Especially In Scary Places

Thank you Gwen Smith for today’s message

I couldn’t help but notice the flying shoes. Strewn across power lines all over El Salvador was pair after pair of dirty, old tennis shoes that had been tied together and strung over the wires that lined the streets. On the bus, our guide pointed them out – telling the story that those tennis shoes serve as territory markers for the violent gangs and drug cartels.

They establish boundaries and stake claim to who runs what in particular parts of town.

My heart sifted through the language, economic and cultural barriers that separated me from them. I was stirred to understand more deeply. Distressed by the implications and evil. Moved to do something. To help. To protect.

As we got off the bus in each area, the guide gave specific instructions about what we could eat and drink, the time we had for the stop, the dangers of the area and the challenges the locals were facing. I was grateful for his direction and knowledge. It helped me know what to do and how to respond. Made me feel more confident. More safe.

With the guide, the trip was far better than it would’ve been had we tried to explore the region on our own.

Psalm 48 celebrates God’s presence and showcases Him as our Security, Defender and Guide.

A good guide knows his stuff. He’s got the backstory on places you go and is able to answer the questions that come up along the journey.

A good guide stays with you, even in the scary places, and helps you see and understand the history, significance and culture as you pass through new places.

A good guide welcomes your questions, warns you of danger and points out tennis shoes on power lines.

It’s easy to feel lost and trapped by barriers of life that keep us from understanding or knowing which way to go. “For this is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.” (Psalm 48:14, NIV)

As I read Psalm 48:14, I breathe in a fresh confidence.

God is not just a good guide, but the one and only perfect Guide.

He’s the Guide I need. The Guide that walks with me along the path, offering protection and direction.

Our security and peace are amplified when we listen to and heed God’s instructions.

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!

The Solution to Restlessness


Thank you Gwen Smith for today’s message….

Truly my soul finds rest in God. ~ Psalm 62:1

 

Cammie is a children’s ministry director at her church. One day, as she was preparing for the lesson she would teach on Sunday morning, she had an idea for a fun illustration that would require a few props. She asked her four-year-old daughter to help.

“Hey, Taylor! Can you please bring me a few of the Fisher Price people from your dollhouse?”

This reply came from her preschooler who was sitting across the room…

“No, Mom. They just want to chill out. They’ve had a long day.”

So funny… yet so not funny.

My word, people! When our children’s toys need a break, you know that it’s time for you and me to hit the pause button. And, truth be told, I live smack dab in the messy middle of this tension.

The Old Testament indicates that David lived in the messy middle of it too. The Bible says that the Lord made David take a break. Yes. He made him do it. Look: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Hemakes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3, emphasis mine)

I love the way Psalm 23 verse 3 is paraphrased in The Message, “True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.”

Yes. Please.

This is the desire of my heart. That I can catch my breath and be sent in the right direction by a loving God who knows what is best.

So, I – you – we have to be intentional. Life comes at us fast. If we are not careful, the dizzy pace at which we live can unwittingly become our weakness and demise.

I know you know this. I do too and yet somehow it still trips us up.

So what’s a woman to do?

Let’s keep it real here; we have obligations. We have families, jobs, friends, communities, and churches that need us. And though this will look different for each of us in the many seasons of life, our people depend on us a ton. They should. God tells us to put our faith into action (James 2). And we must. We must mobilize the hope we have in Christ. Serve. Show love. Feed the hungry. Minister to the widows and orphans. Yes. We must be women of action.

The Bible gives a clear and compelling teaching, however, about this life-pace topic that establishes our first call to action must be focused on the Lord himself! This get-with-Jesus business is the key to us experiencing the maximum abundance that God has in store for every believer.

What it all boils down to is this: God’s BEST requires REST.

So simple… Yet so complicated.

It was Augustine who wrote, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

Let me take this one step further by breaking down what the Word of God shows us about this very thing. When we rest in the presence of God, He restores our souls. Rest is the central ingredient in the restoration we all desperately need. Just look at the first four letters of the word!

Today (and in part two of this devotion) we are going to break down R.E.S.T. as an acronym and take a walk through Scripture to see just how God’s best for you is fueled by this discipline.

R.E.S.T. {Reflect. Engage. Surrender. Trust}

It all begins with reflection. There are two parts to this: reflecting ON God and allowing the Spirit of God to work within us so that we become better reflections OF God.

REFLECT on GOD:

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago I will meditate on all Your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:11-12)

“I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to You; my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.” (Psalm 143:5-6)

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

REFLECT GOD:

“Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect Your principles!” (Psalm 119:5, NLT)

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 3:18)

Meaningful reflection leads to the soul rest we long for.

Today let this truth sink in deep: when you reflect on God, you better reflect God.

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!

A Braver, Smarter and Stronger You

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Thank you Gwen Smith for today’s message…

One of the most lovable and charming characters in the history of cartoon animation has to be Winnie the Pooh. He simply oozes adorableness and positivity.

In the movie, Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, Pooh and Christopher Robin, who are the closest of friends, have a moving conversation high in a tree where strength and love flow heart-to-heart.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN: “Oh, Pooh. If ever there’s a tomorrow when we’re not together, there’s something you must remember.”

POOH: “And what might that be, Christopher Robin?”

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

POOH: “Oh, that’s easy. We’re braver than a bee, and, uh, longer than a tree, and taller than a goose . . . or, uh, was that a moose?”

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN: “No, silly, old bear! You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is even if we’re apart; I’ll always be with you. I’ll always be with you. I’ll always be with you.”

This conversation reminds me of the conversation Jesus has with His disciples after His resurrection. He gave them new marching orders and assured them that though He had to leave, they would never be alone.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17)

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:26-27)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5, 7-8)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19- 20)

May these last words of Jesus serve as a reminder to you today that you are not alone or ill-equipped in your life. Because of this truth, you are enabled through Christ to be a woman of great courage and faith! Live like it. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think because the Spirit of God is at work within you to embolden, strengthen, and guide you.

Above all, remember this: God is with you. Always.

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!

Light of the What?

Thank you Gwen Smith for today’s message…

The hike up the mountain was a tough one. Flimsy patches of shade dangled from the trees but they were no match for the brutal Pennsylvania mid-summer heat. The rocky, three-mile vertical jaunt was only tamed by the fun being had along the way with the other camp counselors.

We talked. We sang. We laughed.

It was a week before the campers would arrive. All the counselors gathered for training that prepared us for the lessons and activities we would lead kids in all summer long. Caving was one of the optional camp activities so we went as a team of counselors to experience it before we led it.

When we finally reached the entrance of the cave and stepped down into the mouth I breathed a sigh of relief. I’d never been caving before and I didn’t know what to expect, but the benefits of “no more heat” were very appealing to me those first few minutes. We grabbed our flashlights, turned them on, filed in one by one, and began moving down the dark entrance corridor.

After I grew accustomed to the cooler temperature of the cave, I secretly got a bit freaked out by my surroundings. As passageways grew smaller and smaller and we trekked deeper and deeper into the cave, my mind flooded with questions. Is there enough air in here to support life? Who signed me up for this?What happens if we get lost down here? I have to crawl on my belly to go forward… wait, what?

Yeah. For real. It was something else.

I don’t think I’m necessarily claustrophobic, but let’s just say “comfortable and brave” aren’t the words I’d use to describe how I was feeling mid-cave. I strapped on my courage, breathed a steady stream of silent prayers, and stayed close to the friend in front of me as we followed the guide who was leading our group.

An hour or so into the spelunking expedition, he led us into a room. Yes. A room in the middle of a cave. {And, yes. I was thinking about Marshall, Will and Holly… and hissing Sleestaks and Cha-Ka. Because this is normal behavior for those of us born between 1968 and 1975.}

This inner room was big enough for the entire group of counselors. There must’ve been at least 40 of us that day. We all loaded in and chit-chatted excessively.

“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” Our guide summoned us to silence.

Giggles and conversations trailed off…

“We are in the heart of the cave. This room has no natural source of light whatsoever. Only what we have brought with us: the flashlights. It’s a darkness that is different than anything you’ve ever experienced. To illustrate this, I’d like everyone to switch off your lights.”

Gulp. Okay.

“Try to see the person beside you. You can’t. Hold your hand up in front of your face. Wave it around. You can’t see it. This is a space void of light.”

We ooohedand ahhhed,and tried our hardest to see… with no success.

Then he lit a match.

One. Tiny. Match.

And the whole room was visible.

Darkness was invaded. Conquered. Shoved back. Forced to flee and acquiesce to one itty-bitty source of light.

And he began to tell a familiar story that stirred my soul in a fresh way.

“A long time ago, on the other side of the world, on a hillside near Capernaum Jesus sat down with a group of ordinary people just like you and me. He looked them in the eye and said to all who believed…

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Then he went on to commission us for the work that lies ahead. He challenged us to be mindful of light’s impact and to go back to the campground and be that light all summer long. To the campers. To the counselors. To everyone we came in contact with.

I was gripped.

Gripped by the power of light. Gripped by this word that Jesus said describes me. IS me. Is my purpose… my calling… my commissioning – for that summer… this winter… every day.

Light.

I am the light of the world. Not because of any glittery glow of my own but because I am handcrafted, redeemed, restored, and refined by THE Light of the World who blows away any and all darkness that tries to dominate.

You are the light of the world too. And those around you in your family, your workplace, community, and even in your church are in great need of seeing an un-hidden, unapologetic light that serves and loves others in such a way that they would simply have to respond to God with praise.

Go on now… shine!

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!

Princess Problems


Thank you Gwen Smith for today’s message:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing. ` Philippians 2:14

My friend Ellen is a preschool teacher who regularly contends with entitled toddlers and privileged preschoolers who know how to major on some minors and throw down some serious tantrums.

I want the red crayon, but Tommy has it!

I’m not eating this because it has white cheese. I only like yellow cheese.

I want to go first!

I’m allowed. You’re not my boss.
Miss Ellen calls these little escapades “princess problems,” and she does her best to lovingly redirect the heart of each young complainer toward the reality of his or her blessings and toward the virtue of patience, selflessness, kindness, sharing, etc..

Hardly a day goes by that the kingdom of her kiddie classroom isn’t inundated with princess problems. The outbursts are common. Most are simple issues to address, but occasionally they can become a minefield of messy mayhem that disrupts a special moment.

As I reflect on this, it occurs to me that even though I’m adult I’ve got my own fair share of princess problems. At times I throw myself in a tizzy and worry about things that don’t need to be given a second thought. I make a big deal out of situations that do not have eternal consequences just because I might be temporarily inconvenienced or offended.

I can’t believe I have to go to the grocery store again. This is the third time this week!

It took them over an hour to change the oil in my car today. Over an hour!

The pastor’s sermon was way too long and the music was loud.

In the Old Testament, Daniel could’ve complained about his problems. But he didn’t. Not even as he faced impending death when he was thrown in a den of lions. Instead, he remained devoted to God and honored the Lord while humbly serving the king who brutally destroyed his hometown and took he, and his friends, captive to Babylon.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul endured extreme hardships during his missionary journeys. He was attacked by murderous mobs, beaten, betrayed, flogged, arrested, starved, shipwrecked three times, and bitten by a viper… all while serving God! Nice, right? Though he had every earthly reason to whine about the stuff he went through, Paul didn’t. To the contrary, he wrote a letter about joy and perseverance to encourage the believers in the church of Philippi from prison. He encouraged others instead of griping about the mess he’d been through, and in spite of the limitations he was constrained by.

Ah! Perspective.

Yes. I am a daughter of the Most High, King of kings. A noble princess in God’s kingdom with an endless and enchanting inheritance. I am not, however, entitled to grumble and complain about pithy little annoyances. Not even about big things!

Period.

Princess problems don’t fly with God. There’s no loophole.

Paul wrote about this very thing in that letter he sent to the Philippians.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.(Philippians 2:14-16a)

Imagine what our loved ones and co-workers would think if you and I actually live these verses out. If we stop complaining. If we choose to be blameless and pure worshipers who trust God’s sovereignty in the inconvenient, uncomfortable, and even the worst of times.

What would it look like for you and I to hold firmly to the word of life … to sparkle instead of spew?

Let’s make a deal. You and me. The next time we get shipwrecked in our own imaginations and begin to drown in the petty dramas of our own making, let’s straighten our crooked tiaras and ask God to adjust our crooked attitudes. In doing so we’ll move forward in the strength, dignity, and joy of Jesus.

In His grace, Jesus quiets our princess problems and purifies us to shine like stars in the sky for the glory of God.

Have a ThirtyOne-derful day!