Update on Keep Your Eyes on the Call Post

Hey, y’all,

Sorry for the double post this morning, but I updated the previous (find it HERE) to include a Bible reading plan and didn’t want those of you who receive my posts in your inbox to miss it (as I don’t believe you receive posts a second time when they’re revised).

As I almost always write out of whatever God is showing me during my prayer or Bible reading times, and I will likely be camped out in the time when Ezra and others are rebuilding God’s Temple …

For those wanting to follow along with my Bible reading (as I have a feeling many of my preceding posts will stem from that), here’s a daily reading list. (I’m reading out of a chronological Bible so am simultaneously in Ezra, Haggai, Daniel, and Psalms.) I’ll share some questions you can use each day to help you process what God might be telling you below. They’re pulled from Day One Option One of Wholly Loved’s Becoming His Princess Bible study.

Day one: 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-11

Day two: Ezra 2

Day three: Psalm 126, 147

Day four: Ezra 3

Day five: Ezra 4

Day six: Spend a day reviewing, journaling on, and praying over what God showed you during your day one-five Bible reading time.

Questions you can work through as you read your daily Bible passages:

Who are the main characters in this passage?

What does this passage reveal about the human condition, such as:

  • Mankind’s rebellion against/obedience toward God?
  • Mankind’s attempts to fill their needs apart from Him or relying on Him for their needs?
  • Mankind’s attempts to reach Him on their own terms?

What does this passage reveal regarding God’s nature?

What does/might this passage reveal about God’s plans?

How might this passage reveal mankind’s need for the gospel?

In what ways are you/have you been similar to one or more of the characters in this passage?

What might God want you to know through this section of Scripture?

What might He be asking you to do?

End your reading in prayer, asking God to help you apply the biblical truths discovered and live out whatever you sense Him impressing on your heart.

How Jesus Responds to Our Doubts

woman standing at dusk watching the sun set

Image by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

What happens when God doesn’t intervene? When circumstances grow worse, doors close, and illness lingers?

Is He still good?

Does He still love us?

Intellectually, we know sometimes bad things happen to good people, but sitting in the middle of chaos and catastrophe, doubts take hold.

A couple years ago, while on her first college coop, our daughter’s depression spiked. She did all the appropriate Christiany things. She went to church, read her Bible, meditated on Scripture, and prayed.

She prayed and prayed and prayed. And yet, her depression remained. And though she knew they were lies, comments she’d heard previously tore at her hope.

Just have faith, then your depression will go away.

Mental illness is a spiritual issue. If you’re close to Jesus, you’ll be happy.

Have Jesus, have joy.

It got to where going to church, the one place she was supposed to feel safe and find healing, increased her pain.

Made her feel less than. Insufficient. Unseen and unloved by her Creator.

But still she went, and one lonely Sunday morning, God met her there and gave her hope. Not that she’d get better, although with self-care she has. In fact, the sermon talked about times when God, for whatever reason, doesn’t intervene Woman looking contemplated with text pulled from postor heal. But whether we see His hand or not, He remains.

His love is unshakable.

That Sunday morning, in the middle of her depression, God let her know that she was okay. That their relationship was okay.

That He held her and wouldn’t let go.

We all need to know that, especially when life feels hard. We need to know that the One who formed galaxies by a mere command sees us and is alert to our suffering.

God doesn’t always act as we expect or even desire.

Imagine having given your entire life to serve Him, only to find yourself imprisoned and awaiting execution. Imagine the questions, the doubt, the intense inner wrestling.

The bursts of hope followed by crushing defeat and despair.

Just over two thousand years ago, a faithful prophet sat in a dark, dank dungeon. The stench of decomposing bodies, the cold that ate at his bones, wore down his courage and faith.

The man who first encountered Jesus from within his mother’s womb, who wept at the presence of the incarnate God, then a fetus. Who decades later proclaimed, with certainty, that He was “the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the man who’d witnessed the Spirit landing upon Him like a dove and had heard the Father call Him His Son (Luke 3:22), feared, perhaps he’d been wrong.

Could it be Jesus wasn’t the long-promised Savior?

For surely, after all John had done, all he’d given up for the sake of Christ, God wouldn’t leave him in an ancient dungeon to die.

But as each day dragged into the next, without so much as a glimmer of light to distinguish them, John the Baptist’s certainty turned to doubt. In the confusion that can only come from deep pain, he sent one of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else” (Matthew 11:3)

John knew about all Christ had been doing. Even more, he knew what He hadn’t done, and in that moment, the one unanswered prayer drowned out every miracle proclaimed.

But Jesus reassured him, not by promising his rescue but instead, by reminding him of who He was.

“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen,” Jesus told John’s disciples. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:4).

In other words, “I’m still good, powerful, present, and in control.”

Then, immediately, Jesus spoke to the crowds, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

This was how Jesus addressed John’s doubt. Not with anger or disgust or rebuke. But with reminders of His power and affirmation of His love.

Sunset with quote pulled from postHe responds to our doubt in the same way. God may not answer our prayers as we’d like. He may not rescue us from that difficult situation or bring long-desired healing. But when we come to Him honestly with our doubt and despair, He’ll center us in who He is and His love for us.

How might remembering those truths strengthen you for difficult situations? How can focusing on who God is and His heart for you bring hope in the middle of despair?

This week, at Wildewood Christian, we’ve been talking about remaining faithful through disillusionment. Whenever life cover for Bible studydoesn’t play out as we’d hoped or expected, we can feel discouraged, defeated, and disillusioned. How might reminding ourselves of God’s love, often, help us during those times? If you’d like to watch the full session, filled with tips for weathering disillusionment periods with hope and grace, you can watch it on Wholly Loved’s YouTube channel HERE. If you don’t have the study but would like to grab a copy, you can do so for free HERE. You can pick up a print copy HERE.

You may also be interested in:

When Disappointment Steals Our Joy, by Wholly Loved’s guest blogger Donna Jones

And one of my favorite books: Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong by

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Shining Light in the Dark

Every day is a battle—for truth versus deception. For relational intimacy versus isolation. For growth and godliness versus sin and self-destruction. Ultimately, for agape love (toward God and others) versus self-love.

This—the battle against self—is by far my greatest battle. This is what threatens to derail me more than any outward casualty or setback I may experience. Self-love leads me toward self-elevation (which is idolatry). Agape love centers me in the will of Christ.

At their root, each of these is a battle between light and darkness.

Two extremes, continually pitted against one another. The only solution? Surrender to Jesus Christ.

It’s almost ironic, as I type this this morning, over a week before it will go “live,” I am and have been in the throws of this battle, one I thought I’d won but a week prior. And the week before that. And the week before that as I prayerfully “crucify my flesh” as Scripture puts it, asking the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to offer all of me to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

And yet, here I am again, resisting the ugly within me so the pure, honorable, self-sacrificing love of Christ can shine forth.

My battle plan? Prayer and praise as I seek to be filled with more and more of Christ, knowing when that happens, all else will fade away. Because He is my treasure, and this present world is short but eternity is forever.

About five years ago, I spoke to women living in a women and children’s shelter in Kansas City, women who had lost nearly everything—their homes, their livelihoods, their self-respect. Some were experiencing the consequences of poor choices. Some were, but not all. Others were simply in a really rough place, likely crying out to God, asking Him why. Why had He allowed them to reach that place?

Did He not see them? Was He deaf to their cries? Had He forgotten them?

Did He not care?

But what if, in fact, His attentive eye was zeroed in on them, in the middle of their darkness, as He shined His love and light through them?

That night, I shared the story of Joseph, a man who, from the very beginning had been given an incredible promise from God—that God would raise him, second to the youngest of twelve sons, to a place of leadership, where the rest of his family would “bow down” to him.

photo by Viktoria Hall-Waldhauser from Unsplash

If you’re familiar with this account, you know God had much more planned for Joseph than simply familial leadership. But first, Joseph went through some incredibly hard years facing struggles and humiliation that would, quite frankly, send me hiding in by bedroom with the blankets pulled up to my chin and a big ol’ bag of tootsie rolls within reach.

You can read his story in its entirety in Genesis 37-51, but to paraphrase, God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, dragged to a foreign land where he was stripped of all rights and forced to spend his every waking moment in service to another, and then thrown into prison. And at each step, he was given a choice: focus on himself and all he’d lost or perhaps all he “deserved,” (after all, he’d been called, personally, by Creator God!), or surrender and live, 100% in obedience to and for the glory of His Creator.

Because he chose the latter, he shined the light of God in the middle of some incredibly dark places.

I believe this was the battle God had called him to, and make no mistake, it was an intense, moment-by-moment battle! This was also the battle God called Timothy to, as he pastored that church, filled with false teaching and division, in Ephesus. And it’s a battle God calls each one of us to, as we stand against discontentment, selfish ambition, and greed—the very attitudes that had caused the false teachers in Ephesus to wreak such destruction (1 Tim. 1:6-7, 6:4-5).

And so, this brings our study full-circle with the reminder that it’s all about love. God’s kind of love. A love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.

We can fight many battles in any given day, but the battle that wars within is the most vital, because everything else stems from that. We are most effective when we are most yielded to God’s Spirit at work within and through us. He has a plan, a good, victorious plan, for tackling whatever battle is warring around us, and He may (or may not) use us to fight it.

But make no mistake; He’s the One who will do the fighting. He’s the One who will win the victory. Our role is quite simple—to surrender and obey. If we do anything else, we’ll merely be getting in His way.

For those who’ve been following the 1 Timothy Bible study, this weekend, I encourage you to take time review what you’ve learned in the previous weeks. Journal what God has shown you, and simply take time to rest at His feet. Make Romans 12:1 your prayer:

Dear Lord, in view of Your mercy, in view of all You’ve done for me, help me to offer my body—my time, my thoughts, my will; my whole self—to You, as a living sacrifice because of all You have done for me. May that be how I, daily, worship You.”

Pray this prayer often, and then wait and see what God does. Wait and see how He uses you to bring healing to the hurting, life to the dead, and sight to the blind.

What resonated most with you in today’s post? What inner battle do you tend to fight the most, and what can you do today to strengthen your connection with Christ–the One who has equipped and empowered us for victory? What are some ways you fight the battle against self-love?

FREE! Receive great, free content (short stories, recipes, devotions, and more!) directly to your inbox by signing up for my quarterly newsletter HERE!

Never Enough — The Insatiable Hunger of Discontentment

What temporary filler has distracted you from the One who truly fulfills and, as a result, has deepened your ache and left you hollow?

If we were to unpack greed and selfish ambition, I believe we’d find a host of fear, sorrow, insecurities, and emotional wounds beneath them. I’ve noticed my contentment meter shifts dramatically depending on my situation and who I’m with.

Most often, when we’re clamoring after stuff, whether that’s shiny gadgets, fancy clothes, accolades, or fame, we’re not really after the stuff. We’re seeking to find fulfillment and value outside of Christ, and as result, we end up empty and grasping for more.

It’s a depressing cycle.

Greed, at its core, reveals our core beliefs about ourselves and God. Do we believe we have value, not because of what we’ve earned, achieved, or how many likes we’ve accumulated on Facebook? Do we believe God is good, loving, and faithful and true?

Or do we suspect that He’s holding out on us, that He longs to see us miserable, or that He’ll forget about us all together?

This is what happened with Eve back in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps you’re familiar with her story. God had placed her and her husband in a literal paradise, with lush vegetation, beautiful flowers, and absolutely everything they could need or want. Every tree, rose, and softly chirping bird revealed God’s heart, like a thousand love letters scripted just for them. No good thing had He withheld from them.

But one day, Eve entertained an insidious thought, planted during what may have appeared to be a casual, harmless conversation.

The Serpent, “the shrewdest of all the wild animals God had made,” approached Eve and asked, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:2-3).

Nope. In fact, God had said the opposite. Eve and her husband could freely enjoy every nut, berry, and sweet mango. Surrounded by all this abundance, there was but one tree they were not to eat from. And this, rather than all the blessings she’d been freely given, is what Eve chose to focus on.

She took that initial seed of doubt, so carefully planted, and worked it, until she became convinced God was holding out on her.

“She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it too” (Gen. 3:6)

And suddenly, that which initially looked so good, so beautiful and alluring, destroyed them, filling them with shame and shattering the intimacy they’d previously felt with God. By chasing after what God hadn’t granted instead of enjoying what He had, they lost it all.

That’s what greed does. It deceives us into thinking we haven’t been given our due and that what we have isn’t enough. It destroys our ability to enjoy the abundant blessings God has provided. It hurts others, destroys relationships and our integrity, and leads to isolation and ever-increasing discontentment.

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.”

Paul understood this. As a Pharisee, he’d probably seen countless men consumed with greed, who, like the elders in Ephesus, “showed” godliness merely as a way to become wealthy. The result—emotional and spiritual sickness, arguments, jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. In other words, ugliness and a life of drama. These men acted godly but lacked the power to experience the abundant life Christ promised, and instead of turning to Him in order to receive it, they stuffed their hollow and decrepit heart with one empty filler after another.

But God had set Paul free from all that and had given him something deeper, more fulfilling to live for, making everything else appear as rubbish. “Yes, everything else is worthless,” Paul said, “when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Can we say the same? If not, I suggest we ask God to help us love Him more. As we do, everything else will fade.

Let’s talk about this! How does our focus impact our contentment or lack of it? How does a right view of God—who He is, how He loves, and who we are in Him—enable us to feel content with what He’s provided?

Share your thoughts here, in the comments below or in our online Bible study group on Facebook. 

Local friends, join me next week at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha as I share how we can find peace and refreshment in the middle of our crazy and replace anxiety and fear with a deep and abiding faith. You can register HERE.

You might also enjoy:

A Still and Quiet Soul: Embracing Contentment by Cathy Messecar

 

The Importance of Knowing and Teaching Truth

It’s the one area I was most concerned about. I knew I’d make countless mistakes as a mom, but this was something I needed to excel in! Though numerous other things my husband and I sought to teach our daughter were important, this was the only one with eternal implications.

I knew, regardless of how kind or successful she became, when her time on earth ended, her good deeds would amount to naught if she wasn’t right with God.

So, I started reading Scripture to her before she could walk or talk. We began with a picture Bible, then to one for toddlers, than for early readers, ending each night with prayer. This became our bedtime tradition, one that helped mold and train her little, impressionable heart.

I was certain I had this parenting thing down! Until the questions started coming.

“How do you know the Bible is true?”

“What makes what we believe right?”

“What about Buddhism and Islam and all the other religions?”

Though I tried to respond with a confident smile, internally I was terrified. She’d been exposed to things that had caused questions to arise and I wasn’t sure how to respond. What if I answered her incorrectly or insufficiently and she turned away from the only faith that can save?

I don’t remember what I said to her in the moment, but I do remember what I did shortly after—I turned to God in prayer. ‘Show me what to do, Lord. Help me. Help her. And please, hold her tightly.”

His response, whispered like a gentle thought that brought my anxious ones to a halt: “Don’t panic. Teach her.”

And so I did. We began to look at why Scripture was credible, the problem with man-made religions and their failure to deal with sin, and more. We didn’t shy away from tough questions, and I learned not to fear them. In fact, I began to welcome them as I realized they offered wonderful teachable opportunities that, if handled well, could strengthen our daughter’s faith, draw her closer to her Savior, and deepen our relationship with one another as well.  

I wonder if Paul and Timothy offered similar prayers on behalf of the Ephesians as I had for our daughter. Knowing eternity was at stake, did they, like I had, feel a rising sense of panic? And did God say the same thing to them I sensed Him saying to me, back when our daughter was young and curious about false truths that promised a way to God but lacked the power to save?

I’m not sure, but I do know what God instructed the young preacher through Paul: Read and thus reveal truth (Scripture). Encourage believers. Teach them. Keep a close eye on your teaching. (1 Tim. 4:16). Make sure it’s sound and true.

I believe Paul is saying the same thing to us, especially if we have children or grandchildren. But even if we don’t, as Maria mentioned a couple weeks ago, we all have a sphere of influence. And we should continue teaching ourselves, so to speak, as we read Scripture daily, allowing it to encourage us, and prayerfully focus on making sure our doctrine is sound and true.

This leads me to this week’s memory verse: If you’re a parent or grandparent, what are some ways you have or can focus on teaching your children or grandchildren truths revealed in Scripture? What are some ways you are working to teach yourself the same truths?

Share your thoughts here or join the discussion in our online Bible study group which can be found HERE.

You might also enjoy:

Discover One Thing (An online Bible reading plan with brief discussion of the text)

How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart

From God to Us (Revised and Expanded) by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix

Hearing From God by Lyndsey Baker

 

Living as an Example

Perhaps it’s because I’m a child of the seventies (or a product of the 21st century), but I can be incredibly stubborn. I tend to think I’ve got all the answers, and when I don’t, I’d much prefer to figure them out myself. Though I’ve gotten better with age, when my husband and I were first married—whew! I was a feisty, opinionated thing who believed I knew, well, everything.

My poor husband! Needless to say, I didn’t take instruction well.

To make matters worse, I was quite literally a mess with zero understanding of what it took to run a household. Back then, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a small, railroad/ranching town in Western Nebraska. My husband worked for Union Pacific, and though I waitressed some and sold makeup in the mall, I largely “played house.”

I have no clue what I did with my time, other than watch an obscene amount of “Gilligan’s Island” and “I Love Lucy.” I certainly didn’t clean!

One day, my husband returned from work and I met him at the door with a large bowl filled with black water. “Look!” I said. “I dusted!” I was so proud of that filthy water, as if I’d done such a great thing that day in dusting our tiny home, not realizing the reason the water was so black was because it was the first time I’d dusted in … ever. And we’d been living there for six months.

Needless to say, I wasn’t rocking my role as a wife. So what’d my husband do? Did he follow me around, nagging?

Nope. He simply started picking up. He vacuumed, did the dishes, whatever needed to be done, and all without griping or complaining.

As he did, I watched and learned, a lot.

‘So this is how one manages a home,’ I thought. It sounds pretty ignorant, but there were so many things I hadn’t even considered. I was learning a new role, and with it, I needed to develop a new skill set—a new way of living.

In some ways, this was true for the Ephesians, too. They lived in an incredibly sinful city and many had probably come straight out of paganism. Through Christ, God had given them a new heart and had changed their entire trajectory. Though some of them had probably been in the church for four or five years, they were still learning how to live for Christ.

Paul wanted Timothy to teach them, and in many ways to bring them back to the basics. And to show them with how he lived—in the words he spoke, in his faith, and in his purity—what it looked like to follow Christ. (1 Timothy 4:12-13).

 

Timothy was to be the Ephesians living example, just as Paul had been for Timothy and Jesus had been for the disciples. You may have heard the phrase: more is caught than taught. That’s not to say one shouldn’t actively teach, because Paul definitely wanted Timothy to do that, but if we want to have eternal impact, our actions must line up with our words. Otherwise I fear we’re simply making noise.

Let me close with this: Would you be able to say, with Paul, “Follow my example as I follow Christ”? If not, what needs to change so that you can more accurately represent Jesus? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or in our Facebook discussion page HERE.

If you’re following Maria and my online Bible study–for today’s Scripture reading, I’d like us to look at some of the ways Paul, Timothy’s mentor, set an example for other believers. Read 1 Corinthians 4 verses 1-5 and 14-21.

What stands out to you in these passages? In what ways is your life an example to others?

Before you go, I have fun news! My latest release is free (Kindle version) for a limited time! You can get it HERE!

You can read a short excerpt HERE!

If you missed Maria’s post on Tuesday, which introduced this week’s theme, you can read it HERE!

Speaking of Bible studies, for those who in the Omaha Metro, I wanted to invite you to King of Kings Bible study fall kick off on Sept. 12th. I’ll be speaking on finding rest and nourishment in Christ, no matter how busy and crazy our schedules are. You can find out more HERE.

 

Why Spiritual Training is Necessary

You know those people who absolutely love running? Who can’t wait to lace up their shoes, hit the pavement, and usher forth that endorphin-saturated runner’s high?

That’s not me. I’m more of the cringe inwardly and outwardly type of gals who fights an internal battle every time I go for a jog. In fact, there are many times, if left on my own, I’ll, quite logically, talk myself out of going and into remaining in my PJs on the couch.

Running hurts. It’s hard. It takes time. It makes me sweat and distracts me from the truly important things like scrubbing floors and toilets.

At least, that’s what my comfort zone tries to tell me. But I’ve found, if I put off the physical training for any length of time, it isn’t long before I grow weak and lethargic and my days become marked by fatigue.

Let me explain. In 2011-2012, I got sick, had extreme difficulty digesting, and dropped a ton of weight. Nerve pain soon followed along with a second diagnosis—fibromyalgia. This chronic pain condition is hard to explain to those who don’t have it, but it’s much like having a body-wide toothache accompanied by muscle cramps. Basically, the nerve signals go haywire, acting as if someone turned on an electrical switch then walked away.

Running can, and often does, trigger a pretty intense pain response. There are times, many, when I’m literally brought to tears. There are times when, as I’m lacing up my shoes and thinking of the pain I’ll likely experience, I grow anxious and sick to my stomach.

So why do I do it? Why do I continue to subject myself to such torture?

Because I know that hour of pain is temporary but the benefits of pushing through last a lifetime. It’s about quality of life for me.

The same is true in regard to spiritual training. We tend to balk at the word “discipline,” because let’s face it, practicing godliness is hard. It takes conscious thought, continual practice, and determination. It’s so much easier to give in to our emotions and desires. To get swept up in godless chatter and meaningless speculations (1 Tim. 4:7, 1 Tim. 1:4), in gossiping and venting (1 Tim. 3:11), in feeding my pride and self-love (1 Tim. 2:9-10) instead of living as God desires.

And yet, we know where those behaviors lead; they aren’t pretty or effective. Rather, they’re destructive. They cause disunity, distrust, quarrels and fights, scheming, jealousy, and places us in direct opposition to God. (James 4).

Learning and practicing obedience, on the other hand, brings unity, peace, increased love, and a deeper fellowship with Christ. (John 15:14) The more we respond obediently to Christ, the more sensitive we become to His leading, and our godliness grows. The more we ignore Him or rebel against Him, the more hardened our hearts and more dulled our consciences become.

Training isn’t easy. Many times, we’ll have to say no to something pleasant in the moment, perhaps sleeping in, to say yes to something we know will help us long term, like developing a morning quiet time. But training is good. Healthy. Important. It helps protect us from deception and strengthens us to live godly, Christ-centered lives—lives filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith (1 Tim. 1:5).

Ultimately, this training is a process of learning to die to ourselves, moment by moment, so that God can live and love others through us. It’s a journey of moving past self-love in order to display agape love, because, as Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40, this forms the foundation of the entire Old Testament (which, back then, made up the complete Bible).

Spiritual training involves practicing disciplines like reading our Bibles daily, praying, fasting, taking time for silence and meditating on Christ and His word, meeting with other believers, serving others, and worshiping God through words and song. Which of these can you practice this week in order to grow stronger spiritually and closer to Christ?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion in our Bible study Facebook group. For those following along with the 1 Timothy study, today’s suggested Bible reading is Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 12.

You might also enjoy:

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life