Inspiration–God-Style

Over twelve years ago now, I met a special lady  online at a homeschool website. Her name was Betty. At first, I had cautious conversations with her and the other ladies on the website. I had just begun homeschooling, and they all sounded so accomplished. I wasn’t sure I would ever do as well as they seemed to have done. She and the other ladies must have talked me down a dozen times during my first year. They were always there on my screen with a word of encouragement. It might seem funny to you, considering someone a friend who could only be seen on a computer screen, but we were all doing something that was considered out of the norm. 

As the years passed, I noticed something different about Betty. She always pointed to Jesus in whatever conversation she was having. And, she took it further than being just a name on a screen. When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly in 2009, she took the lead in having cards and flowers sent, and she called me. I don’t remember how long we talked that day, but our conversation showed her heart, and it left me strength (God’s strength, I know now.) to keep going through the first days of my grief.  Betty was doing all of this while helping her husband fight cancer. She showed up for me then, and I will always be grateful. 

Sadly, the end of the following year saw her husband go to be with Jesus. She showed such amazing strength encouraging all of us–her online friends and her friends in real life. That time though turned out to be a time of tumult for both of us. For me, it was my husband’s surgery and subsequent loss of his job while I was still homeschooling. For her, it was the church not showing up when she was widowed. It still hurts me when I consider those words. How could someone not show up for such an amazing and gentle Christian? But, that is not really for me to consider as it is part of her story and not mine. 

While she was still going through her tumult the following year, she showed up for me again. We had gone out west so my husband could look for work, and we needed a place of respite for a few days. She provided her home, and she wasn’t even there. She had her son let us in, and those few days of rest encouraged all of us.  They took us to the following week when my husband received a job offer on our son’s twelfth birthday to go to Alabama. So, we drove back east to a new city and a new state to begin a new life. 

In the seven years since, a lot has happened to the both of us. I have finished homeschooling both of my sons through high school with one of them almost being done with college. Her children are all grown now as well. There have been job losses and hospital stays for my husband. She had one as well and had to learn to walk again. She also married again to a wonderful man. They’ve lived in two different states. 

Those are the facts, but what I want to talk about now is how she has inspired me. Like I said earlier, she points to Jesus with everything she does. Jesus, not a church.  She’s done what God has told her to do even when people in churches have told her it was impossible. She’s started a ministry to those in the adult entertainment industry, the “least of these” talked about in Scripture. She and her teammates go into the clubs to show the people there the love of Jesus, period. The name of the ministry is Xpose Hope. (https://xposehope.com/), and I would love it if you would explore the website and donate if God so leads you. I’ve also set up a Facebook fundraiser that lasts until the end of this week (https://www.facebook.com/donate/323209931601991/) if you want to go that route. She is reaching people, and she is loving people. People who would not go into a church building otherwise. And with all that, she inspires me. 

Now, I think I know Betty well enough to know she would be humbled by what I’ve written and would still point to Jesus regardless. But, I think you need to know why she specifically inspires me. As I’ve tried to figure out the question of ‘What comes next?’, I’ve felt God calling me to write. So, I’ve written. I’ve written stories, essays, and blog posts. I’m working on a book. It’s not as directly involved with people as Betty’s ministry is, but I’ve worked on getting better at what God has called me to do. My writing hasn’t received a lot of attention yet. I don’t think it’s been well understood. People still look at me oddly when I mention what I’m doing with my post homeschooling life, and it’s a lonely feeling. I’m going against the grain in many ways especially at church. But, I know Betty understands it, and that is why she inspires me. She has encouraged me with my writing, and she has encouraged me with other things I’ve felt called to do. She’s even encouraged me to do things with my callings pointing to Jesus and not to wait until a church says it’s okay. 

All of these things about her life have pointed me to Jesus and have inspired me at the same time. It brought me to an understanding yesterday morning too. Not everyone will understand what God has called me to do. Why should they? It’s my calling not theirs. So, I asked God for peace and not to feel lonely as I continue to consider the question of ‘What comes next?’, and I thanked God for the people He’s put in my life like Betty. 

Praying that God will give us all an idea of His calling and people to encourage us like Betty encourages me. 

God’s blessings on you all today! 

The Gospel is the Great Equalizer

With the turning of the calendar to December, my thoughts have turned to the birth of Jesus and to what the Gospel means to all of us. Let me explain. We all have a tendency to sit in judgment of other people. Jesus knew this full well and spoke of it in the Sermon of the Mount. From Matthew 7:1-5, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

So, why do I quote these Scriptures today in a post about Christmas at the beginning of December? Bear with me. All will become clear.

Anyway, if you’re in the United States, I’m sure you’re familiar with the migrant situation on the southern border especially with the group that is in Tijuana, Mexico at this time. If you’re in a different country, you might very well be familiar with immigrant situations in your own country–whether legal or illegal. Today though, I don’t want to politicize the discussion. I want to instead examine some of our thinking about the situation and whether the fear of someone or something different makes us recoil in finding solutions.

First, have you ever wondered about the people who say, ‘Why don’t they just immigrate legally?” (in regards to illegal immigrants) The attitude I sense in all of those statements is one of superiority. (I did it the right way. Why can’t you do it the right way?) To me that sounds like an attitude of judgment–something that Jesus tells us not to do in the Scripture I quoted earlier. It’s also why I won’t make those kind of statements online myself. God is calling me to treat the people I come in contact with, either in real like or online life, kindly so I do my best not to become involved in contentious political discussions.

But, then there’s the other side. The other side which says it’s okay to disobey laws no matter what. The one who doesn’t want to change the laws because it really isn’t interested in being compassionate. It just wants to create a situation which will make the first side look bad. Politics–it is the topic that makes me say, ‘Jesus, please come now,’ more than any other.

There’s another side though that I feel like I can speak to somewhat since my trip to Honduras last summer. There are people there who want to make their country a country they’re proud to live in. I met some of them, and I was conscious of how wealthy I was compared to them  even though I’m paying for two children in college now. They have a commitment to their faith I know I’m lacking, and they treat each other better than many people I know in the United States, at least the ones I met do. Of course, they’re not perfect, and I’m not trying to claim they are. They have a more conscious awareness of their need for a Savior which would benefit all of us to witness.

I say all this today to come back to the title of my post. The Gospel is the great equalizer. Whether poor or rich, white or black, migrant or citizen, we all have the need for a Savior–for Jesus. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on. None of the other things I’ve said matter either. We have all sinned, and we all need Jesus. My hope going forward is that we can remember this and treat the people in our lives like Jesus would have us treat them.

God bless you all!

What Prevents Us from Turning Cynical?–Questions to Consider–Part 5

I didn’t think I would be asking this question the week after Thanksgiving, but several things brought it to mind, and I thought I would address them in today’s post. I do need to make it clear though that I did have a good Thanksgiving. This is just a culmination of something that happened over the holiday and questions I’ve been considering over the last few weeks.

What does prevent us from turning cynical? Is it violence on Thanksgiving Day? Yes, my city had a mall shooting that evening. People were hurt and killed, and many people’s lives were disrupted including people close to my son. I keep thinking of a line at another store which prevented another person from walking back into that mall when the shootings were happening. That was a “praise God” moment for us, but I think of the people’s lives that were disrupted. Of people who are no longer here. Of people who were injured or scared. And it brings me back to God. Why did He let this happen? There are no answers, of course, and I am tempted to let my heart turn hard and cynical. Of course, I could be honest and say let my heart turn harder and more cynical.

What about people who are told they’re not wanted in churches? I couldn’t imagine this happening, but it has happened to a friend of mine who runs a ministry to the “least of these” in another city. She was told flat-out that the people she was bringing to church were not welcome. It hurt my heart so much to hear this. I asked, ‘Why God?’ Aren’t we supposed to welcome all people to church and share about Jesus’ love? And my heart turned harder and more cynical.

Finally, what about the people who are closest to you? I tried a few weeks ago to protect one of them from overworking himself in the church. He’s on a sabbatical now, but I’m wondering if that was the right thing to do. God is convicting my heart we should all be willing to serve Him, and I do agree with that.  But, at what cost? Health? Family? Marriage? All of it? I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. Should we still love the people who refuse to serve because they’re afraid they’ll be overworked? My heart says yes to that question, but then it turns harder and more cynical towards those who won’t help and who won’t give leaving the work to the 5-10% of the membership who will. I count myself, to my shame, in that first group right now. Between the times I’ve failed, the times where my help wasn’t needed, and the times where I’ve just felt overlooked, I’ve become confused about what my role in the church is supposed to be.

Of course, none of the situations I’ve mentioned can prevent you from turning cynical. In fact, I’ve become more cynical with each one. But, I was recently looking at the You Version plans, and I saw one entitled Beating Cynicism. It intrigued me which is why I started it on Saturday. And I learned that my heart had hardened. Hardened to almost where it could be shattered. My attempts to protect because of fear were not what God wanted for me. He wants me to serve with hope. He wants the people I love the most to serve with hope. I thought I had moved past the situations that had hurt me so badly, but I just pushed them into a box never to be dealt with again.

Isn’t that what we do in the church? We don’t talk about the hurts and pretend that everything is okay. Sometimes we move on to other relationships or other churches. I don’t think God wants that for us either. But, what does He want? What does He want us to have the courage to do?

I believe it starts with one of the prayers included with the devotions. “Dear God, I admit it. I have stopped hoping, stopped believing, and stopped trusting. But, you haven’t. And because you haven’t, I don’t want to stay the way I am. Give me the courage to hope again, trust again, and believe again. Amen.” Because, I do want my heart to be soft again. I want to be able to say I can trust people as well as trusting my Lord and Savior. I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our Lord and Savior. I’m saying I don’t want to go into a situation always thinking that the other person is going to let me down.

So, can I ask a favor of those of you who are believers? Can we offer each other encouragement instead of judgment? Can we let each other cry when we are in pain? Can we try to understand instead of condemn? Can we be the community Jesus wants us to be instead of pretending? I promise I will try, and I hope you do too.

God bless you all!

 

Thanksgiving

I’m taking a break from my “questions to consider” series to consider this uniquely American holiday that is coming up in just a few days. To be fair, God wants us to be thankful all of the time, but we tend, at this time of year, to put a little more thought into it.

So, what does God say about being thankful? Scripture has numerous examples of which I will share only a few. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

I also like Philippians 4:6-7 though it is so hard to do. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Finally, there are two verses, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament, similar to one another that I think express God’s thoughts about thankfulness. From I Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Then, from I Chronicles 16:34, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

God wants us to be thankful, but we often forget. We often forget to even look for His presence which I am most definitely guilty of. Last night though, I made a deliberate choice which brought me a tremendous blessing. Let me set the stage. There was a community Thanksgiving service I really wanted to go to. Illness and lack of desire made sure I would have no companions from my household. Now, this is a thing for me. I hate walking into somewhere by myself where the expectation is that others will be with me so I almost didn’t go. But, then I said to myself that maybe this was my chance to encounter God, on my own. So, that’s what I did. I went, sat by myself, and had an amazing time of worship on the back row. God spoke to me through the music and through the words, and I was able to focus on Him alone. He gave me insights and a deep sense of peace and thanksgiving. It was what I needed.

I’m very thankful for a God who is always present in our lives!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Why are We Afraid to Ask for Help?–Questions to Consider–Part 4

I’m four weeks into this series and finally getting the groove of how I want to ask my questions and consider the possible answers to them. I’ve written about questions that required Scripture reading for possible answers, and I’ve written about questions that showed how Christianity related to the larger world around us. Today, I’m going to ask a question about how we relate to the Christian community around us, that is, our faith family. Now, some of us might not have a faith family, but I think the question still applies. Here it is. Why are we afraid to ask for help?

First, I believe there are many nuances to this question. Are we asking for money or something else? Do we have a faith family? Do we have people we trust in our faith family? Do we have people we trust at all? Are we stubborn or prideful enough that we even struggle to answer the question? Do we subscribe to an individualist philosophy? Do we judge others for needing help which makes us afraid of being judged? Do we believe no one will help us? I could go on and on with the questions, but I think I’ve made my point.

The other day I was watching a TV show I’ve recently become of a fan of–The Man in the High Castle. If you’re not familiar with it, here is the premise. The United States did not win World War 2–the Germans and the Japanese did. They’ve taken over the eastern and western parts of the US, respectfully, with a neutral zone in-between. Anyway, the show takes place in the 1960’s, and there are people who have embraced the conquerors and people who are resisting. I’ve learned about literary elements, the shades of grey between black and white, and how history has been affected by all of it.  It was the first example I thought of when I thought of this topic.

The son of a family who had embraced Nazi culture developed a neuromuscular disease for which there was no cure. People like this were called bottom feeders on the show. They couldn’t contribute and weren’t worth keeping alive so they were encouraged to kill themselves. When the parents found out about this, they couldn’t ask for help because they were afraid. Their son would die, and of course, they didn’t want to lose their son. The story line continued over a few episodes, and eventually the son found out. He ended up turning himself in, and he was killed. The saddest part was that there was a “memorial” service where he was celebrated because he was killed. In that society, there was no way they could ask for help because of their fear, a fear that was well-founded.

But, isn’t that true today in real life? We’re afraid of what giving help will cost us in time and money so we don’t want to ask for it ourselves because we will be on the other end of that dichotomy. It’s shown when we’re afraid of immigrants who want the security we have. It’s shown when we’re afraid of the homeless person. It’s shown when we’re afraid of the widow or the orphan. it’s shown when we’re afraid of the unemployed person. I want to ask this though. Did God call us to be afraid? Nope. I John 4:18 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Another reason someone might not ask for help is because of their stubbornness or pride in thinking they can do it by themselves. In Western society especially, we have this idea we’re not supposed to ask for help, and we’re supposed to do everything on our own. I’ve seen it shown in advertisements from missions organizations which say recipients of help have some “skin in the game”, so to speak. I’ve seen it shown when someone who received help for a foster child (from friends who wanted to help) felt the need to apologize and to say they really could handle it by themselves. There are more examples which remind me of Proverbs 16:18. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

So, we’re not supposed to have fear, and we’re not supposed to have pride. (I would classify this as unhealthy pride.) What then do we need to do to become more willing to ask for help? This, I believe, is where having a faith family comes in. And not just any faith family. I could tell you many stories about people who have been betrayed by their faith families because they could not handle the bad times. We all need faith families we can trust who will be there for the good times and the bad times to be the community God has called us all to be.

I wish I could say I had been perfect at this. In fact, the reason I’m writing about this topic is because last week was a rough one. It was the culmination of my loss of courage over the past few weeks. I had to be courageous enough to tell my true feelings and say what was on my heart. I had to reach out and ask for help. It was hard. So hard. I didn’t think I was worthy of it. But God gave me the courage, and I did. The rewards were more than I could have asked for. The best result was how God’s peace and certainty poured into my heart. And I’ve learned a lesson too. We are all worthy of help no matter what anyone at a church may tell us. We’re God’s children, and we’re not alone. He is always there for us, and if He is always there, shouldn’t we always be there for each other?

God bless you all!

What is Sin Nature? – Questions to Consider – Part 3

As I’ve mentioned before, topics come to me in a multitude of ways. I can read them in a book, hear them in a conversation, see them in the outdoors or in a store, or the words just appear in my head. Today’s topic for my “questions to consider” series came down two of those paths. The first one was from my writing inspiration book. The prompt was “So many people are selfish, greedy, and unfriendly…” I’ve already lived enough life to know this is a true statement. And it can be discouraging when I do my best to be kind, and it’s not reciprocated. The other path was two words appearing in my head–sin nature. I’d already been thinking of the depravity in today’s world with the shootings in Pennsylvania and with all of the divisive and rhetoric that is so prevalent especially with tomorrow’s elections in the United States. It makes me wonder how God puts up with us. It also brought me to today’s question–what is sin nature and why does it still exist in this world? I guess that’s two questions. 🙂 But, I think we’ve all wondered why bad things happen in this world and where God was in the midst of them. I’m going to attempt to answer this today, but I’ll go ahead and warn you I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does except God.

First, I think a simple definition is in order. From gotquestions.org, “The sin nature is that aspect in man that makes him rebellious against God. When we speak of the sin nature, we refer to the fact that we have a natural inclination to sin; given the choice to do God’s will or our own, we will naturally choose to do our own thing.” To translate this into language we can all understand, we are all born bad. It can’t be seen in the youngest of us, but it can definitely be seen in toddlers who we take a lot of time teaching to share and to tell the truth. It can be seen much more as we get older.

We can’t overcome this by ourselves which is why it says this in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” God knew we would need to hear His teaching continually for it to take hold in our lives.

Writers in the New Testament also talked about sin and sin nature. From Romans 5:12, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” I John 1:8 is a clear example to us. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There are many more examples, too many for this post, but I think the point is clear. Sin is present in each of us.

Only one person hasn’t had a sin nature. Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and was brought back to life. What He did is the reason we can be born again. We inherit a new nature as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” To consider this has happened as a result of my faith gives me great joy.

But, we also need to know that our sin nature doesn’t disappear when we receive Christ as our Savior. Bad things still happen in our world, and Christians can still do bad things because of sin. Knowing this in our hearts can help with the questions of illness, abuse, greed, broken marriages, fighting, and any other sin that is out there.

We have help though. Help from God. He sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence in each believer and supplies the power we need to overcome the pull of our sin nature. I’m reminded of what it says in I Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.” He will help us with sin if we only ask Him.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking–Christians and non-Christians alike. You’ve seen all these people claiming to be Christians doing bad things. You’ve seen people who aren’t Christians acting better than some Christians. What’s the difference? Why should you even consider this faith? While I wouldn’t presume to know someone’s standing with God (That’s between them and God.), I would look at their deeds–what they do. These deeds are not a requirement to become a Christian–only accepting Jesus and His love can do that, but you’re supposed to see them afterwards. There are many examples in Scripture, but I think the one in the book of Matthew is the best. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Genuine relationship with God should make us want to glorify Him and not ourselves.

No one will be perfect in this though. The Bible says that we will struggle with our old nature as long as we are in this world. But, those who are in genuine relationship with God will come to Him in repentance for what they have done wrong each and every time. For those innocents who have been touched by the evil of this world, God heals. I know He does. It will be in His time though, not ours. That is our challenge–to trust our Lord and Savior through pain, suffering, and what we cannot see while showing His love for those who most need it.

God bless you all!

 

Questions to Consider – Part 2

It’s time for a second installment of “questions to consider.” Hopefully, you were able to read my first post, and it made you think. That is the point of this series–to make you think about what you believe and put those thoughts into action. It’s not about having the right or wrong answer. I freely admit I don’t know everything. I want this to be an opportunity to grow for everyone who reads these posts whether they consider themselves Christians or not.

With that being said, here is what brought me to the next question. I’ve said before that I first accepted Christ as Savior at the age of thirteen. I was pretty much a regular church-goer from then until I left the church in 2005 for reasons that were painful, but necessary. My husband and I considered ourselves Christians, but we thought we could make it on our own away from people who could possibly hurt us. God taught us, me especially, a lot during those years. Anyway, the following year we were faced with the question of whether to homeschool our kids. Our older son was academically advanced and having to wait for the rest of his class to catch up during the school day while the younger one was being bullied for his size in his first grade classroom. Both situations were not what we wanted for our kids so we pulled them out of public school. That year, and the first years we homeschooled, I faced questions about my faith and the political process in the United States. This leads to today’s question. Do we have to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian?

A thorny question, to be sure.  🙂 I know some people who would say yes, and I know others who would say no. Back in the early years of my homeschooling career, I would have said yes. Though I did not begin homeschooling for religious reasons, I still considered myself a Christian, and there were many people on Internet homeschooling message boards who were homeschooling for religious reasons. I got to know some of them, and they were great ladies. I started considering them friends.

But, 2006-2008 was also a period of tumult in my country. A historic political campaign was waged to elect Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States. There were many things he stood for I did not agree with, and when I said I did not agree, people called me racist. I did not want to be called racist so I decided to keep my mouth shut. But, that didn’t stop me from having the thoughts of disagreement. I was also hearing people  say that homeschooling would be curtailed if he was elected so I became afraid. My thoughts of fear turned into judgment. Judgment of anyone who did not think like me or act like me. I was really good at it. I was afraid of being judged so I turned into someone who judged others. It wasn’t where God wanted me to be.

From 2009-2010, God started us on the journey back to where He wanted me to be. First, my mother-in-law became ill, and we moved back to where she was to help take care of her. A right and noble thing to do, I was told. We thought so too. She ended up dying two months later. We were devastated. Many people told us how sorry they were, but there weren’t many people in my life who would let me be real with my grief. In fact, I had to hide mine a lot so I could take care of my husband and kids.

Two months later, we moved back to the city we had lived in at the beginning of our marriage for my husband to take a job. He started working, and I was at home with our boys who I was still homeschooling.. I got to know people, but those judgmental thoughts were still under the surface. I thought I had everything right because I was a Christian, and I should oppose anything that wasn’t a “Christian” belief. I didn’t even consider people on the “other side,” and I definitely didn’t think Jesus loved them either. I was able to keep my walls up and not show the bad things that happened to me so everyone should do that. Right? It was a person’s fault if they were poor or got sick. Right?

God didn’t think so, and He started showing  me in the fall of 2010 and hasn’t stopped. My husband got sick and had to have surgery. He had been sick before with his chronic condition and had even had surgery before, but this was the first time since both of his parents had passed away. I felt alone. My writing notebook was my only companion. He had the surgery and slowly recovered, but in the middle of that, he lost his job. We had no income. We burned through our savings quickly and then had to ask for help. It was humiliating. It was also surprising how quickly people turned on us. My husband  didn’t have a job so he must have done something wrong. Right? We were so sure we had been called to this path, and now, this happened. Don’t get me wrong. There were some people who did help us and who prayed for us. I will always be grateful. Finally though, we had to head west in the summer of 2011. Family said we could stay with them while my husband looked for work. The judgmental thoughts towards other people disappeared while we were going through this. Why wouldn’t they? We were being judged every day, and it wasn’t pleasant at all. It wasn’t my husband’s fault he had lost his job, but people were acting like it was.

Fortunately, we were only there for four weeks. Then, we drove back across the country for my husband to accept another job. It was good to have the chance to start over again. It wasn’t the end of bad times, of course. Within a few weeks, I lost my third child which sent me into a major depression. I felt dead and cold during that first winter. People were arguing about who was fit to run the country in the upcoming presidential election. Republicans and Democrats were slinging insults at each other. ‘Old, rich, and white’ was one insult. ‘Lazy and unwilling to work’ was another. I knew they all couldn’t be true. My husband had not been lazy and had wanted to work. There weren’t any jobs available. I wanted to know what had happened to my country and I especially wanted to know where God was.

The following summer my life changed, and I found God again in a church that didn’t judge. I was suspicious at first. It took me several months to let down my guard and let people see the real me. There were several things about this church that were different. It was multi-racial and had people with different opinions. I heard  more about grace than I had ever heard in my faith life. I started to get a sense of what living in community was supposed to mean. Flawed and messy, but still filled with love. It was a good thing for me to see.

In the five years since, I wish I could say I had gotten the hang of how this was supposed to work and was doing it perfectly. No, that hasn’t happened. 🙂 I’ve been afraid of being judged when my husband has been sick or out-of-work. I’ve felt inadequate because there are people who have more money than I do. I’ve felt disappointed because something I’ve felt called to was thwarted. I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in and still don’t feel like I fit in at times. And my country, it has gotten worse. People fight about everything and have drawn lines in the sand. We, as Christians, have forgotten that God wants us to be united in our differences to show Jesus’ love and not to draw lines in the sand. I have felt discouraged about the normalization of bullying behavior and name calling. Both sides have done it. No one can claim innocence.

But, here is the most important thing I’ve learned in the last five years. My God is bigger than my country. He is the one I hold onto during the bad times and the One I rejoice with during the good times. He is much more than any political party, and the reason I have to say that we don’t need to belong to a certain political party in order to be a Christian. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay. But, for me to be a Christian and have a heart like God wants me to have, I cannot take the label of a political party. It interferes with the work God wants me to do.

May God bless you all today!

 

Questions to Consider

Today is the first day of a new series which I hope will carry us through the holidays. I will write about questions I’m sure we’ve all asked about our faith–from the mundane to the serious. I’m not going to pretend to have the definitive answers. Those would come from people who have studied and thought about the Christian faith much longer than I have. No, these questions come from the heart of an ordinary Christian woman trying her best to rest in God’s grace as His daughter and to have the heart of Jesus as she lives in this world between the now and not yet of Jesus’ coming back for us. Ordinary, just like you.

So, with that being said, let me describe what brought me to the first question. A few months ago, I was looking for another devotional since I had finished reading and writing through the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. I received an email one morning saying that the free giveaway at Lifeway Christian Store for the week was a copy of the devotional The Devotional for Women which was edited by Rhonda Harrington Kelley and Dorothy Kelley Patterson. Wow, it was something I needed, and it was free. You can’t beat that. I went to the story and picked it up. I’ve been using it since then, and it has been God honoring though more female focused as you would expect of a devotional with the title The Devotional for Women. I don’t have anything personal against this particular devotional or any other female Christian author I have read, for that matter. They’ve all blessed me tremendously.  I have gained insight about my faith and my life from all of them. But, I got to thinking this morning. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women? Why aren’t there devotionals that both sexes could use. So, that’s my first question for this series. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women?

Now, first, I want to say I do understand about marketing to different groups. If someone is trying to sell a book to children, it doesn’t make sense to aim the advertising dollars at men who like sports. The same thing could be said about baby equipment which, I would think, would be marketed towards people who can have babies and not to retired people. The same thing could be said of any product one is trying to market. Anyway, back to the devotionals. I took a look at the books on a shelf in the Christian section of the bookstore, and there were books and Bibles available for almost every group of people. Girls, boys, teen girls, teen boys, young adults, women, single women, married women, men, single men, married men, married couples, retired people…I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Christian book industry has this marketing thing down. They market the same way that the secular book industry does.

I thought though that we were supposed to come together when we studied God’s Word. Brothers and sisters learning about our Lord and Savior. I thought God wanted the church to be a body of one with all of our differences and diversities. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently as I’ve considered the divisions in my country and in the world. Especially in the church. We fight about anything and everything most of which doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I think Jesus looks down on us and cries with all the division in this world. I know it isn’t what God wants.

Why do we segment people into groups then for study material? We have covers of men’s books with sports, hiking, mountains, hunting and military representation on them. We have covers of women’s books with flowers, butterflies, cups of coffee, and coloring opportunities on them. I also found that even if the words women or men weren’t on the cover, I could still tell who the book was marketed to through the pictures, colors, and genders of the authors.

So what, you ask? Aren’t men and women different? Aren’t they interested in different things? Yes, they are different. I don’t deny that. What I do think though is that we don’t need to be gender divided in the church. I tried an interesting experiment a little while ago. I looked at the first several topics in two men’s devotional books and two women’s devotional books. The topics looked very similar to me. I’ll post the lists so you can get an idea.

Kingdom Man Devotional by Tony Evans

  1. A Kingdom Man Seeks Priceless Treasure
  2. A Kingdom Man Aims for the Goal
  3. A Kingdom Man Follows His Rule Book
  4. A Kingdom Man is Prepared
  5. A Kingdom Man Makes the Right Choice
  6. A Kingdom Man Brings Freedom
  7. A Kingdom Man Builds a Legacy
  8. A Kingdom Man Rules Under God’s Authority
  9. A Kingdom Man Takes Responsibility
  10. A Kingdom Man Trust that God’s Got It
  11. A Kingdom Man Longs to be Great
  12. A Kingdom Man Finds Strength in Meekness
  13. A Kingdom Man is Free to Pursue Greatness

Daily Wisdom for Men – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Start with God
  2. Teaching Obedience
  3. Loving Other Believers
  4. Morning Meetings with God
  5. Spiritual Prosperity
  6. God’s Revelation to Man
  7. A Valuable Employee
  8. Preserved for the Kingdom
  9. Who Will Trust You?
  10. Open Your Home
  11. Don’t Wait
  12. Speak No Evil
  13. Hide the Word
  14. Family Managers
  15. God Shows No Partiality

Daily Wisdom for Women – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Delight in His Word
  2. A Daily Walk with God
  3. The Delight of My Life
  4. Peace
  5. Just Following God
  6. Unity with the Father
  7. Consistent with Prayer
  8. Lovingly Connected
  9. Faithful Friend
  10. A Sure Foundation
  11. Christlike Compassion
  12. This Very Moment
  13. His Promises are True
  14. His Hands and Feet
  15. Living the Truth

Be Still and Know: 365 Devotions for Abundant Living by Julie Rayburn

  1. Facing Life’s Challenges
  2. Priority of Prayer
  3. Total Commitment
  4. Sin
  5. Getting Your Life Back on Course
  6. Success
  7. The Idol of Success
  8. Attitude
  9. The Lord’s Prayer
  10. Wicked vs. Righteous
  11. Stages of Our Christian Life
  12. Sufficient Grace
  13. Barometer for Spiritual Growth
  14. Church Fellowship
  15. Heaven

Pretty similar, right? In fact, they are almost identical in some cases. All topics that we all need to study. So, why are there different devotional books for men and women? Why can’t we all have a Bible study from the same book? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think they are good ones to ask. I’ll challenge us a little further. Why can’t we all have a Bible study or devotional book written by a female author? I think it would be a great way to promote unity in the church and a great way to bring different perspectives into our study of the Scriptures.

God bless you all today!

Things are Changing

Change has been a constant theme on this blog for the last couple of months. I’ve talked about having an empty nest and what comes next in my life. I’ve talked about courage and bravery. I’ve even talked about fear. But, what I haven’t talked about yet and what I’ve been feeling recently in the recesses of my heart is loneliness.

Let me explain. I’ve been having conversations with my husband about life and about how we are different from other people our age. We’re both very comfortable around technology to the point that we’ve coined a name for it. We’re techno-geeks. Comfortable with superheroes, science, gaming, anime,  and genre fiction. Not so comfortable with frilly dresses, flashy sports cars, home decorating shows, or fancy jewelry. We’re direct with people, and we want to talk about important things–not about the latest antics of a Hollywood movie star or the latest political mess going on in Washington. We want to talk about faith and how God is leading us. We want to focus our lives on what we can change–our thoughts, behavior, and actions.

Other people though aren’t so comfortable with being direct. They would rather talk about the trivial and talk about things that don’t matter. So, I’ve withdrawn to a certain extent which probably hasn’t been the best thing for me, but it is what it is.

The loneliness is deep though, and it’s something I’m having to work through. My husband says I should embrace my small subset of a small minority, and I think I have somewhat. But, I still do stupid things a lot, and I have people stare at me wondering what in the world I’m talking about. I think those things contribute to my feelings of loneliness and not feeling like I fit in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do have friends though many of them skew 10-15 years younger than me. Remember, I’m a techno-geek. It’s just that life gets in the way sometimes, and I wish I could be more comfortable letting my walls down with people and saying how I really am through all the changes I’ve experienced in the last few months.

I almost hesitate to bring this next part up because it’s probably going to make someone mad. But, the way I understand things in life is to write them down like this quote from C. S. Lewis says. “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” So, here is my disclaimer as I start to write about what brought this on today. . These are all my thoughts and feelings, and I am in no way trying to ascribe wrongdoing or hurt onto anyone else.  With that being said, here goes. I’m part of a community that has a small groups emphasis twice a year. Another one has started, and we’ve heard nothing from the people whose group we’ve been a part of in the past. We’ve assumed that they’ve decided not to do it and that we’re on our own. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Why don’t they just ask? Well, that’s where my problem comes in. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being rejected. Rejected for the stupid things I do. Rejected and not wanted. (Guess I’m not over that fear thing as much as I thought. 🙂 ) Then, my mind spins like one of those twirly-whirls from my childhood, and I’m exhausted with the thought of trying to fit in again. Trying to find another small group. It makes me think serving at the media board with my husband would be better, and I should just stay back there so I don’t have to try to get close to anyone again.

But, that’s not what God wants with me, from me, or from any of us, for that matter. When my thoughts are all topsy-turvy, I can remember these Scripture verses from the Word, and they will ground my feelings and steep me in the truth God wants me to keep in my heart. First, from Psalm 46:10, “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'” God is God despite all of the changes in my life. He is the only One I can depend on not to change.

Then, there’s Exodus 14:14. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” God can help me fight these feelings and channel them into helping others not to feel so alone. We think we have it all figured out, and we can handle our faith and our lives by ourselves. But, we can’t. We need a community who is willing to listen without judging.

And finally, there’s Galatians 1: 10. “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I think God meant for me to see this verse as I also saw a tweet from a Christian author while I was pulling these verses together which said the same thing. From author Annie F. Downs, “I can’t be full of the Holy Spirit and full of myself at the same time.”

So, there you have it. I am laying my loneliness at the foot of the cross and seeing what God is going to do with it. He is always with us even during the changes. He is on our side when we feel lonely, and He is on our side when we’re surrounded by people. He wants us, or me, I should say, because I’m the one who really needs it, to wade into the crowd full of His Holy Spirit so we can minister in His Name to those who are alone. I pray He gives all of us guidance as we seek to have a heart like His while living in this messed-up world.

God bless you all today!

Standing in the Gap

There is a book in the Old Testament that I want to focus on today. The concept, shown us most clearly in this book, shows us how Jesus redeemed us and also shows us how we, as brothers and sisters, can be there for each other. What book of the Bible does all this? The book of Ruth. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story. Naomi is with her family living in Moab because Israel is experiencing a famine. Her husband and eventually her sons both die leaving her with two daughters-in-law. One daughter-in-law goes back to her own family while the other, Ruth, goes back to Israel with Naomi.

When they return to Israel, they are two women, alone and without a male protector. This is where the concept of guardian redeemer or kinsman redeemer comes into play. Gotquestions.org defines kinsman redeemer as this. “The kinsman redeemer is a male relative who, according to various laws of the Pentateuch, had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need.” The story becomes poignant here as Boaz who is a wealthy relative of Naomi’s meets Ruth and accepts their appeal as kinsman redeemer, marrying Ruth and having a son with her who becomes the forefather of King David.

Christ is also regarded as an example of a kinsman redeemer because He is the only one who can satisfy our need for a Savior. He bought us with His blood on the cross and His resurrection. He made the church His bride and is the true kinsman redeemer for all who profess faith in Him.

Jesus is our kinsman redeemer first or should be our kinsman redeemer first before our marriages or our families. He is the One who stands in the gap for us as we seek to live for Him in this fallen world. I want to take standing in the gap one step further as we consider this concept. Many of us today live alone longer than anyone did in the Old or New Testaments. We wait longer to get married, and we experience divorce and widowhood at a higher percentage. Not everyone in the church is married, and I think we , in the church, need to remember that. We need to stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters as we pray for each other, and we need to be willing to help each other too even if we are not all the same.

My heart aches for the people who walk into church alone. Even though I am married, I remember well all the times I have been in church alone, and it’s not a pleasant feeling. Everything in the church generally falls to the default setting which is married with children. I believe that’s wrong. Everyone, whether they are married or single, should have a chance to fulfill God’s calling on their lives in the church. I am comforted by the fact though that what God calls us to do doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the church.

But, I digress. We need to stand in the gap for those who have a different life status than us. We need to offer babysitting to the single mom who would like to go on the women’s retreat. We need to take our divorced friend out for coffee when there’s a speaker on marriage at church. We need to mow the lawn for a widow or take a widower’s daughter out bra shopping. We need to befriend people of the opposite sex and not be afraid of what people at church might say. Didn’t Jesus spend time with people who were different from Him?

As I end this post, I am reminded of what Christ did for us as kinsman redeemer which was first shown in Old Testament times. I am also reminded of how God wants us to stand in the gap for each other as we face the trials and tribulations of this world. May we all remember to pray for each other today!