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From Why? to What?

Lessons from Cherith

He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Luke 24:38

During the time in my own land of Cherith, a place where I was separated from my home, my regular way of life and exposed to great sadness, I so needed to rely on the vast promises of God.  Yet each day I battled the “why” of it all.  Why didn’t the cancer doctors see and recognize the increased cancer markers in my beloved mother-in-law’s blood tests?  Why did each visit to the emergency room end without answers?  But more importantly, why would this woman, a shining light for God, an inspiring gift to everyone around her, a woman, as her pastor reflected at her funeral with a beautiful aura surrounding her, be stricken with cancer and taken so soon? Why God, oh why?

How often have we lamented that why question in our lives?  Why are we suffering financially?  Why is my child rebelling?  Why is my marriage on the rocks?  Why did I suffer that abuse?  It seems as Christians we are expected to answer those questions.  I believe many of us avoid speaking the Gospel to our friends, family and neighbors out of fear of being asked those why’s of life.  In fact, as a young college student who was approached one day on my campus by two religious folks, I too asked the big why – why is there suffering?  You see I believed in God but didn’t really know anything about Him.  Unfortunately, neither did these two young proselytizers.

I recently heard the statement: “If we view the world as a Christian, it all makes sense.”  On the surface that’s a real head scratcher since this world seems so upside down especially now.  Broken families, broken lives, so much pain and death abound.  But take a step back, way back to Genesis 3.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:17-18

And that’s just a taste of what man’s rebellion wrought.  Creation is currently at odds with God.  And just as cells divide and life moves without our intervention, our world around us is no longer under our full dominion.  So yes, there’s floods and fire and famine and cancer.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with whether we are a good person or not.  In addition to this result of The Fall, we became separated from God, always seemingly looking for ways to buck His system.  And we face the consequences for our actions, both individually and collectively.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’” Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”  Exodus 5:1-2

And we know how well that went for Pharoah.  But what was Moses’ first reaction after Pharoah knuckled down and made the Israelites work harder?  “Why?”  He asked God why did He have to make things worse and why did Moses have to be the brunt of everything?  From a Christian point of view, we should say, “There’s consequences in this world when anyone chooses to not submit – whether you choose to believe in God or not.”  This is not “Karma,” it’s simply a cause and effect of acting outside God’s desires for us.  

And while we may cry out, “why?!” in the moment whether in situations of our own making or of those in which we have no power, we need to remember the “what.”  What is God doing in me or even in the world?  What is God expecting of me as a believer? What is the promise I can hold on to?  The early Israelites had a decent excuse.  They didn’t know God as well as we do now.  They didn’t have all the stories of how He has rescued and protected His people.  They didn’t have Jesus’ brother James telling them there will be trials and in them they need to seek the lessons of God.  They didn’t have Jesus come to earth and die for their sins.  They didn’t have the Book of Revelation.  But we do.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

So, each day as I sat beside Bev’s bed as her body succumbed not to cancer but to an infection, I battled the “why” demon. I wanted someone punished.  I wanted someone to suffer like I was now suffering.  Then I heard a whisper, “She gets to come home to me.  And you need to see what I am teaching you.”

You see even in her suffering, on her death bed, this Christian called Bev was a conduit for Jesus.  A teacher and a comforter.  I finally realized it didn’t matter the “why.”  For one, there really were no answers that fully satisfied.  At times like that we just need to submit to God’s sovereignty and say, “I don’t know but He does.”  The only real answers that I continued to come back to were the “what.”

What did I truly believe about God?  And what was He trying to teach me?

Christian Friend, if you earnestly believe the Bible, believe that God is the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all it’s inhabitants, if you believe He is sovereign and He sent His Son to die for our sins, if you believe that there is a place greater than Eden awaiting us then you could understand why Bev wasn’t worried.  Why she could make us all laugh at her darkest hour.  Why, in the middle of a conversation she looked over my shoulder, waved and with a child-like voice exclaimed in joy, “Hi Jesus!”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? John 14:2

You see I didn’t need to know the answers to my worldly questions and I definitely didn’t need retribution.  I needed to remember that Jesus hates death because it’s a sign of our broken world.  And He is right now preparing a room more beautiful than I can imagine for even me.  When He comes back we will all be raised up to live forever in a beautiful place that has no suffering, no death, no pain, no war, no hate, no fear.  And that is just what I needed to learn.

Are you asking “why” in your difficult time when you should be asking “what?”

What is the Lord teaching or asking you right now?  

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I Will

So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. Matthew 1:19

We left off our study of new beginnings with a cliff hanger of sorts.  There sat Jonah on a hill wishing he were dead.  And God reminding Jonah that He cares for all people of the earth, especially the ones “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”  Thank goodness for that because there are many days I feel and act like one of those foolish people!  If left to being helped out of my fiery pit by unloving, sleepy Christians, I would surely find myself in the depths of hell.  But for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  And those that submit themselves not only to their will but do so out of love.

So, we leave the Old Testament with many more stories of new beginnings than I have shared.  And with hope that Jonah finally grasped God’s message of works without love is empty and useless.  But here’s the thing about our guidebook for life, the Bible, God’s holy Word, there’s 1000s of connections back and forth between the ancient stories in the Old Testament and the newer history of the New Testament.  Which leads us to the first new beginning we encounter in the book of Matthew.  Another Noah.  Another servant of God who is the way maker for the world’s new beginning.  The connector from the old ways to the new.  A man who, like Noah, was considered “righteous” and faithful to God.  But first, let me share with you a modern story of another righteous man who helped shepherd in a new beginning for one small child.

Epworth’s Children’s Home received this first-hand account from a foster parent in 2017 about his experience in becoming a foster father:

“Our family has been fostering a boy since October 2017. Yesterday our foster child had a court hearing to determine what step to take as far as his custody goes. I haven’t shared a lot about the whole foster experience because I have been afraid, to be completely honest. Afraid because fostering has been a lot harder for me than I thought it would be. Not because the child is difficult – it has been hard because of my heart. Ever since he came into our home, I have been terrified of becoming too attached and having my heart broken when he would eventually leave our home. I have been terrified of giving him all of my love, my energy, my grace and my compassion. I was sitting in the courtroom listening to the different parties discussing and debating the best course of action for the child’s future, when I started shaking. I began to realize this is the moment! The moment I decide to completely expose my heart to the potential of pain, or keep my walls up. It was absolutely terrifying! I started hearing a small voice inside that I could no longer ignore, and it was telling me to fight for this child. I realized I was willing to do anything for him.

“My walls started to crumble around me. Then I heard the judge call my name. He wanted to know if I wanted to adopt this child. I wanted to scream “Yes! He is my son!”, but I think I said something a little less dramatic like, “Yes sir, we are working on becoming licensed for adoption for this child.” I then heard the judge say that he is ordering termination of parental rights and opening this case for adoption. The weight of this decision is not lost on me, but it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had.”

But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20

Joseph was our Lord’s foster father.  As a devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he had every right to not only publicly shame Mary for her “adultery” but also to have her stoned to death!  Before the angel even spoke to him, however, love, kindness, compassion took over and he decided to quietly divorce her.  Think of how Jonah would’ve responded.  Surely God would’ve had to intervene to save Mary’s life from Jonah’s anger.

After Joseph obeyed God’s urging to complete his marriage vows to Mary, his troubles surely were not over. Like Noah, he would’ve faced public humiliation.  The knowledge of Mary’s pregnancy in the small village of Nazareth would have spread like a wildfire.  And yet he stayed the course.  He stayed faithful not only to Mary but to God.  He didn’t, by all accounts do it begrudgingly like Jonah.  He took up the mantle of “foster father” and protected his family, raised his son as his own.  His new beginning was as father to someone else’s son.  An earthly role model.  A shepherd, like Noah, for what was to be all of humanity’s new beginning.

Joseph and the unnamed servant girl who helped Naaman (2 Kings 5:3) also have a lot in common.  They were faithful.  They had a heart for God.  They stepped up to help when they could’ve taken a different path.  Their small steps were a gift to many.  And they both are but a few lines in our history.  Joseph’s last mention of him doesn’t even use his name.  Jesus is 12 years old, immersed in the teachings at the temple and his parents are frantically looking for him.  His mother chastises him and says, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” (Luke 2:48)  After that, Joseph fades away.  Most likely, he passes before Jesus begins his adult ministry.

And yet we remember him each Christmas for his shepherding, protecting, and faith.  We should all add a bit of thanks to Joseph each day we pray in Jesus’ name.  Because like so many faithful servants of Christ, He obeyed out of love.  He didn’t ask or require that “thanks.”  He didn’t harbor ill will for having to endure hardship.  He put his head down, his hands out and his heart lifted and said to God, “I will.”

I want to share with you the rest of the letter written to Epworth Children’s Home by the foster father:

“I will end with this. This is especially for you guys and fathers. If you feel God tugging at your heart to become a foster parent, listen! There will always be a reason to not become a foster parent, but if your main reason is that you are scared your heart will be broken, then you especially need to do it. Foster children need someone who will be heartbroken over them. They need someone who is going to stick by them when things get hard. They haven’t experienced that. They need someone to love them and be gentle with them when they come over and hit you in the face with a maraca and break your glasses (not that I have ever had that happen, that is completely hypothetical, of course!). They need someone who is going to be faithful to them and strong for them in their weakest moments. I am by no means perfect in any of those, but I am strong in my faith, and it provides me the love, strength and grace that I need. Fostering has made me more dependent on God, in everything, and that is good. Ultimately, I am a foster child who was adopted into His family, and I am fully loved.”

Amen.

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New Beginnings

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:2

Before Christmas I was listening to an episode of White Horse Inn, a podcast by reformed theologians and pastors.  The episode, titled O’ Holy Night, focused on the beauty and glory of what happened that first Christmas night.  They started by explaining how Mary was, in effect, barren, empty.  God used her barrenness like He did the universe to create something new, something out of nothing.  It was the reason a virgin was selected to show how God is the great Creator.  

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Luke 1:34-35

Each time I hear or read of a connection that weaves through the Bible from the beginning to the middle and to the end I find myself having an “ah, ha moment.”  Barring heading off to theology school and learning about all these connections in a short time span,  I hope to keep hearing about the Grand Story and all its connectedness throughout my days.  It’s like coming upon a complete sand dollar at the beach or a beautiful, out of place flower in an otherwise barren landscape.  You, at first can’t believe your eyes; then you stoop down to look closer.  And then you pop up looking around to tell someone – because it might not be true unless you can verify it.   You want to share the moment, the beauty, the awesomeness of it all.  Meanwhile others pass by seemingly uninterested or unseeing.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop by Nancy Guthrie on biblical theology.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s taking a theme found in the Bible and tracing its path from Creation to Consummation (typically Revelation).  It helps us to see the Grand Story of God and all the tiny threads that create one massive character profile of our Creator.  And how all stories lead us to Jesus.

I decided for this next series to take up the challenge Mrs. Guthrie gave us that weekend.  To start looking at chapters in this thousands-year old story as one through various themes.  And who could resist starting the new year with the theme of New Beginnings?  

We live out our own lives through a long series of new beginnings.  From the creation of our very being to our entry into society and from there taking on new challenges whether school or jobs, a marriage or even a marriage to the church we look toward tomorrow for that new step.  

If we are blessed to live a long life, we will find ourselves with new beginnings in our families and as we reach retirement.  And for some, new beginnings may be what it takes to remove ourselves from addiction, abusive relationships, broken marriages, and even criminal behavior.

In the next few months, we will walk through a number of new beginnings found in the Bible.  Beginnings, like Noah that needed just one small family to see the entire Earth be reborn.  Beginnings like Rahab’s that started out of selfish need and God turned to good.  And beginnings like Jonah who ran as fast as he could from starting new but God, when He selects you for change won’t let go.  And quiet new beginnings like that of Onesimus who sits in the background of the letter by Paul to Philemon.

We will see how the character of God shows up each time – from beginning to middle and end.  How He keeps His promise to never leave us, to never forsake us even when we feel so alone.  And we will see how His will is always done and it is good.

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;" Ephesians 4:22-23

My friend, you might be right on the cusp of a new beginning.  It might look terrifying.  It might look exciting.  You might not even realize it at all until you are in the thick of it.  Some of you are longing for a new beginning.  I can promise you this, God’s plan is at work.   He’s right there watching and guiding.  So as this new year begins let’s say a prayer to the Creator.  To help us hear and see what new things He wants of us.  And what old things He wants cast off.  He has a story to tell with you.  Let’s help Him publish it for all the world to see.

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Love

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The word “love” is found over 300 times in the King James Bible.  And if we were to study each mention, we’d probably find quite a lot of different uses of that word.  In our lives we use “love” in reference to friends, food, hobbies, God, spouses and more.  Each having a different meaning.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The current great lie about love is the statement “love is love.”  It’s use in this phrase is to convince us that all worldly love is good.  But as anyone who has taken a hard look at the idols we place in our lives we know that isn’t true.  We, as Christians, also know that deep, interpersonal love like the love between spouses, is reserved for specific relationships.  Love, as God has gifted us, is not just a feeling or a yearning.  It’s to be a mirror of the love God shows us.

God asks us to show love for our neighbors through kindness.  He asks us to show love to sinners with forgiveness and compassion.  He gives us families to express deep connections.  And He reserves a special love between a man and a woman.

Love is one of the many gifts from God that cannot be fully explained.  It’s not just our brain firing off electrical impulses when we see an attractive person.  If that were the case it wouldn’t explain loving people who hate us.  I thank God for this big, mysterious gift of love.  And I thank Him for how much He loves us.  His love is so unexplainable yet simple.  We don’t deserve it and He will never take it away.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
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The Well-Worn Path

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

In the mid-1800s hundreds of thousands of pioneers left the comfort of their eastern homes beyond the Mississippi River and traveled West toward what we now call Oregon.  The result of those courageous pioneers is hundreds of miles of well-worn wagon wheel ruts.  In some places the gouges from the wagons extend four feet deep in the rock.  It became a symbol of being on the right path when your wagon wheels found the ruts for which to follow.  And because they were so deep it meant your wheels would stay true to that path.

And there lies the idea behind “being in a rut.”  A well-worn path that, in some cases, is a good place.  So often, however, the result of creating those paths in our lives leads us down roads we long to escape.  I wonder how many of us Christians find ourselves in a well-worn path that either isn’t to our liking or to God’s?  

The last few weeks we’ve looked at ways Christians are expected to stand apart, be held to a higher standard, and stand resolutely with Christ, not the world.  But for many of us that means climbing out of that four foot deep rut.  The rut of going along to get along.  The rut of living in half-truths such as only expressing love without truth or vice versa.  The rut of an unintentional life.  The rut of sitting in a church where you aren’t convicted or spurred to share the message of eternal life.  The rut of any number of sins.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling,no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. Psalm 91:9-10

The Apostle Paul was in a rut.  He followed half-truths taught by the Pharisees and then he, himself, passed those false truths along with a vengeance.  It wasn’t until Jesus abruptly entered his life and yanked him out of that four foot hole that he realized his state.  And when he did, he took the message in Psalm 91 to heart.  He pressed on and on staying close to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  He trusted that although perils would befall him it would not stop him from his mission.  And thank God.  Because he, like you and I, was just a man.  A regular flesh and blood human.  A person filled with sinful ways.  Without his trust in God, without his life of intentionally following Jesus we wouldn’t have his wise words to guide us.  He was like Jesus in a sense that God wanted us to have a fleshly example to model.  Jesus clothed Himself in skin so he could endure our earthly life.  And endure it with full trust in God.  

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. Psalm 91:14

Because He loves me just as much as He loved Paul, I know that I can live a bold life in the name of Jesus.  I know that even when hands come against me or when words try to hurt me, I will receive the ultimate promised prize.  And when we live a life in worldly ruts – cowering before our accusers, afraid of speaking our faith, staying in the shadows not helping pull our fellow travelers from the flame – we are saying to God, “I really don’t trust you to work all things for my good.”

The ruts we need to seek are the well-worn paths of the saints, not the sinners.  The paths that Jesus has laid out for us are so clearly defined in His Word.  We need to look for them as parents, as spouses, as co-workers, as sisters in Christ, as citizens.  

He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. Psalm 91:15-16

We can’t do this alone my friends.  Through praying in the Spirit (not the flesh), through Christian fellowship, good teaching, and constantly living with God just ahead of us as our pioneer guide we can accomplish everything He asks of us.  And He will satisfy us with salvation and the glory of heaven.

Friends, what well-worn worldly paths are you living in?  Is it your parenting style?  Or maybe you’ve flipped the script in your marriage.  Are you in too deep with equating your faith with your politics?  Have you forgotten that God sees and knows every word you speak, every emotion that lies in our heart?  Are you taking advantage of God’s promised salvation and disobeying Him without repentance?   It’s time to stop in our tracks and look up to the edge of the rut.  Stick out your hand and ask the Holy Spirit for a leg up.  You can do it, we can do it.  You are not alone.

Join me starting November 1-30 for 30 Days of Thankfulness!

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A Plan for Us

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18

I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d get married.  Partially because I just wasn’t raised thinking about marriage and partially because I was the product of a marriage based on very little respect for each other.  For many years, God allowed me to live my life in sexual sin.  I went from one man to another, sometimes only passing through in the night.  But God always has a plan for each and every one of us.  For me, that plan included being given the gift of a wonderful husband. 

In our early years, my husband and I weren’t faithful followers of Jesus.  But he, at least, had a Christian background from which to draw.  When I look back over our first 10 years of marriage I can see where I am grateful for that tension of knowing some of what God expected from us as a couple.  I say “tension” because whenever we live outside of God’s narrow path we can either 1) live like we don’t have a clue that what we are doing is ungodly or 2) have some concept of ungodliness which can then pull us into learning more.  We will be judged in the end so I’d rather not be oblivious to my sins and take the opportunity to work on them!

In our marriage we struggled for control.  Control of who would be the head of our household.  Control of our finances.  Control over long term decisions for our family.  Over discipline of our kids.  Over our time management.    Looking back, I was only doing what I had learned in my family home.  A weak father figure gives way to a power vacuum.  On the other hand, my husband came from a strong, godly father-led family.  And so the back and forth went on and on.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  Genesis 3:2-3

There’s a lot of talk in feminist circles and the media about the “patriarchy” and how men shouldn’t “keep women down.”  But from the beginning God had a very clear plan for women and men.  Women were to be the “helpers,” assisting their Adams to be the best men they could be.  Like a good golf caddy, this is no job to take lightly.  Yet we arrive at Genesis 3 and Eve immediately forgoes her heavenly role.  Instead of seeking wisdom from her husband she is drawn to the words of the serpent.  The fleshly desires pull her farther and farther away from God’s plan. 

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Genesis 3:12

And the result?  As you can read above the entire plan is turned upside down.  Eve takes the lead and Adam falls into a weak position of blame.  Eve is punished by God for her role in the Great Fall with painful childbirth and the knowledge that men will rule over her.  But when you read the punishment of Adam, he receives a harsh future that effects every area of his life.  

I have to be honest and say that every marriage I have been around that was in serious trouble was a direct result of this upside down relationship.  That’s not to say there aren’t men who disobey God’s command to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25).  But so often in our modern world and as a result of the feminist movement which started in the 70s, women have jostled or demanded control in their relationships. Like all actions that go against God’s holy plan we see the results with weak husbands and overbearing wives.  And wives who underneath it all desire a man to stand up for them, to take charge, to love them to the point of sacrifice.  

Women of God, the idea of submitting to our husbands or future husbands does not mean we are second class citizens.  You’ll notice in Genesis 3:16 Eve’s punishment was to have men rule over her.  Therefore, it wasn’t God’s plan for men to “rule” over her in the first place.  Thankfully Jesus came to give us a new covenant, reminding us that although there is still a hierarchy of responsibility, every person is of equal value. A helper doesn’t mean you are less than the one being helped.  It’s taken me awhile to truly understand this.  What it means is we trust God’s plan.  And if we have chosen wisely, we trust our husbands who also trust God.  We trust them to take care of the family business.  We trust they will have our best interest in mind.  We trust they love us so much they want us to be content. 

If our husbands are not trustworthy in those areas or men of faith, who are we to blame?

He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 1 Kings 11:3

King Solomon was considered one of the wisest men of all time.  Yet it was his wives that managed to turn him away from God, to lead him astray.  Our role as our husband’s life caddy is so important that we can’t let what the world says about feminism and submission sway us from following God’s plan.  A good and godly wife holds so much sway over her husband.  And the world laughs at us thinking a bigger paycheck or fancy job title is what’s most important.  Our work in helping our husbands will take us a lifetime — much of the time simply modeling godly behavior, control over our emotions, showing love, showing faith in the Almighty and our men.

Eve’s veering from God’s plan, leading her husband to a great sin, can make me so angry at times.  But then I think about the times I placed myself above my husband and ask for mercy.  It took a lot of intentional work on my part to step back and encourage and teach my husband how to place himself at the head of our family.  He didn’t think I needed him, ever.  

Friends, whether you are a husband, wife, or not yet married we must stand resolutely against how the world wants to define marriage.  We can’t let the world define what “submission” looks like in God’s world.  His great plan for man and woman, joined together in harmony is just the example for what is the final plan.  The ultimate marriage between Jesus and His bride will be full of love, joy, beauty and compassion.  Let’s start today with making those fruits part of our earthly marriages.

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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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Busy or Fruitful?

Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Matthew 7:20

For much of my life I sought busyness.  If I wasn’t “doing” then I was not worthy.  It didn’t matter what that doing was, I just needed to do something.  When I quit working to be a stay at home mom my greatest fear was to be seen as worthless.  A non-contributor.  And yes, I know I was doing the important work of raising a child.  But having grown up through the 70s and 80s, being a homemaker was not a goal any of my friends wished to attain.  

When my husband would come home from work and ask me, “What did you do today?” I took that as a judgment of my worth.  I felt the need to provide an hour by hour list of all the important things I had accomplished.  

Fast forward to 2020 – yes, the Great Lockdown.  I see that time as a sifting of sorts.  If you weren’t tied to a Zoom-based job you either embraced staying at home working on little projects around the house, completing endless puzzles, catching up on all those books you’d ignored, jumping in to Bible studies or you were going mad with boredom and itching to “do something important.”

What does this all have to do with praising God?  I realized the other day that I need to be thankful to Him that He never asks us to live a life of “busyness.”  I praise Him for instead expecting us to live a life that bears good fruit.  Quality over quantity.  He is not a task master.  He doesn’t have verses in the Bible about accounting for every hour of our day.  Yes, He doesn’t want us to be idle.  But that means not wasting our precious time doing things that don’t produce good fruits.

Time spent in mediation is not idle.  It helps me commune with Him.  Time spent in study brings me closer in line with what He wants of me.  Time spent in nature helps me appreciate and praise Him.  Time spent with my husband during a round of golf brings us closer together and strengthens our marriage.

But busyness distracts me.  It physically causes my heart to race thinking I need to accomplish something – anything.  It darkens my heart when I equate my doing with my worth.

Jesus came to change our hearts.  To remind us that our wrong intent is just as bad as our wrong doing.  And knowing that releases my heart and mind to live in a peaceful state. 


 

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From Student to Teacher

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Luke 2:46

“The teacher encourages
the student morphs – moth to beauteous butterfly soars” 

Mala Naidoo, author

When God directed me to start the Emboldened blog He also led me to a few simple quotes to put on the homepage. I didn’t know at the time one day I’d be using those quotes for this week’s study on Jesus and His teaching nature! Of the few quotes He led me to, I included this one by Joyce Meyer:

“If you leave church and are not convicted, asking questions, or emboldened then either you are at the wrong church or you weren’t paying attention.”

Joyce Meyer

How many times have you left church and within an hour couldn’t remember what the sermon was about?  You couldn’t even pull up the general topic in your memory?  

I recently heard someone say that we don’t go to church to sit and put in our “dues” to God.  It’s where we should 1) be rejuvenated for the mission and 2) get more training for the mission.  And the second we leave the doors of our “God classroom” we should be at the ready to embark on the commission which Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19. When church becomes a place where we leave just feeling like that was a “nice” experience, at best, or an obligation, at worst, we owe it to our personal faith progression to re-evaluate the situation.

When I started going to church my family ended up at a large Presbyterian church nearby.  The pastor was just what I needed at the time.  He was more counselor than teacher.  And when I left each Sunday I felt he had really spoken to the problems I was having and reminded me that God loved me.  The sermons were light on scripture, maybe one or two mentioned, and heavy on personal stories. But I soon found that sole message to be not quite enough.  I wanted to know more.  And the “teaching” sermons were what I gobbled up.   As my husband can attest, I’m very curious.  He constantly reminds me that I like to ask questions that seem to have no answers.  

As a developing Christian, we should all be asking questions about God.  If this “almighty being” is to be the center of our universe, the touchstone for how we live our lives, and the message we herald, shouldn’t we know everything we can know so we are prepared when sin enters our sphere?  So we can be prepared when a seeking, fellow man starts asking us questions?  

From learner to teacher.  That’s exactly the path Jesus took.  Here’s the rest of the scene when Jesus’ parents found him, as a boy, in the temple courts.

"Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." Luke 2:47

And so, I constantly seek to learn more about this awesome God.  At the beginning of this year my husband and I were directed to a new church.  My son-in-law and his friend host a Christian men’s podcast called “Supplement the Faith.”  They heard on a local St. Louis radio station a show called “Core Christianity.”  The main host is Pastor Adriel Sanchez, who unbeknownst to me at the time, is a pastor in my town.  They raved about his sound, Christian doctrine and told us we had to go check him out. 

And so we went.  The music was not my favorite – very simple and traditional hymns.  The style of service was more formal than I was used to.  But when Pastor Adriel gave his sermon I realized I was listening to a teaching pastor.  That day, my church “program” was scribbled all over with notes!

In a brief period of time, I’ve learned a lot from and about Pastor Adriel.  He and his beautiful wife have four little children with another on the way.  This young pastor, who has led his fairly recently planted church for only about seven years, can be heard on the radio and podcast throughout the world via Core Christianity – which is a question and answer format.  His youthfulness stands in contrast to his calm, confident poise.  I recently asked Pastor Adriel if he’d be willing, in his busy schedule, to talk about his pastoral style.   

And if you are on your faith journey toward learning more about His Word, I encourage you to tune in to either Pastor Adriel’s sermons at North Park Presbyterian (PCA) or the Core Christianity podcast.  The questions asked on the podcast might just be something you get asked one day!

Kris:  You seem to be drawn toward being more of a “teaching” type pastor than say a “counselor” type.  How do you think you developed that style?

Pastor Adriel: I have a firm conviction that from the pulpit my job is to communicate God’s word clearly, and seek to apply it to the folks that God has entrusted to my care. Teaching or explaining the Bible is really important to me because I know that God’s word is the source of life. I do seek to provide biblical wisdom or counsel at times – but often that happens in the context of one on one conversations within the church.

K: Who are your favorite Christian authors/pastors?

PA: I love reading the Christian classics. St. Augustine’s Confessions, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Calvin’s Institutes,  C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I nerd out on church history, so I really enjoy reading the early church fathers. As far as living authors are concerned, I like books by theologians like Michael Horton, and pastors like Tim Keller.

K: What got you involved in doing Core Christianity and the podcast?

PA: One of my seminary professors invited me to be on a podcast he had hosted for decades called the White Horse Inn. Over time, we started thinking about a new project that would reach a broader audience helping them to understand the core doctrines of Christianity. A lot of research has come out recently highlighting how little Christians know about their faith – so this was a huge need. Our goal has been to answer basic listener questions about the Bible and the Christian life, and in the process to point folks to Jesus and his gospel. As we grow in our understanding of God’s word, we’re enabled to love and serve God better. 

K: What do you like most about doing the podcast?

PA: I love the live element. I think it makes the show exciting, because we can’t really anticipate what kind of call we’re going to get. As a pastor, I also love it when I’m able to answer a question for someone and I can tell audibly that they’re encouraged by God’s word. 

K: What are the most frequent topics you get asked?

PA: Questions related to marriage, assurance of salvation, finding a good church, and how to properly apply God’s law are common from our audience. Depending on what’s going on in our broader society, we also will get questions on current events. 

K: What question have you gotten that “stumped” you? And what was the funniest question?

PA: Never been stumped! Just kidding. Actually, sometimes we get very obscure Bible questions, or questions for which there is no clear biblical answer. I find those questions to be the most difficult to handle. As far as the funniest question we’ve received… not long ago someone asked if there were fish on the ark too. That one made me chuckle. 

K:  Which book of the Bible do you enjoy teaching the most and why?

PA: I find that whichever book I am preaching through tends to become my favorite book for that season. Believe it or not, I had a ton of fun preaching through Leviticus a couple of years back. I also really enjoy preaching through the Gospels. I preached through Mark early in my ministry, and like to revisit the Gospels from time to time in-between other books. 

K: Which book seems to be the most misunderstood?

PA: As I field questions about the Bible, I think one book that’s frequently misunderstood is Galatians. Many believers don’t have a proper understanding of the distinction between the law, and the gospel, and they struggle to understand how God’s law (and various OT commandments) are to be applied today. Galatians is helpful because it speaks to this kind of problem. 

K: Do you see value in studying the entire Bible — not just the New Testament — and why?

PA: Absolutely. Jesus said in John 5 that Moses wrote of him, and in Luke 24 that the entire Bible was about him. The entire Bible gives us a glorious picture of redemptive history, and each story in that history is meant to instruct us in one way or another (1 Cor. 10:11). If you don’t study the Old Testament, you’ll miss out on so many of the riches in the New Testament, and you’ll miss out on Jesus as he’s revealed in the types and shadows of the Old Covenant. 

K: What are your overall personal goals as a pastor for say the next 5 years? 10 years?

PA: Honestly, I just want to be a good husband, a good dad, and a faithful pastor. My goal is to grow in that for the next 5-10 years. 

Thank you to Pastor Adriel for his time!  Whether it be through a teaching pastor, Bible study groups/individual, Christian authors, a radio show or Christian podcast, these days we have so many resources at our fingertips to get to know God.   As Christians, we must make it a priority to place this knowledge of His ways firmly at the forefront of our lives.

I wanted to leave you today with this quote about being a learning and then teaching Christian:

He who asks will have; what more did he ask for? But he who seeks will go further; he will find, will enjoy, will grasp, and will know that he has obtained. He who knocks will go further still, for he will understand, and to him will the precious thing be opened. He will not merely have the blessing and enjoy it, but he will comprehend it.  

Charles Spurgeon

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Always With You

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 
Isaiah 43:2

Early in our marriage my husband and I started a lifelong habit of calling each other at the end of our workday.  We’d let the other know ahead of time if we would be late or what our ETA was.  When we both worked it served as a way to talk about our dinner plans.  After 32 years of marriage my husband still calls or texts me when he is on his way home.  It was borne out of an incident when he didn’t call me.  My first reaction was to think he’d been in a car accident.  And as the time slipped by my worries grew.  By the time he got home I was in tears from fear of his demise.  He couldn’t understand why I was so upset.  He’d just been out surfing after work with some friends.

So, while the habit of touching base became a good thing it also became a bit of a fear-based obsession with me.  My husband spent many hours driving for his work.  He frequently drove the more than 200 miles to and from Los Angeles.  I worried constantly he would be killed in a car crash.  I lost sleep over it.  I fretted when he didn’t arrive exactly when he thought he would.

I finally realized one day my fears were a result of the fear of being left alone.  I was certain if I lost him no one would ever love me again. 

The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. 
Deuteronomy 31:8

We hear the words that God is with us always.  A Christian friend, who was struggling with marriage and family problems, confessed that sometimes we need a real, physical hug.  We need to feel like we are loved and belong.  That we haven’t been orphaned.  Frequently in my prayers for people I ask God to help them feel his hand on their shoulder.  I realize it’s what I really need when I struggle – to feel and know His physical presence in my life.  

Sometimes He will show Himself in the face of a friend.  Sometimes it’s in words from one of my daughters.  He shows Himself in a song that comes on the radio. And sometimes the Holy Spirit will burn inside me.  When needed, I have felt His hand on my shoulder.

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

I was listening to a podcast the other day where the women spoke of this need to feel God’s love for them. They knew the scriptures and could easily quote them.  But they acknowledged that just knowing them wouldn’t suffice.  We need to repeat them and truly believe them.  The devil is constantly looking for ways to tear us away from God’s love.  So, when we feel that loneliness, that fear of being forgotten we need to refocus on God.  We may need to cry out to Him.  We may need to sit in quiet mediation to hear Him. 

There’s been a few occasions in the last couple months where I’ve felt rejected by people who should love me.  Thankfully, in my maturing faith, I’ve turned to Jesus more and more to remind me of the one who always loves me, no matter what.  And He has shown up to comfort me.

Here’s some beautiful scripture to remember and soak in today for anyone who might feel alone.  For anyone who might feel as though they have been left behind or forgotten.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:5
But whoever loves God is known by God. 
1 Corinthians 8:3
Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! 
Psalms 66:20
Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love. 
Psalms 109:26
No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 
John 16:27
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”  
Psalms 91:14-16
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
Jeremiah 31:3
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9