What’s Holding You Back?

A while after our beloved standard poodle, Margaux, passed away, we knew it was time for another dog. However, we just didn’t have it in us to train up another puppy. An opportunity presented itself for us to rescue a four-year-old male standard poodle. And so, Remy entered our lives. When he came to live with us, we immediately noticed a lack of muscle tone and instability at times. Remy was also unable to stand on his hind legs when we supported his front legs on our shoulders. We learned Remy was confined for long periods during his early years.

What about us? How often do we put ourselves in chains? Or, confine and hold ourselves back?

What are the chains in your life holding you back?

  • Fear—you don’t want to appear foolish or you don’t want to fail
  • Insecurity—you allow negative thoughts or a poor self-image to dictate your actions
  • Circumstances—you’re busy with family or your job is demanding or the children are too young
  • Lack—you cave in to your perception of inadequate ability, education, or resources
  • Time pressures—or is it just plain laziness?

Those excuses also place the blame on someone or something else rather than squarely on our shoulders. And, we allow our excuses to cage us in and restrain us, not allowing the Lord to use us.

Scripture offers an alternative response which we glean from the imprisonment of the Apostle Paul. Imprisoned several times, including in Rome from approximately AD 60-62, Paul considered himself an ambassador in chains (Ephesians 6:20). Acts 28:16 informs us soldiers guarded Paul, and verse 20 states, “I am bound with this chain.” The custom at that time was to bind a short length of chain to both the wrist of the prisoner and the wrist of a soldier—thus providing no means of escape.

Shackled at the wrist to a guard, enduring beatings, along with his physical limitations, Paul did not allow these circumstances to hold him back. He used this situation to promote the gospel.

Philippians 1:12-14 (NIV) describes Paul acknowledging his chains with furthering the kingdom, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

During that era, it was common practice to write letters with the assistance of a scribe. Envision Paul sending for a scribe, pacing in his cell while chained to his guard, with the clanging of chains, as he’s dictating his letters. During his imprisonment in Rome, Paul wrote what are known as “The Prison Epistles”—letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Even though Paul dictated his letters to a scribe, he wrote the final greetings, a trademark of his letters, in his own hand. Imagine the reverberating clink and clank of Paul’s chain, tethering him to a guard, as he clumsily signed his letters. Letters that would be added to the canon of Scripture.

Remy’s previous owners had held him back, and our hearts filled with joy when we watched him running in the back yard, playing fetch, and growing stronger every day. He just needed release from the captivity of a cage.

Father God, Allow me to make the most of what I have and not allow excuses to constrain me. I don’t want chains holding me back any longer. Please use me Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

Colossians 4:18 (NIV): “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”

2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV): “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

2 Timothy 2:9a-10 (NIV): “But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”

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Filed under Archived Devotions, Summer 2017

Sometimes It Takes a Long Time

Due to years of overdoing it at the local gym, my lower back developed occasional low-grade pain. During a bout of independence, because after all, I’m a strong and physically fit woman, I was maneuvering my “at the maximum allowed weight” suitcase during a plane flight to the West coast. No thanks, I didn’t need any help. My back hasn’t been the same since.

For over a year now—a year with some doctor appointments, an MRI, a few medications, and physical therapy—this pain has been my faithful companion. Sadly, I had to give up the gym and put away the golf clubs, but my two-fold exercise instructions include a good deal of walking. I love to walk, and I soon found myself chalking up great distances and feeling some improvement. Conversely, the second treatment portion involved physical therapy, and in my mind, was boring. Plus, I didn’t see it was doing much good. All those stretches and gentle exercises when I’d rather be out and active—so I tapered off from doing them. As you may have guessed, the pain intensified until I finally hunkered down and got serious about the physical therapy routine. Now every morning I faithfully perform the stretches. The progress is snail-like slow and has gone on for a prolonged time, but my pain is currently minimal. I’m learning:

Perseverance and patience work in partnership.

Patience can mean forbearance and long-suffering. Perseverance requires discipline as you work for something despite the difficulties. Unpopular words in a culture which desires instant results. None of us like to suffer, and even more so if it’s for a lengthy period.

God’s Word has much to say about enduring and holding up. Psalm 27:14 (NIV) exhorts us to, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Did you notice this one sentence of scripture admonishes us not once, but twice, to wait for the Lord?

What are you waiting for?

  • A child to accept the Lord
  • A job change
  • A resolution for a financial issue
  • A house to sell
  • An improvement in your health

As I wait, how can I be strong and take heart as scripture instructs me? By doing my spiritual exercises. Just as I have to daily do my stretches and exercises for my back, I need to stay in His Word. Diligently pouring through scripture illuminates my path of waiting. And, I’d much rather proceed in the light than in darkness.

Next, I can pray continually. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJV) simply instructs, “Pray without ceasing.” By daily remaining in a mindset of prayer and communion with my heavenly Father, I am reassured of His care for me as He surrounds me in the “shadow of His wings.” (See Psalm 17:8) As you travel through your journey of prayer, don’t forget to notice the small steps and advances along the way.

And finally, seek fellowship with other believers and be an encouragement to them who may, in turn, encourage you. Be light to a world that desperately needs to see you handling the situation with grace and dignity. Fellow Christians will lighten your load and ease the pain of the process.

Strengthening my back has been a difficult, long process and it continues to be so. I have to be patient and I have to persevere, just as many of you are doing. My prayer for you is you’ll find the answers you’re waiting for, and you will “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12, NIV) The answers may not come in our timetable and they may not always be of our choosing, but God’s intentions for us are always perfect.

Father God, I’m waiting for your answers and it seems I’ve been waiting for a long time. I ask you to pick me up when I grow weary. Please sustain me and keep me patient, and strengthen me with perseverance during this season of waiting. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

Isaiah 30:18 (NIV): “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”

Isaiah 40:31 (KJV): “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Lamentations 3:24 (NIV): “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”

Romans 8:25 (NIV): “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

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Filed under Archived Devotions, Spring 2017

It Feels Like a Tightrope Act

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42, NIV)

Viewed by many as overly organized, I like to get matters taken care of. Teaching a Bible study, writing Christian devotions, maintaining a home—all good things I easily become engrossed in. But as I’ve heard it said before,

I don’t want to be so busy working for God that I’m too busy for God.

Today’s featured scripture tells the story of Martha who was so occupied tending to preparations that she was missing what Jesus had to say. Can you envision Martha fluttering around her house tidying up, cooking food, and serving her guests? Meanwhile, Mary is sitting near Jesus soaking up his teachings. Martha was probably disturbed, but she didn’t know what else to do. So many tasks, even though I believe her deep desire was to listen to the Teacher after she readied the meal.

I have struggled with this same issue in my life, and while I don’t have it down perfectly, I’m learning. My goal is to achieve a Martha-Mary balance between doing what it takes to get ministry items done versus spending time with our Lord and other important relationships.

The balance is tricky, but prioritizing will benefit us. As Pastor Andy Stanley plainly states, “We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.”

To begin with, we need to make time each day to meet with our Lord in prayer and Bible study. Some days are smoother than others are, but God knows our intentions as we give Him our heart. Soon enough, the remainder of the day will evaporate, so let’s attempt to set aside time. Time at our desks or kitchen tables for regular Bible study. Time for prayer as we remove ourselves to a quiet spot in our homes or go on our morning walks, while remembering we can also talk to our Heavenly Father throughout the day.

Next, take time for relationships. When busyness swallows us up, and what we believe to be urgent is our preoccupation, we run over and forget people. This includes our family, our friends, our neighbors—all vital relationships. Recently I’ve had to scale back on a ministry activity because it wasn’t allowing me the freedom to nurture and sustain some friendships. Do you find yourself in a similar situation?

Finally, I encourage you to run a smooth household, but without tripping up over petty details. It keeps family members happier and in the end, frees you up. Every home is different, and you know whether it involves getting dinners on the table in a timely fashion, or keeping an up-to-date calendar, or clearing away the clutter. My encouragement is to get it done, as over the long-term those action steps will provide additional time for you to abide with your first love—Jesus.

A certain amount of busyness seems a guarantee these days. But if we become absorbed in all the “stuff,” we fail to see Jesus in the midst of our lives. Such a cliché—stop and smell the roses—but how true it is. My prayer for you, and for myself, is for us to slow down and know Jesus.

Father God, Often my Martha-like actions prevent me from being more like Mary. I want to immerse myself in Your presence, but still live in a responsible manner. Please help me to achieve a Martha-Mary balance in my life which glorifies You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

Psalm 46:10a (NIV): “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV): “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

Matthew 6:33 (NIV): “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 11:28 (NIV): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

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Filed under Archived Devotions, Spring 2017

But I Made All These Plans

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)

Life was going along smoothly until one Saturday morning when my husband walked in the house holding the front page of The Wall Street Journal which announced the company he had faithfully worked at for 32 years was being “acquired” by another company. So began a roller coaster ride as we fervently worked to prepare for the worse. The Lord graciously showed us how to streamline our lifestyle and cut back on expenses, as the anticipated layoff did occur. Foremost in our minds, though, was the continual thought that we had intended to work five more years and then retire. Well, retirement came earlier than planned for us.

I found myself asking, “But Lord, I made all these plans. Now what?”

Through the years my mother-in-law often said, “Make your plans but hold them loosely.” How true I have found this, as we need to be flexible enough to change, when God steers us differently. As much as we desire being our own masters, it just doesn’t work that way. Unless, of course, we want to complicate matters.

Our Lord will change our plans so they line up with His plans for us.

When Jesus called his first disciples—Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John—they were fishermen who left everything, including their livelihood and their families, to follow him. Talk about an unexpected change of plans. For the married disciples, I always wonder what their wives were thinking.

These disciples were probably men who thought they had it all figured out, just as my husband and I did. When the Lord had other plans, though, they had to yield. Our emotions were topsy-turvy as I’m sure theirs were also. Some days it felt as if someone was pulling our foundation out from under us, but I confess there were also days when I had a sense of relief. God provided a picture of release from the crazy, corporate world which dictated a lot of travel and where it was always about the bottom line.

From this we trusted God had something different for us. The remainder of our years was to be devoted more to ministry, service, and others. True to the key verse in this devotion, God was indeed determining our steps, even though we had planned a different course in our hearts. We didn’t see it then, but we’re gaining a glimpse of it now.

Our Lord desires His followers to submit and commit our intentions, so He may refine us in accordance with His will. As intimidating as our early venture into retirement was, God gave us direction in showing us where to relocate to, providing some interim part-time jobs, and allowing us both to have fruitful ministries. God is good; He knew all along we were to retire early and what it would look like.

Father God, I’m thankful you look at all the plans I’ve made and you smile. Sometimes you might even laugh. I humbly submit my agenda to you and ask you to direct it and mold it to reflect your will and desire for me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Bible Truths:

Proverbs 19:21 (NIV): “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

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Filed under Archived Devotions, Spring 2017

No Thanks, I’ll Do It Myself

Perhaps you enjoy entertaining and having guests into yourhome for dinner. When asked if they can assist by bringing a side dish or dessert, you reply, “No thanks, I’ve got it.” Or, you’re the type of woman, who in your bullheadedness, thinks, “I can manage this giant suitcase on my own,” only to realize you’ve just thrown your back out—again. Or, you find yourself sinking under the weight of a habit, but you don’t want any help, don’t want anyone to know, and so you attempt to tackle it on your own. Pride once more rears its ugly head.

Taking matters into our own hands is like attempting to fold a fitted sheet.

These everyday examples, many from my life, are just a snapshot of what may be going on spiritually. Scripture is clear about pride and the necessity of working alongside others. Proverbs 11:2 (NLT) gets right to the gist of it stating, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Ouch.

Sometimes suffering from what I refer to as the “martyr complex,” we often think no one will carry it out as well as we can. Or in the same manner we would. Consequently, we proceed in our own strength. Pride is an issue affecting each one of us and goes all the way back to the fall of Satan and the temptation of Eve.

Ezekiel 28:17 describes the downfall of Satan, once a guardian angel on the holy mount of God (see verse 14 of Ezekiel 28), due to his pride in his beauty and wisdom. “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.” Similarly, Eve’s conceit expelled her and Adam from the Garden of Eden for believing Satan, who was in the form of a serpent, that by eating the fruit from the tree she would gain wisdom and be like God.

In our pride, not only are we not recognizing and yielding to God, but also we’re not accepting help from our friends and loved ones. We’re relying only on ourselves, on our self-sufficiency.

Ephesians 4:16 (NIV) clarifies God’s design: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

I have the privilege of co-leading a women’s Bible study, and since we have a large number in attendance, I marvel at how we execute the logistics. This study incorporates women with varied talents, each using her unique gifting, and assisting in assorted roles. United as one to serve the Lord in teaching and proclaiming His Word, our Bible study illustrates God’s teamwork approach.

No woman can do it by herself, as God’s intent is a unified body. Will you join me in taking that helping hand, and extending one, in turn, to others? We’re not created to go it alone.

Father God, I stand convicted of my prideful ways. I mean well, but I realize I need to humble my attitude and submit to your plan. Please help me to step back from myself and accept help when needed. Thank you for creating me as a purposeful part of your body of believers.

Bible Truths:

Psalm 121: 1-2 (NIV): “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 (NIV): “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, [her] friend can help [her] up. But pity the [woman] who falls and has no one to help [her] up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Romans 12:3b (NIV): “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment ….”

Romans 12:4-5 (NIV): “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

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Filed under Archived Devotions, Posts, Spring 2017