When Christmas Can Be Tough

merry_christmasIt’s almost Christmas. As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” As I’m sitting by the bed of my 98-year old mom who is no longer eating or drinking, you may be wondering how this Christmas could be the most wonderful time of the year for me and my family.

It’s difficult losing a loved one anytime, but especially at Christmas when families tend to gather together and form traditions that last through the years. But Christmas is still the most wonderful time of the year even as I watch someone I love slip away from life on this earth.

Why? Because at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior. God came to this earth as a baby born in a stable, for one purpose – to die for our sins and give us eternal life, a life beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Our death ushers us into the presence of our Savior for eternity.

I can still rejoice this Christmas because I know that the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago gives us hope as we face death on this earth. I know where my mom will spend eternity – all because a baby was born in Bethlehem. She put her faith in Him as her Savior, and when she takes her last breath on this earth, she will step into His presence. Without Jesus, we’d have no hope after death.

So, even in the midst of this difficult time, I can say that Christmas is still the most wonderful time of the year, because of what it means. Christ came into this world – for us. Because of His coming, His death, and His resurrection, we can look forward to life after death. No more pain. No more sin. No more tears.

It’s not about the food, the presents, the decorations, even the music – we celebrate Christmas because of Christ.

I’m praying mom will get to celebrate Christmas this year in heaven with her Savior and her loved ones who have gone before her.

Regardless of our circumstances, may we find peace and joy this Christmas because of the One whose birth we celebrate. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Practical Discipleship

Practical discipleship2Is discipleship taking someone through a curriculum or is it just hanging out with them informally? I think both can be true. Some of the people I have discipled have asked me to specifically go through something structured with them. Others have just wanted to spend time with me and talk about things as we’re together. Sometimes I do both with them, alternating between something structured and spending time just talking or doing something fun together.

For new believers, it’s important to take them through something structured in order to ground them in their faith and show them where to go in God’s Word when they struggle with things. For growing believers, I often let the conversation direct me as to how to best spend time with them and help them grow and develop. (You can check out some of the specific things I go through with them on my Free Resources page.

Be intentional with those you disciple and be practical with how you spend time with them. Here are four components that are important for practical discipleship to take place.

Talking

This is an obvious one. How can you disciple someone if you don’t talk? I will often ask them questions to get a feel for how they are doing and how I can encourage them. How can I be praying for you this week? I’ve been praying about ________.  How’s it going? Any new developments? I’d love to share with you what God is teaching me this week in my times in His Word. How is your time with the Lord this week? What is He teaching you?

Listening

Everyone wants to be heard. When someone listens to us, we feel loved and valued. It’s encouraging to others when we give them our undistracted attention and make eye contact. It’s important that we don’t interrupt and take over the conversation until they’ve finished or are ready for our input. Sometimes, I will jot down notes while they’re talking to remind me of things to ask them later for clarification.

Being

Be a role model to those you are discipling. Walk the talk! If you want them to love others, you need to be loving others. The same with integrity, vulnerability, humility, acceptance. Am I living my life in such a way that I would want others to follow my lifestyle and responses?

Doing

Do things together. Someone once told me, “Don’t do things alone that you can do with someone else.” For instance, exercise together, have a meal together, run errands together, go shopping together, ride to an event or meeting together. Time together naturally deepens relationships and allows natural conversations to take place.

Discipleship looks different with each person I disciple, but there is one constant – the goal. I want to spur them on to be more like Christ and grow deeper in their walk with Him.  I want to help them be all that God designed them to be.

Discipleship doesn’t have to be a rigid “program” but can be practical and intentional as we walk through life together.

What are your thoughts about discipleship? What does it look like for you?

 

Are You Listening?

Time Alone to ListenRecently a friend asked me how she could pray for me. My response was, “Pray that I will stay attentive to the Lord. Pray that I would listen to Him, not the world around me.”

The world tells me success is found in making money and achieving status in the eyes of others. God tells me success is obeying Him and living to please an audience of One.

The world tells me it’s all about me, my comfort and my desires. God tells me it’s not about me; it’s about Him.

The world tells me that outer beauty is what counts. God tells me that inner beauty is what is important.

The world tells me the Bible is irrelevant today. The times and culture have changed, and God’s Word doesn’t apply to our world today. God tells me His Word is everlasting and never changes. His principles still apply today.

The world tells me if there was a God and if He loved me, He wouldn’t allow difficult things to happen in my life. God tells me He loves me even when hard times come. He uses those hard things for good, even though I may not be able to understand how until I see Him face to face.

The world tells me I can do things on my own strength. I don’t need God’s help. God tells me, “No, you can’t do it on your own, apart from Me.”

It’s easy to listen to the world and forget God’s truth at times. That’s why I ask people to pray that I would stay attentive to God.

What hinders us from listening to God and being attentive to Him?

  • No times of silence

We like constant noise around us – TV, radio, conversations, playlists, podcasts, and so on. We are often uncomfortable with silence, but if we don’t shut out the noise around us, how will we hear God’s promptings?

  • No time alone with Him

If we don’t stop to spend time alone with Him consistently, we don’t give Him the opportunity to speak to us through His Word and prayer.

  • No sense of need for Him

When we’re confident in our own abilities, and life is going smoothly, it’s easy to lose that desperate dependence on Him. But even when life is going great, we still need Him. We still need to seek His direction and strength and protection.

As we move into this busy Christmas season, it’s easy to become so busy and frantic with Christmas events and preparations that we don’t slow down enough to listen to the One whom Christmas is all about.

Ask God to show you if there is an area in your life where you are not listening to Him. Ask Him to remove the barriers that are hindering you from being attentive.

Giving Thanks, Even in the Hard Times

give thanks2014Today is Thanksgiving Day, a day we slow down to give thanks. Yet, I was reminded this morning that I should be giving thanks every day of the year, not just on Thanksgiving. And I try to. I have a Thank You journal by my chair to write down what I’m thankful for each day.

It’s easy to thank God when things are going great, when my football team wins, when He answers my prayers the way I wanted, when He surprises me with sweet blessings I wasn’t expecting.

But it’s not so easy to give thanks in the middle of a difficult situation when life is overwhelming – caring for an aging parent or sick family member, dealing with a diagnosis you never wanted to hear, financial struggles, marital heartache, a wayward child, death of a loved one much too soon. And yet, God doesn’t tell us to only give thanks when we are happy with what He’s doing. We are to give thanks in all things at all times, not just one day of the year.

Today, I will spend Thanksgiving at the nursing home with my 98-year-old mom who may or may not know I’m there. Can I give thanks in this situation? Yes. Is it easy? No, but I can still give thanks, knowing that God is in control and He has a purpose in all He does.

Take some time today to reflect on these questions:

What blessings am I thankful for? What brings a smile to my face when I say “thank you”?

What hardships or difficulties can I say “thank you” for, even though I may be saying it through tears?

Who is someone you are thankful for today? Let them know.

From Chuck Swindoll: “Thanksgiving is a time of quiet reflection. . . an annual reminder that God has, again, been ever so faithful. The solid and simple things of life are brought into clear focus.”

Spend some time this Thanksgiving week in quiet reflection. What are you thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for you.

Lessons from a Purse

A Full PurseLast night I watched a good friend empty her purse trying to find her USB flash drive, and I was amazed at how much she pulled out of that purse before she found it. I know all of us women have found ourselves in this same situation at one time or another. As I stood there watching, I thought about some spiritual lessons I could learn from this.

1. Just as I need to periodically clean out my purse and throw away the junk that is of no use, I need to consistently keep my heart clean. I shouldn’t wait to confess until things get so messed up that I realize I need to do something. Confession should be something I do throughout the day as sin creeps in. Storing up my sins till they overwhelm me is only going to lead to a bigger mess.

2. When I have too much clutter in my life, everything is disorderly, and I lose track of the important things. I need to de-clutter on a regular basis, and ask God to show me what’s important and priority. The other things can be put aside.

3. I need to be more intentional about what I allow into my life. My purse sometimes becomes a dumping ground for anything and everything that I don’t know what to do with. I get a receipt and I shove it down in my purse. Why don’t I just throw it away when I get it? I wouldn’t have to declutter and confess if I took care of things as they come up, instead of stuffing them for later.

4. A full purse weighs me down with unnecessary weight that I shouldn’t be carrying around. In the same way, I tend to carry burdens with me that God never intended for me to carry. But I don’t leave them with Him. Instead, I lug them around with me, and they wear me out.

Do you think I have enough pens in my purse?

Do you think I have enough pens in my purse?

5. As I watched my friend empty out her purse last night, I also watched her stuff everything back in after she found what she was looking for. It would have been a good time for cleaning out things that she didn’t need; thus, lightening her load. In the same way, I often tell God what is bothering me and weighing me down, but I don’t leave those things with Him. I pick them back up as I go out the door to work.

I’m sure there are plenty other spiritual lessons from this, but enough from me. What lessons for life can you learn from your purse? I’d love to hear from you.

Afraid to Disciple?

Woman in Fear How would you respond if someone asked you to disciple her? Would you be excited and shout, “YES!” or would it strike fear in your heart? What would I do with her? Where would I begin? I don’t even know what that means.

One of the questions I am often asked as the Women’s Ministry director at my church is, “Can you show me what to do with someone who wants me to disciple her?” I find that many want to disciple others, but they don’t feel confident in doing so. Perhaps you are feeling that way. You don’t know how to begin or what to do, or you are concerned that you may be asked a question that you won’t know how to answer.

It’s normal to have some apprehension and fears in discipling others. I understand the fears because I have had them myself. As a result, I put together a three-part study called Building Your Spiritual Toolbox for our Women’s Bible Study and for anyone who wants to learn how to disciple someone and to gain confidence in doing so. Building Your Spiritual Toolbox will give you the tools to disciple others and walk you through how to use these tools. Some of these tools are available on the Free Resources page. The entire Building Your Spiritual Toolbox (3 volumes) is available on my Bible Studies page.

Some of these tools may be review for you; others may be something new. Hopefully, they will spur you on as you move forward in your own spiritual journey and give you confidence to help someone grow deeper in her walk with the Lord.

I’m so thankful for the women who have discipled me and helped me grow in my walk with God. I want to do the same for others.

What do you think holds people back from discipling others?

Community Busters

community

What does healthy biblical community look like and are we experiencing it?

I’ve been pondering these questions as I am preparing to speak on the topic of community at a women’s retreat this weekend. God designed us for community, not to live in isolation from one another. But do we experience community in the way God wants us to?

 

Several years ago, Dr. Sue Edwards spoke on community at our women’s retreat and shared with us eight roadblocks to building community. Are any of these roadblocks a community buster for you?

  1. AngerI’m ticked off. I don’t want to be around people.
  2. HurtI’ve been hurt. I don’t want to be around people and let my guard down because they may hurt me again.
  3. ExhaustionI’m worn out. I don’t have the energy to spend with people. I need to rest.
  4. “Workaholism”I like being busy and working hard. I don’t have time for people because my work consumes my life.
  5.  LazinessI’d rather stay home and watch TV or sleep or get on the computer.
  6. FearI’m afraid if people get to know me, they won’t like me or accept me once they see what I’m really like. It’s just better to keep my guard up and not open up to anyone.
  7. SelfishnessI’m protective of my time and desires. I need to meet my needs before I look at anyone else’s.
  8. Comparison, envy, jealousyShe’s prettier than I am. I’m not as bad as she is. I want what she has.

To be honest, I struggle with some of these roadblocks. But I know I need Christian community. So what is the solution to overcoming these community busters?

I think Nancy Leigh DeMoss summed it up well in her devotional book, The Quiet Place. She wrote in her entry for November 2:

“Brokenness is God’s prescription for nearly every condition that ails human hearts and lives, because pride in one form or another is almost always at the root of our most difficult issues – fear, sinful bondages, fragmented relationships, communication barriers, generation gaps, unresolved conflicts, guilt, shame, self-absorption, addictions, hypocrisy, even insecurities, and excessive shyness… You may be hiding behind their high, thick walls, not wanting to relinquish control or admit weakness. But every one of those walls can crumble through genuine brokenness and humility.”

The solution is genuine brokenness and humility. We have to acknowledge and deal with pride and self-sufficiency in our lives. And as we humble ourselves and allow ourselves to be broken, it opens the door for authentic community to take place. I want authentic community, but I have to be willing to overcome these community busters.

What would you add to the list of roadblocks to building community?

 

Why, God?

whyWe’ve probably all asked God “why” questions. Questions like: God, why did you take my baby? Why did this tragic accident happen to such good people? Why do you let people die in the prime of their lives? Why do you let this person will no quality of life linger on? Why did my loved one get diagnosed with this disease? God, why?

I have asked my share of “why” questions, even as recently as this week. And I have to admit, it is hard to understand why God does things the way He does sometimes. How should we respond when we find ourselves asking, why, God?

There’s no easy answer that completely satisfies the pain and hurt in the middle of a difficult situation. But when I begin asking God why, I keep coming back to the truth that He is sovereign. He knows what He’s doing and why. I need to rest in His sovereignty and stop demanding to know why.

One of my seminary professors, Dr. Stephen Bramer, shared with us that one day  he is going to write a sermon on what he thinks will be the most spoken word in heaven. No, it won’t be “holy,” or “hallelujah” or “how beautiful.” He thinks the most spoken word in heaven will be “Ohhhhhhh….” “Ohhhhhhhh…. now I understand.” When we get to ask God face to face, why, and He shows us why, we’ll understand.

A good book I recommend that has helped me as I have asked the “why” questions is Why Me? And Why That’s the Wrong Question by Jim Davis.

God has also used a number of Scripture passages to help me walk through these difficult times of asking God why. One that I continually go to is Psalm 27:13-14: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” One day we’ll understand why.

What passages has God used to encourage you when you’ve asked, Why, God?

 

Sins That Will Tear a Ministry Apart

conflict4.jpgThere is no perfect church or ministry. We all struggle with sin, and if those sins are left unchecked and not dealt with, they can destroy a ministry or render it ineffective. Galatians 5:19-21 lays out for us some of these destructive sins.

Sexual sins – Sins concerning our bodies. These would include the sins of immorality, impurity, sensuality. No one is exempt from these. I have known pastors and ministry leaders who have fallen to the temptation of sexual sins, including adultery.

How do we protect ourselves from these sins?

  • By not putting ourselves in situations where we’re vulnerable
  • By having a friend who will hold us accountable

Idolatry – Worshiping false gods. Idolatry is worshiping someone or something that we have put in God’s rightful place. Idolatry goes far beyond worshiping wooden or stone idols. Today, we make idols out of people, money, materialism, status, control, even ourselves.

How do we protect ourselves from idolatry?

  • By keeping our focus on the Lord and looking to Him to meet our needs, not someone or something else

How would you recognize if you have an idol in your life? A good question to ask is: how would you respond if that person or thing is removed from your life? If it would completely devastate you, then it may have become an idol.

Relational sins – Sins we have toward other people. Paul mentions several in these verses: enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, and envy. We’ve all been guilty of at least one of these sins. We get jealous of someone because we feel they’re getting something we deserve and want. We become envious because we don’t have what they have, and it begins to consume us. We have disagreements with others, and those disputes and dissensions can tear down the body of Christ. We think we’re right and they’re wrong. We want our way and aren’t willing to listen to the other perspective.

How do we protect ourselves from the relational sins?

  • By remembering it’s not about us. It’s about Him – trusting Him, loving Him, glorifying Him.

How do we protect ourselves from these destructive sins and all other sins?

Paul gives the answer in Galatians 5:25: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” We protect ourselves from sin by walking in the Spirit and surrendering to the control of the Holy Spirit. We protect ourselves by not seeking our own way to please ourselves, but seeking to please God.

Be on guard against these destructive sins. Don’t be the one who tears a ministry or church apart.

A Wrong Focus

“My eyes are continually toward the Lord.”- Psalm 25:15

I want to introduce you to four women who have lost their focus and taken their eyes off the Lord. I was first “introduced” to these ladies by Mary Graham when I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ.

1. Polly Pious Polly Pious 2

Polly has a lot of strengths and is incredibly gifted, but Polly has taken her focus off the Lord and placed her eyes on herself, her gifts, and her strengths. She has come to believe that life is all about her and she wants to build a little kingdom around herself. Polly thrives on recognition from others. She wants to use her gifts, but for the wrong reasons – she wants to draw attention to herself, not the Lord. Polly no longer has a teachable spirit.

A lesson we can learn from Polly’s life: If I look at the gift apart from the Giver, I’ll get proud. Polly struggles with pride.

Focus on the Giver, not the gift.

2. Despairing Dora Despairing Dora

Dora is focused on her sin, past and present. She doesn’t believe that God could ever use her or that anyone could ever love her in light of her sinfulness. She can’t seem to accept that she’s forgiven and so she lives with a heavy burden of guilt. She is afraid to let anyone know the real Dora because, if they did, they would never accept her. She doesn’t accept herself.

A lesson we can learn from Dora’s life: If I look at the sin apart from the Savior, I’ll get depressed and discouraged. Dora struggles with discouragement. God doesn’t show us sin to discourage us. He shows us sin so we will deal with it, confess it, and move on.

Focus on the Savior, not the sin.

3. Cathy Christian Cathy Christian

Cathy is the model Christian – outwardly. She is busy serving the Lord in every way possible. But Cathy believes her spiritual growth and significance are directly related to how busy she is for the Lord and how much she is doing for Him. The more she can check off her to-do list, the more spiritual she feels. Cathy has lost sight of the fact that the Christian life is a relationship, not a list of to-do’s that she needs to check off to please the Lord. She is so busy doing for Him that she has lost the sweetness of just being with Him and getting to know Him better.

A lesson we can learn from Cathy’s life: If I look at the race apart from the relationship, I’ll become legalistic. Cathy struggles with being busy for the wrong reasons. The Christian life is a relationship, not a ritual of checking things off our to-do list.

Focus on the relationship, not the race.

4. Negative NellieNegative Nellie

Nellie has a critical spirit about everything. She has taken her focus off the Lord and always looks for the negatives. One of her favorite sayings is, “That’ll never work,” and she loves to point out all the reasons why it’s not a good idea. She doesn’t like change; she doesn’t like anything new. However, she doesn’t consider herself as being negative or critical –she’s just helping the church avoid mistakes by pointing out these flaws.

A lesson we can learn from Nellie’s life: If I look at the problem apart from the Provider, I’ll become negative and critical. Instead of criticizing something we don’t like and seeing it as a problem, we need to trust God’s sovereign hand and omnipotence. We need to stop being afraid of taking risks and stepping out in faith.

Focus on the Provider, not the problems.

All four of these women have taken their eyes off the Lord. I don’t want to be a Polly Pious, focused on my gifts and blinded by pride. Or a Despairing Dora, so focused on my sin that I am paralyzed by it. I don’t want to be a Cathy Christian, so busy for the Lord and checking off my to-do list for Him that I lose the sweetness of the relationship. Or a Negative Nellie who is always negative and focuses on problems instead of positives.

How do we avoid becoming these women? Psalm 25:15 – “My eyes are continually toward the Lord.”