Archive for the Category »spiritual life «

The Prison of Comparison
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Today I was asked “What is the devastating effect of comparison in a woman’s life?”  Here is my answer:

“I know I am not alone in this nagging sense of failing to measure up, a feeling of not being good enough as a woman. Every woman I’ve ever met feels it – something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does. An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is. I am not enough, and, I am too much at the same time. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough. But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy. The result is Shame, the universal companion of women. ” John and Stasi Eldridge Captivating
I read these words in 2005 and thought how is it possible for someone to write the exact things I think! This is spot on in my opinion. I am too much and not enough at the same time! And the kicker is that when living in the prison of comparison I assume and declare that every other woman in my life is a PERFECT balance of all those things that seem out of reach for me.  I am left discouraged and with a deep need to make something of myself.  Soon a pursuit of self promotion and improvement follows.  This pursuit left unchecked takes my time, my energy and my emotions.   Time, energy and emotions that could be used to bless His kingdom instead of building my own.
To me the devastating effect of the prison of comparison is that it steals my joy and sidelines me in the work of the Lord.

Reading Plans, YouVersion & John Piper
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I am not even sure when I first started using the YouVersion app for reading my Bible, but it is just old hat now.  I don’t carry my Bible to as many things as I used to.  I don’t need to, I have it with me all the time.  I have it with me when I go to church.  I have it with me when I am in the carpool line at the school.  I have it with me when I volunteer at my kid’s school.  I have it with me on field trips, public school field trips.  I have it with me when I attend a luncheon with the district superintendent.  I have it with me when I am in the grocery store and when I hit the gym.  I have it with me on the soccer field.  I have it with me because it is on my phone and easily accessed at all these locations!

A few months after I started using my app Bible more than my paper Bible I decided to give the reading plans a try.  I was hooked immediately!  It is so simple.  The reading plans keep a record of where I am, what I have read, what I need to read and all at the touch of my finger.  And when I complete a plan I get a little check off thrill and it goes in my completed plans list.  For this girl who loves lists and loves to check things off this is a thrill indeed and a good motivator.

Over the last 6 months, or so, I have been reading through the New Testament, and I am only a few chapters away from finishing.  It is the first thing I do in the morning, and I mean the first thing!  I grab my phone and without waking anyone who remains sleeping in my house I am reading away in my reading plan through different books in the Bible.  I love it!  It has changed the way I read.

I was excited to discover, thanks to my husband (!!), the following article.  John Piper has now put out seven new reading plans available in YouVersion.  As soon as I complete the last chapters of Revelation waiting for me I plan to choose one of these new plans and give it a try.

I am a big believer in change, in trying different things!  I do so with my Bible reading from time to time.  I have had several different methods and enjoyed them each for different reasons.  I will be blogging about different ways I have read my Bible in the future to give you ideas to try or fodder to spark your own ideas.  In the end what matters is our consistent time in His word in order to have consistent time at his feet, in this case at the touch of a finger!  A touch of a finger casts us down at his feet to sit and listen, anywhere, anytime!

 

Eve – The Pathway to Sin
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This semester the women’s Bible study that I am involved in leadership with is working through Life Principles from the Women of the Bible, by Wayne Barber, Eddie Rasnake and Richard Shepherd.  I had the opportunity to teach the lessons on Eve and on Deborah.  We covered Eve a several weeks ago and I would like to invite you to listen in.  You can find the lesson on our Pod Cast Media page.

Have you ever considered what it would be like to be famous for the worst thing you ever did, your biggest mistake, greatest failure in judgment and action?  That is what it would feel like to be Eve.  Through the account in Genesis 3 we can see a clear path that led to sin, one we can learn from.  Grab a Bible and look along with me at what the Lord has to share with us through the life of Eve.

The lesson on Deborah will be available soon.

 

 

The Power of Accountability & Friendship!
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In the last 12 years there has been one constant tool the Lord has used in my life to bring growth in my spiritual walk…friendship and accountability!

Twelve years ago I started meeting with a small group of ladies for accountability, not Bible study, but accountability and prayer.  Each week we openly shared with each other how we were doing in our walks with the Lord.

Each week we answered the following questions using the acronym SOAP:

Scripture (How have I done with reading God’s Word in the last week, what am I learning?)

Outreach (How am I doing loving on others and reaching out to them?)

Accountability (What area of my life do I need to be asked about, where am I struggling, or where do I need a gentle push to get something I know needs to be done…done?)

Prayer (What do I need prayer for?)

It would be impossible for me to describe how much this faithful meeting impacted my life and spiritual walk.  Having to share with others how I am doing every seven days really helped me develop some life habits I had been longing to develop.   I work well with accountability!  I don’t mean the in-your-face discouraging accountability but the cheerleader you-can-do-it kind.  I don’t need someone to beat me up, I need someone to say “Mandy, you can do this and you need to.  I am going to ask you about it again next week.  Oh, and I love you.”

Another acronym that I have used are the M’s: Master, Marriage, Mothering and Ministry.

Master (How am I in my walk with the Lord, my master?  How are my daily times with Him?)

Marriage (This is a question focused on me as a wife.  What and how am I growing as a wife?  This is NOT a time for me to gripe about my husband, there never is a time for that!  What areas of wifeliness do I want to work on?)

Mothering (How is my relationship with my kids?  Are there things I need encouragement to do in relating to them and taking care of their needs?)

Ministry (How am I reaching out to others?  Where am I using my god given gifts to bring him glory?)

Let me state this clearly: For me kind accountability from friends who I know love and support me has been life changing!


A little over a year ago I heard about Hello Mornings, an online accountability challenge for women.  Knowing the value of accountability I wanted to know more.  Hello Mornings is a gathering place for women who long to be consistent in their seeking of the Lord, planning their days purposefully and exercising.  The challenge runs for 15 weeks.  Through different social media avenues or email a group of ladies work to encourage and hold each other accountable to spend time with the Lord daily, to plan out their days and to exercise.

I am on my second session of Hello Mornings, and it has been encouraging and helpful in setting patterns in my life.  The two groups I have been a part of have functioned using a private Facebook group.  On the group page ladies check in and give an account of how they are doing, some do so daily, others weekly.  There is honesty in those posts and encouragement in the comments, it is great!

Accountability can come in many forms.  If you have not given this a try, I would ask “why not?”…it is well worth it!

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or Christian?
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So if the Christian church is “advertising” the gospel is it the best approach to push the “buying point” as saying a prayer of repentance and belief, and then follow that up with the “now you are in the family of God” proof-texting? Trust me, this is an honest question and not a leading question. And I don’t want to make it “hard” to believe in Christ. And as Mike said on Wednesday, I do not see any evidence in scripture that there is anything other than Christ’s death and resurrection which accomplishes salvation, which is attained by faith, and that there is not some separate step of “Lordship” that goes after salvation, etc. But I, along with scores of others, have led many in the process and have often ended with something like:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10.27-29

or, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” –Romans 8.16

Not only have I led people in this, I have trained hundreds of teens and adults to share their faith in this way.

Then I read a very well done study and well written synopsis of the culture of Christianity in American teenagers by Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, titled . Through their study they write a strikingly precise summation of what I have observed in the general culture of teens and what I think can be applied to age groups much older and still be on target with reality:

“in the ecology of American adolescents’ lives, religion clearly operates in a social-structurally weak position, competing for time, energy, and attention and often losing against other, more dominant demands and commitments, particularly school, sports, television, and other electronic media.” (p161)
“…we suggest that the defacto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what we might well call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.’ The creed of this religion…sounds something like this:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about onesself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
    (p162-163)

How is the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God ending up with a result like this!? I know there are various contributors, some of which I have already talked about in the faith-science dichotomy and truth approach. But a large contributor is our focus on a one-time decision prayer, life insurance policy type salvation experience. If you are a Christian today and someone asks you how you know or why you are a Christian, please don’t say “because when I was 5 (or 25) I prayed a prayer…” or if you do say something like that it is only the first half of the first sentence which then goes on to talk about how the living Spirit of God is at work in your life yesterday and TODAY. (Oh, and doubts are fine! I think that is one of the greatest things about faith, doubts can be and should be aired out and wrestled with)

I don’t find a story in the Bible where a person is given assurance of their salvation based on a prayer they prayed in the past. I find reminders of individuals belief of the belief of a community of people, but no assurance. In fact when these reminders of belief are given it is often followed up with the telling of how they are still being “faithful” or “fruitful” in their belief. Additionally, Paul urges us to live, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2.6) It seems that the greater biblical support refers to a continual faith-living, believing, or fruitful life as assurance of our salvation.

So I don’t think it is wrong to encourage that one-time prayer of salvation, and the followup “family of God” / “Now you’re ‘in'” encouragement, I just think it is incomplete. But I want to be careful, because I don’t think the “completeness” of it is to then say, “now you need to obey the law…” which will tend to be a legalistic earn your salvation approach. I do think we need to follow that up with something like, “now, daily, allow this faith to be worked into every area of your being, to the very core of yourself. You will find new ways that your faith applies to your life and community. You will be continually transformed and you must allow the Spirit of God in you to change you and display God’s character through you.”

Finally, I leave you with an approach that we take with our children (which I learned in part through some great conversations with a great reformed theology friend and is really pretty basic to scripture teaching) As our children are growing up we have treated, talked with, taught them that they are part of a believing community, the Church. As they are growing up they can choose to believe (accept) or reject that. I recognize that a child doesn’t express much independent faith when they are young and therefore are heavily influenced by our belief (this is actually the beauty of family as God designed). As each one has expressed faith in Jesus Christ for salvation we celebrated! They were born again! (The kind of beginning that John commented about yesterday) But we then watch and continually look for opportunities to encourage them to affirm their faith and express belief in new ways. Two of ours have expressed enough independent faith for us to encourage them to be baptized. As the grow and in these reaffirmations they will mature in their faith and our prayer is they will grow beyond Mom and Dad’s faith holding them up to understand the even greater cloud of those who have gone before, test their doubts, strengthen their faith and bring others along with them. We certainly share with them about a future of eternity in God’s full presence, but we more often talk about what it means for them to have faith today and how that can change their character (at Tommy commented earlier this evening) and make a difference in the community in which God has put them.

Well, a much longer conclusion that I intended, and a little different ending point than I set out toward 10 days ago. I still would like to come back to the faith-science discussion as I have many more thoughts related to that; but it will wait for another day (probably not tomorrow 🙂 )

Born and Born-Again
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When my wife and I were having our first child, we determined that it was pretty important to make sure that she and our daughter were provided for if I were to die unexpectedly, so we researched the options and I took out my first life insurance policy. I set it to withdraw the monthly premiums automatically from my bank account and don’t think about it any more. The only time I thought about it was when I changed my bank account and received a letter from the company to make sure the premiums continued to get paid. I am concerned that this is a similar story to how many experience “praying to receive Jesus.”

We saw yesterday that the word “believe” is the central instruction on being “saved” from our condition of separation from our eternal creator. So, what is it to “believe”? It seems that in our times it is mostly understood as “think the right thoughts” or “know the right information” or “agree with a set of expressed truths”. But this is not what it is primarily about. “Believe” in the Bible comes from the verb form of the word for “faith”, but our English language doesn’t have a verb form of faith. To believe something is faithing. Active faith is belief. Certainly one must know something about the specific truth to believe it, but it is not merely knowing something, it is acting on our knowing. These actions can be big or small, but it is active.

The most concise chapter in the Bible about faith is Hebrews 11. Read how it begins: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people…” and the whole chapter goes on to list action after action of people believing.

It is the orientation of one’s life and actions around the person of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and forgiveness of our sins. By the way, I think this is why baptism is mentioned so many times (though not always) with “believe”, it is active faith, a public proclamation. In an excellent, and exhaustive work on faith, Paul Tillich expresses this even more emphatically:

“Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements. Faith is the most centered act of the human mind. It is not a movement of a special section or a special function of man’s total being. They all are united in the act of faith. But faith is not the sum total of their impacts. It transcends every special impact as well as the totality of them and it has itself a decisive impact on each of them.” (Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith, 1957 ; p4-5)

Secondly, the Bible doesn’t instruct us to just say a prayer to receive Jesus and we are done. I have been wondering if people walk away from Christianity because they did the prayer thing and it has no further impact on their life. Like a life insurance policy, just make sure the premium gets taken out of the “bank” once a week by going to church (or at least twice a month). To be fair, I admit that this isn’t the teaching of most churches, but it has become too familiar in the action (belief) of peoples’ lives in American Christianity.

Furthermore, I am even more concerned about this in Christian believers’ households because the angst of many parents until their child “prays to receive Christ”, after which they stop the continual teaching, mentoring, and encouraging their child because “now they are ‘IN’ for eternity”. I celebrate BIG TIME when a child expresses faith in Christ, in fact one of my nieces took that step on Christmas Eve! But let’s treat re-birth (born-again concept from John 3.16) in the same way we treat birth. Could you image, parents give birth to their baby and then just let life happen, because now their born? Life wouldn’t “happen” very long and these parents would be in jail shortly after the baby’s life ends. After birth, we nurture new life, we continue this in such a way until they are able to live independently. This is a strong burden of mine after 18 years of working with teenagers, many of whom give a testimony of praying to receive Christ at a young age and yet are no different than their peers who have never had such an experience. Believers, we must disciple our children in a continual conversion process and a series of commitments at various life stages and crises.

It is reported that one of the greatest influencers of converts in recent history, Billy Graham, said, “Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ” (multiple internet sites attribute this saying to Graham, but I was unable to find any source citation) It is important to emphasize both an instantaneous conversion (although many times imperceptible) as well as an ongoing transformation.

Tomorrow I will bring this series to a close with an additional part of this point and a then bring it back around to where I started 9 days ago.

 

 

 

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