Follow Through

I don’t know about you, but it has been a rough couple of  weeks. Getting kids back in school, planning and carrying out a birthday party, traveling with a youth group to a weekend conference, and trying to put the house back together, all while operating on only about five hours of sleep per night has made it hard for me to follow through with my Bible study and writing schedule.

I’ve made myself a calendar to try to schedule my time so that I can follow through and meet deadlines but life hasn’t necessarily been helping me out. I’m also trying not to beat myself up too much that the Bible study I am currently working on hasn’t seen me in like two (or ten) days.

What is working in my life right now is getting to school on time, doing a short devotional each morning with my youngest daughter, and discussing how we can apply what the devotional says to our life. So, even though things are going according to my plan right now, doesn’t mean they’re not going according to God’s plan.

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9 NLT

I’ll get my wagon back on track and get into a rhythm again. I just have to keep on. And you can make it too. Don’t give up. RESOLVE to follow through. Even if there is only one thing you can follow through on, do it. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Just choose one thing and set yourself a short time frame.  

Want to start getting up and reading your Bible in the morning? The don’t bite off too much. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than you normally would and set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier to wake up. Choose a book to start in and read just one chapter. If a chapter is too much, start with five verses and work your way up. Get a notebook and record whatever the Lord impresses upon your heart.

Ask: What is this verse telling me?

Apply: What can I do about it?

Reflect: What happened after I applied the verse to my life?

Or, if you feel like you need a little more structure and direction, find a devotional or Bible study to help guide your reading. 

Following through will become more second nature. We can do this. After all, our end goal is to become more like Jesus. That is a goal worth following through on.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

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Made New

Someone Like Me

Steph sat in the conference with her head bowed and her heart pounding. The speaker, a pastor, had talked about how Jesus had changed the life of so many people. He gave example after example of person after person. People with anxiety, people with depression, people who were bullied for being different; all kinds of people. But not people like me, she thought.

Steph’s friend Gemma had invited her to go to this youth conference over winter break. Steph had thought it would be fun. She could hang out, shop, and get away from her life for a little while. She hadn’t planned on this. She wasn’t prepared to face the questions and deal with all the realness of it.

“You can have the same freedom that Sam and Alex and Jennifer have experienced.” The pastor continued. Steph’s heart continued to pound. She wanted that freedom. But what would people think about her? Especially someone like me. 

“Don’t worry about what others may think. This is a decision only you can make. Reach out and grab a friend if you need to. Come. Counselors are waiting to talk to you.”

Steph thought she might throw up. The harder her heart pounded, the more sick she became. She reached out and took Gemma’s hand.  When their eyes met, Gemma started crying and pulled Steph into a tight hug. “Can I come with you?” she whispered into her ear. Steph wasn’t able to speak so she just nodded. Hand in hand, they walked to the front to meet with a counselor. 

With every step, Steph was bombarded with misgivings. What am I doing? Maybe this isn’t a good idea. Jesus will never accept someone like me. I’ve made too many mistakes. Thoughts raced through her mind as they walked through the door to the counseling room. Gemma practically dragged Steph to the middle of the room where a woman was standing holding up a book. 

“Hey, are you available?” Gemma asked her.

“Absolutely! My name is Lynn. Who are we talking to?” Gemma indicted Steph and Lynn turned to face her. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Steph.” Lynn turned to the other girl. “And who are you?” The girl smiled. “I’m Gemma.” Lynn shook both girls hand. Alright, this is my first time doing this and I’m supposed to read this to you and we’ll go from there, okay?” As Lynn read the different options Steph wanted to race out of the room. What was she doing? Jesus was never going to accept someone like her. She really shouldn’t waste this woman’s time. However, when Lynn read the part about knowing Jesus but falling away from Him, Steph’s heart began to burn and tears started pooling in her eyes. “That one.”

“Oh Steph! God has sent me to you. I understand. Let me tell you a little bit about me.” Lynn explained what she’d experienced and how Jesus had changed her on the inside and on the outside. Steph’s heart leaped in hope. Here was someone like her! Lynn continued to encourage Steph with scripture after scripture and story after story. When they finally prayed together, Steph knew that this was the right decision. Just before they left, Lynn pulled her into a hug, then looked deeply into her eyes. “Steph, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not going to be easy, but you can do this. I’ll be praying for you.” 

Follow Up Verse

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

OPERATION: ACTIVATE 

Have you accepted Jesus as your savior but not lived like it? You can come back! Jesus loves you and promises that you can be made clean and pure and new. Pray, confess your sins, and ask for forgiveness. Make a commitment to really follow Jesus, get into the Word, and find a friend to help you stay accountable. 

Making Good Choices

Ill Gotten Goodies

Sasha looked through the desk drawers for the notebook Mrs. Richards wanted. She finally found it in the bottom drawer. When she lifted it out, she discovered a box of candy bars. Her stomach rumbled. She’d skipped snack today because she forgot her money. She lifted the lid. There were several in there. Would she notice if she took one? She could always buy one at the snack store tomorrow and replace it. Her stomach rumbled even louder. Sasha took a candy bar and closed the lid. She’d replace it tomorrow. 

The next day, Sasha was talking with her friends on the way to the snack store. When it was her turn, she got her wallet out to buy a snack, and the replacement candy bar. “$3.50” the attendant said. Sasha opened her wallet.  Where was all her money? She knew she had ten dollars in there yesterday. “Uhm, I need to put the candy bar back. Just the juice please.” Sasha said. She handed the attendant the only dollar bill in her wallet. What was she going to do? She needed to replace the candy bar in Mrs. Richards’s desk before she noticed. All day Sasha worried over the situation. When she got to Mrs. Richards’s classroom, Mrs. Richards had the bottom drawer open pulling everything out of it. “Are you looking for your notebook again? I think you left it on the podium.” Sasha said. 

“No. Today is special snack and I know I counted fifteen candy bars, but when I checked the box, there were only fourteen,” she sighed. “I guess one of the kids won’t be getting a candy bar.” Sasha swallowed. She felt terrible. She never should have taken the candy bar. What would she do now?

Mrs. Richards reached for her purse and pulled out a five dollar bill. “Sasha, can you go down to the snack store and buy me another candy bar? I can’t believe I miscounted.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Sasha took the money and walked to the snack store, feeling sicker with every step. She had to tell Mrs. Richards the truth and face the consequences.

When she returned, Mrs. Richards was setting up the special snack. “Thank you, Sasha. Just put the change in my desk. I’m so glad we caught my mistake in time.”

Sasha swallowed hard. “Mrs. Richards, it wasn’t your mistake. I’m so sorry.” Sasha looked at the floor. “I took a candy bar yesterday because I forgot my snack. I intended to replace it this morning, but when I opened my wallet, my money was missing. I am so sorry for taking the candy without asking.” 

Mrs. Richards sighed. “Sasha, I am disappointed in your actions, but thank you for being truthful. You could have easily lied and gotten away with it. Have you learned your lesson?”

“Yes, ma’am. I never want to take anything without permission again.”

Follow Up Verse  

“You shall not steal.” Exodus 20:15

F.I.T. – Follow It Through 

Do not take things that do not belong to you without permission.

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Overcoming Obstacles

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:2-5

We push. We pull. Straining, agonizing, worrying, and fighting. Sometimes we are victorious and sometimes we are not. Overcoming is hard, but it is possible and it is worth it. Think about all of the things that you have already overcome. As a baby, you overcame and learned to walk. As a child, you overcame and learned to read and write. (You may still be struggling with fractions but, even that can be overcome.)  

When we overcome in areas that challenge us, we are encouraged to keep fighting and overcome in other areas of our lives. The Bible tells us in Romans 5 that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Therefore, we can face James 1:2-3 head on and know that we will come out on the other side victorious.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

As hard as it is while we are in the process of overcoming to stay positive and “glory in our sufferings”, it is the reflection on our “sufferings” that produces the perseverance we need. When we see and really realize where we started and how far we’ve come, we are encouraged and can therefore encourage others, even while we are still suffering! This changes our character. We are no longer the weak person we once were. We have overcome something significant and we are changed because of it. This contributes to our future hope. Hope in God and hope in ourselves. We know we can do it next time because we’ve done it before.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with (perseverance) endurance the race God has set before us.” Romans 12:1

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Unexpected Idols

The Man (or Woman) In The Mirror

Samantha washed her hands and watched as Tracey touched up her makeup in the mirror of the school restroom. All the girls were complimenting her looks. Even Chase, one of the baseball boys, told her she looked nice today. “Hey, I’ve been looking for you. I was hoping to get your help with something.” She dried her hands while Tracey finished applying more lip gloss. 

“Oh yeah, what with?” Tracey rubbed and smacked her lips together, spreading out the gloss. 

“We need help with the youth car wash fundraiser this Saturday. Can you come?” Tracey scrunched up her nose. “Ugh. I hate washing cars. It’s so sweaty and dirty. Besides, my makeup might get messed up.”

Samantha laughed. “Well, just don’t wear any, silly. We’ll all be getting wet and dirty. We’re there to work, not win a beauty contest.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” Tracey said as she packed up her makeup to leave. Samantha was astounded. What was going on with her friend? 

When Samantha got home, she told her mom about the conversation she’d had with Tracey. “She used to care more about serving God than how she looks.”

“Hmm. Sounds like Tracey is making an idol out of her appearance.” Mom said. 

“An idol? I thought an idol was like a little statue that people bowed down to.” said Samantha.

“Oh no.” said Mom. “An idol can be anything that we elevate over God. In Bible times, idols were an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship, like a carved statue. The Bible warns mankind to stay away from idols and to worship God, and Him only. This warning is so important that it is included in the Ten Commandments as number one and number two! Today, our idols might look different. They could be money, our job, our social status, our hobbies, or even our image. That’s why the Bible says in Romans ‘They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–’. You really need to pray for Tracey, and maybe try to talk to her about how she has changed.”

“I’ll try. I really care about Tracey and I don’t want to lose her as a friend.” Samantha said. 

“How about we pray for her right now?” 

Follow Up Verse

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– 2 Timothy 3:2-4

OPERATION: ACTIVATE 

Do you have unexpected idols in your life? Ask God to reveal them to you and ask for forgiveness. Then talk to a trusted adult or accountability partner.

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Resolutions – The Revised Version

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

Photo by David Brezina on Pexels.com

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19

We all do it. 

We SAY we are going to do things differently THIS year. We have a bag full of resolutions that we intend to start the new year with. Then, one by one, they fall away and reveal the same old person we have been forever. 

So, take a moment. Really reflect on your core person. This is what you are trying to change and make into something you think is better. However, change is hard and most people HATE it. 

Why are you doing it, again? 

Let’s take a closer look at your motivations. WHY do you want to change something? You need a reason that is going to keep you motivated for the rest of your life, not just for this year. Because real change requires real sacrifice and real work. And real change, not a resolution, is what you want. Are you trying to change because YOU want to, or for someone else? You have to be personally invested in the change or it will not happen. 

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

For example, most people want to lose weight or get in shape. Gyms make the bulk of their money in the first few months of the year due to “resolutions”. Why? To look better? To feel better? To live longer? What’s YOUR motivation? Instead of resolving to lose weight and get in shape maybe you should resolve to eat healthier and exercise more. Forget about setting unattainable goals that will just end up discouraging you and eventually causing you to quit altogether. Set a goal for TODAY.

TODAY I will eat healthier than I did yesterday. Make one small change. Drink a bottle of water instead of a soda. Or, for every soda you drink, drink a bottle of water. Eat five less bites. Or, pause for five seconds between bites. Start with one meal then move on to another. Don’t rush your change, THINK about it. Remember your reasons for changing.

Also, find someone to keep you accountable. Journaling is a good way to keep up with your progress, but, the journal is not going to call you when you are skipping workouts or eating like a garbage can. Find someone who will encourage you to meet your goals, not tear you down and make you feel worse.

Speaking of goals. Let’s revise this whole “resolutions” idea. Resolutions have lost their meaning in our society. We set them and break them like that’s how it works. The true definition of resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something, yet we treat it like it is temporary. Since that seems to be the case, let’s change the word to goals. Make a list of the things that you most want to accomplish, no more than twelve, and start to plan.

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord! Lamentations 3:40

Set daily goals, weekly goals, or monthly goals. Take small bites of the progress you want to achieve. Do you have a goal to read the Bible more? Set a daily goal for five minutes or  five verses. DON’T bite off more than you can chew. If you are reading for application, five might be all you can handle! Meditate on those five minutes or verses. What do they mean? How do they apply to your life? What does God want you to know about Him through that reading? Don’t rush, THINK about it. Again, journaling is a great tool to help you get the most out of your time with God.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Psalm 51:10-11

God wants you to be successful! Lean on Him when you feel discouraged. Call that accountability partner. When you fall down, get back up and try it again. Remember the real definition of resolution and strive to achieve it.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Accountability

I did it. 

I joined an accountability group. 

As much as accountability scares me, I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I need someone to call me out, congratulate me, encourage me, and, most especially, pray for me. As a group we decided to each choose a word for the year and share it with each other. We have prayed about what our word should be and the purpose of the word in our lives. 

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

My word for this year is follow through. Yes, I know technically that’s two words, but it has the one definition I need for my year: “to press on in an activity or process especially to a conclusion.” I chose this word because I have been having a hard time with it. There were so many things I wanted to do last year (and, in the previous years) that I didn’t accomplish because I didn’t follow through. I didn’t. It is no one’s fault but mine. I do not want a repeat of the disappointment I experienced, therefore, I am focusing on following through.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

I would encourage you to do the same. If you are a list maker like me, make a list of what you want to accomplish this year, break it down into manageable “bites” and make a plan to follow through. Ask some trusted friends to help keep you accountable and look forward to a fabulous year.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. Ecclesiastes 4:9