Sunday, January 5, 2020
What Gift Can I Give the Lord, This Year?
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him'” (Matthew 2:1-2).
As I write this, the church year is celebrating the feast of the Epiphany. It is a time to focus thoughts on the Magi who traveled far seeking the infant, Jesus. It is a well known story but reading the Scripture account this year, some inspiration came anew for me.
I am reminded of how God guides me by the stars of my faith in Him.
As one who longs to be observant to follow all the steps that will lead me through the plans He has for my life, I thought of the many steps it may have taken the Magi to reach that most important star in their lives.
They brought gifts in gratitude for having found Him who they sought.
What about me?
Perhaps there are gifts I can bring anew to honor God who steps with me onto the paths of this new year.
I want to wrap up my gifts for Him–gifts of trust and acceptance. If I don’t understand what is happening in my life right now, I can be grateful that He is with me and that He understands how I feel. If I recognize joys or answers to prayers, it is with more tangible “feelings” I can rejoice as I recognize His faithfulness.
He has helped me to wait with Him until He saw that the “star” was in the right place. My steps, with Him, led me far enough that He could unveil to me His plan that had been unfolding.
He is my Lord and King all the time. Yet I do rejoice differently in the moments when I can see with new eyes how brightly His kingly crown shines upon me. I give thanks that comes from a heart that is full.
As I give thanks, my heart to opened to searching the skies in anticipation as I await other promises He is preparing to fulfill for me when His appointed time arrives.
Prayer: Lord, I learn from the wise men the importance of persevering in my journey with You. I already have found You, but You always ask me to go deeper to know You in new ways. As I seek, You can lead me to the special stars of your promises and for the journey, I give thanks as I wait. Amen.
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (Deuteronomy 11: 11-12)
On the first day of each new year, I read this Scripture passage. It is a reminder that another year has arrived. I know it will hold seasons of days.
Before I look forward, I look back on the highlights from the year just completed. Yes, there were mountains and valleys. I came through them! I will face joys and challenges in the year ahead. I intend to walk into the unknowns of each new day aware of God’s faithfulness. He guides me if I choose to let him.
True. The Lord cares about the land and the year. But He cares about me more.
His presence is steadfast. His eyes are continually on me. He desires my cooperation as He accompanies me daily with his grace. I best not dwell on each day of the whole year. That would be overwhelming! God sees those days ahead. I release them into his caring hands.
I commit to accepting his grace as I live out one day at a time. Will I discover it to be a mountain or a valley day or somewhere in between? Maybe it will be a day comprised of all three!
As I read this Scripture, I know I will have questions as some of my days arrive. That is alright. Seasons from other years in my life have helped me recognize that my not-knowing is simply part of God’s all-knowing. He sees the land’s obstacles. I trust and follow his lead. I become a seasoned traveler by choosing to accept both the mountain days and the valley days.
Each nourishes me as I drink the rain from heaven—
God’s presence itself.
Prayer: Lord, you are my constant Comforter as I face the seasons of my life and the unknowns of each day. Thank you for being my hope, my trust, and my guide as I treasure you in each of my moments. Amen.
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1-2 ESV)
As I read this verse, I recall early August of 1987 when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. I was emotionally numb awakening from surgery to this startling news.
The following day, after a sleepless night, a stirring turned me to a flicker deep within. I whispered, “Lord, help me. My eyes are upon you.”
I had a deep encounter with the Lord, who came gently with his still small voice. He had to reveal to me what I was feeling. Each emotion was addressed and counsel given. I later realized that He had personally taken me through the first part of Scripture’s 2 Chronicles 20. Therein, Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah are awaiting enemy armies that totally outnumber them. Feeling powerless, they turn to the Lord for help.
He tells them not to be afraid:
“For the battle is not yours, but God’s . . . You will not have to fight this battle . . . stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you . . . Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:15, 17)
I relaxed knowing I could confidently face my overwhelming enemy.
The rest of that Scripture has Jehoshaphat instructing his people to go forth to meet the armies, singing praises to God. This became my stance during my months of chemotherapy treatments.
The people of Judah and I experienced victory over a beaten foe.
As to the above psalm’s verses? I came to recognize more deeply that I serve a faithful God. He continues to uphold me as I face challenges, some lasting years beyond the cancer diagnosis and triumph.
He reminds me very often that the enemy is beaten. I am not.
He is worthy to be served and praised. He first served me as Savior. Now I serve him with a spirit of joy, gladness, and song because He has shown me that is how one celebrates knowing the Lord is the One securing the victories.
Lord, help me continue to make a joyful noise, praising you. Your faithfulness is known, received, cherished, and everlasting. Amen.
(The photo you view here shows images of my guitar and the rockingchair that graced my classroom for nearly 20 years. It is where I’d sit and strum and sing with my students. That school years of 1987-88 we took a lot of singing breaks as they became prayer times for me ‘going out to meet the foe’ with my angel choir right in front!!)
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (Psalm 25:4-5)
Hope is a key to staying focused on the Lord. It is one of God’s gifts I can lose sight of quickly. It happens in the blink of a thought! I stray away for a time. You each know these types of thoughts: fear I have failed God or others, fear I will not get through a time of grief to feel joy again, fear of what a medical test will show, fear of what the future may hold.
I rob the present of God’s peace when I worry.
I cringe, catching myself when these times arise. Yet, if negative thoughts go undetected, they escalate. The feelings that accompany them do as well. When I snap back from my mental straying, I am humbled. My desire is to discern quickly the side trips that have me stumbling off the path where God can teach me. I want my hope focused on him, not on imagining a future yet to come. Looking back upon my former days, I confidently remember how He has never forsaken me.
Some of my tomorrows held harsh news. He faithfully steered me through those rough times. I could not depend on my own strength. He and his strength kept me moving, rebuilding my hope in him. These were his deepest times of teaching me, an answer to this psalm’s plea.
Scripture tells us there is faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love. My perspective that hope is needed to keep me focused does not diminish love. It is God’s love that helps me return to his path when I get drawn away.
My remembrances that He is my hope strengthen my faith.
He beckons me to follow this triune pattern by putting all three of his gifts into their proper perspective, centered in him. When they work in tandem, I am able to remain hopeful.
Lord, my deepest longing is that I remain steadfast as I love you, hope in you, follow you, and faithfully trust in you completely. Amen.
(Photo taken in Cambridge, England)
The River Cam
Monday, September 23, 2019
So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. (Jeremiah 18:3-4)
In the context of this entire Scripture, the Lord addresses the Israelites’ sin-filled ways that are in need of repentance. He is seeking the restoration and unity of his people.
Parts of our lives often need reshaping.
We are created in God’s image. The process of transformation into that image is ongoing. Repenting means I become aware of needed life-choice changes. As there are some changes only the Lord can achieve, He asks that I put myself into his capable hands.
The following imagery offers me clues about this process. “The potter’s house . . . working at the [his] wheel . . . he was shaping . . . as it seemed best to him.” The potter—God—is in control. He is personally attentive. The blueprint of my life is one He designed. He does not want me marred and unable to become all He created me to be.
Like you, I have had dreams and plans for my life. There have been starts and stops, detours and surprises along the way to their fulfillment or my acceptance that they will not be fulfilled. When challenges come, for however long they may last, I feel broken. The brokenness may be for a good reason and for God’s purposes.
How can God work within my brokenness?
Foremost, I committed my life to him. As shattered as I can feel, his good plans for me remain intact. Do I trust him completely? Am I pliable? Can I soften to be honest and share with him all that concerns me? Am I willing to look and acknowledge where my hands have misshapen my life?
When I choose to surrender my control, I become clay in my Potter’s hands. I am ready for him to work. His fingers can mold, refine and restore me as seems best to him.
Lord, I want your gentle fingerprints all over my life. Help me willingly surrender to you. Work out your will for me—in your way and in your time. Amen.
Here are 'outtakes' from the photo shoot I did with potter, Jamie Zach in 2011 - quite the time with that wheel whirling but we both agreed on the photo that eventually went into the book. I remember shooting photos for about 45 minutes to get THE one!
I thought you might enjoy seeing a few of the others!
Monday, September 16, 2019
. . . in memory of Amber Payne
Amber was my project manager for the publication of my devotional book. All aspects of the publication process flowed through her as she was my point person and also a prayer partner as she wanted to pray for all my needs and shared some of hers with me.
She was 30 years old when we met ‘online’ for this journey, November, 2015.
At age 19 she was the recipient of a double lung transplant - a need as she was born with cystic fibrosis.
She and her husband, John have been married 10 (2009) years, desired children, had one miscarriage, opted for adoption, one adoption failed.
In January of 2016, 2 months after we began working (online) together, John and Amber got the child of their dreams , Noah - just days after his birth. She, understandably, took an 8 week maternity leave. I kept working on the project until she returned to our email exchanges.
Amber was my ‘life saver’ more than once as the publishing process bogged down. Finally, all was completed early December 2016. We were both so excited. I am grateful to still have all our email exchanges.
Just as I was moving into my book launch event February, 2017, word came that Amber had been rushed to the hospital and test showed her lungs were in rejection mode.
One main part of my book launch event was having all present pray for Amber.
She fought so hard for her husband and son with all the faith and love and support of so many, always honoring Jesus in what was a constant treatment regime.
Meanwhile, keeping up her home and the growth of one hefty and overactive Noah (so many of her Facebook posts were about she and John’s journey with Noah). She did not neglect the honesty of how each breath was a blessing and she knew she was living on the edge but always so positive. Treatments of many varieties were constant.
Little Noah began his first day of pre-school, September 4, 2019, Amber could not go with him as she was being rushed to the hospital in dire straits. Among her last postings was thankfulness for the pre-school teachers who emailed her photos of her son in his first days of school.
A posting on Facebook from her husband, John, September 9, 2019
Amber had a rough day yesterday in ICU with low blood pressure and difficulty breathing due to a bacterial infection in her lungs. Yesterday afternoon she started to improve after about 2pm or so and has been doing better with blood pressure and breathing. Right now she just needs to sleep, which has been mostly absent the past several days with drugs, breathing mask, and all the sights, sounds, and activities in the ICU. Noah is with friends for the next couple days so he can continue preschool. Thank you for all of you who have messaged prayers, support, etc. Please know we appreciate it. It has been difficult to respond to everyone individually so I figured an update post might help.______________________________
Amber died on September 10, 2019 taking her last labored earthly breath and her first full breath in heaven with the One she served first and foremost.
We are left to grieve but also maintain gratefulness for the inspiration she was to many in her brief 33 years.
Please keep her husband, John and son, Noah, and extended family and friends in your prayers.
More about Amber - click here to read a lovely obituary
She is deeply embedded in my heart as well as in each page of my devotional book.
More about Amber - click here to read a lovely obituary
Official Adoption Day
Sunday, September 8, 2019
May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. (Psalm 119:76)
Each day brings variants to what we may experience. There are times that stun us in what arrives unexpectedly. We cry out for a place to turn for comfort and calm.
This verse is a plea to access God’s unfailing love, a promised comfort. For some, their challenges create intentional daily pleas. Others will plead as challenges emerge.
Here are a few of God’s promises.
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
For I know the plans I have for you . . .
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Nowhere among these and other promises from God’s Word, does it say how He will fulfill them. My life’s road may twist and turn causing me to wonder how He is working. I may not sense his presence or have any sense of hope.
My body and heart can become weary.
Yet I know God is love—the greatest of his gifts. I know He is faithful. I need but look back to promises fulfilled from my past pleas. They are recorded in my daily journals and are embedded within my heart. They give cause for praises, thanks, and hope in knowing that I can confidently trust him.
“In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3).
I desire to be his devoted follower. Even when I falter, He never does. His love never fails nor do his promises.
God is honing my unconditional love for him as He fulfills his promises. He’d rather I focus on this than on my feelings or understanding of how He will bring fulfillment. With my trust and faith in him, we share confidently on the road to his revelations. I have made a promise to follow him, no matter the cost.
Indeed, both of us are promise keepers!
Lord, when I become impatient, help me stop and remember my promises to you. Serving you means trusting you—your love, your timing, and your ways. The reality of your faithfulness will keep me strong. Amen.