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Keep Your Head

Letting out a big sigh, I berated myself silently. I had committed to writing a Bible study focusing on the women in Jesus’ family line for a group at church. The idea seemed brilliant until I started digging into the lives of the characters. Some of the stories involving them were inspiring, but many were disconcerting or downright unsavory.

Weighing my options, I considered leaving out one or two names on the list that seemed too difficult to tackle. But after consulting with my  Bible study’s coordinator and mulling things over a bit more, I decided to push through and see what God had in store. Their lives were messy and complicated but they were all in the lineage of Jesus for a reason.

Further exacerbating the situation, I’d planned on using the lessons I was writing to lead another group of women who were newer to Bible study. I had no idea how I would explain some of the stories we were going to unpack. Still, I knew that leaving out the ugly parts and trying to present more sanitized versions would be inauthentic and dishonest. It would also limit opportunities to grapple with hard topics.

As it turned out, some of the “colorful” characters I dreaded discussing turned out to be the ones that inspired me most. Throughout the months of studying with those two different groups of women, I learned the beauty of wrestling with others through hard questions that didn’t have easy answers. And while we didn’t tie a neat bow on every discussion, we all learned and grew by not avoiding some of those stickier topics.

Melissa Moore puts it this way, “When we are not ashamed of the gospel, we have the freedom to ask good questions and listen to other people well. We are faithful to the tradition we’ve received but the bottom line is not protecting our big egos. We keep reading Scripture carefully, proving ourselves to be ones who carefully handle the word of truth (2:15), and we are not threatened by any worldview or perspective. We do not have to let go of our Christian convictions to actually hear somebody out. We are unashamed in our message; we proclaim it, persist in it, whether it is convenient or not (2 Time 4:2), and we do this with kindness and patience. Generous listening is a revolutionary act of kindness in a world of screaming and competing voices.” (Entrusted p. 153)

For me, the key to discussing hard topics in Scripture is deciding not to feel personally threatened by people whose views differ from mine. To be honest, I am not a person that enjoys a lively debate or sparring with words. In fact, I have a deep aversion to tension and conflict in relationships. But, I have learned the value in listening respectfully and offering a counter perspective. I’ve discovered the freedom in admitting I don’t have all the answers. And each time I have a challenging conversation with someone who asks hard questions, my faith grows exponentially. When I research to find more information about a thorny topic, my knowledge also grows. Sometimes I even get to circle back with the person who asked me about it to shed more light on the issue.

Paul admonishes Timothy saying, Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2 & 5, NIV)

Two phrases stand out in Paul’s list of instructions, the first is “with great patience” and the second is “keep your head.” When we’re talking about our faith with believers who differ from us or nonbelievers who lack understanding, these are important components to keep in mind.

Demonstrating great patience usually requires praying for the intervention of the Holy Spirit. If we get offended by someone’s differing viewpoint or irritated by their lack of understanding, we can’t keep a healthy dialogue going. And when we have the patience to see that a hard topic may require more than one conversation, it helps us to relax and not push so hard to overload someone with our opinions.

Paul also says, “keep your head,” reminding us not to takes things personally. When you’re having a hard conversation about spiritual matters, emotions intensify. If you start to feel your face flush or your jaw clench, pause and pray to keep your head. Losing your temper or getting defensive is not going to take a conversation about your faith in the right direction. If needed, put an end to the discussion before you lash out or say something hurtful. Your goal should be to finish on a positive note so that you still have an opening to talk more later.

There’s no doubt we’re living in tumultuous times where the Christian worldview is taking a beating. But if we shy away from opportunities to share the gospel, we’re not fulfilling our call to further God’s kingdom on earth. How can we lament the negative things we see in the world if we’re too fearful to impact others with the truth of God’s Word?

If you’re feeling weary and discouraged living in a culture that doesn’t put up with sound doctrine as Paul describes in 2 Timothy 4:3, take heart and be encouraged by Rend Collective’s song  “More Than Conquerors” included below.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the Bible study I wrote on the women in Jesus’ lineage or want to order a copy, click on the link below.

Click here for more information on Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press 2016.

 

Thoroughly Equipped

I remember the first time my family went to the snow when our kids were very young. Taking a toddler and a pre-schooler on a trip to Tahoe in the dead of winter wasn’t something we could have done without significant advance preparation. Not wanting to invest a lot of funds in gear our boys would outgrow quickly, we devoted our energy to borrowing anything friends would lend us: mittens, boots, jackets, snow suits, socks, long underwear, hats, goggles, and sleds (of course). We knew that forgetting just one of these items would have put a damper on enjoying outdoor activities in the frigid conditions. We had to be thoroughly equipped to create a positive experience. Forgetting even one mitten or boot would have ruined the whole adventure.

In much the same way, God knows that we need to be thoroughly equipped to carry out His will. His Word promises us He’ll give us everything we need for spiritual impact: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV)

Just as my husband and I did the work to provide our boys with the gear they needed for the snow, God does all that’s required to equip us for every good work. He doesn’t miss a single detail. Our responsibility is to study His Word so that we can put on the spiritual equipment He’s prepared for us there. We simply receive what He provides and allow His Spirit to work through us. Scripture reminds us of this several times:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV)

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13, NIV)

Beth Moore explains, “We are equipped and made capable by Scripture even for good works that don’t necessitate sharing the Word. Scripture is just as strategic for equipping the man or woman of God who works in government, stays home with the kids, or fixes car engines. That’s the power of it. The Word of God works wherever the person of God works.” (p. 142)

None of us is exempt from being used by God, no matter what station in life we hold. Looking back over my past, I can see how the Lord used me whenever I made myself available to Him. From college onward, I recognize God’s handiwork–sometimes it was through my actions and quiet influence, other times it was through my words. Each season of my life has afforded new ways to impact others with God’s love and truth. The opportunities to be used by Him have changed with every chapter, but they’ve never ceased.

We’re headed into the home stretch of studying 2 Timothy so it’s time to take stock of what we’ve been learning. “If we get to the end of this study with a good look over our shoulder at the journeys of Paul and Timothy but no clear gaze ahead at the path we’re called to walk with equal tenacity, we will have missed the mission in 2 Timothy’s message. We—common people with common problems–get to carry on the uncommon legacies of Paul and Timothy. To do so deliberately will be to do so most effectively.” (p. 133)

It’s time to pray about how we’ll let this study change us. If we walk away with more head knowledge but no real plan to act on what we’ve learned, we’ll have missed the point. So I’ll ask a few questions to help you clarify your thoughts: How is God stirring in you as you study 2 Timothy? What are you learning about how to turn your vertical focus into a horizontal impact? If you’ve been following Jesus for a while, can you look back and see how God has equipped you previously? Is there anywhere new you sense Him calling you to step outside of your comfort zone? These may be scary questions to answer, but don’t let them intimidate you. Remember that God is trustworthy and He has good things in store for you. All you have to do is let Him equip you. He’s already prepared everything, you just need to tell Him you’re available to receive it.

“Do Everything” by Steven Curtis Chapman gives some good encouragement on this topic. Click on the link to enjoy the song.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press, 2016.

Overflowing with the Spirit

Flags around town are at half-mast again. It’s hard to keep up with the string of tragedies that continue to happen in our state, nation and world. Recently I was exchanging messages with some friends in a group text as we lamented a recent natural disaster and traded prayer requests. At one point, someone suggested that the times seemed ripe for Jesus to return.

In Matthew 24:1-14, Jesus uses the analogy of a woman in labor to describe the “birth pangs” the earth will experience in preparation for His return. He describes the wars, famines, earthquakes, and persecutions that will be signs that the “end of the age” is near.

Paul adds his own thoughts to what will characterize the last days before Jesus returns:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NIV)

Reading those descriptions of the last days only magnifies the feelings that they are upon us. There is not one thing on those lists that we don’t see regularly. Sometimes I’m tempted to withdraw into my own little world so I don’t have to confront feelings of fear or defeat. But with the right focus, these dark times can be an opportunity to shine the light and hope found through Jesus in a world that desperately needs Him.

Beth Moore puts her own spin on this idea saying, “The world has gone mad but we don’t have to go mad with it. We are the people drenched by the Holy Spirit, defined by the Son of God and dogged by a hoard of demons. We need God’s wonders. We long for His wonders. We pray for His wonders. And I believe we will see many wonders. But one of the most grown-up realities we will ever accept is that we are His wonders with the greatest potential impact on the lost, the cynical, and the hopeless.” (Beth Moore, Entrusted p. 116)

Let that statement sink in for a moment: WE ARE HIS WONDERS WITH THE GREATEST POTENTIAL IMPACT ON THE LOST. This is not the time to withdraw in defeat, but to ask God to equip us so we can engage our cynical, hopeless world. Through His Spirit, God can use us to make a difference in the lives of people wandering in darkness:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’… So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:13-14, 16, 22-25, NIV)

Our lives look different from the rest of the world when we walk by the Spirit. Just compare the descriptions from 2 Timothy and Galatians above and you’ll see what I mean. The more open we are to being filled by the Holy Spirit, the more His fruit will show in our lives. No believer is exempt because everyone who accepts Christ receives the Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 states it plainly: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

Being filled with the Spirit is not just a single event, it is an ongoing process.

Imagine a thimble filled with water. It’s at capacity, not another drop could fit inside. Now imagine a drinking glass. It’s bigger, so more water fits inside. Finally, imagine a swimming pool brimming over with water. Each of these containers has a limit and once it is exceeded, it will overflow. The bigger the container, the more the surroundings will get wet when it does.

In the same way, the Spirit impacts those around us as He fills us so full that we begin to overflow.  But unlike a fixed-size container, our ability to receive Him increases each time He fills us and we pour Him out.  I think that’s what Joel 2:28 describes when the Lord says: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”

Paul had an ocean-sized capacity for the Holy Spirit because he invited His filling so often. He prayed bold prayers and asked God to move, and He did. He spoke with authority and acted courageously because the Spirit was flowing through him. The fruit of the Spirit was abundantly evident in his life.

Whether our capacities for the Spirit are more in line with a thimble, a glass, or something bigger, there is always room for expansion. If you want to be one of God’s wonders, then invite the Holy Spirit’s power to move in your life. Try praying something like this daily: “Lord, pour out your Spirit on me. Increase my capacity to receive you and let your fruit be evident in my life.”

As we begin to see the world through the light of God’s love, we not only see His wonders, we become His wonders. Click on the link and revel in this truth listening to “Wonder” by Hillsong United.

photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press 2016.

 

 

 

Intentional Influence

Throughout her workbook Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy Beth Moore emphasizes that “we may not all be called to teach but we are all called to be profoundly effective communicators of the gospel…Every Christian is gifted for influence. We’re all holding class whether or not we are intentional. In life and online, we are actively teaching how to speak, love, relate, fight, hate, encourage, discourage, build up, and tear down in the name of Jesus.” (pages 94 & 106)

 Paul says it a little differently, but the sentiment is the same: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth….  Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:16 & 22, NIV)

Some of us get inspired and energized reading these words, others become intimidated or overwhelmed.  For those who don’t consider themselves effective communicators or powerful influencers, it’s tempting to skip over a passage like this and assume it doesn’t have personal application. And yet, the truth is that every follower of Jesus has ample opportunities to teach people about the gospel (and not always with words).

So how, exactly, do those of us who struggle with fear about teaching others and sharing the gospel apply these verses to our lives? While I’m not an expert, I’ll offer two suggestions I’ve learned over the years.

1) Don’t Underestimate the Power of Prayer

If you’re serious about applying this message to your life, the most important thing you can do at the start of your day is to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you and guide you. Ask Him to help you be sensitive to His prompting and to show you people who may be open and ready to hear the gospel. Ask Him to show you when you need to slow down so that you can listen and care for someone who may need to feel God’s love. Ask Him to use you to bless others so that you can further His kingdom and bring Him glory.

In other words, don’t rely on your own strength and wits. Tap into God’s wisdom and let Him lead you in your interactions with others. The natural outflow of pursing God with a pure heart will be a life that shows evidence of His presence and impacts others.

People you encounter may only be interested in hearing the gospel after they see evidence of something different in your life. They may only be able to receive truth little by little, so pray for discernment about when and how much to share. Ask God to equip you to handle the Word correctly, both in how you behave and what you say. Stop trying harder on your own and invite God to use you daily as a conduit of His love and grace in the lives of others.

2) Stop Compartmentalizing

Many of us unintentionally change who we are based on our environment. We have different versions of ourselves for Bible study, work, school, the gym, clubs and organizations we belong to, our families, our friends, and the businesses we patronize. Depending on where we are, we usually focus on specific people that we think are worth our time and influence. We also disregard or marginalize many of those we encounter daily. Stop and think for a moment. If a person was seeking God, would they see evidence of His presence in your life? Is there anything that would draw them to ask you about Him?

Rather than compartmentalizing others, we can pray to see people with spiritual eyes. We need to be reminded that every person we encounter is someone who God loves and values. We can be intentional about showing them they matter. Whether they notice or not, we’ll know that treating others well pleases God. And over the long haul, it may also open doors for more meaningful conversations with those who are hungry for truth.

If you find this topic challenging, rest assured that you’re in good company. Listen to “God Help Me” by Plumb and make it your prayer today.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press, 2016.

Lessons from the Soldier, Athlete & Farmer

Rushing to the sidelines, the goalie yanked off his lacrosse helmet and pulled his pads over his head in one swift motion. Calling a “time out,” the coach tried to remain calm as he gathered the team to decide what to do. The foul called against the goalie had earned him a three-minute exclusion from the game and his teammates needed a quick plan to cover for him. As the referee signaled the end of the time out, another player hastily pulled on the goalie’s protective gear and sprinted out on the field. Kneeling in the penalty box, the goalie watched as his teammates tried to block shots on the goal with one less player on the field.

It’s unusual for a lacrosse goalie to receive an exclusion penalty, and it often means the opposing team will score. That day, my son’s high school teammates couldn’t hold off their opponents. Although they had been dominating the game until then, the three excruciating minutes with their goalie in the penalty box shifted the momentum. They were never able to recover and ended up with a disappointing loss.  It was a hard way to learn the importance of following the rules. When one player gets called on a personal foul, it affects the whole team.

To me, this is a great picture of what Paul describes in 2 Timothy 2:5, “Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”

An athlete needs self-discipline to learn and follow the rules of a game to compete successfully. Similarly, Christians self-discipline to study and follow God’s Word if they want to live a life that pleases Him and blesses others. Not engaging the Bible consistently makes it difficult to grow in faith or be effective in sharing the gospel.

Believers also derail spiritual growth when they ignore sin in their lives. Unconfessed sin impedes authenticity in our walks with God, discourages fellow believers, and diminishes our ability to impact others. When we study God’s Word, it studies us. With the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change our actions and thoughts.

In the same passage in 2 Timothy Paul also gives the example of a soldier, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV)

Like soldiers, we make it our goal to please God as our “commanding officer.” We don’t entangle ourselves in worldly affairs that will lead our faith off track. Jesus mentions in John 18 that His kingdom is not of this world. We need to keep that in mind and remember we serve God first. Doing this enables the Holy Spirit to flow through us so we can impact others with His love. Rather than letting the light of Christ be snuffed out by ungodly influences, we strive to shine brightly so we can draw others toward God’s love and grace. We follow His lead, not the world’s.

Also, like soldiers, we focus on executing orders from our commanding officer, God, instead of operating on our own agendas. We trust that the Lord sees the big picture that we’re unable to have from our vantage point. Having a vertical focus helps us to trust His wisdom above ours.

Paul’s third analogy compares us to the hardworking farmer who is diligent with planting seeds and patient waiting for them to grow. A farmer knows the seeds are taking root and rising toward the surface, even though he can’t see the results above ground immediately. He understands the crop will come eventually and tends to it with patience and care.

Similarly, we sow seeds of faith in others through our actions and words, patiently trusting that God is at work in ways we can’t see: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11, NIV)

Like the farmer waiting for crops to emerge from the soil, we may not always see the ways God is moving and working in the hearts of others, but we can trust Him and be patient with the process.

Having the self-discipline of an athlete, the focus of a soldier, and the patience of a farmer enables us to be strong in the grace of Jesus. With these qualities, we’ll be equipped to receive the wisdom and truth of the gospel and to entrust it to other reliable people who will, in turn, be qualified to teach others.

For King & Country’s song “Fix My Eyes” describes the actions of a life of faith and reminds us the only way we can fulfill God’s purposes is through fixing our eyes on Him. Listen carefully and you’ll recognize a reference from 2 Timothy 2 in the lyrics to the song.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press 2016.

Not Ashamed (or Embarrassed)

The satisfying crack of the ball meeting the bat brought us to our feet cheering. Watching countless little league games over the years had taught the parents in the stands to make the most of the few moments of excitement. If you’ve ever watched kids play baseball, you know what I’m talking about. There is a lot of sitting and waiting between isolated flurries of activity.

Each year my boys played, we waited with anticipation to see who would be on the team—it was always nice to spend those long hours in the bleachers and the dugout with people we enjoyed. Often, we’d get to know families well through the overlaps we had in school, sports, and the neighborhood. I still remember one team my younger son played on many years ago. I’d usually sit in the stands with the same two or three moms and we’d pass the hours chatting about a variety of topics.

One conversation that season stands out above all the others. A mom I’d been sitting with regularly turned to me one afternoon and said, “Ya know, I don’t usually like churchy people, but for some reason I like you.” I was taken aback, not sure if I’d just been complimented or criticized. I don’t even remember what prompted the comment, but I decided to assume she meant to affirm me, so I laughed and retorted, “Why don’t you usually like churchy people?” She spent the next several minutes describing a variety of negative experiences she’d had with Christians throughout her childhood and on into adulthood. She was okay with God in general, but didn’t care much for the people who followed Him. Instead of getting defensive, I just listened and empathized with the hurt she’d experienced.

I’ve spent most of my life in secular settings—I went to public schools from Kindergarten through graduate school. I taught in a secular high school and we intentionally placed our kids in public schools as well. And what I’ve noticed is that many people don’t see Christians in a positive light. There is the occasional exception, but the general attitude I’ve encountered time and time again is that people see Christians as judgmental, self-righteous and hypocritical. Between stereotypes they see in the media and negative personal encounters, many people think Christians have oppressive morality and narrow-minded views. It’s enough to make any follower of Jesus be tempted to keep their faith hidden and silent.

And yet, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul urges Timothy (and all believers) not to be ashamed of the gospel. Beth Moore explains, “We live in a culture where Christianity is plummeting in popularity and where we, instead of Satan, are touted as the enemy.” (Entrusted, p. 62)

We don’t ever need to be ashamed or embarrassed about living according to God’s standards laid out for us in the Bible. Just as Paul encouraged Timothy to guard the deposit of faith entrusted to him, we must pursue the Lord consistently and remember that His ways bring good into our lives and into the world.

Paul gives some clear instructions for how to live a godly life that differs from a worldly one:

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Tim 2:22-26)

Although nonbelievers may balk at our choice to be different, they can still experience our gentleness and love, which can create opportunities to share more about our faith. The unusual way we live may cause some people to write us off, but others will be intrigued. As they move past negative stereotypes and get to know us, they’ll learn about the foundation we have that remains firm amidst the ever-changing standards of the world.

People are always in process and even those who seem repelled by faith have the capacity to change when they see integrity and authenticity over the long haul. A case in point is my friend from the bleachers years ago. I still bump into her from time to time and am amazed to see that God continues to place Christians (aka “churchy people”) in her path. I’ve seen Him soften her heart and enable her to discover many positive aspects of the Christian faith that she didn’t recognize before.  It’s been a slow journey, but she is moving past her negative experiences and finding herself drawn to others with genuine faith who are pointing her toward God. If I’d been embarrassed by her comments on the bleachers, I would have missed the opportunity to engage her in conversation and to move her one step closer to seeing that Christians aren’t perfect, they are just forgiven people trying to navigate life in a broken world.

Click on the link and celebrate this idea with “Lift My Life Up” by Unspoken.

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press, 2016.

 

Building Your Spiritual Lineage

Pulling out the chair, I glanced over and smiled as we both sat down. I knew most of the people at my nephew’s graduation dinner, but the woman seated next to me was a stranger. Soon after we’d introduced ourselves, I discovered that she and her husband were the leaders of a ministry where my nephew had been involved throughout college. Despite their youthful demeanor, I learned they’d been staff members for several decades with an organization that shared the gospel with students and equipped them to pass it on to others. Having been a part of the same ministry on my college campus, it didn’t take long for us to begin sharing stories and discovering people we both knew. It was one of those “Small World” moments that make you smile, especially in Christian circles.

As Karen told me about the different universities where she’d ministered to students, one part of her story caught my attention. A mentor I’d had for just one year in college had graduated from one of the schools where Karen had served. I lobbed out my leader’s name, wondering if Karen knew her. Nearly jumping out of her seat, she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm, “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that Kim was the staff member that helped you start a Bible study in your sorority?!”

“Yes, do you know her?” I responded with a smile. (I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.)

Karen explained that she’d mentored Kim during her college years and had helped her start a Bible study in her sorority, just as Kim had done for me. Exuberant, Karen finished her story saying, “This is so cool! It’s like you’re my spiritual granddaughter! I hardly ever get the blessing of seeing a second generation of the fruit God bears through our ministry!” Being maybe 10-15 years older than me, her “grandparent” analogy made me laugh.

In the span of that one meal Karen and I went from being perfect strangers to realizing that we were part of the same spiritual lineage. She had accepted Christ in college through a friend in her sorority. She’d gone on to spend her adult life pouring into college students with the gospel that had transformed her. One of the many students she’d discipled was Kim, who later “just happened” to be my Bible study leader for one year in college. It’s a special privilege when we get to see the big picture of how God builds His house one life at a time.

Beth Moore explains, “Practically every child of God has an earthly spiritual ancestry…Taking personal ownership of our spiritual lineage—both in what we receive and what we pass down—is titanic in this Scriptural journey. Whether we are on the younger side of the generational spectrum or older, God’s sovereign way is for optimum fruitfulness and faithfulness to spring from the soil of our connectedness.” (Entrusted, p. 59)

It makes me think of Peter’s description of believers, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5, NIV) Each time we share the gospel and someone receives it, we build God’s spiritual house just a little bigger. With Christ as our foundation, we continue to expand outward and upward, with each part of the house connected to the stones that were laid earlier and supporting the ones that will be added later. The same is true of our spiritual lineage: we received the gospel from those who came before us and we have the privilege of entrusting it to others who come after us.

Standing alone, stones are uninspiring. But when they are stacked together under the watchful eye of a skilled builder and sealed in place with the Holy Spirit, they represent the hope of salvation. It makes me realize how important it is to be intentional about continuing to share with others what has been entrusted to me. If we don’t recognize the crucial role each believer plays in passing on our spiritual lineage to others, it would be like a stone house with holes in the walls.

Take Beth Moore’s words to heart and share God’s faithfulness with someone who needs to hear the gospel. And maybe one day, you’ll be blessed with the opportunity to meet a perfect stranger who turns out to be part of your spiritual lineage.

Micah Tyler’s song “Different” could be a fitting prayer for inviting God to continue His spiritual lineage through you.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press, 2016.

When Fellowship Fractures

As hard as it is to believe, even deep and godly friendships sometimes fracture. Paul and Barnabas are a case in point. The friendship between them may have begun when Barnabas stood up for Paul when the others were skeptical about the authenticity of his conversion in Acts 9. Later, the Holy Spirit ordained their ministry in Acts 13 and they traveled together sharing the gospel until a disagreement tore them apart. Despite their deep love for God and their history of meaningful fellowship, Acts 15 explains that these two pillars of the faith couldn’t reconcile in their opposite opinions over John Mark accompanying them on their next missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to give him a second chance after a past failure, Paul didn’t. This caused them to split up and to continue sharing the gospel in different places with new ministry partners.

Beth Moore writes about this situation, “One ministry turned into two. You and I both know it doesn’t always happen that way. It takes cooperation. We can stunt God’s redemptive work in our midst with our bitterness, unforgiveness, slander, blame, chronic regret, and unresolved guilt. Or we can go face down and beg God in our fractures to do something bigger with the broken pieces than He might have done with the whole.” (Entrusted, page 36)

Reading her words, I couldn’t help but think of how God used the broken pieces of a former relationship to make me into something better. The friendship I shared with this woman arose from our mutual desire to study God’s Word. We were the only two from our congregation that joined an in-depth Bible study at a neighboring church. After class, we’d stand in the parking lot talking enthusiastically about what we’d learned long after the rest of the cars had pulled away. My son, a toddler at the time, would fuss and squirm in his car seat once his Cheerios ran out or the sippy cup was empty. Finally, I’d have to interrupt her animated sharing with an apology and a promise to continue the conversation later. I could usually feel her disappointment as I pulled away.

A year later, our enthusiasm to study God’s Word with others led us to start a new Bible study for our own church with the help of a seasoned teacher. It was an exciting time of spiritual growth and meaningful fellowship centered on God’s Word. So much so, that I ignored the subtle warning signs that would lead to future problems between us.

Early in our friendship, I’d given her a card expressing my gratitude to God for her. I wrote about how thankful I was that the Lord was using us in each other’s lives and told her I believed He had much more in store for our friendship. I couldn’t wait to see how things would unfold. Although God did use her in my life, what I envisioned when I wrote that card was not at all how things turned out.

Without belaboring the details, over the course of 9 months, our friendship went into a downward spiral because of some boundaries I had to put in place. Although she said she understood, she retreated with hurt and anger. I continued to pursue her to no avail. Soon I found that the groups we’d enjoyed spending time with together were having gatherings without me. Over the months, my heart sank lower and lower as many of our mutual friends backed away from me with little or no explanation. I felt cut off from the fellowship I had once enjoyed so much. This began a dark and lonely season in my life that ultimately led me to counseling.

With the help of a wise and godly therapist, I began to see where things had gone wrong and could take ownership over the unhealthy contributions I’d made to our friendship. I could also identify the things that were solely her issues and not my responsibility. Over the course of more than a year in counseling, I started to understand how the implosion of that friendship was a flash point for some deeper issues that I needed to sort through.

Without that fractured relationship, I never would have recognized the unhealthy perspectives and patterns I’d maintained for many years. I would have stunted God’s redemptive work and prevented Him from refining me through the longstanding struggles in my life. In that difficult season, I learned how to be authentic and vulnerable, how to have safe and healthy relationships, and how to function more wisely with people. Confronting my issues equipped me for opportunities to come alongside others who were struggling in different ways. It has also allowed me to navigate through the inevitable challenges that come whenever people work, serve, study, socialize, or live together (whether they are Christians or not).

I’ve thought many times about that card I wrote to my old friend early in our relationship. God did, indeed, use her in my life. He peeled back some issues that I needed to deal with so that I could reach a healthier place. And although it’s still painful to remember that season, I am ultimately grateful that it became a catalyst for heathy change in my life.

Before my former friend moved away, I tried one last time to reach out by leaving a card on her doorstep.  Although she never responded, I’m glad I told her about how God used our struggles for good in my life. I pray that the same is true for her.

If you’re struggling with a fractured relationship, don’t muddle through it alone. Let the song “Brother” by NEEDTOBREATHE be an encouragement to you today (and if you’re a woman, substitute the word “sister” if it makes you feel better.)

Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press 2016.

The Value of a Vertical Focus

The blank wall in our backyard was unremarkable for years. We had ideas for how to spruce it up, but never seemed to find the time. And then one spring afternoon, my husband got inspired. Returning from a trip to the hardware store, he set to work installing small bolts up the wall at evenly spaced intervals. Once he finished, he uncoiled a spool of wire and wound it around each bolt. By the time he was finished, we had a perfect grid ready for a vine.

Strategically digging holes at the base of the latticework, we nestled tiny plants into them. After a few months, they began to grow tall enough for my husband to wind the small tendrils around the wire, training them to attach to it and grow upwards. At first the latticework looked a little lonely and bare, but over time the lush foliage filled in. Now, five years later, the once bare wall is the most noteworthy aspect of our yard. Getting it to look that way took time, patience, and discipline (for which I can take no credit whatsoever).

Every few weeks, new growth and foliage need to be pulled from the wall and either trimmed off or wound around the wire to continue the upward growth. Without human intervention, the wall would be a messy jumble of shoots and leaves with no pattern. It would be unruly and undisciplined.

For some reason, a picture of our latticework wall came to mind as I read a question in Beth Moore’s Entrusted Bible study this week. At the close of Week 1, Day 1, she asks readers “What brings you to your side of this page”?  In other words, why are you doing this study?

If my life was that vine growing up our wall, then God’s Word is what keeps me tethered to the wire when I want to stray out on my own. It helps me to keep a vertical focus so that my worldview, actions and attitudes come from God and not from the standards of our ever-changing culture. Consistently engaging in Bible study for most of my life has allowed healthy patterns to emerge and God’s handiwork to show in my life. His Word grounds me in truth when the world bombards me with lies. It is a firm foundation in unsteady times. It is a plumb line that keeps my thoughts and perspectives aligned with God’s ways instead of the world’s. It is the mirror that shows me my true identity as God’s beloved child when I’m tempted to measure myself by the fickle standards of the world.

When I’m not fighting against Him; when I’m patient over the long haul; when I trust Him even when I don’t understand why He’s allowing a certain hardship– He can do beautiful things in and through me. He sees the whole picture where I see only a small part. He has laid out plans for me, intentionally going before me to stretch out the wires on the wall that beckon me to grow to heights I could never achieve on my own. As I allow His loving hands to wind the tendrils of my life around His latticework, I see that His ways are higher and better than mine.

For me, completing a study guide isn’t a task to be checked off a to do list. We call it “homework” at Bible study, but in reality it’s the gateway to life transformation and the thing that continually keeps my focus exactly where it belongs: on God. And that is what brings me back year after year.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)

“Word of Life” by Jeremy Camp is a song that celebrates Jesus as the Word that became flesh and the truth found in God’s Word. Click on the link to hear it.

 

 

Pouring Out What’s Been Poured In

Clutching her hand, my voice quavered as I looked up, pleading. “Tell me again, mom, tell me again.” Leaning down to kiss me goodbye, she handed me my lunch and reassured me gently, “Jesus is holding your hand. Just remember, even when I can’t be with you, He can. Even if you can’t feel Him, you can trust that He’s there.” The lump in my throat slowly shrank and my courage returned as I pulled on my backpack and joined my siblings for the car ride to school.

Starting first grade at a new school in a new town hadn’t been easy. Every night as I climbed into bed, my stomach twisted in nervous knots. Every morning I fought back tears as my dad dropped me off. But all of that had changed once my mom started reassuring me about Jesus’ love and care for me.  She was the first person to entrust me with the good news of the gospel. Throughout my childhood, she used her gifts to share God’s Word-whether it was reading stories to me from Scripture or teaching  neighborhood kids at an after-school Bible class in our home.

As I got older, other people came into my life to shape and encourage my faith as well. There was Micki Ann, my wise small group leader during high school who patiently poured into a gaggle of teenage girls despite having a toddler and a newborn of her own. Later in my college years, I had a string of mentors who entrusted me with God’s Word and coached me to become a leader among my peers. Julia, Kim, Stacy and Kelly each left an indelible mark on me during that season by encouraging me to stand apart from the crowd and follow Jesus. In young motherhood, there was Melinda, who taught me how to be a godly wife and mom and Courtney, who helped me to understand my identity in Christ and the importance of healthy boundaries.

And of course, throughout adulthood there have been mentors I didn’t know personally who have shaped my faith by entrusting me with Biblical truth: Kay Arthur, Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, and Kelly Minter, to name a few.

All of these women and others like them poured into me in the same way others had poured into them. They used their varied gifts to nurture my faith, to draw out my potential, and to help me discover how God could use me. And like them, I’ve had the blessing and privilege of spurring on others in their walks with Jesus. Some have been formal mentoring relationships, others have sprung up naturally over time. Some I still see regularly, while others I rarely get to connect with anymore.

The cycle of being entrusted with the gospel and then sharing it with others has repeated from one generation to the next for over two thousand years. The pages of the New Testament are filled with examples of people pouring out their lives to pour the gospel into others. Their names and surroundings were different, but the cycle remains the same. All followers of Jesus share the call to entrust the gospel to others using the gifts God has given them.

Paul puts perfect words to this when he urges Timothy saying, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us….And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14 and 2:2, NIV)

Over the next few months I’m going to spend some time on this idea of pouring out what’s been poured into us.  I’ll draw on inspiration from Beth Moore’s Bible study, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy (Lifeway Press 2016). Whether you do the study or just follow along with my posts, I pray that you’ll be encouraged, inspired and challenged to discover more of what God has entrusted to you and how you’re being called to share it with others.