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The Faithfulness Miracle

I’ve read and taught about Daniel in the Lions Den more times than I can count. My kids know the “story” so well they can tell it to each other. This morning, I read it again. And once again, I was amazed at some points within it that I had not noticed before. Join me as we review one of the greatest Bible “stories” of all time. It’s not just a story though, folks. It’s a real situation with real people and hungry lions that actually happened!

Daniel was OLD

First of all, Daniel was old. While Daniel had been taken captive as a teen, that was with King Nebuchadnezzar, a good while ago by the time Daniel chapter 6 with the lions happens. After serving King Nebuchadnezzar, his son, King Belteshazzar ruled. Daniel lived during that time, but it does not say he was involved in government. In fact, he was probably enjoying his retirement! Who knows, maybe he wrote a book called So Help me God about his time in government as a Christian and was busy promoting it. Maybe he was preparing to lead a tour to the holy land because he knew the 70 years was nearly up. Perhaps he was a health coach, promoting the Daniel Plan diet. Maybe he had cancer and had to go get chemo treatments three times a week that wiped him out. Not likely, but anyway. Until the last day of King Belteshazzar’s reign, Daniel mostly lived out of the public eye.

Next came King Darius, where our “story” takes place. This was the third king Daniel served! He obviously wasn’t losing his memory yet, because he was sharp and the king noticed that. The king wanted to promote Daniel. But, as we know, some haters got all hateful and mad about Daniel getting promoted. “We don’t like his politics! He’s horrible in government! We need him out of there! Let’s pass a law that makes it illegal for him to be promoted! Better yet, let’s pass a law to get him killed! Yeah! We’ll get rid of our problem Daniel, and his politics, just like that. Agreed? Agreed!” You can see the drunkard mob talking around a table figuring this out. Yet they knew the only way Daniel would do something against the law was if the law interfered with his faithfulness to God. So they said Daniel wasn’t allowed to pray to God anymore.

Daniel was FAITHFUL.

Next, let’s look at Daniel’s faithfulness. Daniel 6:10 says, “But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” OK, first of all, what did he do when he learned of this law? Did he cry? Did he find a rack a shack and a bungalow and tell his friends not to be caught praying? Did he pull a Mordecai, dress in sackcloth and ashes and go  plead at the palace gate? Did he pull a Haman and go cry to his wife and friends? Or pull a Noah and get drunk? Or pull a Judas and just decide to end it himself instead? Did he pull a Jonah and run away? Or an Elijah and hide in a cave? You know, not all of these examples were sinful in their responses to trouble. But Daniel was different. He didn’t cry, look to others for help, gorge himself on food or alcohol, run, hide, or give up! He could have! Folks, is the miracle the shutting the mouths of the lions or the calmness in which this man approached his coming doom fully entrusting his life to the Lord? So what did he do?

He went home and prayed! The law said, “you can’t pray to God anymore,” and he went home and did JUST THAT! Note, he didn’t go before the palace and defiantly do just that. He didn’t decide he was going to start praying just because he disagreed with the law. But alone, in his own home, “as he had always done,” he prayed, “giving thanks to…God” (Daniel 6:10). He had a habit of praying three times a day. It wasn’t a pleading prayer either, but a prayer of thanksgiving! Three times a day! I’m sure Daniel had faced some times in his life where he thought he should have been killed. Captivity, refusing to eat the king’s food, interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, interpreting the writing on the wall, two kings taking over the throne and likely killing top previous aids. Now this. Was Daniel thanking the Lord that he’d lived such a long life? Was he thanking the Lord that the church would be purified through persecution? Was he thanking the Lord that he’d finished writing his will the day before? That he got to celebrate his grandson’s first birthday the week before? Despite the trial, Daniel found things to be thankful for.

My daughter likes to complain sometimes. If I’m honest, she gets it honest. I have to remind myself, as I remind her, to find things to be thankful for. Being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) doesn’t mean we’re thankful for all circumstances. But it means we find things to be thankful for despite our circumstances. The other day I had to do some outdoor maintenance for work. I’m not very skilled in this area, but it costs too much to hire someone else, so I have to do it. I was pretty grumpy about it. Then I realized I needed to have a grateful heart. As I thought about what I could be thankful for, it occurred to me that it was an unusually warm day for the middle of winter! Thank God that He provided a nice day for me to have to get that outdoor work done!

So Daniel was faithful. He prayed every day three times a day, even when the law said not to. Because of this, he was thrown into the lions’ den. Let’s fast forward. The king liked Daniel. I would say, he loved Daniel! I would say, Daniel was the king’s favorite of all time! The king wanted Daniel to be in charge so he could rest east at night. This news that Daniel needed to be thrown into the lions’ den upset the king, to say the least. But what does the king, say to Daniel, as he’s headed into the lions’ den? “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you” (Daniel 6:16b). What God does Darius hope will rescue Daniel? The one Daniel serves so faithfully!

OK. I could go on, but perhaps we’ll finish this next week. For now, consider: Are you faithful to God? Do you have godly habits as Daniel did? Perhaps you don’t pray three times a day facing Jerusalem, but do you do something once a day faithfully for the Lord? Do you read your Bible faithfully? Pray regularly? Teach your children the Word faithfully? And when trials come, do you stop? Or do you just keep on following God faithfully trusting Him? Let’s be like Daniel this year in our faithfulness. God faithfully brings up the sun every day and puts it to bed every night. What godly practice can you do faithfully?

photo credit: Monstera

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Christmas 2022 Letter

This past year, I have experienced incredible loss along with indescribable joy. I have seen some dreams utterly crushed to pieces while others I had long forgotten have been fulfilled. I have had highs and lows amidst the comfortable mundane of everyday life. As I am sure you have too. I am constantly amazed at what a person can experience within a year. It’s amazing how much can change within a year. I never imagined one year ago, I would be where I am now. I do not know what the future holds, as I often remind my children, but I know who does and I know He has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11).

This Christmas, I have been thinking of the great lengths God went through to be WITH His people. He loved us SO much, that He did all these things for us in order to be WITH us (John 3:16). He never said this life would be easy or we would be free from trials. He also never said tough times were necessarily a result of sin. But God has promised to be WITH us through it all, the good and the bad, the thick and the thin, the yuck and the muck and the high flying times.

God the Father, being holy and perfect is incapable of being in contact with sinful man (or woman or child). However, He wanted to be WITH His people so much, that He chose to dwell with His people in a tabernacle first, and then later in a temple. This preserved His holiness and yet allowed Him to be with His beloved creations. Yet God wanted to be even more with His people. So He sent His Son, Jesus. God the Son (aka: Jesus) became a man in order to live among His people and show them how to live. He LIVED WITH His people. Even so, Jesus died on a cross in order that sinful man could be forgiven for our sins and therefore, live for eternity WITH God. Jesus paid the ultimate price so that we could forever be WITH our Savior, Creator, God, and King. After Jesus defeated death, rose from the grave, and ascended into Heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit, to be WITH all believers. God the Spirit now lives inside all believers, who are the living temples of God, the living stones, the living church. God the Father dwelt in a temple. God the Son dwelt among His people. God the Spirit lives inside His people. The godhead, three in one, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit desires to be WITH you! Do you desire to be with Him? Are you doing your life WITH God?

Daily we make choices of whether we will live WITH God that day or WITHOUT Him, whether we will allow Him into our lives, or out of it. Daily we choose. It cannot be a one and done decision. And back to the daily grind. It has to be a daily commitment, a daily decision, to live for the Lord and not for ourselves. Daily I must choose to put the Lord’s plans ahead of my own. Daily I must choose to prioritize my life according to His Word. Of course we mess up and don’t do it perfectly. Thank God that every morning His mercies are new (Lamentations 3:23). Every day we have a new opportunity at life.

This Christmas, I have been thinking about the meaning of “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” As I reflect on the great lengths He has gone through in order to be WITH me, I have to ask myself what I am willing to do in order to be with God? To what lengths have I asked Him into my life, my home, my parenting, my work, my driving, my conversations? Have I gone to as much effort to make Him a part of my life as He has gone through to allow me to be with Him? Of course not. But have I even tried? Have I tried to live according to His Word? Do I read it enough to know what it says? Have I tried to do all He has called me to? Or have I chosen a lesser life of faith? Not believing His power is sufficient to enable me to do all He is calling me to do (Matthew 28:18-20). Do I believe the promises in the Bible are for me? Or are they for someone else, anyone else?

Let me encourage you choosing to be WITH God. Once we have chosen to be WITH God, “…nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Personal Update

PS: I’ve read a LOT of books this year. Below are my top recommended reads. Enjoy!

                Win the Day by Batterson

                Your Brain is Always Listening by Amen

                Necessary Endings by Cloud

PPS: Please check out my children’s book, the Nut Donut here.

PPPS: This past year, the kids and I moved to Pendleton and bought a house. It’s perfect for us and such a great location. I also took over my family’s storage unit business. N started kindergarten and is learning to read. She still loves unicorns. P has revealed his love for non-fiction books with lots of facts. He also loves playing ball, of all kinds, dinosaurs, and hot wheels. H has started talking. He still just wants to be big and able to keep up with his siblings, but will take a cuddle whenever possible. While we feel blessed, we are also very dependent upon the Lord.

Photo by Stephen Paterson on Unsplash

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Ritual of Remembrance

Photo credit: Daniel Sandvick

“They must not leave any of the lamb until the next morning, and they must not break any of its bones. They must follow all the normal regulations concerning the Passover.”
Numbers 9:12 NLT

When my first child started at a school with uniforms, I was overwhelmed by the strictness of it all. With children coming from various economic backgrounds, the school had a unifying purpose with their uniform code. Likewise, God had a purpose in His strictness regarding sacrifices in the Old Testament.

A year after their exile from slavery, God had the Israelites celebrate through a ritual of remembrance (Numbers 9:1-3). Through sacrificing a lamb and eating it all, without breaking it’s bones, they would remember how they did that exact thing one year prior. As they took the lamb to kill it, they would recall the thoughts in their head the year before. As the smell of roasted lamb hit their nose, they would recall the excitement they had a year prior at their two year old starting to talk saying, “lamb lammy!” At the sight of everyone eating the same meal they had the year prior, they might recall trying to answer their children’s questions. “Why are we eating standing up? Why didn’t Moses explain more? Why did we put blood on the doorway? Why didn’t Joey’s family put blood on the doorway? Is Joey going to die?”

Along with the memories, a grateful heart would emerge at all the Lord had done the year before. Year after year, they would do this same ritual of remembrance to fix their eyes on the Lord and what He did for them. The bones of the lamb would not be broken. It would all be a part of it.

When the Jews saw Jesus, the lamb of God be sacrificed, they would remember the Passover lamb. When they saw that His bones were not broken, they would remember how the lamb’s bones were not broken. They would know it was more than a fluke in the Roman execution. It was by God’s perfect will and design. It was because He truly was the Son of God!

What traditions or rituals of remembrance do you have that remind you of what God has done for you? Do Christmas lights remind you how Jesus is the light of the world? Does gift giving remind you of Jesus being the greatest gift of all? Do you celebrate the day you came to know your Savior? Do your children’s birthdays remind you of God’s grace in giving them to you?

****This is a preview of my Advent Devotional I’m writing. Please stay tuned for more! And if you’re interested in helping edit or give feedback for the book, please send me an email:****

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Maximizing Spiritual Growth in Women’s Bible Studies              

 Another Bible study gone by and you wonder how it happened so fast. The end of a Bible study leaves us either sad to see it end, sad we did not get more out of it, or completely rejuvenated in our walks with the Lord. For the leader, ending a Bible study could bring an array of emotions from excitement at seeing what God had done, to a feeling of failure wondering what went wrong. As a student of the Bible and teacher of it myself, I have observed a few things that seem to be essential in allowing women to grow spiritually. I have also found a certain order to doing Bible study that seems to work best. Then lastly, I have come to realize the wonderful responsibilities of a leader.

Essentials for Spiritual Growth

Let’s start with the essentials to spiritual growth within a Bible study. Many essentials go into a woman’s personal time with the Lord regarding spiritual disciplines and such. However, when it comes time for the Bible study meeting where everyone is together, we should focus on making it most meaningful. We cannot control what each woman does once they leave the study, so we should focus on the time we all have together. What essentially is necessary for that time?

First, there is power in women hearing the Word of God preached and explained in depth in its context. I cannot explain why, but this has the power to change women spiritually. This is why God’s method for His church is to proclaim His Word through preaching. Women (and men) long to hear the Word of God preached in depth in a way they can understand and in a way they can also apply it to their lives. Martin Luther was a popular preacher because he preached using the common language of the people and he explained what the Scriptures meant. Women sign up for a Bible study as opposed to some other club because they want to know and understand the Bible more. Some sort of teaching the Word of God in depth must be a part of our Bible Studies each week if we desire our women to grow spiritually.

Second, there is power in women sharing what God has been teaching them. Studies say we do not remember so much what we hear or what we read as much as we remember what we say (or teach). Therefore, as a leader, we must encourage our participants to voice what God has taught them in their own words so that it imprints that teaching on their own heart even more. A simple question might be, “What did God show you through your study this past week?” Even if every woman doesn’t share, every woman will have an opportunity to think through their answer in their head. This will enable them to remember what they Lord has done. I see a power in women confessing and proclaiming what God has taught them to a group of other women. A large part of this definitely has to do with accountability. Leading the ladies in this type of discussion points them to God and acknowledges Him as the ultimate teacher. We all are encouraged as we see God moving in the lives of fellow believers. Without the opportunity for women to share what God has taught them, a Bible study will not reach its full potential for spiritual growth.

Third, there is power in women being prayed for and praying for others. We cannot teach the Word of God, talk about God (about Him and ourselves), without praying to God. Prayer must be a part of a women’s Bible study. However, we cannot just pray to begin or pray to end, yet we should at least do that! We must also give the opportunity for personal prayer requests to be prayed for. If a woman cannot bring her personal prayer requests up at a Bible study, where can she? While we do not need to all pray for everyone every week, women should be regularly given the opportunity to share their prayer requests and to pray over the needs of others. This shows the women that they are cared for, helps them bond together, and it also shows them how they can be used of God to care for others through praying for them! What power we have in prayer! Without praying for the personal needs of women in our study, we lack a chance to help them personally be affected by the study.

The challenge comes in achieving all of the above requirements for spiritual growth within the allotted hour or hour and a half time slot given! I have been in Bible studies three hours long that never achieved the above three and I left lacking. Yet I have also been in studies only an hour long that achieved the above three things and I left feeling full.

Order of the Bible Study

As a leader, I have found a certain order to Bible study that enables us to touch on all three important points above. We start by easing into the lesson through teaching, then asking deeper tension questions, and ending with a scheduled time of prayer.

I have found that teaching towards the beginning of the lesson to be the best time because it helps ease the ladies into a deeper time of discussion. As a leader, I have labored over the lesson for a week or more. I have often even reviewed and prayed about it at least a whole hour leading up to the start of class. So when everyone arrives, I am so excited and so ready to dig deep right away! Yet, I find I am not met with quite the same level of enthusiasm immediately.

Many of the ladies coming to class have at least slept since they did the lesson, but most likely they have done a whole lot more than just slept! When a woman arrives at Bible study, her mind is everywhere! “Did I lock my house when I left? Did I feed the dogs? I can’t believe I didn’t crash on my way here, that semi SO almost hit me! I wonder if my child is still screaming from me dropping him off at childcare. Work!” And on and on and on it goes. I know because I am one of those women, with a million things on one’s mind when arriving anywhere! With women especially, they’re not totally present mentally when we begin the study.

Starting off the Bible study with a deep question, even if it’s from the lesson and they have an answer written down, will take them a while to mentally be ready to respond and share what they wrote. Remember, their minds are a million places. The last thing they want to do at the start of a Bible study, is be the first to be vulnerable. Therefore, I have found this a great time to simply start teaching and/or reviewing the lesson. While they might not be ready to share, they will be ready to listen. Many come completely drained and exhausted and need to hear a word of encouragement or good news. So hearing their leader speak about the Bible right away helps them transition their minds from thinking of everything circumstantial to things eternal, from God’s Word. As you teach, they will remember what they learned from the lesson and grow eager to share as they listen.

We typically start our Bible study with a song, prayer, and reading our Scripture memory verse together. All of these things help ease the ladies into something deeper. Just like at church we often sing before we hear the Word preached. We prepare our hearts to hear God’s Word at church. In Bible study, we prepare our hearts to hear, and then share. After our song, a quick prayer by the leader for our time together, and the Scripture memory verse, I usually use the time to teach God’s Word. This could be teaching on the passage we studied over the week. It could be simply reviewing with the ladies our passage or what we have studied in the past weeks. It could also be a worksheet (that does not require too much thinking) that they do in pairs or groups to study the passage more (that I go over with them when they finish). I might also use that early time as an opportunity to explain something I missed in a prior week, or to clarify something in the lesson that seemed confusing. Whatever it is, it needs to be something that takes a little bit of time so that the ladies are eased into the study of God’s Word and eased out of wherever they just came from. At the start of this, usually only one or two ladies will be with me and thinking about the study. But by the end, the goal is that every woman will have transitioned out of where she came from and into the study to be totally present for the hour you have her. Not only that, but she will have learned a bit of something new about God’s Word!

Occasionally, especially early on in the study, I have found an ice breaker question to be appropriate. This seems to work really well if 1-the ladies do not know each other well (which could inhibit their sharing later on in the night) and/or if 2-the lesson was fairly easy and did not require a lot of extra explanation on the leader’s part. For example, I have asked the ladies before to share a high and low from their past week or current day. Again, only one or two ladies will be ready to share at first, but then as they start to share, others will begin to process things in their mind and it will help ease them into the study. Note: if doing an ice breaker, some type of teaching or explaining may still be needed on the part of the leader at another time during the study. The ladies still want to hear God’s Word preached.

After a woman hears the Word of God preached, especially if she is reminded of the passage she studied earlier in the week, her mind will start to recollect what God taught her through that passage and throughout the week. As she listens to the leader review and explain the passage, her heart will begin to get excited about what God has taught her through the passage. And as every good teacher says: repetition, repetition, repetition! Even if we just review what we learned the previous weeks, we give the ladies a chance to remember what God has been teaching them through the study the previous week. Then after hearing a bit of teaching and hopefully learning a little something and/or feeling fully eased into the Bible study, they will be eager to share what God has taught them. They will then share as an overflow of their own hearts being so full of God’s Word. After feeding oneself so heavily on the Word of God, one cannot help but vocalize (especially women) how feasting on God’s Word has changed them. If women are eased into the Bible study, they will jump at the chance to share God’s working in their lives.

Hence why sharing seems to be the next logical thing to cover after some sort of teaching or review occurs. Obviously with sharing, I usually have prepared questions and topics and depths where I desire the discussion to take us. Ultimately, the goal in this discussion time is not to simply ask questions in the study, but to find issues of sin or areas where women recognize growth needed in their lives. As Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing (Dr. J) from Moody would say, “areas of tension,” are what we’re after here with regards to discipleship. This is the depth we need to reach through discussion. It’s not just addressing sin, but addressing what sparks the sin and what stops us from obeying God, in everything. Again, this is all for the purpose of pointing each other back to Christ, not for the purpose of condemnation.

For example, it’s not just addressing wives submitting to their husbands without fear (1 Peter 3), but asking what stops women from submitting to their husbands without fear. Would we rather complain about why our husbands need help as opposed to joyfully being the helper God knew they needed? Do we fear submission because we have an improper understanding of it? Do we fear it because we do not trust our husbands? Or is it ultimately God that we do not trust? Do we want ultimate control of the relationship? If so, that’s saying we want ultimate control of our lives as opposed to being willing to submit our lives to God. Do we not think our husbands are capable? If so, we probably have a deeper heart issue and need to pray to view our husbands in a more positive light the way God views him. Then within this, we should address what if the man is not godly, and/or asks the woman to sin etc. The boundaries of submission should also be discussed. We are not required to submit to every man, just our husbands. We are not required to submit when being asked to sin. Without getting into lots of examples of people outside of the Bible study, the women should see and want to share what God meant by this passage and how that affects them.

Now, especially after a time of deep discussion, the ladies will long to go into a time of prayer together. Yet also having heard the Word of God explained, the prayer requests they had when they walked in the door (largely circumstantial) might have changed by the end of the study (largely heart issues). Perhaps someone walked in thinking everything in their life was going wrong, thinking they needed prayer for their work, family, relationships, and house. But after the study, they might realize they really just need prayer to have a thankful heart in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Prayer can be all together, in smaller groups, or whatever. It just has to happen regularly, and the ladies need to be given the opportunity to share personal requests fairly regularly.

Responsibilities of the Leader

Lastly, I will share the role and responsibility of a leader. I often ask myself why these ladies have signed up for a Bible study. I used to go to a large church. Our church had countless groups or volunteer opportunities. Why would a lady sign up for a women’s Bible study… especially if she’s married and/or with children and it would mean time away from her family? Regularly, I am reminded it’s because she’s hungry. She’s looking for something. Whether she’s hungry for the Word of God or for relationships with other women, she has prioritized filling that hunger above whatever else she could be doing during that time.

She has also taken a risk by signing up that must be acknowledged by the leaders. Think about it! She signed up for a study with a bunch of ladies she doesn’t know in order to go in depth studying God’s Word and sharing her heart with a bunch of strangers! This is not easy! Again, ladies signing up for these studies want something so much that they thought it was worth the risk. They have prioritized this because they are hungry.

That leaves the contemplative leader with quite an expectation to deliver! Praise God that only He can deliver what they are seeking. Praise God that He does use things as “simple” as Bible studies as a way to transform lives. Praise God that He uses imperfect leaders like myself to do His work. He takes what little we have to offer and really does above and beyond all we could ever ask for or imagine (Ephesians 5:20). Sure we can plan to ease the ladies into a time of discussion. We can plan to teach something in greater depth that was just breezed over in the lesson. We can plan to discuss certain things in certain depths. And we can plan to pray a certain way. We can plan and prepare and we should. Yet we must always remember, our planning and preparing is simply like planting and watering. Only God makes things and people grow (1 Corinthians 3:7). Therefore, we have to be open and sensitive to His leading as the ultimate guide of our study.

As a leader, I do feel the burden and responsibility to do my best each time I lead. This definitely requires studying the passage in greater depth while anticipating and researching answers to possible questions the ladies may have about the passage. It also requires a great deal of prayer on my part in preparation. The week my leading went the best is when I had asked some ladies to pray for me to teach well (after failing miserably one week!) We, as the leaders, should be praying and seeking God as to how to lead. We should be seeking God asking Him what topics in the study need covered in greater depth, what areas and questions to prioritize in covering as opposed to other less important details. All of this goes into preparing our lesson each week. Remember, the ladies are coming to learn about the Word of God. So we must do our best to teach it clearly (Colossians 4:4).

I have also found that praying for each lady every week throughout the week helps me prepare. Not only does it help me prepare, but I believe it helps them grow spiritually as well. I used to have a professor, Dr. Bill Thrasher, who asked his students every semester to fill out a notecard about how he could be praying for them throughout the semester. I believe he prayed for us each week and I know that aided in my spiritual growth while having him as a professor. Praying for others is also a way we can love them. If we’re praying for those in our study regularly, God will grow a love in our hearts for them which will then motivate us to do our God enabled best to work hard in preparing to teach each week.

One final thing I have found to be good is to try as far as it depends on me, to make things run smoothly. Obviously, we cannot plan for everything and sometimes things just do not go as planned. But if we can anticipate and arrive early and set things up ahead of time, it really helps things run smoothly. Interruptions (be it technical difficulties or whatever) seem to stifle the mood and distract the ladies from staying focused on the study and God’s Word.

For example, one time I printed out the lyrics to our worship song, but did not realize the lyrics I printed out were not entirely correct for the version of song we were listening to! After the first verse, we were all lost. It sure made worshiping that week difficult for everyone, although, they were quite gracious. Thankfully for us, we followed worship with a prayer in which I praised God for working through our mistakes, and I trusted Him to do His work that night despite me. We will never realize how important it is that things run smoothly until we see the devastating consequences of something going awry. Being the creative person I am, always trying something new, I have often had things not go as well as I planned. I have found a fine line between doing something creative and different to better illustrate a point and doing something so creative and different that it distracts from the point. I am still figuring this one out!

With all of this, I have to mention something about technology. I firmly believe the devil is into technology. Therefore, whenever I have something requiring technology for a study I’m leading, I have a backup plan in case something goes awry. I take two laptops. I’ll take two speakers. I’ll have my phone or another laptop ready in case the classroom TV doesn’t work. I have paper copies of powerpoints. I have paper copies of everything in case some technology doesn’t work. Whenever I have backups for my backups, the devil takes one look and says, “forget it! That’s too much work to mess with that Bible study!” and the technology works perfectly! Anyone who’s ever led a Bible study having any element of technology knows exactly what I’m talking about!

Another thing that can stifle or distract from the Bible study is getting off track. This also is the responsibility of the leader to keep the ladies on track with their study of the Word of God. Doing this requires a great deal of prayer. We can and should pray beforehand that God would lead the discussion and keep us on track covering what He desires to be important. Yet we should also pray throughout the study constantly seeking God with how to steer the discussion and which questions to ask next, how long to wait for others to answer, etc. Granted, some things can be figured out before the study, like a type of time schedule prioritizing which questions to cover when and which to skip over if not enough time. However sometimes the discussion takes an unexpected turn and we must seek God about what to do in the moment.

While I did not mention this as a leader’s responsibility, it should go without saying that the leader should be constantly spending time in personal Bible study and prayer and working on her own relationship with the Lord. If anything stands between her and the Lord, it will make her teaching and leadership less effective. She should constantly be giving herself to the Lord and allowing Him to prune her in order to make her a more holy woman of God. It is assumed a leader chosen will do this regularly.

So while the leader has a great responsibility to teach the passage accurately and correctly each week (James 3:1-2), we also have the responsibility to pray regularly, and to prepare things as best we can so things run smoothly without interruption. We do not want anything to distract the ladies from growing in their relationship with God. The ultimate purpose for all of these things is simply to set the stage for God to do a transforming work in the lives of each of the ladies in the study. Yet as the leader, we have a great responsibility to shepherd the souls of precious women in our studies. And for this responsibility, we answer to God, who is the only One capable of truly shepherding us and our ladies.

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The Reality of Taking a Step Back

“… They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right! (Jeremiah 4:22)”

We all need to take time to laugh at some verses in the Bible. Then after regaining our composure, context helps greatly! God is not mad at His children, as much as He is incredibly hurt. Their destruction is upon them because they’ve chosen their own way. Earlier, God says, “my heart, my heart-I writhe in pain!” because the enemy is upon His people! He’s given and given and given to a people who have turned their backs on Him. He’s sent warning after warning through the prophets, yet they’ve refused to turn from their evil ways. God knows they need punished for their sins, but it’s still hard for Him to watch His children suffer. Every parent understands not wanting to see their children suffer, but needing to enforce an unpleasant consequence due to their misbehavior. I find I love the idea of things a lot more than their actuality. I love the idea of being wealthy, but I don’t want to put in the effort and sacrifice my family time to make that happen. I love the idea of living for God, but I don’t love the actuality of getting up early to devote the first part of my day to Him. God loves His children so much He wants a relationship with them. But He doesn’t enjoy having to discipline them when they disobey.

Ultimately, God is saying in this verse, “they don’t get it!” And He’s realized that He has done all He can for them. The only thing left to do is to allow them to face the consequences of their sins. It’s like a parents with the drug addicted child who keeps stealing from his parents and using it for drugs. They’ve put him in rehab, but he’s not chosen to change on his own. Finally, exasperated at knowing they’ve done all in their power to do, they kick their grown child out of the house. “If you’re going to do drugs, steal from us, lie to us, and not respect the rules of our home, then you can no longer live here. We’ve done all we can for you. You’re on your own now.”

I can’t help but think about relationships in our own lives. Some people like to focus on God’s grace and forgiveness. But they ignore God’s justice. God, being the perfect parent to His children, the Israelites, still had His children turn away. Is there a relationship that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into that it’s had little to no effect on the person? God eventually took a step back. He left the temple. He stopped intervening and protecting and allowed His people to face natural consequences. Is there a relationship where we need to take a step back? We like the idea of continuing in a relationship, but the reality is that there’s nothing we can do to help the person anymore. With much prayer, sometimes taking a step back can be the most loving and Biblical thing to do.

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Avoiding the Lesser Causes

“So I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”” (Nehemiah 6:3)

I have been mulling over this verse for a few days now. Nehemiah was working for the king and had a burden on his heart to go to a different town and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah prayed and the Lord paved the way for him to leave his job, go and build the wall around Jerusalem, with the King’s blessing. What an awesome opportunity! What if your boss encouraged you to go on a mission trip and gave you the time off and money to cover some added expenses? We need to know the background to understand the context here in this tiny statement. While working, a man named Sanballat got all grumpy about the wall being built. Maybe he had a rough childhood. Maybe he had a few bad experiences in life. Maybe he was just a big bad bully for no good reason at all. Sanballat did all he could to stop the wall from being built. He tried reason, manipulation, and even force. Nehemiah was even told to hide in the temple because Sanballat might kill him. Instead of hiding, Nehemiah led the people to be prepared to fight. Half the people stood guard while half worked. You know what’s amazing about the book of Nehemiah? They finished the work they had set out to do! You know how long it took? Only fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15)!  It was SO quick! But how did they finish so quick? They were focused on completing the work God had assigned to them. When adversity came, they didn’t dwell on it or even waste any time at all being upset about it. They strategized and continued working. They re-strategized and continued working. When Sanballat tried to talk to Nehemiah, Nehemiah refused because he was too busy doing God’s will to get involved in meaningless controversies. “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come,” (Nehemiah 6:3). Nehemiah also asked a question, “Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). It’s a question I’ve been thinking about lately too. Why should I stop doing what God has called me to do in order to…fill in the blank. Are you involved in a great work for which God has called you? Do you stay focused on the task at hand? Or are you distracted and downtrodden by those against you? Lord, help us focus on living for You and not on our struggles.

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In this house, we…

What’s up with Romans 13 & 14?

You know those signs when you enter someone’s home that say, “in this house we…” and then they mention all sorts of cute things like “forgive, love one another, have fun?” You probably have one of those signs somewhere in your house. They’re great signs, right? They make us feel all lovey dovey inside and they’re great to point out reminders to our children.

That’s what Paul was up to in Romans 13 and 14. He just started listing all the rules to live by in your life. His sign would say something like, “In this house, we submit to governing authorities, pay our taxes, owe nothing to anyone, obey the commandments, wake up, live descent lives, accept others whose faith is weak without arguing with them, keep a clear conscience, don’t condemn each other, aim for harmony in the church, build each other up, follow our convictions” (Romans 13-14). Then somewhere in there, Paul talked an awful lot about what people eat. Like, apparently there were a lot of hot trendy diets going around and people who were on them were acting more spiritual than others? As if that was unique to that time frame. No. It’s completely the same now. Someone’s always on some new diet trend and trying to get you on board with them. Because let’s face it, it’s tough not eating bread when you’re at the Old Spaghetti Factory with a table full of people eating free bread offering you more.
All joking aside, I believe that if we dig a bit deeper into Paul’s point, and we actually tried to apply the truths he taught, we’d all be much better off, enjoy our lives more, enjoy our friends who eat weird more, and be a much better witness for the Gospel. So let’s dig in.

Respect authority (Romans 13:1-5). In other words, trust in God! Trust that God has placed that person or those people in authority over you. Therefore, respect, obey, and keep a clear conscience.

Pay your taxes (Romans 13:6-7). Did the IRS write the Bible? No! God did. He wrote this part through a man named Paul. Honor systems (even if broken and imperfect) that God has put into place, like taxes.
Obey the commandments, all the time (Romans 13:8-14). In other words, not just on Sundays or when Christians are watching you. Life is FAR too short for that. Keep short accounts and trust the Lord. Love your neighbor (all people) as yourself (Romans 13:9). That means not doing ANY wrong to others (Romans 13:10). Can you imagine, not doing ANY wrong to ANYONE EVER? That’s our call. Be kind to the repair man, to the person in front of you at the checkout lane with a zillion coupons.

That leads to the next part, which the NLT titles as “The Danger of Criticism.”
Don’t argue with people even if they disagree with you (Romans 14:1). First, we’re to look past our differences with others and accept each other. Next, Paul tells us we can do this because God is the true and only righteous judge. Lastly, we’re not to condemn others for being different than us! INSTEAD, we’re to live and die to Christ alone, as opposed to pleasing others. We’re also to aim for harmony in the church and to build each other up! “Oh Lord, help us do this with our kids! Even though their different from us as parents, help us build them up in their uniqueness without condemning them for being different! Amen!” Lastly, and this is very important: we’re to keep our convictions. God loves that we have convictions about different things! He just doesn’t want us putting those convictions on others as if they’re requirements to acceptance into Heaven. If you don’t celebrate Halloween or have a Christmas tree, or watch a certain show, awesome! But keep it between yourself and God. That doesn’t mean it’s a secret or you have to put up a Christmas tree when your friends come over. It means when you hear of how others have a Christmas tree or celebrate Halloween, you don’t judge and don’t broadcast your own views on the subject as if you know better. If asked, be honest, not ashamed. “Our family has chosen to celebrate Christmas without a tree.” Or, “we’ve decided Halloween would be better spent hosting a game night.” Personal convictions about these areas are just that, personal. And if you know someone who’s faith only allows them to eat vegetables and they think bread is from the devil, allow them to be that way. God allows for variety in His Kingdom. He’s called us each to different things for different reasons (Romans 14).

In this house we
look past differences and accept each other
Because God is the true judge and He will judge
Don’t condemn others for their convictions
Live and die to Christ alone (not to please others)
Aim for harmony in the church and build each other UP!
Keep our convictions and LIVE by them!

What a brilliant idea! What if we focused on building people up in the way God made them as opposed to making them like us to make us feel better? What if we took our eyes off of ourselves and focused on the bigger picture of God and making Him great? Listen to me. I just condemned ya’ll, myself included. Oh this is tough. Confessions of a recovering critic here. Praying we as the church, myself included, could live out Romans 13-14 in our homes and in our lives.

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Why You’re Overwhelmed with Relationships

Troy has called me every year, on my birthday, for the last eighteen years of my life. Ever since the one summer he led a mission trip I went on, he’s called me on my birthday. He leads a few mission trips a year. How many people do you think he calls? How wide is his network? How wide is yours? How wide was Jesus’? And the question we all deal with every day is: How do I choose between friends? Or family? Or my extended family over my immediate family? Do I really need to organize and be intentional in my relationships? The Bible tells me so.

I just recently moved (about an hour away) and felt completely overwhelmed with my networks nearly doubling in size. I suddenly had a lot of old friends I still wanted to connect with and new friends I wanted to get to know. Then my kids started asking to hang out with their friends too. I found myself trying to keep up with everyone equally, but I wasn’t doing it equally. I would forget to tell one friend something and tell another friend something three times.

Then the Lord reminded me of the 12-72 principle. I could prioritize my relationships like Jesus did. Really, it is more like the “1-3-12-72-multitudes” principle, but that’s a mouthful to say, so let’s summarize by calling it the 12-72 principle. Jesus did this. He came to earth to show us how to live, and that includes our relationships. One night I made a list of all my relationships and I separated them into the 1, 3, 12, 72, or multitude category. This not only helped with my own brain and priorities, but it helped me have a filter for what to share with different people. It also freed me from the pressure to maintain deep relationships with so many people.

Ready for more freedom and direction in your relationships? Let’s do this together. Ok, grab a pen and paper or your favorite list app, and let’s go through these categories together. Let’s live intentionally modelling our lives after Jesus, starting with the most important.


Jesus chose ONE person, Peter, the rock on which to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Why is Peter talked about so much more than the other disciples? Because He was the one person Jesus chose to build His church. Why is your ONE? It could be Jesus Himself. It might be your spouse, or a best friend, a sister. If no one comes to mind right away, no worries. Just claim your one as being Jesus and let’s move on.


Next, Jesus chose THREE people for whom He poured His life into during His most intimate moments of ministry. He chose Peter, James, and John to take up to the mountain of transfiguration (Mark 9:2-3). He allowed only Peter, James, and John (and the girl’s parents) to be present during the healing of a little girl (Luke 8:51). At the end of His life, Jesus wanted Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gethsemane with Him to pray (Matthew 26:37). No one else. Not three disciples here and another three there. Jesus consistently chose the same three disciples to pour His life into. That’s a challenging call.

So who are your THREE? Perhaps in addition to your ONE, you now add your kids, your parents, or your next two best friends. If you can’t choose three, don’t get too worried about it right now, it might take time to iron that out. Try your spouse, kids, and one-three best friends. The overflow will definitely be included in the next group anyway. Your groups are allowed to be fluid. Give yourself that grace. Only Jesus was perfect.


After that, Jesus, as most of us know, had TWELVE disciples (Luke 6:12-16). He poured most of His teachings into His twelve disciples. Now is a good time to remember that none of His 12 disciples were from Jesus’ immediate family. James, Jesus’ brother who wrote the book of James in the Bible, is different than James the disciple. However, it doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care for or love His family. He totally did. As the eldest son, culturally He was in charge of caring for His mom in her old age. While He did not allow cultural norms to distract from His mission, He still fulfilled that role by assigning John, the disciple, to care for His mom (John 19:26-27). And note, John is the only disciple that did not die young. Jesus did not skirt His familial responsibilities. Also remember, Jesus LOVED people outside of His twelve. I say all that because the line between twelve and seventy-two is a tough call. It’s like choosing the varsity players out of all those who tried out. But this is also where the rubber meets the road. I’ve seen those who do this well, separate their twelve relationships from their seventy-two type relationships. Those who do that well live calm, focused, full and fruitful lives. If that sounds appealing, let’s dive in.

Who is in your twelve? Jesus lived with His disciples, literally. While you don’t have to have a houseful, think for a moment about who you live life with regularly anyway? Neighbors? Parents? Siblings’ families? Or the formal answer might be: your small group. If you’re not in a small group officially, maybe there are certain friends you get together with on a regular basis anyway. Perhaps your kids are in travel ball together. I used to visit an elderly neighbor lady four-five evenings a week when I was home with my baby. At that time, she would have been considered to be in my twelve. We used to get together with two other families once/week for years. Even though we weren’t an official small group, they were considered in my twelve during that time. We lived the day to day, week to week life together. We prayed for each other and shared our highs and lows together.

If you don’t feel like you have anyone like that, don’t panic. Perhaps your in transition. But also remember, you can build up to a network of people who you live life regularly together with. The quickest easiest way would be to join a group. If your church has small groups, join one. If you have a passion for something and there’s a group in your area, join that group. I know a group I call “the walking ladies,” whom I see walking around town a few mornings a week. Most are freshly retired. They often go out for coffee afterward. If you still feel like you’re lacking the kind of community or group you long for, start your own. It’s OK to start small. You have my permission. Finding one other person who shares your passion will be worth it. And if it doesn’t last forever, that’s OK too. We all have seasons.

I started a prayer/playdate/picnic group for moms and their kids to meet once/week. I had one other mom who faithfully showed up every week. Another came once or twice. And that was it. But it still worked out perfect! My kids loved meeting up with people. The one faithful mom became one of my closest friends. The other mom who came a few times was someone I hadn’t seen in a while and was able to reconnect with.

OK, so let’s say your twelve includes your spouse, your two and a half kids, two best friends, three ladies from your small group, your kid’s friend’s mom, that other mom you sit with at ball games, your mom, and two neighbors. That’s it! You did it! Let’s try another scenario, just for fun.

Let’s say YOUR twelve includes your three best friends, the six ladies in your Bible study, a workout buddy, and the two coworkers you eat lunch with all the time. Yay! You did it!

 But what about everyone else? What about Betty? And Suzie Q? And Annie Jo and Lottie? Never fear! The seventy-two are here!


Yet Jesus had other followers too. Remember Mary and Martha and Lazarus? Jesus loved them (John 11:5). Yet they weren’t in his inner inner circle, but still very dear to Him! When I made a list of my one, my three, my twelve and started my list of my seventy-two, I felt a wave of relief come over me. I had been trying to keep up with many people listed on my 72 as if they were in my inner circle of three people. It hadn’t been working. I was relieved because most of the people on my 72 list were dear friends. I suddenly realized that they we could also still hang out without the obligation to keep in touch so consistently.

Here, in the seventy-two, is where most people you interact with on a regular basis will end up. And it’s OK! I have so many people who in different seasons of my life have been in my top twelve, are now in my seventy-two. Who might these people include, you ask? Nearly everyone else you speak to regularly. For instance, that group of high school or college friends that get together once or twice a year, your extended extension family, all the other coworkers whom you like, but aren’t as close to. Those people you met at story time or friends’ of friends. Or that friend who you used to talk to all the time, but now don’t since you moved away, but you’ll forever be somewhat close. Yeah, they go here. And the seventy-two is an excellent spot for them! You’re not living life daily or deeply with them, but you’re still close whenever you see each other.

Most people don’t need to be added to this list. Only write down those you want to maintain a relationship with. Remember, the seventy-two aren’t being outcast. Rather, they’re on deck relationships growing at a slower pace, but possible to increase in intensity as times and seasons allow.


Beyond that, we see Jesus in Scripture having “the multitudes” following Him. These multitudes might have had one encounter with Jesus, or many. Jesus’ preached His sermon on the mount to the multitudes (Matthew 5-7). He fed the five thousand and the four thousand (Matthew 14-15).  This means social media followers, Christmas card recipients, friendships old and new and acquaintances in between, your address list, your customer base, nearly everyone. (Unless of course you’re famous and have more than five thousand followers. In that case, just include your most loyal subscribers, right?)

I love Christmas cards, because I love connecting with so many people who I often only connect with once a year, through a Christmas card. I often only hear from Troy on my birthday every year. But I love that I’m in his “multitudes” and that I can still hear what God is doing in His life and ministry. Don’t bother listing five-thousand people. Just know that those beyond your seventy-two belong in the multitudes.

Overall, just remember the 12-72 principle and you’ll be much less stressed in relationships.

And if you don’t read the Bible, or just prefer to hear someone try to “prove” what the Bible has already clearly advised, check out this article from the BBC.