Sometimes, when I encounter others just beginning their faith journey, I forget how tumultuous, difficult, and confusing my first stumbling steps were. I forget how tightly I held to the familiar, even if that meant staying stuck in dysfunction or pain.  And in my mess, my insecurities, and my fears, the patience of my Savior as He daily stooped to my level, took my clammy hand in His, and led me step by step, truth by truth, to spacious fields of joy and peace (Ps. 23).

Not long ago, after I’d shared some of my story with a podcast guest, he proclaimed, “How courageous you were to follow Jesus on that journey of healing.”

Only I wasn’t brave at all, nor did I have any idea where God was leading me half the time. In fact, if it had been up to me, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have moved forward at all. But in those moments when my feet became paralyzed with fear, Jesus descended to my level, took my hand in His and gently, lovingly, yet persistently led me to increased freedom.

That’s why He came. To proclaim good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners and the oppressed, and recovery of sight to the blind. His heart has always been tender toward the broken, confused, and deceived. We catch such a beautiful analogy of this, almost like a real-life parable, in Mark 8.

Jesus and His disciples had crossed the sea of Galilee and into Bethsaida, an area He’d previously denounced for its widespread lack of faith or spiritual vision. Verses 22-26 tell us, “…some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village.”

Then, He spit on the man’s eyes and asked him if he could see.

Although his vision had improved, it remained blurry. “He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” And so, Jesus touched the man’s eyes again, and this time his sight was restored.

Pause to envision this interaction, as Christ took the man’s hand and led him out of the village. Can you sense Jesus’ gentleness and tender care? I picture Him walking slowly, careful not to cause the man to trip. Taking the man to a more private location, He healed him partially, allowing those first rays of light to stream in, before shattering the darkness for good.

I wonder, what happened in that man’s heart and mind, during that process? Did threads of doubt and fear begin to melt away? Did whispers of lies rise to the surface then get swept away for good? Did the Savior’s first touch, then the second, then the third help him to heal, then teach him to trust, and then to rest?

The passage doesn’t tell us why the One whose words cast out demons and brought life to a girl, once dead, chose to heal this man in such a gradual and deeply personal way. But we know Christ’s shepherd’s heart for His sheep, for those who’ve been walking for some time and maybe have recovered most of their sight. And for those who’ve just begun and are taking their very first timid and stumbling steps. He’s bringing us all to places of unhindered freedom, nudging us ever so gently yet persistently forward.

May we remember this image the next time we’re tempted to grow frustrated with someone else’s slow progress. May we resist the temptation to shove our broken brothers and sisters forward. May we instead slow our step to patiently walk beside them, knowing God will ensure we both reach our destinations.    

Let’s talk about this! Pause to consider all the ways God stooped down to grab hold of you. Remember some of your greatest struggles, or maybe even your current battles. How does your memory of those moments impact your view of other people’s behaviors?

For those following our Chronological Bible reading plan through the New Testament …

Connect with Jennifer on Facebook and Instagram.

Breaking Body Image Shame With Rachael Gilbert Faith Over Fear

Do all the parties, cookie exchanges, and holiday meals this time of year prick your insecurities and create anxiety? Do you find yourself simultaneously enjoying home-baked treats and calculating how many hours at the gym each bite will cost? More importantly, do you ever long for the day when you don't stress about your body? In our photo-shopped, filtered, social media culture, is that even possible? Faith Over Fear guest Rachael Gilbert, author of Image Restored, says yes and shares her inside out approach to learning to feel comfortable in our skin, whatever shape it encompasses.  (Scroll down for discussion/reflective questions.) Resource Mentioned: Image Restored: Tear Down Shame and Insecurity to Experience a Body Image Renovation.  Connect with Rachael Gilbert: On her website On Instagram On Facebook On her Amazon Author Page Find Jennifer Slattery: On her website Instagram Facebook Amazon Find Wholly Loved: On their website Join the private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group  Join the Private Wholly Loved Community Facebook Group Discussion/Reflective Questions: What resonated with you most in this episode? What body image messages have you absorbed from your social circle? What body image messages have you received from generations before you? How often do you put your thoughts "on trial"? How often do you check your negative thinking against the truth of Scripture? In what ways might a negative body image be impacting your relationships How might your life change were you to feel confident in your skin? What is one action step God might be asking you to take, having listened to this episode? Discover more Christian podcasts at lifeaudio.com and inquire about advertising opportunities at lifeaudio.com/contact-us.
  1. Breaking Body Image Shame With Rachael Gilbert
  2. Facing Opposition – Experiencing Jesus
  3. Strength to Thrive Despite Opposition
  4. How God Prepares Us to Face Opposition
  5. When Obedience Leads to Hostility – Standing Strong Amidst Opposition P. 1

Social media reveals our hearts quote

If you want to know what’s truly in a person’s heart, what they believe and value most, simply scroll through their social media feed. Especially during election season or a global pandemic. This holds true for all of us, myself included. My Facebook engagement reveals where I’m placing my trust. In a political system driven by fallible humans? In myself and my ability to type out a strong and convincing argument? Or in Jesus and the eternal life He grants us?

I understand all the apparent chaos in our world triggers anxiety. And how do most of us respond to these unsettling emotions? Most often, we grasp for control, or perhaps I should say, to our illusion of it. But what if our most fervent, passionate efforts are hindering our greatest call to know God intimately and make Him known?

About ten years ago, I engaged in conversations with an atheist. Initially, our discussions felt productive. Soon, however, our interaction turned contentious as we both sought to convince the other of our vastly different positions. Not only did my most logical arguments prove ineffective; but my steadily increasing pride, evident by my complete lack of grace, distorted Christ in me.

I’m certain this grieved God’s heart. I misrepresented my Savior, the One who had entrusted me with the very words of life. In my desire to be right and oh so wise, I’d forgotten that “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17, ESV). Paraphrase of James 3:17

God’s wisdom is:

  • Pure, uncontaminated with sin, including self-righteousness and pride. This goes much deeper than any outward behavior to a purity that extends to the core of our being.

 

  • Demonstrative of a wholeness that stems from operating completely in God’s will.

 

  • Gentle, which in this case, means moderate and equitable.

 

  • Someone who truly listens and seeks to understand.

 

  • Full of mercy and good fruits, the kind that stems from our deep and constant connection with Christ. (John 15:1-5).

 

In my interaction with that atheist, I wasn’t yielding to Christ and His power within me, nor was I worshiping the Creator and Ruler of all. Instead, I was worshipping myself. The result? Nothing good. The man didn’t move one step closer to the Giver of life, the only one with the power to change his heart and his perspective. If anything, I fear I may have pushed the atheist further from Christ.

And while I won’t receive a do-over, each day God does grant me a “try again.” He offers that to us all. What if we considered our social media feeds something of training grounds as we learned to rely more on the Holy Spirit and less on ourselves. As we do, we’ll more consistently reveal all those beautiful qualities Scripture promises He births within us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

My spiritual maturity is most clearly revealed not in how well I quote verses or how logically I phrase biblical arguments. Rather, I reveal the depth of my love for Christ and my worship of Him in how well I love. May God’s most precious fruit first fill me so fully, there’s room for nothing else, then flow from me. In this, may others “taste and see that the Lord” truly “is good” (Psalm 34:8, ESV).

How, then, can I become more spiritually mature—before my fingers race across my keyboard?

I need to:

  1. Prioritize my time with Christ. I can’t love like Him apart from Him.
  2. Find and stay connected with an accountability partner—who watches my social media engagement. My husband fills this role for me.
  3. When tempted to engage in an argument, ask myself why. Most often, I find my pride has been pricked, and Scripture says God opposes the proud. I certainly don’t want that!
  4. Pull away to pray when I first feel my muscles tense. And here’s what’s great about this. The more we scroll past posts and comments that irritate us or tempt us to argue, the easier it becomes to do so in the future. But the converse is also true. The more we jump in and allow ourselves to get riled up, the more frequent our contentious responses will become.
  5. Meditate on the cross and my need for it. That always tends to refocus my priorities on the things of eternity.

Join me. This election season, may we continually invite God to examine and purify our hearts, so that we honor the One who gave His life so that we might live and then proclaim that life to others.

We may also need to set boundaries as we work to guard our peace and prioritize our time with Jesus. If you struggle with this, you might find my latest Thriving With Chronic Illness podcast episode helpful: Setting Boundaries P. 2

Image of flowers with the text for John 13:34
Have you ever sensed God asking to reach out to someone, to initiate reconciliation, knowing with near certainty they’d reject your attempts?
About a week ago, this happen to my husband, and watching, I felt as if my heart were shredding.
I had just finished reading about the sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, revealed in Acts 15:36-41. It’s easy to miss the significance of this, to sort of skim over, or perhaps not even really consider, the pain this conflict must’ve caused. Their relationship had to have been incredibly deep. It was Barnabas who sought Paul out and, basically, drew him into ministry. Together, they traveled across the Mediterranean planting churches. (If you’ve ever experienced the bonds that occur on short term mission trips, you can understand how close this must’ve made them.) Together, they’d endured intense persecution and had risked their lives on numerous occasions.
They were beyond tight. But then, they had a sharp disagreement over John Mark, and split ways. Yet remained in the same faith community. This conflict must have stung every time they heard one another’s names spoken among their evangelical circles and whenever they heard of the other’s ministry endeavors and successes.
Relational conflict hurts! And it happens all the time. But our reconciliation efforts can be a powerful purple flowers against a wooden fence with words pulled from post.display of the gospel.
As I said, about a week ago, God called my husband to humbly contact people we knew wouldn’t be receptive. My daughter, having seen how deeply these individuals had hurt him in the past, and wanting to protect her daddy from further pain, got upset and cried. “They’re just going to hurt him again,” she said. Though I knew she was right and wanted to echo her warnings, I told her that is precisely how we (mankind) treat Jesus. He reaches out to us again and again, and yet, we continue to reject Him. But still He pursues us. And sometimes, as His followers, He calls us to do the same, even though we know we’ll likely be rejected, in order to demonstrate a love that is completely different than what we see in the world.
So that’s what my husband did. And yes, he experienced rejection, and I know that hurt him deeply. But I also believe he was obedient, and we can both find joy in that. More than that, I know he demonstrated the initiating, self-sacrificing, humble love of Christ.
When has God asked you to do the same, or maybe when has He revealed His love to you through someone else? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.
Before you go, I have fun news! Wholly Loved Ministries’ 90-day devotional has released!
Drawing Near: a 90-Day Devotional:
Each day, God beckons us to Himself, calling us to rest in His love and grace. As we do, He heals our hurts, overpowers our fears with love, and restores us to the women He created us to be. This 90-day devotional, written by women who are learning themselves to live anchored in God’s grace, will help you deepen your faith and grow your relationship with Christ.
Grab your copy HERE.

About ten years ago, a major upheaval initially leveled me, but then God used it to bring about incredible healing and growth. Ultimately, He shifted my focus off of myself and onto others and His redemptive mission. He showed me He wanted to use me, right then and there, in the middle of our difficult and uncertain circumstances.

This was shortly after Katrina and Rita, which hit the south back to back. We were living in

Picture of a hurricane
Image by Sadiq Nafee on Unsplash

Louisiana at the time, and though we weren’t directly impacted by the storm, a good proportion of those we encountered were.

During this time, we went through a period of unemployment. My husband later received contract work just outside of New Braunfels, TX. To stay out of debt, we sold our home within a week, packed our minivan with everything we thought we’d need, and crammed everything else in storage. Then we moved to TX and into a 500 sq foot, rent by the month apartment, not knowing how long we’d be there, how long my husband’s contract work would last, or where we’d go once it ended.

This was a hard time for me, in part because of things I’d experienced previously.

But God used this period to bring such freedom, to show me His love and constancy, and to heal some pretty deep wounds. He also created a sense of anticipation. I felt certain we were in that place at that time (wherever He moved us and for however long we stayed) for a specific purpose. So each day I began with an expectant, “What do you have for me today, God? Why am I here at this moment?”

He answered that prayer each day and often used our exact struggle to help me encourage others. I was able to love on them with a compassion I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I thought back to this experience as I was reading through Ezra and how the previously exiled Israelites celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles or Shelters almost immediately upon their return to Jerusalem. (Ezra 3:1-6).

This feast was instituted by God when the people were at Mt. Sinai. He’d rescued them from Egypt and brought them to Himself. This was a time of liberation but also of loss. They’d given up everything to follow God (and Moses) into the unknown, into a literal desert but likely also a spiritual dessert. They lived in tents, as foreigners and travelers, and had no idea what lay ahead. All they knew was, when the cloud of God’s presence rose each morning, they followed. When it stopped they stopped. That was the extent of their knowledge.

God brought them to a place of complete dependence. They couldn’t run to the Nile River to catch fish or sneak to an Egyptian farm to snag a fig. God alone provided their food and water in the desert. As they traveled, in essence homeless, among the foreign nations, they were also to remember their mission. They were God’s chosen people, selected to reveal to every nation they encountered, who God was and how mankind was to relate to and interact with Him.

So, when they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths, generations later, they remembered their ancestors’ journey, their dependence, and God’s presence.

This festival contained two important elements: light and water. Light reminded them of God’s presence–the pillar of fire that led the people each night as they fled their slavery and journeyed to the Promised Land. Light also played an important part in God’s temple. The people were to keep a candle burning continually, also to signify God’s constant presence.

Water reminded them of God’s protection and provision, of how He’d parted the Red Sea–the seemingly insurmountable barrier between them and safety and the land God had promised. It also reminded them of when God provided water through a rock in the desert, and 1 Cor. 10:1-5 tells us that Rock was Christ.

In all of this, they reminded themselves they weren’t alone or abandoned, and that God still had a plan for them.

For those of us in the middle of hard circumstances, I wonder how many have received the call to missions right where we are, in the middle of our hard. How many of us, like the Israelites, are being, not cast off, as we may be inclined to think, but chosen to reveal the power and presence and love of Christ in the middle of difficult situations. To reveal a faith that extends beyond Sunday mornings and sunshine weekends. Because you are precious in His sight, His chosen and redeemed, His daughters, a royal priesthood, called to proclaim the One who brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

Let’s talk about this! When has God called you to serve Him in the middle of a painful or uncertain period, and what was the result? In what ways is He calling you to live on mission for Him today?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

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We’re often called weird, intolerant, and out of touch. We long to share words of life with others, to point them to the only source of hope, but our fear of rejection or backlash can hold us back. Stepping out with courage and intentionality can be extra hard for the shy introverts. But though it is important to boldly speak truth when God directs, regardless of what we do or don’t say, the gospel shines through. Or, as Jodie Wolfe explains, at least, it should.

Avoiding in-Your-Face Evangelism

by Jodie Wolfe

 

 I’m not an ‘in-your-face type’ of gal but chances are that phrase immediately stirred mental images of some folks you’ve come across. When I was in college, I was part of the Evangelism Team of our Christian Fellowship group. Not an easy thing for a timid introvert like me. After athletic events, our team handed out tracts and talked to people about how they could be assured of where they spent eternity.

My heart pounded, palms sweated, and most times I felt sick. It probably wasn’t encouraging to see a nervous girl, shaking and pale, talking to you about heaven. (Chuckle.) Since then, I’ve learned there are many ways to point to God. Not that we shouldn’t be bold when God asks, but it’s okay to be who He created us to be too. In fact, I think sometimes our faith shines through most clearly when we authentically share the hope of Christ.

I love the way Scripture talks about having a quiet or gentle spirit. Here are two of my favorite passages:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your woman sitting outside with text from 1 Peter 3 verses 3 and 4adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” ( 1 Timothy 2:1-4, ESV).

I firmly believe that I can point others to Christ through a quiet, meek spirit that hopefully shows God working through my life. I’m not afraid to share about my faith online or to say something when prompted. For me though, I think my greatest witness comes from how I live my life each day. My actions say so much more about how I respond when faced with difficulty. What are the first words out of my mouth when I’m mad, upset, or happy? Does my conduct show what is in my heart and point to a power within that’s made perfect in my weakness?

I have to ask myself, am I being an ‘in-your-face’ Christian, or am I living a quiet, meek life that points others to Him?

***

Let’s talk about this! We are each intentionally unique–by God’s design. We each have a glorious purpose–to know God and make Him known. When under Christ’s lordship, our uniqueness feeds directly into our purpose, meaning, God can use us as we are, whether we’re eloquent or stumble over our words, are outgoing or shy, creative or analytical. We are each imago dei, and as such, reveal Christ. What are your thoughts regarding Jodie’s post? Do you agree with her statement that a life lived well is the most powerful proclamation of the gospel we can give? When have you seen this to be true?

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Get to know Jodie!

Jodie Wolfe creates novels where hope and quirky meet. She’s been a semi-finalist and finalist in various writing contests and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Romance Writers of America (RWA). When not writing she enjoys spending time with her husband in Pennsylvania, reading, walking, and being a Grammie. Learn more at http://www.jodiewolfe.com.

Visit her online:

At her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Check out her latest release, To Claim Her Heart:

In 1893, on the eve of the great race for land, Benjamin David prays for God to guide him to his ‘Promised Land. Finding property and preaching to the lost are his only ways of honoring his deceased fiancée. He hasn’t counted on Elmer (Elsie) Smith claiming the same plot and refusing to leave. Not only is she a burr in his side, but she is full of the homesteading know-how he is sadly lacking.

Obtaining a claim in the Cherokee Strip Land Run is Elsie Smith’s only hope for survival, and not just any plot, she has a specific one in mind. The land’s not only a way to honor her pa and his life, but also to provide a livelihood for herself. She’s willing to put in whatever it takes to get that piece of property, and Elsie s determined to keep it.

Her bitterness is what protects her, and she has no intentions of allowing that preacher to lay claim to her land . . . or her heart.