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He Calls Me Friend

“For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

Perfect and majestic Father!  How is it that you open your heavens, reach down and invite us in to your perfect world each and every minute of every day?  I don’t want to miss a chance to say “yes!” back to you when you put out your glorious hand to me.  Holy Spirit, I RSVP today to you, “Yes and Amen!”

A few weeks ago, my church was studying Proverbs 27 and the theme of friendship which runs throughout it.  It hit me how God is always inviting us into relationships that mirror what He wants with us.  Jesus, himself, changed the status of His relationship with the disciples in John 15:15 when he said, “No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends.”

The role that Jesus plays in the work of the Trinity allows us to create a personal relationship with the most holy of all holies – God almighty.  In fact, a few of my friends who have spent years in Christian denominations where fearing God the Father is placed higher than other parts of the Trinity, recently discovered that it’s this close, personal friendship with the Lord that has brought them farther along in their sanctification.

God knows the value of friendships.  He has defined what a healthy, beautiful friendship is through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus provided gentle honesty, selfless attentiveness, stubborn loyalty, and intentional pursuit.  He didn’t overlook sin and He didn’t call out sin without love.   He doesn’t lie to us or betray us.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17

Jesus didn’t meet a couple of guys, sit around having a beer listening to their woes and their sins then sign off for the day with a “see ya!”  He invested.  He pursued.  He sharpened.  Isn’t it amazing that God wants this type of relationship with little ‘ole us?

The sermon that day about friendship featured a pin drop moment.  The pastor said, “Me and Jesus, it isn’t enough.”  The crowd was silent.  We’ve always heard that’s all we need, right?  But we were made to be loved and to love.  We were made to be in communion with other believers; to be friends, loyal, intentional and wise.  We know that because it’s what God wants with us and models for us.

Friend, today ask the Holy Spirit to put someone on your heart to reach out to.  Someone that you need to make an effort to get to know.  Let’s honor and glorify God by making a new friend to whom we can sharpen and they will sharpen us, in His name.

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Friendship

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist;  Matthew 11:11

It’s been quite a few years but the period of time where I felt I had zero friends still brings a bit of sadness.  I was in the midst of mild depression, hormonal changes, medical issues and family changes.  As I evaluated the relationships I had outside my family I realized I lacked any true friends.  Many acquaintances, but no friends I could solidly rely upon.   There’s many of us that have gone through or are currently in that lonely place.   God, from the beginning, decided we shouldn’t be alone and when we are we feel that sense of incompleteness.

What I love about the quote from Jesus today is how He showed the world how much He loved and valued friendship.  Imagine a friend elevating you to such heights! When my youngest daughter went off to college she discovered this type of friendship.  I still remember the phone call when she told me she had finally realized what true, loving friendship means. 

“When she introduces me she starts out saying what an amazing writer I am and how talented I am.  She is so proud of me and excited to walk alongside me in life without jealousy or competition,” my daughter explained about her friend.  Isn’t that the type of friendship we all need?  Ones where we lift each other up and comfort each other when we are down?  People who jump at the chance to help us and just live life with us?  

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:10

I’ve come a long way from that sad time in my life.  I turned to God and the Holy Spirit for help.  I asked for good women to come into my life and they have.  I’ve had to do a lot of work on my end – as God has revealed the reasons I was in that place to begin with.  I needed to learn to be the friend I desired to have.

Let’s thank God for giving us the yearning for friendship.  Let’s thank God for helping fill that yearning.  And although we are never truly alone because of our fellowship with the Almighty, He wants us in Christian fellowship to guide us in our sanctification journey.  Our first step is to ask Him to fulfill this need.  And then we need to go to work.

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We Belong

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:6-7

For a long time, I just didn’t feel like I “belonged.”  As a child, I didn’t have a group of friends to hang out with.  My one friend, a neighbor around the corner, frequently left me out of activities with her other friends.  And when I got into high school I felt more like I was on the edge of my friend group.  Fast forward to adulthood and I never quite fit in with the boozy softball coach crowd, the gossipy PTA crowd, or even the Girl Scout leader gang.  

And when I married I was an outsider to a large, wonderful family.  Yes, they welcomed me but I couldn’t share in all the stories from long past because I never lived in the town they were all from.  My own family consists of myself and my parents – who I see and speak with infrequently.  

I spent a lot of time in prayer over the years asking God to work His changes in me so that I could feel like I belonged, somewhere, anywhere.  As my faith has progressed I’ve come to realize that I first need to accept being a part of the most important family of all – God’s. I praise Him today that He sees us as His sons and daughters.  We are His beautiful children whom He loves unconditionally.  We belong to Him.

That’s been a hard message for me to soak in and accept.  When I stand in the mirror I’ve asked God to help me see what He sees.  To love myself as He loves me – no matter where else I may have felt rejected. 

And it’s funny how God’s ways work.  When I focus on God’s love, gifts and promises the more I feel that sense of belonging.  He places me with new people and new situations that He has prepared for me.  I slough off the old negative feelings and instead give all glory to Him who loves me and who draws me closer to Him.

I recently heard a lesson about belonging. As Christians we are admonished to “remember our last name.” Like children of our earthly parents we are to go about our lives remembering who we belong to and who we represent. That really hit home. When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I became a part of a special family. One where I’m expected to remember my last name and act like I belong to the Lord Most High.

It’s amazing how God gives us the next steps when He sees we are ready — when we start acting like He expects us to.  He brings in new people to our lives when He knows we can openly accept His new ways.  I find myself so incredibly blessed by, not only the women that have been populated in my sphere, but the men.  Strong Christians who love people.  Faithful Christians who serve others.  Young, old, every race and quirkiness. And I feel like I belong.


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She Loves Like Jesus

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Jesus sees you. The first lesson of this miracle is a welcome one. You and I aren’t invisible. We aren’t overlooked. Jesus spots us on the side of the road, and he makes the first move.

Max Lucado

There are three women in my life that I count has having a significant influence on me.  Two of the three will probably never know me.  That’s the power of having an outlet to reach millions of people either through the radio, books, television, etc.  My long commutes as a young working woman were filled with life wisdom dished out with a borderline harshness by Dr. Laura.  She made sense to me and helped me to see different perspectives in relationships both personally and professionally.  Later, my faith life received a much needed injection of God’s truth from the formidable Joyce Meyer.  Her devotional, “Power Thoughts,” was Dr. Laura on faith steroids.  But again, these two women and I will probably never cross paths.

The third woman God placed in my path couldn’t be more opposite in personality than the other two.  She and Jesus share a beautiful character trait.  They love all.  They have compassion for all.  They know just what someone needs at their darkest hour.  When Jesus was asked how the masses would be fed, He stepped up to the plate.  And so does my mother-in-law, Bev Shetter.

When I first would visit Bev in her hometown of Longmont, Colorado about 30 years ago, I would find myself frequently annoyed.  You see, like people surrounding Jesus on His way to an official’s home, Bev couldn’t get through one aisle at the local grocer without multiple people approaching her.  A quick trip for a loaf of bread turned into an hour.  

This was so foreign to me.  How could one person, not only know so many people, but know so many people so well?   She wasn’t some famous tv personality.  She didn’t write a book.  She didn’t operate the local bakery, or any business for that manner.  She wasn’t even head of any organization.  She was a housewife who occasionally worked part time at a flower shop here or a dress shop there.  And, a faithful member of her church.

She knows everyone’s name, their children’s names, their parent’s names.  She knows who is sick and injured.  She can share a joke with old and young.  She lets people know she’s praying for them regularly.  And at the end of a “short” trip for a few groceries I felt a bit like Peter, annoyed that we might be late for our next engagement because Bev needed to say yet another kind “hello” to an elderly woman.

She makes you feel loved, special, remembered. 

“It’s funny how God leads us to just the right person to guide us through life. Bev has been that trusted loving spiritual friend to me for some 40 years. She has modeled the commandment of Jesus to love one another putting into action all the teachings of Jesus. We have shared laughter, faith, tears, fears, and all that life gives us and I am so grateful to her for walking beside me and revealing Jesus to me.”  

Longtime friend, Jane Nelson

Jesus did that.  You knew you were in the presence of someone special because He made you feel special.  The disciples knew that when Jesus said, “Follow me” they would be well-loved.  They would be remembered.  He wasn’t famous when He first called His disciples.  He was an unknown.  Not a rich businessman or even mildly successful tradesman.  Yet He made sure to make people feel known and loved.

 “I pray for them.  I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” John 17:9

Even in His last physical days on Earth He remembered His friends.  Not just the disciples.  You’ll notice in the verse above He is praying for everyone that the Father sent to Him – that’s you, me, Peter, John, the tax collectors, the adulterers, the gentile and the Jew.  Everyone who has turned their lives over to Him.

When I committed myself to my husband, I was given the gift of moving into Bev’s large friendship circle.  It wasn’t easy at first.  We are also opposite in personality.  I was angry, unsettled, untethered to God.  I welcomed outrage in my life, judged harshly and forgave reluctantly.  But the thing about Jesus is when He steps into a relationship with a Saul He transforms the Saul into a Paul.  And when someone like a Bev enters your life, you can’t help but come out changed.

And so I watched and listened.  I saw the peace she had in her life that I did not.  I watched her minister to the homeless, the shut in, the sick, the needy, the hurt, the lonely.  I listened to her words of compassion and quiet, unassuming advice to her friends.  She opens her home to visiting missionaries, childhood friends, family and anyone else that needs a pillow to rest their head.  And I said, “I want some of that.”

Isn’t that what we do when listen to Jesus talk to a hurting person?  “I want to be able to love like that.”  Isn’t that what we pray for when we watch Jesus stop and pay attention to one person on the street whom nobody sees?  “I should stop and help them.”  Isn’t that what we long for when Jesus tells us He will never leave us? “I want to be loved and be remembered.”

“My grandma doesn’t wait around for approval, compliments or appreciation.  She has a keen eye for what people need before they may even know it themselves.  She is one to show up with a warm meal before your stomach starts to growl or a blanket before you start to shiver. 

Granddaughter, Haley Shetter

Jesus and people like Bev show us how to love and be loved.  They show us how to be the faithful and loving friend.  They aren’t looking for 10,000 “likes” on Facebook.  They stop in the grocery aisle and say, “Hello, friend, how is your mom feeling today?”  They give their time and prayers one person at a time.  And from that, Jesus and Bev have gained a multitude of loving and faithful friends.

“My sister Bev cared for my blessed mother for many years.  Her dedication in honoring God through love and service is selfless and enduring.  Many times her faith has been tested but never paled.”

Sister, Kathy Pisano

The people like Bev, who live out this Jesus character trait so well, don’t work hard to make friends.  They don’t work hard at keeping friends.  They work hard at loving people.  They look for ways to show compassion.  They know that even doing their little part will mean something for somebody.  People like Bev are remembered wherever they go, because the people they touch feel something special.

“From her I have learned to watch and listen to her ways.  This is not something you develop overnight but attributes you gain over time.  She surrounds herself with people who also have these qualities so they can act as a tribe, a community, to build and share their love.”  

Granddaughter, Haley Shetter

Bev and her “tribe” are truly special followers of Jesus’ command to love one another and be faithful to others.  I’m a living example of someone who can learn to imitate Bev and Jesus.  I may never achieve the level of her success but God knows my efforts.  

It’s important for us that aren’t more naturally inclined to be like her to know that Jesus still expects us to work at it.  I won’t be Bev2.0 but with her example and the guidance of Jesus I can be transformed into someone new.  

Bev (front left) with a few members of her “Tribe”

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Our Faith Progression

We, therefore, desire to copy his character and put our feet into his footprints. Be it ours to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. What saith our Lord himself? “Follow me,” and again, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Not Christ’s apostle, but Christ himself, is our guide; we may not take a secondary model, but must imitate Jesus himself. 

Charles Spurgeon
 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

Many years ago, I had the benefit of listening to a sermon series on our progression as a disciple of Christ.  I have heard many pastors say there’s too many of us Christians who seem stuck at the beginning of that progression and aren’t fully living the life Christ wants for us.

It may even come as a surprise to some that there is an expected “progression” in our faith lives.  We assumed that once we accepted Jesus as our Savior we’re done.  We are able to check off that box on the questionnaire asking what our faith is: Christian.  

"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16

We all have probably heard the above verse a few times in our Christian lives.  But reading the entire chapter reveals something even more.  The progression.  

"When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

The apostle Paul himself explains that when he first came to the people of Corinth He came with the first step in the progression – the message of Jesus’ love for us.  That He died for us.  He rose again for us.  Paul goes on to say:

"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature." 1 Corinthians 2:6

The mature.  Who among your faith group would you deem “mature” in their faith?  Who among them would you deem a “baby Christian?” And where do you count yourself?  This is not asked in judgment.  All who are saved are equally loved by God.  But you can probably tell the difference between people who are further along in their faith progression and those that aren’t.  And it has nothing to do with age.  The sign of a maturing Christian is that they’ve received the gift and have actually opened the box and are using it.

So what is this progression? In the sermon series I mentioned, these steps were defined as: 

  1. Believer – Mark 9:23 
  2. Follower – Luke 9:23
  3. Apprentice – Ephesians 4:14 
  4. Learner – Philippians 4:9

Jesus Himself shows us this progression as He lived out those three world-changing years. 

  • Step 1) The Loving and Faithful Friend 
  • Step 2) The Obedient Servant
  • Step 3) The Courageous Warrior
  • Step 4) The Patient Teacher
  • Step 5) The Wise Counselor

Throughout this series, the Jesus Mindset, we will meet people – some famous and some very ordinary– who exemplify the different steps in the faith journey. And it is only correct to start with the first step.  Lest we think we have step one down pat I should warn you that so many Christians remain in step one because of the difficult truths and expectations presented.  It is the message we hear over and over in our churches.  It is the first and the last message Christ has for us, which makes it the most important of all.  

“As the Father loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

When I was researching various pastors who make love and friendship a cornerstone of their message I realized I had an old friend already in my midst waiting to talk to me again.  As I perused through my Christian books I stopped on, “How Happiness Happens,” by Max Lucado.

Pastor Lucado probably needs no introduction.  He is an internationally known pastor, author, speaker and more.  He’s written too many books and articles to count.  And the theme throughout is love. How to accept Christ’s love.  And how to show love not just to our friends but to complete strangers.  He reminds us that Jesus is our loving and faithful friend and wants us to model that character trait to everyone we meet.  When you read about Pastor Lucado you see his lifelong mission is to set solidly in our hearts the message of God’s love for us.  He shows us how to translate that great gift to others.

“I’m a pastor. I can sit down with somebody who has a broken heart and love them and encourage them and remind them of how God cares. But I struggle when I look at a budget. Or I struggle when somebody says, ‘Well, what’s the long-term strategy for our church?’ Well, I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. Let’s love God, preach Jesus, and pray.”

Max Lucado on his leadership style

So much of what Pastor Lucado speaks of seems simple.  And yet, I find myself day in and day out forgetting to live out the simple messages. 

“Greet one another for your sake.  Experience the joy of showing people they matter.  Greet each other for their sake. What is small to you may be huge to them.  Most of all greet each other for Jesus’ sake.”

Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”

How often do we go through an entire day and find ourselves never having truly connected with another human being?

“Listen intently and praise abundantly.”

Max Lucado, “How Happiness Happens”

Isn’t that what Jesus did throughout His ministry? You can only imagine how the woman at the well in John 4:1-26 felt when Jesus was with her.  He wasn’t looking over her shoulder at a bird or cute dog while she spoke.  He wasn’t thinking about the next town He was to visit or His next meal.  He saw her.  He listened to her.  He loved her even when she pushed Him away.

It’s definitely easier to live out the Jesus Mindset of being a loving and faithful friend with people we choose to be around.  We pick our friends and we even pick who in our family we spend more time with.  We are deliberate with whom we ask to go to lunch at work.  But Jesus loved the unlovable.  He touched the untouchable.  

“You wonder why God doesn’t remove the enemies in your life? Perhaps because he wants you to love like he loves. Anyone can love a friend, but only a few can love an enemy.”

Max Lucado

Isn’t this where so many of us get stuck?  We count ourselves, “good people” or “good Christians” and yet we harbor, at best unforgiveness, and at worst hatred for people.  

I grew up in a household where unforgiveness and hatred ran deep.  I had a parent who judged harshly and never forgave. People and places got etched into stone on “The List.”  That was my touchstone, my guidebook.  So when I started hearing the message of God’s love, faithfulness and forgiveness it was difficult to accept.  The first step was to believe God felt that way toward me.  And to be honest, I find myself frequently falling backward into not returning those gifts to others.  

The lessons and examples from Pastor Lucado are great every day reminders on living out Jesus’ request of us to love one another.

“God is love” (1 John 4:16). One word into the passage reveals the supreme surprise of God’s love—it has nothing to do with you. Some people love you because of you. Not God – He loves you because He is He.  

Max Lucado

Isn’t that amazing? Wouldn’t you agree that most of the people in your life love you because of who you are to them? A daughter or son, a wife or husband, a longtime friend with similar interests, and so on. We may even find ourselves saying we love a person who is related to us but we don’t like them very much. It’s all conditional. But God loves us because He is love. Let’s not just gloss over that. Take a moment to really let it sink in. He is the definition of love. Like a cloud of love envelopes us and snuggles us wherever we go!

I saw a picture the other day of a woman at the store who had created a contraption designed to keep people six feet away from her. It involved a hula hoop, straps, signs, warning reflectors and more. When I saw this I thought, “that’s the exact opposite message of Jesus.” His cloud of love surrounding us is more like a fog bank — it pulls others in and seeps into everything. It quiets the world around us.

Today, when you go out into the world, picture your God cloud swirling around you. It’s beautiful and inviting. Its little tendrils reach out and wrap around others you meet. Invite them in with a smile, a greeting, a shrug of forgiveness. With each act of love we a do a bit of cloud seeding — leaving a piece of Jesus to grow.


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Closer Than A Brother

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is 
my helper; I will not be afraid. What 
can mere mortals do to me?” 
Hebrews 13:6

There’s been a number of times in my life when I felt all alone.  In high school the neighbor girl who I had been friends with since I was in fourth grade rejected me.  The kids I hung out with at school always treated me as an outsider, never inviting me over to game nights and other fun group activities.  I wasn’t a nerd, athlete, druggie, ASB, drama, or whatever type person we think of when we remember our high school years.  I was friendly with people in all groups but never a part of a group.

I could’ve really used Jesus.

I was listening to a great podcast recently called, “Talk It Out.”  It’s an offshoot of the Joyce Meyer Ministry where three women of various stages of life take Mrs. Meyer’s teachings and work on applying it to their everyday lives.  On that day they were talking about different times they’d felt alone.  And I realized that probably every single one of us have felt that way at some point or multiple points in our lives.  Some of you might feel that way right now.

One of the ladies spoke of when, in high school, she kept Jesus close to her at all times.  Her only true friend.  She would even talk to Him in the car as though He were a constant companion in her passenger seat.

One who has unreliable friends soon 
comes to ruin, but there is a friend 
who sticks closer than a brother. 
Proverbs 18:24

I can’t tell you with 100% accuracy that this proverb speaks of God.  But I can tell you that God is 100% that friend who is “closer than a brother.”  And when we feel alone and as though our faith journey is stuck, we need only turn to Jesus and say, “Hello.”  If you are in a season that you feel alone, left out, far from any quality friendships – including God– it’s time to call to Him with all your heart.

It reminds me of when Mary, having seen the empty tomb, stands outside crying.  She must’ve felt very alone at the time.  When Jesus appears to her, she thinks He is the gardener and demands to know where he moved the body.  And Jesus simply says to her, “Mary.”  She turns to Him and suddenly recognizes Him and grabs hold of Him, crying out “Rabboni!”  My favorite part of this is the fact the text is written like this in the NIV and King James version – “Mary.” No exclamation.  He doesn’t yell out to her.  It feels so quiet and gentle and personal.  “Mary.”  

Now imagine yourself standing there thinking God has let you down.  He’s allowed the worst thing that could ever happen to actually happen.  And you cry out.  He responds.  Standing right in front of you with a gentle, loving word.

Instead of saying with proud lip, “Well, if He leaves me I must do without Him, if I cannot have His comfortable presence I must fight on as best may be,” the soul says, “No, it is my very life, I must have my God.”

Charles Spurgeon

And with that renewed friendship we can add to our request of God, “Help me to find reliable friendships here on earth.”  He may convict of you of your own sins or thinking.  Rest assured when you sit with Him over coffee, while on your commute, or at a quiet lunch at the park, He will be the most honest friend you could ever desire.

The righteous choose their friends 
carefully, but the way of the wicked 
leads them astray. 
Proverbs 12:26

For me, I needed Jesus for a friend in high school as a companion – I was an oddball, a square peg and all the holes were round.  And later, I needed Jesus as that friend who would speak truth into me to show me why I didn’t have close friends, why I’d been rejected so often.  He showed me that my need to control the people around me was not a desirable attribute in a friend.  I was quick to anger and judgement.  And selfish ways pushed people away.

Sometimes when I think about what our lives are like today, I like to imagine what it would’ve been like living as a pioneer woman.  Living a lonely life with just my husband and two kids out on the prairie.  No texting, no Instagram.  Barely any mail even.  Where would I find friendship?  In my days of harvesting and cooking and cleaning I would need to seek out the only person my Bible told me would be with me always – Jesus.

That was true then and it’s still true today.  Friends we had 10 years ago may not even be part of our lives.  Friends we meet today may fade away.  So, it’s imperative we hold close to our hearts our one constant, our friend, our counselor, our Rock – our Lord.

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A Tiny Message #6

Therefore, since we are surrounded 
by such a great cloud of witnesses, 
let us throw off everything that 
hinders and the sin that so easily 
entangles. 
Hebrews 12:1

I was at one of the lowest points in my life. Sure, I realized at some point that my hormonal situation was partially to blame but so was my environment. More specifically, I had surrounded myself with friends who, to be honest, weren’t all that great of friends. When I asked for help one day because of a medical problem my friends said, “no.” Even my parents said, “no.” I found myself at the end of my spiritual rope.

I remember sitting at my computer looking at Facebook and slowly deleting every single “friend” while sobbing. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t let go of us.

I will not leave you as orphans; 
I will come to you.  
John 14:18

What I was led to do in the coming weeks was to seriously evaluate what environment I had created and how I could create a better one. I went down the list of women I knew casually and had shown themselves to be people of character. And I started calling them, inviting them to lunch, Bible study, or for a walk. About a year later I told some of them what had happened that day I needed help. Some of them cried for me and said, “I wish you had called me. I would have dropped everything for you.” And then I cried. But this time tears of love and joy.

Sometimes we need to have a truly hard moment to see what we have created around us and how it hinders our spiritual connectedness. And the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us to our new home. I found this prayer about laying aside all our hinderances that I thought you might enjoy.

“Lord, I want to stay in an environment that will keep my faith alive and strong. Help me recognize those relationships and places I should avoid to keep my faith from being negatively affected. As you show me places, people, and things I should avoid, give me the strength I need to do what is right — and give me the wisdom I need to know how to avoid those places and people! I pray this in Jesus’ name!”

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Seek Koinonia

Life Lesson #8: Seek deep and long lasting communion with other Christian believers

I pray that your partnership (koinonia) with 
us in the faith may be effective 
in deepening your understanding of 
every good thing we share for the 
sake of Christ.
Philemon 1:6

When I began my Christian journey, I didn’t have any Christian friends.  My parents were not Christians either.  My husband had grown up in the faith but wasn’t really connected at the time.  My only real guides were my in-laws, who I saw infrequently because they lived in another state.  I relied heavily on the once a week lessons taught by the pastor.  If it didn’t make sense to me, I just figured I was not smart enough or even faithful enough to understand.  I wasn’t encouraged to attend a church Bible study until much later in my journey while at another church.

Every day they continued to meet 
together in the temple courts. They 
broke bread in their homes and ate 
together with glad and sincere 
hearts, praising God and enjoying 
the favor of all the people. And 
the Lord added to their number daily 
those who were being saved.  
Acts 2:46-47

My BSGs just finished the Bible study book, Everyday Theology.  In the week study titled “Church” we were asked to read the verse above and then talk about what makes a “good” church.  What we all included was a type of fellowship that goes beyond just being friends.  In various places of the Bible the Greek word “koinonia” is used.  That’s the kind of partnership or communion we saw as being important as a Christian.

koinōnía (a feminine noun) – properly, what is shared in common as the basis of fellowship (partnership, community), the share which one has in anything, participation

Strong’s Concordance

If you search the word, “koinonia,” it’s interesting to see that it’s attributed to Christian fellowship.  Meaning we are again set apart with a special communion and partnership with each other.  We are to take responsibility for spurring each other on in our sanctification journey.  We show each other love and truth.

In his letter to Philemon, Paul starts out reminding Philemon of the importance of koinonia and how he has seen it at work in the Colossian church – the church which met regularly in Philemon’s home.  Why does he remind Philemon?  Because Paul is about to ask him for a favor – one that will reveal the true state of Philemon’s heart.  He asks for the forgiveness and accepting back of a man who stole from him.

And let us consider how we may 
spur one another on toward love 
and good deeds, 
Hebrews 10:24

How many of us have surrounded ourselves with fellow believers who will help us in our pruning journey?  Not just a nice, “hello” at church or even an occasional dinner date with some church friends.  But a true, deep partnership with people we know have the same measuring stick as their guide.  With people we know that won’t give up on us and we won’t give up on them?

As I look back at the beginnings of my faith journey, I see the times I really could’ve used a few Christian friends.  Instead, my circle helped me, even encouraged me, to live a life which God would not be pleased.  And when I was truly in need I was frequently abandoned.

Do not be misled: “Bad company 
corrupts good character.” 
1 Corinthians 15:33

I had a friend in college that I saw almost every day because we had a lot of the same classes.  We studied together and ate together.  One day I came upon her at a grassy area on campus with some other students.  She was smoking a cigarette.  I had never seen her smoke before!  I asked her about it and she said, “Oh ya, when I’m around my friends from Spain I smoke all the time!”  We have to admit that our friends (and family) have some influence over us.  So, in the choosing, as Christians, we are advised by Jesus and the apostles to choose wisely.

That’s not to say we aren’t to have non-believers in our lives.  Those are the folks God has put in front of us to bring to Him!  But we should actively seek out koinonia with other believers.  They are the ones with whom we should feel safe when we need to confess our sins.  They are the ones who can help us to show grace and forgiveness.  They are the ones who will show us compassion.  We know this because they are on the same faith journey as us.

For where two or three gather 
in my name, there I am with them. 
Matthew 18:20

So often we make our friends by chance – through our kids or spouses or through a hobby or activity.  When was the last time you sat down and evaluated your friendship circle?  When was the last time you actively worked to build a different circle?  

Your love has given me great joy 
and encouragement, because you, brother, 
have refreshed the hearts of the 
Lord’s people.  
Philemon 1:7

Fellowship, koinonia, with other believers helps bring us closer to the love, joy, and grace that God wants for us.  I’m thankful that I have built a small group of friends that hold my feet to the fire and will also wash my feet when I am in need – and I am willing to do the same for them.   I started building this circle by first joining a Bible study and then offering to lead one. I found myself then helping create Bible study curriculum and joining other church committees. Each time, I gathered up more Christian friends. Until finally, I asked a couple ladies at my gym, whom I had heard talking about church, if they’d like to do a Bible study with me. And so my BSGs (Bible Study Girls) were formed. Each God-directed step has taken me closer to koinonia, not only with fellow believers but, with the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t have fellow Christian friends, today is the day to pray that God will send you in the right direction.  And when He opens the door, step through it.

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

Wheat or Chaff


Before I sat down to write this final word on the Book of James, I re-read through the five chapters and my highlighted notes.  What struck me was how perfectly James’ words speak to the state of our current world.  In February 2020, as news of the Covid19 virus started coming in from around the world we didn’t think too much about it.  Another type of flu, meh.  And suddenly March was upon us.  Our lives were shutdown.  Justified or not, our businesses closed, so many allowed fear to grip them into locking themselves in their homes, we ran out of toilet paper, our churches stopped welcoming us into their doors, and we watched rioters burn down cities.  Some of us turned away from God and others of us ran toward Him.


I told my husband the other day how amazingly well spoken the disciples were.  I think the tendency to think back to “ancient times” may lead us to think they weren’t as smart as us because we value “knowledge” over “wisdom.”  In this short five-chapter letter, James’ gifts shine through.  He is eloquent when using the metaphors of ships and rudders and forest fires and small sparks when speaking of our waggling and dangerous tongues.  He turns into a great debater when providing facts about not showing favoritism and how the famed among us are typically the ones who take advantage of us.  He is a fiery preacher when scolding us to submit and resist the devil.  And a faithful servant reminding us to reach out to God for any and all needs.

I read an introduction to a Bible study on James once that said, “Unlike most books of the New Testament, the letter of James is best known for the people who don’t like it. People like love.  They like Christ.  They don’t like James.”  But isn’t that the very reason this letter needed to be written?  Before we are thrown into a crisis like the year 2020, before we face off with the devil, before we walk out the door to deal with unhappy, non-believers, James wants to shake us awake.  To give us the tools to stand firm in the face of adversity.  To be God’s faithful lights for the world.  When I read James, I think of this letter as one for us everyday people.  It’s a workshop full of concrete “how to’s.”  There’s nothing wishy washy or confusing about James.

James is a “how to” book for us all

In the midst of the trials of the last few months, how many of us have considered it “pure joy?”  (James 1:2) When out for our evening walk the other day, I told my husband how much I have appreciated what has happened.  It forced me to slow down and stop fretting over filling up my daily schedule.  My house got really clean.  We turned to each other for loving support more than ever.  We became a team and God was our head coach.  I’ve been blessed to spend more time with a particular friend than I wouldn’t normally as she goes through a divorce.  My BSGs (Bible study girls) started meeting in January.  Two of whom I only slightly knew.  We are now prayer warriors for each other.  I asked my husband what positive things have come out of this for him – in the face of a very difficult work situation.  He said he’s realized who he can really rely on.

I’ve learned how to be humble.  I’ve learned to listen to people who have fears that I don’t have and show them grace.  That person driving alone in their car with a full double breather mask pushes me to pray for them to find peace rather than make fun of them.  Because that is what the Word tells us (James 1:23).

The destruction caused by favoritism, hating our neighbor, people lacking in mercy and those living in greed fills our daily news.  People wanting to burn small businesses because they feel their needs are greater. Rioters standing with bullhorns yelling all night into homes because their view of the world comes first.  Employees and businesses “gaming the system” to get more of the money distributed to help those struggling makes me want to cry. And, I can still picture a couple at Home Depot filling their pick-up truck to its fullest with toilet paper and laughing about it.  (James 2:8, 13, 3:16, 4:17, 5:2).

And if we looked hard enough, we saw churches helping their communities by doing food drives and people volunteering to help at Food Banks.  We saw neighbors supporting each other.  We saw churches fighting to stay open and serve their flocks.  I saw people like Christian worship leader Sean Feucht gathering people by the 100s to pray and worship God outside – at parks, at beaches, on the streets. I saw friends get on their knees and fully surrender to God. (James 2:8, 14,4:7, 5:19)


In the United States, we are going through an important presidential election.  I’ve stood at street corners supporting a candidate while the opposing side hurls hatred and curse words at me.  All the while they hold signs telling me to have more compassion and to love certain races.  (James 3:9).  I’ve watched candidate debates where the lies are piled up not only by the candidate but by the debate moderator and then by the media.  All in order to disguise the true platform of the candidate.  Their yes has not meant yes and their no has not meant no. (James 5:12)

I’ve said to others that this time seems unprecedent.  And this letter of James seems very prescient.  There is a sifting going on.  Have we chosen to surrender and submit to God?  (James 4:7). Have we thrown up all our worries, our hurts, our sins to God or are we taking them out on others?  (James 5:13-16) Are we working to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ or are we fighting with them?  (James 5:19)

Will we finally surrender it all to God?

James makes it clear, without a lot of flowery prose, as to the destruction we humans can wrought without our eyes firmly on God.  The question is, will we listen and do or will we deceive ourselves?

Thank you for joining me on this journey through James.  I look forward to you joining me with my next series called, “Living Amazed through Jesus” beginning November 1. 

bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, Uncategorized

A Helping Friend


When my youngest daughter and I started working on our relationship I prayed, a lot.  I prayed what to say the first summer she was home from college.  I prayed each time I visited her.  I asked God to put the right words in my mouth at the right time, with the right heart.  I prayed to have my need to feel hurt and offended by her words be taken from me.  I wanted God to change me so dramatically that my daughter could see that change.  She needed to see that I was doing the work on my own issues.  I had two God moments that have stuck with me during that time.  The first was the summer after her freshmen year.  I knew, from my older daughter, that life was going to change at our house.  We would now have four adults living in our home – no children.  And so, I prayed for the right words at the right time.   James has taught us so well that when we rely on God in times of trial that wonderous solutions come to us that we might never have thought.  I prayed that her newfound relationship with Jesus would also guide our conversations.

The last few words in the Book of James is really a summary.  He tells us to take all of the wisdom and expectations of the five chapters and work together for the glory of God.  To help those Christians who wander off God’s track and bring them back into his loving arms.  To guide our children to a life of grace, wisdom and forgiveness.

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:19

Which brings me to the second of those God moments.  My daughter and I were on the phone having yet another tense conversation while she was back at school.  Full of misunderstandings and secret expectations (She has since told me she had long felt I had extremely high expectations of her and she didn’t want to fail me).  I took a breath and prayed for God to speak through me.  I stopped talking.  I started listening.  And finally, the right words came.  

Me: “I have something to ask of you.”

Her: “What?”

Me: “I am working really hard on trusting God to handle a lot of stuff – including my fears and hopes and dreams for you.”

Her: “Uh uh.”

Me: “But I fail, a lot.  I’m very impressed how you give a lot of grace and forgiveness to your friends, coaches, and teachers.  What I’m asking for is that you give me some of that same grace and forgiveness for when I fail.”

Pin drop.  God’s words not only diffused the situation but it called on her to look on her own faith.  It asked her to treat me just like any other Christian to whom she shows love.  It took me out of being “just her mom” to being a person.  God was doing a mighty work in that moment.

On a “back to school” road trip

As Christians we probably have Christian friends.  We might have Christian children and spouses.  We should have the expectation to which James exhorts us, which is to help keep our brothers and sisters on track.  We might cringe at that thinking, again, we don’t want to be judgmental people.  But by relying on our faith and reminding others of their faith helps us all to grow closer to Christ.  It’s that Imperfect Progress my Bible study girls like to talk about.  

What is more worthwhile than saving someone from death and covering a multitude of sin?

Faith That Works

If we are in the mindset that our faith is ours and ours alone, we won’t reach out and bring others to Christ. We won’t help our brethren when they fall. I was in a Bible study group once where a woman stated she had never had a conversation about Christ with someone other than people at her church. She seemed ok with that. It made me sad. I know that God had put multiple people in her life along the way (she was in her 80s) to help do His work. I know that because that is God’s nature.

Every person you meet is providential, not accidental.

Phil Hopper, Pastor, Abundant Life Church

So often we think about going out to foreign countries to share our faith when in our own homes and neighborhoods and schools and play groups and Bunco groups and dinner clubs there are people who need Christ.  There are Christians who need our support.  It’s one thing to gain wisdom from studying His Word and yet another to actually use that wisdom to glorify God.

May we be lumps of salt in the midst of society.

Charles Spurgeon

I like that visual.  To be placed around our neighborhoods and cities for the people to gain something good.  We aren’t to be stockpiling our salt for our own personal use.  We should be anticipating those moments God says, “Here, help my beloved.”

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.

Phillipians 2: 3-4

In other words, if we look at our salvation as a gift from God, we must also share that gift.  We must also share the love and teachings of Jesus.  By using Jesus’ ways as our touchstone, we can guide others along the way.  

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10: 24-25

My daughter now will give me biblically based advice when I am struggling.  She reminds me to lean into and on God.  She gently pushes me closer to Jesus.  I had a older friend, who at the beginning of the Covid19 crisis, I checked in on.  I considered him a leader in our church, a man of strong faith.  He was distraught and depressed. He said to me, “I just can’t see God in any of this to be honest.”  And me, a person who struggles with memorizing any scripture spoke these words back to him: “You must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a boat on the waves of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6) This man of great faith was silent.  And then he said, “Thank you.”

As a Christian, I need my Christian friends and family to remind me of the promises God has made.  I need nudges back toward His light.  I may even need a whack over the head once in a while.  If we choose not to help each other, think of all the opportunities we have missed to glorify Him and the people we will not have helped save from death. And as for my older daughter, I pray every day of my role in bringing her to Christ. More importantly, I pray that a Christian friend of hers will tell her their testimony and invite her on The Way.`