For the Love — an Online Bible Study

JohnStudy1When a biblical character hits me, stays with me for months, and fills me with questions that draw me, daily, deeper into Scripture, I’ve learned to take notice. And to hit my knees, because often, God is about to do something.

This happened six or seven years ago, when I became fascinated with Joseph (from Genesis), and I had a quiet yet steady niggling–hold tight. You’re about to be trained.

I soon realized how true that was as, for the next few years, God hit me with challenge after challenge. Not exactly fun times but oh, so necessary.

Fast forward a few–or seven–years, and a character flaw became more and more apparent–a selfishness, or perhaps self-obsession, had begun to rise. So I prayed for God to help me close my ears to accolades and expectations, turn my heart from sales numbers and worldly success, and to daily offer myself on the alter (Romans 12:1-2) so that Christ might shine, unhindered, through me.

Around this time, I visited a friend’s church–just once, mind you, rather coincidentally, or so one might think. As I sat there, rather distracted by my tumbling thoughts, one word caught my attention: deflect.

Deflect, spoken in reference to John the Baptist, a man whose life exemplified his famous quote, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV).

A statement that is easy to make but oh so hard to live. Yet so very necessary, because Christ is worthy, amen? And His mission–the mission He’s assigned each of us–is worth cross-423157_1920it. So much is at stake. Everything we do or say creates an eternal impact. We’re either drawing others to Christ or pushing them further away. We’re either exemplifying what it means to love as He did or we’re consumed with self.

We’re either revealing God’s amazing grace or we’re distorting it.

You and I, we were created with purpose for a purpose; a glorious, eternal purpose. And yet, we’re still being created as God removes everything within us that gets in His way and sharpens and hones those things that further His kingdom.

That, my sweet brothers and sisters, is where this study comes in. Join me and some of my most cherished blogging friends for the next two and a half months as we take an indepth look at the life of John the Baptist. Not only will we be digging deep into Scripture and discussing how it applies to our lives today, but we’ll also be sharing some Bible study methods to enable you to glean God’s truth from your own reading.

You can join discussions here, and we also invite you to interact with one another on Facebook in our John Study Group.

You can begin this study by reading Luke 1:1-10 each day for the next week, jotting down every question and observation that comes to mind. Consider reading the passage in numerous Bible translations. Then bring your notes back here, next Thursday when we’ll discuss ways we, like John’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, can be faithful in the mundane. (Luke 1:1-7)

Then, on September 12th, join me on Christians Read where I’ll discuss making prayer a priority. (Luke 1:8-10)

Then, on the 13th, I’ll be on Faith, Friends, Chocolate expanding on the importance of prayer further and sharing how we can make our prayer time rich and meaning. (Luke 1:8-10)

On September 15th, the amazing and insightful Chaka Heinze will visit us here to talk about those times when we’re crying out to God but it feels as if He’s not listening. (Luke 1:5-7)

On the 19th, my dear friend Maria Morgan will discuss ways we can choose faith over doubt. (She’ll also be sharing some information about a wonderful Bible study she’s launching.)

On the 22nd, Susan Aken will talk about a painful time in her life when it felt as if she’d be waiting forever, and what happened when that waiting ended.

Finally (for the month of September), on the 29th, my guest Candee Fick will talk about how as parents and grandparents can raise children who deflect (live lives that point others to Christ).

That’s it for September.

I hope you’ll join us, because as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), we can all learn from and teach one another.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. Can you relate to my steady tug? When has a biblical story or character fascinated you and resulted in an extended study? Did you find God used that person or story to teach or show you something? How about John that Baptist–have you spent much time studying his life? What intrigues or inspires you most about him? Share your thoughts here with us in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a chuckle (at my expense), pop on over to Modern Day Mishaps to read how I almost became Trapped in Atlanta, and how God preemptively saved me from my scatterbrained mess.

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Pulling Back the Veil on Christian Love

ID-100201732Scroll through social media long enough, and chances are you’ll read a few (or more) negative posts regarding Christians and Christianity. Some say we’re intolerant, others that we’re hateful, close-minded, or out of touch, or whatever. Find a negative adjective, and I’m pretty sure you can find a statement connecting it to Christ-followers.

Granted, there are those among us who do indeed fit those descriptions, but from my experience, when I step back and truly consider, those angry (or perhaps confused) individuals are the minority. The vast number of Christians I know are doing amazing things. They’re feeding the hungry, adopting orphans, walking beside single moms, bringing clean water to the sick and thirsty, medical care to the ill, and more. So much more.

Yesterday I considered all the ways God’s children have shown up in my life lately, of all the sacrificial giving of time and resources I’ve seen displayed, not by one, not by two or three, but by a large number of believers with whom I have contact.

All this points not to the good of the human heart, nor to the quality of my friends (thoughgirl-1186895_1920 I think they’re amazing) but rather to the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in us. And every act of love displayed by one of God’s children points to His ever-reaching, ever-faithful Daddy’s heart.

Let me explain:

God has called our family to something hard, amazing, beautiful, and frightening. He has called us to help initiate life change and healing, to show the truth and depth of His love, even when–especially when!–that love is spurned.

This in and of itself is not unique to Christians. I believe we all as humans long to make an impact, to help others, and to see our world change. But wanting and doing are entirely different things, and on our own, in our own strength, we lack the power to truly live “all in,” sacrificially, for a significant length of time. 

Let me explain–from my experience. Lately, many have showered me with accolades, saying they view me as giving, loving, and … saint-like. But I’m not. So not. On my own, I’m selfish, fearful, distracted, impatient, ever-viewing the world through a me-centered lens.

And that’s where the tug-push-pull comes in–an inner wrestling of God’s Spirit with mine, and an intimate time where He personally meets with me, changing my thinking, softening my heart, and empowering me to follow, wholeheartedly, His leading.

Here’s how it starts. I’ll step out in love and faith, only to have my love spurned. My natural, human reaction? To get frustrated, maybe even angry, discouraged, and to want to pull back. To self-protect and withdraw–to take the easy route.

But then, in the midst of my selfish thinking, God speaks gently to my heart. Sometimes He’ll remind me of His love. Always, He’ll help me see the situation and the other person through His eyes.

Let me pause here. That is the most powerful, most attitude and heart changing aspect of walking in a close relationship with Christ–being granted the ability to see, truly see, other’s through Christ’s eyes–to catch a glimpse past behaviors and words to the hurting, bleeding heart within.

When that happens, everything changes, in an instant. Anger is turned to compassion. Frustration to peace. Discouragement to hope. Selfishness to love. And suddenly, one is filled with a passion so strong, they cannot not act, cannot not love.

Gal 2-20verse jpgThis has been my journey lately, a daily teeter totter, and praise God, He has been winning–love has been winning. Not because there’s anything remotely good within me, but because God has proven strong on my behalf. Again and again and again. And through it all, I’ve grown even closer to Him as He overwhelms me with the revelation of the depth of His love for our hurting world.

When I started this post, I planned to share all the ways God’s children have shown up for our family as we seek to obey Him. But as I wrote, it took a bit of a detour, hopefully one that was God directed.

For now, I leave you with this–if you’ve never experienced the love and life-changing power of God’s Spirit living within, today can be the day–the day you quit trying to live on your own and in your own strength, the day you stop seeking temporary fillers to the emptiness within, the day you know what it’s like to be loved deeply, at your core, and held close by your heavenly Father, from now to eternity. (Find out how HERE.)

For those of you who do have a relationship with Christ, I challenge you (and me) to get and stay connected–to Him. Make your relationship with Christ your top priority and to carve out time when you rest in His presence, allowing Him to change your perspective, soften your heart, and empower you to do that which He has called you to do. Because in Him, you have everything you need to live the life He desires.

I leave you with one of my favorite verses:

“By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of 2Peter3-1versejpgthis by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! What is God calling you to do? In what ways has He empowered and equipped you to do that? In what ways has He revealed His love to you through others? Share your stories with us here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because God is worthy of our praise and the whole world needs to know about all the great things He does and has done!

But before you go–an invitation to my Omaha Metro friends. Join me and my sister in Christ, singer Shelly Conn, at Chocolaterie Stam for a fun afternoon of live music, books, readings, and chocolate!

Chocolaterie Signing-page-001

What Submission Looks Like in Modern Marriage

woman-975339_1920I’m a strong-willed, bull-headed, opinionated, outspoken modern woman married to a man who continually challenges me to pursue my dreams and make an eternal impact. And yet, I take Ephesians 5:22-23 literally, which says, “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of His body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything” (NLT). 

Yes, the verse preceding this says we are to “submit to one another,” but here’s the deal–I have no control over my husband’s behavior but I have full control over mine. And in this instance, I can choose to obey Christ, trusting He truly does know better than I how to build a happy, intimate relationship, or I can operate on my own faulty, self-absorbed, deceived thinking.

Hm…

So, what does biblical submission look like in modern marriage?

It’s not oppressive. It doesn’t mean suppressing my God-given ideas and intellect and following my husband around with the remote and an iced soda. In fact, in my home, it’s rarely seen, until a major conflict arises. When that happens, I’m given a choice–dig in my heels and fight for my way, or surrender and submit, trusting God to work things out according to His will.

Let me illustrate with a story. When our daughter was young, I felt a clear and strong call to homeschool. Excited to embrace this new journey God had laid out for me, I shared this with my husband.

His response: No.

Not, “Let’s talk about this,” or “Let me think about this.” Nope. Nothing but a firm, “No.”

So, being the stubborn, opinionated, and at times self-righteous, woman I am, I fought, nagged,

photo by marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

photo by marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

argued, pestered, and cajoled in an effort to get my way–which I firmly believed was God’s way.

The result? The tension in our marriage increased and our home became a battle ground. Steve and I grew further apart, far from the united front our daughter needed.

Convinced I was right and Steve was wrong, I turned to prayer, expecting God to rally behind me.

He didn’t. He told me to submit. To put my marriage above this thing, as important as I felt this thing was. So, with confused reluctance, I did, figuring I’d either heard God wrong or He’d change my husband’s heart.

God did the latter. Shortly before our daughter was to start her kindergarten year, my husband said to me, “Have you considered homeschooling?”

My stomach dropped. Had he seriously forgotten about the major battle we’d had over this issue? I’m not sure if he had or if his question was a way of initiating conversation, but regardless, in the two years I’d gone silent on the subject, God had begun speaking–to my husband. He’d changed my husband’s heart, and that fall, I began teaching our daughter from home with the full support of my husband.

Consider how different things might’ve turned out, had I continued to fight for my will. I may have worn Steve down eventually, got him to concede to my desire, but he probably would’ve resented me and our homeschooling for it. It would’ve been a mess for years to come. He certainly wouldn’t have stood beside me, supporting my efforts.

God’s way was better. But then again, isn’t it always?

I could share numerous other stories like this, of times when Steve and I stood on completely opposite sides of an issue with no signs of compromise and God gave me the choice to keep fighting or submit. And every time when I’ve chosen to submit, God has worked things out, in His timing and His way, and always, always for our good.

Because He’s good. And He’s sovereign. He has a plan for me, my family, and my marriage, and He’s committed to working out that plan. And in my marriage, when wills collide, God’s plan for me is submission.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. Ladies this is a hard one, right? I think because we’re fearful. We’re fearful if we concede to something, we’ll be trampled on or something will go wrong, or we’ll miss out on or lose something we hold dear. But faith is the antidote to fear–faith not in our fallible husbands but rather in God.

What areas are hardest for you to submit? When have you surrendered an issue to God, conceding one of your husband’s wishes, and what were the results? When have you dug in your heels and fought for something and regretted your behavior? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from and encourage each other!

(If you missed part one and two of this post, you can read them HERE and HERE.)

For those following me online, here’s where I’ve been this past week:

Yesterday I chatted about my novel, coffee, and other randomly fun things on Sarah Ruut’s blog. You can join our conversation HERE.

On the Internet Cafe’, I asked then addressed the question: Are You Training Your Child For Divorce. You can read my post HERE.

On Tuesday I stopped by Johnnie Alexander’s to share the spark behind my latest release, Breaking Free, which I offered as a give-away. You can join the fun and get entered into the drawing HERE.

Monday I stopped by Whispers in Purple to participate in a fun interview. You can join me HERE.

Last Friday I shared what seems to be y’all’s favorite post, a special road trip romance and how an anniversary trip to Seattle added color and depth to my latest release. You can read this story HERE.

And finally, last Thursday I visited the Inkslinger Blog to share an excerpt from Breaking Free. You can read that HERE.

 

 

Because You Both Can’t Lead

anger-19063_1920It’s the word that makes nearly every woman cringe, grit her teeth, stomp her foot and clench her fists. Probably because someone they’ve encountered has used this word to oppress and dominate, which is so far from God’s intention. But isn’t that just like Satan to twist something God meant for good into something burdensome and repulsive?

Before we go further, let me assure you, God never oppresses. He uplifts, equips, transforms, and sets free.

Jesus said, “The theif’s [Satan’s] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them [us] a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT).

Satisfying. Abundant. The Greek word Jesus used here means “more than”, beyond what is anticipated, exceeding expectations, and going past the expected limit.marriageverse

That’s the type of life I want! I get it by living out God’s will, and in marriage, for me, His will is submission (Eph. 5:22-23). But before you cringe and close out this window, let me explain.

Things hadn’t been going well in our marriage. And when I say they weren’t going well, I mean our marriage stunk. Steve and I were so far from being the united couple we vowed to be, we spent most of our time living as enemies. In self-imposed isolation.

We had two options: divorce or get help. By God’s grace, we chose the latter.

Sitting in a small, homey counselor’s office, tears pouring down my face, I shared all the hurts I’d been holding on to for so long. I’m not even sure I made sense. All I knew was that I was lonely and felt rejected, and I was desperate for things to change.

When I’d finished crying, wining, and venting, the counselor looked at me with a rather stoic expression and said, “You want him to be the leader.”

I jerked back, blinked. Stared at her for a long time.

Um… what? Where in the world did she come up with that?

At the time, I thought she had completely misunderstood me, but looking back… she’d been right on. My heart was crying out for a spiritual leader. The problem was, every time Steve stepped up to lead, I slammed him down.

Through criticism. And “instruction.” Constant instruction. When he’d interact with our daughter: “Hold her this way.” “No, she can’t have that. Give her this.”

When he’d help around the house: “No, you’re folding those wrong.” “Use this cleaner.” “Those don’t go there.”

man-690201_1920And being the loving husband he was, he began to follow, and I’m pretty sure it was killing him. It for sure was killing our marriage. That afternoon as the two of us sat in the counselor’s office, God began to intervene, working in each of our hearts in order to create a united front. Helpmates.

The road getting there, however, was terrifying.

God’s inciting incident (for those familiar with writing lingo) happened at a quiet beach front house in a tiny fishing town in Oregon. My mom found and booked the place and the four of us–Steve, myself, my mom, and our daughter who was probably eight at the time–spent the greater portion of a week unwinding and reconnecting. With ourselves, one another, and God.

While there, my mom gave Steve and I a book, unfortunately I don’t remember the name, but it was about one man’s journey of learning to recognize and heed God’s voice. I loved the book and read it periodically on our trip. My husband, however, devoured it. Every time I looked his way, he was reading, his thick brows pinched in that studious expression that indicated he was deep in thought. He remained pensive for the rest of the trip and on our drive home from the airport after.

As we drove, he played one song over and over. It was by Third Day, “Take My Life.” You can listen to it here:

Watching him, I knew, I mean I knew-knew, God was doing something, but I had no idea what, nor did Steve tell me. Until maybe a month later when he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m quitting my job. And we’re moving.”

My stomach plummeted. “What? Where will you work?”

“I don’t know. Home Depot?”

“Where will we live?”

“I don’t know. Pick a place.”

At this point, I started to reach panic stage. This was so uncharacteristic of my husband. It didn’t make sense. But in my heart I knew, this was from God. I hated it. I was terrified. But something in me kept me quiet. At least, to my husband.

Fast forward another month, and with still no definite job in sight, we decided to put our home on the market. (Because I guess if one’s going to be jobless, they may as well become homeless, too, right? Oy.) The decision had been made–we were moving. Where? I had no idea, and I wanted my marching orders! So, as I tore our old, weed infested grass off our yard in preparation for re-sodding, I cried out to God, wining, venting, complaining, and begging–yes, begging–for Him to tell me what He was up to. Where we were going to go, and that everything would be okay.

He didn’t give me that. All I heard was, “Submit.” Again and again, “Submit.”

woman-83177_1280I’m not sure how or where I got the strength, but I did. Not because I trusted my husband. He was totally freaking me out at that point, but because I trusted God. Or at least, I was trying to. Maybe I should say I chose to trust Him, regardless of how I felt.

That was when God began to make a leader out of my husband. A strong, confident, sexy, loving, gentle leader. But he didn’t get there overnight, nor was the journey easy, for either of us. One of the biggest challenges for me? I learned I had to get out of God’s way.

Ouch, right?

This is a heavy, complex subject, this S word thing, and one that can’t be addressed, it seems, in a single blog post. Which is why I want to expand on the topic. Come back in two weeks to learn how I feel this biblical principle plays out in modern-day marriage. In the meantime, join me next week to hear from a very special guest, Tanya Eavenson, who will be talking about godly relationships in general and four in particular she believes God wants to cultivate.

FB Cover PhotoBut before you go, fun news! Breaking Free releases (online) in four days! Woo-hoo! (Which means I’ll be all over the Internet, and the midwest, in the days to come. 😉 ) (It releases in bookstores on April 4th.)

For those looking for deals, Christian Book Distributors is currently running a pre-order discount. Go HERE to buy the novel at 31% off! You can read the first 30-some pages for free HERE. You can check out scene location pictures HERE.

Oh, and for those who’ve read Intertwined, my publisher posted book club questions. Grab a friend and chat about your favorite parts of the novel and what it showed you. 🙂 You can find those questions HERE. And if you live or will be in the Omaha, Lincoln, Des Moines, or Austin area, I’d love to see you! Visit my Event Page to see when I’ll be in your area.

Finally, for those in the Omaha Metro, my church is hosting an amazing marriage conference with free childcare the night before. Check it out and register HERE and HERE.

 

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! When have you felt God asking you to do something that made no sense or evoked panic? How’d you respond and what was the result? Do you have any thoughts on the S word? What do you think God means when he tells wives to submit? Share your thoughts in the comments below, because we can all learn from one another!