Going Deeper

Trail in forestThis week I celebrate another birthday. Each year on this day, I like to reflect back over the past year.

  • What was going on in my life this time last year?
  • How has my relationship with God changed in the past year?
  • Have I grown deeper in my walk with Him?
  • Do I love Him more today than I did a year ago?

I look back over the past year and I have to admit it was a hard year in many ways. I watched my mom’s health steadily decline and was by her side the day she stepped into the Lord’s presence on Dec. 19. A few months later, I had to say goodbye to my 15-year-old cat, Peyton, who was a faithful companion for all those years.

As I look back over this past year, I realize now how God used this hard season of life to draw me deeper in my relationship with Him – a depth I hadn’t experienced before. In the midst of it, I hated it. I kept asking God to work differently or speed up His timing or get me out of this situation.

But now that I’m on the other side, I wouldn’t trade it. I wouldn’t want the last year to be any different because of where it’s taken me with Him. God used those hard times to take me deeper.

Some of you have had a challenging year also. You’ve said goodbye to loved ones, or you’ve been struggling with health issues in your own life or in the life of someone you love. Some of you may be having marital struggles, or job challenges, or fighting depression and anxiety.

When we find ourselves in the midst of these difficult seasons, will we allow God to use these times to take us deeper with Him or will we let them push us away from Him?

This summer I have been pondering the words of Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”

Recently I journaled these thoughts about this verse:

“Do I realize the unfathomable riches of Christ? If I did, would I worry? No. Would I be inadequate to do His calling? No. His unfathomable riches give me everything I need for life, but am I tapping into those riches? Or am I just passively and apathetically glancing at them – but not enjoying them? They’re mine – but am I embracing them? Am I staying on the surface or going deeper with God? I don’t want to stay status quo. I don’t want to just stay on the surface with You. But am I willing to go through hardship if that’s what is required to go deeper?”

That’s a question we all need to ask ourselves.

As I turn another year older this week, I pray that I will fall more in love with Jesus every day of this coming year, and that He will take me deeper. I pray that for you also.

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Dealing With Conflict

handshakeYears ago, I was in a church ripped apart by conflict. I remember sitting in several town hall meetings where friend turned against friend in highly emotional discussions. At each meeting that followed, I felt like I was sitting in an arena watching bulldozers going at each other and tearing down anything they could get to. People were deeply wounded, and the anger and bitterness split our church. It took years for it to recover. To be honest, there are still wounds that haven’t healed from those days.

Conflict is difficult, but it’s part of life. The question isn’t, will I face conflict, but how will I handle it when it comes? Will I be a peacemaker or a bulldozer?  Will I build unity or tear it down?

If you’re in the middle of conflict,

  • Ask the Lord to search your heart. Is there an issue in your life you need to deal with first?
  • Seek resolution. Sit down and talk with the person, maybe bringing in a third party who can mediate. Even then, you may have to agree to disagree. If so, let it go and move forward. Don’t let it fester.
  • Trust in the sovereignty of God. As bad as things may seem, God is still in control, and Romans 8:28 is still true: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Don’t let conflict tear down the body of Christ. As you find yourself in the midst of conflict, will you be a peacemaker, or a bulldozer? bulldozer

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Would You Disciple Me?

Organic Mentoring

I recently read the book Organic Mentoring by Sue Edwards and Barbara Neumann. (I highly recommend this book.) The premise of Organic Mentoring is that previous methods of discipleship may not be as effective for the younger generations today. Randomly pairing up a disciple and discipler isn’t necessarily the best method, and the younger generations tend to prefer less structure and more of a natural and organic approach.

As our women’s Bible study read and discussed this book together, some of my “older” women felt a burden lifted – they didn’t have to come up with a structured curriculum to take someone through. However, my younger women shared that they still want some structure and accountability.

It’s important to recognize that each individual is unique in what she’s looking for in a discipleship/mentoring relationship. When someone asks me to disciple her, I ask several questions:

  •  What are you looking for in this relationship?
  •  What do you want me to do with you in our time together?
  •  Where are you spiritually? A new believer? A stagnant believer? Or a strong believer who wants to be challenged and to go deeper?
  •  Is there a specific area in which you want to grow?
  •  What is your goal for our time together? What do you want to see as a result of this discipleship relationship?
  •  Do you want something structured or more informal?

Discipleship looks different for different people, depending on where they are in their spiritual journey and where they want to go spiritually. Some want a structured format, while others just want you to hang out with them and talk. Some want to meet every week; others are content to meet periodically. Is one way better than another? It depends on the individual and what she’s looking for.

The goal of discipleship is to help that person grow to spiritual maturity in Christ. The method may look different for each person.

As a discipler, what do you envision the discipleship relationship looking like? As a disciple, what are you looking for? Do you tend to want something more structured and scheduled, or informal with no set schedule or plan? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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House Remodeling and Spiritual Growth?

Bathroom floor remodeling

The past two weeks, my home has been undergoing some remodeling. Yes, I’m excited about the end product, but the journey to get there has not always been pleasant. As I walk through this process, God is showing me similarities between house remodeling and spiritual growth. Here are a few thoughts from these two weeks:

1. You may want to quit before you get to the finished product.

There have been times during these past two weeks when I wanted to say, “Enough. Let’s just stop here. I can’t take anymore!”

There are times in the Christian life when I am tempted to quit the journey God has me on because it’s too challenging. I begin to question if it’s worth it, and I convince myself that I don’t need to go any further. But if I quit, I miss all that God has in store for me.

  1. It’s inconvenient and uncomfortable at times, but the end result is worth it.

I had to use my guest bathroom while my master bathroom floor was being redone, and it was an inconvenience. It was awkward, and I didn’t like it. I had to keep reminding myself of the end result and that this was only temporary.

Spiritual growth, like remodeling, stretches me and takes me out of my comfort zone. It can be uncomfortable at times, but the process is necessary in order to experience something far better in the end.

  1. It’s not going as quickly as I’d like.

Inevitably in remodeling, the process doesn’t tend to go as scheduled. There’s always a glitch, a delay, something unexpected that comes up, slowing things down. Why can’t it go faster?

In the same way, I want spiritual maturity…today! But spiritual growth doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and there are delays—delays caused by circumstances out of my control or by my actions. I have to learn patience – with home remodeling and spiritual growth.

  1. It gets messy.

In the midst of remodeling, I see dust all over the place that wasn’t there before or I hadn’t seen before. I can either ignore it and let it build up until I can’t stand it anymore, or I can wipe up the dust daily to keep it from getting out of control.

It’s the same way in my spiritual life. As I grow more like Christ, He will show me “dust” in my life—not to discourage me, but to prompt me to deal with it and confess it. I have to make a choice: clean it up as God shows me sin, or ignore it and let it get out of control.

  1. It’s never finished.

When I remodel a room, it never seems to be finished. There’s always something else that can be done beyond the original goal. So I just keep remodeling…

In the Christian life, we never arrive at spiritual maturity and achieve Christ-likeness while we’re on this earth. There’s always more to be done. Only when we see Him face to face will the spiritual renovation in our lives be done.

Perhaps you’re in the middle of (or just finished) renovation on your home. What are some spiritual analogies God has taught you in the process?

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The Value of a Teachable Spirit

blank notebookOne of the things I look for in women I want to invest time in is a teachable spirit. I will give myself completely to someone who is teachable and sincerely wants to grow and develop in an area. But I’m spinning my wheels when someone thinks she has already “arrived” and isn’t open to suggestions or feedback.

Dr. David Murray said, “No matter how much talent and gifting we have, if we are, or become, unteachable, we will never reach anywhere near our full potential in our careers, our callings, or our relationships.”

So how do we recognize a teachable spirit in someone? Some of the things I consider are:

  1. Does she listen, or does she tend to think she already has all the answers?
  2. Is she open to doing something differently than what she’s used to? Is she open to considering a different way of looking at something, or is her mind already set on her way?
  3. Does she get defensive when someone gives constructive feedback or suggests a way to grow in an area?
  4. Does she spend more time telling others how they should be doing things than listening to others’ input into her own life?

I have to ask myself those questions periodically to evaluate my own teachability. Being teachable doesn’t come easy for most of us. I see two major hindrances to a teachable spirit:

  • Pride – I think I know best. I know the best way to do something, so there’s no reason to listen to your input.
  • Selfishness – I want to do things my way, and my mind’s made up. I’m not changing… It’s going to be my way, or I’m out of here!

God desires for His children to be teachable. He wants to teach us, but we have to be open to what He wants to show us and do in us. He uses others in the process of teaching us. Will we listen?

In Psalm 25:4, David asked God, “Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths.” In Luke 11:1, one of Jesus’ disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

What are you asking God to teach you? Are you open to learning from others as well?

Ask God to search your heart and show you if you’re teachable. If not, what can you do to change that?

 

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Deepening Your Prayer Life

Prayer VerseTo be honest, most of us would probably admit that our prayer life isn’t what we’d like it to be. I look at Paul’s prayers in the New Testament and realize how shallow my prayers are in comparison. I’ve started praying through his prayers for others in my time alone with God, and it has helped me focus my prayers on things that are eternal, and not just temporal.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote in his book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,

“Prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul. Man is at his greatest and highest when upon his knees he comes face to face with God.”

E.M. Bounds in his book, Purpose in Prayer, reminds us of how we must cultivate our fellowship with the Lord:

“Prayer is not a meaningless function or duty to be crowded into the busy or the weary ends of the day, and we are not obeying our Lord’s command when we content ourselves with a few minutes upon our knees in the morning rush or late at night when the faculties, tired with the tasks of the day, call out for rest … we can never get to know Him if we use the vehicle of prayer as we use the telephone, for a few words of hurried conversation.”

Ouch. Those words sting a little! So what hinders us from prayer?

Lack of discipline – We’re too busy, and prayer gets crowded out by the urgent things in life. Yes, we can pray throughout the day while we’re driving, working, or cooking. But we also need some alone time with God to put aside distractions and just focus on Him.

Lack of belief – We don’t believe God will do anything, so we just don’t bother to ask.

Lack of intimacy – We may not feel close to God and He seems distant. As a result, we don’t want to talk to Him.

Lack of need – We tend to pray less when life is going great and we don’t sense any great need. But, when circumstances overwhelm us, we are drawn to our knees in prayer. Sometimes we falsely assume that prayer is only necessary when something comes along that’s too big for us to handle by ourselves.

I am guilty of all four of these hindrances at times.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“Prayer pulls the rope below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly. Others give but an occasional pluck at the rope. But he who wins with heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly and pulls continuously, with all his might.”

How do you pray? Do you scarcely stir the bell, or do you grab onto that rope boldly and pull it continuously with all your might? Use one of Paul’s prayers to guide you through praying for someone today.

 

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God, Please . . .

woman prayingI have been praying for something this week that I REALLY, REALLY want God to say yes to. But . . . I realize that what I want may not be His best for me. And I have to accept that with joy. If God says no, then I know it’s because of one of three reasons: it’s not good for me, it’s not the right timing, or He has something better for me. I have to keep reminding myself of this.

This morning as I was praying again for this situation and that God would say yes, He reminded me of two passages in Scripture that encouraged me greatly.

Romans 8:32 – “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

That verse doesn’t mean God will give me everything I want. But He will give me everything He deems best for me. If He gave His own Son for me, He’s not going to withhold other things that He deems good for me. He loves me and wants what’s best for me.

The other passage is Luke 22:42 when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. He prayed, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

I thought about that prayer this morning. Jesus asked the Father to “change the plan.” He asked Him to remove the cup, and God the Father said no to His Son. Not because the Father didn’t love His Son; but because He knew this was best in His sovereign plan to save the world from sin. He could have said yes, I’ll remove the cup; but where would we be today?

Jesus gave us a great example of how to pray. Be honest with God and ask Him for the desires of your heart; but pray with the heart attitude of, “not my will, Lord, but Yours be done.”

Are you praying for something today that you desperately want God to say yes to? Remember that God wants to give you good things, and He wants you to rest in His sovereign plan for your life.

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Standing in Awe

lightning4Two extraordinary events happened this week that made me long for the Lord’s return.

Monday night we had strong thunderstorms in Memphis. The thunderstorms weren’t the strange occurrence, but the non-stop flickering of lightning in the sky was something I had not seen before. It was as if the heavens were communicating something grand was about to happen.

As I peeked out my window to watch, I was overcome with awe by the beauty and “strangeness” of it. God was giving us a grand display of His power and glory. I secretly hoped that it was a prelude to His returning for us.

Star of Bethlehem 2015Tuesday night there was another unusual phenomenon. Jupiter and Venus came so “close” together that they appeared as one bright, shining star in the east. Many believe it was this same occurrence that the Bible refers to in Matthew 2:2 when the magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Just as the star over Bethlehem led the magi to worship Him, seeing this “star” Tuesday night led me to worship Him. As I stood gazing at the bright “star” in the east, I imagined what it would have felt like following that star to Bethlehem to see the Messiah, the King who came to this earth as a baby for you and me.

I found myself also asking, “Lord, the bright star in the east, the star of Bethlehem, was a sign of your first coming. Could it be that this event is ushering in your second coming?”

I turned around and behind me was the bright moon, beautiful in its brilliance. I felt like I could reach out and  touch it. I was overcome with emotion and wanted to fall to my knees in worship. It made me long for the day when we will see Him face to face and enjoy the majesty of the mansion He’s preparing for us.

We don’t know when the Lord will come back. Only the Father knows the day and time. But these two events this week made me long for that day more than ever. As I’ve been pondering His return, it’s also made me diligent in praying, “Lord, I want to live my life as if You’re coming back today.”

What difference would it make in your life if you knew He was returning today or this week? We don’t know when He will return, but we know He will. This week was a precious reminder that I should live every day as if it could be today. It could be.

If you saw the “star of Bethlehem” this week, what were your thoughts? How did it impact you?

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The Sweetness of Adoption

Hobson and Hannah

Hobson and Hannah

Adoption is something that has become near and dear to my heart. My niece and her husband adopted three children a year apart, whom we love with all our hearts. Multiple families in our church here in Memphis have adopted one or more children. It’s so sweet to see these little lives thrive in a good, stable home environment with loving parents.

I haven’t adopted children, but last Friday, I adopted two little kittens about eight weeks old. Having them in my life has made me ponder the sweetness of adoption, not only from an earthly perspective, but also from a heavenly perspective. As I look at these two sweet little kitties, it’s made me think of my adoption in Christ.

These two little kittens had a hard life before I adopted them. They were within 24 hours of being euthanized before a rescue organization pulled them out of the animal shelter and placed them in a foster home until they could find a permanent home. They had no hope apart from being adopted. In the same way, life apart from God is hard and we have no hope without Him. Thankfully, He adopted me and gave me hope for a future with Him eternally.

As I’ve spent time with these kittens, I have grown to love them. I have told them I will love them till the day I hold them in my arms and they take their last breath (and even after that). I will treat them with kindness and goodness and give them special treats from time to time. I hope that they will grow to love me the more they get to know my love for them.

But I also realize there will be times I will have to allow painful things to be done to them, like shots and surgeries. I’ll have to tell them “NO!” to something they desperately want to get into. They will not understand my actions and will question my love for them in those times.

But I know the bigger picture. It’s not good to let them play with the blinds cords because they could choke themselves. They don’t see the danger of chewing electric cords – they just see how much fun it is to play.

God has reminded me this week – that’s a picture of His relationship with me. I want to do things and God says no; and I don’t understand why He’s withholding something “good” from me. Or I don’t understand why He’s allowing me to go through something painful. I question His love for me. But, He can see the bigger picture. And what seems painful and unloving is for my good. He knows what’s best for me, just like I know what’s best for my adopted kittens.

As I look at my adopted kitties, I am reminded of my adoption in Christ and it makes me so thankful for my Father who loves me and cares for me far more than I love my kitties.

“In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will…” (Ephesians 1:5).

I’m thankful for adoption!

 

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Saying Goodbye To A Precious Pet

Peyton

 

I had to make a heart-wrenching decision today (Thursday). My vet and I agreed that the time had come to put down my sweet 15-year-old cat Peyton. But we are waiting till tomorrow (Friday). I wanted one final night with this precious, faithful companion.

For those of you who have put pets down, you know the emotions overwhelming me as I write this. But I want to turn this into a positive in the midst of the pain. I want to honor Peyton by sharing some of the lessons she has taught me over these past 15 years. (Yes, God has used my cat to teach me.)

 

 

  1. Be faithful to those God has put in your life. Peyton has been faithful to me since day one. She is really a one-person kitty. She loves me and only me. She doesn’t shower love on the cat sitters or friends or family who come to visit. She is loyal to her owner.
  2. Enjoy God’s creation, especially the little things we often take for granted. Peyton is happiest when she is sitting outside, watching the birds, bugs, trees, flies, whatever is going on out there. She could spend hours at a time just laying there on the patio basking in God’s sunshine and enjoying the breeze on her face. It doesn’t take alot to make her content, even when she’s not feeling good.
  3. Rest is a good thing. Peyton knows how to rest and can tune out distractions all around her. She makes sure that rest is a vital part of her day. And she only wakes me up at night when she hears me moving. She knows I need rest, too.
  4. Embrace every day you have with those you love. You never know how long you have left together.
  5. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. (Job 1:20) All things are created by Him and belong to Him. He’s allowed me to enjoy Peyton for 15 years, and now it’s time to let her go. Thank You, Lord, for these 15 years with her.

One of my professors in seminary discussed the question of whether or not animals go to heaven when they die. We don’t know for sure, but he shared a verse from Revelation 5:13 he uses to answer that question.

The setting is around the throne in heaven. “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.'”

It gives me hope that Peyton will be there. I am so grateful that God blessed me with this precious companion for these many years.

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