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.”

 

 

 

 

The Rock Tumbler

Changes hurt.  Unexpected changes are especially prone to cause fear, anxiety, confusion, and doubt.

I thought I knew what I was supposed to do at this point in my life.  I was prepared for it.  I worked out and prepared my timeline as young as 17 years old.  I worked out that when my children were grown and responsible enough to not need me at home full-time, I would begin my teaching career.  Texas offered a life-long license, and it would be okay that I would start later.  But, it hasn’t worked out the way I planned.

God is doing something; changing what I expected to happen, and I am fighting against fear, anxiety, confusion, and doubt.  I want to trust God.  I really do.  He knows I like to plan.  He knows I need some sort of road map to feel like I know where I’m going and what I’m doing to feel a sense of security, even if I don’t know where I will be.  My security and comfort has been in that plan.

One of my friends suggested I read “Wait and See” by Wendy Pope.  She and several other friends are in a similar place of being almost Empty Nesters.  I didn’t get the book at first because I’ve spent my whole life in wait and see moments.  Then one morning, I was being completely honest with God about how I wanted to trust Him, but it was kind of hard because I felt so in the dark.  I was grieving over the loss of not only one major purpose, but also the second purpose of teaching which I had been patiently waiting to happen over the course of 20 years.

He reminded me of an activity I had done with my most recent class of 3rd graders.  A student brought in a rock tumbler and the materials to produce actual polished rocks.  I was more than happy to find a way for us to make it work.  Reading through the instructions, I was surprised at how many weeks it would take, the different grades of grit that had to be used, and at how slowly the tumbler turned.  We proceeded to find a place where the loud tumbling wouldn’t interfere with the class and dutifully followed the plan.  We barely had enough time to finish before the end of school.  The class and I were thrilled at the results of the polishing.  Each student got to take a shiny rock home.

God, in His gentle way, reminded me that although I may not see the changes, that although it is painful and slow, He is working.

Now, as I am reading the book, “Wait and See,” I feel more hope and some structure to the work God is doing.  Sometimes it is quiet, sometimes loud, and sometimes the grit has to be changed to work on smoothing the rough edges even more.  I am waiting to see what He has planned.  As God breaks off the rough edges and polishes me, it still hurts as I feel the grating at times, but I am willing to endure patiently.  I can more easily trust Him and His promise knowing the result will show more of Him in me.

rock-tumbler

O Lord, I will honor and praise your name,  
    for you are my God.
You do such wonderful things!
    You planned them long ago,
    and now you have accomplished them.     Isaiah 25: 1

The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.         Psalm 138:8

For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.    Ephesians 2:10