Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Fulfilling True Religion

What comes to mind when you think of your “Christian duty”?

We can all probably come up with a long list of ways we are pressured to do our duty by the world around us, whether our society or the church as a whole. Love everyone and do not judge are two common, general ones. But, there are also several ways to serve that are encouraged and emphasized within the body of believers.

– Be a foster parent and/or adopt. There are thousands of children who have nowhere to go, and it is our Christian duty to care for orphans in their distress.
– Give to a long list of ministries. All of them are good, and they are worthy of your money.
– Serve in a homeless shelter or food kitchen, or find some other way to volunteer in a way that ministers to the less fortunate.
– Engage in prison ministry.
– Go on a short-term mission trip.
– Move to the mission field, whether it be among a specific social group in your own country or overseas.

I’ll stop there, but the list could go on and on and on. You are probably already thinking of several to add to the list, whether they are services you engage in or some you have been “encouraged” to be a part of.

Now, before I go any further, let me just emphasize that we are all called to serve. In some way, shape, form, or fashion, we are meant to surrender our all to the leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ, becoming His bondservants and serving for His glory. That means sacrifice. That means a measure of discomfort. That means being stretched and grown.

But the truth is that none of us was meant to serve in every single capacity. We have to prayerfully select what ministry to support with the finances God has entrusted to us because we do not have limitless cash flow. There are times when we cannot open our homes to foster care or adoption simply because God is using our homes or our families for other purposes. And just because we are serving in a ministry that is not widely visible does not mean we have to also step into a food kitchen or a prison just because that is the currently socially acceptable means of service within the culture or our Christian communities.

Yet, we are often made to feel guilty because we do not share the passion of others around us. We may quietly give financially to numerous ministries, but we’re not going on mission trips. Or, we may serve weekly in a crisis pregnancy center, but we’ve never adopted a child. Or our ministry might look completely different, not matching the norm in any way. Yet we feel torn in a gazillion different directions and fear we are not doing enough simply because we do not respond to every passion.

I will go ahead and dare to say that sometimes “Christian duty” is trumped by the way God is currently using our energies.

Please hear me when I say that I am not giving any of us license to make excuses. If we find ourselves constantly making excuses for why we are not actively participating in an area of service, then we are being disobedient. Plain and simple. But, sometimes we don’t have to offer the excuses because we know in our hearts we are right where God has told us to be. We are serving Him in obedience, even when it does not fit into the picture of service that society or our community has created. They might not understand, but that’s okay. We can just say no, knowing – because we have an active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ – that we are living and acting in full submission to His lordship.

My friend, the biblical commands to give, serve, care for orphans and widows in their distress, and take the Gospel to the ends of the earth will not always fit into a societal mold. Sometimes it will look strange. Sometimes it will be odd. Sometimes it will be misunderstood. And, it might be that no one else shares our passion; that we have to settle for being supported in faith by the community rather than actively working alongside others in our community. Our job is not to fit a mold. Our job is to serve in obedience. Our job is to make sure that we are actively responding to God’s instruction, not society’s expectations.

What does your obedience look like today?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Provision

Back in July, our van died. After 235,000 miles, it went kaput. It wasn’t a sudden thing – we knew it was dying. But one day, I needed to go somewhere. So I hopped in and cranked it up. It did not even make it to the end of our short street before it died for the last time, never to truly crank again for more than few brief moments.

If this had happened while we lived out in the country, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. We rarely needed both vehicles there. But here in the city, it’s different. So, I thought for sure God would quickly either fix the van or provide another vehicle.

I was wrong.

Meanwhile, a precious friend’s car died on Christmas Eve. Within a short time, God had provided her a replacement, ensuring that she would not be in a one-vehicle situation. I’m chuckling a bit right now, because I had the thought for this post long before my friend’s vehicle died. But, only now, after seeing how God has worked differently in very similar situations, is all of this fleshing out in my head. I love how God does that!

So, what is the difference in our situations? Well, my friend and I have very different lives and dynamics, and I can give you practical ways that she really needed that vehicle. But, I can point out practical ways we need another one, as well. The difference does not come down to practicalities. It comes down to one thing: God’s will.

God’s provision has nothing to do with my concept of need or desire. If it did, I can point out a myriad of situations that would have had different resolutions – not just in my life, but in the lives of people dear to me who have endured grief and suffering far beyond my piddly concept of needing a second vehicle. No, God’s provision is not dependent on my perception. Instead, it is dependent upon His will.

That may seem harsh, especially in light of grief and pain. But, that is because we view it with our narrow vision.

On New Year’s Day, my mother posted this greeting on Facebook:

I love TIMELINES……… if you put 2016 on a timeline of just the past 10,000 years, it’s barely a BLIP! And, if those 10,000 years are put on a hypothetical timeline of eternity, they wouldn’t even register. 2017 will come and go before we know it, so make the best of it! It will be gone before we know it. HAPPY NEW BLIP!!!

Oh how I love that! It reminds us that God sees eternity. And His provision is based on our lives for eternity. It’s not about what will simply grow me or make me useful during my short blip of a life here on earth. It’s about what will mold me into what I am supposed to be in light of eternity. It is about how what He does through me right here and right now will contribute to drawing all men to Himself…for the sake of their eternal souls.

The most baffling reality of this is that my needs, and God’s provisions for them, do have relevance for eternity. My little life. My little needs. My little journey in this little blip are relevant enough to God that He works His will in and through me today. He chooses to replace my friend’s vehicle but not my van because there is relevance. How incredibly humbling and amazing!

Sometimes I see a glimpse of that relevance. Sometimes I can point to some semblance of a “why.” But I never see the full scope of what He sees. What He knows. Why He works the way He does. But He’s the God of the universe. The King above all kings and Lord above all lords. He’s the utmost Ruler. Yet He knows me, and He considers the little details of my life – the details He works in daily – to be relevant to eternity.

Wow.

Lord, may I be reminded of this truth every time I doubt Your provision. Your provision is in line with eternity. And I am overwhelmed that I get to be a part of that.

Posted in Thoughts from Life, Thoughts from Prayer, What Works for Me

Intentional

Word of the Year?

Have you ever noticed the people who choose “word” for their year? That word becomes their focus – the thing around which their goals and growth center. Perhaps this is something you do.

Maybe you are among those who actively choose their words. These people spend time in thought and prayer, trying to determine a direction and a focus. I’ve never done that before. I know me – it would be too forced. I second guess myself too much, and this approach would stress me out. Better for me to work on my routine and focus on productivity than to try to choose a focus.

For the longest time, I thought that was the only approach to choosing a word or focus for the year. But, more recently I’ve noticed a different pattern among some of my friends, so I avoided it. These are the people whose words have chosen them. A lesson or idea or thought just keeps presenting itself until they finally latch onto it, determined to see where the Holy Spirit is leading.

And now I know how that feels.

Intentionality Everywhere

Everywhere I’ve turned lately, intentional has been on the tip of my tongue. I cannot describe my sense of direction, urgency of action, or areas of growth without using that word or some variation of it.

  • When I think of my routine and productivity (or lack thereof!), I realize that I’m so often just floating through life. I bounce from this to that, randomly walking through my to-do list, focusing on whatever seems to pop up next. I have been convicted of the need to be intentional with every moment of my day – whether in work, play, or rest.
  • When I think of my reading goals, I see that I have stacks of books with no plan for reading them. I’ll get around to it, eventually. I know I won’t. Not without being intentional.
  • When I see the resources I have acquired for this project or that, only to never get them done due to lack of whatever, I feel the frustration and discouragement rise. If I want to ever make progress, I have to make time. Intentionally.
  • When my brain fills with the larger ideas I have for writing, I jot down notes only to forget what I was thinking. I desire to do more – to actually write a book. But, all I ever get around to are random blog posts about whatever happens to pop into my head at the time. I will never truly become what I want to become as a writer unless I intentionally make and work toward goals.

But the biggest area is my spiritual life. I know I’m growing. I see it. But, there are many ways in which my spiritual growth is just as haphazard as my growth in other areas. I’m random, and I don’t always follow through, turning thoughts and convictions into actions. I have to become intentional about spiritual growth by making a plan for action as soon as the Holy Spirit nudges my thoughts.

Staying Open

I know how my brain works, and I know that it’s not a good idea for me to say that 2017 will be my intentional year because I’ll become more fixated on the word than the general sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit needs to do in and through me. Maybe I’ll be a slow learner, and it will be with me for several years (like rest and sabbath have been focus thoughts for two or three years!). Maybe I’ll establish a habit and pattern of intentionality in a few months, and it will be time to push forward again. I do not want to miss the Lord’s direction just because I am stuck on a word. But, for now, intentionality is my overarching focus as this year begins. Already I have seen it impact my time and energy. I’m ready to see where the Lord takes me from here!

Posted in Thoughts from Life, What Works for Me

Listening & Obeying

Last week, I introduced the idea of being intentional about my time blocks. But, I’m somewhat saddened by the fact that it took me a while to figure out that the time blocks are not the key component. Time blocks are a great tool, but they do not automatically solve the problem of what to spend my time doing. That is where my relationship with the Lord comes into play. Shocking, I know.

Tools for Listening

God knows what He wants to do through me each day. In my floundering, I neglect – and sometimes refuse – to be a fully surrendered vessel to Him. I believe He uses me anyway, because that is a large component of who He is. He can and does work through those whose hearts are completely hostile to Him (the Bible is replete with examples), so I know He can use me even when I’m not focused. But, oh how much better it is to actively let Him guide each day!

The abstract concept of obedience becomes this in real life practicality: seek and accept God’s guidance for every time block. If I prayerfully ask Him to point me to the task for each time block, He can use it as He wishes.

Restricting God?

Some will say this restricts Him to the clock. The opposite is actually true, at least in my situation. The timer reminds me to stop and seek Him frequently instead of plunging through my day with a meager prayer for guidance in the morning but no real listening to that guidance throughout the day. If I finish a task seven minutes into my time block, I must seek Him for the best way to finish the block. Or, it might be that the 25 minute timer ends, only for Him to say that I need to continue what I’m doing. Or walk away for a few minutes only to come back and continue. Or even to pursue something that takes me away from the time blocks altogether!

The point is not to confine Him, but instead to focus me. I’m not always diligent to use my time blocks, and even when I am, I am not always diligent to seek His plan for each block – or His guidance away from them. But, I cannot begin to express the sense of peace and productivity I feel at the end of a day when I am obedient and diligent to do both!

Room for Growth

In all of this, I realize something that makes my heart ache. I have been a Christian for over three decades, yet I am still so very weak in the discipline of listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for every single act of my day. Perhaps that’s why I need the time blocks. Maybe a year from now my story will be very different. But for now, this is where I am. I am determined to be intentional. Not every now and then. Not only when the stress builds and the incomplete list is phenomenally overwhelming. But daily. When the productivity flows on its own and when it falters. When I’m in a good mood and in a bad. When I feel well and energized and when I am barely functioning. Intentional surrender.

I love what this has looked like so far, and I am excited to see where God takes me in the coming year!

What About You?

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. How does the Lord help you intentionally work in obedience through each day?

Posted in Around the Web, Thoughts from Scripture

The Lord’s Prayer

A couple of years ago, contrary to the anti-liturgy tradition of Baptists, my preacher husband began a Sunday morning practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer to close out a corporate prayer time. Like most of our congregation, I had known the Lord’s Prayer for as long as I could remember. But, reciting it together as a church body each Sunday has breathed life into a familiar old passage in ways I never could have anticipated.

A PRAYER THAT BINDS

When a congregation chooses to truly pay attention and seek the Lord together using the points of this prayer, a level of intimacy spreads throughout the church family. Don’t get me wrong – not everyone in our church prays in a heartfelt manner. In fact, it is very much a learning process, and many in our congregation simply repeat the words without much thought. But, in the voices of others, I can hear the same passion that I feel in my own heart. That passion both binds us together and drives us to learn powerful truths about prayer.

Click here to read the rest of the article on wellplannedgal.com.

Posted in Marriage

Attitude of Marriage

I don’t always like to read verses from Proverbs that deal with marriage. The typical look at the Proverbs 31 woman leaves me feeling like I fall very short (although I have also discovered some very encouraging teachings from Proverbs 31). But, there are also verses like the following that make me say, “Ouch!”:

Prov 21:9 It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.

Prov 21:19: It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.

Far too often, I am the contentious woman. I am easily agitated, I am opinionated, and I am proud. Those are all ideal ingredients for the creation of a contentious woman.

Miraculously, my husband tells me almost daily that I am easy to live with. That there is no aspect of “putting up with” me. That he enjoys living with me. I never ceased to be amazed and thankful that he sees me that way, but I know that I do vex him on multiple occasions. I stress and frustrate him. I say the wrong thing – or even if I say the right thing, I say it the wrong way. I do things that aggravate him. I neglect to pay attention or think through details. I drop the ball so often.

Honestly, it is a mystery to me that my husband does not add all of those things up and find the sum to be a hard to live with, contentious, vexing wife. But, he doesn’t. It’s not that he is blind to those things. Oh, he sees them clearly enough. He deals with them day in and day out. But, I firmly believe he is being perfectly honest when he tells me I am not a contentious wife.

I believe the solution to the mystery lies in attitude. You see, I do not desire to be a contentious wife. Even though I fail in my goals so often, I believe my husband can overlook my daily failures because he knows where my desires lie. He knows that I really want to be a good, supportive wife. He sees that attitude, those desires, instead of the mess that really comes out as I blunder through this thing called marriage.

I am constantly humbled and awed by his insight. I am driven by his faith in me. I want to be what he sees!

Please hear me when I say that our actions are critical. If we want to grow in our marriages, we – both husband and wife “we” – must, must, must behave in a way that shows submission to God first and foremost, followed by Christlike love for one another. That has to be shown in action.

But, having said that, I also know that our actions fail. Frequently. We sin. We falter. We make mistakes. We get selfish. It happens, even as we strive to make our actions fit with godliness. And that is why attitude is such a huge deal in a growing marriage. I truly believe that my husband sees me as easy to be married to because he sees that I do hunger to be a godly wife. The selfishness and contentiousness are all symptoms of my battle with sin. My heart attitude, though, is the opposite.

Oh, precious friend, we will all struggle. But, in spite of it all, may our hunger, our desire, and our goal in marriage be that we will, despite it all, have an attitude of godliness.

Posted in Around the Web, Christmas, Faith Nuggets

What is Advent, Anyway?

‘Tis the season when Advent books and products are everywhere! There are Advent wreaths, Advent calendars, Advent devotionals, Advent Bible studies . . . and the list goes on. But, what exactly is Advent? What does it mean?

Advent Defined

In one of his devotionals, my husband describes Advent as “the idea of coming, of expectation.” Christmas celebrates the incredible moment when Jesus, King of creation, left royalty beyond our imagining to come live as the humblest of humans — all for the sake of mankind’s redemption. Our redemption!

When we celebrate Advent, we do more than simply set aside one day to wish Jesus, “Happy birthday!” We reset our focus over the course of the whole season. Nothing can make Christmas more precious than an increased awareness of what Jesus really accomplished by taking on our flesh.

When is Advent?

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and runs through Christmas Day. Because of this, the season can vary in length from twenty-three to thirty-five days, depending on which day of the week Christmas falls.*

Some devotionals and celebration plans also include the Twelve Days of Christmas. No, that is not just an annoying Christmas song! It is, in fact, the time between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6), the day traditionally set aside to honor the Magi’s visit.

How Does One Celebrate Advent?

The celebration is about as varied as the people who celebrate. As long as you are diving into the spiritual significance of the incarnation of Christ on a weekly or daily basis, you are celebrating Advent. But, just in case you need a little more guidance, here are a few suggestions:

Find a Devotional

Advent devotionals range in style from weekly (each of the four Sundays and Christmas Day) to daily. Strive to find one that not only meets your schedule but also has content to appropriately meet your family’s needs.

Light Candles on an Advent Wreath

Advent wreaths, like devotionals, come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. But all Advent wreaths have at least four candle holders. The idea is to light one candle each Sunday of Advent. A fifth, larger candle should fit in the center of the wreath (some wreaths will have a candle holder for the middle). This is the “Jesus” candle, intended to be lit either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Each Sunday, light one candle. If you have chosen an Advent devotional, read the entry for that Sunday. If not, choose a focus for the season and discuss a portion of it each time you light a candle. Here are some ideas:

  • people of Advent such as the shepherds, Magi, angels, and Mary & Joseph; or Zacharias & Elizabeth, the innkeeper, Anna, and Simeon
  • Messianic prophecies
  • topics such as love, joy, peace, and patience, discussing how they relate to Christmas

Use an Advent Calendar

There are Advent calendars designed to open windows to cute pictures each day, create a manger scene, decorate a tree, discover a surprise, play music, and on and on! Whether you choose one of these or create one yourself, let this be more than just a daily countdown to Christmas Day. Let it be a time when you stop in the midst of the busy season and honestly refocus on the true reason for celebration.

Sing a Carol a Day

There are enough fantastic Christmas songs to pick one a day throughout Advent. Every day, sing or listen to one Christ-centered Christmas song as a family. Then discuss what that song communicates about Jesus and his first coming. (This can also take the place of a topical discussion when lighting the Advent wreath.)

In the words of my pastor husband, “You cannot fail Advent.” As long as you take a moment weekly or daily to step back and consider the truth of Christmas, you are appropriately celebrating Advent.

*This year, 2016, Advent began on Sunday, November 27, and runs a full five weeks. But, it’s not too late to start! 

This article was originally written for Well Planned Gal and published on hedua.com, now wellplannedgal.com. Reprinted with permission.