Goals: How to be used by God

One of the biggest fears I battle as a writer is of “being found out.”

You see, I have no credentials, really. No degree to vouch for my knowledge, no wealth of experience in the marketplace to give me a portfolio that I can offer for your inspection.

I’m just a wife and mom. I’m a middle-aged, homeschooling southern girl who has loved to put words together since the sixth grade. And I am a believer in Jesus.

But I’m also a student. Always seeking and learning, I peruse the Bible almost daily, comparing translations, exploring apologetics, reading and gleaning from the research and knowledge of those who do have the credentials and portfolios.

Most importantly, I have the Holy Spirit…my teacher and yours if you have surrendered your life to the risen Christ.

Today I was reading in Acts 18 and I felt a kinship with Apollos:

A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately. When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. 

Acts 18:24-28 HCSB

Apollos reminds me a lot of myself.  He was passionate, good with words, and intent on sharing what the Lord had taught him with the world around him, but he lacked an important credential in the eyes of many believers:

He had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Matthew Henry says this:

“Though he had not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, as the apostles, he made use of the gifts he had…He was a lively, affectionate preacher; fervent in spirit.  He was full of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of precious souls. Here was a complete man of God, thoroughly furnished for his work.” (emphasis mine)

What a relief! Apollos did not let what some might consider lack to stop him.  He didn’t know it all, most likely did not have perfect theology, but he knew Jesus is the son of God who had died and been raised to life. Apollos taught what he knew!

How many times have I held back out of fear that someone would challenge my words, asking questions that I might not be able to answer? How often have I compared myself to other writers who have accomplished great literary achievements while I was blogging between teaching my kids about Christopher Columbus and trying to get them to stop eating their boogers?

But those years of waiting, those seasons of introspection and teaching of the simplest things, were God’s training ground for what I am doing now. He taught me to find my voice, little by little, breaking down the wall of fear and coaxing me ever forward.  He showed me a greater purpose for this gift, one that may not win awards but it just might win souls.

After spending the entire morning thinking about Apollos, I realized there are four goals I can work toward based on what I read about him in Acts 18.

Goal #1: Be instructed in the way of the Lord.

I must never stop learning about the things of God. After 25 years of walking with Christ (some years better than others!) I am continually amazed at the bombshells He drops into my life when I spend real, quality time studying the Bible. I am convinced we cannot fully grow in the Spirit without the discipline of Bible study.

I’m talking about moving beyond devotionals. I enjoy a good devotional, but we need more. We need to go deep, to explore and dig into the word of God so that it can cut through our facade and get to the heart of who we are and what He wants for us. By the way, I can assure you it will take more than five minutes.

Don’t tell me you don’t have time.

I said that once, then Facebook was invented.

I apparently had plenty of time.

Goal #2: Be fervent in Spirit

Complacency kills. When being a Christian is a “fun fact” about me and not the core of who I am as a woman, God is reverted to being “the man upstairs” and Jesus to a friend who makes me feel good about myself.  But fervency means I am pressing in, letting the fire of the Holy Spirit refine me and correct my path as I walk with God.  It means I say no to things that interfere with the calling God has placed on my life and yes to His calling even when I am quaking in my boots. It means I spend large quantities of time on my knees and seek the heart of my Father through prayer and fasting. (I know what you are going to say…remember my aforementioned point about Facebook, or you can insert Instagram or Snapchat if that’s your jam.) I have to put Him first and recognize that Candy Crush (or whatever time-sucker you choose) probably isn’t going to draw me deeper into fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Sorry.

Goal #3: Speak and teach accurately the things concerning Jesus.

Have you noticed the trend to redefine Jesus Christ these days? There are myriads of teachers who are off just a hair, leading the masses into error because “most” of what they say is really good and the stuff that is off base is deemed to be no big deal in the big picture of Christianity.

But what if it is a really big deal?

In a recent sermon our pastor gave an illustration that brings the importance of Biblical accuracy to light.  If a pilot flies around the world and is off by only 1 degree, he would miss his landing target by 435 miles. He would not even be close to the landing strip, aiport, city and possibly even STATE where he wanted to land!

Accuracy matters. Appolos taught what he knew until he knew more. Which leads me to my next goal:

Goal #4: Be teachable and willing to learn from fellow Christians who are ahead of me in the game.

I don’t have a theology degree or a degree in apologetics.  I don’t even have a degree in writing!  But, as my kids have learned in music class, perfect practice makes practice perfect.

In order to teach and write well I must seek instruction from those who are solid in their relationship with God, full of the Holy Spirit, strong in theology and intellect and committed to absolute accuracy when teaching the Bible. And I must allow them to correct me when I am wrong, just as Apollos did. Verse 26 says, “When Priscilla and Aquilla heard his teaching, they took him home and explained the way of God more accurately.”

Apollos’ response wasn’t, “Fine, I give up.  I suck at this.  I should never have tried teaching about Jesus!”  Instead, he pressed forward, eager to cross to Achaia to continute what he had been doing but, now, with more knowledge and accuracy! And the Bible says in verse 27 that when Apollos arrived in Achaia he was a great help to those who had believed.

Isn’t that the goal?  Isn’t the whole reason God gives us gifts to bless and grow the Church?

What is a gift you long to develop?  What holds you back?  Pray for God to use it, to use you.  Seek ways to use the gifts you have kept on the backburner.  Trust Him when He says “go” and do it.  It’s ok if you are doing it scared, but you must do it! And when a fellow Christian pulls you aside to correct an error, receive it with grace and gratitude.  The better we are armed, the more effective the fight!

God wants to use you. I guarantee it.

The Peace of Advent

Mary’s relationship with her cousin, Elizabeth has been a source of fascination for me as Christmas nears. God provided much-needed community for the mother of Christ in Elizabeth, someone…the only one…who could begin to relate to what Mary had been chosen to walk though. As I tried to imagine their conversations, whispered by firelight after Zechariah was long-asleep, this poem was fashioned:

PEACE.

Who, besides you, would understand?

This holy secret, silent, yet unknown outside of my womb.

The angel spoke your name, Elizabeth.

He told me of your wonder

and of the babe.

Just look at you.

He kicks and your belly writhes and the smile

oh, the smile on your aged face.

Your wrinkles deepen as laugh-light sparks

from your faded eyes.

Renewed, you are.

Made new, fruitful, forever a part of the grand story,

His story,

of redemption.

Hold my hand.

Tell me what I already know

but need to hear afresh.

How God supplies the strength we both will need.

I am not afraid,

yet I am.

The war in my spirit rages

as the flesh across my belly tightens and bulges.

But here you stand before me,

evidence of our God weaving the promise

of atonement within me.

Within us.

These infant sons we bear,

destined for pain.

We walk the first steps with them on a path

rocky with hate and rejection.

Yet I see in you an acceptance

the peace of God that flows through your fingers to mine.

I feel His presence, overshadowed by Him since that night

the Spirit made me His mother.

Who, besides you, would understand?

I find it not a coincidence that you, my cousin, are the bearer

of the messenger.

Two women, forever connected by destiny.

Your companionship eases my heart.

Your trust increases my own.

Your embrace enfolds me in peace

that I may walk with my eyes fixed on this sacred privilege.

How to be True to Yourself

Boy, is this ever a big topic. So many books and blogs claim to have the answer but, when all is said and done, we still end up empty and searching. Advice ranges from getting a manicure to “washing your face.”

(Yeah, I went there.)

I, I, I, me, me, me…we fight for peace and rest and determine to recharge and charge forward, but for what? For “likes?” For fist bumps and “Yeah, girl, that’s right?” Is that what we are reduced to…our social media popularity and comment sections? Recognition from a world who stands against the things of God? Success that is temporal and cannot eternally satisfy our deepest longings?

In Romans 8, starting in verse 5, Paul explains where our focus should lie. Let me give you a hint…it is not on “self.”

At least not in the way today’s popular books would sell it.

Read this section of Scripture carefully …

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:5-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The only real method of self-care has nothing to do with yourself but everything to do with God.

Here are three important steps to truly taking care of yourself:

1. Set your mind on the things of the Spirit.

What dominates your thought life? The Kardashian’s? Sports? Chip and Jo? (Ouch…stepping on my own toes here!)

Do you fill your mind with truth or twaddle?

The answer to that question dictates how you live. What we feed our minds determines the fruit we will display in our everyday lives. Flesh equals death. Spirit equals life and peace. This passage tells us the flesh is actually HOSTILE to God! It does not like to be told what to do or how. (“Who are you to judge me?”) It doesn’t want to, nor is it even able to please God. To profess to be a Christian yet be unable to please God is scary. Very scary.

2. Be sure the Spirit dwells in you.

Paul’s assumption is that he is speaking to believers. But what if you have not surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus? Well, you are basically spinning your wheels. Without faith in Christ you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. If you are not certain, please contact me. I would love to help you get that settled once and forever.

3. Know who you are…and who you are not.

I am many things: wife, mom, writer, sister, teacher, friend. But above and beyond all of these I am a born-again child of God, daughter of the King, and forever alive because of the righteousness of Christ. His Spirit lives in me and gives life to my mortal body because Jesus rose from the dead and promises to do the same for me! This is EVERYTHING. This is the reason I live and breathe and get out of bed at sunrise to meet with Him. The flesh has no right over me because I owe everything to Jesus. If I belong to Him it affects everything I do, every word I speak, even the passive information I allow into my mind while going about my day.

My behavior is greatly affected by the contents of my mind…trash in equals trash out. Beauty and things of the Kingdom in equals peace and joy out.

If I choose obedience to God I choose life. If I follow the patterns and godless ways of the world I will suffer the same negative consequences in my life.

If I truly know who and WHOSE I am the very fabric of my days will change. My tastes and desires will be refined. I will find joy in living fully into who my Creator, who knows me best, says I am!

Here’s the point:

Do I enjoy self-care in the earthly sense? Sure! I don’t know many women who don’t like a good mani-pedi or massage. Being told I did a good job or that you like to read my blog 😉 always feels good and encouraging. But I want us to go deeper, to a more permanent solution to the inner battle we all fight each day. I want us to see where our value lies and know that if no one else is cheering us on, if finding time to be pampered is just not happening in this season but we are certain our lives count for the Kingdom of God then we can find joy in knowing we have achieved the highest of rewards and most holy of accolades from the only One whose opinion really matters.

In Heaven my feet won’t hurt, thus nixing the need for pedicures.

In Heaven I’m fairly certain we won’t need Facebook or Instagram.

And in Heaven we will be eternally satisfied to hear “Well done” from the Eternal One, Himself.

Live forward, dear one. You are who you will be! Walk in that knowledge and turn away from twaddle, beginning NOW. Don’t settle. Don’t compromise. Hold a high standard because Jesus regards you highly. He is worthy of our well-lived lives.

The Truth in Love: Finding Joy in Our Eternal Purpose

It’s a classic, this lie of the enemy that is circulating again.

Over and over it comes and wreaks toxic havoc on the Church, sadly predictable yet tragically effective

God’s people freeze in the face of it, wanting to combat it but afraid of playing into the stereotype  We waver, we go mute when confronted, and we justify our inability to defend the call of God to holiness by claiming to be trying to “love like Jesus” and “accept everyone.”

As a result, the church is weakened, shot in her foot by her very own, rendered useless in a dark society that is absolutely desperate for the light of Truth…the Light of Christ.

One of the main purposes of this space is to remind us to live forward…into who we will be.  Into who God says we are in eternity…which began when we surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ.

And without Truth, holiness and obedience to the Biblical standards of behavior laid out in the Word of God, that goal will remain unattainable.

We cannot live a life of joy without truth.  We cannot delight in the ways of God and experience the freedom of Christ when weighed down by sin.

In a recent resurgence of the argument to stay silent regarding sin in order to be appealing, a commenter made this statement:

“I don’t want to be known for what I am against, but for what I am for.  I choose to be silent unless I agree with what is being said.”

May I choose to differ?

Sisters, this is so very dangerous.  I get what she is saying. I understand wanting to draw people to Christ and I agree that Christians have been too eager to pass judgement on others while ignoring the planks sticking out of our own eyes.  But to refuse to speak the truth, to accept sin and sinful lifestyles and go so far as to call them holy and acceptable within the church of Jesus Christ is not helping anyone.

I speak as one saved from the depths.  I write as one rescued from the pit.  The most loving thing any sister in Christ has ever done for me is to call the sin in my life out and force me to see the choice laid out before me…obey God or not.

If my child reaches out to grab a dangerously hot pan on my stove, is it loving to encourage them to hold on to that pan, going so far as to celebrate it (calling them brave, etc.) regardless of the heat and the burns that will surely result?  Do I, out of refusal to judge their choice, turn away and just stand waiting over to the side with salve, hugs and bandages or do I grab their hands, pull them away from the stove and get down in their face with eyes of love to say, “My precious one, what you are doing will hurt you.  It will leave scars that may never heal.  I know you are hungry, I know you don’t understand why the handle on this pan is not safe to touch when other pans’ handles stay cool, but I promise you that this is dangerous and I love you too much to let you hurt yourself.”

This is the heart of speaking Truth in love.  This is how Jesus calls us to reach out to this lost and dying world.  When he healed the broken, He consistently told them to “Go and sin no more.”  SIN.  Jesus uses that word and so must we!  I could make a list of sins but I would surely leave some out and that would detract from the heart of this message.  You probably know the sins that are lurking in your life.  If you profess to be a follower of Jesus and have the Holy Spirit living in you, I imagine He is bringing them to mind as you read this.  It is imperative that we understand this core truth:  We cannot live a victorious life without obedience to the Word of God.  This is not contradictory to the doctrine of grace.  Grace is always present, always a hand catching us when we fall, but to quote the words of the Apostle Paul, a self-proclaimed Chief of Sinners and once-proud persecutor of the early church,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  Romans 6:1-4

Sisters, the world wants you to believe that “your best life” is one of rest, comfort, happiness, peace, and success in work and at home.  I want to tell you, in love, that this could not be further from the truth.  I am a huge believer in taking time for much-needed rest but to think that is our goal?  Absolutely not!  Our best life is one lived in surrender.  It may appear highly unsuccessful to the watching world.  It may involve poverty, injury, conflict and persecution.  BUT…It is a life marked by the fullness of Christ made manifest through the Holy Spirit living in us.  It is a life on an upward trajectory, being refined and continually made new as we learn God’s Word and apply it to our daily lives.  It is reading the whole counsel of Scripture, not just the “happy parts” or the popular verses that make us feel good.  It is looking back and seeing how what once enticed us has lost it’s glimmer, realizing how far we have come in our walk with Jesus and always recognizing how far we still have to go.  It is working out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) because we know that, without actively pursuing the things of God, we can too easily slip and fall.  We are utterly dependent on the grace and mercy of God for our every breath.  If we believe anything less we are like that child grabbing the hot pan on the stove.

And I want you to know, if you are my friend, I love you and I purpose to speak the truth to you in love.  I hope you love me enough to do the same.

Our lives our not our own.  This time in which we live?  It is not about us.  It is about God and His purposes in His eternal Kingdom.  It has nothing to do with what “we” are against and everything to do with a loving God who allowed His one and only Son to die a criminal’s death in order to pay the price for OUR SIN, to pull us out of the fire.  And God is for His Bride…the Church.  He is making her new and preparing garments of purest white, without stain or blemish, washed clean by the blood of His Son.

We are to go, to the ends of the earth and the house next door, and share the truth…the whole truth…of God’s love.  To do anything less is not like Jesus.

May we, His Beloved Bride, go and sin no more.

truth, love, daisy, jesus, white, blue flowers, grainy, summer, bible, holiness

Psalm 16

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
    in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

(The Word of the Lord)