There's a helpful book about writing novels that discusses widely-accepting industry rules, the author's opinions and experience with these rules, and how to get past the industry gatekeepers when it comes to deviating from them. The gatekeepers that Jeff Gerke describes in his book are the acquisition editors who have the power to decide if a writer will be represented by an agency or publisher. They keep unwanted things out.
The term "gatekeeper" resonated in my spirit. While there are plenty of things that should be kept out of the church, we need a different kind of gatekeeper. We need watchmen at the doors, not of the physical building, but of the body of Christ, for two specific reasons.
1.) To hold the door open to invite people in.
I know some of these gatekeepers. They bring new people to church often. They say, "Hey! Come inside! Jesus is for you, too! He wants you here!"
We need gatekeepers to make sure people feel welcomed within the church and to hold the doors open for all who would seek to enter with a desire to encounter God.
I imagine this kind of gatekeeper swinging back and forth on the gates, calling to those in the street, "It's open! It's open! It's open!"
2. To make it harder for people to slip away.
This is where the term really struck me. Too many people, especially young people, slip out of the church's gates unnoticed. We don't realize they're gone until it's too late. They have no desire to come back. And I worry it's simply because nobody tried to stop them from leaving. There was no one guarding the gate, saying, "We'll miss you if you're gone. There's nothing out there for you. You're safer in here. Please stay."
Obviously, we have free will. If someone is determined to leave the safety of the church, they are ultimately accountable to God for their choice. But what if we had more gatekeepers to guard the doors of the fold? With kids, it should be the parents that guard the gate. But if that doesn't happen, who will be standing there to keep our young people from going astray? While a pastor guards the flock, laypeople can be gatekeepers, too. Reach out to your church's young people. Keep them involved so they understand they have a place. Don't let them slip out unnoticed.
Oh, Lord, make us gatekeepers. Teach us how to swing the doors open to everyone that may pass by, and help us stand guard for the ones that need encouragement to stay within the gates.
It's easy to understand, breathing is necessary for life. God's design for all creatures includes standard functions, including respiration.
As a child, I had mild asthma which first presented at age seven when I had my tonsils removed and required oxygen after the sedative gas triggered breathing difficulty. Throughout my youth, asthma episodes were minor nuisances, usually brought on by physical activity. I used an inhaler only during P.E., and was never really sure if my shortness of breath was from being out of shape or truly because of asthma.
Fast-forward to age twenty-six. I hadn't carried an inhaler in years. Never needed one. Asthma was something "I used to have as a kid". Until pregnancy. Hormonal changes during my first pregnancy brought the condition back into my life with a vengeance. With each baby, my asthma either worsened or got a little better, but never left. Now after three pregnancies, it's a pretty regular part of my daily life. I never go anywhere without an inhaler, and it is a necessity often. Colds can trigger a bad asthma flare that requires steroid injections and pills, as happened recently, just to return my breathing to normal.
There is nothing like the relief of taking a complete lung-filling, complication-free breath after an episode of breathing difficulty. It feels miraculous. It makes me feel so grateful, so in awe of life!
Just as we couldn't understand love if there were no evil, or appreciate the beauty of life without pain, I never appreciated and understood the awesomeness of one clear, deep breath until the first time as an adult when I struggled to breathe.
One of the scariest moments of my life was during Sarah's delivery. The spinal block went high, and I couldn't feel my chest for a few minutes. The anesthesiologist told me I was breathing, but my brain told me otherwise, and it was a terrifying feeling for a few minutes.
In a way, it's like the difference between being spiritually lost and being saved.
Genesis 2:7 says, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Every living soul is born of the breath of God, but every soul does not automatically have the breath of eternal life.
John 20, verse 2 says that after Jesus' resurrection, when he visited the disciples, "he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost". This was a new kind of life-giving breath from God.
Before Christ, we may have been inhaling and exhaling, but after Christ, we breathe deeply and experience the fullness and completeness of life in Him.
I'm not a very patient person. I think I get it from my father. Or, at least, since he has the same character flaw, I can claim it's a learned behavior or some undiscovered genetic predisposition and give myself an out. But I guess it really doesn't work that way.
The older I get, the worse my impatience grows. I generally show grace, but often fail when it comes to customer service hold times and waiting for a table at restaurants.
Lately, I find myself waiting for a lot of things.
The writing-related things on my list are normal. Just part of the process. So, I'm not complaining. No one has dropped the ball or has been too lax about anything. They are working on multiple projects for different authors, not just me. I'm just impatient.
The last item on the list, simply by nature of the process, takes a long time, too, although it's frustrating.
But I had a revelation today: I need to be waiting on something even more important than the things on my list. The words of Jesus in John 14:30 reveal the thing I should anticipate most anxiously.
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
It's so easy to forget, or take for granted, or push to the back of our minds, the promise of Christ's return. But the expectation of His second-coming is fundamental to our faith. We are waiting. Not just waiting, but in a constant state of waiting, watching, and working, as we continue to live and enjoy the life He has given us.
I'm in a season of waiting now. But that's where I should live! Expectant!
When I stop and put things into perspective, the nearer-every-day reality of my blessed hope as a believer should make me more patient when it comes to all the other, lesser expectations in this life season. I'm thankful that, as with Jesus' return, God controls the times and the seasons. Everything works out for good, no matter my perceptions of "on time", "quickly", "slowly", or "delay". I need to trust God's timing every second of my life, even when I have to wait longer than I'd like for a book layout, a life-changing situation, or a pizza buffet. And may we all wait together anxiously for His coming.
From the start of age five, until adulthood, children get a special holiday each year that grown-ups don't observe: The first day of a new school year!
New Year's Day is a fresh start for everyone, and we all have birthdays to mark the first day of a new age, but the first day of school is a third day on the calendar when kids can enjoy the excitement of a new start. As grown-ups, we may remember the feeling, and live it alongside our children, but we no longer fully experience it.
As I prepare to send my baby to kindergarten on Monday, my middle daughter to third grade, and my oldest to a brand new adventure in middle school, I see their excitement. "Firsts" fuel excitement for life!
For us old, married, parents, there are no more "first dates". There will never be another "first kiss". Most of our firsts are lived vicariously through our children. But experiencing new things can still fuel excitement for life! If you feel like your life is dull and boring, a little lackluster, think about a new experience you can try, something you can do for the "first" time, to create that "first day of school" feeling. Here are just a few suggestions:
The more outside your comfort zone, the better, to build a feeling of excitement that might add a spark to life! You're never too old for a new experience or a new challenge.
Grown-ups need more "firsts". What will your next one be?
We recently compounded the crazy in our house by adding a fourth furry friend to the family. The current dynamic is two parents, three kids, two cats, and two dogs, and the newest member has been an interesting life change.
My husband and I hadn’t dealt with the joys and trials of a puppy in a long time, since our good girl Maggie is far past that stage. Enter a sweet yellow lab mix we both couldn’t resist. His name is Rico, and since we brought him home, this now five-month-old, fifty-two pound puppy has taught me some things about who I am and who I want to be.
Rico is not 100% house-trained. He's learning quickly, but he's still a puppy, and he sometimes has "accidents" in the house. The most frustrating thing about potty training a dog is going a couple of days without any puddles or unpleasant surprises, getting excited about the break-through, then walking into the kitchen to find another mess. Three steps forward and two steps back in the process is discouraging.
While it might be the MOST UNUSUAL COMPARISON I've ever made, Rico's shortcomings remind me of myself. I've been a Christ-follower for a long time. I ought to know how this whole thing works, right? I know what sin is, and I should know how to avoid it. But do I always do the right thing? No, I make mistakes just like Rico. Maybe (definitely) not just like his mistakes, but I can easily find myself in a stinky situation when I'm not Christ-like in my words, thoughts, or actions, and this reality makes me want to be show Rico a little grace.
But there's at least one way in which I aspire to be like my lab. This dog is always by my side. If I'm on the couch, he's on the couch. If I'm working in the kitchen, he's in the kitchen. If I let him outside to potty in the fenced backyard, he won't go unless we come out and stand with him. He'll stay on the deck and bark to be let back in. He doesn't want to be left alone, or maybe he doesn't want me to be alone. Either way, he is loyal; a steadfast companion. He likes to be near me.
James 4:8 says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you..." When we just nudge in close to the Father, he tucks in close to us right back. May I strive to stay near Him, never leave His side. Drawing close to God through reading the Word, praying, and meditating on Him is how I learn to be more like Him and avoid those "messes" that my sin makes. May I be even more loyal to the Lord than my dog is to me.
Thanks, Rico, for the lesson.
1.) Your mother loves you with all her heart.
2.) You are wonderful.
3.) Jesus Loves you.
I made this list for my children because it's important. These are the things I want them to remember when life gets tough. These are the truths I want them to carry into adulthood. To one day teach their children. To hold in their hearts even after I'm gone.
We practice the list sometimes. I quiz them on it: "What are the three things I want you to always remember?" They often respond with some paraphrased version of what I've taught them. But I'll take it.
It makes me think, if Jesus had a similar list, what would it look like? What does He want us to carry always? To never forget, no matter where we are in life? Based on Scripture, here's what I think He wants us to remember:
1.) I love you.
2.) Don't worry.
3.) You are valuable.
He said "I love you" by leaving the beauty of heaven, taking on human flesh, and being born into this world. To be near us. To walk among us. To know us.
He says "don't worry" over and over in the Bible. Don't worry about food, clothes, tomorrow (Matthew 6). Will we listen? He says "my peace I give to you" (John 14:27). Will we take it?
He said "you are valuable" on the cross, by redeeming us with his blood- a payment more precious than silver or gold (1 Peter 1).
When life gets complicated, go back to the list. It's proven in the Word. Hold it close to your heart. Meditate on the simple truths He wants you to remember.
Thinking about the ocean evokes different and sometimes opposite emotions in people. For many, thinking of the ocean is peaceful, a pleasurable mind escape. One might imagine playing on the shoreline, relaxing in the cool of the gentle tide, being awed and inspired by the vastness and might of the sea. But ask anyone who has ever drifted too far out and they’ll tell you, the ocean is also scary. The idea of being far away from land, in rough waters, with unknown creatures swimming below the surface near you is terrifying.
Notice how dramatically the feelings about the daydream change based on proximity to the shore. The ocean didn’t change, but our position in it did. So it is with life. Life can be beautiful and peaceful, or challenging and scary, and it all depends on our proximity to the Savior. Close to the Lord, we enjoy the majesty of His creation and all His gifts, in safety. The further we drift away from Him, the less secure and the more vulnerable we are.
I choose to enjoy the ocean from the safety of the shore, as I choose to enjoy life from the safety of the Savior’s arms.
This post is my first attempt at a "Five Minute Friday" prompt from Kate Motaung. The prompt was the word "Ocean", and I confess, my writing time was twenty-five minutes instead of five. But it was a fun exercise, and I hope to do it again!
My youngest child is mischievous, and hyper, and often unruly, but he is one of the wisest people I know. He has a profound understanding of God, and an amazing commitment to follow Him. Only four when he made a profession of faith in Jesus, he was baptized before he was five and a half.
Daniel wanted to be the first one in the river, and there wasn’t a hint of nervousness on his face until he got into position to be dunked. He panicked a bit but rallied quickly, and he came out of the water smiling. Later that day, this is what he told me:
“I just kept telling my brain, I’ve made up my mind.”
Wow. What resolve! He made up his mind and was determined to follow through.
It reminds me of a song I've loved since childhood which says, “I’ve got my foot on the rock and my mind’s made up.” My aunt sings it often in our church, and she delivers the song's message so powerfully. (I don’t have a video of her singing it, but here’s another good version for you to enjoy: Bowling Family YouTube Video)
When we’ve decided to do anything that we know to be the will of God, we have to follow through. Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NKJV) In a world full of wishy-washy, flip-floppers, it's important for us to have made-up minds.
I’ve started and stopped many projects. Sometimes I get excited about an idea and the next day it’s a distant memory. But I hope I will stay committed to the things that really matter. I want to be steadfast and immovable, like the scripture encourages: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV)
Certainly, I wouldn't have been upset if my son had decided not to be baptized that day. It was his choice to make. But his courage to follow through is an inspiration to me, and I hope it is to you. When you feel like turning back on the task to which you've been called, just remind yourself you've made up your mind!
We've all heard the term "First World problems", right? The relatively minor things we complain about that compared to the problems of people in developing countries are laughable?
"I didn't get any sauce at the drive-thru."
"My cell phone battery loses charge too soon."
"The elevator is out, so I had to take the stairs."
Well, what if we turn the concept of First World problems on its head?
I've been thinking about inconsequential experiences, simple things that make me happy and are only enjoyed in the developed world. Not profound things, like the sound of children's laughter, the magic of a perfect sunset, or even modern conveniences in general, but the smallest of things that make life simpler and more enjoyable. Here's a short list I came up with. The first one gave me the idea for this article!
First World Joys
We are blessed with so many good things, big and small! Of course, "good" is subjective, but since these are all good to me, I think even this simple list falls under the truth of James 1:17! (Go look it up and tell me when you read it.)
The list could go on and on, but now I'd like to hear some of your ideas. What do you consider First World joys? Comment on this post or share with the hashtag #firstworldjoys.
My elbow meets the roughness of the commercial-grade carpet as my arm falls away from the relative comfort of the sleeping bag. The first shades of morning light wash through the frosted glass panes of the Sunday School room windows. A fluorescent beam comes through the cracked door, from the men’s bathroom across the hall.
Six little girls are camped out around me, ranging in age from seven to eleven. Two of the girls with the endcap ages belong to me, but in a way they all do.
In the room next to us, six older girls who giggled until well past midnight, are spread around, tucked under tables and cozied up to walls, all quiet. Nearby, two teenage girls who were ready to sleep sooner than the others, camp in a room by themselves.
Down the hall, my husband’s sleeping bag guards the door of a room, the same as mine. I proudly watched him shine the love of Christ last night, ministering to the youth as their pastor, a role he’s had less than two months now. Like a puzzle piece being snapped into place, I see him fit the space where he is shaped to be.
He shares the room with six people—future men and some who are already there. The youngest of them is five—he belongs to us. The boys impressed me with how easily most of them went to bed, much sooner and more agreeably than the girls.
As I maneuver in the sleeping bag, having slept off and on, I wonder how they’ve all slept—these twenty people entrusted to us overnight. Many in this budding Youth Group we’ve known for a long time and know well. The stories of others, we’ve yet to learn. We hear hints, random statements thrown out to test us, to find out if we care enough to listen. Lord, help us to listen.
I wonder how this night on a Sunday School room floor felt to them. Did it feel safer than what they know at home? Was there more comfort found on a hard floor than in their own rooms? Did they make a happy memory just because it was a new experience to break up the mundane? Was the best part just being so close to people who cared for them, friends they love?
We taught the Bible last night and sang songs to Jesus, but I wonder if the biggest lesson was found in the blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows. I pray that our church…this group…my husband and I, will be a place of comfort and safety, to break up the notion of life-as-normal, and to dispel loneliness. Because that’s what Jesus is! That’s what Jesus does! And whether He’s the reason they came or not, I hope they understand now that He’s the reason we’re all here.
Do you remember “journaling time” in school? Or maybe it was called “free writing”... I remember being given a thin, dull-white piece of paper with pink and blue lines, and a chunky pencil, and told to write something in fifteen minutes that would later be reviewed by my teacher. The memory feels like first grade, but I can’t be sure. We were allowed to write about anything- a new toy, a story we made up, something that made us sad, what we wanted to be when we grew up. Most days, I loved it. But some days, there were just no good thoughts in my head. Still, I had to fill that piece of paper. On more than one occasion, my work looked something like this:
I am writing to take up space.
I have to use all the lines, so I am writing these words to take up space on the paper.
I can’t think of anything to write about except that I have nothing to write about.
You get the idea. I thought it was a clever way to solve my problem, but I don't think Mrs. Collins agreed.
Sometimes, I still feel that way about writing. I “need” to write a blog because it’s been a while, yet I don't want to write words just for the sake of writing words. I want them to be meaningful. Now, I pray for guidance and trust that the right words will be there at the "write" time.
I think about those writing assignments often- how the paper ripped when I was over-zealous with the eraser, how intimidating those solid and dotted lines could be. Mostly, the image of that familiar paper reminds me how I don't want to live. I don't want to live the way I wrote, when the inspiration wouldn't come. I don't want to live just to take up space. God, help me to be more than a consumer of oxygen in this earth. Help me to produce something meaningful and beautiful with the resources I've been given.
James 4:14 says, "whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." There is a finite amount of lines on the page and pencils eventually get sharpened to nubs. We must be mindful to make the writing assignment of life more than vain words.
Write a good story. Fill the lines on the page well. Don't live just to fill the space between the margins of birth and death. Actively seek to do good, remembering James 4:17: "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." One day, the Teacher will review our work. May it be our best effort, with His help.
An actor looks at his script and begins to read a scene from the second act. Because he jumped into the middle of the plot, he doesn't have enough knowledge of the character's backstory and mindset to perform the role believably. He can only infer the correct emotions based on the dialogue.
"What's my motivation?" the actor asks the director. "How did my character get to this point in his journey? What's his story?"
As Christians, we are instructed to do some pretty big things. The Bible says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." (Luke 10:27) Of course, we do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, but as we strive to live out this verse, it helps to look at our motivation. Why do we love, serve, and obey Him? What pushes us to keep going?
The Word makes our motivation clear: "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19) He loves us! That's what should motivate us more than anything to follow Him. Especially since we didn't have to earn His love, and we certainly didn't deserve it. Romans 5:8 says, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Whenever the journey seems hard and you find yourself asking "Why should I?" do this or "Why should I?" do that, remember your motivation: He loves you. The God of the universe loves you unconditionally, and that's enough to keep you going.
There are some big promises in the Word of God, and sometimes I think we miss them. Maybe we just get so caught up trying to fill our scripture quota that we miss the truth of what God is saying to us. But I found a really big promise this week, wrapped up in two itty-bitty words: All things. Through His word, I want to look at how God has promised us EVERYTHING (all things) we will ever need.
One of my favorite verses has always been Romans 8:28, which assures us that “all things” work together for good to those who love God. But my study on our sufficiency in God came from 2 Peter 1:3. Here we find that God has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” through the knowledge of Jesus. He has given us all things! That’s a big thought! When we know Jesus, we are fully equipped with everything we need, not only to live, but to live godly lives.
The promise of total sufficiency through God began in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 9:3 says, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” This is an example of God not holding any good thing back. He provided completely.
This idea of abundance in Christ has nothing to do with a “prosperity gospel”. That’s a very narrow way to look at the blessings of God. The Bible says, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;"(1 Timothy 6:17) What does “all things” mean? What exactly do we have? I believe it means literally everything. We have access to everything we could possibly need or want, according to His will. The sky is the limit...if God wills it. And if He doesn’t will it, I don’t want it!
Another of my favorite passages is this beautiful sermon from the Apostle Paul found in Acts 17: "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." (Acts 17:24 – 28)
He made everything, he owns everything, and he gives everything to us as his children. Bottom line—when you have Jesus, you have everything.
Check out these other applicable “all things” verses: Psalm 8:6; Philippians 4:13; Matthew 19:26; Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 3:21
What do they mean to you? I'd love for you to share in the comments!
My husband packed snacks in kids’ backpacks, fed impatient fur babies, and did other morning chores while I clung desperately to eight more minutes of snooze time. Before the alarm sounded again to urge me out of bed, he came into the bedroom to get his phone.
“I’ve got to go help a little lost girl in our yard,” he said.
“Huh?” I thought, but I was too sleepy and confused to say it out loud. "There's a lost kid in our yard??"
The storm door clanged, and I got up to see just what was going on. Peeking through the blinds on the kitchen window, I saw Alex standing at the bottom of our driveway with a child I didn’t recognize, both of them with bare feet.
As curious as I was, I had to wake our children and pick out their clothes for the day. Whatever the situation, it appeared Alex was handling it. I peeked out the window again a couple minutes later to see Alex and the child sitting on the ground together, looking out toward the street. The next time I checked, as our kids got ready for school and preschool, an SUV was parked at the end of our driveway and Alex stood talking to the driver.
When he came back in, my curiosity was satisfied as I listened to the story.
He had taken some trash outside, and on the way back in, couldn’t get the storm door to latch. As he tried, he heard a child call, “I’m lost! I’m lost!”
The child turned out not to be a girl, but an eleven-year-old boy with braids, who lives two streets over. He had opened the door to check for his school bus, when his two dogs pushed past him and ran outside. He chased after them but never caught up. When he stopped running, he didn’t know where he was.
I was happy that the child wound up in our yard instead of someone else’s. I was glad the door hadn’t latched, so Alex was there when the child was searching for someone to help him. It was no surprise to us that the door closed with no problem the next time Alex tried it. Sometimes there are just divine appointments to be kept.
I am grateful for a kind-hearted husband who will wait outside in his sleep clothes on a chilly morning, for a stranger to come pick up her lost son. And I am grateful for a beautiful reminder—one day, when I was lost, Jesus was there with the door open, ready to help me find my way to the Father.
We are bombarded by information, all the time, from every direction. Much of it is useful and valuable, but much of it can be harmful to us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Let’s take some time to talk about how we can sort out all the information and guide our thoughts toward the positive.
Philippians 4:8 is a verse that I need constantly. If I were going to tattoo scripture on my arm, I think this would be a helpful one to have. (Since I’m not going to do that, I need to tattoo it on my heart, with the help of the Holy Spirit.) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
I love that we have a checklist of sorts, for the kinds of things we should be thinking about! Here’s another way to break it down.
We should spend our mental energy on things that are:
I have to admit, many things that I spend my focus on during the day don’t fit into one of these categories. So often, I find myself reading “news” stories that do nothing but leave me sad or angry. There are few things in the news that are “of good report”, and certainly not much on television or in movies is "virtuous". I'm guilty of spending half an hour reading arguments on Facebook, which are certainly not "praiseworthy", between people I don't even know. It's a disgusting waste of my time!
And it's often difficult to discern if much of the information we are getting from all the various sources is even "true" and "honest".
When we fill our brains with things that are the opposite of what this verse says we should think about (dishonest, sinful, condemnable things), it has an effect on the way we act and think. So, here’s what I want you (and me) to remember: It’s OKAY to just shut out the negative influences. Take a break from Facebook, turn off the news, and politely tell trash-talking people that you have other things to do. Then seek out something "pure", or "lovely", or "praiseworthy" to think on. GUARD YOUR MIND!
Another takeaway from Philippians 4:8 is a lesson on how we should think about people. Instead of focusing on people's faults (and yes, I'm talking to myself as a spouse) let's practice "thinking on" the things that are lovely in people. We need to make a conscious effort to NOT think on the gossipy things we hear, and focus on all the good things that we know to be true about them.
Use this verse as a checklist for what you should allow into your mind. Ask yourself, "Is it true?", "Is it pure?", "Is it praiseworthy?", etc.. It's not an easy thing, but I'm trying to put this into practice. And I hope you will, too.
I'm tired of listening to people's problems.
It may seem harsh, but I'm tired of just listening to the constant noise about the number of things wrong in our communities, and you should be tired of it, too. The time has come for the body of Christ to do more than listen. We need to stand up and actually be the solution for our broken world, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Nehemiah, one hundred and sixty years after the start of Israel's captivity by the Babylonians, God stoked the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the capital city of his ancestors. Nehemiah heard the news that "the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire (Nehemiah 1:3)", then he wept and mourned over the situation. He also prayed and sought direction from the Lord, and God paved the way for Nehemiah to carry out a plan of action to fix the problem.
We've been weeping over the brokenness of society for a long time. Now it's time to get our hands dirty and rebuild.
When Nehemiah organized the rebuilding of the wall and its gates, there were different groups that stepped up to take a section. Over forty individuals, families, and groups are specifically named in Nehemiah 3. The Word tells us in what order they worked along the wall, and in many cases, the specific job they had. Here's what stands out to me about the process:
1.) They worked alongside each other.
The rebuilding didn't start in random sections all around the city. The groups came together and worked side-by-side.
2.) Everyone had a specific assignment.
Each group was assigned a task to get the whole thing completed, so that the city could be fortified again as soon as possible.
I see the different groups in Nehemiah 3, not as different members of a church, but as individual churches in a community. And I see each section of the wall as a ministry opportunity that can help rebuild those communities.
One church, no matter how motivated the members are, or how many resources the church has, cannot be the answer to all the problems in a community. But with planning and communication, imagine what can be accomplished when churches in a community work together! I've never tried to organize a coalition of churches, and it sounds like a grandiose, and slightly crazy task. But it all starts with a vision! Here are some ideas a group of churches might consider to start being problem-solvers in their communities.
Now, I believe the most important mission within every church is to preach the "power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The solution to all the problems isn't really "Christians", it's Christ. But we can show the love of Christ by meeting the lost where they are, and by encouraging other believers beyond the walls of the church.
So, what are some ministry opportunities on which a church might focus? Here are a few:
Collectively, we need to be organized. If every church in a community visits the nursing home once a month, that's wonderful! But if no churches in a community are working to help the homeless, then there's a gap in the wall. If we coordinate our efforts, we can close the gap. At the same time, if a church has ten different outreaches, their resources may be stretched too thin to be effective. That's a gap that could be filled by another congregation.
We can't fix it all. Until the return of Christ, there will be sin in the world, which leads to all the problems we see around us. But we've been acting defeated for too long. It's time to work hard and let the world know we have the answer- his name is Jesus.
Driving with my smartphone in my lap, I became aware that I had reached for it several times to make sure it was still there, as if the phone had a history of walking away. In that moment, I acknowledged my dependence on and obsession with the little device. Then in an attempt at self-absolution, I said, "Oh, I know God is all I need, and I could live without electronics as long as I still had Him." But God wasn't done with the teaching moment, and this isn't a devotional about not putting your devices ahead of God.
After exploring the idea of living without technology and convincing myself I could handle it if necessary, I was confronted with a few questions: What about the Bible? What if I had to live without it? If for some reason my Bible, and my Bible app, were suddenly unavailable to me, would I have enough of it hidden away in my heart to be satisfied?
The Holy Bible is a method of communication which God provided to teach us about Him and to guide us in righteousness. The Bible is more accessible and more available throughout the world now than it has been at any other time in history (although in some places, people put themselves at great risk for owning a Bible). Knowing that I don't appreciate the ease of access to the Bible as much as I should, I have to question how it would affect me if it were taken away. Would the fact that I've memorized John 3:16 and 17 be enough to satisfy me? Would the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 23 be enough to me? How would I hunger for it and grieve over it, if I couldn't have it?
Psalms 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Although I believe the Lord will preserve His word, it is a good exercise to imagine how life would change if the Bible suddenly vanished and it wasn't here to light my path. I imagine I would write down every verse of scripture I know, and pray to remember more. I would probably ask everyone around me what verses they remembered as well.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit can never be taken away and will always be my Guide, but I pray that God will continue to speak to me through His word, and that I will treasure it. We should commit scripture to memory, not for fear that it will be taken away, but to allow it to work in our lives.
Have you ever been praying and realized your words were actually from His Word? We know God speaks to us through the scripture, but we can use the scripture in our communication to Him as well.
We are given the model prayer by Our Lord in Matthew 6 and in Luke 11, and there is power in reciting this prayer (sincerely and not out of vain repetition) every day. Indeed, all our prayers should center around four words from the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done."
But I'd like to present you with some other verses that can be used in prayer. From the Old Testament, I like to use the words from the heart of King David in the book of Psalms as my own plea to God. There are so many we can reference, but for today, these are the verses I've connected together as my personal prayer. This is what is on my heart:
"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalms 19:14) Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10) Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (Psalms 143:10) From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalms 61:2)"
The words from Psalms need no editing, because they are already directed to God. From the New Testament, I've taken the prayer of the Apostle Paul for the church at Phillipi and personalized it.
This prayer is based on Philippians 1:9-11:
"May my love abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,that I may approve the things that are excellent, that I may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
What more can we ask for in life than to grow in love, for the glory of God? This is my sincere prayer.
The Word is full of examples of righteous requests we can make. Thankfully, we also have the Holy Spirit to guide us in our communication with God, we have Jesus as our intercessor with the Father, and there is no required formula or specific liturgy needed.
1 John 5:14,15 says:
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
Whatever format you use, take time to talk to God today.
What scriptures do you pray? Do you have specific verses for praying for others, for our leaders, or for certain situations? Please share them with me in the Comments!
When Jesus was on earth, he did many great and mighty miracles. On more than one occasion, he even confronted the powers of darkness head-on. In the scripture, we are given accounts of Jesus rescuing people from literal possession by evil spirits. He was God in flesh, and that was no problem for Him.
One familiar story is the man who lived among the tombs in the country of the Gadarenes (Mark 5). We’re told the man was too strong to be bound with chains, and that no one could tame him. He cried day and night, and he cut himself with stones. What a miserable existence!
But when he encountered Jesus, his life was instantly transformed. Jesus commanded the devils to leave the man, and they had to obey.
A part of the story that sticks out to me is found in verses 18 and 19.
“And when he (Jesus) was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”
The account of the story in Luke is worded this way:
“Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee…” Luke 8:38,39a
As an aside, I enjoy seeing how the gospel accounts differ in language, yet do not contradict one another. These corroborating versions from different sources give us even more confidence in the accuracy of the scripture.
This man whom Jesus rescued from horrifying circumstances, asked Jesus for one more thing: just to be with him. There weren’t any conditions around the request. The man didn’t ask where Jesus was going or where He might be staying. It didn’t matter; he simply wanted to stay near him.
I can’t help but wonder if there was fear in the man’s heart that the demons would return and try to possess him again, and he wanted Jesus nearby for protection. Or maybe the request was solely a response of adoration for the one who had redeemed him.
Either way, he was wise in wanting to stay with Jesus. Where is there a better place to be? But Jesus denied his request. He told him he must go home and tell others what had happened to him. Jesus sent him away, with a mission. I wonder how many people learned about the Messiah through the testimony of this man.
We too were bound by the devil. Our spirits, like the poor man in our passage, could not be tamed by anyone. No matter how good we may have seemed from the outside, before Christ, we were possessed by our sin. But then Jesus arrived, and now we’ve been transformed. He delivered us from the powers of darkness.
The application of our story is probably obvious. Jesus has done a great thing for us, and though we may be tempted to just bask in our redemption, we are compelled to go and tell what He has done.
He had compassion on all of us, and gave his life so that we can have fullness of life here and eternity with Him. That’s worth sharing. I used to struggle with depression and anxiety. Now I don’t. I believe God healed me, and I think that is something people should know, so they understand that there is hope. That's something I need to "go tell".
Fortunately, when we “go tell”, it is different than it was for “the man out of whom the devils departed”. Jesus goes with us. We don’t have to leave him behind in order to share the story of his great compassion with others. May God make us bold to tell “how great things the Lord hath done”.
This point of writing this article is partly stress-relief, but, hopefully, it will also serve as light-hearted absolution and encouragement for anyone else who is in my shoes right now.
So...here's my list!
1. Let yourself be a little crazy.
Cut yourself some slack, and know that this season of life won't last forever. Maybe someday, you’ll become a successful author and won’t need the nine-to-five job to pay the bills. That, or your spirit will be crushed from the struggle and you’ll go back to “only” working full-time, raising children, and managing a household. For now, if you forget a birthday party your child was invited to, it's okay. In six months, they won’t even remember. If you forget to pack a child’s lunch and have to leave work to take them something from a drive-through, it's okay. They will be thrilled to have nuggets and fries instead of a Lunchable. And if you call your spouse by the name of your story's protagonist, it's okay. They probably weren’t even listening anyway since they have gotten so used to you being buried in your laptop screen instead of engaging them. It's okay to be a little crazy right now.
2. Hire a maid.
If you have to, break open the piggy bank (yours or your kids’) and pay someone to rescue your family from the disaster area your home has become since you started the undertaking of writing and publishing a book. There is no shame in this. It’s completely understandable that every time you start to fill the dishwasher you think of a great piece of dialogue and have to leave the dishes floating in milk from that morning’s cereal so you can write before the thought is gone. It’s understandable that you want to spend the only free hour you have after the kids are asleep writing, instead of scrubbing cat puke stains out of the carpet. It’s okay. A maid service every other a week will do wonders.
3. Don't sleep.
This is an acquired skill. And if you are able to attain it, you might be able to skip Step 2 and use some of your unnatural awake-time to actually clean your house, or fill out those field trip permission slips and book order forms, in addition to editing your manuscript. But more than likely, your hands will be on the keyboard anyway, right up until the moment you fall asleep and start drooling on the space bar.
4. Have a really great spouse who doesn't mind if you're a little crazy and the house is a mess.
Having a supportive husband or wife is a huge benefit for aspiring authors. If yours isn’t supportive, I’m not suggesting you trade them in for one who is. But if you do have one, let them know how invaluable their support is, and they will likely continue giving it, even when the level of crazy spikes and they’ve had to empty the dishwasher the last five times in a row.
5. Pray. Often.
This one is a serious one. Pray to make sure this dream that you feel God has put in your spirit is really from Him. Then pray for endurance to reach the goal. Pray for wisdom and guidance, to find the right agent and the right publisher. Pray for an audience for your book. Pray for your spouse, that they continue to overlook the crazy. Pray for your family to thrive, even in the midst of chaos.
6. Read your writing to your children.
Share your work with your kids. Let them see you struggle over it. Let them watch you work hard, and share your successes with them. Teach them how to chase their dreams. This is part of your legacy for them- words that you’ve birthed into a story that will stay with them after you’re gone.
If you and I are in the same boat, I hope you found this list helpful! Please comment and share if you have some tips to add!
Venturing away from my devotional-style blog posts, this one is a bit more personal. I am writing this mainly to set up "Part II" of this post- a humorous article called "How To Be An Aspiring Author While Working a Full-time Day Job and Raising Small Children" (how's that for a title?). But I realized, in order for me to start writing articles about writing, I first need to explain to family and friends what I am doing.
While my blog is 95% my thoughts on scripture, it is also about life in general, and my life has been even crazier than normal lately. Back in July, "out of nowhere" (read, God works in mysterious ways) I had an idea for a story (see my Writing page) pop into my head. I started writing and couldn't stop until the story was complete and I had a novel (although at 42,000 words it is considered a short novel). Now, I am starting the journey of getting it published.
Announcing to the world that I am "trying" to get a book published is a scary thing, since there are so many unknowns. But I do believe I will publish it eventually. The question is, will God allow me to have it published traditionally or go through self-publication? I've stopped and started so many projects over the years, and I've had so many "passions" that fizzled out, it's daunting to broadcast this one. But I have a clearer vision now for my writing, and I have some specific goals in mind to help me not lose the fire on this one.
But can I just share with you a little bit of my crazy, blessed life right now?
I know there are plenty of people who are just as busy as we are, if not busier. But whew! Sometimes it feels like my head is spinning! And I am so incredibly happy to be on this journey! I feel like God is shaping and molding our lives, and we want His will to be done in everything! I am so very thankful for His leading, and I am thankful for the busy seasons in life!
Ecclesiastes 3:1: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
"For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (From 1 Samuel 16:7)
I wrote this short story for children three years ago. It's about not judging people by their outward appearance. Now, I'm pasting the entire store as a blog entry, in hopes of spreading the message. Go here to download: Children's Stories
Remy's New Friend
"What's that you say?" the man in the frumpy brown sweater asked curiously.
Remy turned around hesitantly. She hadn't meant for anyone to hear her mumbling. She stared blankly at the man until he asked again, "What did you say?"
Remy knew better than to talk to strangers. But her mother smiled and nodded at her from the corner of the bookstore to let her know it was okay. "I was just thinking out loud," Remy said.
"Oh, yes, yes. Very good. Thinking is important," replied the man. "But what did you say?" There was concern in the man's voice, but it was also very gentle. He had a nice smile, and he stood patiently waiting for the girl's answer as she inspected him.
The man had a funny accent. His pants were a bit too short, revealing mismatched socks, and he wore a big, furry sweater, although it was almost July. He had funny hair, parted too far over on one side, and a few pieces fell down into his eyes which were framed by thick, dark-rimmed glasses. But the eyes behind those glasses were remarkably kind-looking.
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" Ephesians 5:20
As we enter the month of November and near the holiday we call Thanksgiving, I am reminded that every day in the life of a Christian should be a day of thanksgiving.
The scripture says it very clearly in Ephesians 5:20. The verse answers three important questions about thankfulness: when, what, and to whom.
When do we give thanks? ALWAYS.
For what do we give thanks? ALL THINGS.
To whom do we give thanks? GOD.
Having an “attitude of gratitude” is not just a catch phrase. It’s not just a good idea, although it is. It is a commandment of scripture. We are to give thanks to God always, for everything.
There is a well-known story about the famous bible commentator Matthew Henry having his wallet stolen. While there’s debate about the accuracy of how Henry was quoted, the story is a good illustration either way. It’s said that after he was robbed, Henry thanked God in his diary for four things: that he had never been robbed before; that they took his wallet only and not his life; that he didn’t have much in his wallet to be stolen; and, that he was the one who was robbed and not the one robbing.
An attitude of thanksgiving helps us put any situation into the right perspective.
In Luke, we are given a great example of thankfulness to God in the beautiful story of ten lepers cleansed by Jesus. It’s a familiar story, and there is much we can analyze and learn from it. But focusing just on the idea of thankfulness, let’s look at what the one leper out of ten did to show thankfulness.
“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks…” (Luke 17:15-16)
First, he wasn’t quiet with his praise. He didn’t slip Jesus a note. He didn’t whisper his appreciation. He cried with a loud voice, glorifying God! Like this man, we should be willing to proclaim the goodness of God in a way that others can see and hear.
Secondly, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, with his face to the ground. This was a scene of complete humility. When we give thanks, it must be done with the attitude that God alone is worthy of thanks for every good thing, and it is nothing of ourselves.
Teaching on this passage, Charles Spurgeon said, “External religious exercises are easy enough, and common enough; but the internal matter, the drawing out of the heart in thankful love, how scarce a thing it is!”
My prayer, in this season of thankfulness and all the time, is that the “drawing out of the heart in thankful love” will not be a scarce thing in my life. I pray the Holy Spirit will prompt us all to live in a state of continual thanksgiving.
There are many verses in scripture that warn us NOT to look back. Jesus said in Luke 9:62, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." This reference to looking back means longing for an old lifestyle or a turning away from the calling of God. But looking back in the right way is a good thing!
If you need a dose of joy in your day, spend some time taking inventory of the blessings God has poured out. Look back over the course of your life and see where he has brought you from. We sometimes take for granted the way he keeps us from day to day, but if we look back over the span of several years it is mind-blowing and obvious what the Lord has worked.
I recently found myself reflecting on a conversation I had with my husband 13 or 14 years ago, before he and I started dating. We were just "work friends" then, and he was admittedly a non-believer. In conversation, I asked him if he was concerned about what would happen to him after death, to which he replied, "Not really."
This memory almost made me shout! Why? Because now this "work friend" is my husband who has been a believer for years, and he's now a minister telling other people about Jesus. Wow! Who but God can do that?
We need to remember where we came from, not lamenting for the "good old days" but praising God for leading us toward His purpose!
Read the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 6:10-12: "And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
He was saying: Don't forget where God brought you from! None of what you have is by your own hand! God did it!
I encourage you to take time to reflect today. What has God done that amazes you when you take a look back?
I saw pictures today that broke my heart, and immediately brought a certain verse of scripture to mind. The pictures were of people walking through flooded streets in Houston, Texas, in the devastating wake of Tropical Storm Harvey. The people in the images on the news look so helpless and desperate, overwhelmed by water.
I saw their faces, and I ached for their ordeal, and I prayed for their safety, and I thought, "Oh, if they could just get to higher ground!" I don't know much about the landscape of Houston. I think of Texas as being very flat. And with the water coming down so fast, it seems their only refuge would be an elevated place.
Many times in life, we feel flooded with trouble, much like the literal flood being experienced right now in Texas. It rains down on us and overtakes us, and we feel like we just need to get to a place of refuge.
King David certainly felt like this, when he wrote the psalm that says, "Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." (Psalm 61:1,2) This is the verse that came to mind when I saw pictures of the flooding. There is a rock that is higher than all of us- a place of spiritual safety above the storms of life.
When we trust Him, God is our rock. Psalms 62:7 says, "In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God."
Rocks are solid, and they can provide stability. In the New Testament, Jesus compares those who follow his teaching to "a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." (Matthew 7:24-25)
The Word of God provides a sure foundation for life. No matter what circumstances we may face, we can trust in the Bible to point us in the right direction and teach us how to endure trials.
I pray for the people in the path of the storms in Texas. I pray that God will provide physical safety and refuge. My hope for those overwhelmed by this terrible situation is that they will trust in Him as their Rock, that their hearts will be comforted by Him and He will give them courage.
About the Blog
Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!