting. 😉

As a fun aside, I recently finished plotting book three in my Midwestern Romance series, two stories that continue where Beyond I Do leaves off. Here’s hoping my publisher loves the plot and premise for books two and three as much as I do! I should also add, with my books release but days away, the pre-release discount will soon be over. So… if you were planning on buying the book, now’s a great time.

 

 

Anxiously Awaiting

I’m quite good at throwing pity parties, and this fall and winter, I think I’ve excelled in this area. I’ve even invited others to join me. But leave it to 1129777_theres_a_party_2God to crash the party with some heart-illuminating truth. 🙂 Truth revealed through an ancient widow living in a time when life for widows appeared hopeless. After seven years of marriage, her husband died, leaving her destitute. She didn’t have access to welfare. No life-insurance policies or thrift plans to fall back on. So what was a woman to do? Why, isolate in her misery as she bemoans her situation to all who might listen, of course.

Hardly. She turned her eyes upward and focused on serving God in whatever capacity she could.

And God rewarded her for it by allowing her to catch a glimpse of the long-awaited Savior.

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him (Luke 2:36-39 NIV).

Notice how she spent her time. Not complaining or lamenting but instead, worshipping. She turned her eyes off herself and her situation and placed them on her true treasure–God. And God showed up when she was 84. After 50, maybe 60 or more, years of patient serving.

We all have obstacles, heartaches, trials that come our way. Constraints on our time. And when our energy wanes or our health fails or our schedule balloons, it’s easy to focus on what we can’t do. We might even be tempted to throw a pity party or two, but God expects more. He wants us to take our focus off ourselves, placing it where it belongs–on Him, anxiously awaiting His blessings, His guidance, His nudges.

More than that, He wants us to anxiously await His presence. Daily. Moment by moment.

I loved this fun yet thought-provoking post written by Billy Coffey. Pop on over to read about his missing Jesus (Thanks to fellow LBG hostess and co-author of our tween devotional, the Story of Faith, Joanne Sher for sharing this post on her FB wall!) then come back here to share an idea or two on how we can keep our focus and our hopes on our Savior, anxiously awaiting His presence each day and celebrating not the tinsel, lights, and presents but the miraculous gift of Immanuel. A gift so amazing, so life changing, that upon encountering God in flesh, prophet Simeon could proclaim:

Sovereign Lord, as You have promised,
 you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31     which You have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32.)

You can now dismiss Your servant in peace. Simeon’s life dream had been fulfilled. He longed not for wealth, health, prestige, or promotion, but instead, to encounter God Almighty.

Can you say the same? This Christmas season, where do your expectations lie?

Let’s talk about this. Anna and Simeon had one thing in common–something I believe enabled them to experience great joy despite trials and setbacks. They focused not on being served but instead, on serving. And they appeared to have but one expectation or hope–encountering the living God. As I read their accounts, I wondered how many of my frustrations and heartaches come from expectations not fulfilled. How might centering my expectations on Christ and Christ alone affect my day? My Christmas?

Join me at Living by Grace as we share ideas on how to focus our expectations not on the events surrounding Christmas but instead, the Person who initiated the season to begin with.

Some questions to ponder and discuss:

1) Can expectations hinder our joy, and if so, how?

2) What are some signs our focus needs readjusting?

3) What are some ways we can grab hold of joy when stress or trials abound?

4) How can you anxiously await God’s presence today?

(You might also enjoy this devotional titled Battle in the Night, written by one of the Proverbs 31 women, that provides tools for grabbing hold of peace and joy when our crazy thoughts attempt to plunge us in angst and despair.)

And make sure to come back to Living By Grace Friday and Saturday for a continuation of our in-depth look at the book of James.

And before you go, I wanted to congratulate Mary Preston for winning last week’s book give-away. Mary, pop over to Linore’s website to choose what novel you’d like her to send you. And I’ll be shooting you an email soon to get your mailing address.

Vision Check

This past month, my husband’s schedule has changed slightly, and he’s spent a few days working from home. In the beginning, each day as I performed my daily chores he’d ask, “Are you in a cleaning mood?” By the third time he asked this, I had to laugh. What was routine for me Monday through Friday seemed out-of-place for him because I rarely do major housework while he’s around. Most likely, he doesn’t give the clean floors and folded clothes much thought. (And I’m sure there are countless things he does each day I’m not aware of.) If left undone, however, I’m sure he’d notice!

I think this is true of God as well. We notice and talk about the big things–a miracle healing, a special verse that pops off the page when we need it most, but each day, God works behind the scenes, watching over us, guiding, loving, nurturing. In Matthew 6:23 Jesus said: “But if your eyes are bad, then your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Bad eyesight leads to distorted vision. If we can’t see God’s hand, the problem lies with us, not Him.

Perhaps it’s time for a vision check. 🙂

Let’s talk about this. How often do you think we miss God’s blessings because we’re not looking? Throughout the Bible we are told to live lives of praise and gratitude. Do you think negativity can distort our vision? What else hinders our ability to see God’s hand? How might “counting our blessings” change that?

And on a fun note, what are some unexpected or perhaps easily overlooked blessings that came your way this week?

Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to enhance our spiritual vision. 🙂

Do You Get It…Truly?

I’m selfish and discontent at my core. It’s easy for me to skim over the many blessings God’s provided, focusing instead on those things I don’t have. Like a spoiled two-year old. Counting my blessings helps, although even then, my prayers are often ego-centric. “Thank you Lord for….” But what if I didn’t have all those things? What happens when life gets tough? Will my praises and thanks dwindle?

Today Jodie Bailey challengs us to dive deeper in our praises. There’s a verse in Romans I love. It starts with, “In view of God’s mercy.” That’s a loaded phrase, but today I encourage you to take it even deeper. God’s grace is infathomable, but He’s more than what He does, and I believe our worship must extend beyond our “benefits.” We bow before Him because of who He is, the Creator of the universe, our Redeemer, Savior, closest friend. 

(As you read the following post, I challenge you to honestly ponder something: Do you know God? I mean, really know Him, as He truly is? If not, ask  Him to reveal Himself to you, and to remove whatever it is that gets in the way of you having an intimate relationship with Him. Because God doesn’t want to be our cosmic genie nor our distant observer. He longs to be our Abba daddy and our closest friend.)

Do You Get It by Jodie Bailey

Psalm 116:16-17–O Lord, surely I am Your servant,  I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid,  You have loosed my bonds.  To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord.

If we had any idea at all what we owe God, don’t you think it would knock us backwards to consider it?  If you really sat down and gave it some thought and started counting your blessings, you wouldn’t get far before you’d realize the debt is much bigger than you’ll ever be able to pay.  I mean, God is worthy of praise and thanksgiving simply because HE EXISTS.  (And by the way, that’s one of the reasons I love it when He calls Himself I AM.  Gives me chills.  He IS.  That’s all He needs to be.  Think about that for a while…)  But He didn’t stop at existing.  He didn’t stop at making us exist.  He lavished us with grace and mercy and gifts beyond our wildest dreams, even some gifts we don’t realize He’s given us.

Consider salvation.  Have you ever thought about what you’ve been delivered from?  Not surface thought, but deep thought? Tell me that isn’t worthy of devoting every single second of your life to Him.  Some of us have been healed of diseases.  Some of us have been delivered from horrors we thought we’d have to face the rest of our lives.  Some of us have been freed from sins that should have been our undoing.  How much do we owe Him?

We owe Him everything.  Our next breath.  The works of our hands.  The praises from our lips.  But do we give Him that?  If you’re like me, chances are, you don’t.  And that’s a shame.  In this new year, it’s one of the things I’m working on, seeing every bit of my life in relation to God.  Realizing that every single thing I do should be for Him.  Giving Him my all.  It’s hard.  It requires a complete reprogramming of my sinful human mind.  But I want it.  It’s what we all should want, to be God’s servant.  Read the verse again.  Boy, do we ever owe Him big time…

Jodie invites you to share your favorite verse from Psalm 107-127 in the comments, and I invite you to FB share, tweet, or “like” this post…if you’d like to see it in my top three of 2011. 

Jodie Bailey was Playwright of the Year in Methodist University’s annual Hail! Dionysus competition and has written plays performed by the Monarch Playmakers. She has been published in Teen magazine and collaborated on PWOC International’s latest Bible study. She has a B.A. double major in English literature and writing, and an M.Ed. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the Christian Writers Guild, and Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and daughter.

Jodie is an avid reader, a life-long writer, and an aspiring beach bum.  She is a stubborn child who resisted God’s calling for two decades until He hit her over the head with a Beth Moore Bible Study book, and she finally figured out He wanted her to be a writer.  When not tapping away at the keyboard, she watches NCIS reruns, eats too many chocolate chip cookies, wishes she were at the beach, roughhouses with her daughter, and follows her Army husband around the country.

Visit Jodie online.

Loving on an Agenda

Today, at Living By Grace, we’re talking about loving without an agenda and serving with the proper attitude. I gotta admit, I blew this one last night. The Bible tells us to do our good deeds–our tithing, our serving, our self-sacrificing–in secret, to the glory of the Father, letting Him reward us in His way and His time. Every time I seek praise from man, I’m loving on an agenda. A tick-for-tack kind of deal, which isn’t love–it’s self-love and it robs the moment of its value.

Last night while my husband helped lead an adult Bible study, I watched a large number kids, many of which came from what I’m learning to call “hard places.” Many of these children exhibited rage issues and I felt like I ran from one fire to the next, trying to keep everyone safe while attempting to deal loving and effectively with each child.

Up until eight o’clock, my love for these children was authentic, pure, and self-sacrificing.

But then my husband concluded his Bible study class, smiling and looking refreshed, and yep, I felt the “need” to tell him how hard my night had been. Which in and of itself wouldn’t have been bad, if it weren’t for my motives. What was I looking for? empathy. I wanted my husband to know what my night had been like. I wanted him to know that while he sat in a comfortable chair, conversing with adults, I struggled to catch my breath. I wanted praise. Accolades.

And in that moment, my love began to have an agenda. Like: I did this, so now you must….

Appreciate me

Help me

Empathize

Hopefully next Sunday I will love more like Jesus–motivated by pure love, self-sacrificing, seeking not my own.

Love without an agenda is love without any strings attached. Serving, giving, loving, expecting nothing in return. Giving even if no one notices.

Philippians 2:1-8 NIV

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Christ, Creator God, came to earth as a man, rejected by the men and women He created. He asks me to demonstrate the same kind of self-sacrficing, humble love.

Thinking Back

As I got ready for church this morning, Pandora radio blaring in my bedroom, this song brought me back, reminded me of all God’s done.

“When I think about the Lord, how He saved me, how He raised me, how He filled me with the Holy Ghost,

how He healed me to the uttermost…”

Christ freed me.

He didn’t give me a band-aide but instead, reached deep inside me with His freeing, healing, life-transforming love and set me free. So this morning I’m gonna shout hallelujah, thank you Jesus, Lord You’re worthy of all the honor and all the praise.

Stop and think back over your life, to where you were when Christ found you and where you are now and rejoice with me.

What has Christ freed you from? What area of your life is transformed because of His healing love?

.