Sharing God Through Word & Deed

I once told someone “I do not believe in luck. I believe in God.” This conversation occurred while I was living in Los Angeles as a newlywed. A co-worker, sitting on the sidelines observing my life, commented that I was one of the luckiest people he had ever met.

I got engaged and my fiancée received a promotion to move from Minneapolis to L.A. A couple at my church gave us reasonable rent to live in a gorgeous house in the hills. We got a great deal on the wedding ring and on a new car.

Where he saw luck; I saw God. I guess it is all in how we choose to look at things. My simple comment started an ongoing dialogue about God that continued off and on for years until time and distance finally ended the discussion.

How do you share how God is at work in your life with a neighbor, co-worker, family member or friend?  We need to testify to others about how God is at work in our life and what he personally means to us. Think of testifying as a two-headed coin. On one side “word” and on the other side “deed.”

Deeds are the actions we take and the service we give to the people around us. We need to ask ourselves - am I living a life that would point people to God or away from God? Would someone who does not have a personal relationship with God see something in my life that they would wish to have in their own life? Matthew 5:6 tells us to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Words are the verbal testimony we give to the people around us. In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” For many years, I played it safe, only verbalizing about and giving credit to God to other believers. I didn’t feel qualified to share my faith with others; feeling that I lacked the necessary knowledge. Because of my fears, I missed many opportunities to share my faith and testify to God’s work in my life with other people.

There are several examples in the New Testament of Jesus urging people to tell what God has done for them. In Luke Chapter 8 Jesus casts demons out of a man who then begs to go with Jesus. But in Verse 39 Jesus says, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went and proclaimed all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.

We need to look for opportunities to testify to God’s work in our life and tell others about our faith. Not out of judgment or a sense of superiority but out of love and humility. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Precious Father – Please open our eyes to the opportunities around us. Give us the courage to acknowledge you as Lord in every area of our lives. May we show by word and by deed a personal faith that is attractive to the people around us. Amen.

My Valentine - Revisited

During my teen years I worked part time in a flower shop. Various times of the year got a little crazy. Valentine’s Day got a lot crazy. This was during my feminist stage when I had decided I was never going to get married. And that if I got married I was never going to have kids. And if I had kids I was never going to stay home with them. When I was a teenager “never” entered my vocabulary a lot.

God, however, had a very different plan for my life. I write this today as a married woman of 23 years, mother to 2 beautiful daughters (17 & 19), and as an owner of a business that allowed me to work from home so I could be a stay-at-home mom.  Not what I had planned but so much better than I could have imagined.

My husband and I met during a summer job in college. Our relationship started slow and built steadily over a 5-year period. We dated 2½ years in college and 2½ years by airplane between Minneapolis (his first job) and Los Angeles (my first job.) We married in the small Midwest town where I grew up and set up house together in LA.

We have worked through little issues (toilet paper over or under) and big (different religious backgrounds) to get where we are today. Having a wife who is a recovering porn addict is one of the big ones. My addiction was not easy on our marriage or on my husband. Having a wife who is called into public ministry with her story makes it even harder. When I asked him for forgiveness he gave it. When I answered God’s call he supported it.

Is it no wonder, then, that after 23 years of marriage he is still the person with whom I most want to spend time? This Valentine’s Day I thank God for a husband who loves me for who I was, who I am, and who I am going to be.

Precious Father – May we take time today to thank all the sweethearts in our life - friends, family and neighbors. Thank you Lord for loving us no matter what and for creating us for relationship with you and with each other. Amen.

P.S. If you have been following this blog for a while you may have realized this is a recycled blog from last February. I tried to write a new one but this one pretty much said what I wanted to say about my valentine.

Flattened By Grace

Flattened by grace (in the best possible way) feels like an accurate description. Overwhelmed by His love and mercy works too. I struggled so mightily last week to get this blog written and posted. And when I hit submit it left me feeling vulnerable and exposed. I awoke the next morning to my story being shared on a national blog.  You can read it here -http://www.jillsavage.org/when-a-woman-is-addicted-to-pornography/.

I went from averaging 3 shares a week of Transparent Tuesday to 75 shares from Jill’s site with my photo and the headline “When a Woman is Addicted to Porn.” And I thought I felt vulnerable and exposed on Tuesday! But what I felt most on Wednesday was humbled . . . and thankful . . . and loved. By a God who forgave me and a God who redeemed me and a God who has asked me to testify to the work He has done in my life.

I do not know what difficult thing you are facing today or what difficult things lie buried in your past. Too many of us live under the burden of past sin that continues to cripple us. In many cases, something we asked forgiveness for, which God granted, but for which we cannot seem to let go.   

We still feel guilty, or dirty, or unworthy, or less than.  We feel like we don’t fit in, are out of step with the people around us, or they all seem cleaner, purer or better than we are. Guilt that is convicting is from the Holy Spirit. Guilt that is condemning is from Satan. If Satan can keep us bound up in secrets, shame and guilt he wins.

There seems to be a disconnect between what we know and what we feel. We need to remember that our feelings are not fact. Confessing means that we agree with God over our sins and ask for forgiveness. I John 1: 9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

God not only puts our sin out of sight (Isaiah 38:17); but he also puts them out of reach (Micah 7:19 & Psalm 103:2), out of mind (Jeremiah 31:34) and out of existence (Isaiah 43:25 & 44:22, Psalm 51:1, Act 3:19).

My prayer for you today is that you can let go of past hurts and poor choices to live victoriously in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells that we are a new creation in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come. Can I hear an Amen?

As if 50 Shades Were Not Dark Enough

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. 

You Were Created For More Than This

I was hopelessly addicted to pornography for 5 years. Everything looked good on the surface but underneath I was struggling with an addiction 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.

I was created for more than that.

I know a young mom. Let’s call her Gertrude. (I love old-fashioned names - don’t you?) She has 2 little ones under the age of 3 and a husband who travels frequently for work. She is college-educated and gave up a great job to stay home with their children. Somewhere between the endless diaper changes and potty-training toddler Gertrude is afraid she is losing herself and the relationship she once enjoyed with her husband.

She was created for more than this.

I know a single woman. Let’s call her Harriet. She has wasted much of her adult years being discontent. With the apartment she rents; the roommates she lives with; the job she holds and the spouse she longs for. Harriett spends a lot of time thinking about “if onlys” and “someday I will . . .” as the days and years go by.

She was created for more than this.

I know a middle-aged woman. Let’s call her Mabel. She pulls in a great salary at a high-powered job that she believes in and where she is highly respected. Past hurts have left her finding her self-worth in her career and not in her identity in Christ. Mabel works long days and is conflicted about the extra hours spent at work which comes from time she would rather spend with her family.

She was created for more than this.

I know an empty nester. Let’s call her Ethel. She has spent the last 20 years devoting all of her time and energy into raising her 2 children. They have grown and gone and she is left with a husband whose interests no longer coincide with hers, a 20-year-old resume, and a lack of ball games, piano lessons and homework to fill her days. Ethel is at loose ends and feels as if no one needs her anymore.

She was created for more than this.

At last but not least I know a perfectionist. Let’s call her Matilda. She works long hours every day to make every aspect of her life pinterest worthy. Beautiful home, great sense of style, tremendous cook. Matilda gives the perfect gift, throws the perfect party and never has a hair out of place. She is also exhausted and lonely since she doesn’t dare show any of the hidden stuff underneath which would hurt the image she has so carefully constructed.

She was created for more than this.

Isaiah 40:10 says, “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." God has everything you need at whatever age or stage you find yourself in today. My prayer for each of us is that we would find our identity in Christ and not in the label we wear or the image we project. 

 

 

Fill Your Mind With Good Things This Year!

True confession time. For my 16th birthday I really wanted 2 things – a Franklin Planner and to hear my favorite motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, speak live. I was given both by generous parents and still consider it one of my best birthday’s ever. My dad, in particular, really believed in the importance of positive thinking and I often listened to his cassette tapes by people like Zig Ziglar & Dr. Denis Waitley.

With a background like mine it was startling to realize just how (dare I say it) negative I have become in recent years. Not externally (at least I hope not) as much as internally where we do the most damage to ourselves. A large part of my negativity is a direct result of 5 years addicted to pornography. Talk about damaging your self-confidence and any feelings of self-worth!

The garbage that I put into my mind literally caused brain damage by creating neuro-net paths that kept leading me back to the same behaviors. Fortunately, Romans 12:2 tells us that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. For the most part we can control what we feed our brains and we can create new and stronger neuro-net paths.

According to medicaldaily.com - The brain is arguably the most powerful organ in the human body. After all, it’s responsible for everything from the way you move to what you think. It’s even active while you’re asleep, getting rid of all the unneeded memories from the day (among other brain trash) allowing you to wake up refreshed and ready to bombard it with commands and experiences all over again. To achieve all these tasks on tasks on tasks, those 85 billion neurons must complete upwards of five trillion chemical reactions each second, at speeds of over 260 miles per hour.

You may exercise and make good food choices to take care of your physical body. But what are you doing to take care of your brain? What we fill our minds with matters. What we read, watch and listen to matters. As author John Ortberg puts it, “The way you think creates your attitudes; the way you think shapes your emotions; the way you think governs your behavior; the way you think deeply influences your immune system and vulnerability to illness. Everything about you flows out of the way you think.”

In Philippians 4:8 Paul says, “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.” Take time today to evaluate what you are feeding your brain. Listen to your own self talk. Make a conscience choice to screen what you read, watch and listen to.

Mark 2:30 tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” To do that to the best of our ability we need to work this year on the mental, physical and spiritual parts of our lives. Please join me in striving to improve all of these areas in 2017.

 

With God's Help - A Healthier You This Year!

The turn of the New Year for me means a new resolve to get (and stay) healthy. The concept of losing weight is changing for me as I get older. Once upon a time it was all about the number on the scale and the number on the clothing tag. Now I just want to get healthy, feel better and have more energy.

I stopped by my local Weight Watchers center on Friday to weigh in because I needed a starting point for the new year. It took me 5 days to get up the courage to look at the little sticker in the brightly colored book that showed my current weight.  216 pounds. A new highest ever (by 1 pound). Sharing my weight – that is something new as well. As is deciding that the number does not define me and that the world does not end if you know what I weigh. There is freedom in owning that number out loud.

I have decided to call all this growing, searching, and changing I am doing “mid-life maintenance.” It involves working on the whole me – mind, body, and spirit – with discipline and determination. A good plan regardless of what age you are. Personally, I want my last 50 years to be my best. To do that I need to be healthy so I have the energy, stamina and simple good health needed to run at all that God has for me. Job 42:12 tells us, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” Sounds good to me!

God gives us one body to go through life in and most of us need to take better care of it. The food we eat, the exercise we do, the hours we sleep, the stress we manage – all of it matters. If getting healthy is a struggle for you (as it clearly is for me) I would encourage you to invite God into the battle.

Tempted by poor food choices on a regular basis? Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to man. God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. When you are tempted, he will provide a way out.

Struggling to be more active?  Isaiah 40:29 tells us – He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might he increases power.  

Need a good night’s sleep? Consider Psalm 4:8 – In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety;

Having trouble managing stress? Put Philippians 4:6 into action – Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

 

The Bible has a lot to say about the care and keeping of our body, God’s temple. Partner with God in your quest to get healthy and ask Him to bless your efforts. Here’s to a healthier you in 2017! It won’t be easy - but with God’s help - I know we can do it!

Make Daily Time With God a Priority This Year

Only 8% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions achieve them. Personally, I prefer to think of them as setting goals rather than resolutions. Either way I rarely stick with the goals I set around the New Year. Last year I set a goal to read through the Bible in a year. As a Christ-follower I need to make my relationship with God my first priority. To do that I need to spend time in His Word on a daily basis.

I went to the local Christian bookstore and bought the guide that had the format I liked best. I sharpened my pencils, bought a pretty notebook and cracked open my new book. By the end of January I was already several days behind in the daily readings. As the weeks went by I got farther and farther behind, until defeated, I gave up on my daily Bible reading all together.

Fast forward to September when I once again resolved to start my day in God’s Word. This time I took a fellow blogger’s advice and started each day by reading a Psalm and a chapter of Proverbs. Over 4 months later I am still starting each day with prayer and Bible reading. Current research has blown apart the myth that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. Fact is it generally takes 66 days – or 2 months if that is a more palatable way for you to think about it.

Over the last several months I have become completely convicted of the importance of being in God’s word on a daily basis. It would have been so easy to let it go over the hectic holiday season and pick it up again after the first of the year. On a day when I actually prayed that the assigned reading would be short I opened to Psalm 119. Personally, I think God has a great sense of humor because Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the entire Bible.

All 176 verses are a clear, one-of-a-kind devotional on the importance of the Word of God. Memorizing the entire chapter would be a worthy goal to set. The psalmist uses many synonyms for the Bible as he writes. Words like law, precepts, decrees, command and statutes. Verse 18 – Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Verses 27, 28 – Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will mediate on your wonders. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Verses 33, 34, and 35 – Teach me, O Lord to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Verse 98 – Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.

May you make your relationship with God and daily time in His Word a priority in 2017. I want to close by praying verses 105, 108, 111, and 114.

Precious Father – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Accept, O Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. You are my refuge and my shield; I put my hope in your word. Amen.

Reflect on 2016 Before Diving Into 2017

I have always loved a fresh start. The start of a new semester as well as the start of a new year. I am not a formal resolution setter but I am a goal setter. True confession time. I find a new calendar and a new year to be pretty exciting things. Turning that page to the new year gives me a focused opportunity to look back before I move forward. It gives me an opportunity to get out of any of the ruts I am in and create new and better paths.

The looking back part is kind of like writing your annual Christmas letter where you try to sum up your year in one page or less, hitting the highlights, skimming over the bad stuff, and sharing your very best photo. Except to truly look back at the past year with honest eyes we need to look long and hard at the not so good stuff as well. Some of which was our fault and some of which occurred through no fault of our own. The goal is to learn from our mistakes and make different choices in the coming year. To do the same evaluation this time next year and feel like we have made progress in a positive direction.

God created us as mental, physical and spiritual beings and I think we need to look back at all three aspects of our lives this time of year. Whether you are 8 or 88 I hope that you are on a journey to be the very best you - you can possibly be. Or as the wise philosopher, Erma Bombeck put it, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'.”

John Ortberg, in his marvelous book, If You want to Walk on Water You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, says it this way, “As a crucial part of your calling, you were given certain gifts, talents, longings, and desires. To identify these with clarity, to develop them with skill, and to use them joyfully and humbly to serve God and his creation is central to why you were created.”

During Transparent Tuesdays in January I want to reflect on lessons learned in 2016 that will prepare me mentally, physically and spiritually for a better 2017. Thank you for being on this journey with me.

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. Amen (Psalm 19:14)

The Three Wise Women of Christmas: Mary

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

The Three Wise Women of Christmas: Elizabeth

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 also 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

The Three Wise Women of Christmas: Anna

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 wise men over the years that we have overlooked a part of the Christmas story that has much 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 or John’s, 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

When We Lose Our Way

Have you ever set out for a destination and lost your way? Maybe on a trip where your GPS was wrong or in a car where someone refused to ask for directions? Have you ever moved forward with a new relationship, a career change, a geographic move or a college choice and began to doubt it was the right decision part way through?

This has been my experience this year with my ministry, Living the Life Transparent.  I discussed part of this journey in my Nov. 15 blog When God Says Wait. I wanted to continue the discussion in hopes that it would encourage others who may be in a waiting period or wondering if they are on the right path.

In the book Experiencing God, authors Blackaby & King, tell us that God speaks to us “by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes and His ways.” I first did this study in 1996 as part of a young-marrieds group. I am doing it again 20 years later as part of the curriculum for a year-long class I am taking. I didn’t agree with everything I read the first time I did it and I still don’t but there is a lot of excellent material in the book including the above quote.

As I have struggled to find answers I have studied the Bible, prayed privately and asked for corporate prayer. I have looked for God in my circumstances and sought wisdom and insight from the church as a body of believers. At my lowest point, when I was truly questioning everything at the deepest possible level and could no longer find my way, I received an unexpected invitation. It was unsolicited and came completely out of the blue.  And it was - quite simply - a gift from God.

The invitation was an opportunity to present my ministry to a church board. Doing so would involve taking 10 minutes to explain my past, the present, and the future of the ministry that I felt I had been called to by God. For me it involved taking a look back and creating an outline so I could clearly and concisely explain my ministry in the short time allotted. The looking back, the creating of bullet points, the summing up of the last 2 years was powerful beyond words.

Blackaby & King would call it taking a spiritual inventory of your life and identifying spiritual markers. I call it a gift and a blessing straight from God. Taking the emotion and angst out of the equation and focusing on facts showed me clearly, finally, once and for all, that I am right where God wants me to be.

If you find yourself in a waiting period right now or are questioning whether or not you are on the right path you are not alone. To me it feels like wearing an itchy wool sweater, 2 sizes too small, when it is 95 degrees and humid. Know that there is a purpose to the wait and that God can handle our questions. Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages us to, “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways (we are to) acknowledge Him, and He will make our paths straight.”

Precious Father – Thank you for the journey, for the good parts and for the bad. May we build an ever-deepening relationship with you through the study of your Word and through regular conversation in prayer. Reveal yourself to us Lord through your Holy Spirit. Amen

 

 

Give Thanks In All Circumstances

With Thanksgiving week upon us I want to focus on what it means to me to “give thanks in all circumstances.” My life verse is found in 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 brought this verse to my attention at a time when I was really struggling with understanding God’s will for my life.

It is the little word in a verse that so often contains a big part of the meaning. 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 life.

For example:

* I am not thankful that I was addicted to pornography. I am thankful that God has broken the chains of that addiction and that what Satan intended for evil God is using for good.

*A person is not usually thankful for a job loss. But in that circumstance they can be thankful that God continues to provide and meet their 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, that nothing can separate from the love of God, and that God gives us the strength we need.

There are no guarantees that life will 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.

Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”                     

In “whatever I do” for me means:

* Thanking God for the opportunity and ability to walk as I enjoy a crisp morning stroll.

*Thanking God for the talents and ability that allow me to earn a living.

* Thanking God for a car and the skill to drive it as I take our daughter to school.
And the list could go on and on.

What are you thankful for today? And how can you find something to be give thanks for IN all circumstances? Please join me in praying 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Precious Father, please help me to be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. Amen.    

Please Note: My daughter just walked in the door from college for Thanksgiving Break and my parents arrive tomorrow. If they want a place to sleep I need to shovel out my office tonight so we can pull out their bed. If this blog seems familiar it is because I posted it right around this time last year. :) Have a blessed Thanksgiving filled with good food, family & friends!                                                        

When God Says Wait

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you can taste it? So much so that it fills your imagination during the day and your dreams at night? Have you ever been able to see the path that brought you to this place but been unable to see the path that will take you from point A to point B? Have you ever sat at a computer crying because you want so badly to express yourself but the words just . . . won’t . . . come? Have you ever cried out to God – over and over again – and that still, quiet voice simply keeps saying “wait?”

Psalm 130:5 says, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” As I struggle, and resist, and try to speed up the waiting period that God has placed me in I find myself searching for answers in scripture. Perhaps God asks us to wait so we will seek Him more intently. Maybe He wants us to develop a deeper relationship with Him before He lights up the path that will take us from point A to point B.

If you are waiting right now Isaiah 40:31 tells us, “. . . they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Part of waiting on the Lord renews our strength and better equips us for what lies ahead.

Whatever you are waiting for – a new or different job, a spouse with which to share your life, a new home, a child to call your own, a cure from an illness, an answer to a prayer, a fulfillment of your heart’s desire – have courage. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord: be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” Allow God to work your circumstances to His glory during this difficult time. Seek God’s counsel and ask Him what he wants you to learn while you are waiting.

Talk to trusted friends who may be able to discern something you are not. In my situation, I really began to question my call to ministry as the speaking opportunities suddenly ceased. It took the wise counsel of my friends and family to help me see that part of this waiting period for me was to shift more time and attention to learning through conferences, other speakers, taking a class and digging deeper into God’s word. Speaking less has allowed me more time to write and develop an online presence. In the wait God has graciously connected me with my tribe – others with a similar call to speak and write. He has given me a thirst for His word and cleared the time in which to meet with Him each day and study scripture.

David wrote in Psalm 40:1 “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.” Praying patience for you dear friend as you wait on the Lord. Knowing that He is listening and that He hears your cry. Trusting that God has a reason for asking you to wait. 

 

 

As Far as the East is From the West

In my morning Bible study today I came across the following verse from Isaiah 38:17 - “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”

To put the verse in historical context, the prophet Isaiah had gone to Judah’s king, Hezekiah, to tell him of his impending death. Hezekiah cried out to God. God heard his prayer and extended his life for 15 additional years. Isaiah chapter 38 is a record of this journey and Hezekiah’s resulting words of praise and thanksgiving.

As a recovering porn addict this verse speaks to me on so many levels. Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. Although I was not physically ill in my addiction I was mentally and spiritually ill. Anguish when used as a noun is defined as severe mental or physical pain or suffering. When used as a verb it means to be extremely distressed about something. Part of any addiction is the endless cycle of needing to quit, trying to quit, being unable to quit, and doing what you hate all over again . . . and again . . . and again. Knowing that what you are doing is hurting yourself and your loved ones. Being terrified that someone will find out. Being filled with self-loathing.

In this passage Hezekiah recognizes the good that came from a horrible experience. For me being released from my addiction to pornography opened doors to testify to God’s goodness and his faithfulness. It humbled me and brought to a place where God could use me not only to testify but to educate and empower women in this area. When difficult things happen, when we feel anguish mentally, spiritually or physically we need to pray for God’s help to gain something beneficial from the experience..

In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction. In the context of the passage this part of the verse refers to God literally saving Hezekiah from physical death. For me, God’s love kept me from a pit of destruction where my addiction taken to the extreme could have cost me my marriage, my family and my job. It also could have escalated behaviors that would have eventually affected my physical health.

You have put all my sins behind your back. And this is when I teared up and felt God gently revealing this verse to me. Because although I have confessed, repented (turned away from my sin) and know that I am forgiven I sometimes still feel unworthy and honestly, in my hidden places, unforgiven. Acts 3:19 tells us to, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out . . .” Micah 7:19 describes God treading our sins underfoot and hurling all of our iniquities into the sea. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Scripture tells us repeatedly in Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 10:17, and Hebrews 8:12 that God will remember our sins no more.

Dear one, who is loved by God. There is no sin he will not forgive and nothing that you can do that can separate you from the love of God. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Precious Father - THANK. YOU. Amen! 

 

How Do You Start & End Each Day?

Think of your life as a beautiful painting that you create a stroke at a time, day by day. Every painting needs a frame. Let’s imagine the frame as the way you start and end your day. Do you hit the ground running in the morning and keep running until you fall into bed at night exhausted? Or do you frame your day as the psalmist did in Psalm 92:2 - “It is good . . . to proclaim your (God’s) unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.”

Lysa TerKeurst, in her new book Uninvited, has a brilliant chapter called “The Enemy’s Plan Against You.” In that chapter she says, “. . . it’s crucial to watch what is influencing me and feeding my thoughts. A good question to ask myself is, where am I paying my attention? Specifically what am I paying attention to first thing in the morning? And what am I paying attention to right before I go to sleep? If I want God to be my focus, I must give Him my first thoughts. And if I want my mind to be at peace when I sleep I must keep my thoughts fixed on His promises at night . . .”

I have shared before that starting each day with God has been a struggle for me. It has taken years but spending my first part of each day in prayer, Bible study and journaling has finally become a daily habit for me (since September 1 – of this year – sheepish face). It is making a difference in my mood and perspective as well as creating a thirst in me for more of God and more of his word.

Scripture encourages us to start the day with God. Jesus, himself, modeled it. Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

In Psalm 5:3, David, the only man that God calls a man after His own heart, tells us, “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.” David goes on to say in Psalm 143:8, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

God gives us fresh blessings and mercies each and every day. In God’s economy he never gives us stale blessings. Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

If you already start your day with God – good for you! If not, what would you need to change to make this happen? My October 4 blog entry, “Start Your Day With God,” describes what that looked like for me.

As for the end of the day I most often spend it watching a 30 minute sitcom on TV or scrolling a favorite website like Etsy trying to relax. I do not know what it would look like to frame my day at each end with time spent with God. But I am willing to try.

Precious Father – Thank for wanting to spend time with us and for creating us for relationship with you. May we, like David, put out trust in you and be reminded every morning of your unfailing love. May we ask the way we should go each morning and may we entrust our lives to you each day. Amen.

Speak with Love, Gentleness & Respect

Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) is something that we strive to do as a family. At home, in the workplace and at school. By this we mean sharing Biblical truths in a loving way. Not wielding it as a big stick to beat someone over the head. Not in a judgmental way that points a finger and says, “I am right and you are wrong.” But, hopefully, in a way that shares truth, shows God’s love and points people to Christ and to His Word.

John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We need to speak the truth in a way that leads people not just to scripture but to the triune God himself. We need to live an active faith that is attractive to the people around us.

Speaking the truth in love is a great concept in theory but can be difficult to do in practice. We have to know God’s Word and know his truth before we can speak it to others. We need to have a personal relationship with Christ and the assistance of the Holy Spirit before scripture even makes sense. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” We need the Holy Spirit to help us discern truth from lies and recognize when we need to speak the truth in love.  John 14:26 goes on to say, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things.”

We need to not only speak the truth in love but do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:13–16 says, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience (emphasis mine), so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

The change that we need to see in this country starts with us. In begins with a personal relationship with Christ that results in the desire to speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect.

Precious Father – Thank you that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the form of your son Jesus. May we have the courage and discernment to speak the truth in love when needed. And may we do so with gentleness and respect to the people around us. Amen

Turtle Formation!

When you are struggling who stands in the gap to pray for you? Who are the people who can gather and create a turtle formation around you during challenging times? Who gives you the hug that lasts longer than normal that tells you without words that you are not alone? Who puts words to your needs as they pray for you when you do not even know what to pray for yourself? 

God created us for relationship. We need to build an intimacy with other people that creates a safe place where we are able to share the fears and insecurities that we hide from the rest of the world. If you have people and a place such as this in your life – good for you! If not, ask God to show you opportunities to build relationship and community with the people around you. Carve time out of your schedule for quality face-to-face time with friends. Offer to pray for others and asked to be prayed for in turn.

During my recent struggles I began to feel a large and scary pit open in front of me. Whether literal or figurative I feared falling into it and being unable to climb out. In sharing my feelings with a group of women, with whom I do life, they asked if they could pray for me right then and right there.  In doing so one of them prayed that God would fill up the hole so that there would be no place to fall. Which brings me to the turtle formation.

This same group of women and I did Priscilla Shirer’s life-changing study, The Armor of God, together last year. As Paul describes the armor of God he first describes the items we wear - the belt of truth buckled around our waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. The shield is the only item that requires work from us. We are to take it up. It is not something that we wear passively but something that we are to use aggressively. Ephesians 6:16 says, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Paul lived in a world controlled by the Romans. The Roman shield his readers would have pictured was called a scutum. This type of shield was as large as a door and would have covered the front of the warrior. As a group of fighting soldiers they could close ranks into a rectangle shape and position their shields in such a way as to form a complete enclosure around themselves. Those on the outside would create the perimeter walls and those in the middle would raise their shields over their heads to finish the enclosure. This formation was called a testudo which translates from the Latin as “tortoise.”

The shields fit so closely together that there were no gaps in between. This created complete protection for the soldiers inside.  The shields were most often made of wood, covered in animal hide and soaked with water before battle so the enemy’s flaming arrows would be extinguished when they hit the shield.

I no longer fear the hole I sensed before me. Because it is filled with the women who love me holding up their shields, keeping me safe inside the turtle formation and blocking the hole.

Precious Father – May we be strong in you and in your mighty power. May we put on the full armor of God, so that we can take a stand firm against the devil’s schemes. May we actively take up the shield of faith and may we gather with other believers in the turtle formation as needed. Amen.

Go to the Throne, Not the Phone

Joyce Meyer is quoted as saying “go to the throne, not the phone.”  Great advice that I am finding challenging to follow in my current struggles. Calling a friend or family member right now would be so easy and would help me to feel better . . . for a little while.

But I think God wants me to work these issues out in a party of two. Just me and God in a wrestling match where I don’t know the moves and I don’t know what he wants from me. But I am trying SO HARD to figure it out. This involves a lot of prayer, reading (both the Bible and other books), and spending silent time alone (not my favorite thing). Time without the distractions of phone conversations, television, radio or social media.

Proverbs 3:6-7 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways we are to acknowledge him and he will make our paths straight.” My paths seem to have no direction right now. Not in the workplace. Not with my ministry and not in my personal life. God feels silent and distant right now as I cry out to him. Although I do feel him whispering to me “wait.” Which is an uncomfortable place to be.

I have said before that I did not want to live under the tyranny of an unexamined life. Examining it is way harder than I thought it would be! So often we are too busy to really think about the choices we are making or the life we are living. Choices made at the speed of life so often determine the life we live. When we should be creating a life lived out of deliberate reflection, prayer and thought.

Lysa TerKeurst in her brilliant book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands, puts it this way – The decisions you make determine the schedule you keep. The schedule you keep determines the life you live. And how you live your life determines how you spend your soul.”

Part of the soul searching I am doing right now involves a more balanced prayer life. Many years ago I learned the acronym ACTS for when we pray:

Adoration – praise God and worship him for who he is and what he does

Confession – admit your mistakes, flaws and sins to God and ask for forgiveness

Thanksgiving – thank God for specific things he has done

Supplication – ask for help for yourself and others

Somewhere along the way it has become a lot more about thanksgiving and supplication and less about adoration & confession for me. 

Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

Precious Father – May we search for you with all our heart. Please help us to create a life lived out of deliberate reflection, prayer and thought. May we come to the throne instead of the phone as our first response to all that happens in our lives. Amen.