Happy New Year!

Today I’m sharing a devotional I wrote a few years ago about setting goals instead of making resolutions. Hopefully it will give you some inspiration as you face a New Year.

I pray you and your family have a safe holiday and a blessed and prosperous 2015.


Clean Dishes

Several years back, I stopped making New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of making resolutions, I started writing out goals.

I have found that if I write down my goals, I have a much better chance of meeting them. I learned this quite by accident.

Several years back I was going through a tough time in my life and didn’t like who I was or how my life was unfolding. So I took some time and wrote down some changes I wanted to see in my life. Some of the changes were financial, some relational, some had to do with my career, some had to do with emotional healing. There were several items on the list.

For the first few weeks, I would go back and read over the list every day. Then it became more sporadic. Eventually I forgot all about the list.

A few years later while packing for a move, I was cleaning out a desk drawer and ran across a notebook. As I was glancing through it, I saw the list.

As I read through it, I was amazed. I had accomplished everything on the list! I had totally forgotten about the list. I had not thought about some of the items on the list since I last looked at it.

But somehow everything on the list had been accomplished.

Since then I have created a list of goals for each New Year. And though I haven’t always completed all of them, my track record is much better than it used to be when I made resolutions on New Year’s Eve that were forgotten by end of January.

But this year I may do something different.

I just read a blog that I follow regularly and it’s making me think.

The blog talked about NOT setting specific goals but instead making it your goal to be the best version of you in the coming year. To be the person you want to be—in every situation you find yourself next year.

Instead of setting goals and focusing on attaining them, your one goal is just to be—to be the best YOU you can be.

Not a bad idea.

SMART goals are the kind of goals we have to set in the workplace. Our goals have to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. S.M.A.R.T.

However, if all I did on my job was what it took to meet my SMART goals, I wouldn’t be a very good employee. There’s a lot more to doing a good job than just achieving a list of goals.

I think that’s what the blog I read was talking about.

We can set goals and focus so intently on meeting those goals that we miss out on living life well.

We can become so focused on external measurements of who we are and what we do that we start believing what we’re measuring.

We either start believing we don’t measure up because we’re not meeting all our goals. Or we start believing we’ve reached the summit. Either place is dangerous because we’re determining our value based on what we do, not who we are. We’re focused on doing instead of being.

This problem hasn’t been created by our fast-paced, media-driven, technology-crazed 21st century society. It’s been around a long time.

In fact, Jesus addressed it on multiple occasions. One example is in Matthew 23.

Jesus is talking to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. These were the Jewish religious leaders of the day. And according to Jesus, they were only concerned with their appearance. They cared about how ‘good’ they looked. They did deeds that made them appear to be righteous in the people’s eyes.

But Jesus knew what they were really like. And He called them out on it.

In verse 25 He says, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” In other words, you do whatever makes you look good on the outside.

These leaders were very focused on keeping the law. They followed the rules. They met their S.M.A.R.T. goals.

They were focused on external measurements and they believed what they measured.

But Jesus called them hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, a brood of vipers! In verse 23 he talks about how they fulfilled even the tiniest detail of the law but ignored more important matters like justice and mercy and faithfulness.

I think it’s very possible for me to do that.

In fact, I think I have done that. Maybe even this past year.

As I look over my list of goals for this past year, I am again blown away by how many I have accomplished. And none of them were evil goals. They were good goals. Things I’m proud to have done.

But that doesn’t mean I was the best me I could be. In fact, I think I may have been more focused on the externals than the internals.

And that’s NOT the goal I want to accomplish in the New Year.

Jesus has a remedy that He shared with those religious leaders in verse 26. He said, “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

Good advice. I think I’ll take it.

So for the next year, I’m going to focus on the internals. On becoming the best version of me.

I’m also going to set some goals. And I will write them down.

But my main goal is allowing Jesus to change me from the inside out, becoming the best version of ME, focusing on the internals and letting that spill over into the externals.

Like the cup and dish Jesus talked about.

Got any dishes you need to clean in the New Year?

© Rhonda Fleming, 2012

The Christmas Story with the Spotlight on Joseph

Today I’m sharing a Christmas devotional I wrote a few years back that was published in an online magazine.

It’s about Joseph and his role in the Christmas story.

Enjoy! And I pray you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.


What a Character!

There’s nothing like a Christmas pageant to get me in the Christmas spirit. I think it’s the humanity infused into such a divine story that does it, that brings it down to my level and reminds me that this isn’t just a story about heavenly angels, although they’re included. And it’s not just about God, although He’s definitely the main character. This story is about people. People being invited by God into His Story. And the invitation is repeated every time the story is repeated.

This year I’ve discovered a character in the Christmas story that I’ve overlooked in the past. He rarely has lines in pageant scripts. He doesn’t have any superhero actions to perform. And I don’t remember the spotlight ever being aimed at him alone.

But this year I’m amazed by how I’ve underestimated this character for so long.

I’m talking about Joseph.

It’s no wonder he’s gone unnoticed. Good grief. He’s married to the Virgin Mary and he’s the temporary, stand-in step-Dad for One-Third of the Holy Trinity. It would be almost impossible to stand out in that family!

But I think he does. At least I do now.

In most of the Christmas pageants I’ve seen or been a part of, any ol’ Joe could play the part of Joseph. As long as you looked good in a bathrobe and could sport a non-descript facial expression and carry a lantern, you could play the part. If the pageant was really in-depth, you might have to say one line: “His name is Jesus.” So even if the ‘first string’ Joe doesn’t show, just about any guy in the audience could step into the role.

But not in the real story.

I’ve been reading the Christmas story again recently. I started in Matthew 1 and Joseph got my attention immediately. Not sure why after all these years I’m focused on him, but I’m beginning to see why God chose this man.

I used to think God chose Joseph because here was a guy who didn’t have a problem playing second fiddle. And I do think that was part of the reason. I’m sure Joseph was humbled that God chose him to play this role. But I think more than likely Joseph was chosen because he was already humble.

And righteous. And just. And upright. And tender. And responsive. And responsible. And brave. And self-controlled. And honorable. And respectful.

Through Matthew’s gospel, I’m starting to get a glimpse of the kind of person Joseph was and possibly some of the reasons God chose him.

You probably know the story. Joseph and Mary are engaged to be married. In their time and culture, an engaged couple doesn’t break up as easily or as often as it happens today. In fact, for them to break an engagement was similar to getting a divorce today.

So when Joseph finds out Mary is pregnant, it’s a HUGE deal. Because Joseph knows it’s not his baby. And if it’s not his baby, then it has to be somebody else’s. Which means that apparently Mary isn’t the person she claimed to be, nor who her friends and family – and Joseph – believed her to be.

So now Joseph has a decision to make.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been betrayed. Let me rephrase that. I don’t know how many times you’ve been betrayed. I believe it happens to everyone who lives very long.

Betrayal hurts. A lot. And I think the basic human response to betrayal is justice. And – speaking for myself here – not necessarily God’s loving justice. I don’t know about you, but when I’m betrayed, I want things made right—for everyone to see.

And I have to believe Joseph felt that way, too. At least for a while. Somewhere deep down inside.

But that’s not how he responded. Even though he had every right to. In fact, based on their laws, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death in public for her “indiscretion.”

But he didn’t.

His planned response was more toward the other end of the spectrum. Joseph was going to divorce Mary secretly. Privately. He was not going to bring shame or disgrace to Mary by making a public spectacle of her.

Joseph laid aside his rights in order to spare Mary any more humiliation than she would already have to experience.

In the face of seeming ultimate betrayal, Joseph thought of Mary and her predicament above his own desire for retaliation or revenge.

Remind you of anyone?

Say, someone on a cross?

Someone who laid aside HIS rights? Someone who bore shame and disgrace so his betrayers wouldn’t have to?

Joseph definitely has my vote to play his part in The Story. Not only is he a gentle man, humble, and others-focused, but check out what happens next.

God sends a messenger to Joseph. He tells Joseph to not be afraid to marry Mary. That the baby is God’s Son and will be the Savior of the world. And that Joseph should name the baby Jesus.

And Joseph does.

Joseph listens to God, believes God, and obeys what God tells him to do.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

And years later, Jesus obeys His Heavenly Father.

No matter what things look like.

No matter what people say.

No matter what it costs him.

Because of the kind of person I’m discovering Joseph to be, I believe Jesus learned a lot more than carpentry in his earthly father’s workshop.

I don’t think God could have chosen anyone better to play Joseph’s role in God’s Story.

This year, I’m shining the spotlight on Joseph. I think there’s a lot I can learn from this character.

© Rhonda Fleming, 2010

The Christmas Story with the Spotlight on Gabriel

Today I want to share a devotional I wrote a few years ago. It’s about the angel Gabriel and his part in the Christmas story.

Enjoy and I’ll be back next week with a Christmas devotional about Joseph’s role in the Christmas story.


Gabriel and the Two How’s

Gabriel really racked up the air miles in the first chapter of Luke. He was sent to Earth twice to share special birth announcements. Well, they were actually conception announcements. Both were pretty unusual. And the recipients’ responses to the announcements seem very similar. But Gabriel’s reactions to their responses were very different. Let me explain what I’m talking about.

The first announcement is to Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest who was married to Elizabeth. According to Luke, they both followed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They were an upstanding Jewish couple. But that was the problem. They were just a couple. No kids. And they were OLD.

One day when Zechariah’s priest division was on duty, he was chosen to go into the temple to burn incense. That’s where things got interesting. An angel appeared to Zechariah and scared him half to death. The angel told him not to be afraid. But more importantly he told him that his prayer had been heard. That his wife Elizabeth was going to become pregnant and have a son!

The angel then goes into detail about what they’re to name him and how they’re to raise him and the role he would play in God’s plan.

Zechariah’s response to all this is a question. A ‘how’ question. He asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Something about Zechariah’s question doesn’t sit well with the angel. He replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” He goes on to explain that because Zechariah didn’t believe him, Zechariah wouldn’t be able to speak until everything Gabriel had told him came true.

When he left the temple, Zechariah couldn’t even explain to the other priests what had just happened.

Zechariah went home and sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant.

Just like Gabriel said.

And Zechariah still couldn’t speak.

Just like Gabriel said.

Now for Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.

Six months after the Zechariah trip, God sends Gabriel back to Earth. This time to Nazareth, to carry a message to a girl named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.

Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

I think it’s interesting that Mary isn’t startled by Gabriel’s sudden appearance like Zechariah was. However, she was confused by how he greeted her. So he explained it to her. He told her his greeting was a good thing. He told her that God had chosen her for a special assignment. That she was going to become pregnant, have a son, and name him Jesus. And that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High and that his kingdom would never end.

And just like Zechariah, Mary responds to Gabriel with a ‘how’ question. “How will this be since I am a virgin?”

But Gabriel’s response to Mary is very different than his response to Zechariah. Gabriel actually explains to Mary ‘how’ things are going to happen. ‘How’ she is going to become pregnant even though she’s a virgin. He even goes on to tell her that Elizabeth, who is Mary’s relative, is pregnant.

And then Gabriel makes one of my favorite statements in the entire Bible. He says, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

I have a feeling it became one of Mary’s favorites, too.

Okay. Those are the two stories. And the two ‘how’ questions. And Gabriel’s absolutely opposite responses.

Now I just have one question.


Why did Gabriel silence Zechariah for nine months for asking ‘how’? But six months later when Mary asks ‘how’, why did he explain everything to her?

Gabriel hasn’t appeared to me recently [or ever!] so I haven’t been able to ask him. But after looking closely at these two scenarios and the two questions, I came up with an answer to my ‘why’ that satisfies my curiosity. At least for now.

I took a closer look at Zechariah’s question. Zechariah wasn’t really asking how he and Elizabeth were going to have a son after all these years. Zechariah was asking for a sign. I think he was saying: an angel appearing to me and telling me that God has heard the prayer I’ve been praying for decades and that He is now going to answer it, isn’t quite enough for me. Telling me that my wife is going to have a boy and that we’re to name him John and explaining the role he will play in God’s plan, doesn’t exactly convince me that it’s really going to happen. I need something more.

Whoa. I think Zechariah had lost sight of something very important.


And I think he had forgotten how important faith is to God.

Zechariah was very good at following the rules, but somewhere along the way, he had forgotten that what pleases God is faith—believing without seeing any evidence. And apparently asking for more evidence right after God sends an angel direct from His throne to share good news with you, isn’t a real smart move.

I don’t need to criticize Zechariah. I’m pretty sure I’ve been exactly where he was.

I think Zechariah’s . . . and Elizabeth’s . . . hearts had been broken several times over the years. Probably several times a year . . . for many years. Their dreams of having a family had been crushed. They had lived for decades with the shame of being childless. This upstanding Jewish couple, who followed every command and regulation God had given, lived in disgrace among their friends and relatives because they couldn’t get pregnant.

I wonder how many calluses were on their hearts. Is it even possible to keep a tender heart while living for decades in their situation?

When Zechariah doesn’t immediately jump on the baby bandwagon with Gabriel, it may have been out of self-protection. I don’t think Zechariah wanted to get his hopes up again . . . and run the risk of having them crushed again.

And I really don’t think Zechariah wanted to get Elizabeth’s hopes up again. I’m sure he had watched his wife’s heart break more times than he could count. So before he went home and told Elizabeth what Gabriel said, Zechariah wanted to be sure Gabriel knew what he was talking about. And as it turned out, he couldn’t tell Elizabeth anyway. Because Zechariah had been given the sign he requested.

Now to Mary’s question.

I think Gabriel answered Mary’s question because her question was a real ‘how’ question: How is this going to happen?

In fact, I wonder if Mary was asking an even bigger question.

A question I need to ask.

A question you may want to ask, too.

I wonder if Mary was saying:

  • I understand what’s going to happen—I’m going to get pregnant and have a very special baby.
  • Here is my current situation—I’m a virgin and not planning to get married immediately.
  • So, what is my role in this scenario? What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for God’s plan to be accomplished in my life?

I wonder if that’s what Mary was really asking, because that seems to be the question Gabriel answered.

Gabriel told her how God was going to do something miraculous with her life.

But he didn’t tell her that she needed to do anything differently. Apparently she just needed to keep doing what she was doing. She didn’t need to go ahead and marry Joseph in order to get pregnant. She just needed to keep living her life, believing God, and remaining open to whatever adventure God brought her.

Mary’s role was to continue doing the possible part of the plan. God would take care of the impossible part.

And He did!

And He still does.

I think I need to spend some time with God and ask Him Mary’s question: What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for Your plan to be accomplished in my life?

And then I need to listen.

And then I need to do my part—the possible part. And watch God do the rest.

For nothing is impossible with God!

© Rhonda Fleming, 2011

Meek or Weak

Today’s verse in the Sermon on the Mount says that those who are “meek” will inherit the earth. “Meek” isn’t a word that’s used much anymore. And when it is, it typically means timid and spineless. But that’s not what it means when it’s used in the Bible.


I remember a pastor once saying that meekness does not equal weakness. He said that meek means “power under control.” I like that definition.


Jesus’s life is a great example of meekness. That’s how He lived. Powerfully. Under control.


Jesus didn’t live His life in reaction to circumstances or other people’s drama. He lived life on purpose and on His terms.


Jesus had “power” but He didn’t use it to promote Himself. He used His “power” to fulfill His life’s mission.


Jesus shared His mission at the onset of His ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown. His words can be found in Luke 4, but also in Isaiah 61, which is the scripture Jesus was reading from that day.


Essentially Jesus’s mission was to preach the good news that He was bringing heaven’s kingdom to earth and to heal and restore whatever needed healing and restoring. And that’s what He did.


There are some very good examples of meekness in Scripture. Jesus’s crucifixion and the hours leading up to it probably best illustrate “power under control.”


But I think there are also other examples that may help you and me with situations we face in our own personal lives.


And there’s a particular example that I think can really help us in our interpersonal relationships.


I’m talking about when Jesus forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery.


Think about the situation and what Jesus could have done and what He could have said. To ALL of those who had a role in this drama.


Jesus had a captive audience and He could have preached them all a sermon. Instead he bent down and started writing in the sand.


He was meek. He was powerful–the crowd’s focus was on Him. And He was under control–He didn’t react to their drama.


Jesus didn’t degrade the woman any further, but He did acknowledge her sin. And He stopped the religious leaders from continuing to exploit the situation but He didn’t let them leave without facing their own sins.


Jesus restored the woman’s dignity instead of declaring His superiority.


And He saved the religious leaders a lot of embarrassment by NOT naming their individual indiscretions.


Through His meekness, Jesus provided the woman and her accusers GRACE.


How well do you do when you face this type of situation?

How do you treat a person who you know for a fact has done something wrong?

How do they feel in your presence?

How do you feel in theirs?


Matthew 5:5 Amplified Bible (AMP)

Blessed (happy, blithesome, joyous, spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the meek (the mild, patient, long-suffering), for they shall inherit the earth!

What Have You Lost?

Matthew 5:4 Amplified Bible  (AMP)

4 Blessed and enviably happy [with a happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His matchless grace] are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!



This is definitely an upside-down principle.


Why would Jesus say that those who mourn are blessed? And not just “blessed” as in “have a blessed day” but “enviably happy!”


I can think of a couple of possible meanings.


I believe this verse can be applied to our salvation experience. When we mourn our sin condition and the price Jesus paid on the cross to redeem us, it results in a VERY blessed life . . . as in eternal, abundant life!

That makes sense to me.


The other thing that comes to my mind is a different way of looking at this verse. And it may not make sense to anyone but me. But keep reading because it might make sense to both of us.


The other principle I think you could extract from this verse is that you actually have to ‘let go’ before you can be comforted and enjoy the ‘blessed’ life this verse is talking about.


What I mean is that you have to give up. You have to accept the fact that you’ve lost something.


It may be a relationship. A job. A pet. A friend or family member. Your reputation. Your money. Your car. Your house. Control over a habit or substance or situation. Someone’s trust. Your business. Your health. Your youth. Your freedom. Your ability to take care of yourself. Your dreams for the future.


Whatever it is you’ve lost . . . life as you once knew it is gone. And it won’t be back.


And as bad as that may seem at the moment, one thing that’s worse is not admitting it. Not accepting it. Continuing to work to try to get it back. Or worse, pretending it’s not gone.


I’ve done that before. Many years ago, I prolonged the agony of a dying relationship because I couldn’t face my own failure. Denying the loss was no fun for me or anyone around me. And the longer I took to accept it and mourn it, the longer it took to experience God’s comfort and the blessings that followed.


The other side of the coin was modeled for me just last week. I had dinner with a couple that I’ve been friends with for decades. However, we haven’t lived close to each other for several years so I don’t see them often.


Eight years ago, a car accident shattered their world, changing their lives drastically. Life as they once knew it was gone and will never be back.


But they have embraced their “new normal” and are bright lights shining in this dark world. The wife told me a couple of times during our time together that she wouldn’t change a thing. That it has been worth it. That the closeness they have as a couple and as a family is worth all they’ve been through and will go through.


They have accepted what the accident took from them. They have mourned it. And they have allowed God to comfort them and bless them with His presence and provision in their new normal. And boy has He BLESSED them! Their joy is evident and contagious. They’re “enviably happy.” And He’s now using them to minister to others who are going through the same type of loss.


What have you lost that you need to mourn? What loss do you need to accept and admit so God can comfort you?


Whatever it is, do it–so you can enjoy the BLESSED life God has for you.