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.

What Does Surrender Look Like?

One more week, another blank page. So much to say and not sure how to say it. Mind – racing a million miles a minute. Emotions – in turmoil. Wanting so badly to live the life transparent. Trying to find the line of what to share - what not to share. Desiring above all else to honor God with my words and actions.

Seeking earnestly after God. Digging into his Word. Looking for direction. Standing on a precipice – afraid to jump. To totally surrender every part of my life and who I am to God. To be willing to pray with all my heart, soul and mind, “God, I will do anything. Anything.” To release my safe, comfortable and happy life to a life that is instead surrendered, reckless and courageous.

This idea, these words come from Jennie Allen’s book “Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul.” This books pretty cover hides a powerful (and I hope life-changing for me) message within its pages. I have owned this book for a very long time and did not make the time or find the courage to read it. I sensed it would challenge me in ways that I was not ready for or comfortable with – and I was right.

What changed? The opportunity to slow down and think. To make time and space in my schedule for prayer and reflection. To finally stop living under the tyranny of an unexamined life. To turn and really look at my life – what people see on the outside (the illusion I strive so hard to create) and what is hidden on the inside (the good, the bad and the ugly).

I long with a startling intensity to be all that God intended for me to be. To use the gifts that He has given me for His glory and His kingdom. To help the hurting. To be God’s hands and feet in every way humanly possible. To allow God to use me in whatever way He chooses. However, whenever, wherever. To truly be willing to pray without reservation “God, I will do anything. Anything.”

Scary words for a woman who has spent the first half of her life striving with a strong will, set mind, and steely determination to attain safe, comfortable, happy. Instead of surrendered, reckless, and courageous for God. A hard place to be as I dig inside myself, inside God’s Word, and into the lives and writings of people who have lived a life surrendered to Christ.

So many moving pieces. So many questions. Committed to taking the time needed to figure this out. Learning patience as God gently leads me. Guarding fiercely the time that it will take to learn, to study, to pray, to listen for God’s voice and direction. Refusing – yes, flat out refusing – to fill the disquiet in my soul with the noise of schedules and distractions and activities (which I have done too often in the past).

Remembering instead what Elizabeth Elliott, a missionary, writer and speaker who lived a life surrendered to God said: “If with courage and joy we pour ourselves out for Him and for others for His sake, it is not possible to lose, in any final sense, anything worth keeping. We will lose ourselves and our selfishness. We will gain everything worth having.” 

He is a Just God

All we have to do is open the paper, turn on the television, log onto Facebook or check the notifications on our phone to realize that we live in a broken and fallen world. 

Today I want to give us a much needed reminder that God’s justice will prevail. That in the end God wins and Satan loses. That there will be eternal consequences to the choices we make and the harm that we do to others. That every single one of us will stand before the judgment seat of God and be judged for our actions here on earth.

In my current state of “stirred up” I need to seek my answers directly from God’s Word and not from the opinions of others – either written or spoken. I need to have an intimate and prolonged conversation with my Heavenly Father. I need to rest in Him knowing that He is in control.

Scripture tells us:

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he - Deuteronomy 32:4.

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne – Psalm 97:1-2.

God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne - Psalm 47:8.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you – Psalm 89:14.

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. Psalm 71:11.

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you . . . - 2 Thessalonians 1:6.

And the heavens declare his righteousness, for he is a God of justice – Psalm 50:6.

All of us have already or will one day face situations that are unfair. Where justice seems a mirage and we are left struggling, unable to see the bigger picture at work.

In the book The Real God, Chip Ingram sums up the justice of God this way, “The heart of the concept of judgment is this: everyone will get what he or she deserves. God is a righteous judge, and though the world is not fair, God is.”

Precious Father – Please be with those today who long for justice and have yet to see it. Strengthen them. Uphold them in your righteous right hand. Help them to put their trust in and find their rest in you Lord Jesus. Help us to be part of the solution and not part of the problem in our fallen world. Amen.

 

 

Reflections on Turning 50

I turn 50 this week. And can I just say I am running at it with everything I have. Reveling in the fact that I am older and hopefully wiser! Celebrating by doing 50 things I have never done before in this year that I turn 50. Comfortable in my own skin. Excited to see what the next 50 years bring – God willing!

As a younger woman I was not a fan of the Proverbs 31 woman. She seemed too perfect and set a standard which I felt sadly equipped to meet. Now as a middle-aged woman (and no, I am not afraid to use that label – if God blesses me with a 100 years on this earth then at 50 I am middle aged) I see her in a different light and am claiming Proverbs 31:25–26 as my life verse for the second half of my life.

These verses say, “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” I want all of this as I look back and press forward – strength, dignity, wisdom and the opportunity to give faithful instruction when asked. This is a goal to which I strive and to which God calls me.

Titus 2:3-5 says, “Likewise, teach older women to be reverent in they way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

Powerful words that take multiple generations working together to complete. I have longed for a mentor for most of my adult life and have not had the opportunity. When I became of aware of the fact that I should be mentoring someone younger than I am while being mentored by someone older than I am I felt inadequate and ill-equipped to do so.  I felt like I needed to have all the answers, so I could share them with someone else. Instead of understanding that we could find the answers together and trusting that God and his Word would supply what we needed in the relationship.

In an ideal world what does this look like? High schoolers coming alongside middle schoolers. College attenders coming alongside those still in high school. Young adults out of college coming alongside those still in college. More established marrieds coming alongside newly marrieds. Parents with more experience coming alongside those with less. And so on (you get the idea). What if we looked to God, his Word, and the people ahead of us on the path for answers instead of Google, Facebook, Pinterest and our peers? I think the end result would be a more connected church and society, a better understanding and appreciation of other generations, and stronger marriages and families.

So, as I sit in the middle I will pray for God to bring people into my life that have a desire to enter into this kind of relationship with me – older and younger – doing life together as we strive to be all that God has created us to be.

In the meantime, I am embracing each gray hair that grows (Proverbs 16:31 Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is obtained by following a righteous path), fighting every wrinkle and buying multiple pairs of really cute readers!

An Unquenchable Thirst

As I approach my 50th birthday in March my only regret is that I have not spent more time studying, reading and praying God’s Word. For years I would be frustrated with my seeming inability to make this happen.

Each new year I would sharpen my pencil, find a spot, buy a book and set a goal that would quickly fade in the frozen days of February. I would earnestly pray, “God please give me an unquenchable thirst for your Word.” This prayer seemed unanswered for years. Discouraged, I would quit praying this prayer for a while and then, eventually, start the whole cycle all over again.

The irony in all this is that for much of my adult life (the last 25 or so years) I have been involved in Bible Study consistently - first as a participant and then as a leader. This has been a great experience filled with great books/studies and amazing women with whom I have found friendship, accountability and support.

But too often these studies were someone else’s opinion/interpretation of what they thought the Bible said. It made my study of the Bible disjointed as we jumped from book to book and story to story pulling a verse here and a chapter there.

There are lots of great resources and lots of great authors/scholars that can to add to our study of the Bible. But, in addition, we need to make sure that we are digging into the Bible ourselves on a daily basis as well.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” How can I be thoroughly equipped for every good work if I am not reading and studying scripture?

The turning point for me 3 years ago was getting rid of all the study guides and devotionals and just focusing on the Bible. I had to literally go from my bed in the morning directly to the desk where I study to make it happen each day. If I check my phone or get on email it is not going to happen as the day’s demands crowd my meeting with God away.

I can tell you that without exception, the days when that happens, I feel the loss of not starting the day with God and it colors everything that happens afterwards. I can also tell you that it was not until I started reading his Word each day that I developed the “unquenchable thirst” for his Word that I prayed for off and on for years.

I started by reading a Psalm and a Proverb each day. I used an NIV Study Bible and a blank notebook to write down verses, thoughts and information from the study notes. From there I moved through the New Testament and then the Old Testament.

I start each day (and am going to end this blog) by praying scripture before I read my Bible. I desire to do your will, O my God; help me to place your law within my heart. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Amen. Psalm 40:8, Psalm 25:5, Psalm 119:27, Psalm 119:18

In a Crazy, Mixed Up World - Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Another week of headlines that makes me want to turn off the television, close the newspaper, stay off of social media and ignore the newsfeed on my computer. I can’t imagine the despair, anger and cynicism of someone whose hope does not rest in Jesus right now.

It seems to me, that when you drill it all down, it comes down to the fact that we are a fallen people and God created us with free will. Guns, by themselves, do not kill people. The person who pulls the trigger makes that choice. Cars do not kill people. The person who is drunk behind the wheel does. I do not want to start a gun control debate here. I am simply saying that evil is real and because God loves us and wants us to choose to be in relationship with him he gave us free will.

In Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus said - " You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Loving God with every part of our being is an important step in the right direction. We need to be the hands and feet of God; reaching out and building relationships with the people in our neighborhoods, workplace and schools. 

Part of our relationship with God and with others develops out of how we see ourselves. Loving your neighbor as yourself sounds pretty straight forward until you realize how many people today do not, in fact, love themselves. This makes it pretty difficult, if not impossible, to follow God’s command in the way it was intended.

I don’t know where you fall on the spectrum of loving yourself. At one end is total self-loathing. At the other end a healthy appreciation, acceptance and peace about who God created you to be. Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, I need to pause here for a minute to say that you are worthy of love from others and from yourself. God did not make a mistake when he created you. Dear sister (and brother) loved by God, please hear this - you matter!

Scripture points out some pretty amazing things about you. You are created in God’s image – Genesis 1:27 * He knit you together in your mother’s womb – Psalm 139:13 * You are fearfully & wonderfully made – Psalm 139:14 * You were skillfully wrought – Psalm 139:15 * His thoughts of you are more in number than the sand – Psalm 139:18 * You are engraved on the palm of God’s hand - Isaiah 49:16 * Every hair on your head is numbered - Matthew 10:30.

The solution to the mess we are in starts with loving God and then with loving ourselves so we can love others. We are not born with prejudice. It is a learned behavior. We need to ask God to search our heart and help us to see who we really are and where our prejudices lie.

 Please join me in praying Psalm 139:23-24 - Search me, oh 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. Amen. 

50 Shades Freed - Seriously?!

The following blog was posted last year around this time - and what I wrote still holds true. With the release of the third and final movie this week, 50 Shades Freed, it seems important to post it again. As a woman recovering from a pornography addiction I am concerned about a movie like 50 Shades Darker.  It is being released just before Valentine’s Day – billed as a romance – and promoted as the perfect date night. In reality, it is far from a romance, but is instead a graphic, sexually explicit movie about a modern-day sadomasochistic relationship.

Sadomasochism is defined as sexual activity, in which one person enjoys inflicting physical or mental suffering on another person, who derives pleasure from experiencing pain. Where, exactly, is the romance in that?

In researching the movie, the first movie trailer clip that loaded had this headline: Don’t Watch This 50 Shades Darker Clip with Your Parents (Obviously).Like the first movie, 50 Shades of Grey, this one barely missed an NC-17 rating which would have kept children under 18 out of the theater.

The MPAA rated it “R” instead for “strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity and language.”  This movie franchise has pushed the envelope in your neighborhood theater and expanded what is now considered acceptable under an “R” rating.

On the first page of a basic Google search I also came to: Speed Read: 12 Naughty Bits for 50 Shades Darker. The one-line description for that link said NSFW. Having not seen that acronym before I looked up the definition: NSFW is a warning for an email subject line. It means ‘not safe for work’ or ‘not safe to be viewed at work.’ It is used to warn the recipient to not open the message at the office or near young children, because the message contains sexual or repulsive content.

I could continue to give statistics and information on the movie that has already been released and the one that is soon to be released. I could back it up with more statistics on the staggering number of men, and now women, addicted to pornography. I could tell you that the 50 Shades franchise has normalized pornography use for women in the same way that the internet did for men.

Instead, I am going to tell you that my addiction to pornography damaged my self-worth, my self-image, my marriage, my relationships with the people around me, and my relationship with my God. It filled me with self-loathing and poisoned every area of my life.

I sanitized it for years with words like erotica and mommy porn. The reality is that pornography awakens our physical sexual desires but separates us from any kind of emotional or relational connection. Porn makes it about the sexual act and not about the other person who is involved.

OK, transparency time. (Like admitting to a porn addiction is not transparent enough!) It has taken most of my day to write this blog. I have sweated and researched and written and re-written and cried (tears and out loud to God).

I have worried that I have gone too far. Then worried that I have not gone far enough in the words I have shared today. I have worried about what other people would think. And yes, I have been tempted to watch the movie clips and read the 12 Naughty Bits excerpt.

My past feels like a thorn in my side today that I may have until the day I die. But I have prayed earnestly.  And claimed scripture wholeheartedly. And persevered in this task because God was faithful to me. And He will be faithful to you if this is an area in which you struggle or in which you are tempted. He delivered me and He can deliver you.

Precious Father – Today I choose to praise you for the hard stuff that draws me to you. I choose to praise you for a temptation that continues to haunt me and keep me humble. Thank you that your grace is sufficient for me. Lord, may your power be made perfect in my weakness. Amen. 

#MeToo From a Christian's Perspective

I am who I am today because I am a survivor of sexual abuse and rape. I am also (and more importantly) a follower of Jesus Christ which has allowed me to forgive those who harmed me and comfort those who have been abused.

I was a young child when someone I loved and trusted sexually molested me. But that is a story for another day. I was an innocent 14-year-old when I was raped. I told no one because I believed somehow it was my fault. As a child growing up in the mid-70s & 80s I lived in a culture where it was not talked about, the victim had no rights, no services were in place to help the injured, and somehow it was always the girl’s fault – where she was, what she wore, what she said or what she did.

While I waited to find out if that act of violence had created a child, I shut myself in my room and cried out over and over to the Lord in prayer. I vividly remember sitting in my lime green bean bag in the corner of my room combing through my Bible repeatedly looking for a word, for some comfort from God. And to that very broken girl He provided it.  

I felt dirty and damaged beyond repair when I found Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them white as wool.” Please do not misunderstand me. There is no sin on the part of the person who has been sexually abused or raped. What mattered to me in this verse was the fact that God could make me feel clean again.

When I was stuck in an endless replay of the event He provided Philippians 3:13-14 which says, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on towards the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus . . .” This gave me permission to leave it in the past where it belonged and move forward until I could find the help and healing I needed.

I was angry and bitter, filled with hatred toward the person who had harmed me. And God gently but persistently pointed me toward verse after verse (Colossians 3:13, Matthew 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:31–32, Matthew 11:25) on the need to forgive the person who had violated me. By far one of the most difficult but most critical parts of my recovery. Not forgiving the perpetrator only harmed me, held me captive and kept me in a victim mentality instead of a survivor mindset.

What Satan intended for evil God has used for good. At the university I attended I volunteered at the Rape Crisis Center where I helped create the map that showed students the locations where rape had occurred in and around campus. A place where women could feel empowered with self-defense courses and receive the help they needed.

As a single woman in my 20s I led a group that worked with survivors on recovery from a Biblical perspective. And throughout the 35 years since my rape God has repeatedly opened doors for me to come alongside women one on one in their brokenness. To listen, to pray, to encourage them. To help them understand they are NOT defined by what happened nor should they allow it to define their lives. To point them to a God who will take their broken pieces and turn them into something beautiful. To comfort others with the comfort I myself received from God (2 Corinthian 1:3-4).

I am who I am today because of the good, the bad and the ugly in my past. And you know what? I like me. That statement, that sentence was hard earned. And only made possible through the healing of a loving God who took the broken pieces and made something beautiful.

The #Me Too movement? It is long overdue. As Christians we need to enter the conversation and infuse it with hope and healing and forgiveness instead of the anger and bitterness that too often surrounds it. Because really, isn’t that what God is all about – hope and healing and forgiveness?

Oh, my Precious Father – Thank you for giving me the courage to write this blog. For taking the broken pieces and making them whole.  I choose to praise you for the hard places that have made me who I am today and give you all the glory. Lord, please be with those whose wounds are fresh and those whose wounds are old and festering. May they strive towards the freedom of forgiveness and find their hope and healing in you. Amen.

Make Time for Friends

We live in a culture where friendship can seem like a luxury instead of a necessity. Where popularity is gauged by the number of friends on social media instead of the number of people we could count on in a crisis for help. Where texting has replaced the warmth of laughter and tears shared over the phone or across the table at a coffee shop.

Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. How is that possible if the only life our friends see is the one we portray on Fakebook? And the only emotions they get from us are emojis and exclamations marks and capital letters over text? How is that possible when we are finding our self-worth and feeding our egos with “likes” and number of followers on social media instead of receiving genuine appreciation from a friend who praises our strengths and gently points out our weaknesses?

Building a friendship takes time, discipline and determination as we match up schedules (our, theirs, and whoever else it affects), interests and activities. It involves lowering our guard and letting people see us for who we really are - the good, the bad, and the ugly. It means carving time out of our over-stuffed schedules for the things that really matter – God, family, and friends.

And let’s be honest. It can also involve taking a risk. Who hasn’t been hurt or betrayed by a friend at some point. Or, if we are really being transparent, been the one to hurt or betray a friend ourselves? Which leaves us with a choice to forgive, forget and move on to new and healthier relationships or stay stuck in the pain of old rejections.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” What choices do you need to make this week to spend time with an old friend or start building relationship with a new friend?

Precious Father – thank you for the gift of friendship and for Jesus modeling it for us when he walked this earth. Please help us to slow down and see the people around us. And please help us to make the care and nurture of friendship a priority. Amen.

Where Will You Worship this Week?

Philip Yancey starts his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” with the following words, “I first got acquainted with Jesus when I was a child, singing “Jesus Loves Me” in Sunday school. Addressing bedtime prayers to “Dear Lord Jesus,” watching Bible Club teachers move cutout figures across a flannelgraph board. I associated Jesus with Kool-Aid and sugar cookies and gold stars for good attendance.”

To which my response was yes! That was exactly my experience too. His words made emotion well up within me. It brought long forgotten people, images, sights, and sounds back to me with startling clarity. And it made me incredibly grateful that I was raised in a church that brought me to a saving relationship with Christ.

The pastors, teachers, youth group leaders and mentors who invested time, and prayer and energy in me and gave me hugs – so many hugs – over the years made a vital impact on my life. Going forward for the children’s story, singing in the children’s choir, doing lock-ins with the youth group where we slept overnight in the church, and volunteering in the church nursery were all regular occurrences in my childhood and teen years.

These fond memories come from being raised in a small Baptist church in a small Iowa town. That church and those people had a profound and lasting impression on my growing up years and are a vital part of the person I am today.

Church attendance was not optional in the house where I grew up. It was expected and just a regular part of our weekly routine. I am so thankful for parents who modeled regular church attendance, small group Bible study, volunteering and the importance of the fellowship of other believers.   

How we spend our Sunday mornings matter. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Gathering as a body of believers allows us to grow deeper in our faith, use our spiritual gifts, increase our Bible knowledge, build community, give and receive accountability and fellowship with other believers.

We cannot get all that we need from watching television, listening to a podcast or reading a book in the privacy of our own home. All of those things are good but need to be our dessert – not the main course.

Matthew 18:20 tells us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This comes from gathering together in Christian community on a regular and committed basis. Church is about refining each other and having the opportunity to learn, grow, worship, pray, serve, support and encourage one other.

God is calling you to church. Don’t let excuses stand in your way. Find a Bible-teaching church that is a fit for you and for your family and commit to attending weekly. Meet the pastor, plug into the ministries and small groups that are available, strive to become part of the community. Precious Father – Please heal those who have suffered past wounds in a church setting or from other believers. May they feel your love, grace and direction. Thank you for a country that gives us the freedom to gather together as believers to study your Word and worship together. May we protect that right and never take it for granted. Amen.

The Prayer that Never Fails

There is a series of books* I particularly enjoy where the main character often says, “Let’s pray the prayer that never fails.” Four simple words that are making a huge difference for me in my current season of life (parenting adult children) and current state of mind (worried).

Those four words - THY WILL BE DONE - have become four life-changing, worry-releasing, sleep-enabling words.

Personally, I am finding that I worry more as the parent of adult children than I did when I was the parent of younger children. The decisions they make today are bigger and have bigger consequences. Those same decisions are more complicated and involve a lot of moving pieces.

I have recently become convicted that worry is a sin. When I worry I am basically saying that I do not trust the God of the universe to take care of the difficult situation or the bill coming due or the care needed for a loved one. I know that most of my worry and anxiety is caused by trying to figure it out on my own instead of releasing it fully into God’s hands.

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 surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . . .”

Isn’t this a goal we should all be striving towards? 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Matthew 6:25-34 has a lot to say about worry and God’s care for us ending with these words, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

When worries come I can find myself starting to spin. Getting more and more worried. Wandering down an endless rabbit trail of what if’s and worse case scenarios. When I make a choice to stop, pray and state out loud THY WILL BE DONE my worries become smaller and God becomes bigger and the rabbit trail – it becomes straighter.

Jesus said those words when he taught us how to pray in Matthew 6:10, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth. as it is in heaven.” He also used those words in Luke 22:42 when Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me. Yet, not my will, but yours be done.”

Precious Father, may we come to you as a people who are weary and burdened, knowing that you will give us rest. May our trust in you be large and our worries be small. And may we have the faith to say with utter conviction in every situation - THY WILL BE DONE. Amen.

*Father Tim in the Mitford Series books by Jan Karon. A great read!

Try Something New This Year

2018 is the year in which I turn 50 and celebrate 25 years of marriage. It is the year I will loose 50 pounds and I will try 50 things that I have never done before. It is a year to celebrate and a launch pad for the next 50 years (God-willing!)

I have no complaints about my first 50 years. I embrace it all – the victories and the defeats, the good hair choices and the bad, the wise choices and the poor. I just long, with a surprising intensity, for my next 50 years to be better than my first 50.

Less focused on me and more focused on others. Caring less about what others think and more about what pleases my Savior. Striving less for comfort and more for a life lived to the edge of all that I can be. Working harder to understand the viewpoint of others while becoming less rigid and certain about my own opinions.

I want to be more deliberate about the relationships in my life – old and new, family and friend, young and old. I want to surround myself with people of all ages who will open my eyes to their experiences and are willing to learn from mine. I want to pour into the life of the women who are younger than me and learn from the women who are older than I (Titus 2).

And I want always – and I mean always - to keep learning and growing and changing. Which brings me to the importance for all of us of trying and doing new things. For me, this year, that looks like a list compiled over the last couple of months of 50 things I have not done before. This is an important way for me personally to mark and celebrate turning 50.

It can be as simple as trying a new food, reading a new book or watching a new movie. The new things that you decide to try this year can stretch you physically – snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are on my list. It can stretch you mentally – taking a community ed class and learning to knit.  It can stretch you spiritually – serving at Community Emergency Services and reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

Whatever you choose to do I encourage you to get out of your house and into the world. To get off of your screens (computer, TV and phone) and experience more face-to-face. To get out of whatever rut you may be in and experience new and different things this year. We only get once shot. What will you do this year with the one wild and wonderful life you have been given?

Precious Father – May we trust in you with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways may we acknowledge you so that you will direct our paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6.) Amen.

Mary - The Third Wise Woman of Christmas

We conclude the three wise women with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Obviously the most important of the three women and by far the youngest. But both Anna and Elizabeth had an important role to play as well. Elizabeth was the mother of John who prepared the way for Jesus as well as being Mary’s confidante and mentor. Anna was the messenger who proclaimed the birth of the Messiah to all who would hear.

We meet Mary for the first time in Luke 1:26-28. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Who is this girl that is highly favored? A young teenager somewhere between the ages of 13 and 15 since that was the average marrying age of a girl in that time and that place. From the obscure town of Nazareth in the district of Galilee. A poor, uneducated girl who could not afford to sacrifice a lamb at the temple but instead offered 2 doves.

Luke 1:29 – 31 goes on to say, Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. Verses 32-37 explain how she will conceive as a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mary’s reply in Luke 1:38 is an example of complete submission and surrender to the will of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. With her answer Mary became the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms regardless of the cost. A cost that was high from the very beginning. As an unwed mother her reputation was ruined. She would have endured ridicule, scorn and judgement. A Jewish betrothal was much more binding than an engagement in modern times and could be broken only by divorce. Joseph had the right to accuse her of adultery, a crime punishable by death. By saying yes to God she was literally risking her life.

“Mary lived to see her Son mocked and ridiculed, spat upon, beaten with fists – and with whips. She saw His back ripped to ribbons, His brow bruised and bloody from the crown of thorns pressed into His flesh. She was there when a sword pierced His side – when He was nailed to a cross and condemned to a most brutal and humiliating death. She stood at the foot of the cross in total shock and utter disbelief. She watched Him die. Mary was also there three days later when the tomb was found empty, the stone rolled away.” Christin Ditchfield – The 3 Wise Women: A Christmas Reflection.

But as someone who was highly favored by God Mary trusted that God would meet her needs. The angel Gabriel tells her in Luke 1:36 – 37, Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. Scripture tells us that Mary hurried to Elizabeth. The only other person who could understand a miraculous pregnancy and divine intervention. To the one person who filled with the Holy Spirit would proclaim and confirm for Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. In verse 45 Elizabeth ends her proclamation by saying, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Mary gives us an example of someone who accepts Jesus on his own terms regardless of the cost. Someone who puts her complete trust in God and as a result was the chosen vessel to bear God’s holy Son. Someone who truly believed that nothing is impossible with God.

Lord, give us the courage of Mary to accept your Son no matter what. May we put our complete trust in you knowing that nothing is impossible for God. And may we live a life that is pleasing in your eyes. Amen

 

Elizabeth - The Second Wise Woman of Christmas

The second of the three wise women brings us to Elizabeth.Luke 1:5-7 says, 5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses. As descendants of Aaron they came from a long and prestigious line of priests. Considered righteous in the sight of God only two other people in scripture are described in this same way – Simeon who held the baby Jesus in the temple and Joseph, Jesus earthly father.  To Jews righteous meant faithful and serious in keeping all of God’s laws.

However, the next verse (they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive) tells us that they were not considered blameless and righteous to the people around them. In that culture at that time people believed that if you were barren it meant you were under divine punishment for some great sin. So Elizabeth would have lived a life filled with the suspicions and judgements of others. Not only that, but being barren was also considered grounds for divorce. If the husband chose to stay with his barren wife he could legally take another wife with which to have children.

And since “they were both very old” the hope of having a child had long since passed. Scholars place Elizabeth’s age somewhere between 71 and 99. For the sake of brevity I will sum up verses 8-23 since they are mostly about Zechariah and my focus is on Elizabeth. Zechariah had an encounter in the temple with an angel that literally left him speechless for about 9 months. Gabriel told him his prayers had been heard and that Elizabeth would bear him a son.

Luke 1:24-25 says, 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” In God’s perfect timing Elizabeth could not have become pregnant any sooner. Luke 1:17 tells us John was needed to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

In God’s great providence and care he brought together the only 2 women who could truly understand, comfort, and support each other. Luke 1: 39-44 unites Mary and Elizabeth at a key time in their pregnancies. One at the beginning still reeling from the shock, the other 6 months along.  39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. With these words Elizabeth became the first New Testament person to speak a prophetic word. What an amazing confirmation for Mary of all that the angel Gabriel had told her!

Verse 56 tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. During those three months a much older Elizabeth had the opportunity to pour into Mary’s life, to affirm Mary, to encourage her, to mentor her and to confirm the word of the Lord to Mary. And I have to believe that Mary was huge help to a pregnant mother of a very old age.

The last we hear of Elizabeth is in Luke 1:57-58, 57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

Elizabeth shows us the power of hope and waiting on the Lord, the value of a patient heart, and the importance of obedience to God.  She models a pouring out of one’s self into another’s life.

Lord, may we, like Elizabeth put our hope in you. May we be patient as we wait on your perfect timing. Help us to pour into a younger person’s life. And may we be obedient Lord to your commandments. Amen

 

Anna - The First Wise Woman of Christmas

Over the three weeks leading up to Christmas I am going to be take my annual look at the Three Wise Women of Christmas – Anna, Elizabeth and Mary. So much time and attention has been given to the wisemen over the years that we have overlooked a part of the Christmas story that has so much more to teach us about wisdom and bowing down to King Jesus.

To really look at the story we are going to go back 84 years before Jesus birth.  (Or by some accounts 106 years – 15 average marrying age + 7 years married + 84 years widowed.) That was when Anna, the prophetess, was born. She joins an elite group of women who are mentioned as prophets in scripture – Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and the daughters of Philip. Anna appears in only 3 verses of Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, and not at all in Matthew, but there is much we can learn from her.

Luke 2:36-38 says, “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”

A widow in biblical times was particularly vulnerable and had no means of support. No children are mentioned so we can assume she had no one to care for her in her old age. To be a widow for so many years made her position even more precarious. Verse 37 tells us that she never left the temple. Herod’s temple had various rooms built into the outer walls and many believe that is where she lived, in a room built into the wall of the Courts of Women.

Verse 37 goes on to say that Anna worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. This is a women with a serious relationship with her Lord. A wise women who would have been allowed no farther than the Court of Women and who would have been well known to all of the younger women around her. One of the first biblical examples of a Titus 2 woman who would have trained the younger women in the ways of the Lord.

Anna had spent her entire life waiting for the birth of the Messiah. God’s timing had brought Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus into the temple and into Anna’s path. And when prompted by the Holy Spirit she did not hesitate “coming up to them at that very moment.” How different our lives would be if we, too, responded in immediate obedience!

It goes on to say that “she gave thanks to God.” Liz Curtis Higgs in her wonderful book The Women of Christmas says, “If we did this one thing – this one thing – it would change our lives and the lives of those around us forever. If we blessed God openly and regularly, if we gave him credit instead of taking it for ourselves, if the first thing that came to mind and mouth was glorifying his name, we too might catch a glimpse of the Christ, as Anna did when she broke into an anthem of praise to God.”

Verse 38 concludes by saying Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” The great good news of the birth of our Savior was too good to be kept to herself. Anna had spent 84 years of her life serving, worshiping, praying and fasting. She had built a reputation that would have put weight behind her words and caused all who heard to listen.

What an amazing example Anna is to all of us! She gives us an example of a person who is steadfast, totally devoted to God, obedient when he calls, thanking God in all things. A person who did not let age or circumstances sidetrack her from God’s call on her life.

Lord, may we be more like Anna. May we be prompt in our obedience and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. May we give thanks and praise to you in all things. And may we be a living testimony of your love and power to those around us. Amen