Beyond a Flannelgraph Jesus


Flannelgraph: the mid-century technology of Sunday school lessons.

Flannelgraph consisted of various backgrounds painted on large flannel panels. The teacher placed cut-out figures of people, objects, trees, etc. on the background to depict the story being told.

The method seemed effective to me as a five-year-old. But then, I hadn’t seen The Passion of Jesus or The Passion Play at Oberammergau or even a church Easter presentation with flashing lights and illuminated crosses and deftly crafted tombs.

As a child, I wanted to know Flannelgraph Jesus, but I wasn’t sure exactly how.

After all, He wasn’t human like me.

I couldn’t talk to Him or hear Him talk back to me.

Or see Him or feel Him.

We all see Jesus that way sometimes–as in some other dimension. Perhaps like a character in a book or a historical hero. I think that’s the way non believing people often feel, especially if we talk about having Jesus “in our heart” in some kind of mystical way.

The simple truth is that we can and do know people we have never met or talked to all the time. My cousin Chris is the Burke family historian. He can tell you minute details about Burke (Bjork) family members generations past. How?

He’s read. He’s talked to people who knew these individuals. He’s examined public records and supporting documents. He’s researched. He’s even collected artifacts and antiques.


Because he has a passion for our family–for who we are, where we are, and how we have and are contributing to the world.

So how can know the eternal God of the universe?

I can know God by seeking personal relationship with Him.

This means taking initiative. God took the first step. He sent Jesus so we could know what perfect, redemptive love looked like in a language and form we could understand. Seeking a personal relationship with God starts with accepting Jesus as His Son and our Savior from sin.

A personal relationship means we talk to God. This is simple. We pray and read the Bible–God’s love letter to us. God talks back if we’re willing to listen. He uses the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God to do this.

I can know God by seeking His face.

This means looking for Him in everything–in nature, circumstances (blessings and heartaches). Seeking God’s face means looking God’s promises, design, and character in the world around me and offering my appropriate response in gratitude.

Somebody breaks into my garage. I’m angry, but I turn my anger over to God. I know He’s angry for me, too, because He hates injustice. I can forgive because of all God’s forgiven me. I don’t have to become in a cycle of bitterness toward the neighbor who robbed me.

I can know God by accepting that above all, He is motivated by love. God IS love.

Love is the very essence of God’s being. All love in the world emanates from Him. He cannot act on our behalf apart from love. It is not possible to act in a manner that is not motivated by my best interest. If I can truly grasp this central core concept about God and that He asks us to love others as He loves us, my life putter will fall into place.

God’s love isn’t an insurance policy against pain or suffering. Jesus didn’t live a pain-free life. We shouldn’t expect to either. As His followers, we should expect persecution and the human allocation that are part of a sin-filled world.

I can know God by admitting I’ll never fully understand Him.

God wouldn’t be God if human brains could comprehend His purposes and plans. So if you don’t understand everything about God, relax. It’s because you’re not supposed to. Think about it–the God of the Bible is GOD, not a god.

I can know God by spending time with Him. 

Reading what He’s written to me. Talking to Him. Taking the time to listen to what He says back. Telling other people how wonderful He is and asking them what He’s done for them. Hanging out with His best friends. Doing what He asks. You know…the kinds of things friends do for each other.

Or I can be satisfied with a Flannelgraph Jesus.




Encouraging Ourselves Through Truth Talk

vineandbranchesLately I’ve been focuing on the the truth that Jesus is the vine and I am a branch. This means that I’m connected directly to Him. My life flows from Him. My nourishment comes from Him. I can’t do anything that isn’t connected in some way to Him.

I have to admit that I don’t always feel spiritually connected. I need encouragement. Aches and pains, financial challenges, relationship heartaches, and other frustrations can infect my attitude before I have a chance to figure out what day it is (sometimes that takes ALL day). One of the key aspects of practicing my “vine life” has been remaining in conversation with Jesus. To do this I literally envision Him standing beside me (because He IS with me) and telling me all the things He’s said to me in His Word that apply to my life in that moment or in my hurts and challenges.

Conversing with God is one of the best ways to encourage yourself. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10.) This means that I sit quietly as Jesus tells me who I REALLY am. Who He REALLY is to me. What my REAL purpose is in life and on this particular day. What I am responsible for (obedience, loving God and others, trust, repentance) and what He is responsible for (loving and taking care of me).

The more we converse and stay connected to the vine, the more encouraged we become because we focus on truth and Jesus.

For more help on transforming your self talk, check out The Silent Seduction of Self Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God. and to hear more from me and author Wanda Sanchez on the topic of encouraging yourself, tune in to the Freedomgirls Sisterhood blogtalk podcast with host Dawn Damon Monday nights at 8:00ET.


Six Ways to Listen for God to Speak


For nearly a year, I’ve been praying for God’s clear direction.

Health problems have drastically changed my life in many ways–my physical and mental abilities, relationships, finances, sleeping and eating habits, how I shop, even whether or not I can leave my house to sit through a movie or go to a crowded restaurant,

It’s been a frustrating yet blessed year. I’ve waited month after month after month, praying for specific answers to specific questions about my “new” life.

Sometimes answers have come. Other times they have not.

These are a few simple things I’ve learned about listening and waiting for God to speak.

  • Read the Bible (Hebrews 8:10-11).

I can almost hear you saying, “Duh.” Everyone says, “Read the Bible.”

Maybe that’s because we don’t always do it–at least to hear what God wants to say to us and not to proof-text our opinion or rationalize our behavior.

When I was in college, the guy I’d been dating for more than a year broke up with me. In a very painful way. Like most college girls, I thought I was going to die. I dove into the Bible searching for all the reasons God should force my boyfriend to come back to me.

Even though he’d made a very obvious choice to move on.

Thank God, he doesn’t always give us what we ask for or force his opinion on us. Fast forward, and I’ve been married for nearly forty years to the greatest guy in the world. God didn’t give me what I wanted back in college. He had a better plan.

What he offered in Scripture was the promise that he was enough in the tough times of my life.

  • Seek counsel from people of God (Proverbs 11:14).

Wise people. People who’ve rode out the storms of life with God for many years.

God to church–no don’t just go, become part of a healthy, active, transparent body of believers. Root yourself in Bible study with them. Learn from their mistakes and their victories. Let them into your life and open your heart to their counsel. God created us for community.

  • Listen for the voice of the Spirit of God (I Thessalonians 5:19-21).

God wants to speak to each of us personally. He does this primarily through his Word and the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The Spirit of God often moves through promptings, but his voice is always consistent with the Word of God. The moving of the Spirit will be confirmed by the Word of God, God’s people, and wisdom.

  • Wait for confirmation. (Matthew 18:16).

If respected fellow believers caution you against a decision, regard their counsel seriously. The Spirit of God oftenl confirms God’s direction in the lives of fellow believers.

  • Evaluate circumstances and timing (Acts 18:1-3).

The friendship between Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul became one of the most important relationships in the New Testament, Yet, it seems to have occurred because of random circumstances.

One of the most important relationships of my life came into being because of a miraculous convergence of circumstances. God often works behind the scenes. We need to be attentive and discerning.

  • Don’t act until you experience God’s peace (Colossians 3:15). 

Just a few weeks ago, Dan and I were advised that I return to Mayo Clinic to carry out the next segment of my medical treatment. Doctors in my home town felt that the best and most appropriate care for my condition would be found at Mayo.

Dan and I refused the recommendation of my neurologist, and we’ve experienced God’s peace in our decision.

While Mayo Clinic may have been a good choice for others in my position, it was not a good decision for me. God has confirmed it in subsequent conversations, in timing in my being scheduled in an alternate clinic, in the counsel of others, and in the peace we’ve felt in our decision.

I’m overwhelmed that God desires to speak to me–personally–about the details in my life. He WANTS to talk to me. May I long more and more to listen for his whispers in my life.

What about you? Share you experience with us. We’d love to hear from you. 

The Golden Rule: Moving from Hurt to Healing


Over the past five years or so, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside bullying expert Brooks Gibbs. Brooks’ approach to bullying centers around The Golden Rule, a biblical principle for conflict resolution. Simply stated,

Treat people who hurt you the way you’d like to be treated when you mess up.

With grace and mercy.

Sounds simple, but living out The Golden Rule can be the hardest thing we ever do.

Our first reaction is to hurt people back when they hurt us. (Or to fixate on ways we’d like them to suffer, often while we try continue to act spiritual). Like the time somebody slid into my dad’s parking space, so he waited for them to go into the store, then let the air out of their tires.

My dad.The church board chairman.

We all fight the desire to be air-letter-outers. We’re all the same: self-centered sinners.

Over the past few months, I’ve been deeply hurt by friends. I’ve wanted to hurt back, but that emotion is always my first clue that I need to look at my motives, my goals, and truly be conformed to the image of Jesus. Faith alone won’t make me like Jesus, 2 Peter 1:3-8 describes the process: faith + knowledge (not information, but a piercing of my heart that changes my behavior) + virtue (I partake in Jesus’ divine nature) + steadfastness + godliness = brotherly affection and love.

When I seek God’s kingdom first, my heart is compelled by His grace and mercy.

On Sunday I ran into one of the friends I felt had hurt me. I hadn’t spoken to her in months. I’m sure she felt I’d hurt her as strongly as I felt she’d hurt me.

She brushed my arm as she passed me. I turned to her and told her I loved her and missed her, which was so very true.

Treating others the way we want to be treated when we’re hurt compels us to act lovingly.

So how do we this?

  1. Focus on God’s love for us.
  2. Remind ourselves of our goal: to become like Jesus.
  3. Submit to the Word of God and the moving of the Spirit.
  4. Commit to small steps.
  5. Move when the Spirit of God speaks to us.

Living out 2 Peter 1: 3-8 and The Golden Rule helped me move from hurt to healing,

But it required me to lay down my stubborn pride, lean into a hug and tell an old friend I loved and missed her. It meant looking into her eyes and meaning what I said. It meant giving up the lie that I had a right to carry a grudge because I don’t?

What about you? What helps you move from hurt to healing?



Porn, Pastors, and Cultural Needs in the Church

med-1044-depressionAccording to a report filed by Mira Oberman for Yahoo News on September 11, 2015, a U.S. pastor committed suicide six days after his name was exposed by hackers of the Ashley Madison website.

Unfortunately, this tragic news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who understands the realities of an imperfect church.

Reverend Jonathan Pearson, Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and co-creator of,  states:

“Pornography is the most pervasive and destructive issue facing our generation today.”

We live in a society saturated with sensual images. These images have invaded our homes through print media such as newspapers, magazines, the Internet, cable TV, and  network TV. Advancements in technology have led to pornography being more accessible today than it has ever been. Porn can be accessed easily by any web enabled cell phone.

Recent surveys indicate that more than 50% of men and 25% of women within the church are addicted to Internet pornography. This includes, pastors, who are afraid to bring their secret into the light for fear of being fired from their positions or shamed as failures.

But churches need to be places where we can share our brokenness and find restoration, accountability, and healing.

1. People, including staff, should publicly talk about brokenness and how they found healing and restoration.

2. Pastors can create cultures of transparency by talking about their own lives.

3. Pastors should preach about sex and sexually related topics.

4. The church should equip parents to talk to their kids about sex and how to teach their kids about sex. This goes far beyond the “sex talk” and should begin before kids hit ten. Sex education today must include culturally relevant topics like sexual identity in an era of sexual confusion.

5. Pastors should encourage accountability and use of Internet filters, such as Covenant Eyes.

6. Pastors should encourage counseling, and whenever possible, include qualified Christian counselors a part of church staff.

7. The church should encourage spouses to share passwords to all computers, tablets, phones, etc.

For seven steps on how to integrate teaching on sex in your church, CLICK HERE.

Tributes to John Gibson poured in from students and faculty who remembered him as a kind, generous man who repaired students’ vehicles in his spare time.

“John was a popular member of our the college faculty,” seminary president Chuck Kelley said in an obituary posted on the school’s blog.

“He was particularly known for his acts of kindness to the seminary family. He was the quintessential good neighbor.”

Into the Light Miistries offers resources, including seminars and  for those within the church who are struggling with porn addiction. For more information contact also offers resources such as She’s Somebody’s Daughter, a music video that addresses the topic of pornography. Watch a clip HERE.

Simple Ways to Make Someone’s Day

make today countI just spent three days in the hospital. Not my favorite thing to do.

But I had a choice about what to talk about and the attitude I could take.

We all do–every day–no matter where we are.

I love to catch other people off guard, make them smile, or bless them in some small way.

It’s free–doesn’t  cost me a thing. And I find myself blessed by the smiles and thanks I receive in return.

Here are my five favorite ways to make someone’s day:

1. Tell someone how wonderful they look, what a beautiful smile they have, or comment on their eyes or their hair.

I love doing this because people so seldom receive positive comments from total strangers who just want to encourage them.

2. Share five dollars or a great meal with a homeless person.

I live in Michigan, and in the winter months, I like to stock my back seat with gloves, socks, blankets, and sandwiches to hand out as I’m driving through town. I also occasionally hand out cash or fast food gift cards.

3. Pay for some’s gas or meal or… something.

I was standing in a pharmacy one day in a facility that serviced many people who are homeless in our community. The man in line in front of me needed heart medication. The total cost was less than $50, but he didn’t have it. I overheard him ask the clerk if he could purchase two pills or three for a few dollars.

I stepped up to the counter. $42 wasn’t going to change my life, but it had the potential to save this man’s life and give him a bit of breathing room. I handed over the cash and thanked God I was paying attention.

We need to pay better attention to hurting people around us.

They’re everywhere–not just on the streets but sitting beside us in board meetings and in front of us in church. It’s our job to look, to listen, and to reach out.

To have eyes that see like Jesus and hearts that beat as His.

What have you done to encourage someone? We’d love to hear from you.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Waiting

make today countIt’s been eight months since I walked through emergency room doors and asked for an MRI of my brain.

I knew something was up. It was the same old feeling I’d had in 1999 when I knew something was seriously wrong with my head. And I was right.

My MRI showed a large SOMETHING.

The problem has been figuring out what it is. My diagnoses have ranged from an aggressive and deadly form of tumor, to multiple sclerosis, and finally to a stroke or bleed in my brain stem.

Over the course of eight months, I’ve been seen by more than seven doctors in multiple hospitals. Every doctor has overturned the diagnosis of the doctor before them.

In a nutshell, I have found this experience frustrating.

Mostly because I haven’t had a treatment plan or a way of determining which of my ever-changing symptoms are important and which are simply oddities.

Illness is frustrating. And exhausting. And often stirs misunderstanding.

Over the past eight months, I’ve come to hate a lot of things about waiting.

  • Waiting can suck me into focusing on the injustices of the world (or at least my perception of injustice), Like why I’ve been billed near six figures for so many conflicting diagnoses. Pain so easily shifts our focus away from others and onto ourselves. And while it’s all right to make ourselves a priority, it’s not right to make ourselves the focal point from which all things are measured.
  • Waiting can lure me into wanting to demand my rights. After all, aren’t I entitled to my freedom? Actually, I’m entitled to nothing except to love mercy, to seek justice (which isn’t the same as demanding my rights), to walk humbly with God and people.
  • Waiting can narrow my vision. The longer I wait, the more I am tempted to see only my narrow slice of life and magnify my seeming needs. Waiting can take my eyes off God and others as I grow increasingly self-focused.
  • Waiting can pull me into isolation.Exhausted by circumstances, I may choose to withdraw or simply slip into isolation unaware.
  • Waiting can stir me to anger. The longer I look at circumstances and other people, the more easily I become convinced that I’m getting the short end of the stick. I convince myself that God doesn’t care enough to help me, and my anger feeds my attitude, which feeds my anger, in a vicious cycle.

Over the past eight months, I’ve also learned to appreciate a lot of things about waiting. 

  • Waiting can broaden my vision for the injustices of the world.If we allow it to, our pain can shift our attention to those suffering in similar situations–or in worse situations. I’ve found that ministering to others over these past months has been one of the most restorative things I’ve done for myself.
  • Waiting offers me opportunities to advocate for others, based upon what I’ve learned.Fifty percent of the U.S. population suffers with chronic illness. We often don’t take the time to understand what it takes for these people and their caregivers to manage life. I recently went to the zoo with my family for an outing. The heat and physical exertion overwhelmed me, and I pulled my scooter under a tree to rest while my husband went to get me something to drink. Hundreds of people passed me without saying a word. Except for one young father and son who stopped to see if I was all right. Why? Because they were looking past themselves and the crowd for people in need.
  • I’ve learned that waiting can enlarge my vision for God and others. Waiting can draw me toward God and others if I focus on his character and his goodness and his faithfulness. As I focus on him, other elements of my life and purpose come into focus, including the way I see others and my heart to know and serve them.Waiting can fill me with grace. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see how blessed I am, how loved I am, and how secure I am. I become increasingly convinced that I am never out of God’s care, and my gratitude explodes into a grace-filled, purpose-driven life.
  • Waiting can fill me with grace. The more I focus on the goodness of God, the more I see how blessed I am, how loved I am, and how secure I am. I become increasingly convinced that I am never out of God’s care, and my gratitude explodes into a grace-filled, purpose-driven life.

Yes, I’ve been waiting for eight months for a diagnosis, but I get to choose where I place my eyes, my heart, and my faith.

But God’s goodness, mercy, and grace in my life haven’t dimished for a moment.


The Grief of Chronic Illness


I love going to church.

L-O-V-E with capital letters and exclamation points. Not because our church is perfect, but because I love being surrounded by God’s people.

His bride.

After all, the church was God’s idea, and it’s not like he didn’t know we’d all be imperfect.

All of us.

Yet still he chose to partner with US–self-centered, fickle, and prideful as we are–to change the world.

But since I’ve become chronically ill, going to church has changed for me. And it saddens me.

You see, I’m a people person. A talker. A connector. The lady who had to be shooed out of the auditorium so the maintenance staff could lock up.

I love worship–standing with my hands raised and singing harmonies–sweet or off-key–with my brothers and sisters.

I’m addicted to taking notes and listening for life connections. I dedicate my books to my pastors because they inspire me with my best writing ideas.

But illness has made church a different experience for me.

My attendance has dropped significantly because of pain, fatigue, and other disease-related complications.

Simply dressing for church, driving, and navigating my way to my seat can exhaust me. I often don’t have the strength to sing, much less stand.The chairs in our auditorium don’t have arms, so I lean on my husband or my cane to ease the aching in my arms. I typically “ration” my energy for note-taking, which can be difficult because of vision complications and migraines.

I often pray my way through the service for the most basic of reasons. My illness causes bladder problems, and the restroom is too far for me to walk to with my cane.

By the time the service has ended, both my bursting bladder and aching body are screaming. Dan and I usually attempt our exit during the final prayer because I fear that a prolonged conversation with a well-meaning friend could mean my demise.

But even though church is a challenge for me, I’d rather be uncomfortable there than more comfortable at home.


  • “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. I can feel His mighty power and His grace.”
  • I can hear the Word of God openly preached–a freedom that may be gone before my grandchildren are grown.
  • I’m inspired by the stories of my brothers and sisters who are also struggling in a sin-cursed world.
  • Because the church is God’s idea, and I’m privileged to be part of his story.
  • Because my story is one thread in the tapestry of love in my local body.
  • Because my church needs me and I need them.

am allowed to grieve for my losses and my pain. God grieves with me. But I also rejoice for life experience that keeps my eyes fixed on the cross. And in the grief of chronic illness, there’s no sweeter place to be than in my church.

Has suffering changed YOUR experience of church or worship? We’d love to hear your story.


The Hardest Book to Write: The Story Behind “The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk”

silent Seduction Cover Image JPG low resI arm-wrestled with God about writing The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk.

Obviously, he won.

I‘ve compared writing this book to stripping down to my “spiritual Underoos” and walking a fashion runway in front of the world.

Except I was exposing the stuff everybody tries to cover up: our/my silent seduction into self-deception through self-talk.

Our innate ability to believe we’re loving God and others while we rationalize pushing ourselves to the front of the line.

My journey began in a self-revelatory flash.

I was sitting in the office of a Christian school. A mother was standing at the counter, yelling at the secretary. Apparently, the school had enforced their late policy and issued the woman’s daughter a detention for her tenth tardy.

I watched the woman–a church leader–scream at every employee in the room. Suddenly the realization dawned on me that she thought she was doing the right thing. She had no idea that everyone watching her shared a much different opinion of her and her actions.

If they were thinking what I was thinking, they felt sorry for her daughter. Mom’s behavior was embarrassing. Rude. Disrespectful. A poor reflection of a Christian.

And she had no idea. Why? Because she was self-deceived.

Flash. Could I be just like her?

Could I believe I was loving God and people and, instead, be living life to fulfill my own selfish agendas?

Did I actually take pleasure in proving my husband wrong, shaming him, using sarcasm and tone as weapon?

Did I quietly manipulate and control? Did I justify my behavior–things like screaming at other drivers while I was behind the wheel on the interstate or making a co-worker’s promotion all about me?

The truth is, we all plunder and powerplay our way through life, seduced by the monster within.

The good news is that our self-talk was created to be God’s gift to us.

We are hard-wired directly to God through the words that run through our head at 1,300 words a minute.

Our self-talk can be the single-most resource for our spiritual growth if we learn how to harness its power.

Discovering that truth changed my life.

Slowly, life became a moment-by-moment exercise in worship. 

I learned to lean into the power of the “if”–living in expectancy of change and growth through the power of the Holy Spirit. This can be your journey, too. God’s greatest gift to us is that he loves us so much he doesn’t leave us where we are. He changes us. Discovering the power of self-talk is the key that unlocks intimacy with God.

Join me Thursday, April 9th, as I talk more about how self-talk and how it influences our relationships on Focus on the Family.


Love Notes from God’s Heart: #1 I See and Know You


On June 1st, Love Letters from the Edge releases. Over the next ten days, Wanda and I will be posting notes to the brokenhearted from God taken from Love Letters.

*     *     *

Have you ever wondered where God is when all the horrible things in life happen to you?

Have you ever felt abandoned and alone? Have you ever prayed a thousand times for the torture of your life to stop until your prayers seemed to stick in your throat?

If you’re like most people I know, the answer is Yes.

Here’s God’s love note to you.

My Beloved Child,

I understand why the world doesn’t make sense to you, and I understand your rage and pain. As you come to know me better, you will recognize that trying to understand answers beyond your comprehension is less important than trusting my character.

Rescue is not always about taking out and taking away. Rescue also comes in gifts of presence, endurance, and purpose.

You didn’t see me. You didn’t heart me. And you didn’t feel me in your pain. But I was beside you, holding you close to my heart, loving you, and wiping away every tear. I came for you, and I have never left your side. –Your Loving Father

Photo Credit: