If the Lord Wills

There is a short-term mission trip truth that many of us understand: The one going on the mission trip usually receives way more than the people to whom we are hoping to minister. And that was true last summer when I visited some old friends of mine in Kenya. A team of women from my church went to teach at a women’s leadership conference and put on a medical clinic. It was fantastic. If the Lord Wills As we arrived, we started reconnecting with women I hadn’t seen for years. It felt a little like old home week! I was laughing and chatting with a friend of mine when I remembered something about her. This woman would rarely make a statement regarding her future without ending that sentence with the phrase: “If the Lord wills.” It was like her own personal punctuation mark. She’ll say something like, “Sue, I will see you in the morning, if the Lord wills.” My friend is a farmer and lives her life a little more hand-to-mouth than some of us do. She lost her daughter tragically and has a deep faith in the Lord. She knows exactly what it feels like to pray for rain, food, clothing, and all the Matthew 6:25-33 things. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes forget that the Lord has a plan, a sovereign plan, and everything we have is from his hand. One of the most difficult days for me since this whole crisis started last March was when I began to clear my calendar of upcoming events, both professional and personal. I mean, I wasn’t simply postponing things or rescheduling. I was removing them from existence. It hurt. Many of us have experienced grief and loss of many kinds during this season...

If the Lord Wills2022-05-05T00:19:16+00:00

God Sized Expectations

If someone asked you in 2015, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” would you have said, “In the middle of a pandemic?” More than likely, it never crossed your mind. Suffice it to say we are all not experiencing what we expected. Here is the big question #1, how do we deal with the gap between what we expect and what we experience? Sometimes it feels as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Big question #2 follows closely behind, what will fill the gap? Since we are all riding this fluid wave of uncertainty, the potential fillers are limitless. Here is my real-time confession of what has filled my gap since March. Fear Fear of getting sick. Fear of suffering. Fear of disappointing others in a cancel culture. Fear a scratch church plant named King’s Cross we sought to launch in March will not flourish. Fear of the unknown. In Latin anxiety means “to choke.” There are more than a few days when these fears feel like they are strangling me. But when I look across this insurmountable chasm, I ask my Father for faith to fill the gap. I know without it, it will be impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). Disappointment I am a long-range planner by nature. Last year I traveled to locations all over North America working with Hinged teams to make our conference plans. I remember praying with teams, but I am not sure any of us quoted “if the Lord wills” (James 4:15). These past six months, I have led these teams through a disappointment discipleship course. It was the class we never wanted to attend. It is a gospel classroom where we ask God to transform us in the gap. The curriculum is designed by the Spirit to produce endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5)...

God Sized Expectations2022-05-05T00:20:02+00:00

Bearing Fruit Where We Are Planted

My husband and I are retired, so over the past few months of self-quarantining, we have received offers for various types of help. Neighbors called to see if we needed anything done around the house. Friends’ children who live near us offered to do shopping. Our own children checked in on us regularly to see how we were doing, sometimes leaving suggestions for good movies or TV shows to watch to pass the time. Where Daniel Was Planted Thankful as we are for all this attention, it confirms that we were now considered among the “old-and- at-risk” population. One day I was listening to a podcast series about Daniel and it struck me anew that Daniel was in my same age category when he was thrown into the lion’s den. Wow! At the same age that I am stuck in my house watching TV reruns, Daniel was standing up for his convictions by publicly praying to the one true God. He refused to compromise his spiritual life after colleagues unfairly duped king Darius into issuing his proclamation prohibiting worship of all gods except himself. Daniel knew how to respond to unfair treatment. He thanked God despite the injustice. I went back and studied Daniel with a new perspective. Daniel flourished where he was planted. God placed him in Babylon as a young man where he lived with determination not to conform to the ways of the world, but obeying God, trusting Him, and purposing his heart to turn from sin. The entire book of Daniel confirms the blessings of knowing God. Daniel was a man of prayer, regular and disciplined in his worship habits. He knew that God hears and honors the prayers of the faithful. Daniel trusted God’s Word to the end of his life and as a prophet, God allowed him to interpret dreams for the Babylonian kings. Bearing Fruit Where We Are Planted This spurred my thinking. I have been planted in a house without visitors. I am healthy (though admittedly slowing down), experienced in life, willing to work, but seemingly now without much purpose. Surely God has some unique work for those of us stuck at home...

Bearing Fruit Where We Are Planted2022-05-05T00:20:44+00:00

Reading the Whole Bible: A Life-Changing Journey

Many years ago, when our four children were ages four to then, I decided we should embark on a year of reading through the Bible. I chose the One Year Chronological Bible in the New Living Translation, hoping that the simpler language would help our children understand the reading. Leviticus is notoriously challenging, even for adult readers. One night, we were in Leviticus 18, and after the fifth or sixth repeated command, “Do not have sexual relations with…[your daughter, granddaughter, uncle, etc.]” (Leviticus 18:6-18), our ten-year-old son burst out, “Do we have to keep reading this?” I had to admit, it was a good question. Should we read the whole Bible? Do we really need to make our way through all the begets and begats and the barely comprehensible Levitical laws? While there are many good arguments for reading the entire Bible, I’m going to focus on one here, and then offer some tips for doing it, along with several plans to consider. A Really Good Reason to Read the Whole Bible  Why read the entire Bible? Because it is the one true overarching story (meta-narrative) that defines the life of a Christian. Authored by God himself, it introduces us to the complexities of his character and grows our wonder and worship of him. Not only that, but through the work of his Holy Spirit, the Bible transforms us into the character of Christ—every single word of it. Let’s consider how knowing the overarching story of Scripture helps us to live as glory-giving creatures of God. When we read Genesis 1 and 2 and see how marvelously and majestically God designed everything in the cosmos, we are awed at the Creator. We also reclaim our sense of self, our own God-shaped beauty and purpose, since we were created in his glorious image (Genesis 1:26-27). As we move on to Genesis 3 and read of Satan’s seduction of Adam and Eve, we recognize our own temptation to doubt God and to do things our own way; that is, to sin. The “fall” addresses our questions about the brokenness we see in our own lives and in the world around us. It also grows our gratitude for God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness of sins. Even plodding through the laws of Leviticus and the headcounts of Numbers reveals something about God and something about us: he is a covenantal King who counts his people as precious. Moving on through history and the prophets, we continue to see our King’s faithfulness to an unfaithful people....

Reading the Whole Bible: A Life-Changing Journey2022-05-05T00:21:29+00:00

The School of Sovereignty: Heart Preparation for an Uncertain School Year

Honestly, when I was asked to write this post, the first thought that came to mind was, “I am an unlikely person to write an encouraging article about going back to school.” I prefer the predictable. I am quite uncomfortable in the unknown. I still order chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” at restaurants because chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” was what I ordered at fast food restaurants as a child. I seldom swim in oceans, lakes, or rivers because I am not exactly certain which creatures may be swimming near my feet. I struggle when I cannot see every nook and cranny of the waters in which I am swimming. So, now you know my secrets and why I am an unlikely author for this post. I would rather live everyday like it was Groundhog Day—again. When it comes to uncertainty in my life, there is a gospel gap between my theology and the way I live in the unknown. As a mom to four elementary-aged children, God is inviting me into a season of uncertainty. Like many of you, I will be swimming in all the unknowns that come with a new school year during the global pandemic.     Here are some promises I am intentionally massaging into my heart as I learn and grow to trust God in the school of His sovereignty. The Gap Is Filled The gospel gap between what I know and how I live is filled by Jesus. He has already filled the gap; I just fail to remember His power is the only thing that sustains my every breath and stills my every storm...

The School of Sovereignty: Heart Preparation for an Uncertain School Year2022-05-05T00:22:27+00:00

Our Light and Life: The “I Am” Statements of Christ

Some of my most treasured childhood memories are of the post-dinner stories my grandfather told. Most of the time he was a man of few words, but without fail, after he finished eating, his pushed his chair back, linked his fingers together, and rested his hands on top of his post-retirement pot belly. As a smile spread across his face, he looked at us and asked, “Did I ever tell you about the time . . .” Through his stories, he transported us back to 1940s Jackson Square, to the French Quarter beignet shop where men in tuxes and women in ballgowns dropped white sugar all over their carnival attire. He took us on grand adventures such as sleeping under picnic tables while hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon and working odd jobs on the home front while older family and friends fought across Europe and the Pacific. It’s been fifteen years since I heard him tell a story or seen his full-bellied laugh, but I can remember those precious moments like they were yesterday. Those stories taught me my family history, and later in life his stories helped me understand parts of who I am. Knowing Ourselves by Knowing God “Who am I?”  Is there a question more central or universal to the human experience? These three little words, this tiny question, can take a lifetime to unravel. For generations, poets, songwriters, sociologists, and anthropologists (just to name a few) have attempted to romanticize or research their way to a deeper understanding of human and personal identity. For those of us who are Christians, the question is also warranted. God invites His people to freely ask identity questions, knowing in His kindness He already gave us the answers in His Word. As we study God’s Word, as we begin to digest God’s divinity, His story and promises, we are invited to understand the fundamental truth: there is no real knowledge of self without a knowledge of God. And at the core we cannot truly answer the question “Who am I?” until we have answered, “Who is He?”...

Our Light and Life: The “I Am” Statements of Christ2022-05-05T00:23:36+00:00

In Bible Study, Words Matter

Words matter. As a counselor, I know the power of the spoken word, how certain words can break a relationship, while others can heal it. As a writer, I know the importance of selecting the right word to use in a sentence. Sometimes, just one word can be the difference between confusion and clarity. Words matter in the Bible as well. God created the world through just the power of his word; he merely spoke and light appeared. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is The Word incarnate, God’s word to us made flesh. Unlike the words we write or speak, God’s word is active and alive; it changes and transforms. It is truth which sanctifies. As we prepare to return to Bible studies with the women in our churches this fall, it is appropriate to look at the significance of words in Scripture, for every word carries meaning and significance. When we study a passage or chapter in the Bible, it is important to make note of the words used, the meanings of those words, and how they are used. It makes a world of difference as we seek to understand, learn, and be transformed by the very word of God. As you study this semester, consider some of these words: Names of People and Places: The meanings of names carry great weight in the Bible. Whenever we come across a name, whether of a person or place, we ought to look up its meaning. Unlike modern times, in the Bible, a person’s name often indicated something about who they were and what they would become (Gen 17:5). Sometimes God instructed prophets to name their children names that spoke to what was happening at that time in Israel or signified what would happen in the future (Hosea 1:6). Often the names of places tell us something about who God is and what he has done. Repeated Words: Consider how often a teacher or parent repeats the same instructions to children. They often feel like a record set on repeat. In the Bible, when a word is repeated, it’s not accidental. It’s done so to enforce something, to highlight something, to make a point. The author is saying, “Listen up! This is uber-important!” When we come across repeated words or phrases, we ought to stop and take notice. A good example of this is when Isaiah hears the seraphim call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (6:3) Transition Words: Many bible study students have heard a pastor..

In Bible Study, Words Matter2022-05-05T00:24:33+00:00

Raising Children in a Success Obsessed World

High school graduation is a wonderful high point in a teen’s life. Even after 22 years of teaching, I am always amazed at the transformation four years brings in the life of my students. But this year, as I watched them cross that stage, I was both impressed and bothered. Looking for Success in all the Wrong Places After the valedictorians gave their speeches, and those who were given the highest awards were announced, the students were then announced in this manner, “Sally Johnson, graduating with high honors. Graduating with honors, Joseph Brown….” As I listened to their familiar names, I started to question how we as a culture measure success. According to this ceremony, success is based on grades and advanced classes. But what of that student who is the first to graduate in his family?  The one who persevered despite homelessness, lack of home support, substance abuse, financial strain, or family obligations? What about those who overcame obstacles of disabilities, whether it be physical, mental, or academic? Indeed, our culture’s definition of success seems narrow and is far different from how the Bible views success. Our culture pursues being the best. And parents ready their children to be the best at a young age. Children attend expensive preschools to prepare them for the highest rated elementary schools. They often participate in multiple extra-curricular activities a week, attend exclusive camps, have specialized tutors—all to rise above the rest and be considered “a success.” The rise of social media only fuels this drive for success as parents share all their children’s accomplishments online for the all world to see. Success in the Bible But despite this “look-at-me” world, God has a different view of success. In 1 Samuel, God sends Samuel to anoint Israel’s next king. He tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance . . For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7)...

Raising Children in a Success Obsessed World2022-05-05T00:25:24+00:00

When Pelicans Can’t Fly: God’s Comfort in Our Pain

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for animals. I’ve been known to pull off the road to move a turtle out of harm’s way, and I’ve taken home one too many little rodents after stopping by the pet store. My husband fears what might end up tagging along home with me every time I say, “Just running out to grab some dog food.” While on vacation, we took an evening stroll on the beach and I noticed a pelican in front of us standing strangely still. As we got closer, it became apparent that the bird was hurt due to a fishing hook caught in its wing. True to my nature, my heart went out to the creature who was clearly helpless in his plight and fearful because of our close proximity. I wanted so badly to fix the injured wing so it could soar again, but there was little I could do, and the bird was incapable of helping itself. Unable and Helpless I thought of this pelican a few times since returning home. Its presence was a vivid picture of my own inability to fix the brokenness I feel internally and that I see in the world around me. There have been times when personal suffering has felt paralyzing because no matter what direction I move, the pain still lingers. And as I watch headlines that blare agony, disillusionment, and death, I again feel unable and helpless. Paul was a man who knew suffering, and we see just a glimpse of the extent to which he suffered in his second letter to the Corinthians...

When Pelicans Can’t Fly: God’s Comfort in Our Pain2022-05-05T00:26:15+00:00
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