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Friday
Feb052016

Fenced in by Love (Part 2)

In part 1 of "Fenced in By Love," we saw that God keeps and preserves His own "sheep"--the souls of those who love Him and are in a personal relationship with Him. 

Today, we're considering HOW and WHY God keeps His people.

This is important, because I (Dawn) think there is sometimes a misunderstanding when people think God has forgotten them in their difficulties. The truth is, God is always up to something beyond what we might be able to see or understand.

So let's continue . . .

3. HOW is the the Lord keeping His people?

This goes back to the words "keep" and "preserve." Does being kept by the Lord mean God's people will never suffer? No, it's clear from scripture that believers will suffer (Psalm 6:6-7; Psalm 71:20a).

The harmful effects of the Fall in Genesis 3 will touch all of us this side of heaven. We may suffer persecution and even death. But we can be steadfast in the midst of the most desperate trials (James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:6-9).

The Christian's perspective on suffering is far different from those without the Lord. Instead of fighting the testing process of our circumstances, we can ask for our Father's will to be accomplished, learn to see life's trials as a blessing as we seek His perspective, and ask Him for wisdom to proceed.

We are never left alone in this process. Our Father knows we are weak and this is an uncertain world, and we cannot fully protect ourselves.

He is "watching over the way of His saints" (Proverbs 2:8). I have no doubt, if we could lift the veil between heaven and earth, we would see His care and protection in countless ways: the car that missed hitting us, the poison we missed ingesting, the thief who somehow couldn't find our front door, etc.

Yes, many things do happen to us in this sinful world, but ...

We are proud people indeed if we think we are not in God's constant, loving watchcare.

Back to Psalm 121:7 for a moment. The tense of the word "keep" in that verse includes the future. It means God will keep us both now and forever. He is with us and helping us in our current troubles, and and He will ultimately rescue us from ALL our troubles.

God, in His perfect and loving will, may not rescue us from all our troubles in the here and now, but the Lord has promised protection from our ultimate enemy, sin (Romans 6:14). Sin no longer has the power to enslave us or determine where we will spend eternity, if we are in Christ. But we do have a choice about sin.

In other words, our future is secure in Christ, and no one can snatch us out of our Father's strong hand! (John 10:28-29); but will we trust Christ and live now under His provided protection, or will we go beyond the fence of His love and "sleep with the enemy," giving in to sin's control?

4. WHY is the Lord keeping His people?

Way back in Genesis, God told Jacob, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).

God has always watched over His people, not only because He loves them, but also to accomplish His purposes in and through them.

God absolutely has the ability to deliver His people, but it is not always His will to do so. For example, in His love He may allow a physical trial or some other trouble in order to purify us (James 1:2-3) or to show Himself strong in our declaration of faith (as happened with the patriarch, Job).

Sometimes Christians pay the ultimate price for their identification with Christ and their witness, as did the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:53). God doesn't ask everyone to make the ultimate sacrifice, but He does call us to be faithful soldiers in the battle, wherever that leads us (Ephesians 6:12-20; 1 Peter 3:15).

Romans 8:28-30 explains God's ongoing and ultimate purpose for ALL of His children (the "saints" of verse 27):

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

Our Father wants us to be like His Son; and He lovingly, faithfully chisels away anything that doesn't look like Jesus.

So we read these powerful words in verse 31: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"

  • It's not that we will escape bodily harm (v. 36)—we may even be called to martyrdom; 
  • but rather, we are "more than conquerors though him who loved us" (v. 37)—we have spiritual and eternal victory in Jesus;
  • and nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus, our Lord (vv. 38-39). We are sealed for eternity through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

No matter our circumstances, God is watching and involved with eternal purposes for our lives.

We are forever fenced in by God's love!

Are you struggling with a deep problem? How does a fresh perspective on God's purposes for you encourage you today?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is the creator of three blogs:Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry (NEWIM San Diego) and is a contracted researcher for Revive Our Hearts. She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Church graphic adapted from pixabay.com.

Chisel graphic adapted, Image courtesy of bugtiger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Thursday
Feb042016

Fenced in by Love (Part 1)

Photos of fences remind me of two things: Some things are kept out; other things are kept in.

I believe the LORD has fenced His people in with love.

In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, I (Dawn) want to encourage us with a truth we may not fully understand.

Psalm 121:7 says the Lord "keeps" His own.

The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. (ESV)

Other translations use the words "protect," "preserve" and "guard."

Over and over again in scripture, we see this:

  • "The LORD preserves all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy" (Psalm 145:20).
  • "You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance" (Psalm 32:7).
  • "The LORD protects and preserves them—they are counted among the blessed in the land—he does not give them over to the desire of their foes" (Psalm 41:2).
  • "The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him" (Nahum 1:7).
  • "And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom...." (2 Timothy 4:18).

The Psalmist, especially, cried out to God for protection and was grateful for His care. In so many scriptures, we hear: God will keep, guard, protect and lovingly preserve His own.

Yet when I look around at the world today, I see those who claim to be Christians being slaughtered on the left and right by extremist movements. It's heartbreaking.

How does this square with scripture?

We have to ask . . .

1. WHAT is the Lord keeping? Is God promising to preserve our bodies? Or is He, as we see in Psalm 97, preserving something else?

"Hate evil, you who love the LORD, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked" (Psalm 97:10).

As Matthew Henry wrote in his Concise Commentary:

"Care is taken for their (God's faithful servants') safety. But something more is meant than their lives. The Lord will preserve the souls of his saints from sin, from apostacy, and despair, under their greatest trials. He will deliver them out of the hands of the wicked one, and preserve them safe to His heavenly kingdom."

Our bodies are merely shells housing precious gifts from God: eternal souls. God says He preserves the souls of His saints.

2. WHO is the Lord keeping?

Is God keeping everyone? No, He is keeping His own, those He is making holy.

The Shepherd of the sheep knows and keeps His own flock (Psalm 23; John 10:14). "... The Lord knows those who are his..." (2 Timothy 2:19); "...whoever loves God is known by God" (1 Corinthians 8:3).

Note: the Lord just as clearly says he "doesn't know" others in the same kind of personal relationship (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus knows how to identify His own sheep. He knows those who have not trusted in Himthose who are faking it or trusting in other "shepherds."

Yes, Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the Bible, loves His sheep, and He will faithfully preserve each soul in His flock.

Tomorrow, we'll look and HOW and WHY the Lord keeps His people.

Are you part of the Good Shepherd's flock and fenced in by His great love? If you're not sure, please read this helpful post (not related to my blog).

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is the creator of three blogs:Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry (NEWIM San Diego) and is a contracted researcher for Revive Our Hearts. She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Church graphic adapted from pixabay.com.

Tuesday
Feb022016

Rethinking Single Leadership

A strong woman of purpose, Nali Hilderman encourages women—both by her teaching and in her life example—to embrace Christian leadership at all ages and stages of life. She knows this is difficult for some single women.

“If you’re feeling unimportant in your singleness,” Nali said, “I’d like to challenge you with a biblical perspective.”

When I (Dawn) was a young single woman, a Christian ministry offered me strong reasons to see my singleness as a gift from God. I'm so glad Nali is addressing that in this Leadership UPGRADE.

Nali continues . . .

While there are many examples in the Bible of women that God used—some married, some single—we should focus on obedience to Him in whatever stage of life we find ourselves.

Nowhere does the Bible indicate that your ability to make a difference for Christ and His Kingdom is dependent on your marital status. 

However, I know sometimes it can feel like you’re overlooked and unimportant in the Church if you don’t have a husband and family. 

Here are three reasons you really do matter in the Kingdom of God.

1. Rethink Leadership.

We often tend to think that leadership is about position, personality or platform, which includes certain “requirements” you may feel you don’t have as a single woman. 

The reality is, leadership is mainly about the ability to influence others, serve them and—in Christian leadership—point them towards Christ. 

These things you can do successfully, regardless of whether you’re married or not. 

“Leadership is being alive with truth and love in your sphere of influence.”

That is something anyone can do!

Focus on those God has placed in your path, and work on serving and loving them. This is the most powerful form of influence.

2. Examine and Use your Spiritual Gifts.

Just as there is nothing in Scripture that indicates the gifts of the Holy Spirit are either “male/female,” so there is no designation that some gifts are given to married people and some are for singles.

Because of this, take time to find out what your gifts are and set about using them for the edification of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:7).

You can take free online tests to find out which gifts are your strengths.*

Also, spend time studying 1 Corinthians 12 to learn what the gifts are, what their purpose is, and how each gift is important in the body of Christ.

3. Steward Your Time.

I know this sounds cliché, but as singles we often have more time on our hands than our married friends. Paul is speaking truth when he says married people are concerned with the affairs of their spouse and needs of their children, while single people are “concerned about the Lord’s affairs” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). 

I know it’s easy to spend time focusing on what we don’t have, but ask yourself, “Am I being a wise steward of the time I have now? Am I serving the Lord—using my gifts to edify the Body of Christ?”

You have the ability to make a significant impact on others during your singleness.

These are three important ideas regardless of what season you find yourself in, but they are especially challenging if you are single and feeling like you cannot have an impact for Christ.

You do matter in the Kingdom of God!

If you are single, which of these three points is hardest for you? What can you do to increase your effectiveness for the Kingdom of God?

Nali Hilderman is a professor of American history at San Diego Christian College, and Director of the college’s Dr. Henry Morris Leadership Program. She studies women’s history and Christian theology. Always seeking how to become a confident, successful Christian woman, she does not buy into the secular feminist mentality. Nali attends Journey Community Church in La Mesa, CA.

* Two free Spiritual Gifts tests are here and here.

Graphic adapted, image courtesy of pixabay.

Wednesday
Jan272016

Finish Well: Embrace Freedom

In the previous two UPGRADE posts, "Take Courage" and "Build Strength," we considered a number of ways seniors can finish well. In this final post in the series, I (Dawn) want us to consider how we can "Embrace Freedom."

In my span of 65 years, I've discovered two kinds of seniors.

One kind retires from life and fails to dream new dreams. As one such woman told me, "I'm just waiting for the rapture." You may have heard someone say that too.

The other kind grabs hold of every day, buying up the time. As one senior I know said,  

"I don't know how many days I have left on this earth, but I'm not dead yet and I'm going to drink my cup of life dry!"

The first woman foolishly sqandered many opportunities to serve the Lord. The second woman was living out Ephesians 5:15-16, redeeming time, wisely making the most of every opportunity.

I want to be like that second woman. I want to redeem the rest of my years. Because I have freedom in Christ, I want to embrace freedom and finish well.

Now I don't know what redeeming the senior years looks like to you, but here are four ways I'm going to embrace freedom in my own senior years.

First, I'm going to . . .

1. Purge the Unnecessary.

In today's culture, with so many things to buy and so many storage units to keep them in, it may not be as natural to pare down in the senior years as it used to be. To be sure, many are "down-sizing" as they get older, but others are still burdened down with too much stuff.

In our elder years, we should be simplifying our lives, purging out the unnecessary, making much of our sweet memories, and preparing for heaven!

Many problems would be helped or even solved, if we just owned a lot less.

  • We might find extra hours in our day or more money in our checkbooks;
  • We'd have a lot less housework to do—like dusting all those knick-knacks;
  • We'd eliminate a lot of stress about our stuff;
  • We'd find the calming freedom of "space;"
  • We'd be able to, perhaps, release ourselves from others' expectations (just think about the freedom of not having to keep up with the Joneses or fashion's dictates); 
  • And maybe we'd finally learn true biblical contentment.

It's not about being a minimalist. It's about becoming a wiser consumer and a better steward. It's about finding the joy of freedom. It's about not being "encumbered" and distracted by so much stuff!

If you're looking for help decluttering, there are many good books that can help. I recommend Kathi Lipp's book, Clutter Free, and Marcia Ramsland's, Simplify Your Space.

2. Use Resources Wisely.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to enjoy financial freedom in old age? That doesn't just happen. Many seniors have frittered away valuable dollars that could have been invested for the latter years.

But regardless of our past foolishness, we can still learn to be good financial stewards. There are so many helpful resources to read and apply, like Ron Blue and Jermey White's Faith-Based Family Finances; Dave Ramsey's Your Money after the Big 5-0; and numerous books and booklets by financial expert Ellie Kay.

It's not just financial resources we need to consider. I believe God wants us to walk through our homes and ask Him how we might better use the material goods in our homes. Maybe we could lend or give an item we own to someone in need. Or maybe we could sell something we have to make compassionate use of the money we generate.

Maybe there is a skill we have that could be used for the Kingdom. We could make quilts, blankets or clothing for someone in need. We could paint someone's fence or help plant a garden. We could write or edit for a financially-strapped ministry. Ask, "What can I do?" Then ask, "How can I use this, Lord?"

Another wise use of resources is considering where we might leave special financial gifts in our will for a favorite ministry or two after we pass on. (You do have a will, right?)

3. Keep on Dreaming.

As people in many walks of life have noted, when we stop dreaming, we start dying inside. If nothing else, our dreams die! And that's sad. Seniors need to keep on dreaming. Dreaming is a diamond for old age with many facets.

Part of dreaming is creativity—figuring out ways to act on our dreams and keep on contributing to our families, church and society.

Creative expression is said to benefit the elderly, promoting health and wellness. I've always admired people like "Grandma Moses" (Anna Mary Robertson Moses), the American folk artist, who started painting in earnest at the age of 78!

Dreaming also includes visionary thinking. Cam Townsend, founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, went to Moscow and learned Russian to assist in Bible translation when he was 72.

Another part of dreaming is reading and being a lifelong learner. Did you know Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes began the study of Greek at the age of 92? People no doubt wondered why he waited so long. He said, "When else would I have had the time to take it up?"

So keep on dreaming. It will keep your mind young and give you unexpected opportunities to serve the Lord.

(Lost your way and think you can't dream again? Cindi McMenamin can help—read her book, When a Woman Discovers Her Dream.)

4. Pursue New Adventures.

Related to dreaming is: Never be afraid to try something new. When I think of the word "freedom," I often associate it with the word "adventure."

There's just something exciting and freeing about going on an adventure with God!

My friend Pam Farrel has modeled adventursome living over the years. I loved Pam's book, Becoming a Brave New Woman: Step into God's Adventure for You. 

This year, "Adventure" is Pam's focus word—with perfect timing. God is taking Pam and her husband Bill on a big detour in life, but rather than sitting around and complaining about it, they are contemplating what might be right around the corner! They are on a fresh adventure with the Lord. They are anticipating new opportunities with their family and growth in their ministry together.

When we allow God to lead us as He wills, as our Sovereign Lord, we can know that all our adventures will be for our good, others' benefit and His glory.

So don't be afraid of new adventures. Embrace them! (I'm determined to run my life race, wherever it takes me, with joy! Isn't that what you want too?)

Let's FINISH WELL!

What does finishing well look like for you? What is God asking you to change in the days to come so that you can hear His words, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?

 Dawn Wilson, founder and president of Heart Choices Today, is the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry (NEWIM). Dawn is the co-author of a devotional, LOL with God, and contributed "The Blessing Basket" in It's a God Thing.She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic Adapted: image courtesy of Mike Enerio, Stocksnapio.com.

Monday
Jan252016

Finish Well: Build Strength

In the last post, "Finish Well: Take Courage," we considered four ways to become a more courageous person in the second half of life. Today, we want to consider four UPGRADES to build strength.

First, a short testimony.

I (Dawn) am struggling with many health issues right now. I joked with my friend, Pam Farrel, "I have always been a Type-A+ person. These days I've added a lot of 'A's to my life: allergies, asthma, arthritis, apnea, acid reflux ...." LOL, right?

I'm discovering—as I strategize to regain my health—one of the most important aspects of recovery is my frame of mind.

So it's my first "finish well" strategy under building strength:

1. Cultivate Powerful Attitudes.

It's not about mind over matter; it's about searching out God's perspective and framing my thoughts and attitudes according to His Word.

All the self-talk in the world will not encourage my heart and guide my life as well as the powerful truth of scripture. My "self-talk" needs to be God-talk.

I need to read, know, memorize, meditate on and apply the rich, strength-building Word of God. God wants to change my attitudes from the heart out.

It is the application of God's Word that enables me to experience His joy, offer Him gratitude, trust Him in difficulties, and more.

God colors our attitudes with His abounding grace, and frees us to respond to life's cirumstances with inner strength—HIS strength in us.

What we think and say can become building blocks for greater character and strength with the goal of pleasing the Lord (Psalm 19:14), but first we need a transformed heart. God can transform our heart (and thoughts and attitudes) at any age (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8; Proverbs 4:23.

2. Focus on Friendships.

Another source of strength in the Christian's life (or it should be) is godly friendships. God made us for such relationships!

While our friendships are primarily a wonderful way to bring glory to God, they also are meant to help us build up our lives.

  • A friend's encouraging or challenging words can keep us accountable to our goals and spiritual growth (Proverbs 27:17; 11:14; 19:20).
  • A friend's loyalty, when we feel wounded by circumstances or other people, can help us move forward and not get stuck (Proverbs 18:24). 
  • A friend's acceptance and forgiveness can teach us more about the freeing, loving forgiveness of our Father in heaven (Ephesians 4:32).
  • A friend's love can encourage us when times get tough (Proverbs 17:17; John 13:34-35).

Some may find it difficult to cultivate friendships, but it is always worth the time and effort.

Some friendships last for a lifetime; other friends enter our lives at a needful season and leave a warm glow when they depart.

We need many kinds of friends: friends to laugh with, pray with, study with, etc., because no one friend (except Jesus) can meet all our needs!

With my health issues, I pulled away for a while; I thought I could deal with things alone—just me and Jesus. That's silly when God has given me so many good friends!

Remember: Although Jesus is the sinner's dearest friend, earthly friends can also come alongside to encourage and strengthen us when we need them most.

It's never too late to make a new friend, especially when they are solid, biblical relationships that honor the Lord.

3. Create Family Legacy.

I don't know about you, but I want to leave a godly legacy that will outlive me. I may be physically weak and frail when I leave this earth, but I can leave behind something strong!

I read that revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah left a far-reaching legacy. Their decendants were quite accomplished (including 100 lawyers, a law school dean, 80 who held public office, 66 physicians, 65 professors, 30 judges, 13 college presidents, 3 mayors of large cities, 3 state governors, 3 senators and 1 Vice President of the US). What a testimony of blessing and strength in that family!

I want to leave a worthy legacy of children and grandchildren who know, love and live for the Lord (Psalm 112:1-2); descendants who are caring and compassionate, and accomplishing God's will in His world. One of the most important ways to do that is to live an authentic, Christian life.

It's been said, "The legacy we leave is the life we lead."* The truth is, our children and grandchildren are watching our lives, and what they see is probably more influential than anything we will say. If I want them to follow and live for Jesus, it makes sense that I must lead the way.

That's pretty humbling and convicting sometimes. I'm an imperfect servant of the Lord. But I still have time to build strength in this area.

I must remember: I'm not just building strength for my own life, but for generations to come!

4. Make Healthy Choices.

I opened this post mentioning my struggle with many overlapping health issues. I must admit, at least two of my health issues have grown out of my poor choices. (And that's hard for me to admit when my entire ministry for the past 20 years has been about "choices.")

I've made poor eating, exercise and rest choices. And it shows. You may have done the same, but not experienced destructive, even debilitating consequences ... yet.

The truth is, we can all still build strength.

Until the day we die, it's never too late to make new, healthier choices.

It a battle sometimes, and it takes discipline, but as Pastor Brady Boyd says, "Tiny disciplines tend to win great wars!"**

Here are a few of my new choices:

  • I'm taking more breaks in my schedule for "down time"—times for genuine rest. (The book that has influenced me greatly on this is Brady Boyd's Addicted to Busy.)
  • I'm planning more time to commune with the Lord in meditation and prayer, often going outside because God's creation "speaks" to me about His greatness.
  • I'm eating foods that are green, lean, clean and "alka-lean" (a word I coined that means I'm "leaning on more alkaline foods" and less acidic foods).
  • I'm doing simple exercises and stretching with the hope that I'll be able to do more intensive movements as I heal.
  • I'm doing my best to get more sleep!

Yes, we can build strength as we cultivate powerful attitudes, focus on friendships, create family legacy and make healthy choices.

Which of these four upgrades would help you Finish Well?

Dawn Wilson, founder and president of Heart Choices Today, is the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry (NEWIM). Dawn is the co-author of a devotional, LOL with God, and contributed "The Blessing Basket" in It's a God Thing. She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

* Legacy quote from A Leader's Legacy by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, p. 177.

** Tiny disciplines quote from Addicted to Busy by Brady Boyd.

Graphic adapted: Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.