Elizabeth - The Second Wise Woman of Christmas

The second of the three wise women brings us to Elizabeth. Luke 1:5-7 says, 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. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 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 judgments 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

His Mighty Word & His Powerful Presence

During this time of transition and unknowns I am trying to rest in the knowledge that God goes before me and He is with me wherever I go. I am looking to scripture as a reminder to be strong and courageous. I am memorizing and repeating to myself the much-needed comfort of God’s Word when I start to feel scared and anxious about the unknown – which happens more often than I’d like.

Sometimes God brings a specific verse or phrase to mind that I then type into Biblehub.com to dig into more deeply. Sometimes I do a Google search to get started by typing in something like “Bible verses about God going before me” or “Bible verses about overcoming fear.” After a Google search I move on to my NIV Study Bible and the accompanying notes or Biblehub.com. The website provides the same verse in several different translations, corresponding verses and commentary from several different sources.

Whatever is causing fear or anxiety to creep into your life right now – God and his Word can give you comfort. Whatever leaves you awake and worried in the middle of the night – God and prayer can be a balm to your soul. Whatever seems too big or too scary in your life – can look smaller when you keep your focus on God instead of the obstacle or problem in front of you.

Here are some of the verses I am repeating, writing and keeping in front of me right now. For the reminder that God is with me: JOSHUA 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; 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.

When I am feeling anxious, I dwell on: PROVERBS 3:5-6 - Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. PHILIPPIANS 4:6-7 - 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.

And when I need a reminder that God hears me: PSALM 138:3 - When I called you answered me; you made me bold and stout-hearted (NIV). Or as the ESV says – On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.

Precious Father – May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). May I remember that worry and fear are weapons that the enemy uses to bind me up and make my life and my witness less effective. May I fight them with your mighty Word and Your powerful presence Lord. Amen.  

Thankful Through the Tears

I spent much of the last 5 days in tears at a Camp that is near and dear to my heart. A place where I have gone at least 2 times a year for over 20 years. A place that is truly my “Meeting Place with God.” A place where you reserve your spot months in advance, and where, year after year and time after time, (in God’s perfect timing) I landed the exact weekend I most needed to get away.

This time, however, did not feel like the right time.  I was leaving a house full of plaster dust, wet paint and workmen as we prepared to put our house on the market and move to Chicago.  I was leaving a “to do” list a mile long and a packed schedule. I was leaving a too full life that left me very little time to think about or process the changes behind or ahead of me or to grieve the loss of the life I have left and am leaving.

With some encouragement from my husband I went. And suddenly the whirlwind of my crazy busy life stilled and I had nothing to do but think. And in that stillness, it felt like a tsunami of grief washed over me. Grief brought on by the letting go of so many things that are near and dear to my heart.

As I testified to the work that God has been doing in my life to the dear friends around me. As I literally felt a physical pain in my heart for the losses and take-aways over the last year. As the tears streamed down my face, I made a choice while I was at Camp.

I will thank God for the hard stuff. I will thank Him for the tearing away of all that is comfortable and known and safe and easy for me. I will thank Him for the tears and the pain and the discomfort. I will thank him for the plowing up of my life knowing that he will grow new things in the turned-up soil. I will thank Him for all that He has provided and all that He will provide in the future.

I will thank Him for the hard questions of who I truly am. Questions of what my life looks like defined by my identity in Christ and not defined by the people, places and things in my life.

I will thank Him knowing, trusting, believing that when I trust the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding and in all my ways acknowledge Him - He will direct my path. (Proverbs 3:5-6). Claiming the truth of Romans 8:28 - And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Precious Father – Thank you for all that is hard and painful in my life right now. Thank you that you are doing a new work in me and that your blessings are new every day.  Amen.

 

 

We are Moving to Chicago

After 23 years in Minneapolis – years and a life that we have dearly loved - we are moving to Chicago. Not because my husband was offered a great career opportunity (which he was) but because we truly feel that God is calling us to Chicago. If we didn’t believe this to be true, we would have happily declined the offer and stayed here with the friends, family, house and life that we have built since 1995.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that in the last year God has gently but firmly shown me and then removed the idols in my life. Idols meaning things in my life that have at various points been more important than total obedience and surrender to God – my children, my career, my house/comfortable life.

Last fall our youngest left for college and I was suddenly faced with a day no longer framed by 17 years of car pools, play dates, student activities, and who got the car on Saturday night. The house was suddenly empty of our teenage daughters and their friends.

So, I filled the empty house, the silence and my sad heart by adding more nights of work to my 18-year career. And more activities and volunteer opportunities to my calendar. One of those activities was reading the book “Anything” by Jennie Allen while on a retreat. As a result, in March of this year, I started praying a prayer of total surrender to God.

60 days later I was retired from an 18-year career to pursue seminary and ministry full time. 60 days after that my husband was told that he was a lead candidate for a position in Chicago. 60 days after that we accepted. I think it will take longer than 60 days, however, to sell our 1927 bungalow in Minneapolis and find a new home in Chicago.

We received the job offer 2 hours before we left for the airport and a 2-week trip to England, Scotland & Wales. A trip that had been planned way before there was even a whisper of a possible job offer and move to Chicago. Honestly, I was so irritated by the timing, afraid that it would be a dark cloud hanging over our entire vacation.

Instead, it was a precious gift from God in his perfect timing. Because it turned out we needed the entire 2 weeks (just the two of us) to unplug and pray and walk and talk and WRESTLE with God over this decision. Again, in God’s perfect timing, we accepted the offer from London on a Friday night, were able to tell our oldest daughter face-to-face who was studying in Oxford on Saturday, and our youngest daughter who “happened” to be home in Minneapolis for fall break on Sunday.

We are at peace with our decision knowing that God goes before us and that he is clearly calling us to Chicago. I remind myself of this frequently especially when the tears come (as they did most of Saturday) and fear of the unknown grabs hold. I will dwell on his Word when I am overwhelmed with the details of getting this house ready for sale, going through 23 years of accumulation, and leaving all that is familiar and dear.

I will take one day at a time and keep repeating to myself the words of Deuteronomy 31:8 – “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” These are promises that I can count on all the way to Chicago and beyond.

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.