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.

 

 

 

Reaching the Fork in the Road

So much struggle. So much uncertainty. So much pain. And in one moment, one simple, ID-10016416rational choice, she could leave it all behind. Start over. Follow the easy path.

Or so it seemed….

As I read Ruth 1:1-8, I wondered how Ruth’s life would have changed if she chose to leave Naomi and return to the land of her people. Where she could stay with her relatives, find a new husband, have children, and live a life of ease.

At least, standing at the fork of indecision, that must have been how it seemed.

Read verses 8-10 again here.

To paraphrase, after Ruth’s husband died, her widowed mother-in-law’s urgings presented Ruth with a choice: She could focus on her grief, on her problems and self-preservation or she could die to herself and her needs and love her mother-in-law more than herself.

Let’s not lose sight of the significance of this. Here were two widowed women living during a time when husbands were largely a woman’s only hope of survival. This was before welfare and life insurance policies. In this agrarian society, to live without a husband meant one would be forced to depend on the generosity of others. (You can read more about widowhood in Bible times here.)

So in essence, choosing to stay with Naomi rather than return to her homeland, Ruth would be choosing a life that, could quite possibly, result in homelessness and hunger.

Can you imagine the fear? The inner turmoil this must have created?

I suspect some of you know the rest of her story, but let’s pause here, at this moment of intense pain and uncertainty. At this place of incredible tragedy, where, having lost her husband, Ruth had to decide: hold on to her life–focus on self, or surrender her life to God, not knowing what lay ahead.

In chapter one of Beyond I Do, Ainsley was given that same choice. Go back home and let someone else deliver that package to Deborah’s sick friend, or die to self, pushing past her fear, and obey.

Each day, we’re given that same choice as well, and how we decide directly affects our trajectory. With each choice, we either step closer to God’s call for us or we venture one step further away.

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If we try to hold on to our life, our dreams, our goals; if we focus on self-preservation, we lose. But if we surrender EVERYTHING, we win. Every time.

Oh, if only we could see the road ahead! Then our choices would be easier, wouldn’t they? But God is asking us to trust.

If you haven’t had a chance to read today’s Bible passage, or if you’re just joining us, you can read Ruth 1:1-8 here. If you haven’t purchased Beyond I Do, the novel our study springboards from, you can get an ecopy for under a buck or print copy for under ten here.

Let’s talk about this.

I encourage you to write Matthew 16:25 on an index card and keep it where you’ll regularly see it. The abundant life Christ offers begins and is sustained by surrender. But to surrender, we must learn to die to ourselves.

I’ve been told the questions I posed Thursday were a bit… abundant so I’m going to post a shortened list today. 🙂 Even so, please don’t feel as if you have to answer them all. Rather, choose a few to think and talk about and journal on.

I encourage you to join the discussion here, through our email loop (let me know if you’d like to join. 🙂 ) or on our study’s FB page.

Our Bible reading: Ruth 1:1-8
Focus: evaluating our past and present hurts in light of God’s sovereignty and grace.
What thoughts arose as you read Ruth 1:1-8?
We read about Naomi’s heartache but not much about Ruth’s. Why do you think that is?
What are some difficulties Ruth faced as a widow?
Why do you think Ruth chose not, at least from what we see, to voice her pain to Naomi?
In what ways can we see Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law?
In what ways did Ruth exhibit self-sacrifice?
When has God asked you to focus on others and not on your pain or trial, and what was the result?
ACTION PLAN: What might God be asking you to do this week?
Make sure to stop by Beth’s blog on Friday to discuss Ruth 1:8-22

Some questions to consider and pray about in preparation for Friday’s discussion:
What is it that keeps me from my calling?
What stops you from moving forward with God, or, if you are following God, what makes this difficult?
What does self-preservation mean to you and has it affected your walk with the Lord?
What are some ways you can know what God is calling you to?

 

 

Don’t Ignore God’s Prompting

Have you ever felt a nudge, a niggling deep in your heart, urging you to do something, something that ID-10075996seems so strange, or perhaps so uncharacteristic for you, you decide you can’t possibly be hearing God right? Therefore, you conclude that thought to be but a passing brain flutter, triggered by a sappy commercial or perhaps last night’s dream.

But then it comes again, and again, and your heart begins to prick as excitement builds. And yet, before you put feet to the thought, another follows and then another as your brain lists all the reasons you shouldn’t do that thing.

It doesn’t really matter what the thing is, does it? It can be something as simple as getting up and getting your spouse a glass of water when you’d rather sink deeper into the couch. Or maybe it’s volunteering to serve in a new ministry, or perhaps it’s writing a check for a missionary family you recently learned about.

If we belong to Christ, each day, I believe, we receive countless promptings from the Holy Spirit to, in some way, live out our faith. But I’ve found, those proddings are often much too easy to ignore.

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I was a young mom, and though I accepted Christ at a neighborhood Bible club, I was just beginning to grow my faith. It hadn’t been terribly long since I’d been on the streets, and as a result, I lugged around a great deal of shame. And had developed a habit of hiding. Of wanting to step out, but, well, I didn’t. Instead, I went to church, sat in the back by myself, (my husband wasn’t a believer at the time), then, when the sermon ended, grabbed my daughter from the nursery and hurried home.

Week after week, I did this, and week after week, as listened to the sermon and sing praise songs, an odd thought would flit through my brain: You should go to the nursing home.

It was the strangest idea ever. I didn’t know anyone in a nursing home and truly had no reason to go. Besides, I had enough to manage keeping my toddler occupied. And what would I do there? Did nursing homes even allow such a thing–random strangers to come in, and do what? Sit?

No. It was absurd, and so, I shoved the thought aside and resumed my routine: Go to church, sing songs, pray, go home. Repeat.

But the thought wouldn’t go away, and every time it came, a hint of excitement followed, which was as odd as the thought. Why such a thought should bring any kind of emotion at all was beyond me.

But after a month of steady proddings, I went, and brought my daughter with me–only because I had no one to watch her.

I randomly chose the facility, marched inside with a toddler on one hip and a stuffed diaper bag bouncing against the other.

I met Frank that very first day. He was an old, sprite man full of laughter and jokes, and he adored my princess. The three of us quickly formed a relationship, one my daughter remembers to this day. She and I came often, Frank and I chatting about everything from the weather to… well, to be honest, I don’t remember. And it didn’t really matter, because sometimes, oftentimes, presence is enough.

But then one day, maybe two months since our first visit, we arrived to be greeted by one of Frank’s caretakers. We learned Frank had taken ill and refused to leave his room. He wouldn’t see ANYONE.

Anyone, it seemed, but my princess. When he learned we had come, he came out, and we talked, and again, I don’t remember what about, but it didn’t really matter.

Because sometimes, oftentimes, presence is enough.

God had prompted me, for over a month, to do something so simple yet so deeply meaningful–to sit with his dying child.

And I almost missed it.

When I read 2 Thessalonians 1:11, I think of this event.

“…May He [God] give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do” (NLT).

May God give us the power to overcome our selfishness, our anxieties and insecurities, our pointless busyness, and everything else that hinders us from responding to His promptings with anything but full and immediate obedience.

 

This verse, and the memory that always accompanies it, touches me so very deeply, I wanted to see what other sweet Christians friends had to say about it. I believe we grow in community, and it’s been fascinating and thought provoking to read my friends’ thoughts on this verse. I encourage you to do the same. You can read others’ thoughts on 2 Thes. 1:11 by following the links below:

Rocking My World: What’s the Therefore There For by Lill Kohler

Soaring With Butterfiy Wings: He Brings the Fruit by Susan Aken 

Thoughts on 2 Thes. 1:11 by Ginger Solomon

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Can you share a time when you sensed God nudging you to do something that didn’t seem to make sense? Did you respond with obedience? If so, what were the results? If not, what kept you from responding in obedience? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

From November 10th-December 10th, we’re going to be encouraging one another to surrender all we are and hold dear to Christ, embracing His call on our life–on our day! I encourage you to join us.

This study will be hosted on Facebook on Tuesdays and Fridays (those participants can interact daily, if they Biblestudyinvitechoose). Discussion questions and conversations will also be hosted here (on Tuesdays) and on Beth’s blog FirstHalfDay (on Fridays). I will also be creating a yahoo email group for those who prefer to interact that way. (Let me know if you’d like me to send you an invite to the email group.)

The study will follow the life of Ruth, as detailed in the biblical book of the same name, using my debut novel, Beyond I Do, as a springboard. If you haven’t purchased the book but long to, now’s a great time! CBD is selling it for a limited time for $0.79! You can get it here.

For those planning on joining our month-long Bible study, on Tuesday we’ll be discussing purpose in trials. Sometimes our calling–the catalyst of great, divinely driven action–can be birthed from great struggle or tragedy.

Our Bible reading: Ruth 1:1-8
Our book reference will come from chapters 1-2 as we discuss what we (you, me) believe drew Ainsley’s heart to the boy she encountered in the Kansas City inner city apartment complex.
Our focus will be: evaluating our past and present hurts in light of God’s sovereignty and grace.
Some questions you can mull over in the meantime:
What thoughts arose as you read Ruth 1:1-8?
We read about Naomi’s heartache but not much about Ruth’s. Why do you think that is?
What are some difficulties Ruth faced as a widow?
Why do you think Ruth chose not, at least from what we see, to voice her pain to Naomi?
In what ways can we see Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law?
In what ways did Ruth exhibit self-sacrifice?
What made self-sacrifice challenging for Ruth?
Have you ever felt God asking you to put someone else first? What about when you yourself were in a difficult or painful situation? When has God asked you to focus on others and not on your pain or trial, and what was the result?
ACTION PLAN: What might God be asking you to do this week?

 

Live Out Loud

There have been so many times when an article idea burns itself in my brain or a verse jumps out at me and triggers an entire page worth of notes and I dive for my computer, ready to put my thoughts to type when, halfway through the post, memories of my past behaviors and comments stop me in my tracks. To make it even worse, I found out a few days ago that my mother is following my blog. Now talk about intimidating! There’s no fooling mom. I can present a mask well enough to you all, but she’s seen me at my worst, and probably even has the pictures to prove it. How I would love to be a Ruth! Known not for what I write, but instead for how I live my life. Luckily I do have a “Boaz” who keeps me on my toes and reminds me, not through words but through action, what it really means to follow Christ. As the saying goes, integrity shows itself when no one’s watching. And yet, people are watching, when we’re least expecting it. And what we do on the day to day speaks volumes.

This morning as I was reading Ruth, Boaz’s description of her struck a cord. He said, “Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do whatever is necessary, for everyone in this town knows you are a virtuous woman.”

Everyone in the town knew Ruth was virtuous. Morally excellent. Not because they’d read her blog or listened to her lengthy prayers, but because they watched her in action. And then listen to what Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, had to say about Boaz. “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens. The man won’t rest until he has settled things today.”

Ruth and Boaz were people of integrity, and everyone knew it. Their integrity drew them together. The other day I happened upon a thread talking about marriage. The general consensus seemed to be that men were pigs and women were cold. Being the romance-advocate that I am (in case you weren’t aware, I have a weekly marriage column) I had to jump in with my two-cents worth. Never a good idea, really, to go meddling in conversations that really don’t pertain to you, but I hated to see so many people give up on the fairy-tale so easily. The response I received in return made me think. The original poster told me that I obviously hadn’t met all the men who refused to commit. And to be honest, she was right. In my circle, I know very few men like that. The men I know are great fathers and committed husbands. But this got me thinking. I know, never a good idea, and here comes the worst idea yet–I’m gonna share my conclusion with you all. Good thing hurling tomatoes can’t penetrate my computer screen. Ready for the bombshell?

I wondered why my experiences were so different from those of my friend. I realized it had to do with who I associated with and where I spent my time. (Sorry to disappoint you ladies, but you’re not gonna find Prince Charming at your local pub.) If you want to find a man, or a friend, with integrity, you’ve got to be a woman of integrity, because like it or not, birds of a feather do flock together. Why do I love my husband? Not because he’s dashing and strong (although he is <grin>) but because he’s a man of integrity. It’s what I see in him when he thinks no one is watching that draws my heart the most. And his consistency has challenged me to be a better wife and mother, and a more committed follower of Christ.

So what is integrity? Integrity is going the extra mile when you could have stopped at one. Integrity is doing a job well even if no one will notice. Integrity is offering a hand, speaking a word of kindness, and refusing to hide behind nominal Christianity. Integrity is opening your ears to that still small voice and replying, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” And then doing what God asks.