Getting Off Track


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I had a vision the other day when I was praying. I don’t know if it was exactly a vision, but often when I’m praying, I get a random picture in my head. Except, I don’t believe they’re random. When I’ve prayed for people, and a picture comes to mind, the person is usually astounded at the way it perfectly relates to them or their situation.

That’s the power of God. He sees and knows all things. His Spirit is able to speak to us and through us if we are willing to be in communion with him and used by him.

All of that is an explanation for my time with Jesus last week.

Due to crazy, unexpected circumstances, our family is in a transition situation with housing. The details for this post don’t matter as much as what I’ve been learning in this season.

The journey is always more important than the destination.

I may know and believe that, but in the middle of circumstantial pressure and timelines, deadlines, pressing in, I forget. And recently, I realized that I was seeking answers from the Lord more than I was seeking him.

Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7). He says our heavenly Father is good and wants to give us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). Every good gift is from Him! (James 1:17) The Bible also says that if we lack wisdom, all we have to do is ask and it will be given to us. (James 1:5)

So there is nothing wrong with asking for what we need and seeking direction from God. That’s a good thing!

But what God really wants is relationship with him. He longs for us to be in his presence. We need to seek HIM first before everything else.

I found that when I went to God, I was actually getting off track by:

  • Time restraints – God is outside time, but we live in a timed world that can feel like pressure if we don’t have the right focus
  • Options – sometimes there are many good (and some bad) options available to us, and we can get caught up in the plethora of possibilities trying to figure out the best one God has for us
  • Questions – it’s easy to focus more on “why is this or that happening?” or “what is going on?” rather than trusting that God has a plan and will let us in on it in the prefect timing
  • Outside distractions – illness, broken appliances, world problems, family needs, friends’ issues to name only a few of the daily things that can keep us tied up – the Bible says “entangled”

Praying about all those things isn’t wrong or bad, but I discovered that when I sought only Jesus first, everything else fell into place. Just sitting in his presence, singing to him, praising him, and thanking him changed my heart attitude and made everything clearer.

The Bible tells us to “take every thought captive” and make it obedient to Jesus Christ. I used to tell my kids to think about that verse as if thoughts came knocking at the door of our castle. We might open the little mini-door to see who’s there, but then, if it’s not the lovely, pure, excellent thoughts we should have (Phil. 4:8), we send the thought to the dungeon where Jesus is in charge.

I don’t want anything to distract me from Jesus.

That brings me to the picture I had.

Which was of a large, red umbrella. At the time, I was praying with some people and believed it was for someone. (It turned out it was.) When I first have a picture pop into my mind, it’s just a picture and doesn’t usually make sense, but as I sit and wait for God to explain, it typically becomes clear.

In this case, God said that he was the umbrella and it was time to come out of the rain of things that were an overwhelming flood of distraction coming down. He said to cling to the handle, stay close, and hold fast to him, and he would cover the person. The umbrella was red denoting the blood of Jesus that covers us.

It turns out that the picture was also for me. Maybe it speaks to you as well.

When Jesus is all that matters, he covers us and nothing else, even things that seem (or are) so crucial, lose their position in our perspective. Not only that, but he always comes through with answers, makes impossible situations work out, and makes every crooked place smooth.

I have to remember to keep blinders on – like a horse in a race. LOL

Worship is one of the things that helps me keep my focus on track. This song is one that helped me that day and for days following.

Here’s to keeping on track with Jesus.

Are You Ready?


People joke about zombies and the apocalypse.

Movies are made that depict the world coming to an end, and even if many say they don’t believe in God, the general consensus seems to be that the world will come to an end. Some think sooner, others, later; but it will end. Maybe you believe global warming will be the eventual culprit. Speculation says we may experience WWIII and an ensuing nuclear holocaust.

The Bible says that Jesus is returning for those who have accepted him as their savior and have given their lives to him.

In the book of Matthew, chapter 24, and in I Thessalonians, Jesus describes the events that will take place prior to his return. Wars, rumors of wars, plagues, drought, earthquakes in various places. Lawlessness will begin to take over the world, and many people will suddenly be aware of Jesus and desire him in their lives.

We’re not to be surprised by these things, but we should be ready.

Some people might decide to live off grid, build a tiny home and garden, or invest in bitcoin or gold. Physical and economical preparation isn’t a bad thing, but more than being prepared for hardship, we need to be prepared for Jesus.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 1 4:6

None of us know exactly when Jesus will return. It could be today or in two months or twenty years. But the day and hour aren’t the issue as much as our relationship with Jesus now. From the moment we say yes to him directing our lives, we are in a personal relationship with him which we want to develop. Spending time with him in worship, prayer, and reading his word will grow our relationship with him.

Eternity is the big picture, but he wants us to have a great, abundant life with him here on earth too.

So whether it’s for his return in the future, or our relationship here and now, are we ready?

He’s always at the door of our heart waiting for us to open it to him.

Walking in Freedom


Today in the USA we are celebrating our Independence Day.

Centuries ago, courageous men and woman were led by the Holy Spirit to risk everything and bring their families to a new land so they could worship God freely without the government dictating how, when, or where that could happen. Eventually, their descendants found the need to fight to uphold that freedom.

Much has changed over the past few hundred years and even more so in this past couple of years during which we’ve seen our religious freedom, constitutional rights, and liberties of “all men created equal” being challenged, disregarded, and even subdued.

All of that is important, and we need to stand courageously like our forefathers to maintain the freedom they first sought.

But there is another freedom that is even more important.

It is our freedom that Jesus Christ bought with his blood.

Here’s what the Bible says about our freedom:

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and don’t let yourselves be burdened again with a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

“I will walk about in freedom for I have sought out your precepts.” Psalm 119:45

“The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for captives…” Isaiah 61:1

“Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

God is all about our freedom.

Freedom from sin and from the enemy, Satan, who torments us with lies and accusations, wanting only to kill, steal and destroy those whom God loves. God longs for us to walk in freedom every day. Freedom that leads to peace where there is no condemnation or shame in Christ Jesus.

So whether or not our country remains free, our most important freedom comes from Jesus. That freedom is for everyone everywhere, not only for those of us in the USA celebrating Independence Day. True independence begins with total dependence on God.

Today, are you walking in His freedom?

Waiting Well


Do you wait well?

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In line, in traffic, for good or bad news? What about for an answer, or promotion, or tax refund?

I confess, I can be impatient, irritated, or dismissive when I’m called on to wait for something. That may be part of why I’ve been entrusted with this season of waiting.

Since October, I’ve been waiting for God to heal me.

I have some mystery illness which my primary doctor has currently speculated might be seronegative rheumatoid arthritis. It has caused swelling all over my entire body (not just joints as is common), numbness in my hands and feet, rashes, dizziness, fatigue and constant pain – either aching, burning, or stabbing me randomly. Mostly at night. So I have a love/hate relationship with sleeping right now. Moving makes me blow up like a puffer fish. Resting causes me to not be able to move. And I’ve been waiting since December to see a rheumatologist. Apparently there aren’t many where I live, and even less that take my insurance.

Did you hear my snort of impatience right then?

Just to make it clear, I’m not complaining. I don’t really think doctors have answers. The few offered haven’t changed anything. (Diet, medicine, activity, etc.) My unique symptoms don’t really match any particular diagnosis. I believe God is my only answer. And I trust him completely. So I’m asking him to help me wait well while I wait for whatever good plan he has to be completed.

At some point, all of us might have to wait for many things – hasn’t this been a season of that? (Sorry to all you who are still waiting for your state or city to open up again!)

But do we know how to wait well?

Here are some of the things I do to wait well:

  • Every morning I choose to thank God for the day he made and rejoice and be glad in it.
  • I start each day with praising him, reading his word, and singing along with worship music.
  • I listen to prophetic words of encouragement.
  • I pray for others.
  • I proclaim what I know to be true about God.
  • I do whatever I am apply to accomplish and let go of the rest. Sometimes that means not washing my hair. (Yuck.)
  • I ask for help when I need it.
  • I let others know how to pray for me.
  • I keep writing books (even though it makes my hands and arms ache).

God is so faithful. He hasn’t allowed my healing to show itself yet (I believe I am healed and waiting for it to show up), but he has shown me so many things. I’m learning to be bolder in prayer. I’ve been alerted to some old resentments I didn’t realize I was harboring against someone who hurt my family. I’m learning to be slower to speak and better at listening. My compassion has increased.

And in the midst of it all, God has helped me write my next book. Yippee! As I write out the last pages, I’m sharing the beginning here with you. Where Blows the Wind is the sequel to When the Wind Blows and now part of a four book series that I never planned, but apparently God did.

So, I hope you enjoy this taste of Where Blows the Wind while you’re waiting for its release on June 15th in time for your summer reading pleasure.

Maybe it will help you wait well. 😉

Where Blows the Wind

The older man had no idea how Tyrina Louise Duval felt about family. How could he? And yet, here he was inviting her to join their gathering. His family of strangers. At least that was the way he put it. Although they all lived in the same building, the group had never met until Hurricane Harriet blew in less than a year ago. The connection between them was obvious. The longing in her heart nearly surpassed her hesitancy. But in the end, she thanked him kindly and turned to leave, flinging a yearning glance over her shoulder as she left.

Now she watched them from her third-floor balcony.

“Ralph Manning,” the man said when he introduced himself and offered to share their story. She imagined it was a remarkable one. No one would guess that the young couple with a baby and the man with the twenty-something girl—from the resemblance she assumed they were truly father and daughter—were not related to the elderly couple. He claimed they met there. Neighbors in this high-rise building of condos. Clearly, no matter how they met, they shared an uncommon love. Tyrina felt it when she walked by. Even from a distance.

Why hadn’t she stayed to listen?

She wanted to. Now she wished she had. To interact with a group that obviously cared so much for each other could only bring joy. Couldn’t it?

Observing them from the safety of her condominium evoked the old pain and longing while reaching an arm out to her with hope. A sad smile tugged at her mouth. Hope brought disappointment. She knew that feeling all too well.

Turning away from the scene below her, she brushed back a stray curl that had escaped from her braid. On humid days like this, her tawny hair tormented her with frizzy strands that barely remained contained in tight braids like the one she wore today. Otherwise, she let her springy locks hang loose down her back and shoulders. She finally learned about ten years ago that fighting her natural born curls was not worth the long hours and money wasted on product. Besides, she believed in being free. And she was trying to be. That included her hair.

Tyrina shook her head at her thoughts. How had her hair determined so much of her identity? For nearly a lifetime, it seemed it was her one claim to real beauty. As a youngster, when her light brown skin brought some snide comments from those lighter or darker than her, confusion took up residence in her heart. Even her grandmother hated that her ebony-skinned son had married a white girl. Tyrina didn’t understand. How could the color of someone’s skin make a difference as to who they were inside?

Confusion ruled her life for as long as she could remember, and not belonging dictated it from the beginning.

Tyrina shook off the reverie.

It was a beautiful afternoon. Exactly the reason she had gone out in the first place. Until she observed the group with Ralph and his friends celebrating something, she’d planned on spending a few hours outside in the warm, but not too hot weather. In late August, cooler days were infrequent in Southwest Florida, so residents took advantage whenever a breezy day lowered the temperature to a reasonable setting. A walk around the grounds or at Fort Myers Beach after church on Sundays gave her time to reflect on the pastor’s message. Every week it seemed that he spoke to her directly. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. She knew it was the way God let her receive the words.

But the past few weeks, no matter what he said, or what she read in her Bible, nothing landed right. Restlessness stirred in her and wouldn’t be quelled.

Lost in His Love


While this unexplained illness or condition has taken over my body for the past five months, I’ve experienced a myriad of emotions. In the beginning, the majority of my time I lived in a sense of peace. The condition was inconvenient, a little scary and sometimes painful. With no explanations, negative blood tests, and absolute trust in my Savior who heals, I settled into the journey, believing that any morning I would wake up and be fine again.

Clearly, that hasn’t been the case.

My complete trust in Jesus and his healing hasn’t wavered. I’m not scared. I wait each day for his healing to manifest. He’s promised me, my husband, my family, and friends that I will see his healing come. The only unknown is when.

In the meantime, I’ve become nearly immobile. The pain is often so excruciating that it wrenches cries out of me—sometimes when I least expect it. My body is swollen all over making it difficult to move or sleep. I confess that most days I dread getting into bed as well as hating to get out of it.

I eat clean and healthy. I take supplements, herbs, oils, teas and have fasted a number of foods at different times to check for any allergies. A couple of homeopathic medicines give a little relief from pain that typical medications don’t touch.

It seems God has made it clear that this “thing” will not be healed by anything or anyone except him.

I believe he has a purpose in all of this. He’s working in me and my husband. I pray that I will be glorifying to my Lord God. When pain is at it’s worst, I pray for others who suffer far worse than I do for years or at the hands of those torturing them because of their love for Jesus.

Some days, I confess, I feel discouraged.

But the one thing that has sustained me and continues to be the only place of complete relief is being in the presence of Jesus.

I can imagine how people flocked to him when he walked the earth. Many came to him for healing. They obviously wanted freedom from their torturous life. But what some of them realized and experienced was the incredible joy and peace that came from being in his presence.

Even the bleeding woman just wanted to get close enough to touch his robe.

Being in the presence of God.

Getting lost completely in his love. That is where I find peace. Where the discouragement of my condition dissolves and time stops (time is irrelevant to God). Peace, that kind that we don’t understand, washes over me, rests on me, and thoroughly surrounds me.

That is also where healing starts.

Healing for our hearts, our bodies, our relationships, and our life starts in the presence of our loving God. Totally submerged in his love, we also find identity, purpose, direction, and release.

I don’t know how long I will be in this place.

I might wake up tomorrow and be able to move and live again without pain and fatigue. I also might find that the perfect timing of God hasn’t come yet. Maybe it won’t for weeks, months, or years. Healing may not come until I’m in heaven at my Savior’s side.

But I do know that each day, I’m finding peace, strength, growth of faith, and joy in the presence of Jesus here and now.

 There’s an album by Brandon Lake (Bethel Music) called House of Miracles that I’ve been playing on repeat. The live release session of the entire album can be played here on Youtube. Every song is inspired and an incredible leading into the presence of God. One of my favorites, Lost in Your Love, has these lyrics that stand out to me:

“Your power is found in the roughest waters, where I have no choice but to trust you, Father, where my every fear has to surrender….”

This season of illness is rough waters. There are no answers—doctors are stumped, typical diagnoses don’t fit, neither diet nor medication is resolving it. I have no choice but to trust my heavenly Father and surrender any fear or discouragement to him.

It is only when I’m lost in his love, sitting in his presence singing, listening, reading his word, that I’m in another place beyond today’s challenges.

No matter what we experience, whether physical, emotional, circumstantial, or relational, the presence of Jesus with his love washing over us is where we are transcended into another realm. It is where healing starts and will be completed. It’s where peace reigns. Peace we can’t explain. Peace that is beyond happiness due to circumstantial changes. Where fear must leave – in his perfect love that casts it away.

If we want to get well, he is there. Jesus is our healer. Jesus is our peace. He is our hope and joy.

Even in the midst of the roughest waters.

Journey Into Darkness


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Sometimes in order to find light, we must journey into darkness.

I stumbled upon this great video of Kristene DiMarco, worship leader at Bethel Church in Redding, California, who tells the story of her time spent in San Francisco when she found herself in the middle of an overwhelming, dark place. God used that season of her life to speak to her about him, about her and about the world around her.

Her profound thoughts describing her journey direct us in ways that will take us forward into more of what God has for us.

I can’t add to what she’s shared.

But I guarantee if you watch only a part of this video, you will be opening a place of light in your life, especially if you find yourself in a dark, confusing or questioning place.

Thank you, Kristene, for sharing from your heart, the heart of God for all of us.

Where Are You Going?


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A quarter of 2018 is almost over.

It’s easy to miss it when it flies by so quickly, isn’t? But it’s good to slow down long enough to evaluate where we’ve been so far this year and where we’re headed.

In other words, where are you going?

My husband is a small craft pilot. He loves flying, and after flying with him, I can see why. But I told him I couldn’t imagine commandeering an aircraft. How do you know where to go in the big blue sky? How do you stay on course?

He explained that you first create and submit a flight plan and then you make little adjustments as you’re flying. It’s those small, incremental changes that keep you on track and get you to your destination.

Seems like a good example for life.

So here are some of the little ways I’m keeping on track. Maybe you can relate or will find them helpful.

  • Starting every day with worship music. Nothing gets and keeps my focus in the right place like seeking God first. He tells us to seek him first and he’ll make everything else fall into place (Matt. 6:33). Thank goodness!
  • Reading something from God’s word. That may be verses in my Bible, a devotional or the verses on the worship music I play (thank you Dappy T Keys!). God says his word doesn’t go out and not do what it’s intended to do.  (Isaiah 55:11) So even reading something gives God an opportunity to do his work in me.
  • Learning to love myself. Every day I ask myself what would be the kind thing to do in a particular situation? Am I being loving to myself? Then I’m free to love others too.
  • Reading a book to help me grow in character. Right now that is Boundaries in Marriage; Understanding the Choices that Make or Break Loving Relationships by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend. I wish I had read it decades ago as it would have helped me navigate my relationships in a much healthier way. I’m trying to take in small increments and asking God to help me remember and adjust my thinking and behavior accordingly. Every day, I see a little progress.
  • Being grateful. Every. Day. Thanking God adjusts my heart by reminding me of all the little (and sometimes big) ways God is taking care of me. Maybe it’s something as seemingly insignificant as a breeze or the sun on my face, but believe me, praising God for it makes a big difference in my attitude.
  • Looking ahead, but keeping my focus on today. Depending on your current situation, looking forward may be hopeful or despairing. On day five of the Israelites marching around the massive walls of Jericho (Joshua 9 & 10), I’ll bet more than a few folks felt weary and a little doubtful about those walls tumbling to the ground. When we keep examining the magnitude of our problem, it’s easy to become discouraged. Why is this so hard or taking so long? Will we make it through this crisis or illness? Yes. By taking one step at a time. Today. Tomorrow is a new day.
  • Evaluating what I accomplished today. Consider everything. Even resting is important. Did what I do take me in the direction I want to end up?

One of the places my little steps over a period of nearly five years has led me is to the writing and publication of Rachel’s Son which releases this coming Tuesday. It took a lot of work, and I often didn’t understand the journey. (Sign up for my email list or follow me on Facebook or Twitter to be alerted when the book hits Amazon.)

But arrive I did.

And you will too. So where have you been these past few months (or years), and where are you going? Take a few moments today to make some small adjustments to keep on track. Eventually, you’ll find yourself at your destination.

But remember to enjoy the journey. 😉

 

John Mark Miller: The Real Deal


Recently I had the privilege of interviewing John Mark Miller, a musician and writer who leads worship at First Baptist Church of Sunset, Texas. John Mark inspires and encourages other Christian artists with his blog and has recently been showcasing various artists. I was blessed to be on his list.

What I admire most about John Mark is his genuine love for the Lord, music and fellow artists. He exudes grace and kindness. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.

Hi, John Mark. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. I’ve appreciated reading your blog and interacting with you through comments and emails. I guess we’ll jump right into the questions I have for you.

First, let me ask when did you first know you were born to be a singer and a writer?

I was born singing, and I caught on to writing as soon as I could! When I was just a toddler, my mom remembers finding me rolling around the back yard on my riding toy, singing a hymn that she and my dad had sung in church that morning. She was impressed that I remembered the melody perfectly, and started to encourage my musical gifts. I sang my first church solo when I was five years old and started taking piano lessons when I was seven years old. I honestly cannot remember a time when music wasn’t an important part of my life, and here I am all these years later, still making music and teaching others how to join in!

Interestingly enough, it was my dad who honed in on my gift for writing. He read some of the stories I wrote for spelling class and told me that he thought I had real talent. He was a pastor, and before I knew it I was writing articles for the church newsletter and helping him prepare Sunday School curriculum and church publications. One weekend as we drove to a funeral, he realized he needed a poem to recite for the Graveside Service and told me to write one on the spot! I did… and thanks to his belief in me as a writer, I’m still at it!

It’s great that your parents were so encouraging and helpful in fostering your God-given talents. Perhaps that’s one reason you are so great at encouraging other artists.

So, along those same lines, what is your favorite worship song?

My all-time favorite worship song is “Before the Throne of God Above,” but I also find great inspiration in “Give Me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega and “All of Me” by Selah.

I love that song by Fernando Ortega as well. A few of his CD’s spend time in my player!

And how about favorite books?

Where books are concerned, I’m going to have to break this down into categories! I would say that my favorite devotional book is “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, my favorite fictional book is “The Robe” by Lloyd C. Douglas, and my favorite biography/memoir is “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickham.

That’s quite a nice collection. I read and re-read “My Utmost for His Highest” over a three year period, and it literally changed my life. What do you feel most inspires your creativity?

I feel most inspired when I spend time outside, either walking for exercise or just sitting and drinking in all of God’s beauty. Taking time to notice the splendor of Creation helps me to quiet the distractions, focus my prayers, and allows me to listen for His still, small voice. It has been during these quiet moments of reflection that many of my greatest ideas have come to me.

It’s amazing how even a little bit of time outside can bring out the creator in us!

Now this may seem like a strange question, but I think you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite “working” drink. I tend to stick with water or tea. How about you?

I absolutely love a steaming mug of hot tea (either Earl Grey or Vanilla Rooibos) while I’m working on a project. The warmth is comforting, and the aroma stimulates the senses. I’d have to agree with C.S. Lewis, who said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me!”

That’s a great quote! I might have to add it to my bulletin board. When is it that we would find you nursing that steaming mug of tea? Are you most productive in the morning or at night?

Though I’m married to a night owl, I will forever be a hopeless morning person! Much to my wife’s dismay, I wake up bright and early and ready to work. My best work takes place early in the morning, and I’ve noticed that my writing is much stronger and more focused after I’ve spent some quiet time with the Lord.

I so agree with you. Spending time with the Lord makes the difference between a good and rough day, writing or otherwise. Do you have a “life verse?” How does it influence your creative endeavors?

Since high school, my life verse has been John 15:5: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” I used to get very nervous playing the piano in church, to the point that my fingers and pedal feet would shake uncontrollably and cause the entire piano to have tremors! I remember sitting in church waiting for my turn to play, and reading this verse on a small index card. It was comforting to remember that without God I could do nothing, but with Him behind me I was guaranteed to bear good fruit. I have clung to this through the years, and it’s just as helpful to me now as it ever was!

That’s a verse my husband has been meditating on lately. It’s so true that whatever we produce comes from Jesus working in us. It’s a great reminder. What would you say is the most important message you want your listeners or readers to take away from your work?

The sole purpose of launching my blog, The Artistic Christian, was to help people realize that the beauty of God is all around us. There is such rich beauty in the midst of the most everyday moments, and all of it declares the truth of Who God is. Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and each aspect of nature tells us something about God’s character. Immovable mountains declare His strength, soft rose pedals declare his tenderness and beauty, and so on. Not only this, but anytime an artist creates he or she is imitating God, since we are all made in His image (Gen. 1:26). Because of this, artistic works also point us to God, since they reveal the divine spark which lies in each of our hearts.

I hope that by reading my work, my readers will have their eyes opened to the beauty and splendor that lies everywhere they look, and realize that all of it was designed to draw our hearts toward worshiping God. And once they begin to see this, I want to remind them that if they will seek God with all their heart, they will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

I certainly get that from your blog. Where can people find your work? Can they purchase it yet?

I am still working on getting a book published, but my reflections on art, culture, and life can be found at my primary blog, The Artistic Christian, at http://theartisticchristian.wordpress.com.

Also, my sermons and thoughts on Bible Study and church life can be found at my self-titled devotional blog, at http://johnmarkmiller.wordpress.com

Finally, readers can keep up with my thoughts and latest releases by following me on Twitter: @JohnMark_Miller

Thank you so much for investing this time with us today!

Thank you for interviewing me. It’s been an honor.

Go visit John Mark Miller on Twitter and his blogs. I guarantee you’ll be blessed and glad you did!

Is This Your Year of Freedom?


We’re continuing our series on becoming free…

I recognize women who have tried to protect themselves by denying the truth of their past sexual abuse, domestic violence or a spouse’s sexual addiction. Denying the lie they are living and the part they play. It’s excruciatingly painful to face the truth head on. To acknowledge the depth of dysfunction, and the stuck place we can’t seem to get out of. But the cost down the road, if we don’t, is so much greater than our current pain. Europe 228

I wish I could tell them.

These women see the consequences of their broken lives in themselves and in their children and are in despair, but they are afraid to look at the truth. How they got there and why they stay. They are lost in a hurting, hopeless world. I know.

I was one of them.

I believe the woman in the Bible, the one at the well, was one too. But when Jesus sought her out and spoke truth to her, she glimpsed a glimmer of hope.

‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’” (John 4:19-20)

She believed he was a prophet. Maybe he could untangle the mess that was her life.

Was she ready for that?

I wonder if she was trying to change the subject, or if she was trying to prove how “good” she was by telling him what she knew about religion. Often, when the Lord whispers some truth about our lives that we aren’t sure we want to deal with, we focus on a past or future circumstance – well, it was like this… – or another person’s issues instead. Maybe we bring up someone else as a comparison to alleviate our shame, or to evaluate how good we are based on how bad they are.

And how many times do we respond based on what we think God (or someone else) expects?

Or maybe this woman wished she could have a relationship with God, but because someone told her there was only one way and one place, she felt excluded. Besides, the shame she felt was enough to make her exclude herself from any kind of worship. Don’t we often deny ourselves from connecting with God?

How could he want someone like me?

Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’”

The truth is, Jesus is happy to have us come to him any time, place and way, if our hearts are sincerely directed towards him.

The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’” (verse 25)

This woman clung to what she knew. Someday Jesus was going to come and explain everything. That was her hope. I can imagine her wistfully looking towards the mountain, picturing how Jesus would make everything in her life right again.

Someday.

Can you imagine her astonishment when Jesus said,

‘I who speak to you am he.’?”

The same shame-filled woman, who had earlier avoided the crowd, now went eagerly to find them. She couldn’t wait DSC_0020 (2)to share how simply being in the presence of Jesus had transformed her life.

And God has the same for us.

When we worship, when we take in his words spoken to us through the Bible, when we engage with Jesus, he transforms our life. No matter what it looks like. No matter what we’ve done or what’s been done to us.

So, what if this is the year we face our life? What if this year we let him transform us?

How Can I Have Joy When My Life Stinks?


It depends on where your focus is.

Every year, right after school lets out for the summer, our church hosts a week long day camp called VBS. Or as we VBS 011affectionately call it “vibs.” In most parts, Vacation Bible School is a well known event among church goers. Children gather for a few hours and participate in Bible stories, crafts and maybe learning a few songs about Jesus loving us.

At our church, we believe that kids relate to fun so we make VBS hugely fun with an entire morning and afternoon production, sports games, crafts, special events — a climbing wall, bounce houses and a petting zoo (to name a few).

The kids are in age/gender teams and create banners, team cheers and close friendships. They spray water guns and fly down a zip line. Stories are acted out on stage in front of them and discussed during team time with their adult leaders and teen assistants.

It’s a week of special treats like the snack bar, snow cones and ice cream. Songs are sung with dancing and hand motions in an outdoor amphitheater with the words displayed on huge banners. A dance team worships the Lord, encouraging the kids to learn the moves and dance along. Bible Buddies, or B Buds, act out the verses for the day which all fit with the theme for the week.

Today is the our day and will end with an amazing barbeque and final production to give the parents a glimpse of what their children have experienced all week – the reason they are all smiles, dirt and good tiredness.

Sounds like fun, huh?

Did I mention that approximately two hundred volunteers donate their time, often their vacation time from work, to help make this event a success? From that first year I stepped into the role of “team leader,” I couldn’t imagine not helping with VBS.

But last year, I became ill and as we got closer to the event, I realized that my acting role that year was not going to happen. Others stepped in for me at the last minute, and I traveled out of state for some rest. I watched my husband and daughters perform online via live streaming. I missed it. And this year, while I’m better, I’ve still been sick.

I didn’t think I had the physical strength to participate.

And I didn’t have the energy to care. I decided I would stay home and pray. People asked what I would be doing.

Nothing this year,” I’d answer.

But one day a few weeks back, a friend made a simple request. The man directing traffic was desperately in need of help. Since my husband and I had been in charge of traffic a few years ago, my friend wondered if I would consider helping out at all. Even for a day or two. I didn’t think it would work, but I agreed to pray about it. After all, it would only be a couple of hours in the morning.

I said yes.

The traffic director said I made his day. Imagine that. Something so simple brought such joy to him. Monday I arrived in the fog with excitement stirring in my heart. I greeted cars and directed them to the appropriate places. God gave me the energy to run around even when an unexpected situation arose that required way more than I thought I had to give.

After I finished, I watched my daughter sing and dance, kissed my two grand kids and went home to rest. Tuesday I woke with a migraine, but since I felt better standing rather than lying down, I took some pain medication and headed off to VBS again. Within an hour, my head wasn’t threatening to explode anymore. During the singing and dancing, I held my grand daughter.

And so it continued. A few hours of  chatting with friends, welcoming strangers, and participating in song and dance with my grand children in the morning, and then I’ve rested in the afternoon.

It seems like I haven’t done anything much.

But something has happened to my heart. Each day as I’ve worshiped the Lord, waved to parents, cheered for my daughter, watched my son with his team and snuggled my grand kids, I’ve been infused with joy. Overflowing, tears pouring down my cheeks joy.

Nothing in my circumstances has changed. I’m still sick. Our finances are tight. My husband is battling with job issues. We still don’t know what to do about mold, and our landlord has raised our rent, but not made needed repairs. My son sprained his knee and got hit in the chin with a baseball. Life kind of stinks. As do the lives of many of the people I’ve been serving with this week. Illness, injuries, and tough life challenges abound.

But my focus changed this week.

What I see is different. A smile goes a long way to cheer someone. We are in this together, joined by Jesus and our trials. My daughter’s face radiates the joy of the Lord as she belts out worship songs and dances on stage in front of hundreds of kids and adults. Our son rejoiced when one of his friends accepted the Lord. I wake and go through my day with the lines from songs echoing in my head. Words like:

I know You love me. You are for me, not against me …You only think good thoughts about me.

Or

Take me. This is all I can bring. (this little bit of sick, weakness) I feel alive. I come alive. I am alive…

It’s ended up being a great week. I’m no more tired than usual, but my heart is far less heavy. And I’ve found that having joy in the midst of life’s difficulties all depends on our focus.

To check out our VBS FUN visit www.coastlands.org and find us on Facebook.