Aug 212014
 

large_281183I once heard the saying “Happiness is a new box of crayons.” This year as I sent my kids off to school to open their own new boxes of happiness, I was reminded of what I used to think about the moms who were so happy about their kids going back to school in the fall: I used to think they must not like their kids very much. Then, I became a mom who is so happy her kids are going back to school.

It seems God, in His infinite wisdom, thought I could gain some insight and compassion by experiencing full-blown, at my wits-end, burned-out exhaustion by the end of summer. Let me state the obvious: I love my kids and they are a gift and we have loads of fun together. But, there are four of them and their hopes and needs and only one mama to meet them. We step on each other’s toes, fingers, hair, and sometimes eyelashes. And this summer was no exception. When the first day of school rolled around yesterday, honestly, everyone was happy.

Why all the happiness?

Like I said, the kids were happy. I was happy. It was a happy day. Did I mention the happiness? But here’s the distinction I would like to make clear: we’re all happy school is starting again because it’s good for us. Right now, in this season of life, this form of education is where the Lord has placed us. And for our family, it is good. When I say “I’m so glad my kids are back in school!” it does not mean I don’t love them or miss them. It does not mean I don’t value children and instructing them in righteousness, shaping them in Gospel truths. I mean, our family enjoys God’s grace to us through our school situation.

Here are some reasons we may have all done the happy dance:

  1. We THRIVE on routine. (And the work actually gets done alongside the play!)
  2. Daily expectations are clear and attainable.
  3. My introverts are over-stimulated and my extroverts are bored senseless.
  4. We all have space to be individuals.
  5. My kids miss their friends.
  6. Absence makes the heart grow fonder – we will now appreciate one another more when we’re together.
  7. Our conversations expand; more experiences, more to talk about!
  8. My kids benefit from the wisdom of teachers who offer them experiences and awesomeness I don’t have to give.
  9. My kids see faith modeled by teachers other than me.
  10. We all have the capacity for more ministry opportunities.

What’s wrong with happiness?

Why do I feel the need to explain and bullet-point my excitement? Because, sometimes, this mama feels guilty. I feel guilty for enjoying God’s freely given blessings. And this, I’m confident, is guilt I wasn’t meant to bear.

The guilt I feel over rejoicing in my children’s return to school isn’t because I doubt my family’s decision to send our kids to school. It isn’t because I am sinning against the Lord or my children. It is purely fear of man. tells me the fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. When I allow this fear to fester and give way to guilt and anxiety, I abandon my trust in the Lord and I fail to rejoice in the ways he cares and provides for me.

says:

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings.”

goes onto say that we do not fear man’s opinions or judgments because they are not lasting. Instead, we fear God:

“For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.”

Thankfully, my righteousness and the salvation of my children (a.k.a. The Lord’s mercy “to all generations”) isn’t dependent on how I chose to school my children and my sanctification is promised no matter where our days play out. My righteousness and my hope are in Christ alone.

When Guilt Gives Way to Gratitude

Really and truly, I am thankful to the Lord for providing for my children through the work of people who do things better than I could. I’m thankful to the Lord for the friendships he’s provided to my children. I’m thankful for the teachers he handpicked to guide them this year. I’m thankful for the fun and all the silliness they’ll have during their hours away from me. Words fail to express the gratitude I have for the school and the abundant grace my family receives from the Lord through these hardworking teachers and staff. Their dedication and joy over teaching the little people I love so much is a gift to me all school year.

Summer burnout has taught me we are all intricately made by the Lord – strengths, weaknesses, faults, and limits. And at the end of the summer, when I hit the wall of what I had to offer, God’s grace was there to provide and sustain me. Summer proved to be no exception. But as the wall gives way, I’m praying it doesn’t give way to guilt but instead to gratitude.

 

“It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”

 

photo credit: Special via photopin cc

25 The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (ESV)

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
nor be dismayed at their revilings. (ESV)

For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
and the worm will eat them like wool;
but my righteousness will be forever,
and my salvation to all generations.” (ESV)

92:1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy. (ESV)

Jul 292014
 

9781433541766Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to a new book that has entered a special category of my personal library. It is one I will recommend over and over for years to come because I believe it offers foundational wisdom on a simple practice we often avoid or misunderstand - how to study the Bible.

“Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” by Jen Wilkin clearly outlines the reasons we should read, study and love God’s Word and offers lifelong tools for doing so.

What’s Our Problem?

Because I appreciate Wilkin’s writing style, I will not spoil her hilarious set-up in chapter one. You’ll have to read it for yourself. But, the premise is that there are two approaches women often take when attempting to learn God’s Word – both are problematic.

1. We fail to understand the Bible is a book about God.

In my years as a young believer I was absolutely guilty of opening the Bible to whatever passage I thought I needed at the time, learning scripture out of context, and using it however it benefited me in the moment. I, like Jen, read the Bible as if it were for me and all about me. Wilkin writes:

“Perhaps I really did know that the Bible was a book about God, but I didn’t realize that I wasn’t reading it as if it were…I approached my study time asking the wrong questions. I read the Bible asking ‘Who am I’ and ‘What should I do?’…But the questions I was asking revealed that I held subtle misunderstandings about the very nature of the Bible: I believed the Bible was a book about me.” (pp. 23-24)

Wilkin assures readers “the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand (p.26).” We cannot learn who we are without learning “through the lens of who God is” and she encourages women to start there.

2. We believe our hearts should guide our study.

Wilkin writes: “For years I tried to love God with my heart to the neglect of my mind, not recognizing my need to grow in the knowledge of the ‘I AM.’ Any systematic study of the Bible felt mechanical, even a little like an act of faithlessness or an admission that the Holy Spirit’s insight during a quiet time wasn’t enough for me. But I was missing the important truth that the heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” (pp. 30-31)

She goes on to explain how the heart is the seat of our wills and emotions – so we must guide our hearts wisely toward the understanding of the entire counsel of Scripture and not just the parts we like to read.

What’s The Solution?

The remainder of “Women of the Word” centers around what Wilkin dubs “The Five P’s of Sound Study.” This method, encourages women to study with purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer. It is easy to grasp and helps readers move past quick, cursory readings of scripture and onto deeper, more meaningful study and ultimately, Biblical literacy. Each section explains the “whys” and the “hows,” heart-diagnosing questions, and examples of application.

I thought each section was insightful and wise, but I felt most convicted by the section on patience. Here’s an excerpt I found challenging:

“…Sound Bible study is rooted in a celebration of delayed gratification. Gaining Bible literacy requires allowing our study to have a cumulative effect – across weeks, months, years – so that the interrelation of one part of Scripture to another reveals itself slowly and gracefully…The Bible does not want to be neatly packaged into three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day increments. It does not want to be reduced to truisms and action points. It wants to introduce dissonance into your thinking, to stretch your understanding. It wants to reveal a mosaic of the majesty of God one passage at a time, one day at a time, across a lifetime. By all means, bring eagerness to your study time. Yes, bring hunger. But certainly bring patience – come ready to study for the long term.” (p.75) 

Why Should I Read It?

Maybe you’re asking, “Why should I read this book? Shouldn’t I just read the Bible?” Yes, please read the Bible over books and blogs. But, it is my belief that reading this book will sharpen you to read God’s Word for the long-term. And for many of us it’s the long-term rhythms and commitments we struggle with. Wilkin notes:

“…a woman who loses interest in her Bible has not been equipped to love it as she should. The God of the Bible is to lovely to abandon for lesser pursuits. I want women everywhere to develop a deep and abiding love for him through the study of the text that makes him known.” (p.46)

“Women of the Word” calls women to study God’s Word for the purpose of loving Him more. This short, to-the-point book is grace-filled, humorous and immediately applicable for women in any stage of their walk with Christ.

WANT TO WIN A COPY? Thanks to Crossway, I have two copies of Jen’s book to giveaway! If you would like to enter to win, comment below with your name. Winners will be chosen Friday, August 1 @ 12 p.m. CST. 

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A little more about the book’s author: Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom to four great kids, and an advocate for women to love God with their minds through the faithful study of his Word. She writes, speaks, and teaches women the Bible. She lives in Flower Mound, Texas, and her family calls The Village Church home. You can find her at jenwilkin.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter

Jul 072014
 

draws near imageCracks of thunder echo through the skies as I write. When I was a child the flashes lightening catapulted me from my bed and sent me flying down the hallway to my parents’ room. I needed their nearness. After rousing them from deep sleep, they’d usually oblige, open their covers, and welcome me in for comfort. As I drew near, they drew near. Under the covers, safe in the nearness, I rested.

These past several months have been full of tempest skies and thunderstorms and I’ve been frantic to find shelter. Certainly, I’ve looked to the Lord and the comfort of His Spirit and His Word. I’ve also looked to friends, to exercise, to food, to over-scheduling and under-scheduling, dabbling in just about anything that provides a little comfort from the chaos. But there have been days where I wonder if the Lord is near. Does He see my struggle? Does He hear my cries for His nearness?

In these times of waiting and doubt, I’ve been comforted by both the promise and the instructions of this verse:

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded.”

This verse tells me:

a) Despite how I’m feeling, I am called to draw near to God.

b) God will draw near to me when I draw near to Him.

c) Maybe my heart has something to do with the distance I’ve been feeling.

Why Wouldn’t I Draw Near?

Sometimes, it’s simple apathy keeping me from dogged pursuit. Maybe I’m more interested in my social life, my career, or my family than I am in drawing near to God. When I don’t feel warm and devotionally close to God, it’s easy to give up on the pursuit.

Sometimes I don’t feel close to God because I’m oblivious to my own sin. Maybe I’m running from God because of shame or guilt. Maybe I’m not ready to confess my own need. It’s uncomfortable to go to God with my failures. When I feel far from God, scripture says I should check my hands and my heart.

Other times, I avoid drawing near because I am so overly aware of my own sins. I foolishly assume I need to tidy up my heart before God will take thought for me. “If I could just get over this sin, then I’d feel closer to God.” This is the type of internal condemnation the enemy would love to use to keep God’s children from pursuing His nearness.

Whatever it is that is keeping us from drawing near, it isn’t God who’s pulled away. My feelings of being far off do not validate my lack of pursuit. The prophet Zephaniah warned Jerusalem of falling into the same stubbornness we are tempted to – “Woe to her who does not draw near to God ().” Woe. Failing to draw near to God, is woe-worthy! We are to actively pursue God’s nearness.

What does drawing near to God look like? 

says “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” So we come to God (through prayer, reading His Word, in confession) with confidence, knowing it is His grace that draws us near and sustains us in His presence. We trust that this same grace will be our survival means through any storm we face.

We rest in Christ’s ability to save and deliver. If He can save us from spiritual death, He can save us from our sin or apathy. says Christ is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Praise God, our salvation and our closeness with the Father aren’t dependent on our righteousness, our reliability, or our resolution. We rest in our Savior’s abilities.

We draw near by faith, because “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Our Father rewards – REWARDS – those who seek Him. And the reward? More of His presence. His nearness is the ultimate comfort in affliction.

Drawing near isn’t a physical stepping in, but an internal posture of surrender: I recognize my inability to maintain right relationship with Holy God. I recognize my utter dependence on Christ to save me. I confess my dependence on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. And as I lay prostrate in my posture of surrender, I wait in dependence – knowing God is near to me.

The Lord Is Near

These summer thunderstorms remind me that I’ve grown up and no longer need the protection of my parents’ bed. But I haven’t outgrown my need for nearness and comfort. The flashes of lightening and rolls of thunder in this life, call me away from self-sufficiency. Christ is lovingly drawing me nearer.

If you are in a season of life where you are wondering if the Lord is near, He is.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (ESV)

3:1 Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled,
the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice;
she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord;
she does not draw near to her God. (ESV)

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (ESV)

17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (ESV)

May 272014
 

38889Whether you’re a mom of one or every seatbelt in your 12-passenger van is buckled, at some point you’ve experienced full hands. Between diaper bags and extra clothes all the way up to soccer practice, school projects and overly crowded schedules, kids fill our hands and our hearts to overflowing. But how often do we notice how much our full hands actually help us to treasure Christ?

In her newest book, “Treasuring Christ When Your Hand Are Full,” my friend Gloria Furman not only identifies with this struggle, she confidently speaks into it and addresses these frequent wrestlings. If you are a mom or hope to be one some day, her book is a valuable resource to add to your already full hands.

“… sometimes mothers feel that their hands are full of inconvenience, thankless work, and futility. Maintaining the perspective that God has abundantly blessed you is a very real struggle. The fight for faith cannot be waged with the whimsical idea that you just need to see that “the glass is half full.” The fight for faith should be addressed with sensitivity and grace and always subjected to the inerrant and authoritative Word of God.” (p.26) 

But how do we fight for faith when we can’t keep our eyes open long enough to read the Word of God? How do we feel encouraged in Christ when we’re inundated with boogers, Clorox wipes, and mismatched socks? Gloria’s book teaches readers to fight to understand their place in God’s bigger picture.

“We mothers, like everyone else who struggles under the weight of sin, tend to forget the gospel, and our ignorance of the hope we have in Christ spawns rotten fruit such as identity crises and discontent. We need to remember that God is no less good to us when we find ourselves in a battle of wills with a preschooler in the checkout line at the grocery store than he was as his Son dragged a cross up a hill that Friday two thousand years ago.”  (p. 54)

You Can Read It

You might be thinking “My hands ARE full! I don’t have time to read a book!” While full of humorous and relatable stories, the chapters are brief and to the point as they lead you to God’s Truth. The book is a short and easy read. I read it in two days. However, I would have benefited more to break it up and read it little by little. Its short meditations will call you away from despair and stir your affections for Christ.

While the book is an easy read, it isn’t light on conviction. The humble way Gloria weaves stories and Scripture makes it easy for the Holy Spirit to shine the light of Truth into many dark corners of my heart. Here are a concepts I found personally convicting:

* The Lord is near to me in every season of motherhood, no matter how daunting or draining it feels.

* My dry spiritual life isn’t my child’s fault.

*  My view of motherhood is often near-sighted. I need to view my role as a mother with an eternal perspective.

* My kids do not exist to serve my ego.

*God doesn’t base how He feels about me on how my day went.

“As Christians we understand that any spiritual guidance for motherhood that attempts to connect a woman to God apart from the substitutionary atoning death of Jesus cannot ultimately succeed. Jesus’ claim to be “the way, and the truth, and the life” () has implications for the way we view our role as mothers. The lens of the profound reality of the gospel is where we see motherhood for what it is – a mercy.”  (pp. 144-145)

Take Her Words

Gloria’s words aren’t self-help. They aren’t to-do lists or recommendations for your child’s behavior modification.They are grace-laced commendations, drenched in the good news of Jesus. Each chapter enters the

front lines of battle – encouraging you to apply the Gospel in life-changing ways as you mother through joyful confidence in Christ.

“Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full” is an excellent invitation to embrace Christ as your role as a mother. I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy, “Allow motherhood to inline your heart to worship, and bless the Lord who fills your hands with blessings (p. 147).”

Want to WIN a FREE copy?!?

This week the lovely people at Crossway are giving two lucky readers a chance to win a copy of “Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full.” You can enter to win by commenting below with your name. (Limited to U.S. & Canada readers.) Contest ends Friday, May 31st at noon CST.   

Learn more about the book by watching this sweet video.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (ESV)

May 192014
 

too hardI love writing, but lately I haven’t done much of it. You might even say I’ve been avoiding it.

For me, this means more than a lack of hitting “publish.” Avoiding writing is steering clear of how I adequately process my own feelings, behavior, and sin in light of the Gospel and God’s grace. In doing so, I avoid the intentional and methodical examination and exaltation of God’s work in my life. I avoid enjoying God in a way He has wired me to enjoy Him. I’ve spent months analyzing why I’m avoiding writing and I’m stumped. Maybe it’s setbacks, disappointments, writer’s block, or old-fashioned laziness. I just don’t know. Whatever the cause, the Lord is teaching me how quick I am to avoid worthy things because they are hard.

First, there’s the physical and emotional commitment. For me to write, I need to go to bed early enough so I’ll get enough sleep to wake up and write while it’s still dark (and quiet) in the morning. It’s committing to explore parts of my life in light of God’s character and Word, even when I don’t fully understand. It’s being uncomfortable in the tension of the mysteries of God and begging the Holy Spirit to bring wisdom and discernment. It’s waiting on God for words and trusting in His goodness even when they don’t come. It’s hard.

Second, there’s the crippling weight of perfectionism. I want to do everything perfectly the first time. (Prideful, much?) I want to be eloquent, funny, relevant, engaging, and also humble. I want to use the “right” words to point to Jesus the “right” way, never distracting from the gospel. I want to write in a way so Christ impacts and compels people more than my words or stories. Successfully doing all of these things, is hard.

Then, there’s the embarrassing sinful temptation that crops up from writing. Let me assure you the ugly snare of compare is alive and well. I am tempted to look to other writers’ accomplishments and respond in sinful jealousy, discontent in my own abilities and giftings, or my own lack of accomplishments and play a lot of “Why not me, God?” games. Giving up all together seems way easier – the struggle against my own flesh is just hard.

Last but not least (I’m painfully aware this is not an exhaustive list) in this dirty string of distractions is the temptation to judge my obedience, faithfulness, and success on how I feel and what I see or don’t see. Let me clarify. “If I don’t have high enough blog traffic, a book deal, or people beating down my door for x,y, or z, my writing isn’t fruitful.” I look for visual markers of my own determining to encourage and validate me in a discipline I’m confident God is calling me to (for whatever His purposes are). And when my obedience doesn’t play out the way I thought it would, I’m tempted to throw in the towel because it’s too hard.

It’s embarrassing how ease-dependent, performance-related, fear avoiding, and results-driven my faith can be. Not only is it embarrassing, it’s mournful. One of the greatest gifts of writing has been the way it frees me from my own false thinking and reminds me of the great promises of the gospel. Avoiding writing, has essentially been avoiding the intentional strengthening of my faith muscles.

The Lord Is Not Surprised.

tells us we have a need for endurance – we need to persevere when things are hard.

I am encouraged to know my problems are not new to the Lord. He takes thought for people like me (and all of us) and instructs me throughout His word to take courage. For this reason, I find the book of Joshua very encouraging. Here we see the promised land God’s prepared for His people, Israel, ready for the taking. The time has come for God’s people to enter the land. But even with all of the years of God’s faithfulness and all of His direct promises, the Israelites have to do hard work to take the land. God calls them to be strong and courageous, knowing that the Lord their God is indeed with them ().

God reminds the fearful Israelites time and time again to put their hope and their trust in Him. The battles He calls me to aren’t over land or unruly cities but God calls me to draw from the same source for my strength and courage as I follow Him obediently into battle against my own enemies. How I long to have faith like Joshua, strong and courageous, moving forward, trusting in God’s character. I want to do hard things because His glory is infinitely worthy of my obedience.

Let’s not forget, God called Jesus to do the hardest work of all. My sinful lack of self-discipline, piddly perfectionism, arm wrestles with my own fallenness, and results with obsession may feel hard – but they pale in comparison to the real work Christ accomplished. reminds me to: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”Christ obediently surrendered himself for me even when it was excruciatingly hard for Him ().

Rubber, Meet Road.

Being strong and courageous may not feel strong and courageous – it may just feel like uncomfortable flailing. Latch onto this truth: God’s mercy through Christ is for you, even in your flailing. Even in your disobedience, in your struggle, even as you avoid things God calls you to pursue. Christ died for you, putting to death once and for all your need to perform perfectly for your salvation. Because of Christ, pursuing God through obedience and faithfulness is no longer a burden but a mercy! The gospel is hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary, and perseverance for the avoiders.

So, here’s the tension: knowing the importance of endurance and faithful obedience doesn’t always equal doing. I want to do hard things but I do not always do the things I should (Thank you, ). And most of the time, I run. I haven’t wrapped up this struggle with a neat and tidy bow. It’s an area of my life that is unfinished, a work in progress. But today, being strong and courageous looks like hitting “Publish” when there isn’t a catchy closing with resolution and asking for you to pray for me to be faithful and do hard things for His glory.

Today, obedience looks like rising with sleep in my eyes and confessing my failures, in hope. God is working and making all things new. Where He is convicting me of weak and sinful character issues, He is also working to sanctify, redeeming my brokenness for His glory.

Is there anything you’re avoiding today that God is asking you to be strong and courageous in? How is God challenging you to persevere in hope?

“And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” 

36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (ESV)

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. (ESV)

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (ESV)

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)

19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (ESV)

11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (ESV)

Apr 292014
 

90 days CheckLast week, I successfully finished reading through the entire Bible in 90 days.

Yes, I am a mom of four young kiddos. Yes, I still made them some food and cleaned some of their clothes. And no, I didn’t neglect my family to make this happen.

If you would have challenged me to do this two years ago, I would have called you crazy. I would have told you about my sporadic “quiet times,” my wild and crazy boys and how I’m super ADD. Then I would have showed you my messy laundry room and my overly crowded schedule. But this Spring, God moved through the words of a man I’ve never met and encouraged me to try something new. Even if there was a potential for “failure,” I could still try.

I started in February. I read in dark of early mornings and late evenings. I read *a few times* during a nap time. I read in waiting rooms, between kid’s activities, and during Wild Krattz. Wherever, whenever, I read and I read with purpose. On track some days, behind on others, and sometimes even ahead. When I got behind on my reading plan, I caught up. Be it running or limping, I am thankful to cross the finish line.

So here’s what I’ve learned from 90 days (Chronologically) in the Bible: 

  1. Reading this way did give me a clearer picture of the storyline, helping me to order and connect all the stories I had learned out of sequence.
  2. Reading quickly is great for my short attention span. Faster payoff for the win.
  3. Reading with a plan facilitates strategic and profitable learning, necessary to be a true student of the Word.
  4. Reading in a time crunch helps. Being “under the gun” encouraged me stay on track and not take my commitment too loosely. When I’ve read year-long plans, I am easily distracted by the length of the task.
  5. Reading consistently for 90 days helped me establish rhythms that work well for me. (Where I like to read, where I’m easily distracted, reading in a traditional Bible vs. on my iPad mini, times of day that are conducive, and listening vs. reading)
  6. Reading doesn’t take too long. On average, most days it took me between forty minutes to an hour to read. (Keep in mind, I’m reading four days at a time from a one-year plan.) Sometimes I would break it up in two chunks if I was short on time or feeling sleepy.

I am certainly not advocating this to be the only way to commit to reading through the Bible. And because I enjoy getting the full scoop, I’m happy to admit to the few downsides or negatives I noticed.

  1. Reading quickly (once) will not grant you the Biblical Literacy Crown and deem you completely knowledgable on all things scripture. I didn’t memorize every story, location, and character I read. To be fair, I don’t naturally do so when I’m reading slowly either.
  2. My lofty goals to make detailed notes and observations or grab commentaries or pray through personal application didn’t pan out the way I hoped they would. (Maybe you’re a rock star with incredible time management though. I am not.)
  3. Though my family wasn’t impacted negatively by my ambitious venture, my writing time (a.k.a. free time) took a significant hit.
  4. In the beginning my goal was to not read any other books until I finished. I cheated when a couple of friends released books. Looking back, I think I should have just added the caveat “I won’t read any other books until my Scripture reading is done for the day.” I missed reading other genres.
  5. I would not recommend having a sheet of paper that you adapt from a one-year-plan and try to fly by the seat of your pants with every day. Crossing out, checking, and highlighting can get confusing and old. Someone along the way asked me why I hadn’t bought a Chronological Bible to eliminate all the flipping back and forth. Honest answer: I didn’t think about it.

Will I do it again?

The short answer is, yes. I absolutely will do this again. It’s probably a little to soon to do it again right now. I’m ready to go back to the sit-and-soak method for the next few months. I may make the 90-day reading plan a tradition at the beginning of every year. I really liked how I was finishing right around Easter. Reading the gospels while leading my kids in easter season devotionals equipped me to offer more insight.

Reading Revelation in two sittings was incredible. After reading for 90 days and coming to the ended of the prophecy, my heart swelled with joy and hope. I felt myself longing for Jesus to return. I was actually bummed out when there were no more words on the screen, no more scrolling, just the end of God’s revelation to us for now. Of course I’ll read it again – it fills me with hope and longing as I wait for Jesus’ return!

What’s the bottom line?

Read the Bible. If you love Jesus or if you want to love Jesus, read God’s word and His story intentionally. Set goals, pray for grace, and get going. Figure out what works for you and do that. But read the Bible and read it in its entirety.

Apr 142014
 

medium_6317803326I love talking about Jesus with people. I love talking about (and writing about) my faith. I love learning about and teaching the Bible. But bring up the subject of Christian apologetics and I will crawl under a table. Ick. In the past, I’ve not devoted too much attention to learning to defend my faith through the systematic use of facts. As a result I’ve been awkward with my apologetics -either altogether avoiding them or arguing unabashedly.

Over the years I’ve witnessed “apologetics dialogues” where the presenters seemed prideful, pushy, and brash. They seemed to preach in-your-face sermons of “Believe this because I’m right and you’re wrong” that left unconvinced listeners feeling ignored, dismissed, and foolish. Not my idea of loving evangelism or gentle conversion. Not that I haven’t ever been too pushy, but usually I tend to pass on the whole “offering proof” side of things.

Over this past weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended an apologetics conference led by one of my pastors. Hearing men and women I have relationships with, speak about the validity and defendability of the Bible in a loving way, was attractive. I realized, apologetics can be a valuable tool in a believer’s toolbox and workers can use them with wisdom and love.

Through the course of the conference, I learned about the ramifications of a godless world, how fine-tuned the universe is, and about the reliability of the gospels. And though I cannot regurgitate the Kalam Cosmological Argument or everything theists and non-thesits agree and disagree about, I want to share with you some of my favorite take-aways from the final session and my favorite session, led by John Hopper:

Apologetics is a component of evangelism. 

I’ve generally ignored this component altogether. I’ve relied exclusively on the Spirit’s work to the degree that I’ve been lazy in learning legitimate factual evidence that could benefit someone’s struggling soul. If I take the time to develop authentic and trusting relationships with unbelievers and pray for their conversion and salvation, it would help if I could also answer some of their questions about the Bible’s legitimacy. When used by the power the Holy Spirit, apologetics may be the tool God uses to break down walls of disbelief that have been keeping a sinner from the cross.

Ask questions. 

When you are engaged in a faith conversation with someone, asking a lot of questions helps. Listen to their answers. Understand where they are coming from so you can understand where you believe differently and can offer them Christ’s hope. As you ask questions, pray for the Holy Spirit to help you answer. Pray He would reveal their doubts and grant Biblical insight leading them to faith. Asking questions may expose they’re standing on weaker ground than they realized. Instead, offer them the firm footing of the Gospel.

Build one Brick at a time. 

Conversations aren’t a high school debate tournament. We aren’t declaring a winner and loser at the end. Realize the Lord is using your spiritual conversations as individual bricks in the wall. He is building a foundation and you aren’t responsible for building the whole thing by yourself, or all in one conversation. Faithfully build one brick at a time.

Swallow, please.

I loved this point. We need to give people a chance to swallow information. We are not asking them to believe in a far away star, a theory that makes no difference to them, or a fictional character. We’re asking them to believe in something and someone who will change the course of their life and relationships. Who changes their eternity. Give them a chance to process this reality and a chance for the Holy Spirit to soften their heart.

We aren’t the change-agents. 

My biggest gag-reflex to apologetics comes from the idea that I could be responsible for changing someone’s mind or heart. No factual information, burden of proof, or fine-tuned argument will open blind eyes or soften the hardest heart. Heart work is God’s work. My pastor, John Hopper said it like this: “We are not mind-changers. We are truth-pointers.” I think each of us would do well to remember our place in the transformation.

No substitute for practice. 

It’s not easy to have difficult dialogues with people who disagree with you. It’s not easy to be prepared for difficult questions you don’t know the answer to. But, we can get better if we practice. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to go and share the gospel of salvation with the lost and dying world. And most of the time, we’re just going to have to live through the awkwardness until we get comfortable.

Put to use what you have.

This is probably the biggest hill I’m climbing. As an all-or-nothing gal I tend to shy away from things I’m uncomfortable with or think I won’t do well at. The truth is, I have Biblical knowledge. I know Christ and have received salvation. I can start there. Before I’ve read up and learned how to answer more scientific questions or debate about other religions, I do have enough to start the conversation.

In conclusion:

  1. Be engaged as a listener.
  2. Believe apologetics can be effective.
  3. Assume people have questions, but they don’t feel comfortable bringing them up.
  4. Work hard to make the discussion a safe place.
  5. Keep the conversation friendly in tone.
  6. Keep your own emotions in check.
  7. Ask questions.

My husband said it this way: “At the end of the day, belief is a spiritual matter not an intellectual matter. We aren’t going to argue someone into faith. But, reasoning with someone in love, can lower people’s defenses and knock down walls that may lead a person to see more clearly.”

What’s your experience with apologetics? Positive or negative? Where are you on the scale of avoiding altogether to arguing unabashedly? How is God calling you to adjust your own position?

photo credit: nicola.albertini via photopin cc

Apr 112014
 

trillia-about-960x1438One of my greatest pleasures in this writing world is having the privilege of relationships with other writers. When they write the book, I pray for them. When they release the book, I rejoice with them and celebrate. But most obviously, I read their books and learn from their wisdom. 

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to my sweet friend Trillia Newbell and her new book: 

United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity

Trillia Newbell has lived life in a way I haven’t; as a black woman. No matter how hard I try to empathize, I haven’t lived in her skin and faced the same challenges and trials. With grace and kindness, this book offers me the chance to see through her eyes and peek into experiences, thoughts, and hurts – ones I might not naturally bump into in my own daily life. Trillia’s life and her love for Jesus equips her to write passionately and wisely on what she calls “God’s Vision for Diversity.”

I haven’t devoted much thought to diversity over the years and I’m probably more ignorant than knowledgable on many racial issues. If it wasn’t for a friend writing a book, I probably would not have sought out a book about ethnic diversity on my own. But I’m just the person Trillia is probably aiming for; the people who don’t know they could benefit from a conversation about unity in the church. She hits the nail on the head when she assesses one problem many may relate to:

“…more often than not, we choose apathy before we aggressively seek to learn about others (p. 133).”

United prompts Gospel-dependent believers to consider their ways in regard to how they relate to those who are different: “Could it be that you are partial to those who are just like you? Could it be partiality that hinders your pursuit of diversity (pg. 108)?” How we answer these questions could indicate problems deeper than apathy and ignorance. She writes:

“We cannot live redemptive lives and hate our neighbor. Diversity in relationships not only shows unity to the world but also builds in our own hearts love for others. It is the same love that Christ has for all people.” (pg. 63)

Reading this book helped me realize my own apathy often stands in the way of loving others. It encouraged me to seek sensitivity and intentionality with those who are different from me. It helped me to recognize my need for a heightened awareness of the ongoing struggles and challenges of my diverse brothers and sisters around me and encouraged me to embrace a working theology of ethnic diversity in the church. Trillia puts it this way:

“Diversity is worth having because diversity is about people, and people are worth fighting for. If God is mindful of man, shouldn’t we be ()?” (pg. 135)

united-book-cover_t-newbell

Trillia goes above and beyond to make the Gospel message clear and it’s application tangible. She reminds readers the Gospel has broken down the dividing walls of hostility between sinners and their Holy, Righteous God. Because of this good news, we should live lives that reflect such unity. By pursuing relationships with people of every race we break down the walls still standing in our own lives. Using examples from her own life, she offers potential relational hang-ups and possible solutions for heading in the right direction.

This book isn’t a history lesson seeking to fill you in on America’s past. It also isn’t a diatribe, shaming people like me who simply haven’t put much though into diversity. This book is a peek into a young woman’s personal struggle to understand her identity as a black woman, a sinner saved by grace, and a Church member seeking her sanctification and God’s glory within the body of Christ. Trillia’s learned the Good News should impact how we view and pursue diversity in our lives and our churches and she calls us to learn too.

Pick up your copy of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, today!

**WIN A COPY**

Today through Sunday night, you can enter to win a copy of the book by commenting below with your name. I’ll pick a winner Monday morning!

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (ESV)

Mar 262014
 

Scriptural HD Wide

It’s been sixty days since I took up the challenge to read the whole Bible in 90 days. And so far, soooooo good. By grace, I’m right on track: 2/3 of the Bible in 60 days!

I feel like reading this quickly has helped me establish mile-markers in my understanding of the Bible’s chronology. Previously, it’s as though my brain had filed each Bible story on a separate sheet of paper, tossed them up in the air and filed them however they landed. When I went back to my brain to retrieve certain stories (i.e. God calling Samuel, David’s anointing, or the Fall of Jerusalem), I had a hard time understanding where they were supposed to fit in. Reading through chronologically and quickly enough to recall what I’ve just read has helped me to clean out my brain’s filing cabinet and re-file the information in the proper order.

Understanding of God

I loved reading the Psalms in chronological order. I learned more about David’s emotions and how he turned to the Lord in joy and suffering. I enjoyed placing the more commonly known Psalms in their context and understanding why they were written. Watching God sustain David as he poured out his heart, reminded me of how good it is for me to pour out everything to the Lord. He wants to comfort me and is faithful to do so.

Saturating myself with stories of multiple bad kings (and a few good ones), wicked disobedience, idolatry, and God’s judgment on sin, I am reminded of how bad people have always been. I often hear people talk about how “bad” things are becoming and how people are more depraved than they used to be. The only thing new about these modern lamentations is the voices. The sin and depravity are the same old song from the days of the prophets. And just as God was faithful then, we know He is faithful still. Reading these Old Testament accounts of fallen kingdoms reminds me of God’s sovereign control and faithfulness to His people – amidst wicked leaders, the falling of nations, and political unrest.

Reading the prophets words to these wicked people interspersed through the historical accounts of Kings and Chronicles helped me to see how God never abandoned the people. Even in their sin, God was calling for them to return and repent. He reminded the people of His faithfulness in the past and assured them of His coming deliverance. God wants to cultivate my faith by both reminding me of his past faithfulness (throughout scripture and in my own life) and His coming faithfulness of bringing me home eternally.

Challenges

This set of thirty has been a little harder than the first thirty. First and Second Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, Psalms and Proverbs, and flipping between the prophets is very interesting, but I’m realizing how much less familiar I am with this portion of scripture. While my unfamiliarity makes me want to learn more, the quick-paced track doesn’t allow me to sit and soak it in and study more in-depth. At least now I know what I should go back and study once I’m done with the 90 days!

When I say this chunk has been harder, I also mean physically. I’ve been tired, the kids have been on spring break, we’ve had birthday celebrations sprinkled in, distractions abound. There are days I open the Bible and am fighting to keep my eyes open. Other days I haven’t been able to read at all and then have had to double up the next day. I want you to know this, because I don’t want you to have a rosy picture of how easy this is. Re-reading annoys me. Missing days puts me behind and makes me work harder later. But, I don’t want my eyes to simply glaze over and miss the meaning of the words. So, re-reading or playing catch-up is a reality sometimes. There you have it.

The Longing

I have never longed so much for the New Testament. Sixty days of brokenness, sin, repentance, wicked disobedience, and the cycle of sin and sacrifice will make you long for the Redeemer. I’ve never seen so clearly my propensity toward sin and my need for lasting atonement. The Old Testament sets you up to understand your sin and need. I need Jesus and I can’t wait to meet him in scripture when He steps on the scene in my reading plan just ten days from now. For now, I appreciate the longing.

The Prayer

Would you pray for my final thirty days? Pray for me to grasp more of who God is through my reading. Pray I would retain His Word as I read quickly. Pray I would continue to see fruit from immersing myself in Truth.

How’s your Bible reading going? Are you ready to read and need prayer? I’d love to lift you up!

Mar 182014
 

Consider yours ways graphicConsider your ways. Think about them. Think about your ways throughout your days, your weeks, your years. Why do you do what you do, when you do what you do? Perhaps you’re like me and the mere question stirs up guilt, shame, or nervousness over what you aren’t doing? Or, maybe it stirs up pride in what you are legalistically boasting in.

Over the past few weeks our Sunday morning Bible fellowship has been studying the book of Haggai and it’s really shaken me up. The book of Haggai takes place after the  people of God returned from their exile in Babylon and almost twenty years later God’s temple still remains in ruins. Apparently, the people decided repairing and restoring the temple wasn’t that important: “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD ().”

About that time, the word of the LORD came by the hand of his prophet, Haggai:

Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.” ()

The knife of conviction twists as I think about how often I waste time on longing after, pursuing, building, and dwelling in my own version of “paneled houses”- all those objects of my affection that don’t really matter in the scheme of eternity – how I look when I walk out the door, the trendiness of my house’s decor, how many friends “liked” my status on Facebook today, or how many loads of laundry I tackled. Like God’s people in the days of Haggai, I often find myself sowing much and harvesting little, drinking but never having my fill, earning wages to “put them into a bag with holes (1:6).”

The Lord’s strong admonition through Haggai, is “Consider your ways.”

In those days, God called the people to rebuild His temple so that He may take pleasure in it and be glorified (1:8). As they work, He calls the people to be strong (2:4) and to work knowing He is with them according to the covenant He made with them (2:3-5). He reminds them to “Fear not,” for He will “fill this house with glory (2:5-7).”

Every day when I consider my ways, I face the reality of my own sin and the laws I’ve broken and neglected. But every day, unlike Haggai and the Israelite people He prophesied to, I have the privilege of standing in the beautiful grace I’ve received through Christ.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

My desire to pursue holiness, to glorify the Lord in my earthly body, and to see the world come to the saving knowledge of Christ, requires me to regularly “consider my ways” and to keep a focused eye on eternity. But the grace I receive in Christ allows me to work diligently with a humble heart, knowing it is Christ who is accomplishing His purposes in and through me.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Consider your ways today. What do you need to ask the Lord to help you prioritize for Him to be glorified and His name be known?

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” (ESV)

Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. (ESV)

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (ESV)

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