Give Thanks

It is often the little words in a verse that can contain a big part of the meaning. This certainly holds true in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 - “Be joyful (always), pray (continually), give thanks (in) all circumstances.”

In verse 18 Paul is not saying to be thankful FOR all circumstance but rather to be thankful IN all circumstances.  Like joy, our thankfulness needs to be based on our relationship with Christ rather than the external circumstances of our life.

For example: We are not thankful for a job loss. But in that circumstance, we can be thankful that God continues to provide and meet our needs. Someone diagnosed with cancer would not be thankful for the illness. But they can be thankful for accessible health care and the support of family and friends.

Regardless of our circumstance we can gives thanks that God loved us so much that he sent his son to die for us (John 3:16-17), that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), and that God will give us the strength we need for whatever comes our way (Isaiah 41:10).

No one promised us that life would be easy. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” That is the perspective that will help us learn to find a reason to give thanks in every situation. Ephesians 5:20 says, “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Verse 18 finishes with FOR THIS IS GOD’S WILL FOR YOU IN CHRIST JESUS Joy, prayers and thankfulness should not fluctuate with our circumstances or feelings. We lack joy because we lose sight of God’s love, power and work in our lives. We lack prayer because we get too busy to keep up a running conversation with God. We lack thankfulness because we focus on life’s circumstances instead of the almighty God who created us.  

These three commands are interwoven and dependent on each other to help us know what the will of God is for our life. If you work on one the others will naturally follow:

When we find our joy in the Lord we will want to be in conversation/prayer with him and we will be thankful. When we practice an attitude of gratitude we will find ourselves sending up a litany of thanks and we will be filled with joy.

When we are in continual conversation with God the joy of our relationship with him will overshadow the difficulties we face and it will give us a grateful heart.

Simple commands – be joyful, pray, give thanks. With complicated qualifiers - always, continually, in all circumstances. However, if we want to know what God’s will is, this is the place to start.  Working on these areas will lead to a deeper relationship with Christ, an attitude of gratitude and a life filled with joy rooted in the constancy of Christ.

Pray Continually

Think of the three exhortations in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – be joyful, pray continually, give thanks - as the three poles that hold up an old-fashioned canvas tent. If one pole breaks the tent can no longer stand upright. Paul positions the strong center pole of the three verses as the need to “pray continually.” Without a continual conversation with God it would be very hard to always be joyful or to give thanks in all circumstances.

Verse 17 says to PRAY CONTINUALLY. This verse is about the importance of relationship and communication. A healthy relationship has regular communication. Without it the relationship would wither and die.  If I do not give time and attention to my husband our marriage will struggle. Communicating with my husband has to be so much more than what’s for dinner and, “how was your day dear?”

Paul encourages us to be in constant conversation with God so that we can align our hearts and minds with the heart and mind of God. Think of prayer as the breath of our spiritual life. To keep our earthly body alive we must keep breathing. To keep our spiritual life alive we must keep praying. To pray continually means so much more than an ongoing litany of requests and petitions. It also means times of confession, adoration, worship, praise and thanksgiving throughout the day.

Brother Lawrence in the Christian classic of the same title called it “Practicing the Presence of God.” We need to get in the habit of referring everything to God moment by moment in our day. Including him in each circumstance that comes our way. Instead of posting it on Facebook, or calling a friend or complaining to a co-worker, a roommate or a spouse.

Think of prayer not just as a structured time but as a deliberate choice to be in touch with the Father, feeling that he is all around you. It really is a constant conversation with God that invites him into every part of your life.

We see this modeled throughout the New Testament. A few examples (emphasis mine) include Ephesians 6:18, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2 says, “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.” Romans 1:9-10 says, “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers all the time.”

If praying continually is already a part of your daily life – good for you! If not, here are a couple of suggestions to get you started. Pray before you even get out of bed in the morning. Invite God into every meeting, situation and circumstance of your day. Turn off the radio in your car or the music in your ears and pray on your way to and from work. Make a point to notice God’s beauty all around you. Thank him for the changing leaves, a smile on a very young or very old face, a bird soaring overhead. And then look forward to a deepening faith and relationship with God as you strive to pray continually.  

Be Joyful Always

Over the next 3 weeks I will be writing on 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

God revealed these verses to me at a time when I was paralyzed by my inability to see what God’s will was for my life. In reading this passage I realized the key to knowing and understanding God’s will for my life lay in understanding what it meant to be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. As I have studied these verses over the years, I have come to realize that God’s will is not so much what we do as who we are in Christ.

Verse 16 says to BE JOYFUL ALWAYS. Let’s start by taking a look at the difference between happiness and joy. The Christian’s joy is not dependent on circumstances. It comes from what Christ has done and is constant. Happiness is dependent upon external forces. Joy goes deeper than happiness and is anchored in our personal relationship with Christ.

In Philippians 4:4 Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” We cannot always control our emotions but we can strive to control our focus. Our focus needs to be on the constant and stable character of Christ. Without that relationship and focus we will live a life of continual turmoil tossed about by the currents of external circumstances.

In John MacArthur’s commentary on 1 Thessalonians he made a list of the nature, character and promises of God that should be our constant. These include God’s righteous character and Christ’s redemptive work because in Luke 10:20 Jesus says “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” This list also highlights the Holy Spirit’s ministry on our behalf and the Spiritual blessings we possess. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” And in Philippians 4:19 it says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

We can rejoice in God’s providence as it orchestrates everything for our benefit. Romans 8:28, “And we know in all things God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Joy comes in the promise of future glory - Jude 1:24 says, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” And in answered prayer- Jesus says in John 16:23, “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

As Christians we rejoice in the gift of God’s Word. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 it says, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

And finally joy comes from deep & sincere relationships in the body of Christ (Proverbs 27:17) and the privilege of being able to share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).

None of the things on this list of the nature, character and promises of God are about our talents, abilities, income, house, spouse or children giving us joy. Because let’s face it we can lose a job, or a house or a spouse – often in circumstances beyond our control. They are, however, about experiencing a joy that only comes from having a deep and abiding personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

Sometimes You Just Do it Scared!

I rode my first zip line on Saturday. A significant statement for me since I am quite literally terrified of heights. I am very glad I did it. I just won’t – EVER – be doing it again. But I have to say that one ride taught me a lot about myself and about others.

COVER WHATEVER YOU ARE AFRAID OF IN PRAYER. The last time I did something like this was when I was flown in a small helicopter to a glacier in Alaska. This involved heights and enclosed spaces which are my two most irrational fears. In the weeks before we left I had a group of friends and family praying that I would have the courage to do it and would even enjoy the experience. Because of this I was able to do it calmly and enjoy it. If only I had thought to do this with the zip line!

GOD’S WORD IS THE BEST HOW-TO MANUAL WE HAVE! For Alaska I dug into God’s word for encouragement that would help me overcome my fears. I wrote verses on index cards and kept them with me. A few of my favorites are Joshua 1:9 - Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Deuteronomy 31:6 - Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Isaiah 41:10. - So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

FACE YOUR FEARS WITH A FRIEND. The helicopter in Alaska fit four people and a pilot. My husband and I were able to take that ride with two very dear friends who (along with my husband) supported, encouraged and cheered me on the entire time. For the zip line I had amazing staff getting me set up at both ends who were patient and encouraging as I struggled to move forward and actually ride the zip line. And more importantly I also had a friend who hooked arms with me, who was scared too and who literally prayed us off the edge. Without her there I honestly don’t think I could have done it.

I screamed myself hoarse all the way down. It was the longest 45 seconds of my life! I had my eyes shut so tightly I never saw the lake, the forest or my friend during the ride across the ravine and to the bottom of the hill. When I landed I was shaking so hard I had trouble holding onto the ladder to climb down. And, as is my way, when under extreme stress I started to cry when it was over. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t graceful but I did it. Riding the zip line is something I am proud of that I will always carry with me.

Lord, please help us to remember to face our fears (whatever they may be) with prayer, your Word and a friend. Amen.

 

How to Rest in God's Truth

When your world is rocked where do you turn? When you see evil all around you where do you put your hope? When you are surrounded by lies where do you find truth? Hard questions. Important questions. And yet, a simple answer – God – in his Word, in a relationship with Him, through prayer, and through a community of people who can speak God’s truth into your life.

IN HIS WORD – Everything we need is contained between the covers of the Bible. Answers for dealing with fear, doubt, anxiety, and pain just to name a few. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Pick a few key verses this week that pertain directly to an area of struggle in your life. Print/write them out and put them where you can see them. Work to memorize them so that they come directly to mind when you need them most.

IN RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM – A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the rock on which we need to build a life. Everything else (job, money, success, family) can not give us a lasting or solid foundation on which to stand. John 3:16 is often quoted, “For God so love the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Take a minute to really think about what that verse is saying and then be sure to ponder and memorize verse 17 as well, “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

THROUGH PRAYER – English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” God created us for relationship with him. And just as we have to spend time with and talk with the people around us to create relationship we need to do this even more so with God. Romans 12:12 exhorts us to “be faithful in prayer.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 directs us to “pray continually.” Psalm 145:18 tells us, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

IN COMMUNITY – Life giving, truth speaking, God loving people are a CRITICAL part of resting in God’s truth. When you are overcome by the lies you or Satan tells you. When your armor gets dented or destroyed. Who will raise their shields around you and speak God’s truth into your life? Who will pray for you and challenge you and help shed light on the lies you are believing? God created us first and foremost for relationship with him but also for relationship with other believers.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Precious Father – May we choose to rest in your truth and not in the lies of this world. When things seem hopeless help us to remember that you have overcome the world. May building relationship with you and knowing your Word be our first priority. And Lord, may we please be surrounded by life giving, truth speaking, God loving people. Amen.

My Faith Story

This was my first blog entry on September 1, 2015. I will be posting my faith story annually as a reminder of where I have come from, who I am today and where I am going. Thank you for supporting my ministry and this blog over the last year.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation that you never, in your wildest dreams or nightmares, could have imagined? That is where I find myself today as I stand in front of you. Giving my faith story – yes – that I could imagine. I have shared my faith in many ways and many times over the years. But being a recovered porn addict – sharing that with a room full of people, including my husband and 2 teenage daughters – not even in the realm of possibility.

I was raised in a Christian home and came to Christ as a child. I was baptized in 1976 on Easter Sunday in a small Baptist church in a small Iowa town. I attended church camps, national youth conferences, Bible Studies and retreats growing up. As an adult I have lead Bible Studies for the last 15 years and spoken at conferences, women’s retreats and area churches for almost as long.

Everything looked good on the surface but underneath I was struggling with an addiction to pornography that was slowly damaging my self-esteem, my self-worth, my relationship with Christ and my relationship with my husband. The stress between how I was perceived on the outside and who I really was on the inside was exhausting. I had built a wall between myself and God as well as anyone who could have helped me with my addiction.

In the interest of time I am going to speak in sweeping generalities. For men pornography tends to be visual, for women there needs to be an emotional connection. I have been a reader all my life. And the reading material I chose to read on the privacy of my e-reader led me down a rabbit hole that I could not control and could not find a way to stop for several years.

In October of 2013 God broke me free from my addiction in a radical way. Overwhelmed by the depravity of the explicit material I was reading I landed face down on the floor wrestling with God and with my addiction. By the grace of God I arose freed from my addiction and forgiven of my sin. Thank you Jesus! End of story or so I thought.

God wasn’t done with me or with the fact that I am a recovered porn addict. Recovery and reconciliation is a process. First I needed to ask my husband for forgiveness. Although I had not cheated on him physically I had cheated on him hundreds of times in my mind with the material I was consuming. Next up, I had to confess to our two teenage daughters. They had been raised with the standard of reading, watching and listening to material that Jesus could sit down and read, watch and listen to with them. Needless to say, their mama had not been walking that walk herself.

For God to be glorified I needed to testify to the work that God had been doing in my life. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It quickly became apparent that God’s purpose in all of this was for me to share my story, do my research and open a dialogue about what Biblical sexuality looks like for women today.

Over the last year God has clearly opened doors that have led me to ministry I never would have expected and certainly would not have picked. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

So at over a dozen churches and retreat centers I have shared the comfort, the forgiveness and the hope of Christ by teaching workshops on 50 Shades of White: Biblical Sexuality for Women.  And what God has clearly shown me is that sexual sins of all size and shape are holding people captive. But if you look ahead and read the end of the book - Jesus wins.

In the meantime grab hold of his promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13 where it says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Waiting. Still Waiting.

I am in a season of waiting right now. Not my favorite place to be. Waiting – for direction on my next ministry steps. Waiting – for my husband’s career path to become clear. Waiting – for a new address in Chicago or to keep the old one in Minneapolis. Waiting – to make fall commitments when I do not even know where I will be living this fall.

Most days, almost all of them this summer, I have been granted a peace that passes all understanding. I know this is from God because it is contrary to my very nature and not something I could possibly do in my own power. Philippians 4:6–7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

What are you waiting for today? A new job, a reconciliation with a friend or family member, a new home, or perhaps old prayers to be answered? Dare I ask – are you waiting on God’s perfect timing or trying to force things onto your timeline instead? I ask this because I can be prone to do that myself.

Which brings me to today, a day when that peace feels very far away. I have allowed anxiety to creep in and have tried to grab hold of my “situations-in-waiting” with both hands. Wanting some movement . . . any movement. Just so I am no longer standing in the same place. Which tells me I need to spend some time on my knees and some time in his Word.

God has a lot to say about waiting. Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” During this waiting period, I need to cultivate an expectant attitude of faith. Knowing, trusting, believing that God is in control and that he is at work in ways I cannot see with a timeline I do not know.

We are exhorted several times in the Psalm to wait. Psalm 5:3 – “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalm 27:14, “Wait patiently for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 33:20 – “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our hope and our shield.” Psalm 40:1 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” Psalm 130:5 – “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his Word I put my hope.”

Lord, Lamentations 3:25 says that you are good to those who wait for you, to the soul who seeks you. May we wait on your perfect timing with patience and a peace that passes all understanding. Grant us an expectant attitude of faith. Amen.

Letting Go

I am finding freedom and peace in surrender. That is a hard-earned statement. I am a detailed, goal-setting planner from way back who liked (as much as it was possible) to be in control, to be in the driver’s seat in every area of my life.

After much struggle, I have finally come to a place of total surrender to God. Surrender of myself and my plans, my children, my job and my house. They are not mine to begin with and I lost sight of that somewhere along the way. All that I am (my time, my talents, my uniqueness) and all that I have (a husband, children, a home) are gifts from God to be used for his purposes and for his glory.

The book Anything by Jennie Allen was a game-changer for me when I read it in March. It challenged me to a live a life framed by the following prayer, “I will do anything God. Anything - to serve you, to draw closer to you, to glorify you, to be used by you.”

60 days after praying that prayer I was retired from an 18-year career. 60 days after that a career opportunity opened for my husband in another city after 3 years of no new job opportunities in the company where he is currently employed. Some might call it coincidence. I call it the Almighty God at work in our lives.

Whether my husband interviews and gets the job or not, whether we move or stay here is not the point anymore. I think shining a light on an attachment too deep to my house and my things is more God’s purpose. As is pointing out the deep desire I have to stay in my comfort zone at all costs. Comfort does not give God much room to work and can keep me from all that God has planned for me.

I consider some of these realizations a God-given gift of aging. They are also a by-product of being an empty-nester with more time on my hands to slow down, read and reflect. At the ripe old age of 50 I have realized with startling clarity how much time I have wasted chasing after things that carry no weight for eternity – the approval of others, increased income, a beautiful home.

As I clean out the house we have lived in for 23 years I am overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we have accumulated. Stuff we no longer use but which will now be a blessing to others. The oppressive weight of our stuff is lifting week by week as I deliver carloads of items to a local charity. What a burden these things are to us and when we are gone, to our children. What an incredible relief there is in letting go – of our stuff, my plans and my control!

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you. Forgive me Father for wrong priorities and wasted years. Thank you for opening my eyes Lord. Less of me and more of you is my heart’s cry (John 3:30). Amen

The God Who Knows

How do you start your day? What does that look like for you? For me, it means starting as many days as possible in God’s Word and with prayer. This morning on the shore of Lake Nokomis I was reading Psalm 139 and it felt like God sat right down beside me and spoke to me through his Word.

It was if he put his arm around me and clearly said, “I’ve got this Robin. I can see the whole picture, trust me and just let go. Let go of your future and the futures of your husband and daughters. Let go of your ministry, your finances, your husband’s job and a possible move. Let go of the anxiety, and fear, and worry that binds you up and builds a wall between us.”

Psalm 139:1-5 says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.”

The NIV study notes for these verses say it this way – God, you know me perfectly, far beyond my knowledge of myself: my every action, my every undertaking and the manner in which I pursue it, even my thoughts before they are fully crystalized and my words before they are uttered.

Right now, when things feel beyond my control, I need to know that God is in control – that he knows me (far beyond the knowledge of myself). Verses 13-14 go on to say, “For you created me in my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” A needed reminder that his works are wonderful and that God has proved faithful time and time again.

Psalm 139 concludes with verses 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Precious Father – When I call you answer me. Please make me bold and stouthearted. (Psalm 138:3). Thank you that your Word tells me that you will fulfill your purpose for me and that your love, O Lord, endures forever. (Psalm 138:8). Amen.

 

How Do You Define Yourself?

Not to overdramatize (although I realize that I am) – but it feels like God has taken away my children, my job and may soon be taking away my house – all in the space of a little over a year. In my head I know this is not true. In my heart, however, it feels that way.

Last fall both girls left home for college which is right and good and as it should be. If we parented correctly they should be moving away from home and toward independence at a rapid pace. I know that I will always be their mom and that they will always need me. But it is different. I am needed less. And frankly, “parenting” adult children is hard. Hard to find the balance and define my new role – how much is too much, how little is too little and how much is juuust right?

For the last 20 years I chose to define myself as a stay-at-home mom. Take away the kids and I became like a car that was trying to drive with only 3 wheels. So, I poured myself into my job and filled the empty places with work. A job that for 18 years had given me a great income, an opportunity to be around lots of people and for which I had enjoyed many perks and accolades.

Fast forward to May when both my husband and I felt a clear call for me to move towards seminary and ministry full time. Which meant quitting a job that paid well and which I had allowed to define me over the last 18 years. What am I left with? A 2-legged car wobbling along unsure of where it is going and how to get there.

Which leaves my last security blanket - our house of 23 years. The joke at our house is that my husband is just supposed to bury me in the back yard under the petunias when I pass because after many years and many renovations our home is finally just the way we like it. In many ways I have allowed my house to define me which is neither healthy, nor good, nor right. We came here and raised our daughters here and is it feels like a living, breathing part of our family.

In today’s job market we may just need to leave our house behind if God opens the door to the right career opportunity in another city.  Which leaves me with a car analogy that has run out of gas. Left with one wheel on the side of the road going nowhere.

But what if, WHAT IF I allow God to turn that one wheeled, broken down car into a unicycle that can carry me on to untold blessings, challenges and adventures.  What if I move forward, older & wiser, realizing that at different points and in different ways I have allowed my family, my job, and my house to matter too much and my relationship with God – not enough.

What if I let go of my pride in my family, my abilities and my material things and truly realize (deep down, where it matters) that none of these are mine anyway and that all of them in every way belong to God. And what if I moved forward from here with a life completely surrendered to God, hands unclenched and open, praying with all that I have and all that I am “I will do anything Lord. Anything.”

 

Due Diligence

Time is one of our most precious commodities. Before we spend some of that time to read a book, watch a movie, or spend time in front of the television we need to do due diligence.

“Due Diligence” is most often used in a law or business setting. Merriam-Webster’s definition for law: the care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to other persons or their property.  The definition for business: research and analysis of a company or organization done in preparation for a business transaction.

I think we should do nothing less than due diligence on the things with which we choose to fill our minds. Let me give you an example of this in regards to a book I am currently reading that attempts to put God and Old Testament violence in perspective. Recommended by a friend of a friend, I did some basic research online before I made the purchase. I read the reviews and read the author bio. Both of which sent up a few red flags but not enough to stop the purchase.

Whenever I read a book that is someone else’s opinion/interpretation of the Bible or God I pray over it. Asking God for wisdom, discernment and that no false teachings would take root. After reading the first chapter I did more research and talked to someone who has taught Bible classes at the college level. Which sent up yet more red flags. Which brought me to a morning of online research on this author, his beliefs and the whole controversy surrounding his teachings.

On information overload (and with a pounding headache) I reached out to my oldest daughter over text. As a senior biblical archaeology major she has taken a lot of classes on hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) and the Ancient Near East. Her response felt like it was God himself speaking directly to me. Our text conversation with her permission:

Her: Fair enough. The Old Testament can be quite disturbing at times. Though I’ve found cultural context and the chorus of scripture deeply helpful to that question personally.

Me: Define “chorus of scripture.” Do you mean looking at the whole Bible together?

Her: Yes. And noticing all the times in the New Testament where God is “harsh” and all the times in the Old Testament where God is deeply loving and/or grieved by sin. Not to say that I totally get it, just that those are the things that have helped me on the question.

This little conversation over text with my daughter flooded my eyes with tears and heart with peace. I felt like it put my feet solidly back on firm ground. In the end I need to run back to God with my questions, fears and doubts. I need to dig deep into his Word and study the Bible with the Holly Spirit as my guide. And before I choose to invest my time and resources into a book by someone doing all of this for me I need to do due diligence.

Precious Father – Thank you that all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16). Please grant me wisdom and discernment and my no false teachings take root. Amen

Reaching Out to Others

When I was growing up I had an Edna Mae. She was an older woman who was invested in my life from the time I was very young until she passed away several years ago. She was a widow in our church that my parents had invited to share a meal with us occasionally after services. She was the woman who thought I could do no wrong, helped me get ready for prom (she only had sons), and was the personal attendant at my wedding.

We are not from Minnesota originally and had no family in the area when we started our family 21 years ago. Pretty much from birth we began to pray that God would bring an “Edna Mae” into our daughter’s life. That prayer was answered with a next-door neighbor who became family to us and to our 2 girls. It started with the occasional wave or short conversations when we happened to be outside at the same time.

Things progressed after a couple of years when we were unable to find a sitter for our newborn daughter for a weekly couples Bible Study. Feeling we had nothing to lose, we asked the neighbor to consider babysitting for a couple of hours once a week. She said she would try it for a month and never stopped – not even when the younger sister came along 2 years later.

Since she would not accept payment for the time she spent with “her girls” we found other ways to repay her. Removing a tree, cleaning her gutters, doing snow removal, repairing her steps and so on. When our daughters became too old to need a sitter she scheduled time alone with them each month all the way through high school. She has shared many a meal with our family over the years and attended every birthday party, choir concert, graduation and special event in our daughter’s lives over the last 21 years. She is, quite simply, family and it all started with a friendly smile and wave.

Looking around you who are the people and where are the places that you can extend the gift of hospitality? Not the pinterest, Martha Stewart over-the-top kind - although there is nothing wrong with that if it is done with right motives – blessing others and not seeking to impress others, making it about them and not about you.

I am speaking more along the lines of including others at the lunch table, inviting people into your home (mess and all), reaching out to people in need, and striving to bless others with your time and undivided attention. To practice Biblical hospitality which ultimately means to honor and obey God by serving those around us.

The Bible has a lot to say about hospitality. A few examples - Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” 1 Peter 4:9 tells us to show hospitality to one another without grumbling. And Romans 12:13 exhorts us to contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Ask God today to show you who is need of hospitality around you and how you can meet that need.

Marriage . . . After 25 Years

I was unable to write this blog last week because I was celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary with my husband. Over the last 3 years I have hesitated to write much about marriage since I  am far from an expert. However, in looking back, there are some things that have worked for us that you may find useful as well.

Surround yourself with like-minded people. We were a part of an engaged group, then newly married group, then a young families group at our church for the first 10 years of our married life. Older more experienced couples led, mentored and taught these groups. What we learned, what was modeled for us, and the accountability within these groups was invaluable.

Have friends who support you, your marriage and your spouse. Strive whenever possible to look for the positive in your spouse and share the positive about your spouse to the people around you. We should be their biggest fan not their biggest critic! Invest in friends who will encourage you to stay when the going gets tough and not help you create an exit plan.

Put God first, your spouse second and your children third. I believe that these are the priorities God wants for us. Loving, knowing and serving my Savior should be the most important thing in my life. I hope (God willing) to enjoy at least 50 years with my husband. We will raise our kids for 20. Putting my children before my husband does a disservice to everyone involved.

We need to leave and cleave. We spent our first 3 years of marriage in Los Angeles. This was many states and two time-zones away from our family of origin. Extended family is important, but my first priority needs to be to the family I have created with my husband.

Date your spouse. Regularly at every age and stage. Whether you have children or not. Go for a walk, have a coffee date, swap childcare, try something new together. It doesn’t have to cost much but it does need to occur on a regular basis.

Keep common interests. In the beginning you had a common interest that drew you together – church, school, a job, sport or hobby. As time passes those interests may diverge. The key is in finding and sharing new interests together.

Invite God into your marriage bed. Seriously. God designed sex as a gift intended for one man and one women within the bounds of marriage. When things are not going as they should or as you hope in this area pray about it. Discuss it with your spouse. Seek Christian resources.

And last, but not least, decide together that divorce is not an option. Do not even entertain the thought. Commit to working through the tough stuff. Seek professional Christian counseling as needed. Ask trusted friends and family to pray for healing if that is what your marriage needs.

Please know that I have outlined sweeping generalities about things that have worked for us, for our specific marriage and relationship. I know that some of what I have shared will not hold true for you and that you may disagree with some of what I have written. In the end, please know that God is for marriage and that He will partner with you to provide whatever your marriage needs.  

Precious Father – thank you for the gift of marriage. May you be the center of our homes. Please strengthen and protect us Lord as we strive to build marriages that are holy and pleasing in your sight. Amen.

 

 

Surrender Can Be a Process

I wanted to feel peace before making my life-changing decision to retire. I wanted, needed, am wired for a clear step-by-step plan to know what is coming next and how to get from point A to point B. I longed for it, earnestly sought it, prayed for it, and asked many others to pray for it as well.  I did not receive the peace or the clearly defined path that I felt I needed before I could make the decision to retire.

Eventually I changed the focus of my prayers. For weeks I put the following prayer request on our church prayer list, “Please pray that we would trust God with our finances and our careers.” Because when I really looked at what was holding me back from total surrender I realized that, for me, part of it was a trust issue.

Could we make it on one paycheck? Still help the girls with their tuition? Attend family weddings in Florida and Georgia this summer and so on? Would I regret walking away from a great income and the perks that went with it (free cars, free trips, etc)? I needed to take my eyes off of my fears and put them on my Savior. I needed a laser focus on who God is and what His Word says. I needed to focus on what was truly important – God and his plans and purposes – not mine.

I copied James 1:5 into my planner each week, “If any of you lacks wisdom. He should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” I realized I lacked wisdom regarding God’s call on my life and the changes I would be making if I were to retire.

As I started to move towards total surrender I was deluged with doubts and fears surrounding the decision I was about to make. Which meant writing 2 Corinthians 10:5 for a while and saying it to myself over and over (substituting the we for I), “I demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and I take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.”

As the feelings ebbed and flowed, I repeated (and still do repeat) Proverbs 3:5-6 to myself, “Trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways acknowledge him and he will direct my paths.”

And finally, when I knew internally that I was finally ready to surrender, to truly pray “I will do anything God, anything,” to trust God completely, my weekly planner verse changed to Psalm 46:5, “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.”

The peace I longed for in the decision-making process, that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I did receive it – but only after the decision was final. It came as an overwhelming, God-given peace. I felt a lightening of my spirit as I finally leaned in to and answered God’s call to leave my career of 18 years and pursue ministry full time.

The clear step-by-step plan – still waiting for that one. I’ve come to realize that God in his infinite wisdom may choose not to give it to me. I do not know what the future holds or what shape or time line my “full time” ministry will take. But I trust in the God who holds my future.  

Trusting God = Retirement For Me

After 18 years in my current career I am retiring on Friday. I have mixed feelings about this. Joy and excitement as I look ahead to what’s next and strive to answer God’s call on my life. Fear and anxiety as I walk away from a growing business and good income with 2 daughters still in college.

On paper, this does not make sense. Logically, the timing feels like it could not be worse. But in my heart, mind and soul we (my husband and I) know this is what God is clearly calling me to do. So, I am gathering up all of my courage (it is taking a lot!), being obedient and stepping out in faith. Trusting that God will provide, trusting Him with our finances, trusting Him with my time, talents, and resources.

The response from family and friends has been overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and supportive. It helps – TREMENDOUSLY – especially on days when I cannot see the path in front of me and begin to doubt or second-guess the decision. It helps when unexpected expenses (new tires, car repair, broken air conditioner) keep popping up and my last paycheck looms near. It helps when I feel overwhelmed with all the details involved in shutting my business down after 18 years.

This day, this retirement, has been 3 years in the making. Although I have been a Bible Study leader, speaker and writer for over 20 years, it has only been since 2015 that I felt the call to full-time ministry. Sometimes God’s call on my life clanged powerfully in my soul and sometimes it was a distant whisper I barely heard, crowded out by a busy schedule and a paralyzing fear of the unknown.

Until one day this spring when we went to a different church to hear one of our daughter’s sing while on tour with her college vocal group. The sermon was “Trusting God with Your Money.” Sitting in the same sermon with my husband I heard “be more disciplined with your tithing.” What my husband heard was “you need an accelerated exit plan for your wife from her current career, so she can pursue ministry full time.” Ever have that experience – where you are listening to the same speaker and hear two totally different things?

An accelerated exit plan means that 60 days later I am retiring to write the book God has placed on my heart, to pursue more speaking opportunities, to hopefully start seminary in the fall, to be open and willing to be used wherever and in whatever way God decides. And yes, to be willing to finally say, “I will do anything Lord. Anything.”

I want to close with something that Lysa TerKeurst, a Christian writer & speaker I particularly enjoy, posted today because it seems fitting:

“What are you having to trust God with right now? Remember . . .

One day at a time. We can’t let fears or worries steal our joy for today.

One prayer at a time. We can’t forget the source for all wisdom, perspective and peace is but a prayer away.

One step of faith at a time. If I am going to call myself a woman of faith, I’m going to have to be willing to live a life that actually requires a little bit of faith.”

Today, dear friend loved by God, I am praying that you move forward one day, one prayer and one step of faith at a time.

Choose Your Movies Wisely

I have always been someone who loves a good movie. And yes, I still like to see it in my local movie theater where I can share the experience with other people who may laugh out loud, shed a tear or applaud the hero’s final triumph with me.

I pay attention to what movies are coming out when and which movies feature a favorite actor. Which is why I was excited about the release of the new movie “Book Club” this Friday.   I like books and the cast and was excited about a movie featuring strong, older female characters, their friendships, and their interactions. That is, until I watched some video clips and read several reviews.

The synopsis for the movie is as follows - “Four lifelong friends have their lives changed forever after reading 50 Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.” What a sad statement on our current culture, our sex lives, and on older women!  

Let’s be clear here – the whole 50 Shades franchise is about BDSM. BDSM is an overlapping abbreviation used for bondage and discipline, (BD), dominance and submission (DS), sadism and masochism (SM). Borrowing from the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “Bondage and discipline consist of using physical and psychological restraints, domination and submission involve an exchange of power and control, and sadism and masochism refer to taking pleasure in others’ or one’s own pain or humiliation.” Really think about that definition and what is involved in practicing BDSM.

Pornography (which 50 Shades clearly is) separates us from the person emotionally and makes it about the sexual act. Dr. Juli Slattery & Dannah Gresh in their book, Pulling Back the Shades, say it this way, “Erotica like 50 Shades of Grey is aimed at awakening your physical sexual desire without any connection to emotional, relational or spiritual reality – whatever emotional and sexual response these novels create in you, they are disconnected from your love relationships and your longing to know and honor God.”

I want to encourage you to take a pass on the "Book Club" movie. The four friends cover all the bases with a woman who is widowed, one who is single, another who is divorced and one who is married. According to one website “the lives of these four friends are turned upside down after reading the infamous 50 Shades of Grey, catapulting them into a series of outrageous life choices."

Instead, if you are married or in a dating relationship, have an old-fashioned date night with your special someone this Friday. Hold hands, take a walk around the lake, sit under a moonlit night and take time to really communicate and connect. It will be a much better use of your time!

Precious Father – Thank you that you have created us for intimacy. May we strive for and seek after your best plan for us and for our relationships. Please grant us wise and discerning hearts in what we read and what we watch. Amen.

Think On Such Things

I have sat down several times today to write my blog. Each time I have stared at the blank screen and blinking cursor and drawn a complete blank. I did manage to start a couple of posts that went nowhere fast. The phrase that kept coming to mind was “think on such things.” This phrase is found at the end of the NIV translation of Philippians 4:8.

Philippians is a New Testament book written by the apostle Paul to the church in Philippi while he was under house arrest in Rome. When I went to look up Philippians 4:8 I realized I really needed to grab the surrounding verses as well. In a section subtitled “Final Exhortations” Philippians 4:4-9 says:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

These are powerful verses that speak for themselves. Take time to read them slowly to yourself and out loud. Pause at the end of each sentence and really think about what you just read. Grab a study Bible and read the study notes for some additional insight. Use a website like www.biblehub.com to see other translations of the same verse as well as other verses that follow the same theme.

I could spend an entire blog discussing just one of the sentences or verses in this passage. But for today, what I mostly feel, is just the need to share them. Please post in the comments which part of Philippians 4:4-9 speaks to you the most today.

Precious Father – Thank you that your Word is living and active. Guide us in your truth and teach us for you are God our Father and our hope is in you all day long. Please open our eyes Lord that we may see wonderful things in your Word. Amen.

Tempted . . . and Failed

I do NOT want to write this post. So, God, if we are going to do this and go “there” then this one is really up to you! I messed up and I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty. And I really do not want anyone to know. God, apparently has other plans. Which may be why He named my ministry “Living the Life Transparent.”

In October of 2013 God brought me out of a 5-year addiction to pornography. Although I have been tempted many times in the last 4 ½ years I have not given into the desire to use pornography. Until Sunday night. I cannot begin to tell you how hard it was to write that last sentence or how badly my using porn again scared me.

Yes, once again I am worrying about what people will think. Not my husband – although he is the one most directly affected by my addiction. Whenever I consume pornography I set my husband up for failure as I compare him to the unrealistic fantasies portrayed in the porn. No man can live up to that because it is not real. I am also being stimulated by something other than him which is a disservice to both of us and to our marriage bed. This is why I needed to confess my use of porn to him the next morning and asked for forgiveness which he gave.

Scientific studies have shown that the same part of the brain that lights up for alcoholics and drug abusers lights up for those addicted to porn. A recovering alcoholic cannot have just one drink. And as a recovering porn addict I cannot read just a little pornography. And yes, I need to truly understand that I will be a recovering porn addict for the remainder of my life. Not a “recovered porn addict” as my pride would have me believe.

Different people have different triggers. Part of the battle is in realizing what our triggers are and steering clear of them. When I did my first purge of materials from our house in October of 2013 I kept some of my favorite books both in hard copy and as electronic files on my e-reader. I knew them so well, had read them so many times, that I knew I could skip over the explicit parts that I should not be reading. Which I did for the last 4 ½ years . . . until Sunday night. Among other issues pride blinded me to the danger. I really believed I was over my addiction and could handle it. I was wrong.

So where does this leave me as a Christian who was tempted and failed? On my knees repenting and confessing my sin to God, asking for forgiveness, and receiving it from a loving and gracious God. Digging into His Word for comfort, for strength, and for guidance.  Getting up, dusting myself off and moving forward. Forgiving myself.

Humbled, realizing I cannot do this in my own power. Knowing (once again) that I need to care less about what other people think of me and more about pleasing my Savior and being obedient even when it is uncomfortable (writing this blog). And last, but not least, getting rid of every last electronic or physical copy of material that could trip me up in the future.

Precious Father – Thank you that no temptation has seized us except that which is common to man. Thank you that you are faithful and that you will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. Thank you that when we are tempted you provide a way out for us so that we can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Amen.

Your One Wild & Precious Life

I have written on this before, but I want to ask again, what are you doing with your one precious life that God has given you? I think this is an important question to ask – especially as we pass from one life stage or major event to another. High school to college, single to married, unemployed to employed, no kids to having kids. You get the idea.

I can tell you that for much of the last 25 years my primary focus in life was my family. Marrying my husband, starting a family, raising our two daughters together. Much of what I did and the places where I served centered around them whether in the local church, school or community. Many of the friendships that were developed during those years came out of these choices connected to our daughters as well.

As someone who became an empty nester for the first time, last fall, it is a question I am asking myself right now. The empty nest is a new life stage that has been harder than I expected. It is one that quite suddenly freed up my schedule and my time in ways I could not have foreseen. I want to be deliberate in the choices I make, the activities I choose and the places where I serve. I don’t want to allow just anything to fill up those newly emptied hours and places.

Part of what started me thinking about this again was a verse I came across yesterday in my reading. Psalm 62:11-12 says, “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.” It was this last part that caught my attention and made me want to take the time to dig a little deeper.

My study notes referred to the following verses – Jeremiah 17:10 and Jeremiah 32:19. The first verse says, “I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to what his deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 32:19 goes on to say, “Great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.”

And finally, the study notes for those two verses pointed me to these final two verses. 1 Corinthians 3:8 which says, “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” And Ephesians 6:7-8 which tells us, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, for you know the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does . . .”

Clearly, what we do and how we spend our time matters. Which has me asking again the question that Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Mary Oliver asks in one of her poems, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Ask for Wisdom

The dictionary defines wisdom as the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is something that seems to be sadly lacking in our world right now. I used to think wisdom was a by-product of age and experience. I did not understand that it was mine for the asking or that the best way to gain wisdom was to immerse myself in God’s Word.

James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given to you.” In Daniel 2:23 we see that this was Daniel’s experience. “I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors. You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you.” Daniel asked for wisdom and he received it from God.

Fortunately, the Bible has a lot to say about wisdom throughout its pages. It also gives us a lot of examples of biblical characters who made wise and not so wise choices.

One such example is the story of Abigail, Nabal’s wife. Where Abigail is wise her husband is foolish. Her words and actions save her household and eventually lead her to a position as the wife of the future King David. You can read more of this story in 1 Samuel, chapter 25. It is an excellent snap shot of what can happen when someone makes wise choices and the consequences that can occur when someone makes unwise choices.

The book of Proverbs is a great place to start when you are seeking wisdom. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Verses 9-11 go on to say, “Then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you and understanding will guard you.” Stop and really think about that. I want wisdom to enter my heart. I want knowledge to be pleasant to my soul. And I definitely want discretion to protect me and understanding to guard me.

To highlight a few other verses: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver! Proverbs 16:16

All this comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent. Isaiah 28:29.

To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his. Job 12:13

Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom . . . Colossians 3:16

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3:17

Lord, may we ask for wisdom with a sincere and humble heart. May we seek the wisdom of your Word and your council in all that we do. Amen.