What is IT?

kneeling in prayer 2A few years ago, I heard a young pastor by the name of Craig Groeschel speak on a topic he had just written a book on: It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It. His words challenged me:

“Some ministries have it. Some don’t. Most churches want it. But few have it. When a church has it, everyone can tell. And when one doesn’t, everyone can tell. It is always unique. It is always powerful. It is always life changing. By now you’re probably asking, as I did, what exactly is it?”

 

And he was honest in his answer, “I don’t know.” But he went on to say,

Here’s what I do know. If you’ve ever been part of a ministry or church that had it, you knew you were part of something special. In other words, you knew it when you saw it. And it was an awesome work of God that couldn’t be contained, couldn’t be harnessed, and couldn’t be explained… I can’t tell you exactly what it is. But we know that God makes it happen. It is from Him. It is by Him. It is for His glory. We can’t create it. We can’t reproduce it. We can’t manufacture it. It is not a model. It is not a system. It is not the result of a program. When a church has it, when a ministry has it, lives are changing, and everyone around knows it.

Everyone wants to be part of it.

I revisit this book every year, and I ask, does our church have it? Does our Women’s Ministry have it? If so, I pray we won’t lose it. I pray we would continue to see lives changed and God at work in ways we can’t explain and we can’t take credit for.

I also recently read David Platt’s book Radical, in which he asked two questions that I continually ponder.

(1) Is your life marked by desperation for the Spirit of God?

(2) Is your church characterized by a desperate dependence on God? 

David Platt goes on to challenge his readers to not ask God for what we know we can accomplish, but to ask God to do those things that only He can accomplish.

When we lose that desperate dependence on the Lord, when we start doing things in our strength, we lose it. We stop seeing God working in ways that only He can do.

What are some practical things we can do to insure that our ministries have it and keep it?

 

Six Things to Never Say to a Single

Not listening

 

1. You must be too picky.

I admit I do have high standards. But I’m not looking for perfection. I know there is no perfect person in the world, including myself. But, I do have certain standards that I know God desires for me, and I don’t want to compromise my values just for the sake of being married.

 

2. Oh, I’m so sorry…

When someone said that to me, I responded with, “Oh, don’t feel sorry for me. Let me share with you all the benefits of my singleness and things I can do as a single that I wouldn’t be able to do if I were married.” There can be hardship and pain and loneliness in any state of life – married or single.

3. I know just the perfect guy for you. Let me set you up!

I’ve been open when someone asks me if I’d be willing to meet someone, but, to be honest, most of the time, I wish I hadn’t agreed to it. I have come to the place where I would rather just meet someone naturally as God brings them across my path. When people set me up, it can be awkward for both parties if it’s not working.

4. You’re just not ready for marriage yet. When you’re ready, God will bring your husband into your life.

Nope. I don’t agree with that one. I know way too many people who were not ready for marriage when God brought them their husbands. And to be honest, are any of us really ready for marriage? I’ve heard many of my married friends say, “I had no idea marriage was going to be this hard.”

5. What’s wrong with you?

Actually, no one ever says that to my face, but  their expressions communicate those words. And sometimes I am tempted to ask myself that question. Being single doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. (Actually, we all have things “wrong” with us, married or single. None of us have it all together.) God has called some of us to singleness. That’s not a curse, but a blessing, as it allows us to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to Him.

6. Have you ever been married?

That’s the normal follow-up question after, “Are you married?” It almost feels like they would look at you more favorably if you had once been married.

I have always had a desire to be married, but the older I get, I love my singleness. It would take a true Prince Charming to get me to give up my singleness now. And after all, I have the best Husband in the world!

What would you add to this list of things not to say to a single?

Are You Covering Your Head?

girl-in-churchAs I have been preparing to teach on the role of women in the church in a few weeks, I’ve been looking at some of the New Testament passages that deal with women in the church.

Recently, I was asked if we women should wear head coverings to church in accordance with 1 Corinthians 11:2-15. Verse 5 reads: “But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved.”

If you just read the passage, without taking things in context and looking at the cultural period in which this was written, then yes, it does sound like women should wear head coverings when they pray at church.

However, this passage goes beyond surface reading. This letter was written to the church in Corinth, probably one of the most licentious cities in the world at that time. Paul wanted the women to (1) demonstrate submission to their husbands by wearing a head covering, and (2) set themselves apart from the prostitutes who shaved their heads and didn’t wear coverings. Paul was dealing with a specific issue going on in the Corinthian church.

At that time in Corinth, women wore long hair and wore a covering over their heads in public. This covering symbolized her submission and purity. The only exception to that were prostitutes  who shaved their hair or wore their hair in a disheveled manner.

The head covering was a sign of submission.

So is this a timeless principle for all women throughout all ages? The principle in this passage is for the wife to honor her husband and demonstrate submission. The application of that principle in the Corinthian church was for the woman to cover her head in public, in contrast to the appearance of the prostitutes.

The universal, timeless principle that transcends all times and cultures is not that we need to wear head coverings at church, but that we are to demonstrate a submissive spirit to our husbands, our head. The application of that principle today is not by wearing a head covering, but by showing respect and honor to our husbands in other ways.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

 

Leaving a Legacy

footstepsAs I sat down to think through what to say at my mom’s memorial service this past December, I realized just how great an impact she had made in the lives of so many. She left a legacy of eternal significance. It made me stop and ask, what kind of impact am I making? What would others say about me when my life on this earth is over?

I want to share with you four questions I’ve been pondering as I’ve thought about this.

 

1. What kind of legacy am I leaving with my words?

Are my words predominantly negative or positive?

Do I grumble and complain, or do I spend more time giving thanks and praising God?

Do my words tear down and discourage or build up and encourage?

A few weeks ago, I was facing a very busy Sunday, and I woke up grumpy thinking about the long day ahead. I had church all morning, then a quick lunch before attending a memorial service at 2:00, and finishing the day with a Dinner 8 group at 5:00. I was dreading the day because of how packed it was, and I found myself grumbling about it. But as I sat down to have some quiet time with the Lord that morning, He convicted me of my grumbling and murmuring. He turned my attitude around as I began to thank Him for these things.

God, thank you that I can worship freely this morning with other believers without fear of being arrested or killed. I GET to worship; not I HAVE to.

God, thank you that I can celebrate the life of this godly man this afternoon and encourage his wife and family. I GET to celebrate his life; not I HAVE to.

God, thank you that I have friends I can gather with tonight for food and laughter and encouragement. I GET to hang out with them; not I HAVE to.

I don’t want to leave a legacy of grumbling and murmuring.

2. What kind of legacy am I leaving with my faith?

Do I demonstrate doubt and unbelief, or faith and trust that God will do what He says He will do? Do I choose to focus on the obstacles instead of God’s faithfulness, or do I demonstrate faith in God even when the situation seems overwhelming and impossible?

I don’t want to leave a legacy of doubt and unbelief.

3. What kind of legacy am I leaving with my actions?

Am I obedient to God, or disobedient and compromising my Christian values? What kind of impact am I having on others as they watch what I do and how I respond to situations? Am I setting a positive example or a negative one? What do my actions reveal about my relationship with God?

I don’t want to leave a legacy of disobedience.

4. What kind of legacy am I leaving with my life?

What or whom am I investing my life in? Am I investing in things of eternal significance or in things that won’t last?

I recently found a note written in a cookbook that my mom’s Sunday School class compiled years ago. Each lady wrote a note of wisdom for the generations coming behind them. This is what mom wrote:

Conduct yourself in a manner that is pleasing to God by – loving others, put God first in your life, learn to forgive and forget, control your tongue, be humble, have a right attitude, and last but not least, pray to God and thank Him every day for all the blessings He has given you.

Mom not only communicated this wisdom with her words, but with her faith and actions and life. She left a legacy of eternal significance.

My nieces wrote these messages on Facebook the day mom went home to be with Jesus.

My Grandma passed away this morning. She lived close to 99 years here on this earth and is now dancing down the streets of Heaven. I will be forever grateful to have had her in my life, and she will always be my hero.

My sweet Grandma went home to be with Jesus this morning. While I’m sad that she is gone, I’m happy that she is whole and healthy again. At 98, she lived a long and fruitful life, and it can definitely be said that hers was a life well-lived.

Mom left a legacy of eternal significance. Will we do the same? What kind of impact are we making with our lives?

To listen to the audio message, click here.

I Want to Quit!

stressed-out-person[1]Most of us have probably said those words more than once in our lives. It may be that we wanted to quit our marriage, a job, a ministry we’ve been leading or serving in, or a relationship that’s difficult. How do we know when to quit and when to hang in there and persevere?

I’ve said those words numerous times. When I worked as a perfusionist running the heart lung machine in open heart surgery, I wanted to quit almost every week. I was tired of the stress, the long hours, the difficulty of the job, and sometimes the difficult relationships in the operating room. But God had me hang in there for 18 years, and then He directed me to quit that profession and move into the next chapter of my life.

As I look back at that season, I see how God used those challenging times to prepare me for what I’m doing now. Working in surgery helped me learn how to deal with harsh words, strong personalities, and long hours that go far beyond eight-hour days. Those years also taught me the value of teamwork. If we didn’t work as a team, the results for the patient would have been disastrous. I had to stay focused and commit wholeheartedly to what I was doing. Great lessons for life!

I’m glad I didn’t quit until God clearly led me to move on. I would have missed those years of preparation for the next chapter of my life. But how do we know when to quit and when to keep on in the midst of struggle, pain, and difficulty?

What does God’s Word say about it? Are there any clear-cut principles to guide us? God’s Word clearly directs us in some things, but in other situations, it’s not spelled out for us.

In my situation in surgery, there wasn’t anything specific in Scripture to guide me, so I had to wait on God to show me if and when He wanted me to quit. I found myself asking the question, “God, are you using these tough circumstances to direct me to get out of this situation, or are you wanting to use these difficult circumstances to build my character?”

Perhaps you’re wanting to quit something today and you’re asking the same question. I can’t give you a formula that will guide you as to when to quit and when to stay, but Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us great wisdom:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

If we seek His guidance and stay attentive to Him, He will lead us. If He wants us to stay in a hard situation, He will give us the strength to endure. If and when He’s ready for us to quit, He will make it clear as we are attentive to Him.

I’d love to hear your insight on this. How do you know when it’s time to quit or time to stay?

A Life Well Lived

Mom exercising

Mom would have celebrated her 99th birthday this past Tuesday, but the Lord took her home two months shy of that birthday. I have a feeling she had the best birthday party ever this year. Mom’s life was a life well lived and she made a positive impact in the lives of those who knew her. Thinking about my mom’s life made me do some reflection in my own life this week.

Am I encouraging others – or discouraging them?

Am I pointing others to Jesus – or to myself?

Am I promoting unity – or dissension?

Am I an optimist – or always focusing on the negatives?

Do I refresh others – or drain them?

Do I initiate gossip – or refrain from it?

Do I listen to God – or to the world?

Am I living my life for the Lord – or for me?

Mom would have answered yes to the first part of each of these questions. I firmly believe that when God welcomed my mom HOME on December 19, 2014, He whispered to her, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

I found an email this week from one of the pastors of her church in our home town, Plain Dealing. He wrote these words about mom’s life:

I have enjoyed getting to know your mother. She has a legacy of faithful service to our Lord. I had heard about your mother since the first week I was here. Her years of service in missions education is one reason our church has a heart for the lost all over the world. It’s also because of people like her that folks like you and me have a faith today. Her faith is still strong even as she is writing the closing chapter of her earthly life.

She made the most of her almost 99 years on this earth but always kept her focus on her eternal home. Mom, thank you for the legacy you left behind. Happy 99th Birthday!

 

Dealing With Discouragement

manpraying2

Discouragement can drag us down and hinder us in our walk with God, or it can draw us into a deeper dependence on Him.

In the last post, we looked at sources of discouragement. But once we identify the source, how do we deal with it? Moses gave us a great example of how to deal with discouragement in Exodus 5-6. He was dealing with difficult people, difficult circumstances, and difficult words. It would have been easy to become discouraged, but he did four things that kept him from going down that path.

1. He turned to God. (Exodus 5:22-23)

Moses could have lashed out at the people who were hurting him with their words, but he didn’t. He went straight to God and poured out his heart to Him. He asked God the same question we ask when we find ourselves discouraged – why, God?

2. He remembered who God is. (Exodus 6:1-8)

He remembered who God is and what He had promised. He is the covenant-keeping God, faithful, loving, and sovereign. He will do what He says He will do.

3. He relied on God’s promises. (Exodus 6:4-8)

God gave Moses seven promises, all beginning with “I will.” God will be faithful to His promises, but the journey may look different than what we had expected. When we find ourselves in the midst of discouragement, we need to claim His promises and trust His faithfulness even when we don’t feel one ounce of emotion that those promises are true.

4. He recognized God’s sufficiency. (Exodus 6:9- 7:13).

Moses went back to one of his excuses in the desert – “I am unskilled in speech.” In other words, I’m inadequate. But it’s in those times when we feel inadequate that God can show us His sufficiency.

Our tendency in the midst of discouragement is to quit, to give up. But God wants us to walk by faith and keep going, trusting in His sufficiency and sovereignty.

This excerpt from The Red Sea Rules has been a great encouragement to me when I find myself discouraged with a situation.

Andrew Murray once faced a terrible crisis. Gathering himself into his study, he sat a long while quietly, prayerfully, thoughtfully. Presently his mind flew to his Lord Jesus. Picking up his pen, he wrote this in his journal:

“First, He brought me here, it is by His will that I am in this strait place; in that fact I will rest. Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child. Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Last, in His good time He can bring me out again – how and when He knows. Let me say I am here, by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.”

God knows what’s going on in our lives and He will use it for our good and His glory. Don’t let discouragement weigh you down.

Feeling Discouraged?

sad-catWhen was the last time you were discouraged? You may even be discouraged today as you’re reading this. Discouragement is part of life and we all deal with it from time to time. But if we don’t handle it in an appropriate way, it will hold us back in our walk with God.

So how should we handle discouragement? Begin by identifying the source.

 

Maybe the source of your discouragement is a difficult person in your life.

I’ve been discouraged by difficult people. These are some characteristics of difficult people who have discouraged me over the years: negative, critical, pessimistic, blunt and insensitive, resistant to change, set in their ways, demanding, draining, unteachable, controlling, bossy… you get the idea. You could probably add some characteristics from your own life experiences.

But we also need to ask the question, “Am I a difficult person in someone’s life?”

Another source of discouragement is difficult circumstances.

I get discouraged when things don’t go the way I wanted them to. Or when I compare my circumstances to someone else’s or when life seems to be treating others better. When life gets hard and I’m worn out physically and emotionally, discouragement creeps in.

Perhaps you’re in the middle of difficult circumstances today – an illness or disease, a hard financial situation, a job situation, problems in your marriage or with your children, or a feeling of failure. Difficult circumstances can discourage us.

A third source of discouragement is difficult words.

Words can hurt and sting, leaving scars. I have heard my share of difficult words – words of rejection, disapproval, gossip, criticism – and they have left me in tears many times.

You’ve probably been discouraged by someone’s words spoken to you in anger or haste that pierced deeply. But on the flip side, have your words discouraged someone?

This excerpt from Streams in the Desert (Vol. 1) dated October 16 is a good reminder for me when I find myself discouraged.

There are weights which are not sins in themselves, but which become distractions and stumbling blocks in our Christian progress. One of the worst of these is despondency. The heavy heart is indeed a weight that will surely drag us down in our holiness and usefulness. . . The devil has two master tricks. One is to get us discouraged; then for a time at least we can be of no service to others, and so are defeated. The other is to make us doubt…

Are you discouraged today? Identify the source.

In the next post, we’ll look at the solution. How should we deal with discouragement once we’ve identified the source?

Saying No to God

MP900178845[1]Have you ever told God no? You knew He was prompting you to step out in faith and do something, but you responded with a big, emphatic NO! What held you back from following His leading?

When God laid out His plan for Moses in the desert and told Moses to go back to Pharaoh and lead His people out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 3-4), Moses’ first response wasn’t, Yes, Lord! Instead, he told God no. These were his reasons why he couldn’t (his excuses):

I’m inadequate. I’m a nobody. I’m not famous or a strong leader or particularly gifted.

I don’t know enough. What if I can’t answer their questions?

What if they reject me? I don’t want to fail.

I’m not gifted in this area. It’s a weakness in my life.

I just really don’t want to do it. Send someone else.

Feeling a sense of inadequacy is not bad in itself. It becomes a hindrance when we let that feeling of inadequacy hold us back from following God’s leading. But feeling inadequate can be a strength when we admit we can’t do things in our own strength and we are desperately dependent on Him. Then we can see Him work through us in our inadequacy. His strength is magnified in our weakness.

God had an answer for all of Moses’ reasons for saying no (excuses).

I’m not adequate.
God’s response: I will be with you.

I don’t know enough.
God’s response: I AM enough.

I’ll be rejected.
God’s response: I will empower you.

I’m weak in this area.
God’s response: I will make you effective.

Send someone else.
God’s response: No. But I will give you a helper.

The Holy Spirit is our Helper. We are never alone in following God’s leading.

When I first came to interview at First Evan, I went back to Dallas and told God, No. It wasn’t a fit for me. I didn’t want to leave my comfort zone and friends in Dallas and move to a new city. I didn’t want to fail and disappoint Him (and First Evan) if I couldn’t do the job. What if they don’t like me?

But God quickly answered all my excuses and made it clear that He wanted me to say yes. I’m so glad I did. Like Moses, I would have missed out on God’s blessings had I stayed where I was.

Perhaps God is leading you to do something today, and you’ve told Him no. What reasons are you giving Him for not being able to say yes? How would God respond to your reasons?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Are You Embracing Your Season of Life?

AutumnDo you have a favorite season of the year?

My favorite seasons are fall and spring because I love the change of temperature that comes with each one, as well as the changing of leaves in the fall and the blooming of trees in the spring.

But even though I most enjoy fall and spring, I still appreciate the other seasons of the year and the uniqueness of each one. I love the beauty of the snowfall in the winter and the length of the sunlight in the summer. I see the value in each season of the year and can appreciate each one.

It’s the same way with seasons of life. We go through different seasons of life, and we enjoy some seasons more than others. But we can come to appreciate all seasons of life as we understand how God works in every season.

I’ve been studying the life of Moses, and in Exodus 1 and 2, I noticed six seasons of life.

The Delightful Seasons (Exodus 1:1-7)

The delightful seasons are those times when things are going great and we see God’s blessing on our lives.

God uses these delightful seasons to remind us of His lovingkindnessOur response should be: give thanks. Enjoy His blessings and remember that He is the source of those blessings.

The Difficult Seasons (Exodus 1:8-14)

winterThe difficult seasons of life are just that – difficult. It may be because of illness, loss, financial struggles, a family situation, a difficult relationship. As hard as this season is, God is still at work.

God uses the difficult seasons to remind us of His sufficiency. Our response should be: draw from His strength, not our own.We realize we are not adequate to handle this on our own, and He reminds us that He is sufficient for anything we face.

The Dangerous Seasons (Exodus 1:15-2:10)

We are definitely in a season where the world is more dangerous – terrorist attacks, ISIS, persecution of Christians, even walking down our own streets.

God uses the dangerous seasons to remind us of His sovereignty. Our response should be: rest in His sovereignty. No matter how bad it gets, He is still ultimately in control and will use all of this for good in some way.

The Disobedient Seasons (Exodus 2:11-14)

The seasons of disobedience may only last for a moment, if we deal with the sin immediately. Or the season may last for days, weeks, months, or years if we don’t confess and repent. I went through a season of disobedience for two and a half years at LSU. But I have had shorter seasons of disobedience since then. We sin daily, but the key is dealing with it immediately. Those seasons last for as long as we refuse to confess and repent.

God uses the disobedient seasons to remind us of His mercy and forgiveness. Our response should be: confess and repent.

The Desert Seasons (Exodus 2:15-22)

desertThe desert seasons are those dry times in our lives, when we feel empty, discouraged, and distant from God, wondering if He has forgotten us or if He is even listening to our prayers. Sometimes these seasons are a result of sin. Sometimes they follow failure. But other times, we don’t know why we’re in a desert season. The desert seasons aren’t wasted time, but time of preparation for the next chapter of our lives.

God uses the desert seasons to remind us of His faithfulness. Even though it seems that God is silent and has forgotten us, and we don’t feel God’s hand at work, He is faithfully working in ways we can’t see. Our response should be: walk by faith, not by sight.

The Desperate Seasons (Exodus 2:23-25)

The desperate seasons are those times when we feel we have no hope. We are at our lowest low, the end of our rope.

God uses these desperate seasons to remind us of His Presence. We are never alone. He has not forgotten us. He hears us. He sees us. He is very much aware of everything going on in our lives. He is present with us, even though we may not feel it. Our response should be: Cry out to Him. He is our hope when we feel we have no hope.

Embrace every season of life, because God is at work in each one. 

  • In the delightful seasons – He refreshes us.
  • In the difficult seasons – He strengthens us.
  • In the dangerous seasons – He controls what happens.
  • In the disobedient seasons – He convicts us.
  • In the desert seasons – He prepares us.
  • In the desperate seasons – He sustains us.

What season of life are you in today? Embrace it!

(To listen to the complete audio message, click here.)