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

 

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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

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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

 

 

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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

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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!

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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!

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That Time I Received Everything as a Gift…

That Time I Received Everything as a Gift…

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

On Crazy Christmas Sweater Day at the high school, I wear one depicting my favorite scene from the movie, “Elf.” Pictured on the front is Buddy the Elf screaming with ecstasy “Santa’s Coming! I know him!” Raised (by Santa) at the North Pole, Buddy works in the Christmas department of a New York City store. Though an upcoming visit from “Santa” is a humdrum for the other staff, he spends all night excitedly decorating to welcome a person he both knows and loves.

I’m the same way around Christmas – but not for Santa. For Jesus.

You see, Christmas celebrates Jesus’ coming. And since I know Him that changes my whole motivation for celebration..

Do you truly know Jesus or do you just know about Him?

Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God.” (2 Peter 1.3) Here we are promised that one of the greatest gifts we are given is the opportunity to get to know our Savior “personally and intimately.” How? By taking hold of the “everything” that is needed to live a life of godliness.

Literally we have received Everything!

The New Testament Greek word used here is pas which is translated “everything, all things, complete.” No exceptions. In the context of today’s verse, it refers to anything we need in order to grow spiritually.

It’s not enough just to have the gift, we must actually use it.

When Crowfoot, Chief of the Blackfoot nation in Alberta, gave the Canadian Pacific Railway permission to lay train track from Medicine Hat to Calgary, he was given in exchange a lifetime railroad pass. A ticket he could use to go anywhere, anytime. Everything he needed for a journey.

For the rest of his life.

Chief Crowfoot was so pleased with the gift that he put it in a fine tooled leather pouch and wore it around his neck. But he never used it. He never took a trip on the train. He had everything but he didn’t avail himself of the gift.

Don’t waste the grace gifts God has given you. “In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2.3) Simply draw near, read His Word, talk to Him in prayer.

That’s everything.

under the mercy, Lucinda

“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!

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When Your Family is “Complicated”

 When Your Family is “Complicated” 

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Let’s face it. Great Uncle Horace is not going to change this year.

He will still be obnoxious, drink too much, bring totally inappropriate gifts and end up snoring in the recliner during the family Christmas gathering. Yes, he’s a piece of work.

But he’s your family’s piece of work!

Ahhh…. extended families during the holidays. Can someone say, “It’s complicated?”

Even if we didn’t have all the drama with in-laws and outlaws and custody and visitation, we would still find ourselves with a living room full of people with varied views on everything from religion to sports to politics to parenting and even the traditional menu for the holiday meal.

Don’t dread it. And don’t skip it. Embrace the mix! Do what the apostle Paul encouraged If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12.18 

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Matthew 5.9  Unfortunately, our world is more than ever defined by our many conflicts.  

But my friend Jennifer Kennedy Dean in “Pursuing the Christ” brings the focus in tighter to our personal worlds. “Little arguments, petty responses later regretted, disagreements blown out of proportion, and hurt feelings, nurtured and fed, occur in abundance. Let peace begin with me… The focus is on what I can do to be an instrument of [Jesus’] peace.” 

The Bible promises that the “dawn from heaven will break upon us… to guide us on the path of peace.” Luke 1.78-79 In following that pathway, let’s offer acceptance and grace.

C.S. Lewis once commented that there are two kinds of love: “We love wise and kind and beautiful people because we need them, but we love (or try to love) stupid and disagreeable people because they need us. This second kind is the more divine because that is how God loves us: not because we are loveable but because He is love, not because He needs to receive but He delights to give.”

Love. Peace. It’s all been given to us.

Will you return the favor this season?

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!

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Will You Have a Shiny Christmas?

Will You Have a Shiny Christmas?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

I don’t want to just survive the holidays, I want to shine.

Don’t you want the season to be different this year? Not as hectic or harried. Not as full of stress and ‘shoulds.’ More purposeful and peaceful. Brighter and more beautiful, but in a low key way.

I’m thinking of words here like simplicity and serenity. You too?

Ready to let go of the debt and duty. Happy to keep the lights and shimmer. In fact, I want every single corner to shine, not necessarily with a designer tree or sequined sweater, but with sweet contentment.  In thinking of such possibilities, my heart bursts into praise, “Shine, Jesus shine, Fill this land with the Father’s glory.”

But, of course, my deepest prayer is “Shine on me.”

For until I am filled with that light inside, I can never reflect it to those around me.  

“If you have arrived at Advent, at the coming, with doubts, dragging chains of disbelief, disenchantment, and discouragement, welcome. You are not alone. And if you enter this season with a harried heart and a furrowed brow, welcome. You are not alone. If your moanings feel louder than the quiet, subtle hope tucked behind the noise of the world’s Christmas season, then welcome. You are not alone. And that’s the good news, isn’t it? That in this darkness, in this aching nighttime, we are not alone. Christ comes. Christ pierces the darkness with His light.” (Jane Rubietta, “Finding the Messiah”)

One symbolic way our family enjoys keeping the shine in our season is the tradition of lighting candles each day.  Advent wreaths can be purchased widely, from simple frames at hobby stores to elaborate ones in gift shops. But all you really need is a circle of four candles and a place in the middle for the Christ candle. Candles can be any color, or you use the traditional colors of three purple/blue and one pink. Each week, a new candle is lit. The first Sunday, we light a purple candle for Hope, the second Sunday another purple candle for Love, the third Sunday  the pink candle for Joy, the fourth Sunday a purple candle for Peace and on Christmas Eve the center white candle for Christ. With each lighting, we read Scripture and sing a Christmas carol.

Our dwelling place is God’s presence. Out of that place of refueling and reigniting, we then go forth to mingle with a damaged and desperate culture. “Among these people you shine like stars in the world.” (Philippians 2.15)

I’m looking forward to a Shiny Christmas, how about you?

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 

My book Dwelling Places has an entire section “SHINE” devoted to the 30 days of December. One word a day in this Season of Waiting. Order yours now! ORDER My New Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online!

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!

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But What If You Don’t Feel Thankful?

But What If You Don’t Feel Thankful?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Perhaps you aren’t feeling very thankful this week.

The world is a scary place. The losses have piled up one after another — health, relationships, financial security, dreams — and you really wish everyone would just quit asking you to list your one thousand gifts…

 

Some people call this holiday “Turkey Day” but that would be limiting. It is called Thanksgiving to prompt us to dig deep enough to find something which offers hope and promise.

To say Thank You. Even if we don’t feel thankful.

When I am in these hard places, I find it helpful to focus my soul on these two things: 

  1. Remember that GOD is the One we thank.

G.K. Chesterton once famously wrote, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” To whom are you thankful today? 

Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” (1 Chronicles 29:13) This verse reminds us that God is the one we praise. We thank Him because He loves us more than we can possibly imagine. He has our back. Knowing that we are created, loved and sustained by a merciful and gracious God is the ultimate reason for giving thanks.

  1. Make a CHOICE to live in Gratitude, no matter what.

So, I can either complain and whine about the direction life has taken me— the detour in the road, the closed door, the seemingly impossible challenge — or I can believe that nothing is too hard for God-with-us (that is Emmanuel, one of the names of Jesus).

Maybe your situation is darker this year than last, but if you know God as the Great Provider, you can choose to declare: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3.17-18)

thankfullist1965I’m grateful for parents who taught me early on that Thanksgiving is actually a way of life. Recently I discovered a small piece of paper with a long childhood list — my ‘ticket’ to Thanksgiving dinner. I was startled to count 70 different things on this thankful list —  in categories, no less! If I could write that many at age twelve, just think of all I can thank Him for today after so much more life and blessing.

What is ONE THING you can Thank God for today?

Even in the pain, even in the loneliness, even in the uncertainty. Now breathe it out or write it out. Good for you.

Heavenly Father, I thank you. Most of all for loving me, for being my Savior and my Lord. But also for the many blessings you have showered upon my life. Every good gift is from you and I will declare my gratitude by living with a thankful heart. Not just on this holiday, but always. Amen. 

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2018 Lucinda Secrest McDowell       www.EncouragingWords.net 

holidayfp4hThis Devotional appears in “A Joy-Full Season” Holiday Wellness Study from my good friends at First Place 4 Health. Want to Stay Healthy during the upcoming holidays? Order your copy HERE NOW! (I am grateful to be a contributing author of several devotionals in it – there are lots more from fabulous people!)

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!

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