A Bookworm’s Battles

This week is the last Bible study meeting for Entrusted .

Last week was my first week of classes for my master’s program in school counseling.

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It’s a little interesting that as we are getting to the end of Entrusted, I am finding it difficult to figure out how to handle the new commitments and the old. I can’t do everything I want to – the blog, the master’s program, the next Bible study, exercise classes, not to mention the responsibilities I have to my family and home.

I’ve been in a battle this week and last.   There have been reminders of difficult experiences, relationships, and habits of mine. I’ve been overwhelmed with doubt, fear, and a general sense of maybe I am misunderstanding what I’m supposed to be doing.

Then, Beth Moore, who always has the kind of homework you need to concentrate and spend time doing, has us do a timeline from birth to present marking specific things about our walk as Christians. It was an exercise following the topic of teachers and mentors in the faith. In being reminded last week of my failings, I was surprised at what I found. By this exercise, I was able to hear God saying to me, “But you, Melissa . . .”

Painful Reminder #1: I moved and still move too much to have a constant present friend and companion other than my husband.  In my youth, I read ALL THE TIME. I often felt alone and unknown. It was my escape. Reading is my thing even now. I do have a few exceptional long-standing friendships, but we still don’t get to be physically present with each other. I miss y’all!

Painful Reminder #2: I have a real issue with time management. Everything I do takes longer than I expect. There is even the challenge of getting to the right place at the right time. There is a particular horror of bringing your daughter to the first birthday party she’s been invited to in a new town, a week late. Or how about driving your husband’s brother and family around looking for that “Apple Festival” two weeks too soon? These are the special issues that keep one from achieving success. I’m supposed to get a master’s?

Painful Reminder #3: Even though I know how to pray, I know scripture, and I know what I’m supposed to do, I really don’t know how to look at life with the expectation of victory. I get through things. I don’t necessarily win things. Grin and bear it. If it’s hard, I must be doing it wrong.

So, here’s what I learned from last week’s homework, and what I am realizing. Maybe you can relate.

First, on the timeline, most of the people who have been influential in my life are people I have never met. They are authors. Of course, I already mentioned some, Beth Moore, C. S. Lewis, Max Lucado, and others. There are many others. Being a bookworm has been a good thing for me. Reading has given me insight and knowledge that I’ve been able to apply when I didn’t have someone to talk to. What a blessing. “But you have resources to share with others because of the time you’ve spent reading. You haven’t been as alone and isolated as you thought you were.”

Second, I do have to be more mindful of time in a practical sense. Can I say, though, that it is very reassuring to know that God doesn’t show up on the wrong weekend. His plans prevail. He doesn’t get lost or overwhelmed. Even if I do mess up, it doesn’t mean I’ve messed up His plan for me. In every move, looking backward, I can see how He’s been with me, guiding me, even in churches where I was there, but not present. “But you have never been out of My reach, neither time, place, or season.”

Third, I’ve come to realize the battles are God’s way of strengthening me. I’m not supposed to go through life’s battles with a feeling of defeat or fear that I misunderstood what I’m supposed to be doing. It is through these battles that I get to see Him be victorious. In those victories, I’m learning how to fight the good fight with confidence. Battles don’t mean I’m doing something wrong, it means I’m being pushed and stretched. I’m through using the wrong form and getting hurt. I’ll take the discipline willingly if it makes me stronger. “But you have already been given victory, every gift for the plan and purpose I have for you through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This morning, my boot camp instructor and some others were talking about pushing us to our limits. When I started the first week, I felt like I would throw up before we were even half way through. I don’t feel that way now. I’ve gotten stronger. Last week, this little bookworm felt pushed to the limit in spiritual battle. But guess what, now I feel stronger.

So for now, I may have to post only every other week instead of every week. I think I will spend the next several posts sharing with you some of the different books I’ve read with more specific details and reflections. Coming soon, a link to Amazon. This blog is part of what I’m supposed to do.

Holman Christian Standard Bible
Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2

And as we press on, here’s a great song to keep going. Steady Me by Hollyn

What is Beautiful?

Lately, there have been so many coincidences in my life; I can say without a doubt God is doing something. It’s exciting, but I still don’t know exactly what it means. Just a quick update – I’m starting classes for my master’s program this week. It’s a real thing now. The Beth Moore study, Entrusted, is incredibly timely for this transition. I’m being shown how God has been putting together all the events and people in my life for His purposes. I’m doing things I didn’t think I could and being more open to new adventures. It’s fun as I discover all kinds of places of His matching and meeting needs in unexpected ways.

Last week’s post was about God’s holiness. I struggled with it because I wanted us to think about the pure goodness, love, and perfection that is God. No matter how I tried to frame it, I couldn’t just make that picture without bringing in my own sin. I did say it’s hard to understand. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we cannot understand it properly because we just aren’t perfectly good, don’t know how to love properly, and are naturally full of selfish desires.

Many of us have had a lot of snow lately. Looking at fresh snow on a sunny day is beautiful and painful. It’s too bright. God’s holiness is like that – pure, clean, beautiful and powerful.  God’s holiness is like His glory.

snowy-field

New Living Translation
His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. Matthew 28:3

New Living Translation
The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Hebrews 1:3

I am the one who walks our dogs in the mornings. There have been occasions when I’m the first one out after a snowstorm. It always pains me to break the perfect layer of glittering beauty to let the dogs take care of their business. I always feel regret at having to ruin the pure whiteness with our steps and other remainders. Even if it’s not me, the plows come by, the cars, and everything gets pushed to the side. It all becomes a slushy, ugly, mess. It becomes hard to see the beauty.

We can’t violate God’s holiness. It stays. It’s firm. It can’t be polluted. We can’t step on it and leave our footprints marring the perfect, seamlessness of it. Yet He wants us to be with Him. He knows us. He wants to have a relationship with us. We, who are so NOT holy or pure. He knows we can’t help it. We’re born this way.

I recently shared with my daughter this quote:
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Every time I think of different pieces coming together to create unity, I can’t help but think of God’s plan for us. Jesus Christ, through obedience to God’s will, who is also God, has made a way for us to be with Him. He has given us grace.  Because of grace, we, who are broken and sinful, get to be made whole, made acceptable, through Jesus Christ. It takes our believing in Him through faith.

You can see it in John 13: 31-32:  New Living Translation
As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, “The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. 

New Living Translation
“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. Isaiah 1:18

English Standard Version
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Many of us have experienced some kind of brokenness. At some point, our lives have been shattered, our hearts broken, or we have struggled through pain. The pieces come together through Jesus Christ to create a beautiful masterpiece. What is more different than the holiness of God and the brokenness of mankind?  Yet, He brings them together to create a beautiful kaleidoscope of unity through Christ.

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A masterpiece of this magnitude doesn’t take place easily or quickly. It takes planning, time, and endurance with a focused determination. Through His work in us, we get to reflect His glory. This is Amazing Grace!

There are so many songs in my mind I want to share with you reminding me of God’s acts of love. One is “The Broken Beautiful” by Ellie Holcomb.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpOXrY4BHMA&list=RDgpOXrY4BHMA#t=6

Do you have other songs that express this beauty? Share them with us. I would love to hear from you.

 

 

Not That Big of Deal

We’ve talked a lot here about why we should trust God and His love for us. This time, I want to address the holiness of God, especially in the context of obedience. Merriam Webster defines the word holy as “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.”

We learn how to obey and respect authority first from our parents. I think it’s safe to say no one grew up with a holy parent. However, generally speaking, they did their best to teach us right from wrong. When I look back on my childhood, I see significant times when I disobeyed my parents and suffered serious consequences. In most cases, I didn’t think what I was doing was a big deal. For example, there were no laws about seatbelts and car seats when I was young. My brother and I both wanted to sit in the front seat while we went with my dad on some errand. My older brother and I are less than 2 years apart, and we were just a little bit competitive with each other. If he had something, then I had to have it, too. I wanted to be just like him, and I wanted the same privileges he enjoyed.

As we were riding along, I proudly leaned against the seat in the space between my dad and brother, standing so I could see out the window. My joy was disrupted upon hearing my brother telling my dad I should get in the back seat because the door wasn’t shut properly. I reacted as one would expect any strong-willed 3 year-old sibling. Speaking clearly, I told them I wouldn’t get in the back unless my brother had to also. My brother and dad were now both frantically telling me to get in the backseat. I thought a compromise would work better such as sitting down instead. Within a matter of seconds, my dad was reaching over to me, enforcing his command. I yelled, “NO,” pulled away from him, and promptly fell out of the car. Thankfully, my dad had already begun slowing down to pull over. I wasn’t hurt badly, but there were some scratches and bruises. It made such an impression on me; I still remember it to this day. I rebelled and got hurt.

Both my older brother and my dad recognized the danger I didn’t. I was certain I would not fall out of the car, and I had no idea when I pulled away I was that close to the door. I reasoned if my brother could stay in the front without falling out, I could too. I didn’t want to be denied the pleasure and importance of sitting up front.

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How many times has God told us the right way to live,
and we have refused to listen? Perhaps we think this small act of disobedience doesn’t really matter. It’s not that big of a deal. Maybe we rationalize our choices and actions based on what we think is fair. Maybe we just want to have fun and think if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then we can handle the consequences. For me, that could be sitting on the sofa playing just one more game connecting brightly colored candy. It’s not that big of a deal, until I realize I’ve been playing over an hour, my family has all gone to bed, and I’ve lost that time with them. Or, maybe we think we won’t actually be punished.

 

These thoughts are just the little ways we eventually find ourselves further from God than we realized. To our Holy God, even a little sin matters and separates us from Him. We can’t fully appreciate His perfect goodness and righteousness when we don’t understand it. When I try to fathom what it means that God is holy, and I am not, I feel intimidated. How can I approach the one, true, Holy God when I know how sinful I am? If we stop there, we allow fear to paralyze us. God is Holy, and God is love. It is because of His holy love that He offers grace to us. Remembering this allows us to approach Him with humility and confidence instead of fear. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)

One day, all of us will stand before God – even those who don’t believe in Him now. Remember, God is not dependent on our belief or unbelief. He is real. God will judge each of us. Some will be found righteous and have eternal life, while those who refused His mercy and grace will perish. Our righteousness has nothing to do with our works, but with our faith in the grace He has provided through Jesus Christ.

Below I’ve listed verses for you to read about think about this week. I’ve linked each verse to biblehub.com, where you can see the verse in context or read different translations. These verses are from a list of scriptures used by an organization I’ve been part of called Moms In Prayer. I hope they guide your thoughts this week as you consider God’s holiness.

New Living Translation
No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 1 Samuel 2:2

Holman Christian Standard Bible
God, Your way is holy. What god is great like God? Psalm 77:13

New Living Translation
But the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will be exalted by his justice. The holiness of God will be displayed by his righteousness. Isaiah 5:16

New International Version
Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:4

Exodus 15:11           Psalm 99                    Psalm 111:9              Isaiah 57:15-16

Luke 1:49               Acts 3:13-15            1 Peter 1:15-16           Revelation 4:8

 

 

 

 

 

If You Love Me . . .

 

Last week, I included the verse, John 14:23. “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV)

Some of you may be more familiar with the verse that came a little earlier in the chapter, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  John 14:15 (NIV) This is the kind of short, easy verse some of us may have memorized in Sunday School when we were young.

I have trouble with this verse because it sounds conditional. I’ve always been under the impression God’s love is unconditional, so why the ‘if . . . then’ statement? “If you love me” has always struck me as a manipulative phrase. I would never have trusted that coming from anyone without suspecting an ulterior motive was at its core or the person didn’t trust my love for its own sake. Is God trying to manipulate me? Do I have to prove my love to Him? Doesn’t He already know my heart? This just doesn’t seem right. I already know trying to be good doesn’t work.

Remember, if we don’t study scripture in context, we won’t understand it properly. What we have here is the record of a conversation between Jesus Christ and His disciples shortly before his crucifixion. Read the following with a little more context:

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Jesus is explaining to His followers that once He has died, been resurrected, and ascended to heaven, He will send His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to remain with them. He will not leave them alone in this world. Rather than a manipulative statement, John 14:15 is actually a cause and effect statement. If the love of Christ is in us, we will keep His commands – because we love Him. Each part of the trinity is at work for the unity of love. Keeping His commands is a direct result of the love of God alive in us. Here’s one more verse, again, just a little bit earlier:

11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

In this verse, Jesus says at the very least, His good work is evidence of the Father in Him. By comparison, our keeping the command to love God first, and loving others, is evidence of our knowledge and belief in Jesus Christ. Our obedience comes from the love God Himself gives us and empowers through the Holy Spirit.

There are some conditional statements by God throughout the Bible. Mostly, those have to do with promises. Even the covenant between Abraham and God was dependent on the Israelites keeping their side of the agreement.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5 – 6 (NIV)

Much of God’s promises depend on our being faithful or obedient. We make choices. In the Old Testament times, they had the prophets, laws, and sacrifices. Today, we still have the law, which let’s us know of our need for redemption, we have salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit to help guide us into truth.

God does not need to manipulate us. Manipulation occurs when someone needs to cause another to do something that serves a selfish purpose. God doesn’t need anything from us, and He certainly isn’t selfish.  Think about this:

12if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.14Remind the believers of these things, charging them before God to avoid quarreling over words; this is in no way profitable, and leads its listeners to ruin. 2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)

Let me encourage you. I write about this because I want you to trust God’s love for you. I want you to understand the truth. The truth is God is love. Love is patient. So, God is patient. He does know you, and He wants a relationship with you. God is not dependent on any of us. He’s trustworthy. He’s also forgiving. That’s the whole point of the cross. Our obedience is derived out of our love for Him.  Living things grow.  The more our love grows, the deeper relationship we have with Him, and the stronger our desire is to obey Him.  It takes time.  Let it grow!

Blind to Love

We cannot love without trust, nor trust without love.

This is true in friendships, marriages, and our relationship with God. I may say I know God loves me, but there are times when it doesn’t seem true. His love doesn’t seem real when things are bad and prayers are unanswered. Often, this mistrust shows up in my ignoring Him, acting in ways contrary to His law, or refusing His will and grace. John 14:23 says, “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV) If I disobey, does that mean God doesn’t love me? Or, will He love me less? How do I know? To clarify things, let’s ask the primary question: Do I trust God’s love for me?

For me, the answer is – sometimes. There are times when I feel so secure in God’s love for me that I believe I can do and go anywhere, and I can feel His Spirit right there with me. Other times, I feel like I’m in the dark, hidden, and forgotten. I just can’t see it.

When I was about 12 years old, it occurred to me the only time my mom called me was to do some chore. I decided to test it. I hid in an out of the way place to see if she missed me, or to see if she only came looking for me because she wanted me to do something. After a while, she did come searching for me – because she had a chore for me. The thought stuck in my head, “See, your mom doesn’t really love you. She just wants you to work for her. That’s the only good thing your mom sees about you.” Now, I know that is a brazen lie. I knew it then, too, but I was angry and let the thought fester and grow. Requests for help after that were an echo and reinforcement of that lie. I like to help. The lie undermined our relationship for a while and stole the joy I should have felt at being kind and helpful.

Coincidentally, I believed that God showed favor on people who served in the ministry more than those who didn’t. If I really loved God, and He thought I was good enough, He would call me into church ministry. He didn’t. I came to understand God’s love for me was obligatory. Generally, as in For God so loved the world, and I was part of the general world.

Maybe you also believe lies about the love God has for us. It’s a lot like the doubt the serpent put in Eve’s mind. “Did God really say . . . . ..” (Genesis 3:1) The things that make us doubt God’s love for us and keep us from trusting Him can come from places of real pain and hardship. It can be prayers spoken year after year before seeing an answer, if at all. It can be rejection from someone who is supposed to love you; cutting you to the quick. It can be circumstances that seem impossible to overcome like health issues, financial needs, and broken relationships. Or, it can be things you’ve done you think are unforgivable. How do we know God loves us when things are so hard?

God wants a relationship with us more than good works. His level of love is not determined by whether we are good enough, our circumstances, or any of the other trials we face. Instead, trusting God’s love increases as we spend more time getting to know God and understanding His ways. This helps us get through trials with greater confidence and peace. When we trust God’s love, we can serve Him in obedience, whether it’s in church ministry, at home, or elsewhere. Trust also helps us accept His grace and run to Him when we mess up.

Don’t let yourself be blind to the love God has for you. Determine to find ways to spend time getting to know Him. His love for you often shows up in scripture, prayer time, music, acts of kindness or service through other people, and even displays in nature. If you doubt God’s love for you, allow the Holy Spirit to show you what is causing the doubt. Then wait and see. Listen. Be still. He is faithful. You may find He’s been showing you He loves you all along.

Here are some places to start.  Because God made you, He knows everything about you. He will meet you where you are if you are willing.

New Living Translation
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:16

New Living Translation
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

English Standard Version
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

New Living Translation
May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5

Berean Study Bible http://biblehub.com/context/1_john/4-15.htm
15If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for in this world we are just like Him.  18There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us.

What is love?

Hi Friends,

I missed posting last week due to an exciting development I want to share.  I’m pressing forward with going back to school for a master’s degree in school counseling.  I had to take the GRE with very short notice and took all the time I could to prepare for it.  The test has been taken with some measure of success.  It’s another part of moving forward while I’m waiting.  It won’t be an easy or quick undertaking, but at least now I’m putting the dream to action.  It’s kind of funny.  I was spurred to talk to my husband more seriously about it by a number of events; one of my former co-teachers encouraged me in that direction, a late night phone call, and  . . . the music and theme in my exercise class, Body and Soul.  The theme being, “What’s Next.”  Really.  My husband provided the final push to set it in motion.

One more thing, in my last post, I invited you to join me with doing the Entrusted Bible study by Beth Moore.  It’s a 6 week study on 2 Timothy.  Because I live where the big snowstorm came through, we didn’t get to start it.  Our first session will be this coming week.  I would love to know if you are participating with me by leaving a quick comment.  Even if you can’t do the Bible study with a group, you can still read the scripture, contribute to the discussions, and benefit from sharing in the experience.  Depending on your response, I may do a separate post for 2 Timothy on Wednesday’s or Thursday’s for the duration.

In the meantime, I want to continue with the purpose and theme of this blog:  inspiring others to grow in faith and love.  Or in other words, help each of us become healthier Christians.  I’ve been thinking about what makes a healthy church and  a strong Christian for a while.  One of the challenges we face is learning how to love properly.  We may say the words, we may love to a certain degree, but do we understand what it means to truly love?  I sincerely believe growing in faith, having healthy relationships, and getting closer to God, is learning how to love well.

The first commandment is, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5 (NIV)  We are also instructed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Then of course, there is 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8.  (ESV)

eLove is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  8 Love never ends. 

I know I can’t love like that with all my prejudices and self-centeredness.  I can’t love others, much less God, in my own strength.  More importantly, do we believe God really loves us like that?  If not, therein lies some of the trouble.  If I don’t trust that God really loves me in the way love is described in 1 Corinthians 13, how can I love Him with my whole heart, soul, and strength?  Not to mention loving other people.

We are told God is love, “The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 (HCSB)  Also, throughout Psalm 136, the constant refrain is, “His love endures forever.”  Of course, there is also John 3:16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (HCSB)

English is sadly inept in describing all the different values and degrees of what we call love.  The kind of love here is agapaó; from Greek.  There is a book called, “The Four Loves,” written by C. S. Lewis, in which you can read more about the different kinds of love.  If you are someone inclined to want to know more, I recommend reading this book.  I think you will find it enlightening.

Spend some time this week thinking about who,what, and how you love.  My prayer for you is that not only will you be inspired to love better, but you will also be reminded, personally, of the extent of God’s love for you.  May each of us abide in the love of Christ!

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Next week, I plan on focusing more on what happens when we accept God’s love for us.

What’s the Good Word?

Today’s post is a little lighter, but just as important, as my previous ones.

Devotion books and Bible studies have made a significant impact in my spiritual growth over the years.  We need to know what God’s word says in order to recognize and know what is true.  The more we learn, the more we can sense God’s presence and activity in our lives.  Bible study and quiet times are so important!  Spending time reading the Bible can be done a little at a time, or in a more disciplined setting with a group of people.  Both are important.

First, please understand the Holy Bible is a collection of many different styles of writing with many different translations.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what to read, the reason for it being there, or what you’re supposed to get out of it.  Just because something is recorded in the Bible doesn’t mean it is approved by God.  For example, there is a lot of history written in narrative form, and there are some pretty horrible things recorded.  Therefore, you have to understand the context, culture, and purpose of what is written to really benefit from reading the Bible.

This is where Bible studies and devotions can really help.  There are many authors who study the scripture more deeply than you and I and know how to explain things more clearly.  I always compare what is written in the Bible with what is being taught.  It’s important to let the Holy Spirit and God’s word guide our understanding and compare what the author is teaching to what is written. There are a variety of books for different audiences, knowledge level, and length of time commitment.  Devotions are usually designed to be read independently, while Bible studies are most often designed for groups.

The most recent Bible study book I’ve done with a group is The Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer.  Even though I was familiar with the particular scripture, I gained a lot of practical applications and encouragement from what Priscilla presented in the study as well as from the comments by other women in my group.  Sharing different ideas and perspectives enriches the whole experience for everyone.  This is one advantage to doing a group Bible study.

I’ve also finished reading Wait and See by Wendy Pope on my own.  I was able to go at my own pace, answer the questions in a very personal way without having to share them, and allow time to let certain things sink in.  I wrote the post, “The Rock Tumbler,” based on what I was reading at that time.

I am about to start a Beth Moore study, Entrusted, on January 11, 2017,  with a group at church.  I know it will influence what I’m thinking about for the next few weeks.  I invite anyone else doing the same study to comment and share when I post something related to it.  I’ll put “Entrusted” as a tag so you can find those posts easily.

Thank you for reading my posts.  I do hope this blog is something that encourages you to grow a closer relationship with God.  I am starting a small list of studies and devotions under the Books and Bible Studies tab.  As I add more resources, I’ll figure out the best way to organize them.  For right now, it’s just a list.  I am also happy to say that I’m finally adding my profile picture!  I think it’s really starting to come together.

Happy New Year, and may God’s peace be with you!

 

 

Judgmental Christians

 

The other day, a friend of mine shared this message on Facebook :

faith-in-people-not-god

 

As a preacher’s daughter who did lose her faith and developed real trust issues, especially with those in church, this kind of judgmental sounding statement promotes a strong reaction. This “inspiring” message brings up a whole host of complicated thoughts and emotions. I’m using this blog post to address the truth and the pain inherent in the tone of this statement.

First, let’s address what “church” means. We know the church is supposed to be a collection of believers who have a relationship with God, who have accepted Jesus Christ as savior, and therefore, represent God to the world and each other. However, the church is made up of people who are flawed, haven’t obtained perfection, and still need grace. Some people involved in church don’t have pure intentions. Their purposes for being involved in church are about manipulation and meeting selfish desires. These people are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and do the most damage.

Unhealthy experiences within church relationships left a strong feeling of cynicism at odds with the love God showed me and lasted for years. Self-righteousness, grudges, greediness, and just plain old pride have all played a role in creating unhealthy congregations. Additionally, I have seen real evil perpetrated by people who were in positions of church leadership who used the trust given to them to satisfy their sexual desires. But, I have also seen real love, generosity, forgiveness, and the beauty of sincere service and goodness displayed in church as well. I don’t want to be at odds with Jesus. The Church is described as His bride and includes everyone who calls Him Savior. Do I want to be at war with myself and with Jesus? I want to share some of what God has revealed to me that may encourage you if this is a similar struggle for you.

We have to be honest and willing to deal with the pain.

As a college student, I attended a young church with the intention to watch how they handled relationships and/or conflicts. The pastor’s family and congregation were so joyful and inclusive, I timidly began to get involved by joining a mixed age small group and did a Bible study with them – “Experiencing God” by Henry & Richard Blackaby and Claude V. King. I was challenged by the study’s directness regarding my willingness to trust God’s love for me, my love for Him, and obeying Him. I wasn’t ready to reveal to these wonderful people the ugliness of what was in my heart. Eventually, I was asked to teach a second grade Sunday school class where I was desperately needed. I declined to serve, and I hurt some people whom I dearly loved because of it. Because I wasn’t ready to be open and honest about my struggles, I pulled away and ran away from church again.

We are in a spiritual fight, and pride can make us vulnerable.

Years later, being a young, stay at home mom in a new place, I was hungry for fellowship and decided to join a mom’s Bible study group. The study was, “When Godly People Do Ungodly Things” by Beth Moore. This was my first encounter with a Beth Moore Bible study, and it was perfect for confronting the pain I had been avoiding. I started thinking more about how much the experiences of my youth had contributed to the bitterness that kept me from fully trusting God and His plan for me. Through this study, I realized I was just as susceptible to doing ungodly things as anyone else in church as long as I harbored unforgiveness and pride. I prayed God wouldn’t allow me to be involved in ministry until I could do so without harming the church body. I know what the scriptures mean when it speaks of love growing cold. I never want to be one of those that cause others to feel betrayed, hurt, or turned off to Christ because of my cynicism.

There’s a difference between self-righteous judgment and loving accountability.

I’ve been the “judgmental churchy” person, even while despising others for it. I have hurt others by saying thoughtless things, and by having or by being perceived as having a “better than you” attitude. When I learned this perception was part of some major relationship issues, I worked hard to get at the heart of it. I want God’s love to overflow in and through me. I have had times when a friend needed to hear the truth about a situation that could have caused her to fall into a trap. I’ve also been on the receiving end of loving accountability and was blessed by a friend loving me too much to let me go on with a wrong action. Loving accountability only works when there is mutual love and respect in the relationship.

In my soul searching, I learned a few truths. The scripture passage that describes love (1Corinthians 13), is really hard to put into practice. You have to love God with your whole heart first. Only then can you love others the right way. Without a right relationship with Him, it’s impossible to love God’s way. We need His help to connect with others, to offer accountability, to extend grace, and to forgive as God has forgiven us. Understanding this helps us allow others the room they need to hear what God is telling them. It’s God’s job to judge, not ours. We all need to support each other.

Healing is not a painless process.

Many of us, dare I say most of us, have been hurt by someone who is supposed to be a “real” Christian. When God first restored my relationship with Him, the scars and distrust of church people stayed raw for a long time. I used the pain and anger to stay apart from people thinking it would keep me from getting hurt again, but it also kept me apart from God. I couldn’t experience full healing and restoration without dealing with the damage. The ironic thing of it, I was one of the church people! Talk about being pulled in different directions. I can’t tell you how much it hurt to realize the walls I put up for protection were keeping me from growing closer to God. Slowly allowing God to break the walls has been scary and painful.

If you find your faith faltering and avoid going to church because of “church people”, I understand. All of us who believe in Jesus Christ are part of the church – the body of Christ. Pain and division in church is like cancer. And like fighting cancer, treatment is often painful. We have to allow God to heal us, to help us forgive, and then learn how to become healthy Christians. As healthy Christians, we can then help the body become healthier. Do we nurse the hurt and anger, or open ourselves up to the Great Physician even when the healing is painful?

I know God wants you to have a close relationship with Him. He can help you forgive and rise above those betrayals. I’ve got scars. I remember the pain. Some of it still remains. But now, it’s a good pain because I recognize it for what it means – A place God needs to heal and make stronger. Are you willing to give God access to the hurt places?

 

 

Help My Unbelief

I promise to be honest with you every time I post. I confess I haven’t always fully believed and trusted God, the Bible, and the love of Jesus. The good news is, God is patient, God is faithful, and He has redeemed me. In fact, the process of redemption is still ongoing. Although I don’t understand everything right now, I DO trust He is revealing to me His goodness in His time.

I just finished Wait and See by Wendy Pope. In the past several months, one word has popped up again and again – cooperation. Wendy puts it in the last sentence of the last chapter. “Breathe deeply and ask the Lord to help cooperate with the work of His Word and the Holy Spirit so you can become more like Him.” (page 251)

And that is what I am doing. I used to think cooperating with God was about being good and obedient. While it’s important to live right, it isn’t the key. When I was young, I tried following the rules. I was kind, loved others, obeyed my parents, and didn’t curse; all the things it means to be a “good” Christian. My life’s circumstances seemed to contradict the good things I expected from living a life that was pleasing to God.  I didn’t trust God because of and with the pain I experienced.  I put up a shield to protect my vulnerable places from others, including God.  Unfortunately, I wound up with a bitter and cold heart.

After God renewed my faith, one of the challenges I faced was believing God had a purpose and a plan for me. The promises about His knowing me from before I was born, and His completing a good work in me seemed farfetched. The chaos of frequent moves and instability seemed to have no relevance to a plan at all.  I felt small and overlooked.

Several years ago, I came across a video about the Star of Bethlehem. I have often wondered about the many references to stars in the Bible, and how people could see constellations, or use them for planning purposes. There are so many stars, and they seem so arbitrarily situated! But in the documentary, I learned how the stars’ movements in the sky match what is recorded in the Gospels. Since we know how long it takes light to travel through space, it shows the purposeful and exacting placement of those stars when God first put them in the heavens. It caused me to reevaluate the apparent randomness of my life. I realized I needed to trust God more.

I have since seen walls torn down in my mind and heart. God is gently and patiently building a stronger faith in me as I spend more time with Him and allowing Him more access to my inner most being. Wendy writes, “Conquering selfish thoughts and behavior initiates a domino effect, and cooperating with God’s work in our life starts with getting personal with Him.” (page 84) A skeptical and compartmentalized mind won’t allow me to develop the intimate relationship I need to trust God completely. He is helping me overcome my unbelief. He is faithful. I know He will do the same with you.

To find out more about Wendy Pope and her book, click on  Wait and See,  or go to:  http://wendypope.org/book/

 

Star of Bethlehem Video:

Let Me be your Home

“You don’t know anybody?”

“You really don’t know anyone in the room?”

The youth leader’s eyes open wide as he hastily scans the group of teens chatting in small groups looking for some proof to counter our assertion.  He even asks a few as they walk by, “Do you know these kids?”

He fumbles for words as the true meaning of the situation becomes clear.  Finally, a grin appears as he shakes his head, still in disbelief, welcomes us to Sunday school, and asks us our names.  “Wow, you really don’t know anyone and you’re here anyway.”

My family had returned to Texas after living in Mississippi for several years.  My father believed in going to church every Sunday, and not just worship service – Sunday school, too.  Maybe other teenagers would have refused to go, or have been embarrassed by the attention, but my younger brother and I took it in stride.  We were used to being new faces in a crowd of people with established friend groups.  We had learned to smile, adapt, and make new friends.  For me, the joy of being back in Texas was worth whatever uncomfortable social situation I could encounter.  I’ve never had quite the same open reaction as that, but I have been in the room without knowing anyone too many times to count.

Even though I vowed as a teenager I would never leave Texas again, I met this wonderful man whom I married and who promptly got a job out of state leading to a life of transitions.  I didn’t know when or if we would get to live in Texas again, but both our families lived there, and we visited every opportunity we could afford.  After 14 years, my husband was able to get a temporary post in Houston.  When my husband told me, I cried. It had been so long.  I embraced every bit of Texas culture, people, and weather I could.  I prayed God would help me when it was time to leave, and the closer that date came, the more I went to God about it.

I prayerfully thanked Him for allowing us to get a few years back in Texas, asked Him if we would get to return again, and how many more moves before we would settle – hoping it would be in Texas.  He gave me this answer. “Let Me be your home.”

I found the answer just a little bit frustrating.  No answers to my specific questions, no clue as to where I would eventually be, or the duration of enduring new places.  Just – “Let Me be your home.”  What does that even mean?  I struggled with it, and tried to figure out how I was supposed to obey Him.

Sometimes people ask me if moving around so frequently is hard.  It is, yes.  It’s hard to make close friends in short amounts of time, to leave friends, and to see relationships within communities that have grown over long periods of time when I cannot have that experience.  I long for a place to call home, for community, a safe place to stay where you are loved, cared for, and a place of belonging.  I know I have a heavenly home for eternity, a REAL place that far exceeds anything I can imagine.  That’s great for later, but I also need a place to call home in the Present!

As I spent time studying His word for clues to show me how to do that, I was confronted with the truth that my identity is in Jesus Christ, not in being a Texan.  God faithfully revealed to me through the Holy Spirit and His word, promises and instructions showing me what it means to let Him be my home.

He tells me to abide in Him.  He says He is my refuge.  He reveals to me there is nowhere I can go where He is not there, I am a member of the body of Christ which is bigger than my local church, and I am never alone.  Even today, I found yet another verse that encourages me, “I am like a flourishing olive tree in the house of God.”

For me, I don’t know when or where we will eventually settle.  It may not be in Texas, but I trust God to cause me to feel peace and at home wherever it is.  Whether you are in a new place this season, your family is far away, or in a place you cannot call home, you can find peace, refuge, joy, and know that you belong when you believe and trust God and Jesus Christ.

May the Peace of God be with you!

Here are the scripture references:

John 15:5

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Psalm 139:7

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

2 Samuel 22:3

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me.

Psalm 52:8

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

Colossians 3:15

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Hebrews 13:5 [Full Chapter]

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”