12/21/13

Three Choices for Christmas

Three Choices for Christmas? What could they be?

Those are the questions I asked when I saw the title of a post by Monica Bass at Ministry 127. Heart Choices Today (HCT) is all about the choices we make - how we want to make choices that align with the heart of God and the Word of God. After I read Monica's post I thought, "I want to reprint this, because it so blessed my own heart and I think it will encourage and challenge others too."

Monica's post is titled, "When Christmas Becomes More Than a Story: 3 Choices for Christmas," and I share it below, with her permission.

Monica wrote ...

To the actors in the original Christmas drama, Christmas was something far larger than a story.
When Gabriel first saluted Mary with the glad tidings that she was selected to give birth to the Messiah, it was not only a dream come true; it was a complete life change. This wasn’t something Mary read once a year before ripping into the presents stacked under the tree—this was reality.

Christmas was more than a story to Mary. It was her life.

Yet somehow, through the grace of God, Mary made three timely choices as her life spun out of her control into the sovereign prophecies of Scripture.

The choices Mary made are within the reach of every child of God. In fact, they are vital.

Trust

Mary was shocked by Gabriel’s visit; I’m shocked by Mary’s response. It seems to me that in the rawness of the moment, she might have questioned, “But what will Joseph think?” or “What will my family say? Can you go explain to them, too?”

But her first question was one of surprised wonder: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Her next response was one of mature faith: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

Mary chose to trust
  • when she didn’t know the answers,
  • when she was numb with shock,
  • when every aspect of her future had just been rewritten, and
  • when her world had been shaken beyond her ability to wrap her mind around or sort out.
Her trust demonstrates a key principle:

Submission in an expression of trust.
In that moment, trust was not a reaction; it was a choice. Trust is never passive; it is active—a choice, a decision, an act of faith.

What in your life seems impossible right now? What is it that you know God wants you to do, that He has directed you to do…but all you can say is, “How shall this be, seeing [fill in the blank with visible evidence]”?

Listen carefully to Gabriel’s answer, “With God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). It’s true; but we have to make the choice to believe it.

Rejoice

Like you, I’ve heard many lessons and sermons that remind us of Mary’s difficulties—an unwed pregnancy, change of life plans, ridicule, fear, etc.

Think about it, though. You only find these difficulties in the narrative of the Christmas story—never from Mary’s mouth.

Mary had every reason to complain…but she didn’t. Instead, she chose to rejoice. Her first words to Elisabeth were a song of praise: “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

In my most spiritual moments, my greeting to Elisabeth would have been something more like, “I
want to trust God, but I’m so broken and torn inside. Help comfort me, Elisabeth.” I might not have said it quite like that, but I definitely would have made sure Elisabeth knew all of my reasons to fear.

But just as Mary had every reason to complain, she also had every reason to rejoice! Although the news came in an unexpected way and with unexpected repercussions, she had just learned that she—Mary—would be the mother of the Messiah!

Mary could have justifiably complained or rejoiced…and she chose to rejoice.

To rejoice is a choice.

And it’s a choice God commands us to make: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

I can always find reasons—good, solid reasons—to complain. (And I often do!) But if I take Philippians 4:9 for the command that it is, I can also always find ample reasons to rejoice in the person of Christ.

The choice is ours: We can complain about the very real difficulties of life, or we can choose to rejoice in the very real favor and kindness of God.

Mary’s choice, while not the most natural, seems wisest.

Ponder

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get mechanical about the things I do often. Take singing in church, for example. Sometimes I sing with a heart full of worship. Sometimes I repeat words I know well while I prepare mentally for my next responsibility of the day. December itself has enough responsibility that it is easy for the entire month to turn into something like a grueling marathon of activity and exhaustion.

But Mary engaged in a way that allowed her to experience Christmas with awe and wonder: “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Remember, Christmas wasn’t just a story to Mary. And she refused to let it be just an unusual set of circumstances that she experienced, only to move on to the next and less extraordinary events of life.

To Mary, Christmas was marvelous—because she took time to ponder the mysterious workings of God in her life.

But you and I rarely give ourselves the time, space, or quiet to ponder—to think. No wonder Christmas is mechanical! Exhausting. Distracting.

Mary’s stable wasn’t nearly as idyllic as we imagine. There were more than enough distractions in the surrounding hay. And, because she was as human as you and me, I’m sure there were plenty of inner distractions that threatened to hijack the attention of her heart and mind. Yet Mary chose to ponder.

Focus is a choice of the heart.

We must choose to carve out time in which we determine to focus our hearts on worshiping God. The distractions without and the cares within will never voluntarily subside to make room for meditation. We have to choose to shut out the noise and worship Jesus.

Three Choices of Christmas

Mary’s decisions began with the simple choice to trust God, which she expressed through submission to His will.

She continued the path of trust by choosing to rejoice, remembering God’s goodness and favor instead of complaining about the pain.

And her choices were stabilized in her heart as she quietly made room to ponder, meditating on the wondrous events that were unfolding before her eyes.

We, too, will make these choices when we allow Christmas to become more than a story.

Which of these choices is the hardest for you to make? What can you do to change that this year?

Monica Bass is the editor for Striving Together Publications. She is a graduate of West Coast Baptist College and is involved in the student and college ministries of Lancaster Baptist Church. You can follow Monica at her blog,  Stepping in the Light.


Paintings: (1) "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst
(2) "The Visitation" by Sebastiano del Piombo, at the Musée du Louvre, Paris

12/18/13

Four Wonders at Christmas

Wonderful … it’s one of Jesus’ names (Isaiah 9:6). As we gaze upon Jesus – from His birth to His return to heaven – His whole life fills us with wonder.  In 2014, I will focus on the “wonder” missing in much of Christendom and how we can revive the wonder in our own lives.


But I want to start with the things I “wonder” over at Christmas, and specifically, four marvelous wonders of Jesus' birth (though there are many more):

(1)  The Wonder of The Father’s Choice
Jesus’ birth was intentional, to fulfill the promise to rescue fallen mankind (Genesis 3:15). The Father sent the Son “… to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). When the angel told Mary she would bear a son, a special, significant name was supplied for the child (Matthew 1:21; Luke1:32; 2:11). Jesus means “He saves.” 

The wonder of the Father’s choice is wrapped up in His nature. He is sovereign and holy, loving and merciful. Because our Creator is holy (and we are not), we need a Savior. Our Loving Father doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). He sent the Son, because He loves us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). He came for us, and later died for us, when we were most unlovely (Romans 5:8). 

Does your heart fill with wonder that the Father in Heaven loves you so?

(2) The Wonder of the Incarnation
This was Jesus' choice. Think about what Jesus left behind when He came to earth. Pre-existent with the Father, He cooperated with the Father’s will and became a man (Philippians 2:7). He was the Word made flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14).

The “Emmanuel” is God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew1:23). In Christ, God chose to identify with us in our humanity, so He could lift us from the bondage of sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Imagine your life, if Jesus had not come. Allow the Lord's presence within you to spark new wonder in your heart.

(3) The Wonder of the Virgin Birth
This involves Mary's choice. She was willing to surrender her own will to God's will in order to fulfill His purposes.

The supernatural birth of Jesus should fill us with the same kind of wonder many reserve for Easter.
Consider the miracle of the Virgin Birth—the coming of the holy Jesus, born of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:26-38). 

Although the deity of this newborn baby was hidden from most of the world, there were clear signs to reveal the mystery of His birth—the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds about where they would discover the “baby in a manger,” and their awe and delight when they found Jesus (Luke2:8-12, 15-18); the worship of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12); and the witness of the multitude of angels singing “Glory to God” (Luke 2:13-14).

Do you believe in the wondrous virgin birth of Christ? Do you recognize the signs of Jesus' deity?

(4) The Wonder of the Gifts Christ Brings
Because Jesus came, we can have eternal life, lasting peace and joy, purpose and so much more. All good gifts from God come through His Son (James 1:17; Romans 8:32).

Christmas is indeed wonder-filled, but only for those with “eyes to see” and hearts to understand the deity of the precious, promised Christ-child. This final wonder involves our choice.

Those who will not recognize Christ miss the life, joy and peace He brings. But Christians can also miss out when they get distracted from the wonder of Christmas, enamored instead with the tinsel and toys rather than the Truth of scripture—the magnitude of God’s love in sending a Savior, His incredible, undeserved mercy and grace. 

It's so easy to be distracted and even overpowered by the celebrations of this season. But remember - it is a "holiday" ... it is a holy day set aside to remember the wonders of what God has done for us. It’s not wrong to celebrate with the traditions of the world, as long as they don’t stamp out the truth of Christmas. As Noel Piper wrote,
“May our decorations, gifts and festivities—or lack of them—never block our view of Him, but always point us toward Him. Only Christ matters” (Treasuring Christ in Our Traditions, Crossway Books, p. 88).
Like Mary, when we experience the wonder of Jesus’ birth and ponder who He is, we will praise our God with a revived heart: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …” (Luke 1:46-47). 

Is that your choice today?


11/23/13

Half-Price Living


Women need wise financial strategies. The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice" (Proverbs 12:15).

Ellie Kay has coauthored a book with Danna Demetre, Lean Body, Fat Wallet (Thomas Nelson, Presale until 12-10-13), and she is a guest blogger today with wise advice for all of us.  Ellie asks the question:

Could you live on just half of your current household income?  
I’ve posed this question to hundreds of families and overall they say learning to live on less could be the ticket to achieving some of their biggest goals, like having one parent stay home with children, or bolstering their savings to pay off consumer debt. Most people unexpectedly face this task as they approach retirement and look to maintain their standard of living well into your golden years while living on a reduced, fixed income.

Not everyone has the flexibility to make such drastic changes in their lifestyle, but there are some relatively easy steps to see if you and your family can live the “Half-Price Life.” 

Step one: assess your current income and expenses
On a sheet of paper, make three columns. In the first column, list all your monthly income sources, including salaries, dividends, and interest, and their amounts in the second column. In the third column, indicate if each income source is fixed or varies from month to month.  On a separate page, similarly list your monthly expenses sources, their values and whether they are fixed or variable. Compare the ratio of fixed to variable income to your expenses. If you are currently relying on inconsistent income sources to cover stable expenses, you’ll need to give thought as to how you could restructure your lifestyle to accommodate a lower income stream.

Step two: determine your current assets and liabilities
Next, you will want to determine your current assets and liabilities to establish your net worth. For each liability or loan, list four things: total balance due; minimum monthly payment; number of months until it’s paid off; and estimated interest paid. Order a free copy of your credit report and check it against your records.  You can go to annualcreditreport.com or directly to the reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You may want to eliminate some of your liabilities, such as credit card debt or student loans, in the shortest time at the lowest cost to allow you to live a pared down lifestyle. 

Next, total your assets. Once you have a clear idea of your assets, you’ll know what is at your disposal that might be able to be liquidated in order to reach the goal of one-income living. In rare cases, couples find that they need to move to a less expensive home or sell a vehicle to get their expenses to a number that can be managed with one income. You can conduct some research to determine the value of your assets. Call the mortgage company and see home equity you might have, then go to a website like Zillow or Eppraisal to get a rough idea of the fair market value of your home. Do the same for car loans at sites like Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book to determine the “private party” value of your vehicles and other assets as well.

Step three: project your “one income” numbers
What will the true impact of half -price living be on your expenses?  What income streams will you eliminate? What expenses will remain? There are some great tools available to help you properly align your expectations of life on a reduced income, such as the Retirement Living Expenses Calculator available on the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council website. 

If your current and projected numbers are out of sync, you will need to assess your situation to see if there are any realistic changes you can make to scale down your lifestyle. Can you eliminate any unnecessary expenses, or minimize variable expenses? Maybe you don’t need a premium cable package. Or perhaps, you could adopt some energy conserving practices to lower your monthly utility bills.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” for the adventure of half-price living, but frugal living can be a path to help you reach your goals both now and in the future. By setting aside 30 minutes a day to devote to each of these steps, it will only take a week to have a good idea if it is feasible to live a good life on a reduced income.

Ellie Kay is a regular expert on national television with ABC NEWS NOW’s Money Matters show. She is also a national radio commentator, a frequent media guest on Fox News, and CNBC, a popular international speaker, and the best-selling author of fourteen books including her newest release, The Sixty Minute Money Workout (Waterbrook, 2010)




9/21/13

An Uncomfortable Truth: America's Comfortable Lifestyle

Reading changes us. Authors can help us focus our thoughts on uncomfortable truths. Then it's up to us to act.

Two authors' words have so gripped my heart. I have to face my selfishness and unbiblical living. First I read Jen Hatmaker's 7: An Experimental Mutiny against Excess

In 7, Hatmaker describes the excesses of American living, and her radical response. She identified seven areas of excess and made seven simple choices over a span of seven months to stand against modern-day greed, materialism and overindulgence.

Her humorous-yet-convicting journal describes the ups and downs she faced in dealing with seven areas: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste and stress. She, her family (to a degree), and a women's "Council" who joined her on this journey spent 30 days highlighting each issue.

During each month of focus, the "seven" concept flowed throughout her experiment in fighting excesses:
  1. Only eating seven foods
  2. Only wearing seven articles of clothing
  3. Only spending money in seven places
  4. Eliminating the use of seven media types
  5. Giving seven things away each day
  6. Adopting seven "green" habits
  7. Observing "seven sacred pauses

Hatmaker was honest ... it wasn't easy. I have to admit, I wonder if I could survive! I am so spoiled.

My takeaway from the book is a pursuit of simplicity and generosity with greater understanding of my need for disciplined, selfless living, more "space" to seek God and greater gratitude. HUGE gratitude. I may not follow Hatmaker's formula, but my thinking has changed and I definitely have already altered my lifestyle.

Then, I read a blog post by "Amy," a servant of God working in Tanzania, who titled her post, "You don't know how good you've got it, Middle Class America."

"Amy" also described the incredible abundance and values Americans take for granted. Her observations were written after a week in culture shock, and she compares America's bounty and privileges with the conditions millions upon millions face every day.

Amy highlighted vast differences in security, freedoms, availability of food and water, consumerism, education, medical care, community services and governmental involvement. Some telling statements:
  • You don't have to walk five miles to find water that's full of cholera.
  • Your family lives in an entire house, not just one room in a house.  And even then, you have to rent a storage unit because you can't fit all of your stuff into it.
  •  You have a fair amount of confidence that your child will live until adulthood.
  •  our government has checks and balances, and you are not ruled by a ruthless dictator who feeds people to his crocodiles for fun. 
Most Americans don't have a clue how blessed we are!

Her conclusion? Amy echoes Jen's call to biblical stewardship. Stewardship of our time. Stewardship of our money. Stewardship of our possessions. Stewardship of the earth. Stewardship of every good gift God provides.

"Middle Class America, I know your lives aren't perfect," Amy wrote. "But to whom much has been given, much will be expected." Her mindset comes directly from scripture (Luke 12, especially verses 15, 21-23, 30-34, 48).

I will stand before God to account for His bountiful gifts (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12) ... how I used them ... how I shared them ... when I met the needs of the poor, hungry and nearly-naked ... whether I stood against injustice.

Once our eyes are opened, how can we ever again say we "didn't see"?

8/24/13

How to Do 'Exploits' for God in Our Culture

Ours isn't the first age, the first culture needing to see the mighty hand of God working through His people.  

All through the ages, the enemy tried to destroy the plan, works and people of God, and there was always a brave servant of God ready to stand for truth and righteousness.

It's no different today.

So much of the Bible is the story of the Jews standing strong in a culture intent on wiping them out.

I think of the Israelites in Egypt, led out by the obedient servant of God, Moses (Exodus 4:23; 9:1). Then there was Queen Esther, who stood in courage to save her people from destruction (Esther 4:16). There were martyrs who suffered and died, staying true to Jehovah God and His Son throughout the Old and New Testaments (Hebrews 11).

A scripture verse that has captured my heart in these days when I am grieving over our national sin, sin in the church and sin in our families is Daniel 11:32b:
"the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action." (ESV)
Other versions say, "do exploits." I like that word. It speaks of an adventure with God!

In the context of this chapter, Daniel saw the succession of kings in two empires, embattled Persia and Greece. God's people were affected by these nations and their fighting, and yet God expected the Children of Israel  to stand strong against the ungodliness of their day, not to run and hide. One of the kings in Daniel 11 stood in direct opposition to God, speaking high and mighty things "against the God of Gods," much like the New Atheists in our culture.

Yet nestled in the midst of this chapter is the powerful scripture highlighted above, a passage that assures us knowing God is the key to courageous actions that make a difference in taking a stand in a society that is increasingly "spiritual" but not knowing the God of the Bible or actively resisting Him.

Our "knowing" is not merely trusting God for salvation, but the kind of knowledge that makes us courageous with strong apologetics and the well-reasoned, rational thinking* that allows us to intersect with our culture. [*I highly recommend the book Thinking Christianly by Jonathan Morrow, Zondervan, 2012.]

Our heavenly Father wants His children to see and understand Him, to "perceive" Him. God wants us to know that none of the wickedness in our culture takes Him by surprise, and to know and understanding who He is. We can do nothing in and of ourselves to change our culture, but we can be strong in our mighty God's power. We can do exploits - strong actions that arise out of our relationship with Him. Our strength comes as we rest in His truth, the light for our journey in this dark, sinful world.

This is Old Testament truth. Moses prayed for God to reveal Himself and His ways, not only for Himself, but for his nation (Exodus 33:13).

But it's New Testament truth too, because, for the Christian there is additional understanding. Jesus, the Son of God, is the channel of God's power in our lives. We come to the Father "in the name of Jesus" (Matthew 21:22; John 14:13-14; 16:24) - and that is no wimpy name! In Jesus' name, things change. He heals, He transforms, He frees and He rules. He speaks with authority (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:32) .
Why would we not expect Him to do mighty works in and through us?
Paul spoke often about knowing God and His Son, such as in Philippians 3:10. In Ephesians 1:17-19, he prayed for the church, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.... and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe...."

See it? Knowledge of God is connected to experience of His mighty power.  
We must know God - His Word, will and ways - and in that knowing we will discover His marching orders to effect change.
If we want more power in God, we must crave to know Him more - not for the power, but for His presence. We need to know more than we read about Him in books; we need to know Him by experience, to see Him as He is and understand His will. We need to know we can trust Him. This knowledge comes from the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (v. 17).

As we better know the Lord through beholding Him in His Word, the most powerful change will be God's transformation of our hearts. And then He will empower us to do His work.

Perhaps one of the reasons so few of us are doing "exploits" is that we are more concerned with other things - even with serving God - than knowing Him in His majesty and power.

How do we "do exploits" for God in our country? 
(1) Know your God. (2) Get your marching orders. (3) Trust God. (4) Go be brave!

Where have you experienced God's power as you grew to know Him more?

7/24/13

Go Be Brave!

I encouraged a friend recently with my new mantra:  "Go Be Brave!"
Let me explain how that mantra surfaced.

Everyone knows life's uncertainties can keep us confused and perhaps cowering. We grow frustrated and afraid.

Think about it:

  • Listen to the news or read daily headlines and sense the tension and chaos in our age. 
  • Read books and blog posts about foolish financial choices, government scandals, abortion, sexual trafficking, immorality and unethical decisions in every area of the culture, and you might say, "Has the world gone mad?"
  • Listen to what most college students espouse - the anti-God philosophies being taught in the average university - and you'll wonder where reason and sanity have gone. 
  • Evaluate the nation's homes and grieve over the mixed-up roles and lack of love.
  • Listen to many of the sermons in America's churches and be shocked that we have so far wandered from the truth of scripture.
In the beginning, God told Adam and Eve to "subdue the earth" (Genesis 1:28) - the first mandate. God wanted mankind to rule over the earth - good rulership and good stewardship - doing what is right for the world as we serve Him.

I think that is still the mandate for the Christian. We can be part of managing God's world and all who live here, and people do not have to agree with us for us to do the Lord's work. We can love, serve, encourage, teach, admonish, counsel ... any number of things to honor God and accomplish His purposes.

But we cannot do this if we sit in our homes, afraid.

It's true, some "uncertainties" are realities, and we need to keep these realities in mind as we consider what God might have us do.

We know that:
  • life is short (a vapor, James 4:14)
  • death is certain (Hebrews 9:27)
  • riches are fleeting (Proverbs 23:5)
  • friends might prove unfaithful (John 16:32)
  • popularity withers (1 Peter 1:24)  
  • beauty fades (Psalm 39:11)
  • we can't count on our government's promises or leaders' expertise (Psalm 146:3)
  • and we're not promised tomorrow (Proverbs 27:1) - except for the Christian hope of heaven.

The only thing that matters is God and what He has planned for us - what He wants us to do, things that count for eternity (God and His Word and the forever-souls of men). These have got to be our priorities, because they are His priorities.  

We need to speak, teach and promote God's truth. We need to seek the souls who are wandering without Him.

I've discovered:
It's easy to stand back and complain. It's harder to stand up and act. It's easy to scoff at Satan's strategies. It's harder to expose the enemy's lies and speak up for the truth of a biblical worldview. It's easy to blast others for their sin. It's harder to see them with the Father's eyes and love them with the Savior's love. It's easy to offer excuses for why we can't get involved. It's harder to offer practical help that makes a difference. 

God may call some to a large platform, a big pulpit. He may call others to pray, write or serve in relative obscurity. But He does call.

Whatever our calling, we must pray for backbone to not only recognize the darkness, not only stand against the lies, but also charge forward armed with the armor of God, taking back ground from the enemy.

The call will look different for every person. It might be as simple as taking a bag of groceries to a hurting family that looks and acts much different from you. It might mean selling some of your material goods to offer money to a ministry dealing with sexual trafficking. Or volunteering at a care center to help troubled pregnant teens. Or teaching a class of refugees English so they can read God's
Word. Or teaching a class of inner-city kids who don't have a clue about ethics or morality. Or learning to how to give a reasoned answer to skeptics.

The important thing is to answer God's call with faith and courage. It's YOUR call.

God has already called us to serve Him and subdue the earth. If we know the truth that sets people free, what's holding us back?

Don't be afraid of criticism. As author Andy Andrews said, "Those who are critical of my goals and dreams simply do not understand the higher purpose to which I have been called." The same might be said of those who criticize our stand for truth.

So as I wrote earlier, my new mantra for women is, "Go Be Brave!" And that's what I'd say to you today if you shared your concerns for the culture, the church or your family with me ... or if you shared your dreams.



7/20/13

Platform versus Daily Grind

A statement by Ray Ortlund about pastors made me think about my blogging posts and ministry.

"I am not impressed by young pastors who seem too eager to publish books and speak at big events and get noticed," Ortlund said. "They are doing the work of the Lord, and that's good. But what impresses me is my dad's daily slogging, year after year, in the power of the Spirit, with no big-deal-ness as the payoff. This is the pastoral ministry that brings Jesus into the world today."

Every Christ-follower who blogs and tweets needs to take that to heart. Every believer who has a dream of "big-time ministry" needs to consider those words. God has not called Christians to "get noticed" or find personal fulfillment or even be a "success" (as the world deems success). He has called us to complete our mission. 

That mission - the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) - takes on many forms, reaching the world through the various gifts and callings of the ministry. Most are called to slog away in the trenches, serving others. Some are called to higher platforms.

That word "platform" can be a good thing or bad. It is good if it launches us into greater creative opportunities to love others with the love of Christ and draw them to consider the Gospel message. It can be bad if it's all about self-fulfillment, climbing social ladders, or becoming a look-at-me celebrity.

The enemy delights in confusing us about our motives. We are called to transformation, not conformity (Romans 12:2), so we need to test how and why we minister to be sure we are following the "good and acceptable and perfect" will of God.

When our platform (which encases not only our identity and voice, but also our goals and launching pad for outreach) becomes corrupted by "self" thinking rather than centered in Christ, we get distracted from the mission. The adversary loves to distract us with good things in order to "devour" us (1 Peter 5:8). 

Life isn't about how many followers we get on Twitter and Facebook. It's about seeking followers for the Lord of Lords and His kingdom. Life isn't about book deals and speaking opportunities. These are merely vehicles to spread the power of the Word of God. 
We have to keep our perspective and priorities straight, especially concerning our platform.

I need to remember that when the enemy tempts me to think I'm failing with social media, unappreciated because no book deals come, or unwanted when my speaking calendar is empty.

Certainly, there are always things I can learn to upgrade my outreach - technical know-how and marketing strategies. But the problem is just that. There are always more things to learn, and if I'm not careful I will focus more on the voices calling me to "learn, learn, learn" than listening to my marching orders from God.

I will continue to learn and take action on what I take in, and if God brings a greater platform for ministry, I'll praise Him for it.

But I must never despise the daily grind of obedience - the daily "yeses" of obedience to the Spirit of God. Whether it means writing a simple post or cleaning a toilet, it must ever be my joy to follow Christ, wherever and however He leads.

Are you struggling with the "platform" thing? Are you distracted from the mission?

6/20/13

Single-Focused: 9 Lessons for Singles - Part 2


In Part 1 of "Single-Focused," we learned five lessons from different authors who wrote to single Christians. In summary, we learned:

  • The key to experiencing contentment, a full life and abundant joy as a single is to discover and embrace the plan and calling of God for my life.
  • God wants me to model femininity, no matter my status or occupation, but also to learn skills for ministry.
  • I need to get radical about not "awakening" love until the appropriate time.
  • God expects me to maintain personal purity, whether I am single, married, or widowed.
  • I must accept and appreciate my desires as a means to my holiness and greater intimacy with God who loves me.
Let's continue with the next four lessons.

Lesson 6: I must embrace the potential power and influence of my femininity, not only in my ministry, but especially in my relationships with men.

For years, perhaps because of the influence of secular works I read in my youth, I looked down on femininity and saw it as weakness. The more I read about the strong women in scripture, however, the more I understood God's plan. I can be a feminine-yet-fierce Warrior Woman for the Kingdom of God. A truly feminine woman appreciates how God has designed her, and nurtures others with strength and passion.

In Leslie Ludy's book, Answering the Guy Questions, she touched on this. "As women, we have a far greater power over the course of masculinity than most of us realize," Ludy said. "We can use our femininity to influence men toward strength or toward weakness. Unfortunately, most of us don't use our feminine power correctly." (6)

Ludy (also the author of Set-Apart Femininity), pointed out some "twisted imitations of God's original design for womanhood," including arrogant femininity, nagging femininity, seductive femininity and controlling femininity.

Lesson 7: I must never settle for less than God's best regarding a potential mate. 

I almost did. Twice. But God guarded my heart until I learned to guard it better myself. He used people and circumstances, and especially the scriptures, to keep me from making serious mistakes.

Renee Fisher wrote about this principle in Not Another Dating Book. In the devotional titled "More," she wrote, "Scripture reminds us not to settle for less." She told the story of the young king Amaziah (2 Chronicles 25:1-9) who was warned by a man of God not to rely on his impressive army for victory. The man of God told the king (verse 9), "The Lord is able to give you much more than this!"

Fisher expounds, "More. God had something better in mind for Amaziah, and He has the very best in mind for you." (7)

Waiting on God is never futile. Waiting for His best is never foolish. (On the other hand, while we are waiting and learning how to recognize God's best, we also need to remember that we are all frail-and-failing flesh. A perfect Prince Charming simply does not exist. The only perfect man was Jesus.) Trust God instead of leaning on your "own understanding" ... don't be "wise in your own eyes" (Proverbs 3:5-7).

Fisher's new Kindle ebook, Loves Me Not, continues her exploration into the ups and downs of singleness and relationships, and how to pursue God as the love of your life.

Lesson 8:  I must never put my life "on hold" waiting for a man to fulfill my life. My deepest needs - especially for love - are only satisfied as I focus on Jesus Christ.

Lydia Brownback explored this truth in her book, Fine China Is for Single Women Too. "... life doesn't begin when you get married," she wrote. "This is your life! You will never find contentment in living for what you hope tomorrow may hold .... Life is not a spectator sport... So start living!"

Brownback quotes Joshua Harris: "Don't do something about your singleness; do something with it." Fine china is not just for married women, she says, and neither is a purpose-filled life. Every single woman can seek God for the unique contributions He has ordained her to make for the Kingdom and to serve others.

"If you actively pursue a Christ-centered focus in all you are and do, you will find your mind and heart being transformed to desire Him above anything else..." Brownback said. "Ask God to make Christ the deepest longing, the one thing above all else that you yearn for.... This is a prayer He will surely answer. As your heart for Christ grows stronger, your contentment will deepen, because you will be receiving the desire of your heart." (8)

She quotes the scripture I embraced in my 20s, Psalm 37:4: "Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." His desires became mine, and it was my joy to follow Him.


Lesson 9: Get Lost in the One Who Loves You Most!

Dannah Gresh has a brand new book, Get Lost: Your Guide to Finding True Love. She tells girls to be so "lost in God" that a guy will have to seek Him to find her.

Gresh wrote, "My own unholy desires began to fade, and I was tamed by God's desires for me. I was able to approach this whole guy/girl thing with incredible certainty and joy that the God of the universe had a good plan for me, and I needed to stop messing it up with mine." (9)

Each of these authors have far more to share than I posted here, and I recommend their books. But as I read their wise insights, I realize how God protected my young heart and prepared me for the life I now share with my husband. In those early years, I learned to trust Jesus, rely on Him for everything, embrace my womanhood and femininity, keep my mind and body pure and discern ways to influence others for good.

If you are single today, you are not alone, though you may sometimes feel lonely and confused. God wants to draw you close to His heart and enlist you in the great adventure He has planned for you. All that He asks is that you are single-focused on Him.

Did you learn something new in these eight lessons? What is God teaching you, as a single Christian?
(Footnotes continued from part 1)
(6) Leslie Ludy, Answering the Guy Questions, pp. 52, 53ff.
(7) Renee Fisher, Not Another Dating Book, p. 144
(8) Lydia Brownback, Fine China is for Single Women Too, intro and pp. 75-84, 105-106

(9) Dannah Gresh, Get Lost: Your Guide to Finding True Love, Ch. 1.

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with everything that these eight authors have written, but I do agree with these statements, as presented in the eight lessons. - Dawn Wilson


6/19/13

Single-Focused: 9 Lessons for Singles - Part 1


"Single-Focused" deals with nine lessons for Single Christians - five lessons today, and four more tomorrow.

Singles make up a huge part of American society. At some point in our lives, we are all single!




According to the 2012 census, there are 102 million unmarried people in the USA, a group comprising 44.1 percent of all US residents ages 18 and older. Fifty-three percent are women and 47 percent are men. Sixty-two percent have never been married, 24 percent were divorced, and 14 percent, widowed. Seventeen million were age 65 and older.


It's been a long time since I've been a single, but I remember what it felt like and many of the challenges I faced.

I made a decision as a 20-year-old, after a young man broke my heart, to focus on the presence of God. It was a choice I will never regret, because it changed my perspective and purpose in life. Although God brought me a husband, the things He taught me as a single girl were priceless - things that still guide my life today.


So learn these lessons well ... Each author has something important to teach you.



Lessons for Single Christians

Lesson 1. The key to experiencing contentment, a full life, and abundant joy as a single is to discover and embrace the plan and calling of God for my life.


Nancy Leigh DeMoss wrote about this in Singled Out for Him. "In the will of God, singleness is an incredible gift, to be received with gratitude and to be used for the glory of God... Over the years, I have come to realize that contentment is a choice.


"True joy is not the result of having everything I want, but of gratefully receiving exactly what God has given me... The fact is, if we're not content with what we have, we will never be content with what we think we want." (1)


If you are single, it is not by mistake. It is God's plan for now and it is good. Some Christians are afraid that if they tell God they are OK with their single status, He'll never let them get married! True contentment views God as sovereign and trustworthy, and believes that He knows and wants the best for us. Contentment is an act of faith.


Lesson 2. God wants me to model femininity, no matter my status or occupation, but also to learn skills for ministry.


In Single and Satisfied, Audrey Lee Sands wrote about her arrival on the mission field and trying to figure out how to function there as a single woman. She discovered that while she had to be under authority and ladylike, she was also expected to be independent and more self-sufficient than the wives at the mission compound.


She wrote, "You don't have to be masculine to know how to do a few things. Being feminine doesn't mean you are helpless and have to make a nuisance of yourself." (2)


Sands encouraged women to give men every opportunity to be manly, but don't be a wimp - good advice for me, since I have lived so much of my married life alone because of my husband's traveling ministry. I've had the opportunity to learn many skills that have proved vital in my home and ministry. 


Lesson 3: I need to get radical about not "awakening" love until the appropriate time.


In her book, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl, Paula Hendricks explains how crucial this is. "In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus unpacks one of the Ten Commandments in a way that will blow your mind," Hendricks said. "In Matthew 5:28–30, He's saying that even if there’s something incredibly valuable to you, if it is causing you to sin, then you should get hard core about removing it from your life. 



"While you and I have to expect temptation, we sure don’t have to feed it!" she said. (3) Hendricks' lesson is a message for all ages, but especially for younger women.

Lesson 4. God expects me to maintain personal purity, whether I am single, married, or widowed.


Joy Jacobs and Deborah Strubel wrote a book titled Single, Whole and Holy: Christian Women and Sexuality. While acknowledging the pull of the culture toward sexual immorality, the authors make it clear that sexual sin threatens the credibility of our personal walk with God and reflects on the whole of Christianity.


While acknowledging women's struggle with emotions, the battle for sexual purity "is a battle of the mind," they say. "Our thought choices determine our feeling choices and our behavior choices." (4)


I learned years ago to "guard my heart" (Proverbs 4:23) and thoughts (Romans 12:2). Don't let the enemy lie to you about sexual purity. A little bit of sex outside marriage will harm you. Everyone is not doing it, even though many people struggle with temptation. It's a big deal, and even if no one finds out - you will know. God will know. It's not a matter of self-control (human effort), but rather God's spirit controlling you as you walk with Him, as you acknowledge Him in the midst of your temptation and use the Word of God skillfully.


Lesson 5: I must accept and appreciate my desires as a means to my holiness and greater intimacy with God who loves me.


In her powerful book, Thrive: The Single Life as God Intended - probably the most insightful book I've ever read for singles - Lina Abujamra reminds readers that God wants much more for us than we dare to imagine. She writes, "Your desires are not meant to defeat you. Your desires are a gift that God as given to you to draw you into greater intimacy with Him. The road to greater intimacy with the Lord is called your sanctification process, and it is evidenced by an increasing holiness in your life."

Younger singles, especially, may view holiness as archaic or boring, Abujamra understands their mindset. "Right now, you're too cool to be a holy roller," she wrote. "Holiness gets a bad rap. Who, in their right mind, wants to be holy? Can't we settle for just normal?" Yet she assures readers that holiness, properly understood, is God's plan for every single Christian, "and it's His goal for you if you want to thrive," she said. (5)


Her no punches-pulled book will especially encourage singles caught in the trap of sexual sin. She presents an uncompromising biblical message, but then offers powerful hope.


Tomorrow ... four more lessons.

Which of the lessons, so far, is the most difficult for you to accept or practice as a single Christian?


(1) Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Singled Out for Him, pp. 11-12.
(2) Audrey Lee Sands, Single and Satisfied, p. 79
(3) Paula Hendricks, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl (Moody Publishers, releasing Sept. 1, 2013)
(4) Joy Jacobs and Deborah Strubel, Single, Whole and Holy, p. 12
 (5) Lina Abujamra, Thrive: The Single Life as God Intended, pp. 95-97



5/23/13

Decision-making - With or Without God?

The topic of choices has been one of my favorite occupations since childhood. I've always been intrigued - ever since I studied the life of the biblical Solomon - by the way people's decisions send them down different paths. The choices we make between wisdom and foolishness are crucial and they design our lives.

When Michael Hyatt promoted a new book by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath on his blog, he got my attention. I will admit that I  have not yet read Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, so I can't comment much about the content. But I would like to respond to some excerpts from the book that Hyatt quoted.

According to the Heath brothers, "When it comes to making decisions, it's clear that our brains are flawed instruments." I'd like to know how they define "flawed," and expect that when I read their book, I'll understand what they mean.

But I don't believe human minds were always flawed. Adam and Eve made a foolish, willful choice, but I don't believe their minds were darkened before the Fall. The mind, emotions and will were all damaged by the entrance of sin into the world.

But let me go on to their understanding of "the problem."

The authors, Hyatt explains, point out the "four villains" when it comes to making decisions. Though I don't claim to be as brilliant as these men, I do want to make some observations.

First, they say, "We have too narrow (a) focus. We are guilty of 'spotlight thinking.' We focus on the obvious and visible. We miss important facts outside our immediate view."

I'd agree, totally, but from this perspective. We are merely human. We are not God. We don't live in the outer spans of eternity; we're stuck in the here and now. But we can know God and learn His wisdom. Wisdom, in fact, is seeing life from the eternal perspective of God, the ultimate authority and ultimate standard.

The Heaths suggest, in a first step to counteracting the villains in the decision-making process - "Widen your options." Yes, we do need to think outside the box and unleash our creativity. But the scriptures tell us "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). There are options outside mere human thinking and "the knowledge of the Holy One is insight."

Their second villain is, "We fall into confirmation bias. We develop a quick belief about something and then seek out information that confirms that belief."

All of us have a worldview. And we all have a tendency to seek information that validates that worldview. We can be more open-minded, certainly, but the Christian will always be wise to filter information through the Word of God. Before we make a decision, we should ask, does this new idea or information align with scripture? the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 3:19-20; Colossians 2:8). The Heaths say, "Reality-test your assumptions." What better reality is there than the truth and wisdom principles of the Bible?

Third, they say, "We get caught in short-term emotion. We are too emotionally connected to the decision and struggle with being appropriately detached."

I would agree there. They say, "Attain distance before deciding." And that is where I think prayer makes a difference for the believer. We can step back and trust the One who knows all things for guidance when we are frustrated, confused, paralyzed with fear or lacking confidence. We can ask God for clear direction and wisdom (Psalm 25:4; James 1:5). We can hand over our decision to Him, pray for direction, and either wait patiently for His leading or move forward when He makes the next step clear. Trust and acknowledging God's control are key responses in decision-making (Proverbs 3:5-6).

And finally, the Heath brothers say, "We are guilty of overconfidence. We assume that we know more than we actually do know and jump to conclusions, thinking we can accurately predict the future."

I'd really agree there. Proverbs 3:7 tells us "Be not wise in your own eyes." Our pride can cause us to make wrong decisions. The Heaths do say, "Prepare to be wrong." The problem is, overconfidence - or even powerful self-confidence - will never take us as far as God-confidence. Our thinking is weak, limited and temporal compared to the wisdom of God. Making decisions based on the Word, will, and ways of God will encourage spirit of humility and teachability in us. And those are good attitudes to have in the decision-making process.

Let me hasten to say that I am eager to read Decisive, because I think it will offer many positive tools and strategies to help people (myself included) make better choices. But I'm going to admit right now that I have four perspectives.  

When making decisions as a biblical Christian:
  1. I rely on the authority, standards and character of God.
  2. I seek the wisdom of God in the scriptures (and through godly counsel).
  3. I pray with a spirit of surrender and expectancy.
  4. I realize my needs and come to God with a humble, teachable spirit.

I think those are good choices for making all decisions. Wouldn't you agree?