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Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Dec 30, 2016

PROGRAM D-7740

Are you ready to say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017? It’s about that time, whether you’re ready or not!  However, before we close the door on 2016, I think it would be helpful to simply survey these past twelve months—the good, the bad and the ugly, as they say.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Speak to one another with psalm, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ  (Ephesians 5:19-20)

We are to give thanks to God even for the things that didn’t work out the way we wanted them to, or the really difficult things that happened to us. And sometimes you have to do that by faith, not by feelings, because who feels thankful for difficult circumstances—for financial hardships or relationship struggles; for lost jobs or sick loved ones? But if you will give thanks anyway—a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord—you will be able to close out 2016 with hope and anticipation of the good things God has for you in 2017.

As 2016 comes to a close, I want to end on a note of great encouragement for you and for me, from these wonderful passages in God’s Word:

Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:27-31

And from our Savior, Jesus Christ, his wonderful promise to us:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3

Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20b

That is God’s big picture, and because he lives and because he has promised to be with us, and because he is coming back to take us to be with him, we have a bright future in 2017.

Happy, blessed, joyful New Year.

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Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Dec 29, 2016

PROGRAM D-7739

If you’ve been a partner with us for awhile, you are no doubt aware that my name changed from Mary Whelchel on December 31st of last year, when I was married to a long-time good friend. That was a change that was not on my radar screen, but it was a blessing and a gift from God to both of us. Interestingly, that name change was the beginning of some other significant changes for me in 2016.

Was 2016 full of lots of change for you, too? You know, even good change, positive change, has its challenges and brings stress into our lives. But negative change is even more stressful. I watched a good friend this year as she approached her final days. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which normally means only a very few months to live, God graciously gave her two and a half years after the diagnosis. But she went to be with Jesus in October.

Her ability to face her upcoming death was amazing. She made the most of every day she had. She spent time with her large family, taking each young grandchild for a day, to express her love and her hopes for them; to give them memories of their Grandmother which will last forever. She kept all her church ministry jobs, giving to others as she had done all her life. She never once used her sickness as an excuse. Her hospitality was legendary, and she kept having lots of people in for meals and overnight stays.

So often I wanted to say to her, “You can take it easy; we want you to take it easy; we want to do for you.”  But she would have none of that. She kept a big picture in mind—how she wanted to be remembered by her family; how she wanted all of us not to worry about her, but just to enjoy our time with her. How she wanted to end very well—and she did.

In the midst of tough situations, terrible diagnoses, bad news, or heartache of any kind, we can learn as she did to live everyday with the big picture in mind. To think of the legacy we are leaving; to make sure we are role-modeling for those coming behind us how to face life’s hard times with God’s grace and peace.

As you look back over 2016, even if there were few cloudless days, be sure to thank God for bringing you through, for his presence with you each of those difficult days, and for his promise that the future is secure and bright, because you will be with him forever.

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Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Dec 28, 2016

PROGRAM D-7738

What a difference a year makes! I’m surveying the year that is quickly passing—2016—to make sure I don’t miss the big picture of what God has been doing in my life over these past twelve months. It’s a really good opportunity for all of us who are Christ-followers to slow down and make sure we recognize and appreciate how our lives have been guided by the Lord.

What changes did you encounter in 2016? We know that change—whether positive or negative—produces stress, and stress affects us physically, emotionally and spiritually. This past year was full of changes for me. I went from single to married, and that is about as big as change gets. Then my husband and I moved to a new home, and that brought lots of change. In the midst of navigating all those changes, through my church we have opened a residential home for sexually trafficked women, and that is currently under my leadership, and so my ministry duties have increased and changed dramatically.

You know, when your life is full of positive changes, you may think it’s not really stressful. I mean, how exciting can it be to get married? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the team that helps women find healing through Jesus from terrible trauma? How special is it to just witness the miracles that have made this new outreach possible? It’s amazing, but once again, the trees in the forest can become so overwhelming that you miss the big picture.

So, I have to regularly stop and remind myself of how blessed I am to have a godly man at my side, encouraging and helping me. And I have to regularly remember that the daily minutia and obstacles and delays we have encountered as we get our home ready for this new outreach are not what I should focus on. Instead, I have to remember that this is God’s work, not mine, and I am so very privileged just to have a little part in it. When I can stop and see the big picture, and remember what it’s all about, then I can cope with the stress that comes with the changes.

How about you?  Have you lost sight of the big picture that God is working in your life? Have the changes of 2016 so overwhelmed you that you’re missing the blessings that come with the change? If so, why don’t you just take a few minutes—maybe even right now, but sometime before this year ends—and make a list of all the blessings that God has given you in 2016. Look at everything from God’s perspective, with Forever Eyes, thank God for what he has done for you and through you in 2016.

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Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Dec 27, 2016

PROGRAM D-7737

It’s December 27th and 2016 is coming to a close. You made it through Christmas and hopefully you’ve been able to slow down a bit and think back over this past year. It’s a good time for reflection and I’m encouraging you to take a look at God’s big picture for 2016—what was his purpose and plan through everything you’ve experienced in the past twelve months?

My year was full of lots of good things—marriage, a new house, starting up a new ministry, some really fun vacations and trips, and my Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for the first time since 1908!  But in the midst of all that, it seems like this past year has been full of sad things, too. Loss from death of several people near me; walking with a friend through her final days; very bad health news from other close friends; and in general, the political season we’ve lived through with all its negativity and pollution—these things have seemed to pile up and cause a cloud of sadness for me at times.

Do you feel as though 2016 was under a cloud of sadness for you? Maybe it was one of your worst years in some ways. It often seems that bad news comes in multiples, and so you may be celebrating the end of 2016 in hopes that the New Year will be brighter. It could be that 2016 is a year you’re glad to say goodbye to.

How can we, who are Christ-followers, face great sadness in our lives? What’s the big picture there? You may think there is no upside to your 2016 picture. I understand, and I don’t intend to make light of what you’ve gone through. But I just want to remind you to look beyond the present situation, whatever it is, and remember that God is still sovereign and you haven’t read the last chapter yet.

One discipline I’ve tried to practice in my everyday life, when I’m frustrated or upset, is to ask myself, “What difference will this make in twenty-four hours?”  And that helps to keep me from allowing little irritations or disappointments to get to me. If it doesn’t matter in twenty-four hours, it really doesn’t matter. But I would recommend a slightly different reminder, as you survey the sad, dark cloud that seemed to hang over 2016 for you. And that is:  “What difference will this make in eternity?”  The challenge is to keep an eternal perspective. God is in control, he is trustworthy, and we have amazing good things to look forward to. It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.

So, pray for an eternal perspective. Ask God to help you see his big picture, and even though you had a tough year, you can be encouraged and strengthened for the New Year, because God has the big picture in his hands and it’s going to be good.

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Don’t Miss the Big Picture

Dec 26, 2016

PROGRAM D-7736

We’re in the last week of 2016, and as December 31 looms closer and closer, it’s a natural time to assess the year. What happened in 2016 that was significant—even life-changing—for you? Did you reach your goals? What surprises did you encounter? Would you call it a good year or not?

For me, 2016 was definitely a memorable year—in many ways. And as I survey all that has happened, all the changes I’ve encountered, all the good and hard times, I want to make certain that I don’t miss the lessons God has taught me, the blessings he has bestowed, the miracles he has performed. In other words, not miss God’s big picture in my life.

Our life’s journeys can become so clogged with activity, with things we have to do and responsibilities we must meet, that we can just miss the big picture—at least, that is true for me. I want to encourage you to review this past year, and ask God to help you see his big picture for you in 2016. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees.

My year began on the last day of 2015, when I was married to a long-time friend, Rex Lowman, and my name changed from Mary Whelchel to Mary Lowman. This was a gigantic paradigm shift for me, after being single for over forty years. I love being married and enjoying the companionship and the love that we share. I’m confident this was and is God’s plan for us, and I am grateful for this totally unexpected change in my life.

But of course, change always brings challenges, and adjusting to sharing my time, my space and my life with another person on a daily basis has shown me things about myself that aren’t always so nice. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  That’s often how God uses relationships in our lives, to sharpen us. So, I am grateful that in the midst of the fun and excitement of a new marriage this past year, God has used this new relationship to show me some selfishness, some rough edges that he wants to polish in my life.

How about you? Did 2016 hold for you some relationship changes or challenges? Don’t miss the big picture—that God wants to sharpen you through the relationship. Appreciate the things you are learning, even as iron scrapes against iron!

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Fran & Jesus on the Job – Boundaries – Part II

Nov 5, 2016

Part II

Do you find it difficult to set boundaries? In this episode of Fran and Jesus on the Job, Fran keeps trying to sprout superwoman wings, thinking she can be all things to all people, and ending up with misplaced priorities which create stress and burnout for her.

The challenge of setting reasonable boundaries is almost always a relationship issue. And it frequently comes from our misplaced idea of what it means to be a good friend, or what it means to be a good team player. There’s no doubt that as Christ-followers, our standard given to us by Jesus himself is to go the extra mile, to do more than is required of us. We are called to be servants, as Jesus was, and that should always be our attitude.

But when we try to do more than we should do and we think that going the extra mile means we jump through everyone’s hoops and meet everyone’s expectations, we are then in dangerous territory. This is how we become burned out; it’s how we become enablers; it’s how we allow false guilt to drive us into exhaustion and resentment.

I would remind you that Jesus knew how to say no. Do you remember when the disciples were looking for Jesus one morning because a crowd of people had gathered to hear Jesus again, and no doubt were eager to take advantage of his gift of healing? They found him alone, praying, and they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” The disciples tried to tell Jesus that he should come back and preach to the crowd waiting for him, but Jesus knew when to say no. You’ll find that story in Mark 1.

Another time a man stopped him and asked him to settle a disagreement. He said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But Jesus said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Basically Jesus said, “Sorry, that’s not my job.” He drew a boundary and said no, even though he could have done it but it was not what he was sent to do. You’ll find that story in Luke 12.

Jesus knew that he could not please everyone; in his human body while here on earth he had physical limitations, as we do. He became weary, as we do. He needed rest and time alone, as we do. And in order to do what God had sent him to do, he had to refuse to do other things—he had to draw boundaries. I believe his example teaches us that we must also learn to draw reasonable boundaries in order for us to be able to do what God wants us to do.

Let’s consider some other boundary issues Fran is facing. It’s Wednesday of this week in her life, and she has just barely made a deadline for her most important client, but it was at the expense of late hours last night because she allowed a coworker to talk her into helping her for “ten minutes,” which turned into three hours. This was one of the boundary issues she faced in last week’s episode. Fran is relieved that she got it done, but quite honestly, she is exhausted and sleepy.

With two hours to go before the end of the day, she is counting the minutes until she can leave, tying up a few loose ends, and dreaming of going to bed early when the kids do tonight. But in walks her manager, who says,

“Fran, if you’re not busy tonight, I’d love for you to join me for dinner with the Vice President of Marketing, who is in town this week, you know. I’ve been telling him about your success and how much you’ve contributed to the fact that we’re twenty percent ahead of our quota, and he asked if you would join us. I know you have your kids, but if you could get a sitter, I’d be glad to cover that expense for you.”

Don’t do it, Fran, the inner voice of God’s Spirit seems to say to her, but how can she say no? I mean, how often do you get this kind of opportunity to make a good impression? Well, she thinks, I can do it. Mom will keep the kids for me, I think, and it’s just one night. So she hears herself saying, “That’s very nice of him. I, uh, I think I can make that happen. Let me make a call and I’ll get back to you.”

She calls her mom, who does have plans for that evening, but Fran twists her arm and convinces her that her Dad will be glad to watch the kids while she’s away, so of course, Mom can’t say no either, and Fran has that problem solved. Then, when she gets home and explains to the kids that she has to go out to dinner with her boss, Drew complains, “But Mom, we agreed that you would help me with my science project tonight. You promised.”

Oops, that’s right. Fran did promise Drew help tonight, since she couldn’t help him last night because she had to bring work home. Now what? Well, Fran is determined to make this dinner with the Vice President. After all, it’s her job! So, she convinces Drew that Granddad will help him with the project, and after all, Granddad is much better at these things than she is. Drew is not happy about that. “You mean, I’ve got to take all this stuff over to their house? Can’t Granddad come over here?”

Okay, so now Fran has another issue to resolve. Can she talk her Dad into coming to her house, which will make things much easier for Drew? It’s worth a try—so she calls her dad, who is on his way home from work, and plays on his Granddad heart. “Dad, Drew really wants your help with his science project tonight—you’re so much better at this than I am, and I was wondering if you’d mind coming over here. It would be kind of difficult to move all his stuff over to your house and then back here. Is that possible?” So, a tired Granddad agrees to change his plans and fill in for Fran.

This is just an example of the unintended consequences that can happen when you refuse to set some boundaries. Of course, once in a while these things happen and people have to step up to the plate and help out—especially with single moms. I was a single mom for many years, so I get that. But much of this particular situation is a result of Fran’s inability to set some boundaries.

You see, not only does Fran have difficult saying no to the irritating and unnecessary requests that are made of her, she also has trouble turning down an offer that she sees as positive. That’s understandable—most of us have that same problem. But if she keeps living outside the margins of her life, overriding reasonable boundaries, the day will come when she’ll have to deal with some serious not-so-nice consequences.

Can you identify with Fran? I can think of times in my life, when my daughter was young and still at home, when I didn’t set boundaries on myself. I took a job that required a great deal of travel and kept me away from home too much. But it was a somewhat glamorous job that I really wanted so I convinced myself that I had no choice. That was not true; I could have refused that promotion in order to stay home, but I didn’t want to do that. So, I exceeded reasonable boundaries that should have been in place in my life at that stage of my daughter’s life.

The dinner with the boss and the Vice President wasn’t as productive as Fran had imagined it would be. It turned into a much later night than she expected, and the conversation didn’t always stay within business boundaries. After a few drinks, this Vice President told some inappropriate stories, make some remarks that verged on sexual overtures, and it became a pretty uncomfortable situation. Fran used the excuse of getting home to her kids to exit the dinner as early as possible, but it was still ten o’clock by the time she got home. With apologies to her Dad, she tried to clean up some of the mess from the science project, get her house in decent condition, and fall into bed at midnight.

Now, it’s Friday and she is running on fumes. “Thank God it’s Friday,” she says to herself. “There’s nothing on the calendar for the weekend. So, I can sleep late, get stuff done at home and take it easy. And I promised the kids we’d do something fun tomorrow, whatever they would like to do.”

Then, at about 3:00 she sees a text from her Pastor asking that she help with a special event at church tomorrow. He writes,

Fran, I know this is a late request, but did you know that Courtney Trent’s mother died suddenly—heart attack, I think—and so she’s not able to do the registration for our equipping class tomorrow. We’ve got over 200 people registered, and I need someone who knows the program and the software, and can handle the registration process calmly and efficiently. That, of course, is you. Again, sorry for the late request, but I’m sure hoping and praying you can do it. Let me know as soon as possible. Thanks, Pastor Paul.

“Well,” Fran says to herself, “how do you say no to that? I’m so sorry for Courtney. It’s certainly not Pastor’s fault that this request is so late—and for sure he needs help. It is church work, after all, so I just think I have to buck up and do it. Some weeks are just like this and you just need to get through them. Of course I’ll help him.” And so she sends a response that assures Pastor Paul she’ll be there.

Now she has to break the news to her kids and disappoint them, work late on Friday to get her Saturday chores done, and try to get a few hours’ sleep before heading off to church. What a week!

Have you found yourself in some similar tough weeks? They happen and are sometimes unavoidable, but if you find that far too many of your weeks are exceeding reasonable boundaries, it might be helpful to take a look at the underlying causes for this dilemma.

For Fran, it’s a combination of trying to please everyone, enjoying the recognition she gets from being the go-to person who can do lots of things well and feeling guilty when she has to say no.

And another reason is that she thrives on activity. She loves challenges. She enjoys winning and hates losing. And therefore that competitive spirit often gets her in trouble.

So, what does she do? That’s how God has made her, she reasons. True, but God has given her a good mind, has promised to give her wisdom, and has a list of good deeds for her to do that will not bring her to continual burnout. Hard work? Yes, of course. Weariness at times? Certainly. But not a continual habit of crossing reasonable boundaries and thereby depleting her energies, which often causes her to neglect more important responsibilities.

If you have trouble holding to reasonable boundaries, and you know it, perhaps you’ll consider what causes you to do that, ask God for wisdom, and then pray for his strength to stick to your boundaries. It really is the best way to live out your faith.

This is necessary in order for our lives to glorify Christ. Out-of-balance lives aren’t good testimonies. I find when I’m overstepping my boundaries, that’s when I’m most likely to develop a rotten attitude, say things I regret, hurt people I love. It’s a never-ending challenge for me, as I’m sure it is for all of us, but we have the power of God’s Spirit to enable us to set and keep reasonable boundaries.

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