Why it Matters What Others Think

Did my blog title cause your hackles to rise? With today’s appearance/performance centered culture, most of us must fight daily to bring everything back to surrendered obedience. Blog posts and Youtube videos abound countering our culture’s shallow and exhausting trend, and with good ID-100184427reason. So rest assured, I’m not going to tell you to jump back on that people-pleasing treadmill. To the contrary. I’m going to encourage you to center your whole heart, every thought and desire, in Christ.

Because if you do, your actions will follow, and people will notice.

Two, maybe three years ago, a dear friend approached me with a story idea. At first I told her “Absolutely not!”, because I felt completely ill-equipped to write it. But then one morning, I awoke with the story unfolding in my brain. Having walked with Christ on this writing journey for a while, I determined God had birthed the story within me. Therefore, He wanted me to write it. So, I called my friend, making sure she understood all this would entail.

I’d need help. A lot of help. You see, this novel would require a great deal of medical knowledge, which I lacked. It’s very difficult to plot something you don’t understand.

And so began our journey. Over the course of a year, Ami Koelliker and I met over lunch, coffee, at her house, talked by phone, and swapped documents as we ID-10023724eeked out the story. And I mean eeeeeeeeeeked out. This was the most difficult story I’ve written to date. It was frustrating, exhausting, and often, downright discouraging. To make matters worse, I kinda doubted we’d ever even sell it. So in essence, we were spending all this time, giving ourselves headaches, on a project that we knew would likely end up in our computer’s trash bin.

There were many times I wanted to call it quits. Many times. I even considered writing Ami a check to compensate her for her time then being done with the whole thing.

But I didn’t. I stuck with it. (As did she.)

And here’s why: I’d made a commitment, and I intended to honor it, regardless of the cost or the outcome.

Flash forward two years, and I receive an email from my editor. New Hope wanted to contract this novel. (Yes, I signed, and the story is going through the various editorial stages now and has a scheduled release date of October 2015.) A story I’d seriously considered bailing on. I’m so very glad I didn’t.

It’s not that I am or was highly spiritual or possessed incredible inner grit. But this is an area God is growing in me. Because our word matters. Consider the following verse:

“Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord: Who may enter Your presence on Your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends … and keep their promises even when it hurts” (Psalm 15:1-4 NLT)

Our actions reveal our heart. It’s one thing to say we’re transformed by grace; it’s another to reveal this with how we live our lives. For as Proverbs 20:11 says, “Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right” (NLT).

Christian character is a big deal. It adds credibility to our witness and forms a foundation of trust that lets others know we’re honest, reliable, and forthright. Conversely, lack of character is a big deal. It destroys our witness, hinders deep relationships, and ultimately leads to ever-increasing self-deception. And living in self-deception is a dangerous place to be.

As I read through Ruth, from the first chapter to the last, I was instantly struck with how honorable both Ruth and Boaz were. They worked hard, honored their commitments, were loyal to their loved ones. And everyone knew this.

In Ruth chapter 2, Boaz says to Ruth, “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers” (NLT).

Then, in chapter three, we begin to see Boaz’s character. He says, “Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman” (3:11 NLT).

How does Naomi respond when she learns of Boaz’s statement? She says to Ruth in verse 18, “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens. The man won’t rest until he has settled things today” (3:18).

In other words, she knew Boaz would take care of it, and that he would take care of it immediately. 

Their previous actions had revealed their character. Ours do as well. 

Let’s talk about this. If you haven’t had a chance to, read Ruth chapter 3 here. I know you likely read the first part of this chapter Friday but I encourage you to read it again. Actually, I encourage you to read chapters 2 and 3 again. You can do that here.

What stood out to you as read Ruth chapter 3?

What character traits impress you most in Ruth? What about in Boaz?

What areas might God long to help you grow in, in regard to your character?

How well do you honor your commitments? If you struggle in this area, what will you do differently, having studied this portion of Ruth?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below, on Facebook, or via our email loop. And make sure to visit Beth’s blog Friday for our next lesson.

Other posts and resources you might find helpful:

In Absence of Integrity

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

And as a teaser… for those curious about this book Ami helped me write, here’s what it’s about:

Abandoned by her husband, an organ procurement coordinator fighting to keep her job and her sanity encounters an old flame facing an unthinkable tragedy.

For Tammy Kuhn, being an organ procurement coordinator is more than a job. It’s a ministry. But when her husband of sixteen years leaves her for another woman, struggles with childcare, her absentee ex-husband, and an altercation with a doctor threaten her job. Embittered and overwhelmed, she fights to maintain her sanity when a late night encounter with an old flame stirs emotions long since buried but the ICU is no place for romance.

 

 

 

Blessings on the Journey

Yesterday morning, I dropped my princess off at a new high school, and although it broke my heart to see her struggle–to see her uncomfortable–I’m holding tight to the wise words texted to me by my mentor and dear friend, SandyT (waving). This new challenge is but another opportunity for her (and I) to learn how sufficient God’s grace is and how faithfully present He is.

It has also been an increased opportunity for prayer and family unity. Our family has prayed more in the past two days than we typically do in a week. What a blessing! What an opportunity to show our daughter how to draw close to God during times of fear and uncertainty! She’s seen my husband–a strong man, humble himself before God as he prays on behalf of his little girl.

This new encounter will also be an opportunity for our daughter to meditate on God’s goodness and faithfulness, to take her thoughts captive and focus on His truth instead of the insecurities raging within her.

Parenting can be hard. Our hearts want to shield, protect, but at times, God says, “Let go.” When we do, we enable our children to see God’s provisions first hand.

Yes, today will be a challenge for her, but it will also be a tremendous blessing for her to live out and rest in her faith and to see God show Himself strong and faithful on her behalf.

To all the other mommas having to release the reigns today, remember, God loves your child even more than you do, and He’s got a plan in every step, every struggle, every change.

The next time you or your child faces a difficult situation, pause to consider the words in Psalm 91:1-7

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

Pray for God’s guidance. There may be times when He is indeed calling you to protect or redirect. Other times, He may be asking you to let go–to release your children fully in His care. And yet, even then, there are things you can do.

1. Talk with your child about things of faith

2. Remind them of God’s promises recorded in Scripture

3. Help them to remember God’s faithfulness demonstrated in the past

4. Listen without judgement or condemnation

5. Offer to pray with them

6. Faithfully pray for them

And once God shows up–and He will–rejoice with them, once again reminding them of God’s promises, this time, focusing on how God fulfilled them in *this recent struggle.*

Are you facing a long, difficult journey today? Throughout Scripture, God reminds His people to remember all He has done. Remembering God’s faithfulness–contemplating all the times He pulled through–can be a powerful peace-inducer in difficult times.

During times of struggle, it’s easy to lose perspective–to allow the struggle dominate our thinking.  When we do that, the problem looms bigger and bigger, but when we avert our thinking and focus on the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, our problems are placed in proper perspective–in God’s hands. Then we can view our current struggle–can help our children to view their current struggle–as an opportunity to see God’s power revealed.

Let’s talk about this! Join us Saturday at Living by Grace as we talk about finding blessings on the journey.

Hiding Beneath My Father’s Arms

Our family is in a period of uncertaintly, a time where we wake up each morning saying, “Okay, God, what next?” I don’t need to go into too many details except to say, we understand God’s admonishion in James 4:13 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” For a plotter, scheduler, preparer like me, this gets a little uncomfortable. And it leaves me with two choices: Angst over a perpetual list of what-ifs, or rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Resting doesn’t come easy. Nor does waiting…for that job offer, that phone call, that medical report, whatever,…Oh, how I long to plan! To know! To do!

But God says, “Trust in me.”

Psalm 16:1-11

1 Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.

2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.

5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay. (Although verses 8-11 are what’s referred to as a Messianic Psalm, referring to Jesus and His ressurrection, God has promised to never abandon us as well. Faithfulness to those He loves is who He is. It is His very nature.)
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

What about you? Are you going through a time of transition or uncertainty? What are some certain, unwavering truths you can hold tight to? Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about resting in the Father’s arms.

A Courageous Heart

If I were to gather a group of believers to ask for their favorite Bible stories, I suspect a few would rise to the top: David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den…Abraham and Isaac. We love to hear stories of courageous men and women following God with unhindered obedience. If only we had the courage of David, who, armed with nothing more than a sling, took on a fierce, ginormous warrior. And what does it take to have the courage of Daniel? Or Abraham, a man who raised a knife, ready to sacrifice his long promised son?

And yet, I can’t help but wonder what happened in the “back story.” Was Daniel always courageous, or was this something he learned through experience? The Bible offers a bit of history on David. We know when he was a shepherd, he had to fight off wild animals on occasion. What we don’t know is what he felt during that very first encounter. Was he terrified, crying out to God for aid?

We like to think these Bible heroes are somehow more than human, but the truth is, they likely struggled with the same emotions as you and I: fear, sadness, anger, discontentment. What made them great was not their super-human spirituality, but instead, a superior God who continued to mold, guide, strengthen and transform their hearts.

I love the story of Abraham because it demonstrates a steady progression from fear to faith. I’m tempted to start and end on Mount Moriah, where God tested Abraham’s faith and Abraham came forth as gold, but if I skip over his times of struggle, I miss out on crucial growth steps.

In Genesis 12:1-3, God promised to bless Abraham (called Abram):

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have God Himself say, “I will bless you.”

And He says it again once Abraham arrives in Canaan.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:6-7)

This blessing is a bit more specific. Abraham’s offspring will inherit the land. But there’s one problem–Abraham and Sarah (called Sarai) don’t have any children. Which means, God’s going to have to grant them children in order to make good on His promise.

And yet, a few verses later, once Abraham gets to Egypt, he fears for his life. Faith would say, “God said He would bless me. God promised I would have offspring. Dead men don’t have children, therefore, God will protect Sarah and I in this foreign land.”

But Abraham didn’t say that. Fear took hold instead, and motivated him to take matters into his own hands. Sure, God had promised to bless him and make him into a great nation, but maybe He needed Abraham’s help. So Abraham came up with a plan to “help” God’s plan come to fruition.

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-12)

And what happens when we allow fear to control our actions and take matters into our own hands? We make a mess! Which is exactly what happened here. Because of Abraham’s sin and lack of faith, countless Egyptians suffered.

17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. (Genesis 12:17)

Abraham takes Sarah, and a large amount of riches from Egypt, and continues on. In Genesis 15, God promises to bless him again. This time He’s even more specific.

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.(Genesis 15:1-6)

So now, God has spoken to Abraham on three separate occasions, promising to bless him, protect him, and give him a son. And Abraham believes God…at least, during that moment when God speaks. But notice what happens in the very next chapter:

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. (Genesis 16:1-2)

God promised Abraham a son. Abraham’s married to Sarah. Sarah’s not having children, so Abraham decides he needs to help God out…again. He takes Hagar, Sarah’s handmaden, and sleeps with her. The result? Another mess. Tension fills the home, to the point that Abraham sends his own son and Hagar away.

Once again, Abraham’s sin hurts himself and others.

By the time we meet him on Mount Moriah, he and God have quite a history, don’t they? Time and time again, God’s promised to bless Abraham, yet when difficulties arise, fear takes hold and Abraham takes matters into his own hands. Yet each time, his actions create chaos and pain. I’m thinking by the time God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he’s finally learned that God’s ways are indeed better.

So basically, Abraham’s faith grew through experience, by watching God show up again and again, by hearing God’s promises again and again.

The same is true for us. I believe our faith starts once we get to the end of ourselves, when we realize that we are incapable of going it alone. When we’re tired of creating messes.

It is hard to have unshakable faith straight out of the gate, but as we continue to walk with God, He shows us day after day and year after year that He is good, and strong, and wise. Then, when new difficulties arise, we can remember God’s faithfulness and derive courage from our past experiences.

Are you struggling with fear today? God wants to replace your fear with unshakable faith. Spend a moment in His presence, and remember times He’s proven Himself faithful in the past.