Pray More Worry Less

My heart now resides on four college campuses across the state of Texas.

Labor Day traditionally heralds the change of seasons.  In many places, (Texas excluded) the dog days of summer come to a gradual end as the changes in the wind bring cooling temperatures.  Anticipation grows as a new school years dawns and the signs of fall begin to show themselves.   

Well…Labor Day is upon us, but to me, nothing really looks the same as previous years. 

COVID 19, distance learning, social unrest and the increasing rancor of the upcoming presidential election have made the past 6 months almost unrecognizable, and for me, obscured the excited anticipation I have always had for the fall season.

Adding to my stifled excitement, is the fact that I am entering a new life season as well: empty nesting.  As my four, now adult children, have begun to fly the coop heading toward their perspective college campuses, in the span of 13 days, I have gone from a full house to an empty house.

Compounding this life-changing experience is that fact that my youngest are twins.  For those who have multiples, you can relate to the fact that ever since their entrance into the world, the impact of every season of their lives has been big.  Their births filled our house instantly, and their exit has now emptied it just as abruptly.  My heart now resides on four different college campuses across the state of Texas. 

As I have learned over the past four years with my older kids entering college, the parenting of adult children has some significant challenges.  The line between helping them navigate the world ahead of them and taking control of the wheel myself is thin.  To be honest, the effects of the Corona virus and the changes that it has brought to all aspects of the college experience has only made this process more difficult.

So, what is this mama to do? 

For me, the answer is to take my children before the Lord in prayer.  In fact, I have learned that it is really the only thing that I can do.  I know from experience that when the phone calls of frustration, disappointment and loneliness come from my children, the only solace for them and me comes from the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I know from recent experience, that when the phone call comes, explaining that my freshman son, who has been on his campus for only four days, is on his way to the emergency room with a deep gash in his head, the only thing I can do, is lift his health and care to the God who cares for him even more than I do!

I’m truly grateful for the wisdom that comes from the Word of God and for the excellent resources that his people have created for those, just like me, who are navigating the storms and challenges of this season of life.  If you need some help and encouragement, I would recommend these resources:  Marked by Prayer:  A Parents’ Prayer Journal for the 2020-2021 School Year by Cynthia Yanoff, The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children by Stormie Omartian, and Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children: Trusting God with the Ones You Love by Jodie Berndt.

Today, no matter what challenges the winds of change may bring to you or to your children, remember these words spoken to the Apostle Paul by Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).  When we acknowledge our helplessness, we allow the Lord to show his strength!

Believing is not Abiding

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Every time I’m in the vineyard, God reveals more and more to me about my relationship with Him.

If we look in the book of John 15: 5, we will see that Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

The word abide, means an active commitment.  Many Christians consider their relationship with Christ as a one- time event that will automatically result in an abundant life with God.  We think to ourselves, “I asked Jesus to be my Savior.  So why isn’t my life better?  Why don’t I have joy?  Why do I have things in my life that bring me pain and frustration?” Be honest, have you ever thought this?  I have. 

Our salvation is secure after our one-time acceptance of Jesus as our Savior;  however, believing in Jesus is not abiding with Jesus.  To abide means to dwell, the same word used for a marriage commitment.  If you are married, then you know that in order to have a good marriage, you have to do more than make a one-time commitment, on one day.  A lasting relationship requires a daily, sometimes an hourly, intentional choice to love and honor your spouse.  Imagine what your marriage would be like if you and your spouse never spent time together. If you never listened to one another? If you never served one another?  You would be married to each other, but you wouldn’t be abiding with each other. And how would you feel about your relationship? What would you say about your marriage?  “Why isn’t my marriage better?  Why don’t I have joy with my spouse?  Why do I have things in my marriage that bring  me pain and frustration?

To really abide with Christ, means that every day, many times a day, we must make an intentional choice to meet with Him, to listen to Him, to serve Him, and to obey His Word.

Today, let’s do more than just believe in Christ,  let’s abide with Him!

Defender of My Heart

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Do you ever find yourself with a heavy heart?  I confess that this is where I was yesterday.  It seemed that everywhere I turned frustration and disappointment faced me.  At the end of the day, my mind was tired of trying to rationalize why people do the things they do, and my heart was burdened with sadness for relationships that are broken, and friends who seem more like foes. I found myself at the end of the day drifting deeper and deeper into a sea of “whys”.

Then, God met me this morning in His Word with a reminder,  “Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.  Let the whole world know what he has done.  Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.  Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice you who worship the Lord.  Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him.  He is the Lord our God. His justice is seen throughout the land. He always stands by his covenant-the commitment he made to a thousand generations.” (Psalm 105: 1-4, 7-8)

When I am under attack, He is my defender.  When humans fail me, His love still stands strong.  When relationships are broken, He can put them back together.

I love these words from the song, Defender,

“You know before I do
Where my heart can seek to find Your truth
Your mercy is the shade I’m living in
You restore my faith and hope again.

All I did was praise
All I did was worship
All I did was bow down
All I did was stay still”

Today, let’s not continue to drift, searching for our own way out of difficulties and darkness. Instead, let’s anchor ourselves to the Light of the World.  Instead of asking “why”, let’s worship the One who will make a way.

Our Source of Freedom

“Our Banner in the Sky”

This is one of my favorite images of the flag.  It was painted by Frederic Edwin Church at the beginning of the Civil War.

As our nation entered into a bloody and costly war, it resembled another ancient nation, Israel. These people also divided, one against the other, becoming enemies. Although these conflicts were set in different time periods, amidst different cultural situations, the divisions of these nations share a similar root.  Both Israel and America had turned from God and His truth.  They chose to worship other things: wealth and power.  As a result, God was ignored by many, and the people were oppressed by their leaders.

However, during this difficult time, the remnant of faithful believers in both nations still held fast to their trust in God.

Israel’s psalmist records, “Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me.  Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live.” (Ps. 43: 3-4)

For me, Church’s painting demonstrates a similar plea. America’s flag, the symbol of the fundamental values of this nation, equality and freedom, is created from the clouds and sky as a reminder to us that, even in the midst of division and destruction, the Author of Creation still guides us to uphold His truth.

Today, as we celebrate the birth of this great nation, let’s remember the true source of our freedom. May the red stripes be a symbol of Jesus’s blood, shed so that our sins could be washed white as snow.  And may the stars in the field of blue, draw our attention toward the heavens to our Great Creator, God!

Relationships or Rules?

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I’m so grateful that God doesn’t expect perfection, but rather He values a willing heart!

After generations of disobedience and idol worship, King Hezekiah led the people of Judah to repentance.  He cleansed the Temple and revived the religious festivals.  The people came with their offerings, but had failed to purify themselves according to the laws that had been given during the time of Moses.

 Hezekiah went before the Lord on behalf of the people, “For Hezekiah said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon those who decide to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors, even though they are not properly cleansed for the ceremony.” And the Lord listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30: 18-20)

God accepted Judah’s imperfect offering because He understood their desire to return to Him.  They didn’t know the law, but God didn’t hold their ignorance against them. 

Jesus modeled the same attitude.  He healed on the Sabbath and ate with unclean people.  He chose to put relationship-building over religious rules.  As a result, God’s grace and compassion were extended to all.  

Today, let’s act like true followers of Christ, choosing to put love over legalism.

The Master

Some of my favorite moments at our vineyard are sitting on the porch in the mornings, watching the sun rise or sitting around the fire pit at night, looking at the vast expanse of the stars. Out there, all of God’s creation comes into a sharper focus.

I am reminded of this when I read so many of the scriptures like this, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world”. (Psalm 19:1-4)

Artist, Leighton-Jones, defines a Master as “a visionary capable of materializing his own vision while currently expanding our own.”

God is the Master of all creation! His voice spoke the world into being, and through every created thing, He expands our vision and understanding of Him.

Today, stop for a moment or two and take in the glorious creation of the divine Master artist! When you look at it, what does it say? What does it tell you about Him?

When Dreams are Deferred

Do you find yourself doubting God’s timing? Are you waiting for a promise from God to be fulfilled? Do you have dreams that are being delayed? Are your hopes beginning to crumble? Has your disappointment made you give your role in God’s plan to someone else?

In the ancient world, infertility was seen as a curse and one of the most shameful experiences for a woman. The book of Genesis records the story of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who was barren. God made a covenant with Abraham, promising to make him the father of many nations. Abraham believed that God would fulfill this promise, but over time, Sarah began to doubt.

Concluding that God must have another method in mind, Sarah turned to a common practice of her day and offered her maid, Hagar, to bear a child for her husband. You see, she gave up on God, and as a result, Sarah allowed another woman to walk in the place that God had meant for her.

However, Sarah’s choice to follow her own plan did not keep God from fulfilling His. He opened her womb, and Isaac, the child of promise, was born.

Like Sarah, our intervention can never stop the will of God from being accomplished, but it does usually bring unnecessary complications into our lives.

Today, if your dream has been deferred, and your hope is barren, be encouraged by this promise from the book of Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Is Your Trust in Treasure or Truth?

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Last year, Americans spent over $32 billion on health club memberships. Worldwide, the total reached $80 billion.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, $71 billion was spent on lottery tickets in 2017.  Residents of Massachusetts topped the charts for ticket purchasing with the average person spending over $700.

Why are we pouring money into these things?  What are we hoping to get?  

Security.  An hour at the gym will secure my health.  Just one more ticket, and I’ll be set for life!

The prophet, Isaiah, warned the nation of Israel about the dangers of such beliefs, “You boast, ‘We have struck a bargain to cheat death and have made a deal to dodge the grave. The coming destruction can never touch us, for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception.’” (Isaiah 28:15)

Israel had placed its trust in the wealth and military might it had amassed.  The nation’s leaders had traded the holy covenant with God for an unholy reliance upon themselves.  They falsely believed that the strength and security they had created would keep them safe against the attacks of their enemies.  Are we any different?

Over 700 years later, Jesus, who Isaiah called the foundation of our faith, again warned the nation of Israel and all who follow Him today, against searching for security in temporary things, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6: 19-21)

Today, let’s not follow in the footsteps of Israel’s failures, instead let’s remember the true source of our security, Jesus!

Iron Chains or Velvet Reins?

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The book of Hosea presents a beautiful picture of God’s passion to pursue and protect His people.  Israel had chosen to worship other gods.  They had created idols and traded a holy covenant with God for the empty promises of sin.

Despite this, God continued to offer redemption to His people, 

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
 I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.
 She will give herself to me there,
    as she did long ago when she was young,
    when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.
When that day comes,” says the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’
    instead of ‘my master.’” (Hosea 2: 14-16)

In so many ways, I am like the unfaithful Israel.  The Lord has loved me like no other.  Every minute, His desire is to bring me closer to Him.  He longs to protect me from harm and to do good for me all of my days. 

And yet, I wonder, are you like me?  Do you often see God’s love as iron chains, instead of velvet reins?

Jesus died, to take us as His bride, to love and cherish us.  However, we all too often receive His love as an obligation, instead of a gift.  We serve Him, too many times, as a begrudging slave, who has no choice but to perform the duties He gives to us. 

Today, let’s truly receive the love of God as He gives it, full of compassion. And in return, let our every thought and action be an expression of His loyalty and love.

Are You a Life-Giver?

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The story of creation, in the book of Genesis, tells us that God made Adam from the dust of the earth.  But for Eve, He took a bone from Adam.  God reached into Adam’s side and removed a portion of his rib.  While Adam slept, God created a mate for him, literally from his flesh and blood.  

Why would God use a bone from Adam?  Our bones actually produce life.  Scripture tells us repeatedly that there is life in blood, Leviticus 17: 11, Deuteronomy 12:23, and Hebrews 9:14, to list a few.  The marrow in bones is the factory of blood production supplying the body with oxygen, nutrients, and a defense system. God took this life-giving portion of Adam and created another human being.  When Adam saw her, he called her woman, a Hebrew word that means “out of man”.  She was the same, yet uniquely different.  Adam could sustain his own life through the marrow in his bones, but the woman had something more, a womb.  Woman was fashioned by God to be a life-sustainer and a life-giver!  

However, this is where the enemy enters into the story.  The woman rejected the word of God.  She chose herself over obedience to Him.   As a result, death entered into the world, and Adam and Eve were cursed and exiled from the Garden of Eden.  

Let’s skip forward through the Bible story about 42 generations to Mary.  As a young, newly engaged woman, Mary had a promising future ahead.  A stable marriage and the hope of children, this is what she and her parents had no doubt longed for.  Then, Mary has an unexpected visitor, an angel of the Lord.  He tells her that she has been chosen to give birth to God’s son, the Messiah.  What an honor and a hindrance at the same time.  Saying, “yes”, would bring about the long-awaited fulfillment of prophecy.  This child would grow up to free her people!  However, saying, “yes”, would also cause multiple problems for her.  As a virgin, who would believe that this child was not the product of an immoral relationship?  What would happen to her engagement?  She could only expect that Joseph, her fiancé, would leave her in disgrace.  Like Eve, Mary was faced with a choice.  But, unlike Eve, Mary chose God over herself!  She chose to bring life into the world, and that child, Jesus, defeated death and broke the curse that Eve’s selfish choice created.

And so, the story continues.  God has created us to bring life into this world, not just through our physical bodies, but also through our words and actions, and we have a choice to make. Will we choose our own selfish desires or will we choose to walk in obedience to God’s truth?

Today, let’s choose God and life!