Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Giving Thanks

"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." -1 Thess. 5:16-18

It's that time of year again...one of my favorite holidays is here! I love the Thanksgiving holiday. It has always been special to me. It's a time when we intentionally slow down and gather together to remind ourselves and to share with each other what we are thankful for.

We really are so blessed! Yet in the midst of the challenges, stress, or craziness of life, it's easy to forget how much we have to be thankful for. Paul's words to the Thessalonian Christians remind us that it is in fact God's will for us to give Him thanks in ALL circumstances. That's not always easy...but having a specific day set aside to practice thanksgiving is a good way to help us.

I think the reason we can give thanks in ALL circumstances is because of who God is, all He has done for us, and all He has promised us. Without those three things, it would be impossible to be thankful in ALL things. But with this wealth of goodness we've been given, we always have reasons to give thanks.

So for me today, in the midst of frustrating circumstances, uncertainties, and physical weakness...
*I give thanks to God that He is with me, He loves me, and He delights in me.
*I'm thankful to God for the amazing people in my life.
*I thank God that He never fails to provide for me and take care of me.
*I give thanks for God's Word, which gives life, wisdom, and peace in every circumstance.
*I'm thankful for the little things we so easily take for granted - a pillow for my head, food to eat, clean clothes, and technology that allows me to keep in touch with friends around the world and to share this blog post.

This list could be much longer...I have so much I am grateful for today. I'm thankful for you, my friends who read this blog. I'm thankful for the ways God is working in your life. I'm thankful that one day we will share eternity together with Jesus - in perfect circumstances! =)

I hope you are encouraged this Thanksgiving by remembering who your God is, all He's done for you, and all He has promised you. Regardless of your circumstances, you are blessed!

I'd love to hear about something you're thankful for today. If you want to, you can share with us in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving dear friends!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Preaching To Myself...

Several years ago I wrote the words below. At that time, I thought I had learned this lesson. I thought I was pretty good at following God wherever He would lead me without fear… (funny, right?).  

Many years, a few traumatic experiences, and several faith-testing lessons later – I feel the need to preach this message to myself once again. So I’m sharing it here, to remind myself, and to encourage you, if you’re feeling in need of this truth today as well. 

Grace and peace,
-Joanna


Safest Place

I was eleven when my mom decided God wanted us to move to Colombia, South America, as missionaries. Some people thought she was crazy. A widow taking four kids to a drug-lord and guerrilla-infested country… What was she thinking?

I’ll never forget what she said to us: “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Wherever God wanted us to be was the safest place for us to be, even if it was Colombia.

Proverbs 10:29 says, “The way of the LORD is a refuge for the righteous.” That doesn’t mean if we follow God we’ll never experience any harm or problems. It means that when we walk in God’s way, we know that whatever happens is part of His plan for us. He will take care of us. He will be our Refuge. 

What does it mean to be in the center of God’s will? It means we obey what God has taught us in His Word, the Bible. It means we take all our decisions and choices to God in prayer. We wait for Him to show us what He wants us to do. Then we follow where He leads us. 

God already knows everything about my life, and yours. He knows what we need and what is best for us. When we choose God’s way instead of our own, we can have confidence that we’re living the best life possible. 

Whether it’s going to a foreign country, changing jobs, or walking next-door to help a neighbor – the safest and best place to be is where God wants you to be. 

No matter what happens, don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from following the God you do know. He loves you, and He is with you.

What is God asking you to do that seems scary to you? Remember, He is your Refuge, and His will for you is the safest place to be. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tender-ized

My mom is a great cook. One of my favorite things she makes is chicken fried steak. When I used to help her cook, usually my job was to prepare the meat. I would lay the pieces of steak on a cutting board, and then I'd take the steak hammer and "pound, pound, pound...whack, whack, whack." Then I'd flip the piece of meat over and "pound, pound, pound...wham, wham, wham."

It's a noisy process, and it takes energy and arm muscle to keep pounding over and over again. But the result was that the meat would be tenderized. Eventually my mom would say, "That's enough." Then she would take the meat, cover it in flour, and fry it. Frankly, I think I had the harder job. =) But once the meal was ready, the hard work was worth it as we ate the tender steak.

If you've ever cooked a meal like this, I'm sure you'd agree that the difficult process is worth the delicious result.

Sometimes in life it's hard to see or remember that the difficult process will be worth the result.

For many months it felt like God had me in a process of what I'd call "tender-izing." Sometimes I felt like that piece of steak - with those little knobs on the steak hammer pounding here, there, and everywhere.

It hurts. It's hard. And when it finally feels like there might be a break, it's often just a pause before the pounding starts again on the other side.

Maybe you've felt like this too. Maybe you've wondered why things have been so hard for so long. Maybe you've questioned God's love for you. Maybe you've tried to run away from the "tender-izing."

If so, I want to encourage you and myself today. Our heavenly Father holds every tear we cry, He hears every prayer we speak or even think, and He gives us every breath we breathe.

God still loves us.
He still wants our best.
He is still in control of everything.
He still works all things for good.
There is a worthwhile result.

In the midst of the difficult process, I realized that the "tender-izing" actually had made my heart more tender.

In those moments when the pain would wash over me and tears flowed, I didn't think only of myself. I thought about others who were hurting. My heart filled with compassion for them. I prayed for them. I sent an encouraging message or let them know I was thinking of them. Somehow in the difficult process, in the midst of my own pain, God gave me more of His tender mercy for others.

And even when I cried out and told God how much it hurt, I knew that He understood. I knew that in the fellowship of Jesus' suffering, He was drawing me nearer to His heart. And I want to be close to Him. My heart longs to hear His voice, receive His comfort, experience His healing touch, and grow in intimacy with Him.

Maybe you prayed for a tender heart without knowing it might require a "tender-izing" process. No, the process isn't fun. It hurts. It's hard. But the result of a tender heart toward our Savior and others is beautifully worth it.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." -2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Remembering The View

Hello friends! I am so very sorry that it’s been months since I’ve blogged here. This year has been full of surprises…some really difficult and challenging, and others amazingly wonderful! It’s been quite a journey. I’m hoping I can start blogging regularly again, and I thank you for your patience and prayers.  

After traveling thousands of miles this year, I’m currently in FL. Even though I’m at “home,” most days I still feel like I’m not exactly sure where I am or where I’m going. I know my heavenly Father knows both of those things, and He is faithful. So I’m trying to live one day at a time and trust Him for each next step. I keep asking Him for a clear vision for the future – some picture or view of where it is He’s leading me. 

Today I was looking back through pictures of my time in Europe. Oh how I miss those views! The mountains are breathtaking in many places I visited. I’m thankful I have the photos to look at and to remind me of the incredible experience of seeing those places with my own eyes. There’s something special about standing in the midst of such beauty and soaking in the view.

On the border of Austria and Slovenia

So much of our lives it seems our view is only of what is right in front of us – traffic, laundry, grocery store aisles, office cubicle…. Our daily view may seem uninspiring, discouraging, painful, or overwhelming. It helps me to look back at photos of majestic mountains. But even that doesn’t solve my difficulties today.  

While thinking about this, I read this passage in Romans:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” –Romans 5:1-2a (NIV)

Because of Jesus we have so much! We have peace with God. We have been justified – declared righteous, holy, and pure! And we now stand in God’s grace. We stand in the presence of God, in the courts of heaven, surrounded by beauty far beyond what we can imagine! That is our place. And that is our view. 

We now stand before our awesome, perfect, loving God as – beloved, perfect, alive, free, beautiful! Oh how I want to see myself this way. And how I want to see my life from this view. 

When my daily view begins to take too much of my attention, I know God wants me to remember this heavenly view. God has given us His Word to teach and remind us who He is, who He says we are, where we stand, and where we are going. This view is what helps us live out each day here on earth. 

Whether I’m in Austria or FL, the truth is that I am standing in God’s grace – His divine favor. I am loved, I am blessed, I am complete – in Jesus my Savior.  

Time for me to go soak in that view…. 


*Do you have a photo of yourself in a beautiful place with an amazing view? Try placing the photo where you’ll see it everyday, and let it remind you of standing in your place of grace with that heavenly view. =) 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Journey

Hello friends! I hope that 2019 has been going well for you. It's been a bit of a roller-coaster for me, so I apologize that I haven't kept up with blogging. Here's today's post, about this journey of life...enjoy! 


I've traveled a lot in the last six months... 

I've flown east to west, south to north, and back again. 

I've driven down old familiar roads that brought back memories, both happy and sad.

I've braved new roads and seen new views that filled me with wonder.

I've missed turns, had to reroute, and gotten lost...a lot. 

I've explored new places and experienced both delights and challenges. 

I've reconnected with old friends and had great times! 

I've made many new friends and been so blessed by them.

I've made plans, and changed them, and changed them again. 

I've woken up a few times not knowing which house, city, or state I was in. 

I've cried sad tears and happy tears in the same day.

I've complained to God about various things on this unusual path. 

And I've watched God do miracles for me again and again.

One day I was driving in a familiar place, but down a new road. Instead of the highway, I was on a little back road. As I wound through hills and valleys, I was captivated by the beauty around me, with the sun shining on me through the peaks. I wanted to stop and drink in the moment. It felt like I'd discovered a treasure...one that really wasn't far away, hidden just a step beyond the ordinary pathway. 

But I had a schedule to keep. No time to stop. I knew I probably wouldn't get to drive that little road again. So I tried to fix the moment and the beauty in my mind. As I did, the Lord began to speak to my heart. 

This life is a journey...
Sometimes we walk the same familiar roads, either happily or wearily. 
Sometimes God puts us on a new path, and we have to learn new things and trust Him to lead us each step.
Sometimes we get lost, and have to turn around, and reroute, and remember that God's grace covers us every moment. 
Sometimes our plans get changed, again, and again...until we don't know what to do next.
Sometimes we lose sight of the view around us and can only see the ground in front of us. 
Sometimes God leads us to hidden treasures that renew our perspective and refresh our souls. 
Sometimes we appreciate more fully the beauty of where we are now because of the barrenness of where we have been. 

As I drove that little back road, I thought about this journey of life...that's so hard, and amazing, and painful, and bewildering, and beautiful. 

And I wondered, "How do we do it well?"

Then I heard God say, "Don't be afraid." 

Don't be afraid? Is it that simple? Yes. And no. It is simple and profound truth. It's not easy to do. 

"Don't be afraid." 

Don't fear the unknowns. Don't fear the challenges. Don't fear the pain. Don't fear the changes. Don't fear the failures. Don't fear the losses. Don't fear the gains. 

Yes, there will be all those things...especially the gains. Because our God is with us on the journey. He is giving to us every step. He is using every detail to form the bigger picture. He is sovereign over all. He is good. He is faithful. He is keeping and will keep His promises, as He works out His eternal plans and purposes for each of us. 

This life is a journey. But it's not about getting from "here" to "there." If we seek an easy journey, we'll miss out on what really matters. 

The journey is about the process, and the people, and the beauty, and the miracles, and the transformation...and the glory of God. 

Each new day we have the opportunity - in the power of the Holy Spirit - to reject the fears and to embrace the journey with Jesus. 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” –Isaiah 41:10


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Immanuel

"Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,' which translated means, 'God with us.'" -Matthew 1:22-23

Immanuel - God with us.

So simple...yet so profound.

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It's an astounding mystery that God became a man - and not just a man, but a baby. Jesus embraced the full experience of humanity - from birth to death, so that He could truly be with us in everything. There's nothing we go through that He doesn't understand.

Jesus left heaven and God's glorious presence, so that He could bring us a taste of that heavenly glory. In all we go through, we are not alone. More than that, we have the Light of heaven present and shining in our lives - making sense of things that otherwise don't make sense, giving meaning to things that seem meaningless, and bringing hope when things seem hopeless.

All because of Immanuel - God with us.

I hope we are filled with wonder anew at this incredible gift! God is with us. Always.

Thank you Jesus! Happy Birthday to you!

Merry Christmas dear friends!