Approaching Each Day with Anticipation and Excitement

“Now your attitudes and thoughts must all be constantly changing for the better. Yes, you must be a new and different person, holy and good. Clothe yourself with this new nature”— Ephesians 4:23-24 (TLB).

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“Your Encouragement for the Week email moved me this afternoon.” This opening line in an email I recently received from a reader of my column brought affirmation when I needed it the most. I was humbled after reading the email from a reader in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I’m amazed how God uses what He has laid on my heart to reach others in countries where I’ve never been. In this instance, my reader had written about a previous column titled, “Do You Know the Most Dangerous Prayer?”

The column’s focus was about being used by God. While I don’t have the space to go into the contents of her entire email, I know God used this woman to encourage me, just as He had used my writing to reach her in her time of need.

“Walking in newness and being renewed is a daily process and a life choice.”

I’d been struggling for several months about a decision concerning my freelance writing for other publications. I was “burned out,” but concerned about giving up the additional income. I also wanted to focus exclusively on my Christian writing. Just a week prior to receiving the above email, God had heard my pleas for guidance and I’d taken that big step, giving up my other writing jobs. When the decision was made, I was filled with peace. This reader’s email affirmed what I already knew. God would take care of my finances if I obeyed Him to focus on what He has called me to do.

Why don’t we just follow the directions?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”—Romans 8:28 (NIV).

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I recall using a teaching tool to help my high school students understand the importance of following directions. At the top of the page, the first instructions were “to read everything before doing anything on the list.”

While I don’t recall all of the items on the list, some were ridiculous. Numbers one and two on the list were:

  1. Write your name in the top right-hand corner of the page.
  2. Write today’s date in the top left-hand corner of the page.

The very last on the list of approximately 20 questions was “Do only numbers one and two on this list.” Many ignored the instructions and would do each on the list, which became gradually embarrassing. For example, one of the instructions included, “Stand up and shout your name aloud.” You can imagine the red faces when those students realized they only had to do the first two things on the list. It was a great lesson in following instructions.

“Just because we know right from wrong doesn’t mean we’ll do the right thing.”

Recently, I was listening to the first in a sermon series by Pastor Andy Stanley called “Starting Over.” Stanley said, “Many of us don’t like to follow directions. But there’s a price to pay for rushing into a situation without knowing what we’re doing. We get things wrong. And by the time we go back, undo everything we messed up, and then do it correctly, we’ve wasted more time than if we’d just followed the directions to begin with.”

Are you a Grace Giver?

 I’d like to introduce my readers to Nancy Kay Grace, an author friend of mine, who has just launched her first book titled, The Grace Impact.  I hope you enjoy and will share her post with others.

graceOnce you have received the grace of God and forgiveness for your sins, what do you do with grace? In this segment from The Grace Impact (p.141-142), we are challenged to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and share it with others.

“The grace of God launches us into a life of faith when we accept Christ as Lord. We grow in our faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown in the bonfire.” (John 15:5-7, The Message)

Without the love of Jesus, joy and peace are shallow; patience, kindness, and goodness wear thin or wear out; faithfulness will turn into inconsistency; gentleness changes into harshness; and self-control diminishes. But when we position ourselves to depend upon the Lord, the fruit of His love develops in us. Gradually, the fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in our lives — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23a) The fruit matures so it can be given away and is shown when we extend the blessings of grace to others.

Unfortunately, we are sometimes stingy and withhold grace when we think someone is unworthy because of a wrongdoing. We cling to the offense instead of grasping for God’s forgiveness. When the grace of God is absent, bitterness is born. The words of Hebrews 12:14-15 tell us, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

Do You Know the Most Dangerous Prayer?

“And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you”—Romans 12:1-2(TLB).

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In May 2002, I began to pray what some call the most dangerous prayer of all: “Lord, use me.”

Each day that month, I walked down to the lake where I had been living since my 28-year marriage had ended the previous August. Sitting on a concrete picnic table overlooking the lake, I sought God’s will for the rest of my life. Each prayer ended with asking God to use me for His purposes. While I was still three years away from retirement, God was working in my heart to prepare me for the next chapter of my life.

Fast forward to April 2005 when—after nine months of arguing with God about that direction—He made it clear to me I was to leave the area where I had lived since I was 16-years-old and move to a larger community where I knew very few people. May 2005 marked the end of my 30-year teaching career and the new adventure He had planned.

What happens when we surrender our plans to Him? You can bet He will use us, as well as bless us as a result.

Born in 1870, author Lettie B. Cowman, along with her husband, left the United States in 1901 to work as missionaries in Japan. Along with other friends, they co-founded the Oriental Missionary Society as well as several Bible Training Institutes.

What is Your Life But a Mist?

“How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog—now you see it; soon it is gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we shall live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you will be bragging about your own plans, and such self-confidence never pleases God”—James 4:14-16 (TLB).

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Flowers began to bloom around town—and in my yard—before the first official day of spring on March 20. Three weeks later, some of those early blooming flowers are already beginning to fade. Those early bloomers are often some of the most spectacular, but they don’t stick around very long.

Like flowers that bloom for a short period of time, we often forget just how precious and fleeting our lives are—no matter how long it lasts. One recent afternoon, I was walking my dog through the neighborhood. As I passed a friend’s house, I greeted him and another neighbor with a wave and a hello.

James is right about life—it is but a wisp of fog.

As I continued my one-mile walk through our neighborhood, I was startled by the screaming sirens of police cars and other first responders flying past me. I began to run. I didn’t know what was going on or where they were headed. Rounding a corner, I saw the neighbor, whom I had greeted not more than 20 minutes before, lying on his driveway where the EMTs were performing CPR.

The Story Hasn’t Ended

“Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead”—(John 20:8-9 NRSV).

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Just as Jesus predicted, it happened. The story wasn’t over. In fact, it was just beginning. On that first Easter Sunday, “while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (John 20:1).

I don’t know about you, but like Mary Magdalene, I would have assumed someone had stolen the body. John tells us she immediately ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple—the one whom Jesus loved—and told them Jesus’ body was missing.

While Peter and the other disciple raced toward the tomb together, I wonder what they were thinking. Were they ready to begin a massive hunt for the body? Were they ready to fight whoever had removed Jesus’ remains? While we don’t know these answers, we know the other disciple—whom we believe is John—outran Peter, arriving at the tomb first. When he bent down to look in the tomb, he saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in.

I often wonder why this disciple didn’t enter the tomb. Was he afraid? Was he waiting on Peter?

The beauty of the Easter story is a symbol of hope, renewal and new life—and we’re invited to be a part of it.

When Simon Peter arrived, he went into the tomb. He, too, saw the linen wrappings and the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. I wonder what Peter thought upon entering the tomb. Was he as perplexed as Mary and the other disciple?

Does Jesus really understand our trials?

“Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. He said to them, ‘I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert’”—Mark 14:32-34 (CEB).

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Distressed? Agitated? Afraid? Would you use these words to describe Jesus? Most of us would not. However, in Mark 14:32-34 above, we read that Jesus experienced emotions just like the rest of us.

I’m participating, along with other church members, in a 40-Day Lent study by Adam Hamilton. In Day 10 of Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World: 40 Days of Reflection, he reminds us that Jesus was feeling what any human should feel when facing what He was going to face. “In Jesus Christ, God experienced anguish, sorrow, and suffering as human beings do.”

In Hebrews 4:15-16, Paul wrote, “For we do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but, we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Have you ever been distressed, agitated or afraid? I have. I recall a time in February 2007 when I received a phone call from the wife of my oldest son. My son was being transported by Life Flight to a Tulsa hospital for an injury he’d sustained in an accident.

My son, who is what you would describe as a “horse whisperer,” had been picking up a horse from a client when the animal spooked. Whirling around, the horse kicked, striking my son in the side of the face and knocking him unconscious. Thank the Lord, my son was not alone. A friend called 911.