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 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?