Is God Big Enough to be in Your Church and Mine?

Is God Big Enough to Be in Your Church and Mine?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

allsaintschurchThe smells were different. The sights were different. The music was different. And even some of the words were different.

But it was the Same God.

I recently attended worship  in a Christian church culturally not my own. In such a situation, often the differences are what initially bombard the senses. Incense and icons. Chanting of unfamiliar music. Robes of gold and an exquisitely painted dome.

I was reminded of other ‘different’ services I’d experienced in other lands — preaching from a flat-bed truck in Malawi, on the beach in Thailand, gathering in a dark hut in northern Kenya, and sitting in the back pew of a Mediterranean camp church where it was literally “all Greek to me.” Here in the USA I’ve worshiped in gymnasiums, cathedrals, tents, stone chapels and yes, even a Kentucky country church with snake-handlers!

        Yet in all these places the same Jesus Christ was lifted up and worshiped.  Personally, I would rather embrace my common beliefs with other Christians, rather than focus on our differences. True, there are distinct differences. But we have the same Scripture and the same Lord and Saviour.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2.5)

            Why not build bridges instead of erecting walls?

That said, I do acknowledge that ‘different’ can often be uncomfortable. It is human nature to seek the solace of the familiar. And far too often our insecurities prompt criticism — “Why do they sing choruses instead of hymns?” or “Why do they sing hymns instead of choruses?” or “Why do they chant instead of singing hymns and choruses?”

Do you think God is actually Big Enough to receive our praise and worship in a whole world full of creative ways? Do you think perhaps that our prayers reach God’s ears whether they are totally spontaneous or whether we pray from the heart the words of an ancient prayer? I do both. And, I assure you, God hears.

Because God knows the heart of the worshiper. He knows whether or not we are focused on Him, committed to Him, believing the words we sing and recite. Somehow I don’t think God cares as much about the form as we do. He cares that we trust and believe and hope and worship.

                             “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” (Romans 15.5-7 NLT)

And whether God’s people gather in an urban storefront or an underground cellar or yes, even an ornate sanctuary, He is among us.

First Church of Christ – Wethersfield CT

Frankly, I’m not crazy about religious labels. I am a Christ follower. That’s all that really matters. My home of worship is currently (and has been for 28 years) the oldest church in the state of Connecticut. Gathered in 1635, our sanctuary is called The Meetinghouse and we worship in a Puritan white simple edifice with doored pews and a high pulpit and absolutely no decoration whatsoever! In fact, it remains the same as when George Washington and Jonathan Edwards worshiped here hundreds of years ago.

And it couldn’t be a more different atmosphere than the church mentioned in my opening.

Yet here I find God. As do hundreds who attend our three Sunday services. Do you find God where you worship? Isn’t that what truly matters?

After all, it’s not about me. It’s about Him.

Last weekend I was privileged to speak with God’s people in a setting different from my home church. God met us there and all who attended were welcomed into fellowship. I thank God that He is Big Enough to be everywhere.

”Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13.8)

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

Advertisements
Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Why I Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Why I Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

What if evil hijacked your youth and held you captive for years and years? When escape to a new life was finally achieved, you would vow to stay as far away from your former captors as possible, right?

Well, maybe not.

Maybe you would choose to return and “conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12.21)

Patrick was a sixteen-year-old teenager when he was abducted. There were no milk cartons broadcasting his disappearance, no organizations rescuing young people from human trafficking, no Amber alerts. He was on his own among a fierce pagan people.

He was now a slave, far from home.

In 5th century Ireland.

The land was lush and beautiful. But the people were themselves enslaved to superstition, spirits and fear. Violence was common and life was cheap. In this alien land, Patrick grew up quickly as slave to an Irish Chieftain.

When there was time to be lonely and homesick among his heathen captors, Patrick found solace in God and converted to Christianity. He drew close to Him through nature, silence and prayer. One evening he felt God’s Spirit was prompting him to go to the shore two hundred miles away. There he discovered a boat which he immediately took as God’s provision for his escape.

After six long years he was finally free and able to pursue a new life! With a deepened, faith, he pursued ordination in the church and continued a vital ministry in Roman Britain. But the land that first captured him, now captured his heart.

He longed to return to Ireland. Patrick had become convinced that he was handpicked by God to convert the entire country to Christianity.

Patrick greatly respected nature, but he also wanted the Irish to know that God was the only One worthy of worship. So he used a shamrock to explain the three persons of the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — one stem but three leaves.

Patrick labored in Ireland for thirty years and even though some say he singlehandedly converted Ireland, Patrick preferred to put it this way: “I owe it to God’s grace that so many people should, through me, become Christians.”

He loved the Irish and they loved him back, perpetuating many legends about his life and ministry. When this Briton born as Patricius died at age 75, he was named Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

And neither Ireland nor Christianity was ever quite the same.

The following prayer is commonly known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate, found in the ancient Book of Armagh, from the early ninth century. Patrick is said to have written this prayer to strengthen himself with God’s protection as he prepared to confront and convert Loegaire, high king of Ireland.

We may not wear combat gear in our daily lives, but St. Patrick’s Breastplate can function as divine armor for protection against spiritual adversity. Where do you need to conquer evil by doing good? Ask God and He will reveal to you His battle plans for your own life.

(Author’s note: Whenever I pray this prayer, I have to stand and raise my right hand as though holding a sword. Then I proclaim with great conviction “I arise today…” I have not condensed it here.)

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

       “I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through a belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. I arise today through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism, through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial, through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension, through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom. I arise today through the strength of the love of cherubim, in obedience of angels, in service of archangels, in the hope of resurrection to meet with reward, in the prayers of patriarchs, in preachings of the apostles, in faiths of confessors, in innocence of virgins, in deeds of righteous men. I arise today through the strength of heaven; light of the sun, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of the wind, depth of the sea,  stability of the earth, firmness of the rock. I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me,  God’s wisdom to guide me,  God’s eye to look before me,  God’s ear to hear me,  God’s word to speak for me,  God’s hand to guard me,  God’s way to lie before me,  God’s shield to protect me,  God’s hosts to save me from snares of the devil,  from temptations of vices,  from everyone who desires me ill, afar and anear,  alone or in a multitude. I summon today All these powers between me and those evils, Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, Against incantations of false prophets, Against black laws of pagandom, Against false laws of heretics, Against craft of idolatry, Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul; Christ to shield me today Against poison, against burning, Against drowning, against wounding, So that there may come to me an abundance of reward. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left,  Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,  Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me,  Christ in the ear that hears me. I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through a belief in the Threeness, through a confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. Amen.”    Patrick of Ireland (390-461)

under the mercy, Lucinda

Click HERE to listen to my dear friend Christin Ditchfield Lazo pray the above prayer to music. Click on St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer (and there are many other prayers there too!)

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Lent ~ It’s Not Just Giving Up Chocolate

Lent ~ It’s Not Just Giving Up Chocolate

 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

When I was growing up in south Georgia, my Episcopalian friends Mercer and Lisa always proudly announced this time of year that they were “giving up chocolate for Lent!” I never really knew what that meant. All I knew is that they didn’t seem any holier after doing this, so I kept eating chocolate…

Now, I not only know what “Lent” means, I embrace this season – the 40 days prior to our celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is one of the holiest and most significant observances in the life of a believer and definitely deserves more than just a one-day acknowledgement.

“Lent” derives its name from an old Saxon word lencton which literally meant length. During these 6 weeks while we are repenting and reflecting on what Christ did for us, the days are lengthening and we are moving from winter to spring – literally into New Life.

In the 3rd and 4th centuries Christians began the practice of a 40-day preparation period which many still embrace today. Lent is a time when our souls seek God in a fresh way. And yes, fasting is one way to do that. Some people fast from a certain  kind of food, others from tempting time-consuming activities such as television or social media. The idea is to practice denial of something so that we can focus more on what Christ has done for us.

For many followers of Christ, Lent has not been a regular observance because it’s what those “other churches” do. But I assure you, there are practices we can all embrace during this time which will draw us closer to Jesus.

How will YOU observe Lent this year?

  • Daily soul nurture through silence, prayer and a biblical devotional?
  • Reflection and repentance for sin in choosing another path?
  • Reaching out with love and service to those who are hurting and need hope?
  • Worshiping with the body of Christ – Holy Communion weekly?
  • Living in gratitude and sharing the Hope of Easter to all around you?

One thing we can all do during these 40 days is to set aside time each day with God – reflection, prayer and Bible reading. While there are many great resources out there, may I humbly suggest my own book “Dwelling Places” (order here) which contains a 40-day section for Lent “Renew.” 

 FOR FREE DOWNLOADABLE 2019 LENTEN 40-DAY GUIDE CLICK HERE2019 Lenten Devotions from “Dwelling Places”
by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Ash Wednesday, Mar. 6 Day 1 “Return
Thursday, Mar. 7 Day 2 “Renewed”
Friday, Mar. 8 Day 3 “Pray”
Saturday, Mar. 9 Day 4 “Called”

Monday, Mar. 11 Day 5 “Winter”
Tuesday, Mar. 12 Day 6 “Sees”
Wednesday, Mar. 13 Day 7 “Forgiveness”
Thursday, Mar. 14 Day 8 “Hold
Friday, Mar. 15 Day 9 “Temptation”
Saturday, Mar. 16 Day 10 “Wounds”

Monday, Mar. 18 Day 11 “Repentance”
Tuesday, Mar. 19 Day 12 “Restores”
Wednesday, Mar. 20 Day 13 “Guide”
Thursday, Mar. 21 Day 14 “Wrestled”
Friday, Mar. 22 Day 15 “Godless Chatter”
Saturday, Mar. 23 Day 16 “Betray”

Monday, Mar. 25 Day 17 “Engraved”
Tuesday, Mar. 26 Day 18 “Humility”
Wednesday, Mar. 27 Day 19 “Poured Out”
Thursday, Mar. 28 Day 20 “Fear”
Friday, Mar. 29 Day 21 “Flame”
Saturday, Mar. 30 Day 22 “Brokenhearted”

Monday, April 1 Day 23 “Freedom”
Tuesday, April 2 Day 24 “Near”
Wednesday, April 3 Day 25 “Heart”
Thursday, April 4 Day 26 “Hear”
Friday, April 5 Day 27 “Sheep”
Saturday, April 6 Day 28 “Wisdom”

Monday, April 8 Day 29 “Name”
Tuesday, April 9 Day 30 “Suffering”
Wednesday, April 10 Day 31 “Unseen”
Thursday, April 11 Day 32 “Power”
Fri. Apr. 12/Sat. Apr. 13 Day 33 “Defeated”

Holy Week 2019:
Monday, April 15 Day 34 “New”
Tuesday, April 16 Day 35 “Mercy”
Wednesday, April 17 Day 36 “Remember”
Maundy Thursday, Apr. 18 Day 37 “With Me”
Good Friday, April 19 Day 38 “Death”
Holy Saturday, April 20 Day 39 “Wept”
Easter Sunday, April 21 Day 40 “Resurrection”

PRAYER FOR ASH WEDNESDAY: “O, God, when we pause to look back at our lives on this Ash Wednesday,  we realize that we have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  We have neglected to do good when it was in our power to do so. We have ignored the cries of the motherless, the fatherless, the widow and the widower choosing instead to turn children and the elderly into the new poor.We have not dealt honorably with our enemies or our friends, and we have feigned a place in the company of the righteous. Forgive us, O God,    for the times we have neglected to provide our children and our world an authentic example of Christianity. As we begin the journey of these 40 days, Wash us, O God and we shall be clean.Cleanse us, O Lord, and we  shall be made whole. Amen.”

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

How to Thrive in Your Professional Connections

How to Thrive in Your Professional Connections

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

C. S. Lewis knew how important it was to have like-minded friends with similar interests and concerns. Those who shared the same passion for writing and creating –like J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. So, the Inklings gathered together twice a week in community, out of which came such classic works as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.

“It is important not to overstate the importance of this group, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest literary clubs of the twentieth century. To challenge the status quo demands fellowship and commitment. Lewis emphasized the privilege of being part of such a group ‘In a good Friendship, every member often feels humility towards the rest. He sees that they are splendid, and counts himself lucky to be among them.’” (Alister McGrath, “If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis”)

Do you have professional connections of the soul – like minded people who “get” you? By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped. Ecclesiastes 4.12

I’m grateful for many friends, including my “spasisters” who offer endless counsel, wisdom, support and prayer for me both professionally and personally. This name is really misleading because we have never communed together over a whirlpool or sauna. But we have gathered for “spiritual spas” and I find I can jump right in no matter how long it has been since the last communique. No long explanations needed – we are all seasoned women in leadership seeking balance. They are truly sisters-who-know-what-my-life-is-like.

A new connection with a guild of mostly younger women who are writing and speaking on cutting edge issues is also timely for me. Every day these sisters (through our online group) teach me something new and point me to exciting ministries that are evolving in fresh wineskins. And occasionally, I’m able to offer wisdom and encouragement from my own lifetime of writing and speaking. I eagerly look forward to more.

Would you like to thrive in your own professional connections? Here are some guidelines I use in the publishing field – feel free to tailor them to your own milieu:

  1. Never Compare – Competition can kill professional connections. Please recognize that you both have strengths and unique stories to share. Don’t try to imitate her journey or personal style. Be confident in who you are and what you have to offer.
  2. Keep Confidences – Nothing destroys a relationship faster than telling secrets. Be a person she can trust, whether she talks to you about her new proposal, her financial advance, or a family struggle.
  3. Promote Her Publicly – Praise her on social media and recognize her contribution to your life (or even your work) when appropriate. Be a cheerleader.
  4. Brainstorm Together – One great service we can perform with others in the publishing industry is brainstorming over titles or plot devices or platform expanding. Listen. Then, be an authentic soundboard and always be kind.
  5. Refer Her When Appropriate –One day you may be asked to speak at an event (or write a book) on a theme that is not your forte, but fits her perfectly. How gracious if you recommend her as an even better expert on the subject.
  6. Plan Appointments – If you are both going to be at the same convention, sharing a platform, or even an airport, plan in advance a time for one-to-one catch up if at all possible. This shows how much you value keeping in touch.
  7. Share Her Joys – Make a deliberate effort to congratulate her on a new book release or an award nomination or win. Chances are nobody “at home” noticed, so your words will be especially appreciated.
  8. Endorse Her Work – If asked and you are able, seek to endorse her book or give a speaking endorsement for her website. “Do send me the manuscript and I will consider writing an endorsement if at all possible.”
  9. Don’t Use Her – Yes, our professional friends have all sorts of contacts and while there is nothing wrong with occasionally asking them to mention us to that event planner or editor, try not to make this a habit or certainly not the basis of your relationship.
  10. Keep Expectations Loose – She is your friend but she is also professional friends with many other people. So, don’t expect to always be included in every gathering and don’t assume rejection when you see her social media posts.
  11. Welcome New People – Don’t always gravitate just to those you already know at professional events. Reach out to welcome new people into your life and expect a blessing.
  12. Pray for Her – And by that, I mean don’t just say you will pray for her, do it! If possible, pray over specific requests (or dates or deadlines) that she shares with you. This may be the most important ‘glue’ for your relationship. We grow to love those for whom we pray.

There is strength in connection!

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

Posted in 1 | 14 Comments

The Fine Art of Asking Excellent Questions

The Fine Art of Asking Excellent Questions

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

 “Who is your favorite literary character and why?” was the question that opened our online study – a weekly gathering of ten women from all over the country.

What ensued was a lively discussion of our childhood heroines, including insight into how those characters may have helped shape the course of our lives. Though we had known each other for many years, our answers were surprising and provocative.

That discussion question comes from a new Dutch parlor game called Vertellis. This name is derived from two Dutch words Vertel Eens. which loosely translate to “Tell Us More.”- which is what Vertellis revolves around! Not just by answering questions, but also by fully engaging. The creators’ mission is to bring people together at a time when we seem to be distracted by technology and ambition. The Vertellis team hopes to make a positive impact in the world by facilitating beautiful conversations and stimulate time offline. 

Questions have a way of doing that — good questions get right to the core. And in the answering of them we often learn about ourselves. 

Here are just a few examples of when Jesus used questions to help prompt people to identify their feelings, their needs and what to do next.

  • “Do you want to get well?”John 5.6  (to the man who had lain by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years, hoping to be healed.)
  • “Who do you say I am?”Matthew 16.15   (to Peter who answered “You are Messiah.” Then Jesus told Peter he would build the church on this rock.)
  • “Who touched me?”Luke 8.45  (in the crowd when the woman with an issue of blood reached out for healing and restoration.)
  • “What do you want me to do for you?”Luke 16.4  (asking Bartimaeus, who responded “I want to see” and immediately his sight was restored.)
  • “Do you love me?”John 21.5   (on the shore after the resurrection, Jesus gave Peter three times to answer and affirm his love and commitment to “Feed my sheep.”
  • “Which of these was a neighbor?”Luke 10.36    (after telling the parable of the man put upon by thieves and showing that only the Samaritan helped him.)

Are there ways you could use questions to improve your own relationships?

For instance, when a child first arrives home from school, don’t just ask “How was school?” or you run the risk of hearing a short, non-specific answer like, “Fine.” Instead, ask something which stimulates conversation, possibly revealing more about your child’s day. Questions such as:

  1. What made you smile today?
  2. Did you hear anything that surprised you?
  3. Who did you play with/talk to at recess?
  4. What new word did you learn?
  5. How were you helpful today?

Questions can also be a vehicle for our own spiritual growth. Do not hesitate to voice to God those things with which you are struggling. Look for answers in His Word, and through godly counsel. “We’re continually faced with questions that challenge our belief systems. This isn’t a bad thing, and much of Jesus’s ministry revolved around asking questions. In the end, thoughtfully examining our faith promotes a spirituality that is healthy, honest, genuine, and mature.” 

A treasured gift I received recently is the devotional book, “Sacred Questions” in which the author’s own spiritual journey began with questions — bringing them to God, not just to receive answers, but to also be changed. In the process, God used that questioning to allow her to know Him and herself even better, to break patterns of sin, grow in forgiveness and love, and join his work in the world.

“Asking sacred questions opens a holy dialogue with the loving, ever-present God who is at once holding all things together and dwelling within us. Instead of doing all the talking, we learn how to listen for what God is saying. We all long for space to hear him, to allow ourselves to receive his love, and yet we often either fail to make the time or are unsure how to do it (and maybe a little of both).” (Kellye Fabian, “Sacred Questions”)

God loves to answer our questions, so ask away!

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

 

Posted in 1 | 4 Comments

So, How Hard is it to Really Love?

So, How Hard is it to Really Love?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection,          and take delight in honoring each other.   Romans 12.9-10 

  • Love is and love does.
  • My home church’s motto is “Love God and Love Others.”
  • The Beatles sang “All you need is Love.
  • Love is a Battlefield” was a 1980’s music video selling a million copies.
  • “I Love NY” is a popular state slogan.
  • One restaurant calls itself “We Love Burgers.”

The above random examples clearly make the case for why we are so confused about love! When we use the word for everything from loving our husband to loving hamburgers, the word is in danger of losing value.

But one truth I discovered a long time ago: I cannot love others until I first receive the unconditional love of God for myself. My Creator declares “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31.3)

Do you believe God loves you unconditionally?

In the original Old Testament Hebrew, the word chesed appears – often translated as “everlasting love” or “unfailing kindness.” Both are parts of this large word. One scholar notes that “no single word in our language is adequate to translate it, so we revert to the use of adjectives to bring out the distinctive quality and broad reach of this love.”

Yes, we first receive such love from God, but then we are called to generously dole out love as well. “We humans, who have been created in the image of God, are also capable of loving this way, even though we never seem to get very good at it. Chesed is love without regard to shifting circumstances, hormones, emotional states, and personal convenience.” (Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall

I recently taught a mid-week Bible Study during the months of July and August – a time when most New Englanders are “at the shore.” I decided to call it “Finding Answers Together” tackling some of today’s pressing dilemmas. Needless to say, on the week scheduled for answers to the question “How Do I Love Difficult, Different and Demanding People?” the room was packed. Some people even came home from the shore to be there!

Because how do we make the choice to love someone who appears unlovable?

Shannan Martin and her family discovered the answer by radically changing their lifestyle, moving into the inner city and intentionally noticing others around them. “We watch from our windows. We venture outside. We receive the help that’s offered. We find ourselves connected in spite of everything we once thought stood between us… As our love for our place deepens, our love for its people will flourish. We taste the possibility and power of ordinary, luminous love, and discover we can’t get enough. In our heads, we understand that everything we accomplish is pointless if we cannot be known as people who love freely and fully.” (Shannon Martin, The Ministry of Ordinary Places

She embodies today’s verse, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them,” Which is practically impossible unless we learn to look at others with fresh eyes.

Bob Goff does this by first admitting that people we often see as a problem, God sees as sons and daughters made in His image. His challenging, yet promising words: “Who has been mean or rude or flat wrong or creeps you out? Don’t tell them all your opinions, give them all your love. I know it’s hard for you. It’s hard for me too.  You’ll also be misunderstood – you might not even understand yourself anymore. You’ll grow. as you practice loving everybody always what will happen along the way is, you’ll no longer be who you used to be. God will turn you into love.”  (Bob Goff, Everybody Always

May God turn us into love today. And may that love be part of healing our broken world.

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

Posted in 1 | 2 Comments

7 Benefits from Time Apart

7 Benefits from Time Apart

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

I’ve often encouraged others to “come apart before you fall apart.” As 2019 dawned, I realized it was my turn to do just that.

When I chose to “hibernate” for the month of January, my intention was to deliberately live quietly, offline, and mostly out of touch. I continued much of my work and daily life responsibilities, but did relocate part of the month – primarily for my husband’s recovery from recent brain surgery.

There is no one formula for such a time of desperate respite. Because mine came at the first of a new year, it was for me a time to pray, plan and purpose for the days ahead. But it can also look like a weekend retreat or even one day away at a local monastery. Whatever form your time apart takes, God can use those moments to restore your soul.

Home now, I’m grateful for the following benefits of my time apart:

  1. Rest is good for both body and brain. Most of us know this, but often resist tending to our own needs. Richard Foster observed, “I have discovered that the most difficult problem is not finding the time but convincing myself that this is important enough to set apart the time.” In our currently sleep-deprived culture, health experts agree that “a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience. On the other hand, chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.” (Harvard Health) Late last year I began to manifest being overstressed and exhausted. As I listened to my husband’s neurologist speak of how important it is to rest both body and brain, the thought occurred, Perhaps I need to recover from his brain surgery. “When our brain enters the rest circuit, we don’t actually rest, we move into a highly intelligent, self-reflective, directed state. And the more often we go there, the more we get in touch with the deep, spiritual part of who we are.” (Dr. Caroline Leaf, “Switch on Your Brain”) Time apart gave me the freedom to sleep, nap, rest my mind and actually become more creative and energetic at the same time.
  2. Without the daily bombardment of social media updates, I am free from FOMO (fear of missing out) and the temptation to compare myself to others and comment on everything in the world. In “A Liturgy for Arriving at the Ocean” I prayed, “May the stresses of obligation, reputation, and deadline here dissolve. May we find rest in the renewed certainty that we need not be feared or respected or popular or successful or somehow perfect, to be loved by You. There is no striving here at the end of our limits…” (“Every Moment Holy”) I recognize that there is a place for digital life and I have now jumped back in somewhat tentatively. But in the absence of it, I discovered that a healthy balance emerges in recognizing that “the bright lights of social media can blind us to our primary identity as the beloved.”
  3. Only in silence and “wilderness” places can I truly hear God’s whisper.  I long to hear from God but sometimes the noise in my normal life drowns out important truth. It’s no wonder that He often speaks loudest when we are far from all those things that prop us up. I’ve learned there is great benefit to just being still – sitting on a bench and doing nothing. God spoke to Moses in the wilderness and I clearly heard His voice in some wild places this month.  “Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, God invites us to the far side of the wilderness to commune with Him. Saying yes to that invitation requires a willingness to step away from the noise, distractions, and demands of our daily life, at least for a little while.” (Michelle deRusha, “True You”)
  4. Vital connections are made during face-to-face time with loved ones and significant friends.  Perhaps the best parts of my month were actually spent in community. Both Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend encourage deep relationships with those who “1) draw us closer to God, 2) draw us closer to others, and 3) draw us closer to our authentic selves.” (“Safe People”) If married, then time with our spouse is always a priority and a privilege. After surviving a challenging year, Mike and I were grateful for time together to reflect, renew and recharge. I also spent a week (for the eleventh year in a row) in prayer and fellowship with godly women who know me well. These kindred spirit sisters remind me of Eugene Peterson’s glorious description: “And then someone enters our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what’s deepest within us. A friend.” (“Leap Over a Wall”)  
  5. I find wisdom in embracing the paradox of productivity during such a season. Truth is that (even whilst on a book deadline) I had to realize that though few words were written during my time apart, many words were being lived out and others marinating for eventual release. I often think of this reminder from John Ruskin: “There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by ‘rests,’ and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the ‘rests.’ They are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.” As with much of life, there is often more going on than is outwardly evident.
  6. My prayer life becomes richer when I have the freedom of fewer “to do” lists competing for my attention.  For someone who occasionally struggles with focus while praying, a time apart can provide (mostly) uninterrupted spaces and seasons to pray continually. I also love to pull out treasured prayer books and lift up words prayed through the centuries. While at the beach I turned to this prayer from St. Aidan of Lindisfarne (590-651 AD) “Leave me alone with God as much as may be. As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, Make me an island set apart, Alone with You, O God, holy to You. Then with the turning of the tide Prepare me to carry Your presence to the busy world beyond, The world that rushes in on me, Till the waters come again and take me back to You.” This month I also enjoyed many of the liturgies from “Every Moment Holy” — “In our days away let us play together. Let us laugh together. Let us be moved to speak such meaningful words as ought to be spoken among family and friends. Let us linger long at tables and drink deeply of one another’s company, enjoying each for who they are with the steady pressures of our ordinary days now lifted.” (Douglas McKelvey, 2017) My prayerful conversations with God were quieter but deeper.
  7.  Words and songs of gratitude became my mantra. Over and over I thanked God not only for all He continues to give and do and be for me, but for the absolute undeserved grace gift of this time apart. Australian novelist Morris West suggests that at a certain age our lives simplify and we need have only three phrases left in our spiritual vocabulary: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” That is exactly how I feel in this season of my life, but it sometimes takes a new perspective to recharge me back to constant praise. Though I’ve always read at least one Psalm a day, I’ve been inspired to dig even deeper in this amazingly poetical and praise-worthy book. A dying woman once told my author friend Barbara Mahany “If you love the life you have, please, please, please practice gratitude. Wake up every morning acknowledging just how much beauty is in your world. Pay attention to it, honor it and keep your heart and your eyes wide open. You won’t regret it.” (“The Blessings of Motherprayer”) Yes, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Would you like to embrace some of these amazing benefits of a time apart?

The sad reason most people don’t do such a thing is often guilt. Natasha Sistrunk Robinson confirms that “God has designed humans for sacred rhythms that include rest. Whether it’s a spiritual retreat, an engaging and nurturing conference, a fellowship dinner or a girl’s night out, taking time to rest, relax and focus on the Lord is important for our soul’s care. We must make life-giving choices to rest and retreat so we can faithfully continue our work, and live our lives on purpose for God.” (“Mentor for Life”)

I hope you can schedule into your new year some intentional time apart. And I’d love to hear the benefits you discover in the process.

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

 

 

Posted in 1 | 6 Comments

Why I’m Hibernating this January

Ready to Pursue Your 2019 Writing & Speaking Goals? We at reNEW – retreat for New England Writing & Speaking invite You to Join our Community October 4-6. 

Why I’m Hibernating this January

Lucinda Secrest McDowell 

Merriam Webster defines hibernation as “to pass the winter in a resting state.”

Sounds good to me. 

I’ve decided to hibernate for the month of January 2019. As this new year slowly unfolds, I am going to wait in wonder for instructions and guidance. I won’t be interacting on social media or posting blogs or sharing memes. I am going to be still and listen to God’s Whisper on my life. I will unplug from most technology and plug in to a very few people, sanctuary places and intentional prayerfulness. 

Mind you, it’s not a month’s vacation. I will still work and juggle life responsibilities, just quietly!

On some days I may even do Nothing. And that’s okay! “To be in solitude is to choose to do nothing. For extensive periods of time. All accomplishment is given up. Silence is required to complete solitude, for until we enter quietness, the world still lays hold of us. When we go into solitude and silence we stop making demands on God. It is enough that God is God and we are His.” (from “Invitation to Solitude and Silence” by Ruth Haley Barton)

2018 was a year of God’s continued faithfulness. But it was also a year of multiple medical challenges in my family and occasions where it was my joy and privilege to serve as a caregiver. I’m grateful to say that when the need arose, God provided both the strength and the serenity I needed (though I most certainly did not always shine in the process).

2018 was a year when I had the inestimable privilege of meeting so many of you in person. I am grateful every single time God opens a door for me to walk through with my words. I’m empowered as I speak, but enriched as I meet new and old friends. It was a lovely year of travel.

Finally, I also can hardly believe I’m saying this, but friends, I just turned in the manuscript for my 14th Book!!! On time. Miracle of miracles – thanks for your support and prayers. No title yet, but stay tuned…

“Take this book in Thy wounded Hand, Jesus, Lord of Calvary. Let it go forth at Thy command, use it as it pleaseth Thee.”  ~ Amy Carmichael

With a fresh calendar page, I confess to feeling somewhat stretched and weary, even as I am also feeling a great reboot for my ministry and message. Life is often a mix of two opposites, isn’t it? 

On the final day of 2018, I read some wisdom from Oswald Chambers for all our new years:

  • For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 52.12    
  • “Security from Yesterday.  At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise when we remember our yesterdays. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future.
  • Security for Tomorrow. “…the Lord will go before you….” This is a gracious revelation— that God will send His forces out where we have failed to do so. He will keep watch so that we will not be tripped up again by the same failures, as would undoubtedly happen if He were not our “rear guard.”
  • Security for Today. “You shall not go out in haste….” As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.”  (Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest” December 31)

Happy New Year 2019.  I’m unplugging for the month now — praying for both a restorative and revealing time alone as well as moments with family and friends. 

Perhaps you will choose to do the same? Let me know, and thanks for being patient with my slow reply…

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My New Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online9

Posted in 1 | 2 Comments

How Can Your “Mess” Become a “Messiah” in 2019?

How Can Your “Mess” Become a “Messiah” in 2019?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Christmas is over and your house is a mess. Maybe even your whole life feels like a mess right about now. Honey, you are so not alone!

George was a mess.

One night in 1741, this bent old man shuffled listlessly down a dark London street. he was starting out on one of the aimless, despondent wanderings that had become a nightly ritual for him. His mind was a battleground between hope based on his past glories and despair based on the future.

George Frederich Handel couldn’t help but think of his roller coaster life…

For forty years he had written stately music for the aristocracy of England and Europe. Kings and queens had showered him with honors. Then court society turned against him, reducing him to poverty and illness. For awhile he experienced a recovery in health and fortune, until his patroness, Queen Caroline, died. As Handel sank deeper into debt, his heart sank deeper into depression.

Trudging into the warmth of his apartment that night, he discovered a package had been delivered– a commission to write a sacred oratorio. He would have preferred writing another opera. That is, until he began to read the words he was asked to set to music… “He was despised and rejected of men;” “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace;” and “I know that my Redeemer Liveth.”

As these words came alive with meaning and purpose, so did Handel. He became consumed with writing and then jumping up and running to the harpsichord. At times he would stride up and down the room flailing the air with his arms and singing at the top of his lungs, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” the tears running down his cheeks.

People thought he was going mad. For twenty-four days he labored like a fiend with little rest or food. Then he fell on his bed exhausted, with his new score, “Messiah,” laying on his desk. At the very first performance of “Messiah,” the King and Queen attended and spontaneously stood in reverence when the “Hallelujah Chorus” began. That custom has continued to this day.

Handel never again succumbed to despair. Age sapped his vitality, he went blind, but his undaunted spirit remained to the last. “Until us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” became words that gave him new life.

And through his oratorio, George Frederich Handel lit a torch that still shines.

This Child whom we celebrate during Christmas has great power to rescue those who are at the end of their rope – “messes” like you and me.  To offer a lifeline which restores purpose and passion to a discouraged soul. To anoint with power so that even the feeblest of humans can make a divine offering back to the Giver.

What will your “Messiah” be this coming year?

  • For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;
  • And the government will be upon His shoulder.
  • And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
  • Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

    under the mercy, Lucinda

    “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

    ©2018 Lucinda Secrest McDowell  adapted from Dwelling Places (Abingdon Press)      www.EncouragingWords.net 

    NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

    ORDER My New Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online!

Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Guess Who Moved Into the Neighborhood?

Guess Who Moved Into the Neighborhood?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

People were confused, hurting, angry and impatient. They wanted relief. They wanted results. Perhaps what they really wanted was a savior. Someone to solve all the problems in the world and thus make their life easier.

They had already tried just about everything, including following their own instincts, going after whatever would satisfy, even as a temporary fix. But it wasn’t enough. Our way usually isn’t.

After what seemed like silence for more than 400 years, a loving God did a radical thing to reach down into the world he had made and which had subsequently tossed him aside.

He came.

God became incarnate as Jesus Christ, the Son, and entered into our mess, helpless as a baby, unknown and ordinary. “He moved into the neighborhood.” John 1.14 MSG

To be among us.

Not over us, spouting truth from on high. But down here where life is gritty and grace is gulped by desperate people wanting to belong. Among. Walking down the dusty streets with beggars and women of the night. Confronting corrupt temple holy men even as the ordinary worshiper became discouraged by church politics.  Making his home in our homes.

Dwelling in our midst and eventually in our very hearts.

This is huge.

That One who is all-powerful and all-knowing would draw close to someone just like you and me. And yet Jesus-among-us is exactly what we celebrate every Christmas. The glory in the manger.

Where is God in your life? Is he still “up there” out of sight, out of reach, impossible to communicate with?

Or do you know him “here?” Christ among you. A breath prayer away from solace and sanctuary.

Invite Him in and stay close. Speak to Him of your concerns and your joys. Ask Him for power when yours gives out. Ask Him for love to share with the unlovely. Rest with your head on His lap and in obedience do hard things that will display His glory to the world.

This is why God sent Jesus.

under the mercy, Lucinda

Christmas JOY from the McDowell Family! 

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2018 Lucinda Secrest McDowell  adapted from Ordinary Graces (Abingdon Press)      www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My New Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online!

Posted in 1 | Leave a comment