Each One is Unique

This is a devotion I posted in 2013. In light of the current cultural chaos, I think we would do well to apply this not only to ourselves, but to everyone. God created all of us for a purpose, let’s embrace our calling and allow all those created in God’s image to do the same.

The scriptures are full of examples showing us that God was intentional in making each of us a unique creation. Just look at the folks in the Bible stories. They are all very different. Each one was created for a specific purpose that God planned in advance.

Sometimes it’s easy to be caught up in the comparison game where we look at others and wonder why we weren’t made more like them. We are not just tempted to look at the outward appearance; we also compare talents and abilities. We might be tempted to ask God why he didn’t make us smarter, more outgoing, more organized, less sensitive, more confident, slimmer, taller… the list goes on and on.

We’ve heard the verses in Psalm 139 often. We may even have them committed to memory. Verse 16 says Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” God had our future designed for us before we were fully formed. He knew exactly what he created us to do.

Jeremiah 1:5 tells us that God already knew what Jeremiah was going to do before he was even created. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah was designed for a special purpose and God was thinking about that purpose when he was creating Jeremiah. Much like a craftsman knows what his project will be used for even as he’s cutting the wood. He doesn’t just cut all the wood the same way. Each project has specific dimensions that are required depending on the final purpose of the finished project.

Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we too have a specific purpose. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

I believe Dr. Seuss had an understanding of this truth and put it so simply when he said, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”

When God was finished making you, He was pleased with what He had done. He sat back and smiled at his creation. He loves who you are!

Having Done All, Stand

Some days are just hard. Sometime it’s weeks, months, or years that are difficult. That’s why Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God and stand. When we have done everything we possibly can in our own strength and can’t go on for another minute, God is there to keep us standing.

There are times when He miraculously resolves an issue we are facing but most times He chooses to walk us through it…and not around it.

Ephesians 6:13 says, “For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.”

And I love how it’s put in this paraphrase version.  Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.”  (The Message)

God has equipped us with all that we need to win every battle. When you feel that you are at the end of your strength remember that the source of your strength is limitless. God never runs out of strength so that means you won’t either. I like that part of the verse that says, “take all the help you can get.”  God has also put you in a community of believers who will stand with you in your most difficult times. Allow God to use them to help you stay standing. And when they are facing a battle, return the favor.

Reasoning With a Toddler 

Have you ever tried to reason with a toddler? They have a very narrow perspective.  At their stage of development it’s all about them.  They aren’t really capable of understanding the complicated reasoning that is sometimes required to make grown-up decisions. All they know is they want it their way and they want it now! And if they don’t get their way the scene can get pretty ugly. And as they get a little older, they demand to know “why?” It might be tempting to say something like “because I’m the mom!”

I wonder if that’s how we look to God sometimes. How often He must feel like he’s trying to reason with a toddler. We don’t take no for an answer, we don’t trust his wisdom and we ask “why?” all the time.

Perhaps that’s what prompted the Lord to give us these words:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)

I believe the Lord would encourage us to take a step toward maturity and learn to trust Him as our Heavenly Father. He knows what is best for us. He knows when things need to happen in our lives to help us grow spiritually healthy and strong. Are we willing to let him lead us without always demanding He answer all of our  “Why? ” questions?  Can we trust that He understands even when we don’t?

It’s not easy, but if we just toddle toward Him, one step at a time, we can be sure that He’s waiting with outstretched arms. He will help us, steady us, and lead us. He is the perfect parent!

There is Only One Who Can Truly Multitask

Are you good at multitasking? According to research done at Stanford University in 2009, the answer would be no. Their conclusions were that we don’t really multitask, or do more than one thing at the same time. What we actually do, is try to focus on more than one thing only to have our brains jerk back and forth between activities. This causes us to be less productive at everything and defeats the purpose of multitasking all together. Our brains are wired to concentrate on one thing at a time in order to do it well. We sacrifice quality for quantity every time.

So, let’s apply this on a spiritual level for a moment. While it is a good practice to try to be conscious of God throughout your day, in the midst of all your other activities, it isn’t the same as setting aside time to just focus on the Lord and nothing else.  God wants us to take time to make Him our central focus, our top priority. You have surely experienced what it’s like to be talking to someone who is doing a zillion other things at the same time and you eventually realize that the conversation is getting nowhere. They really aren’t paying attention; they have too many other things jerking their attention back and forth. God wants us to stop our frantic lives for a time apart with Him on a regular basis. It’s the way He has chosen to speak truth and life into our spirits and if we miss it, we miss something profoundly important to our growth and effectiveness in God’s kingdom.

But let’s shift perspective for just a moment. Do you realize that God isn’t wired like us in this area? He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He is the Master when it comes to multitasking. He is all powerful, he knows all things, and He is able to be everywhere at once.  He is never spread too thin, He never has too much on His mind to pay attention to your cries, and He is with you wherever you go.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:27-31 (NASB)

Doesn’t it make sense to set aside time to spend with the One who always gets it right? He has the answers you need and is waiting to share them with you.

Do We Try to Customize God?

We live in a world where we have a zillion options. When I was growing up, we were excited to see a new store open in our shopping center. Baskin Robbin’s 31 flavors. Imagine! 31 flavors of ice cream!

Today we have endless ways to create our own customized lives. We can choose what car we drive, in what color. We can decide how our homes are decorated, what kind of diet we prefer, what kind of phone to buy and what type and color of case for that phone. Recently, I got an email from my bank saying my card was expiring and did I want to choose a new picture to customize my new card? I did. My new card will now have a picture of a golden retriever—my idea of the perfect dog, by the way.

Since we have all these choices, we may be tempted to allow that freedom— to choose exactly how we want things—to carry over to our relationship with God. At first we might deny this. We might say we are happy to yield to God in all areas of life since we’ve given our lives to Him. But are we really happy to let Him do all the choosing?

How about Psalm 98:4 that says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” But I’m an introvert and don’t feel comfortable being demonstrative, especially in church. God understands that, since He made me, right?

Or how about 1 Peter 3:4 that says, “But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. But I’m an extrovert and have a need to be outgoing and sometimes noisy. God understands that, since He made me that way, right?

Perhaps we should conclude that God, in fact, made us exactly the way He planned, and then intentionally asked us to do things outside our comfort zone. Hmmm. Kind of uncomfortable, isn’t it?

We take all these personality tests, Enneagrams, compatibility quizzes, and skills surveys, and we think we have come up with our “true” selves. Perhaps there is some truth to the conclusions we draw, but there is something very important that we must accept. Just because we know ourselves so well, we still don’t have permission to take God’s word and pick and choose what applies to us. We cannot customize God or His word. He says what He means and there are no exceptions based on our preferences.

We may think that all our choices, the ways we make our lives our own, are harmless. Aren’t we just trying to make this life as pleasant as we can? Is that really wrong? But if you want the truth—letting God do the choosing will bring us joy beyond measure. After all, He knows us better than we know ourselves. That doesn’t mean that you have to ask God what color car to drive but I’m sure you’ve had times when you thought you had no choice and God gave you exactly what pleased you.

My challenge to you is that you take a moment to sit quietly with the Lord and ask Him where you have been justifying your own preferences instead of desiring to be obedient to God’s direction in His word. You will be blessed. I promise.

“How happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk according to the Lord’s instruction!  Happy are those who keep his decrees and seek him with all their heart.” – Psalm 119:1-2 (CSB)

It’s Just a Mole Hill After All

You can find lessons from God in the most surprising places. And sometimes when you least expect it, God says something profound.

One weekend, I went with the family to experience a night hike in a nature park near our home.  We arrived early enough to spend a few minutes with Cliff, who would be our guide on our walk through the dark woods in the middle of a very heavily populated part of Florida. Not much open space around here, unless it’s water. In fact, you wouldn’t even know the park was here unless you were looking for it. A well-hidden secret.

God sometimes hides things from us too. Sometimes he makes us look for the treasures of this life. He doesn’t just hand things to us; we have to seek them out.  I wrote something about God’s hide and seek  a while back. If you’d like to read it you can do so here.

Before our hike, Cliff showed us some owls and other birds they care for at the park. We also saw peacocks, which is always a treat. We learned some interesting facts about some of God’s amazing creations.  Finally, it got dark enough to head out on our walk. We meandered through the woods, adjusting our eyes to the darkness as the sun set in the distance.  We arrived at a viewing dock over a small lake. As we spotted bats swooping in the air, someone pointed out that we were being watched.  Sure enough—in the water, at just the right spot where the fading light was still reflecting off the water, we saw an eye and a snout barely above the surface.  An alligator was quietly observing us.  We were in no danger, but it was a little unnerving to feel him watching us.  I again marveled at how there was so much hidden that could only be discovered by paying close attention.  God’s treasures were everywhere.

There was one point, as we were walking along a boardwalk, that  I overheard a conversation between two of my grandchildren. My grandson pointed beyond the railing and said, “Look, there’s a monument.”     My granddaughter, who had been listening to the guide, said, “That’s the storm sewer.” She was right. It was a concrete structure, perhaps two feet high, with a manhole cover on the top.  Her brother shrugged and said, “Well, to an ant, it’s a sky scraper.”

When he said it, I just thought it was a funny comment. But as I thought about it, I concluded that he was pointing out something I need to learn. We rarely notice that our perspective has everything to do with how we live our lives. From the ant’s perspective, that structure truly was huge. But from our perspective, it was nothing significant at all.

God has been trying to teach me this very thing.  The issues that I face sometimes appear like mountains that I cannot hope to get beyond. But from God’s perspective?

Nothing but a molehill.

Have you ever stepped on a molehill? They have no actual substance at all. With the slightest bit of pressure they disappear, sinking into the ground where they came from.

If you ask Him, God will show you that some of the things you think are mountains are really just molehills to Him.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”Mark 11:23 (NASB)

Turning Your What If to Even If

If you are familiar with the story of the fiery furnace in the third chapter of Daniel, you will recall the speech that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego made to the king. When asked what god was able to deliver them, they said, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)

In times of uncertainty, we can often go down a dangerous path of “what if?” We can look at our circumstances and begin to wonder what if I lose my job? What if I get sick? What if someone I love dies? What if…

Usually the “what ifs” in life begin as fear. That little unsettling suggestion that things may not be going in the direction we want. Then the fear grows and we wonder what will happen if things go from bad to worse.

The men in the story in Daniel were facing certain death unless God did something miraculous and QUICK. But they didn’t focus on the problem, they voiced their unwavering faith in the God who was able. BUT they also understood that God might choose to allow them to die. Either way, they were not moving from their position of faith.

My husband and I have had several conversations about how these verses apply to our lives. And not just recently. Yes, this pandemic has brought this up again, but we have faced this moment many times during our four decades together. The most recent was 3 years ago when Randy was diagnosed with cirrhosis.

For nearly 2 weeks I spent the days with him in the hospital, getting more bad news with each day. It wasn’t just the failing liver, it was a steady stream of additional complications. One day it was learning that he also has a clotting disorder. Then it was learning that as a diabetic, he would now become insulin dependent because his liver could no longer process the oral meds that had been working. Then he developed vertigo and couldn’t get out of bed. Each evening I would leave the hospital and drive through the dark streets alone. I would cry out to God to do a miracle but each time I arrived home, I would conclude my desperate prayers with the same conviction those men feeling the heat of that furnace had.

My prayer would end with “even if… ” I would surrender what I could not control to my God who I knew was much wiser than I will ever be. I had learned over decades of walking with the Lord that He is always with me no matter what my circumstances.

And now, 3 years from those challenging days, we are facing a new challenge because Randy is at very high risk from COVID-19. We have had those conversations again about “what if?” And we have come to the same conclusion.

Even if one or both of us contracts this virus, our trust in our God remains the same. We will be made well through whatever means God chooses. Perhaps a miracle, perhaps a long difficult recovery, or perhaps an invitation to see Jesus face to face.

If you are feeling fearful and asking too many “what if” questions, take your fears to God. He is the answer to all your questions. He knows His plan for you and He has never been distracted. Put your trust in His perfect ability to take care of you and your loved ones.

“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.” – Isaiah 26:3-4 (NASB)

Slow Enough to Notice the Details

Until a month ago, life on earth was cruising along at breakneck speed. Everyone was in a hurry. No time to stop and rest, no time to pause and ponder, no time to be grateful.

Then suddenly, the breaks screeched and we all came to a standstill. Then the waiting began. We heard people saying how they couldn’t wait to get back to normal. Adults expressed how bored they were, forgetting how they had counseled their children in times past to “use their brains and find something to do.”

The Lord actually began teaching me these lessons several years ago. I was confined to my bed for 8 weeks as I recovered from hip surgery. After I tired of watching movies and reading, I began searching for something to occupy the long days. I learned some new craft skills, started new journals, and began to notice things I hadn’t seen for a while because I had been so busy.
I remember sitting for a long time watching it snow one day. It was fascinating how the wind shifted and the snow danced its way to the ground. Who has time to watch snow fall? It’s amazing what you notice when you have nowhere to go. No time schedule, no place to be, just living on hold.

That’s what we feel like we’re doing now—living life on hold. It’s as though we’ve pushed the pause button on our remote and the TV screen has frozen in place until we can pick up where we left off. But do we really want to pick up where we left off? I don’t.

Could it be that God wants us to take time to notice our surroundings more?

I have been taking walks in the mornings and being intentional about observing things as I walk. I’ve noticed tiny little flowers that aren’t really visible unless you look for them. I’ve noticed the daily changes in the tree branches as the leaves have begun their spring growth. I feel like I’m seeing things I’ve taken for granted for a long time.

It might be a good time to begin to notice other people. We are so used to breezing by people because we have a hundred other things on our minds. Perhaps we should take notice of others now. Maybe we could be of some help to them.

When we look back on this time of isolation and limited activities, we have a couple of potential scenarios. We might remember that we learned something valuable when we surrendered to the slower pace.  Or we will remember how impatient we were, fretting about when this would be over.

In every trial we will ever face, we have the choice to set our own attitudes. Until this quarantine ends, why not choose to just rest and enjoy the pause?

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” – Job 12:7-10 (ESV)

A Fresh Perspective About Holidays

This year, we all experienced a different sort of Easter celebration than ever before. At our house, we had a simple dinner with just 4 of us. Nothing like the Easters past when we had a houseful of children, or grandchildren. After church we would do the traditional egg hunt and then we did a scavenger hunt. Each year Randy would write a series of riddles that were clues. Each child got a different color and had to follow their clues to a surprise. It was great fun to watch them racing around the house and yard to find their next clue.

No egg hunts or scavenger hunts this year. Any interaction was by phone or online. You might expect all of this to make me sad, but it doesn’t.

This is because of something God has been teaching me over the past year or so. It was confirmed the other day when I listened to a dear friend who spoke about what we might be called to “unlearn” during this strange season of pause for the world. You can listen to her devotion here. It would be well worth your time.

So what has God been calling me to unlearn? I believe it is the idea that we need things to go a certain way for holidays to feel special. This year has been a lesson in how I can celebrate holidays without my family surrounding me. For decades I have experienced a large gathering on each major holiday as well as for the many birthdays each year. With seven children, we had a birthday almost every 4 weeks for most of the year. Each celebration was a reason to gather the family—and it was usually at our house since it was the only one large enough for the whole clan.

This lesson had its beginnings earlier last year but came into clearer focus last Christmas. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Randy and I found ourselves alone on Christmas Eve. We went to the Christmas Eve Service at our church and as we walked out into the warm Florida evening, I was overcome with thankfulness. I was so grateful for the true meaning of Christmas. It was such a simple moment, but it was profound. Everything that used to represent Christmas was not evident. There was no snow, no gifts or stockings, no family gathering for a big meal and celebration. But the true meaning of Christmas was very much alive in my heart.

Fast forward to Easter. Again, through circumstances beyond our control, we were by ourselves. We rose early and listened to our pastor’s sunrise devotion, then later watched the Easter Service online with thousands of our closest friends. Then we went to take a walk and were surprised to find several dozen colorful plastic eggs decorating our flowerbeds and sidewalk. Friends had come in the cover of darkness the night before and scattered the eggs. Inside we found symbols of the Easter story.

So today I am again reminded that Easter, like Christmas, isn’t to be found in the events of the day. Instead the real joy is found in celebrating the first Christmas and the first Easter. It’s in the birth, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. And in the knowledge that He came for me.

He came for you too. Take a moment today to thank Him for coming to earth and trading His life for yours.

“He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works.” – Titus 2:14 (CSB)

Do You Have a Thankful Heart?

What if I were to tell you that I know what God’s will is for your life? Sound a little iffy?

Actually, I do. I can tell you that it’s God’s will for you to be thankful.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

That’s pretty clear. And I didn’t say it, God did.

So what does it mean to give thanks in all circumstances? We’ve heard sermons on how this doesn’t mean we are thankful FOR all circumstances, we just have to be thankful IN them. But really, what is the difference? No, we don’t have to say, “Thank you, God,” for cancer or for tragic accidents, but we can still say, “Thank you, God,” that we don’t walk through any of it alone. We can be thankful for what God will teach us as we walk through.

No, we don’t have to like what is happening, but we can still find something to be thankful for. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted, so each life circumstance has some sort of value in eternity. We might never guess what that value is as we are during a terrible situation, but God knows the value and must have decided it was worth it, or he would never have allowed it in the first place.

As I watched my mother die of cancer over an 18-month period, I had a hard time being thankful. But at her funeral, my father came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Was it worth it? I think if I could ask my mother today, as she sits at the Lord’s feet, she would say it was absolutely worth it.

How do you stay thankful when you are watching a loved one die an agonizing death? Or when a friend has lost a child? Or when a marriage has disintegrated beyond repair? God could have prevented those tragedies and yet, He allowed them. How can we be thankful?

We are thankful that God is still good. We are thankful that God is still a loving God. We are thankful that God walks with us through every step of every journey he calls us to. Life is difficult. We can easily forget to look for the things to be thankful for.

In her book, Lessons I Learned in the Dark: Steps to Walking by Faith, Not by SightJennifer Rothschild talks about how she lost her sight at 15 and how she’s learned to be thankful for her life in the 30 years since that time. She says,  “I genuinely thank God for what I do have, because it’s so much greater than what I’ve lost.”

And, Dietrich Bonhoeffer perhaps summed it all up the best when he said,” Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

Life is bittersweet at times, and we must never allow ourselves to hang on to the bitter at the expense of the sweet. Thank God today for where you are, because He is right there with you. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Be thankful for the morning!

 “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13 (CSB)