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.”

Seeking God

1 Chronicles 16 11Are you needing direction or strength today? 1 Chronicles 16:11 tells us where to turn: “Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually.”

These words are part of a psalm of thanksgiving to the Lord, written by David after he brought the ark of the covenant to the city of David.

One simple instruction: seek the Lord. How many wrong turns would we have avoided if we had sought the Lord first? How much anguish would we have saved ourselves from if we had sought Him instead of things that can never fully satisfy?

He alone can provide the fulfillment and satisfaction in life that we long for – not a mate, or that “perfect” mate or any relationship. Not recognition or that perfect job or wealth or material possessions. Only God can completely satisfy and guide us. He knows the best path for us. But what hinders us from seeking Him?

  • Unconfessed sin – We are not going to seek Him if we have sin that we have not confessed and dealt with.
  • Self-sufficiency – When we think we’ve got everything under control and we don’t need the Lord’s help, we won’t seek the Lord because we think we can do it on our own. Big mistake.
  • Busyness of life – Our schedules get fuller and the demands of life get greater. We become so busy that we don’t allow time for seeking Him. We push Him further and further down on our to-do list.
  • Lack of trust – We don’t seek God’s face when we don’t trust Him and believe He wants what’s best for us.

Who or what are you seeking for guidance and fulfillment in life?

Seek the Lord.
Seek His strength.
Seek His face continually.

The Ministry of Encouragement

Welcome home sign 2When I came home from East Asia after four years, this sign was on my bed. Mom had written these words on a poster board to welcome me home. It made me smile and cry at the same time, in a good way. I felt loved. I took a picture of it so I could keep it with me as a sweet reminder.

How do you feel when you hear these words from someone? I believe in you. I’m praying for you. You’re doing a great job. You can do this. Thank you. I love you. When I hear those words, I am encouraged. They make me smile and spur me on to keep going.

Has someone encouraged you this week? Have you encouraged someone lately?

Paul was a great encourager to his disciples and children in the faith, as evidenced in his epistles. It is fitting that he began his final letter to Timothy with words of encouragement.

In 2 Timothy 1:1-7, Paul expressed encouragement to Timothy in five ways. What a great example to follow as we encourage others.

  1. Love them (vs. 2, 4). Don’t just tell them, but show them by your actions.
  2. Pray for them (v. 3). Ask God to keep reminding you to pray for them.
  3. Affirm them (v. 5). We all get discouraged or begin to doubt ourselves, and sometimes all it takes is for someone to affirm us to get us out of our “funk.”
  4. Exhort them (v. 6). Sometimes we have to give others a gentle shove to get them moving in the right direction or moving at all.
  5. Remind them (v. 7). Remind them of all the resources available to them in Christ.

Is there someone you can encourage today? Maybe you need to tell someone, I believe in you. I love you. You can do this.

Or perhaps you need to exhort someone who is not being all that God intended for them to be.

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Who can you encourage today?

Is God Still in Control?

Sept 11 tribute

 

I vividly remember where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001, when I heard the news of the terrorist attacks in New York City. The events that happened that day will forever stay etched in my memory. So many feelings and emotions swept over me that day and in the days to follow — anger, fear, insecurity, doubt. Today, I read back through my journal of what I had written during that time.

 

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote on September 13, 2001:

“Lord, thank you that you are in control. Thank you that even though it seems like our world has fallen apart, You are the stability of our times. When all around us is falling to the ground, You are the one constant in our lives. Thank You. . . You are already using this to show us that our security lies in You alone – not in our safety as a nation or wealth or prosperity. In You.”

Thirteen years have passed since that tragedy rocked our world here in the United States. We still mourn the lives lost on that day. And today, in 2014, we still live in a world that seems out of control.  Innocent victims suffer at the hands of the ruthless, and it can appear that evil is winning. We are tempted to question God. Where are You? Why are you allowing this to happen? Are You still in control?

But the one thing that gave me hope on September 11, 2001, is the same thing that gives me hope today in 2014. God is still sovereign. He has never lost control, no matter how bad things may seem. We don’t understand why things happen as they do, but God knows why. He is still on the throne.

Psalm 37 is a great reminder of the sovereignty of God and the destiny of the wicked. Take some time today to read through this Psalm.

I pray we never see another day like September 11, 2001. But if we do, God is still on the throne.

Are You Ready to Mentor?

Mentoring posterI’ve been pondering several questions recently. Am I living life in such a way that younger generations are drawn to Jesus? Would someone want to be discipled or mentored by me as they watch my life?

Titus 2:3 reads, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good…”

Paul instructed Titus concerning key qualities of the older women as they encourage younger women in the church in Crete. In the original context, Paul was probably referring to women 50 and older. But all of us are older than someone else. We don’t have to wait till we’re 50 to begin encouraging and building into younger women.

How are we doing in these four areas?

1. Godly behavior: “Reverent in their behavior.” This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect, but that we would show a reverence for God in the    way we handle life – the good and the bad. We recognize and deal with our inadequacies and shortcomings in a godly way.

Is my behavior pleasing to God?

2. Guarded Words: “Not malicious gossips.” What do our words reveal about our heart? What are we communicating to the younger generations by what we say? If we’re gossiping, criticizing, tearing apart the body of Christ, the younger generation is not going to be drawn to that.

Am I careful with my words?

3. Self-control: “Not enslaved to much wine.” We can broaden that application. Don’t be enslaved to anything. Maybe your area of self-control isn’t in drinking too much wine, but with food or relationships or material things or spending too much time on social media or watching TV or on anything else that begins to consume your time and hold you captive.

Am I enslaved to something or someone other than Jesus Christ?

4. Solid teaching: “Teaching what is good.” This doesn’t mean we have to have the gift of teaching or need to sit down with a younger woman and teach her in a formal teaching situation. Some of my most productive teaching times have been over a cup of coffee at Starbucks or over lunch at Panera’s or while taking a walk together. Informal teaching times are valuable in building into others’ lives.

Am I sharing with others what God is teaching me from His Word and through my circumstances?

What do people see when they observe our lives? Are they drawn to Jesus or just the opposite?

Growing Older

Birthday candlesI celebrated a birthday this week. And the older I get, the less exciting birthdays are. However, I always enjoy the special time with friends, as well as encouraging notes, cards, texts, emails, and phone calls. I am thankful for the friends and family God has blessed me with.

Each year on my birthday, I like to sit down and reflect on the past year. Not so much on the physical changes in my life, but on the spiritual changes.  As I reflected on that this birthday, I jotted down some thoughts.

  • He has a purpose for me. I don’t want to neglect it.
  • He has given me gifts. I don’t want to ignore them or waste them.
  • He has put people in my life in this season for a purpose. I want to fully embrace them.
  • He loves me even when I’m not lovable. I want to thank Him for loving me unconditionally.

In addition to jotting down some thoughts, I like to ponder these questions each year:

  • How has my love for God grown deeper in the past twelve months?
  • How has He worked in my life this past year?
  • What am I thankful for this past year?
  • What challenges has He put in my path? How did I handle them?

I’d like to think that every year I celebrate a birthday I’m a little wiser than the year before. However, I find I still make mistakes and sometimes question decisions I’ve made. But I am encouraged by the fact that God is still working on me and in me and will continue to do so until the day He takes me home.

Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 are a great encouragement to me on this birthday (and every day): “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

Time for Rest

Beach TimeAre you worn out and need a break from a hectic schedule? Do you need some time to rejuvenate and replenish in the midst of a difficult season of life? Last week I could answer yes to both of those questions.

I didn’t take a vacation last year or get away for a time of relaxation and rest. (I don’t describe leading a mission trip or going to a conference as venues for rest. I enjoyed them, but they were not vacation.) So I knew this summer I needed to get away and take a break. But as a caregiver for an aging parent, it’s hard to get away.

Jesus knew the importance of taking a break and resting. He told the disciples after they had returned from ministering to the multitudes, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). And they obeyed. They went away in a boat to a secluded place by themselves, away from the pull on their lives from the multitudes.

This week I am finally taking a break. Thanks to a generous couple in my church, I am able to spend the week in their condo on the beach with two good friends. The beach is my favorite place to go for vacation. It enables me to rest, slow down, think, replenish. I can sit for hours and watch the waves roll in or go for a leisurely stroll on the beach. We’ve had some great talks at night sitting out on the balcony overlooking the ocean. There’s something about the beach that draws me closer to my Savior. And as this week is about to draw to a close, I will leave here refreshed.

Perhaps you’re worn out and need some time to get away and slow down. What can you do that would enable you to draw away and rest a while? If Jesus recognized the need for rest, so should we.

 

Are Mentoring and Discipleship the Same Thing?

Because of a crazy week and leaving for vacation tomorrow, I am reposting a blog post from several years ago. I still get asked this question. 

Let’s say you meet someone who is a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but she just wants you to spend time with her and talk through life together. Is that discipleship or mentoring?

People often ask if there is a difference between discipleship and mentoring or if they are the same thing. I believe there is a difference.

  • Discipleship is the process of moving someone toward becoming a lifelong, committed follower of Jesus Christ.
  • Mentoring is the process of developing a person to her maximum potential for the Lord.
  • The goal of discipleship is to help them grow toward spiritual maturity.
  • The goal of mentoring is to come alongside them in a specific area(s) of life and help them develop toward their maximum potential for the Lord.

The two can overlap, but discipleship is more intentional and focused on moving you toward a deeper commitment to Christ. Mentoring tends to focus on a specific area of life. Mentoring relationships are less structured, more practical, and focus on sharing experience or expertise in a specific area.

For instance, a young mom may want to be mentored by an older mom in the area of parenting. A newlywed may ask someone who has been married for a while to mentor her in being a godly wife. You may want to be mentored in an area in which you are gifted but need someone to help you develop in that area. These are examples of mentoring relationships.

I have had a number of mentors in my life and still do. While I was attending Dallas Seminary, I knew that I wanted to work in Women’s Ministry after graduation, but I felt that I needed someone to mentor me. So I asked Kay Daigle, the Women’s Minister at my church, to spend time with me and mentor me in the area of Women’s Ministry. She pulled me alongside her to watch what she did, observe how she set vision with her leadership team, and learn how she organized and led the ministry. She gave me the opportunity to write and teach the Women’s Ministry Bible study that fall. Kay mentored me and helped prepare me for my future job as a Women’s Ministry director.

Did she disciple me? I would say no, because she wasn’t necessarily moving me toward becoming a lifelong, committed follower of Jesus Christ. I was already committed to following Jesus. But she mentored me, helping me grow toward reaching my full potential in a specific area of service to the Lord.

Sandi and me at my DTS graduation

Sandi Glahn has mentored me for the past ten years in the area of writing. Sandi was my professor at Dallas Seminary and mentored me as I wrote a Bible study for an independent course. She encouraged me in my writing and gave valuable input to help me develop as a writer. Sandi continues to mentor me, and I am so grateful for her investment in my life to help me reach my full potential for the Lord.

I pray that I will always have mentors in my life. If you see someone whom you would like to mentor you in a specific area, go to them. Take the initiative and ask them. It will be worth it!

What do you think? Are mentoring and discipleship the same?

No More Hiding Behind Closed Doors

I feel exposed this week. No, I’m not referring to exposing myself in skimpy, inappropriate clothing, but I feel exposed just the same. You see, I decided to finally upgrade my kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Thankfully, the cabinets are in great shape, so I’m not having to knock them out and start over. I’m just painting them a different color to bring a more modern updated look instead of the builder’s look from 1990. (Actually, I’m not painting them. I’m hiring someone to do all the work for me.)

Garage Workshop

Garage Workshop

I didn’t think this was going to be difficult. How hard could it be to just repaint the cabinets? I soon discovered there’s more to this than I had originally thought. They have to take the cabinet doors off, clean them, sand them, prime them, prime them again, and then paint them (I’m not sure if it will be one or two coats).  They’ve set up my garage as the workshop for this project.

I’ve learned several spiritual lessons from this scenario. First, I had to empty out all my drawers. And even though I didn’t have to empty my cabinets, I decided I wanted to straighten things up a bit before they took the doors off. Oh, my. . . I was shocked at how much “stuff” I have accumulated over the years. My first thoughts were, Why didn’t I clean and purge a little at a time instead of letting things build up and then be overwhelmed by how much “stuff” was there?

In the same way, we need to keep short accounts with God every day and not let sins accumulate as we ignore or put off dealing with them till a later day. When that later day comes, it’s overwhelming because we’ve let the sins accumulate and it’s too much to deal with all at one time.

I learned a second lesson when I walked into my kitchen after work yesterday. All the cabinet doors were off, and everything that had once been behind those cabinet doors was now open and exposed for all to see. I actually saw things I didn’t know were there until the doors were off. I had forgotten about them.

Exposed for all to see

Exposed for all to see

This morning I was thinking how this is true of the way God sees us. We may try to hide things in our lives “behind closed doors,” thinking no one will see them because they’re hidden. But God sees everything in our lives. There are no “cabinet doors” hiding things from God. I am exposed. I can’t hide anything from Him. I can’t hide my thoughts, my pride, my selfishness, my insecurities. . .

Hebrews 4:13 reiterates this: “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” He sees it all. It was a good reminder to me this week that God knows me inside and out. He wants me to be honest with Him about what’s going on inside and not try to hide things. He knows and He wants me to acknowledge to Him what’s behind my “doors.” He sees my inmost being. And to be honest, I’m glad. It frees me up to accept His love and mercy and grace.

Has God taught you some spiritual lessons from the process of remodeling your home? I’d love to hear from you.

Settling for Status Quo?

Mt. Shavino

Mt. Shavino

Several years ago, I climbed Mt. Shavino, a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado, with a group from my church. After only 45 minutes, I was ready to quit, but my climbing buddies wouldn’t let me. They kept spurring me on and wouldn’t listen to my reasons why I needed to quit.

After four hours of hard climbing, we reached a boulder field, and I was content to stay there. In my mind, it wasn’t the summit, but it was good enough for me. After all, my legs hurt, my feet were bleeding from blisters, and it was incredibly difficult to breathe in the high altitude. I was content to sit on the side of the mountain and wait for them to come back down. But they wouldn’t let me settle for less than the summit.

Boulder Field

Boulder Field

I kept going but had serious doubts I would ever make it to the top, and I couldn’t have done it alone. Every time I wanted to quit, someone would come alongside me and give me words of encouragement: Come on. Just put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time. Keep going. Eat an apple. Stay focused on the end result. You’ve come too far to quit now. 

Six hours after we began that climb, all of us arrived at our destination on the summit of Mt. Shavino. It was a team effort. Without the strong helping the weak, several of us wouldn’t have made it.

Reaching the Summit

Reaching the Summit

As I sat on top of that mountain, I was in awe of the beauty of the view below us. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Every pain, every ache, every blister, every gasp for air.

But I almost gave up before I got to the final destination. I almost convinced myself, this is good enough. . . I’m tired. . . I’ve seen enough. . . I don’t have to go to the top. . . it’s not worth the pain and effort. . . It’s ok to play it safe and not take any risks.

Thankfully, my climbing buddies wouldn’t let me settle for status quo, sitting on the side of the mountain while they went on to experience the full beauty of that mountain.

I’ve often thought how that parallels the Christian life. It gets tough at times, and I don’t want to be stretched. I’m hurting. I’m tired. I don’t want to take any risks. And I find myself being content to just stay where I am and settle for status quo instead of pushing through the challenges and pain and pressing on to the end result of what God has in store for me.

I’m glad I didn’t settle for the side of the mountain instead of the magnificent view I experienced at the top. In the same way, I don’t want to settle for status quo and miss out on all that God has for me if I will just keep pressing on to the “summit.”

Let’s spur one another on and not settle for status quo in the Christian life. The end result will be worth it.