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Self-Improvement

She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. Proverbs 31:15

Over a year ago, my Bible study group embarked on a 90 day adventure into the world of the famed Proverbs 31 woman.  Each week we studied a verse which described a woman who took care of her husband, made sure her household was up to snuff, bought and planted land, and even had her own business.  Throughout the study we were challenged to look at our own lives and see where we needed to improve.

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. Proverbs 31:17

If you go into any bookstore or do a simple search on Amazon you’ll find 1,000s of book titles which focus on self-improvement.  We seemed to be always looking for ways to get slim, have better skin, increase our muscles, learn more, and take on new hobbies.  I find it so fascinating that God placed in all of us this self-improvement desire.  And while we may not act on any of those desires, we certainly dream about them!  Isn’t that what we do every New Year’s Eve?  Making our mental lists of how we plan to improve our lives.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Proverbs 31:27

As Christians we know this self-improvement nugget God has placed in us is really His desire to have us grow closer to Him.  To seek His will for us.  To turn our bodies and minds over to Him.  I’m so thankful for that Proverbs 31 study He sent our way and all the ones since.  His gift of self-improvement helps me become the woman He wants me to be.

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Family

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 21:6-7

As I write this we are about four weeks away from the Thanksgiving holiday celebrated in the United States.  And already I’ve heard from a few anxious friends concerned about gathering with family. To be fair, they are all worried about their spouse’s family!  But what makes holidays potentially stressful – dealing with the various personalities and their idiosyncrasies – is also what brings us such joy.  Our families.

When Sarah was gifted a child in her advanced age the Bible doesn’t talk about all her worries.  Although I could imagine there might have been a few.  Instead, what the focus is on is laughter and joy.  God’s creation of man included the eventual creation of family.  And there’s something about family that always feels so different than friendships.  We are bonded by some mysterious force from the heavens.  The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly in our families stays with us forever unlike a forgotten friend.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

The command to honor our parents is the first command telling us to do something for another human being. It stands to reason that God puts family pretty high up on his list.  And while there are those whose parents have made honoring them difficult due terrible sin and lack of repentance, for so many of us we must remember God’s love for family and how He wants us to love them.

I love my whole family, those of blood and those my rolling stone has picked up along the way.  Some I must work harder to obey the command, while others it comes easily.  I thank God for all of them — because I have benefitted from them all while in this crazy, mysterious union. 

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She Counsels with Truth + Love

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

“We are pretty much the only hope that God has for reaching people who need him.”

Joyce Meyer

On a recent visit with my daughter back in St. Louis, Missouri, she invited me to her friend’s 50th birthday gathering.  It was to be just a small group as her larger party had already taken place.  My daughter, who is 23, is blessed to have a number of women in her life who are not only mature in their marriages and in life in general, but in their faith.  As I sat listening to them, I said a silent prayer of thanks to God.  He, once again, put me right where I needed to be.

I listened as these Christian women of varied ages shared memories of shared events and the joy of being disciples to younger women.  You see, their church encourages all ages to seek being discipled by more experienced Christians – something I haven’t experienced in the 20 years I’ve been an active Christian.  

The birthday girl’s good friend suddenly announced we were to all take turns expressing what we loved about the newly christened 50 year old.  She turned to me and said, “You don’t know Renee well so you don’t need to say anything.”  I disagreed.  I definitely had much to love about this woman that I had just met.

As each woman spoke, I felt the love flow throughout the group.  It was sweet and brave and authentic.  And at my turn I’m sure they all wondered what I would have to say.  

“As a mother I miss my daughter terribly.  She’s so far away.  She has no family for hundreds of miles.  And now with a baby on the way it grieves me that she is alone out here.  But I realize she isn’t.  I am so thankful she has Renee as her friend and godly counsel.  A mother couldn’t ask for anything better besides being here herself,” I said.

You see my daughter’s friend, Renee, has taken her under her beautiful wings.  She provides wise counsel about marriage, faith, motherhood and more.  I could be jealous when I hear my daughter talk about her relationship with Renee.  But my faith progression has brought me instead to a place of thankfulness.  My daughter is incredibly blessed to be surrounded by Christian women who are prepared and ready to offer Biblical counsel.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" Luke 4:18

That’s Jesus in the above verse.  Jesus our wise counselor setting us free from our prisons.  And He trained up His disciples to spread His message of salvation and freedom.  Like the old shampoo commercial goes, “and they told two friends and so on and so on.”  Which brings us thousands of years later to this little group at a café in Missouri. 

Here’s what I noticed about those six women I sat with that night.  1) They didn’t gossip 2) They lifted each other up with genuine compliments 3) They showed love and concern for each other 4) They were confident in expressing their faith and 5) They were eager and willing to take up being disciples.

"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

These women are living the Great Commission.  Teaching and guiding and loving Jesus’ flock.  I sat there like a fan-girl marveling at being in the midst of ordinary women who were so extraordinary.  Yes, ordinary women.  They aren’t pastors or scholars although one is in fact a trained Christian counselor.  They are students of Jesus.  It gave me hope of what I could achieve with faith and the blessings of God.

I took the opportunity to ask a few of them a Christian counseling question.  

“If I find myself in a situation with a fellow Christian who is struggling with an issue, what’s your best advice?” I inquired.

Without hesitation three of the women, including my daughter who herself disciples young women, said: “You need to really get to know the person.  There needs to be a sense of trust that you come from a place of love.”   And the birthday girl?  She emphasized my old favorite, truth plus love.  Not being afraid to speak God’s truth into someone from a loving perspective.   Remember that Jesus trait of having a warrior spirit?  Renee takes it to heart.  She knows the end game – saving a soul. 

“As you being the process of bringing correction into someone’s life, put yourself in his shoes.  If you were the one sitting there, would it be easy or difficult for you to hear what is about to be said?  If the person you are correcting acts closed at first it may be that he’s just embarrassed or reacting out of insecurity.  Therefore don’t stop the conversation unless you can see that he’s just being combative.  You need to be patient and slow in judging their reaction to your correction.”  

Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek

Isn’t this the reaction we worry about the most when we need to speak truth to our Christian friends or family members?  A fear of making someone angry or embarrassed?  But here lies the reason why “Wise Counselor” sits at the end of our faith progression.  Without love, without a sense of serving God, without courage, without knowledge of the Lord’s will, we will probably fail at being what our friend, child, sibling, co-worker, or sister in Christ truly needs.  

So, when Jesus asks us to “follow” He isn’t just offering Himself up to save us from eternal damnation which by itself is a pretty amazing gift.  He’s saying “join me in a journey.”  He’s saying, “we’ve got work to do together.”  And if we stop partway on the journey and decide we are “fine” where we are at, we miss the opportunities He wants to put in front of us to free more captives.

I don’t know about you but I need wise Christian counselors in my life.  And if I could be like Renee and be a blessing in other’s lives, I know it’d make Jesus smile.  My imperfect progress, as my friend Betsy likes to say, is still progress.  I want to know and live out having the mind of Christ.  I’m not where I was when I started and I still have a ways to go.  Thankfully, I can trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are my guides and cheerleaders.

When we started this journey, I invited you to say a prayer of confession I found in Sparkling Gems from the Greek.  And true to God’s ways He put another in front of me to close out this series.  Please join me in this prayer and confession.  I pray that you seek love, humbleness, courage, and wisdom on your journey.

“Lord, I ask you to help be kind and patient when it is essential for me to bring correction.  Help me to not be offended if the person I’m trying to help doesn’t respond at first the way I wished he would have.  Help me put myself in that person’s shoes and to sympathize with how he might feel.  I ask You to give me wisdom to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.  I also ask that You give the other person the grace to hear what I am telling him so he might see that I have his best interest at heart and that I am only trying to help him.  I pray this in Jesus’ name!”

“I confess that I have the mind of Jesus Christ!  When it is needful to me to speak correction to someone else I do it with love, kindness and patience.  I refrain from allowing anger to rise up inside me.  I am careful about the words that come out of my mouth, and I refuse to participate in vain arguing.  I remain in control of myself as the Holy Spirit works mightily inside me.  My words bring life to all who hear and receive them! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”


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Our New Identity

Do your best to present yourself to 
God as one approved, a worker who 
does not need to be ashamed and who 
correctly handles the word of truth. 
2 Timothy 2:15

When I quit working full time about 25 years ago, it was hard for me to accept that I no longer contributed financially to our little family.  My identity was wrapped up in working.  I had earned money since I was a kid collecting cans and newspapers and turning them into the recycler.  In college at one point, I had a job, a paid internship, a full load of classes, and was the president of a professional-based club.  Work was what I knew and work was what defined me.

Not long after I decided to stay home with our 2-year old daughter I found myself face-to-face with my identity problem.  My daughter and I were walking home from a neighborhood park.  We had to cross a very busy street.  When we got the “walk” sign we made our way across in the crosswalk.  In one of the cars waiting for the light to change was an obviously very angry and impatient man.  He yelled out the window to me, “Hey loser, why don’t you get a job?”

Instead of being angry I was mortified.  You see, I agreed with him.  I wasn’t seeing myself as first a mother and wife then someone who could, if I wanted to, get a job.  I saw myself first as a jobless loser.

What do you see yourself as first these days?

As my faith journey has progressed my answer to that question has evolved.  Once my second daughter came along, I threw myself into motherhood.  I even placed being a wife much farther down the list for a bit.  Being a Christian was way down on the list.  In between I was a “coach,” a “PTA president,” a “school volunteer,” a “Girl Scout leader.”  And now, looking back, had I placed “Christian” as my primary identity I would’ve made a number of different choices along the way.

Just because you go to church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I can go sit in the garage all day and it doesn’t make me a car.

Joyce Meyer

I love this quote by Joyce Meyer because it speaks to the heart of this issue of identity.  We may say what our identity is but how do we act?  What do we base our decisions on day in and day out?  Do we decide what’s best for our kids based on their happiness or based on God’s direction?  Do we treat our spouses based on where we place our marriage on our identity list or on God’s expectation of us?  Do we hold dear the income from that job more than we do our relationship with our Lord?

It’s taken me awhile to truly accept the identity hierarchy God wants for me – 1) Jesus Follower 2) Wife 3) Mother 4) Whatever else He directs me to.  And in our verse today the priority for us is to be a “God Approved Worker for Him.”  Not ashamed of following His Word as best we can in every decision we make.

I used to listen to the famed Dr. Laura quite a lot.  One day she was talking about divorce.  She said that if you go into a marriage with the option of getting divorced you will always find reasons to not work on your marriage.  But if you go into it (having made a healthy choice of spouse) with the priority of staying together no matter what, you will always find new and creative ways to work out problems.  Our faith is a lot like that.

When we place our faith as our primary identity it changes who we marry, who we spend time with, what type of job we want, how we use our money, how we treat our families and friends, and more. We are God’s co-workers.   And we are tasked with being proud of that identity.  

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, 
stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always 
give yourselves fully to the work of the 
Lord, because you know that your labor in 
the Lord is not in vain.  
1 Corinthians 15:58

So again, I ask, what identity have you placed at the top of your list?

If it’s not “Christian” why not?  What’s holding you back?  God is waiting for you to put Him first.  Because when you do then, I believe, He claps His hands and says, “Great, now let’s get down to business!”

This is a great except from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity that might help spur you on to your new identity. 

“Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” 

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Free To Be

But one thing I do: Forgetting 
what is behind and straining 
toward what is ahead, I press 
on toward the goal to win the 
prize for which God has called 
me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 
Philippians 3:13-14 

A prayer to live without regret

Holy God, it’s been many years since I accepted your gift of salvation, which along with that gift came forgiveness.  And yet, so often I am unable to forgive myself.  My heart still twinges when I think of the times I lived in sin.  And once saved, I look back at the years I realize I wasn’t fully committed to obeying your Word.  I’ve wasted enough time, however, not accepting your grace.  I am learning how much you love me, LORD.  And with that, I’m working to accept that I am a new person because of your son Jesus.  The old me can’t take up any more precious time when you are filling up my heart with overwhelming love.  I admit I sometimes need stern admonishment from you to keep me on track.  But at other times please send me a gentle kiss or unexpected hug to remind to live in today, not the regrets of the past.  I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.


I don’t know about you but I’ve done some very non-Christian things in my life.  I spent about five years of my younger life seeking inappropriate relationships with men.   I thought that if I turned over my precious gift of intimacy that I would find love.   We can watch endless movies, read countless novels, and dispense wisdom about how fruitless this path is and yet never seem to apply it to our own lives.

The first time I said a desperate prayer was when, at 19, I thought I was pregnant.  I begged God to save me from myself.  And He did.  I don’t really know why since I know others were not.  I bargained with God to do His part and I would stop such reckless behavior.  And I did not.  I wasn’t a Christian at the time – although I believed in God.  So maybe He was giving me a few allowances.  I won’t know until the day of my eternity when I can ask Him.

Fast forward a few years and I was a young mother with two kids.  I was a Christian by then.  And yet I continued, time after time, to disobey God.  Boy did that lead to a lot of unnecessary hardship.  Of these two situations it’s actually this second that I tend to regret the most.  Because I truly knew better.  I think of all the wasted hours of tears and painful relationships I could have avoided.  I think of the times I could’ve been a better mother and wife and friend had I just surrendered myself completely to God.

If we confess our sins, he 
is faithful and just and will 
forgive us our sins and purify 
us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

I realize that by holding on to my forgiven past it’s like a log tied around one ankle.  It hinders me to fully grab onto the joy of today and promises of God.  It’s not that we need to forget our past.  We can learn a lot from our choices and their consequences.  But when we accept Jesus as our savior we must accept that we are now changed in our spirit.  Sometimes we just need to remind our heart and mind of that change.

Friend, I don’t know what sinful choices you may have made in your past, but Jesus came so we don’t need to live an entire life of repentance for our past regretful choices.  We need to turn those sins over to God only once.  And turn our faces toward today.  

There’s a lot from my past that I’m still working on fully releasing to God.  He has already forgiven me for them.  I just need to let go of the string and allow them to float into the heavens.  With His gentle reminders of His love for us we can be free.

If you want this too, add the prayer to your daily prayer list and watch and see how God works in your life!

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Hanging By A Thread

Can a mother forget the baby 
at her breast and have no compassion 
on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will 
not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on 
the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Isaiah 49:15-16

I just was having a bad day.  Nothing really seemed to fall into place.  My husband got some bad news from work which makes me worry about him and our financial situation.  And then we decided to go get my car washed.  My husband was vacuuming the back of my hatchback.  I decided to walk around the back in order to reach the passenger front window.  Unbeknownst to me he had pushed the button to close the hatch as he walked away.  I walked square into the corner of the door with the top of my head.  My husband was completely unaware as he was now on the opposite side of the car.  I bent over holding my head trying to 1) not cry like a baby and 2) stay conscious. 

I cried out to him like a mewling lamb.  My first reaction was to blame him and then I apologized, saying it was just an accident.  But that was the last straw for me that day.  I  wanted to sit down and sob.  It has taken so much out of me to stay in tune with God during the trials and tribulations of the Covid pandemic that I just wanted to give up.  No more joyful grasping for God.  No more peace resting in His Word.  I just was done.  

Come to me, all you who 
are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28

And God whispered to me, “I’m still here. And I still love you.  And I know you are having a hard time.  Come and talk to me.”  

I still find it so hard to pray when I’m truly struggling.  But God is so compassionate to us.  He knows when we are holding on by a thread.  He will take even the tiniest snippets of prayer from us to help us hold on.  Like the mother in the Isaiah verse today, He longs to hold us in His arms if we would just run to him – or even crawl.  

The process of sanctification this year made me realize quickly that I was shrinking away from not only God but my husband at that painful moment.  I didn’t want to burden my husband any more than he already was. But after a little while, I shared with him how I was feeling.  I know it’s hard for men to see their beloved wives in pain and not be able to fix our ills.  But he gave me what I needed — a listening and compassionate ear, and a hug.  

That’s what God wants to do for us too.  Although we shouldn’t turn our prayer time into a litany of complaints, we should bring him our pain.  

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, 
holy and dearly loved, clothe 
yourselves with compassion, 
kindness, humility, gentleness 
and patience.
Colossians 3:12

I like this visual of clothing ourselves.  The fruits of the spirit are God’s way of giving us that spiritual hug and listening ear.  He is compassionate, kind, gentle and patient with us.  And Jesus was certainly humble.  When we encase our minds and hearts in these gifts and then turn those fruit outward toward God’s people, we get them back tenfold. 

My husband is a godly man.  Because of this, God used him to give me the compassion and gentleness I needed that day.  And I was able to pull myself back on track. 

I could have easily given in to my despair.  I mean my head was killing me and felt like I had a concussion.  Nothing I could do would fix any problem around me.  But I have learned to grab hold of the promises of God for my rescue. 

Be on your guard; stand firm 
in the faith; be courageous; 
be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13

My head still hurts a few days later but I can almost (almost) laugh about it now.  I’m glad I don’t have to keep apologizing to anyone for losing it – since I pulled back my anger almost immediately.  My husband felt bad enough as it was.  And my compassion toward him helped me to stay in line with God’s Word.

I thank God for His promise to never forget me, always hold me tightly and guide me with the fruits of His spirit. 


Join me starting January 11 for my next series! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help create a vision of you! The words we speak and think and pray have a great impact on our life. We will embark on a journey of praying changes into our lives. New Year’s resolutions have nothing on what God can accomplish when we ask for miracles to transform us!