All posts from "January 2013"January 31, 2013
It’s important to follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.
Our purpose is being a woman of God and doing what he asks. Our passions are meant to be godly purpose-indicators. They are the things that make our heart sing; they help us identify and complete our purpose. For example, my passions include jigsaw puzzles, travel, and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. God's purpose for me is to help women figure out his call on their lives.
When we're in "robot mode," we let busyness, noise, fear, or impure motives drive out that purpose. We guilt ourselves into doing the hard work of becoming holy in the day-to-day grind instead of experiencing the reward of fulfilling the reason God put us on earth!
In Acts 20:24, the apostle Paul says, "I don't care about my own life. The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me—to tell people the Good News about God's grace" (NCV). And 1 John 2:17 says, "The world and its desires pass away, but the [wo]man who does the will of God lives forever." God wants us to heed the apostle Paul's counsel: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25). God wants us to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
I love the way God takes any willing Christian—no matter how broken or scarred her past—and weaves every thread of her life into his kingdom-building plan! He doesn't shy away from our hurts and failures but specializes in hope, second chances, and resurrections. Our ordinary routines and daily roles—no matter what they are—can provide incredible opportunities to help others become more like Christ.
In the end, purposeful living is about hope. If you can hang onto the hope that God does have a plan for your life, as the Bible promises in Jeremiah 29:11, you'll make it through the tough days of the unknown and later, the tough days of fulfilling the bold purposes God assigns you.
God continues to seek us even after we begin following him.
Have you ever read something in the Bible that made you wonder why it was ever included? Consider the story of the prophet Hosea: God tells him to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2).
So Hosea marries Gomer, who has a wandering eye—and body. She continually runs from Hosea, who continually pursues her and brings her back into relationship with him.
I don’t know if you’ve been lucky enough to hear a sermon on or to study the book of Hosea, but it really is a beautiful picture of grace—well, beautiful might not be the right word. Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is an illustration for God’s relationship with us. Just like Gomer, we’ve gone astray. And the fact is that just as Hosea pursues Gomer regardless of who she is or what she does, God continually pursues us, seeking a relationship.
So the story of Hosea really is a great story about God’s grace and love for us.
Blah blah blah.
Hosea and Gomer’s story is a touching one—unless you’ve heard it so many times before, it starts to feel stale. And that’s exactly how I was feeling. After all, I’d been following Christ for 11 years. I already had a relationship with God. I wasn’t Gomer.
So as my pastor spoke on Hosea two weeks ago, I settled in for a sermon I’d heard many times before. You know how it goes: God wants to be in relationship with you. So much that he sent his Son who died a terrible death. And there’s nothing you can do to earn the grace he’s offering; you simply have to accept it.
But that wasn’t the sermon.
Instead, the pastor spoke about how God continues to passionately pursue us—even after we start following him.
We need to be continually pursued. Because each time we sin, we are just like Gomer, leaving our Husband in search of something better. But just as Hosea didn’t stop pursuing Gomer once they were married, God doesn’t stop pursuing us once we’ve entered into a relationship with him.
The true beauty of the story is that God continues to pursue us, love us, cherish us, and seek a deeper relationship with us—even when we, people already committed to following him, continually mess up, choosing other things over him.
As the sermon came to a close, I wept. Here was God making sure I knew that he was pursuing me, that he desires my whole heart—and he desires that I choose him over and over again each day. God didn’t stop pursuing me when I started following him. Instead, that was simply when I decided to reciprocate the pursuit.
Realizing that God is still in pursuit of my heart 11 years after I first committed to him brought new life to my pursuit of him—something I desperately needed.
It’s just like marriage. I don’t expect my relationship with my husband to look the same on our 35th anniversary as it did on our wedding day. I expect that our love will be deeper, our trust fuller, our relationship more interconnected than ever. And that’s because of our mutual pursuit of each other.
How much more do you want to pursue your spouse when you know he’s pursuing you? In marriage, too, we must choose our spouse day after day, renewing our vows in our hearts with each sunrise.
I’m so thankful for this reminder that life with God extends beyond his initial pursuit of us—it’s an ongoing mutual pursuit in an ever-deepening relationship. It’s in this light that pursuing God feels less like an obligation and more like answering a love letter.
When have you experienced God pursuing you? How does his pursuit of you make you feel?
Amy Jackson is managing editor for SmallGroups.com and ChristianBibleStudies.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKJackson.
A new mantra for women: break free from the one-size-fits-all mentality
In a day when diversity is celebrated, the cultural prescription for beauty is a narrow, one-size-fits-all mentality. And that one size is a skinny size few women ever achieve.
We're repeatedly exposed to unrealistic cultural images that affect our thinking, so many of us give up and overeat, feeling we can't measure up no matter what we do.
[We compare ourselves] because we're uncertain of our identities. Comparisons are our attempt to feel better about ourselves and bolster our esteem. The real issue is, where do you find your esteem?
Take the self out of self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem and you have a different picture. If you try to love yourself apart from God, you'll fail. Esteem doesn't come from your appearance, your work, your family, or other people. You're highly esteemed simply because God created and chose you. God doesn't say, "If only she'd lose five pounds, I could love her more."
[Yet] “Just five more pounds” is most women's mantra.
Focusing on what we think we can control—eating and dieting—can be easier than dealing with issues we feel are out of our control. But working on the outside without addressing the inside doesn't work long term.
Too many of us allow the physical to distract us from the emotional, relational, and spiritual aspects of our lives. We can easily assess and correct our appearance in the mirror. But we tend to avoid working on invisible emotional pain because we fear we won't be able to resolve it. So we let our outer beauty cover up inner struggles.
You might change your hairstyle rather than work through a difficult parent relationship. Or you might diet to get a false sense of control over your life when your marriage is falling apart.
When we read God's Word, listen to his voice, and pray, he changes us. Altering the physical doesn't fix the internal. Only Jesus can set us free from our insecurities.
A Christian response to TXBlue08’s popular CNN blog post on rearing children without a belief in God.
TXBlue08, a Texas mom of two, recently set the internet buzzing with her article, “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” Read by more than 750,000 people so far, thousands are enthusiastically recommending her article, while others find her assertions so offensive they’re asking CNN to take the article down.
TXBlue08 outlines several reasons why she decided to stop perpetuating the “illogical legend of God” with her kids; instead she’s chosen a path of intentional honesty, teaching her kids what she has come to believe about life and religion.
Unlike many of TXBlue08’s internet detractors, I don’t find her article offensive. In fact, several of the “bones” she has to pick with religion are issues that bother me as well. Her questions are good ones, and many of her criticisms are valid. But as a mom of three, I choose to raise my kids with God—to purposefully grow them up within the church and Christian tradition. It’s not because I’ve been fooled by a myth or because I simply need a crutch like God or a fictional heaven in order to feel good about life.
So why do I raise my kids to believe in God?
Because we are more than blood and bones. Atheism offers us this inevitable conclusion: We humans are ultimately nothing more than blood and bones, animated matter, carbon and water and nitrogen. Our sense of “self” is merely a perception caused by the snapping neurons of our brain. But this naturalist view of the world discounts what cultures worldwide, on every continent and throughout the centuries, have all acknowledged through various expressions of religion, mythology, poetry, and art: There is a spiritual side of life. We humans are more than mere matter, and this life is one of joy, longing, beauty, and a searching after truth. I raise my children with God because I affirm what they inherently experience to be true: Life is imbued with meaning that strict naturalism cannot even come close to explaining.
Because of human dignity. I raise my kids with God because I want them to deep-down-in-the-gut know that every human life is sacred. From the fetus in the womb to the physically or mentally handicapped to the elderly and infirm, Christianity affirms the essential dignity and significance of every human life. This pro-life understanding is about much more than opposing abortion; Scripture’s radical assertion that all humans are made in the image of God is what led people such as Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights activists to fight against racist Jim Crow laws and Mother Teresa to tend the sores of outcast, “untouchable” lepers. It’s what mobilizes throngs of Christians today to actively combat human trafficking and what unites environmentally-concerned Christians in an effort to fight climate change and its devastating effects among the world’s poor and marginalized. This belief in human dignity is particularly critical as I raise daughters in a world still fraught with sexism. As a follower of the Christ who boldly confronted sexist cultural taboos, I aim to raise my daughters with confidence in their own God-given value.
Because we need to face ourselves. No matter how much we may try to evade or ignore it, the reality is that each of us will experience moments in which we’re horrified by ourselves. We’ve lost our patience, acted selfishly, profoundly hurt another, or done something we’re deeply ashamed of. Though I believe essential God-made good exists in every human being, a worldview that lacks an acknowledgment of what Christianity calls sin is inconsistent with actual human experience. Along with the message I repeatedly share—that God deeply loves them—my kids also need to know that Scripture speaks the truth about the human condition: We’re all broken, prone to self-centeredness, and in deep need of grace.
Because Christianity compels us beyond ourselves. TXBlue08 rightly critiques narcissistic religiosity . . . but of course so does the Bible! God invites us, over and over in Scripture, to forego selfish ambition, to live in humility, and to focus on serving and caring for the needs of others. In a sickeningly me-me-me world, Christianity demands we see that life is not all about us, or about accumulating the most toys, or winning the rat race. Instead, God calls us to help those in need, to speak out for victims of injustice, to offer compassion to the hurting, to welcome the stranger. And so I aim to keep journeying, with my children, on the path away from self-centered living ever toward a more Christ-like way of being.
Because I love my children, I share my faith life. I could engage in a tit-for-tat debate against atheism here, elucidating dozens more reasons why I reject the conclusions of secular humanism. But alas, there isn’t space. (You can look to theologians and philosophers such as Plantinga, McGrath, Chesterton, Pascal, and countless others for a rigorous discussion.) But ultimately, just as TXBlue08 has chosen to share with her children what she’s come to believe about this world, I too choose to raise my children with God because it is the truest way of sharing who I am.
I agree with TXBlue08’s rejection of pithy or noxious expressions of religion. I too think that parents should not feed their children a superficial myth or what Christian theology professor Roger E. Olsen, in his book Questions to All Your Answers, calls “folk religion”—a pop Christianity based on cheesy, over-used clichés and feel-good, seemingly spiritual hogwash. Like TXBlue08, I too refuse to pass on to my children a two-dimensional folk-tale-faith that can’t stand up to the test of real life.
There’s more—much more—to Christianity than the folk-religion stereotype perpetuated in the media and critiqued by atheists like TXBlue08. There’s a robust intellectual tradition, a compelling history of profound contribution to the liberal arts and the sciences, and a philosophical and theological canon that does not turn a blind eye to the tough questions (such as some of those TXBlue08 posed), but rather engages them with biblical acumen, rigorous scholarship, and spiritual honesty.
I believe in God in faith, but certainly not blind faith. Unlike the stereotype of unthinking, unquestioning automaton believers that atheists and agnostics rightly reject, the God I believe in welcomes honest human questioning, and is present in this world with divine fingerprints all over it. The God I believe in doesn’t ask us to fear or reject science, but rather to welcome and pursue scientific discovery as an avenue of learning more about God and about God’s world. And the God I believe in does not offer superficial pat answers to the deepest of human sufferings, but rather is present with us in our suffering and offers us a real spiritual hope.
Why do I raise my kids with God? Because in a world of pain and confusion, echoing with questions but also brimming with wonder and beauty, I find Christianity to be the sonorous ringing answer to the deepest questions of the human condition, resonating with Truth where secular humanism rings hollow.
Kelli B. Trujillo is a Midwest mom of three and the author of Faith-Filled Moments: Helping Kids See God in Everyday Life, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival, and the new Flourishing Faith series for women. www.kellitrujillo.com. Twitter @kbtrujillo.
Is it healthy to set goals for ourselves?
With the start of a new year, it’s easy to set unrealistic goals for ourselves. In today’s “go-getter” society, it seems everyone is striving to achieve more, be more, and consume more. I don’t know about you, but the rat race pace gets to me more often than it should. At the conclusion of the first month of 2013, most of us have recognized our failure to meet the expectations we’ve set for ourselves. Dr. Cliff Arnall, a psychology instructor and “pseudoscientist” from the UK, suggests there is an equation for this failure epidemic:
Variables in this equation include weather (W), debt (d), time passed since Christmas (T), time since failing our new year’s resolutions (Q), low motivational levels (M), and the feeling of a need to take action (Na). The solution of the equation signifies the third Monday in the month of January as “Blue Monday,” or “the most depressing day of the year.” This year Blue Monday landed on Monday, January 21.
The good news is that we’ve passed that date! The bad news is, for my friend Audrey, whom I met at a praise and worship night at my friend’s church during the second week of the year, Blue Monday came early. On the second Friday of the year, we sat around a table and discussed new year’s resolutions and goals we’ve set for ourselves, and how we were doing in achieving them.
“My New Year’s resolution was never to hit my snooze button on my alarm. I hit it three times this morning. Oh well.”
Audrey’s confession, within 10 days of the turn of the year, was only one in a string of many who admitted they weren’t sure if they’d live up to the standards they’d set for themselves. Running marathons, going vegan, and learning banjo were three goals mentioned during our conversation, and we all shared encouragements with one another like “keep going” and “don’t lose heart.”
As I left the church that evening, though, I started wondering if the encouragements I’d shared with everyone were words Jesus would have shared. What if my friend tears her ACL and isn’t able to run the Chicago Marathon? What if my other friend encounters dietary problems and has to, for some reason, start eating meat?
What if failing is an inevitable fact of life?
“Be still, and know that I am God,” the Lord says in Psalms. “Get away and rest a while,” Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark. Then there’s Mary vs. Martha: Mary discovered that true fulfillment came from sitting at her Savior’s feet instead of running around doing chores and dishes.
While psychologists like Dr. Arnall encourage the world to “use the day [Blue Monday] as a springboard for a higher quality life,” Jesus encourages us to be still and rest for a while. Who are we, really? And who—or what—is at the root of our joy? For me, I know I could learn a little more about lowering the expectations I have for myself and finding rest in God.
Read more about setting goals in this week’s “What I’m Learning About” collection.
An inspirational verse on humility and obedience.
"O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."
What the popular television series is teaching me about the values of marriage and community.
I’ll admit it. I’m one of the millions of Downton Abbey fans. The characters are interesting, their clothes are beautiful, and the setting is enchanting. So when I can learn a little more about the way the show is created or about the history of Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed, I do.
To prepare myself for the third season, I read a book about Lady Almina Carnarvon, who was the countess of Highclere at the turn of the century and through World War I. Reading about her life was informative and charming—the best kind of reading!
I found this quote regarding Lady Carnarvon’s marriage especially fascinating: “When they were at Highclere or at their house in London, the Carnarvons were always entertaining. It was a curiously public existence compared to domestic life for most married couples today. They were hardly ever alone, and their house was always full of staff and guests.”
This “public existence” is displayed in Downton Abbey by the marriage of Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. The newly married couple lives with her family in a house full of staff. Most dinners include at least two guests: Matthew’s mother and Lady Grantham (the inimitable Maggie Smith, who steals the show with her one-liners and facial expressions).
Sometimes I can’t help but compare Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley’s situation with my own. You see, I too recently got married. Though if I’m honest, that’s basically where the similarities end.
Both the Carnarvons of the early 20th century and the fictitious Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Crawley are surrounded by family and servants in a castle, while my husband and I live by ourselves in a modest home. The Carnarvons and the Crawleys are surrounded by family, while we have to be intentional to spend time with our relatives, even though we live in the same town.
While the Carnarvons and the Crawleys spend most of their time with the same 50 people, my husband and I have to consistently pursue deeper relationships with some of the many people God has placed in our lives. Where they have to seek time alone as a couple, my husband and I have to seek time in community.
It’s a striking comparison. Though the large amount of staff is a function of the Carnarvons’s (and Crawleys’s) wealth and status, middle class and poor families also used to live lives in community. Middle class families often lived in the same house or village as their extended families. Sometimes they even worked together in the same trade. Underprivileged families had to squeeze into small homes where privacy wasn’t an option. Community wasn’t a choice.
For my husband and me, we have to choose to pursue community. Because we have privacy and independence, it’s easy to become focused on our own wants and interests. It’s a curious consistency that as you can isolate yourself as a single, you can just as easily isolate yourselves as a couple. We have to fight our self-centered desire to retain control over our time and energy. Joining a small group or being consistent in Sunday worship can seem like a personal choice rather than a spiritual necessity.
However, a community of two is not enough to sustain a marriage.
I love Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
We don’t give up meeting together because we remember what Christ has done for us. His work is why we can draw near to God, hold tightly to our hope, and meet together to motivate and challenge each other to grow in love and good works.
The Christian life is not just a wedding day where you declare your love. It’s a marriage that is lived out daily. It requires renewed commitment every day. And we need more than just our spouse to push us toward love and good deeds. We need the wisdom of couples who have loved and lived longer than we have. We need the insight of men and women to show us how to persevere in becoming the people God wants us to be. We need community to experience a deeper understanding of God’s grace.
As I preach this truth to myself, it encourages me to pursue community, and not just by default as shown on screen in Downton Abbey. It makes me fight my self-centeredness, and encourages me to participate in a community of believers—both for my spiritual health, and for the health of my marriage.
Beatrice Schoenrock is Today’s Christian Woman’s marketing project and social media manager.
God has a plan for every single woman in the world.
"Every once in a while a man comes along who sparks my interest, and vice versa. Then, a funny thing sometimes happens. The more interested I become, the more I become someone else. Someone a little less opinionated, less passionate, more interested in oh, say … auto racing.
Recently I began spending time with a man in a singles gathering I attend. He's a terrific guy—he loves the Lord deeply, has a heart for people, and is actively involved in ministry. He also happens to be physically attractive, too. In our group, he's known as the most eligible bachelor around.
When this man began to pursue me, I felt all the old fears kick in. Was I pretty enough? Thin enough? Charming and talkative enough? However, instead of changing who I was to suit his taste, I began to long instead for someone to love me as is. I didn't know if he was that person, but I decided to let time reveal the mystery. And when he broke things off, I wasn't devastated. I simply felt I'd been given an answer. Though disappointed, I was content and able to let go.
God has made me the woman I am; years of being single have allowed me the opportunity to learn who this woman is. Perhaps God allowed this brief relationship to show me the futility of trying to be someone I'm not, as I've done in previous relationships. It was so much easier and less exhausting to just be myself. I realized I'd rather be single than be with someone who wants me to be someone else. What a lifetime of hard work that would be!
God knows better than anyone who I really am. He wants a man to love me for the woman he made me to be."
Here are a few reasons why, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., love should always win over hate.
It was summer. It was Maine. It was Sunday. So my dad, a U. S. army reservist on a two-week hitch in the small town of Bangor, decided to do what he always did on Sundays. He went to church.
He didn’t know anybody in the small congregation. As a black man, he didn’t expect the few churchgoers to fall over themselves to welcome him. But this was the Sixties. This was Maine. And this was Sunday. So the last thing he expected is what happened.
After the church service—with its hymns and praying and preaching—my father was followed from the church to the parking lot by a knot of agitated men, including the preacher.
Were they following him to invite him back?
Just the opposite. Don’t come back, they told my dad.
Ignoring his military uniform, his spit-polish style, his quiet and reserved nature—and his lifetime love for the Lord—they focused instead on his skin color. That was enough, in fact, for these church-going men to look beyond their own Christian values, such as they were, and turn my dad into a fearsome enemy.
“So don’t come back,” they told my dad. And they didn’t mince words. Outnumbered, my dad didn’t challenge them.
Soon enough his reservist hitch was over, and dad returned home to the bosom of our family. Then the story went into our family’s archival memory: a Christian black man being threatened by Christian white men who warned him never return to “their” church. An odd circumstance, indeed.
Maine has a solid anti-slavery, pro-equality history. Of all places, this little dust-up shouldn’t have happened there. And yet it did.
It’s one reason why today’s national celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. feels so significant. For all the ungodly ways we in America have behaved in our race relations, we still find ourselves on this day officially called to honor, through Dr. King, our ability as a nation to become bigger and better. Maybe even godly.
Dr. King must have understood our potential as a nation when he declared, in the face of unthinkable hatred, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
It’s one of the less lofty of the many memorable statements Dr. King made. The words of the quote are simple and plain. But such simple words get at the heart of the reason why today’s holiday is so important. It’s a day that reminds us that love is something to stick with—even in moments when we might instead feel like balling up our fists to fight.
This day says don’t fight. Instead, just stick with love.
Love is illogical. All love. Romantic love. Parental love. Friendship love. Marital love. Neighborly love. National love. Cross-cultural love. We don’t love in any of these circumstances because it’s easy. We love, says this day, because that’s what God says we must do.
So love your enemies, Jesus said. Do mercy. Let this light called love shine. Even when it’s not easy. Then others will see God because we’re loving like him. In many ways we honor not the man, but the God whose teachings the man sought to promote.
This MLK Day won’t erase every painful racial memory still alive in any hurting heart. It won’t resolve any racial tension still brewing in any wounded American neighborhood, workplace, or town. It won’t transform any one service project into an ultimate solution.
The day offers, however, a reason to pause and reflect on who we can be when we’re being better. Being bigger. Being more. Being like Christ.
In those times, we’re not afraid of people who are different. We’re not controlling or possessive or fearful. We’re not standing in a church parking lot acting as though we don’t know the One on whose blood our church was founded.
On this day, instead, we remember that we can change. Not in one day. Or because of one man. This year we remember that we can evolve. Then the worst of our past fades. The best of who we can be emerges. And the Son comes out. So rise and shine. On today, let’s go love.
For more TCW resources on this topic, read about how to teach kids about racial reconciliation in TCW article "Teaching Kids About Race;" about an inspiring couple working to build bridges of reconciliation in their neighborhood in "The Color of Love;" advice for building bridges in the church in "Crossing the Divide;" and about "The Color of Friendship" at this link.
Singleness, goal-setting, and mental illness are a few topics TCW is passionate about.
This year, TCW would like to give all of our advisors and contributors the respect and admiration they deserve. Today, we present a round-up of three current blogs from women we admire, on topics and platforms they’re passionate about and, as a result, we’re passionate about too.
Bianca Juarez Olthoff and Jo Saxton are two of the five women who make up the TCW advisory board. Each brings different levels of expertise on topics ranging from marriage and parenting to spiritual formation and women’s ministry, and write blogs on a regular basis (linked above). Amy Simpson is a TCW regular contributor and editor of Gifted for Leadership, Marriage Partnership, and ParentConnect, with first-hand experience and expertise on the topic of mental illness.
These three women have one thing in common: they are all authors and bloggers who identify as Jesus-loving, God-fearing women devoted to sharing truth with the masses.
Here are three blog posts worth reading:
1. Jo Saxton: “Hello 2013”
In a motivational new year’s kick-off, Jo, equipping director at North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills, Minnesota, writes on the importance of abiding in Christ while trusting him with our futures. Her key question to readers is: “What is God calling us to say hello to in 2013?” Her blog is an encouragement to “step out of the past” and into a new year.
2. Bianca Juarez Olthoff: “Thoughts on Singleness”
As we enter into Valentine’s Day season, Bianca has some relevant and encouraging words for those of us entering the holiday single. She’s married now, but recounts her 30 years of singleness in a blog devoted to shedding light on the reality of singleness (“Contrary to popular belief, there are worse things than not being married. Like being married to the wrong person. Or having a sixth toe. Both are tragic.”) She also provides tips for individuals who are married or dating on helping support those who are single (“Don’t wince, sigh, and say, I’ll pray for you.”) As chief storyteller for the A21 Campaign, an international organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for the fight against human trafficking, she encounters life-changing testimonies every day, and writes on those topics as well as the grind of everyday life.
3. Amy Simpson: “The Blessing of Diagnosis”
Amy has experience personally and professionally in coping with and ministering to those with mental illness. She recently landed an interview on Moody Radio Chicago, and had one of her recent articles about mental illness picked up by “Q Ideas’ Top 10 Articles of 2012.” Her recent post celebrates the freedom that comes with publicly identifying mental conditions that are often times stigmatized in society.
These are only three of numerous topics TCW will dive into this year—let us know what you’d like to read more about!
An inspirational verse on unity from the book of Romans.
"May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Life can easily spiral out of control, but not when prayer becomes a priority.
It was late when I finally finished eating dinner. Tired and bleary-eyed from a long week at work, I opened the kitchen cupboard to put away my spaghetti leftovers and stopped suddenly.
What am I doing?
I shook my head and laughed and put the food in the refrigerator where it belonged. I was exhausted. The past few months had been a whirlwind, and tension was taking its toll. Of course, putting Italian food in the wrong place was the least of it. Most nights I was up late working, folding laundry, or doing “one more thing” before going to bed, wondering why the days were so long and the nights so short.
I don’t think I’m the only one who has too much to do and never enough time. Indeed, we are a generation of busy people; working hard but hardly living. Getting enough rest, replenishing rest, is often at the bottom of our priority lists.
We all have our reasons why we don’t make rest a priority. Some are self-imposed. Some people stay continually busy in order to avoid pain and disappointment. Others live a life of constant activity because they’re trying to please others or keep up appearances.
Of course, people have busy seasons in life, like a couple with a newborn baby or an accountant during tax time. But for some, being busy all the time seems to be a badge of honor. Have you ever run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and said, “Hi! How are you?” and she replies, “Good. I’m so busy these days”?
In the exhaustion of daily living, we often complain, “There’s so much to do and never enough time,” instead of saying a quiet prayer, “Lord, I am so tired. Please help me.”
And that’s exactly what God will do when you ask him.
You may not always have a large block of time to pray. Some women I know pray as they’re feeding their baby or driving to work. But make every effort to be alone with God in a quiet place, to spend time with the one who loves you most. That’s where you will find the power to live and the peace you crave.
Choose to make prayer a priority every day. Talk with God, trust in him, rest on the inside even as you work. You may even look up, smile, and say a simple “Thank you.”
Your days may be full, but your heart doesn’t have to be empty or anxious. Powerful prayer begins as you release your cares, connect with God, and allow him to work through you. Then enjoy the love and peace, freedom and power that are yours.
Here are some prayers to encourage you from sunrise to sunset:
Lord, I am frazzled. My hands are full and my mind is reeling with all the things I have to do. Please help me to accomplish all that needs to get done each day and to find rest. As I work, help me to be productive and peaceful. As I love others, help me to be calm and encouraging. I need your peace in every area of my life today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation.
2 Thessalonians 3:16
STRENGTHEN ME, LORD
Lord, it feels like there’s so much to accomplish each day, and sometimes it’s hard to rest. I’m afraid I won’t get it all done. I’m afraid I will fail. Yet you promise to strengthen me. You are the mighty God! Help me to focus on what you can do, not what I cannot. Empower and encourage me. Give me the lasting strength only you can give. Replenish me so I can live life better and stronger. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.
GETTING MY PRIORITIES IN ORDER
Lord, I have my agenda, but what do you want done today? Help me to prioritize all that needs to get done. In the midst of life’s busyness, help me to be centered on what’s truly important and not always get caught up in the urgent. Help me to put you first, for I know that from my replenishing time with you all else flows. I will seek you first. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
REST FOR THE WEARY
Lord, I am so grateful for rest. It was your idea in the first place! Instead of tossing and turning at night with eyes wide open, I give you my worries and cares, my lists and schedules. With open hands, help me to release all I cling to so tightly. I need rest for my spirit and my body. Let me live from a calm and grounded center as I come to you each day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.
How to cultivate a meaningful conversation with the Lord.
January 14, 2013
"Sometimes I catch myself "chatting" with God, limiting my prayers to superficial things and surface issues, never getting to the heart of the matter. And I've noticed that when others offer prayer requests, they're rarely about spiritual needs. We ask God to heal physical ailments, provide safe travel, and to "be with us."
Of course God cares about these things. But prayer is spiritual work toward a spiritual end. God wants to rub off our rough edges and clean up our character. So why do we settle for talking to him only about the superficial stuff? When our prayers move from the superficial to the significant, we invite God to do no less than a deep, transforming, igniting work in our life and in the lives of those for whom we're praying."January 11, 2013
To survive I need hope, so if faith and the hope of life beyond the grave is a crutch for the weak, sign me up.
My grandmother is dying.
When she passes, she will leave my father an orphan, joining my mother who’s been an orphan for 23 years. The “next line of defense” will have passed on, ushering my parents one step closer to eternity.
Ushering me one step closer.
Gram, as I call her, has been suffering. Her 89-year-old, weak body has been starved to the point that it has begun to eat itself, leaving her at 70 pounds. She has a bit of dementia, and when she looks at a photo of my grandfather and her, she claims that she knows them but can’t quite place who they are.
When I saw her the week before Christmas, she still knew me. I held her cup of sweet tea as she sipped it and gently rubbed her hands and silently prayed that she wouldn’t linger.
Death is a terrible reality. And we can do absolutely nothing to stop it. We can only sit by helplessly and watch it speed up the clock, as the future becomes the present, which too quickly becomes the past.
When Gram leaves this earth, everything for those who remain behind will change. The home I used to visit from childhood until two weeks ago will be sold to another. Gram’s sharp wit will be quieted. The plethora of her pig collection will be sold or given away or trashed. We’ll be left only with memories.
Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame wrote of his mother’s death and the grief that accompanies it: “The difference between joyous crying and sad crying is only for the young. . . . I’m old enough to know that I’ll never again really know why I’m crying. . . . I could make [my mom] laugh. I could make her laugh harder than anyone in the world had ever made her laugh. You tell me, am I crying now with sadness or joy?”
I understand that emotion too well. I can think of the Christmases Gram spent with me and how much we both looked forward to them, and the Cubs game we went to, and the times she played grocery store with me when I was a little girl. And I have no idea whether I’m crying for joy at the memories or sadness at the loss.
Penn and I share that understanding of grief. The difference between our mourning, though, is that Penn is an atheist. When his mother died, for him, she simply ceased to exist. And truly all that is left are memories.
Some people believe that faith is a crutch for the weak. You cling to faith when life is difficult and painful so that you can make it through the suffering. There is no God who comforts. There is no eternal home. We all simply cease to exist.
As I’ve contemplated my grandmother’s certain departure, and as I’ve cried tears that were both joyous and sorrowful (not knowing the difference), I’ve realized again that if faith truly is a crutch for those who need help making it through the suffering, then sign me up.
I don’t want to live with the thought that this life is it.
I want to live believing that “the LORD’s loved ones are precious to him; it grieves him when they die,” that he comforts us, that our memories are sweet, but just a promise of the joy that is to come when we will never again be separated from our loved ones. I want to believe. I want to have hope. Because we cannot survive without that gift from our Creator.
And in the depths of the dark night, I want to be able to say, “I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more.”
I want to sing hallelujah—not just when my life is smooth and good and I’m surrounded by family and friends. I want to sing hallelujah when I’m suffering, because it means so much more. Because it’s saturated with hope.
And so as I say goodbye to my sweet Gram, I will raise my eyes to the heavens, to the Maker of heaven and earth—to the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who has a plan for us, who loves us, who never forgets us, who has numbered our days, who is preparing a place for us—and thank him that it isn’t truly “goodbye,” but “until we meet again.” And to that I cling hopefully and gratefully.
Ginger Kolbaba is editor of Today’s Christian Woman. Her grandmother passed away on Friday, January 11, 2013.January 10, 2013
Southern Christian rock band Third Day provides upbeat, guitar-driven tracks on their 11th studio album, Miracle.
Miracle is Third Day’s 11th studio album released after the group first came together in Marietta, Georgia, in 1992. The Grammy-award winning band, led by lead vocalist Mac Powell, has appeared on 60 Minutes and Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, all while shamelessly proclaiming the gospel with their music.
“If there is any overarching theme on the record, it’s about pressing on and holding on to faith in the midst of doubt,” says drummer David Carr. “We’re not here to give you all the answers. We’re here to say ‘Just hang on a little longer.’”
The album’s title track, “I Need a Miracle,” is based on a true story a couple shared with the band after a concert in New Jersey.
“Their son was in a really depressed place in life. He drove way into the woods and was going to commit suicide,” Powell said. “He was going to kill himself, but he turned on the radio and he heard ‘Cry Out To Jesus’ (from 2005 album Wherever You Are). It literally changed his heart and gave him encouragement to keep going. When you hear a story like that, it just blows you away.”
The album contains a variety of upbeat, guitar-driven tracks and more traditional worship-style songs including a moving rendition of the Methodist hymn “Morning Has Broken.” This week’s free music Friday download, “Hit Me Like a Bomb,” is an energetic track emphasizing themes of transformation and redemption. Watch the band perform it live in a November 2012 performance on the Tonight Show.
Purchase the entire album at this link, and watch a lyric video of “Hit Me Like a Bomb” in the music video below:
*This week's free music Friday download period has ended. Check back next week for more offers on the TCW blog!January 9, 2013
A circle of friends—with Christ at the center—is one of God's desires for his church.
I love carrot cake and hate small talk. Cheri craves ice cream and works out religiously. Friends for more than 20 years, we're two Starbucks-drinking, Levi-wearing, munchkin-rearing friends.
But when Cheri and I mention we're on a "spiritual journey" together, people often give us blank stares. We suspect they're imagining us at Bible studies and weekend retreats. Some of those images ring true, but faith-filled friendship is more about sharing the rough-and-tumble of ordinary life than practicing spiritual piety.
Jesus and his 12 stinky fisherman friends spent more time at the beach than at a synagogue. Their hillside picnics probably felt more like church than most days at the temple. Every social gathering was a feast of friendship and faith. Even today, a circle of friends—with Christ at the center—is one of God's desires for his church. He continually sows seeds of community, whether we're scheduling play dates or coffee breaks, joining book clubs or Bible studies. Yet too often we rely more on our frenetic pace than on faith-inspiring friendships to serve our souls.
In their book Friends for the Journey, Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw describe friendship as a gift "given to you—holy, happy, tough, tender, wild, wacky, a sacrifice, and a sacrament."
Finding soul sisters means becoming more intentional about spiritual friendship. When we walk in compassion and grace with our girlfriends, we're experiencing spiritual friendship. It's nothing we have to "add in" or "put on." It comes with the territory of loving deeply. And it turns things as simple as tears into prayers. In this way, the apostle Paul's admonition to pray without ceasing is transformed into the everyday details of our relational realities.
Friends can celebrate spiritual realities in ordinary moments. Whether it's with a fiesta for 50 or a casual luncheon for 2, time with your friends is sacred. Matthew 18:20 says, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." God invites you to share in a feast of friendship and faith even in the mundane. Marking moments as holy and meaningful opens your heart to God and each other.Excerpted from TCW article "Soul Sisters" by Sally Miller and Cheri MuellerJanuary 8, 2013
Rachel Held Evans’ 12-month journey in “biblical womanhood” contains intriguing statements about traditional family values.
“When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word . . . we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t fit our tastes . . . More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.”
This is one of Rachel Held Evans’ conclusions at the end of her yearlong adventure in “biblical womanhood.” The popular blogger and author spent 12 months living according to biblical instructions for women, as literally as possible.
Along the way, she wrote about her experiences and observations, each month with a different goal focused on a specific theme: gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace.
The book is both hilarious and serious. Her education in cooking and failed attempts at sewing are funny and relatable. She adds some absurdity, including camping in the front yard during her period and referring to her husband as “master.” She also tackles some influential voices that define the way many women believe they should live.
Evans uses biblical scholarship and her experiences to examine widely espoused roles and restrictions placed on women in the evangelical world. She is careful not to pit women against one another, and affirms those who choose a way of life more traditional than hers. But she is also bold about saying, “The Bible is not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today.”
Each chapter ends with a profile of a woman from the Bible, helping us understand her circumstances and celebrating what she can teach us. Ultimately, the book is a celebration of women and God’s work in and through us.
She casts a vision for women beyond regulations and rhetoric, calling us to pursue God’s work. She inspires us through a true understanding of the Proverbs 31 woman, who “is a star not because of what she does but how she does it—with valor. So do your thing.”
Talk about It: When I first heard about Evans’ project, I was turned off by what felt like a gimmick, disrespecting the destructive power of playing with a topic over which so many have been wounded; possibly fueling the war between women by mocking those who embrace domesticity with conviction and joy.
After reading the book, I appreciate the care Evans took to make peace among women. But I still feel uncomfortable with her approach, essentially a false experiment. It’s more an adventure in proving a point. I agree with her starting (and ending) assumptions about women, but her “experiment” comes across as disingenuous.
Granted, much of the problem isn’t in the book’s content, but in its presentation. The cover, subtitle, and promotion suggest it isn’t a serious book. Marketing copy calls her experience a “radical life experiment.” The back cover refers to what she “learns the hard way.” But she didn’t set out to learn. In her words, she “set out to . . . show that no woman, no matter how devout, is actually practicing biblical womanhood all the way.”
That said, if a silly “experiment” will gain an audience for women’s voices and open doors for God’s work through them, I say do it.
The book contains a few other flaws. Some of the biblical “instructions for women” Evans mentions (polygamy) or follows (holding a sign declaring her husband awesome) accomplish little because they aren’t embraced as instructions by mainstream Christians. While her overall tone is warm and uplifts women, some of what she intends as evangelical self-deprecation comes across more like self-loathing. And some bits of snark are delivered without the attendant humility required for a sting rather than a cut.
Evans is at her best when she moves beyond exploring domestic tasks and into misconceptions about topics such as modesty, submission, and silence. In January, she dethrones the Proverbs 31 woman in a chapter that is especially freeing. And her focus on justice is truly inspiring.
This book isn’t flawless, but it is worth reading. Readers should know they are picking up not a neutral description of an experiment, but a strong argument in favor of Evans’ point of view.
Women who think different from Evans will be challenged to examine their views. Women who don’t will find encouragement. All will find affirmation of their potential as women of valor.January 7, 2013
This week's inspirational verse is from the book of Isaiah.
"LORD, be merciful to us, for we have waited for you. Be our strong arm each day and our salvation in times of trouble."
Isaiah 33:2January 4, 2013
I started the new year jobless, and have been learning what it means to wait and trust in the Lord.
A few weeks ago I made what might be called a careless and foolish decision: in a time of economic uncertainty and at a stage of life that has me screaming for stability (read: mid-20s), I quit my job.
It made for some uncomfortable discussions when family or friends would ask me about my plans for the beginning of 2013.
“Um, to be determined?” I would say sheepishly.
But if it was poor planning on my part, it has been perfect timing on God’s. In propelling me toward an exit, God is challenging me to put my hope back in his promises—promises that begin with the birth of the Savior.
Navigating the early stages of adulthood has me perpetually “in waiting,” praying for a sustainable job, meaningful relationships, and a sense of place and purpose. I’m both an impatient and fretful person. Waiting is difficult for me, and thus, at times, so is hope. I struggle to distinguish that still, small voice of God amidst all the instructions one hears when it comes to the future. In the swirl of imperatives the world offers about living a fulfilled life, I lose track of the real source of it. I start believing that misery, hopelessness, and dissipation are part of the life God intends for me.
Henry David Thoreau wrote about this conundrum in Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. . . . They honestly think that there is no choice left.”
When my job started to encroach on me like a prison, I resigned my whole being to the suffocation. I believed my situation was too small or common to matter, that bringing it before God would make me petty and ungrateful, that I couldn’t ask for deliverance.
We are a people easily enslaved, aren’t we? By fear, anger, selfishness, sorrow, weakness, indifference, and despair. But the feeling of entrapment Thoreau describes is far from the truth of our status as God’s children. Jeremiah writes in chapter 29:11 and 14: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope . . . I will be found by you . . . I will end your captivity.”
The coming of Christ promises us freedom from the world’s modus operandi—we are rescued from death and offered new life. And not just another life, but a transformed life. What’s more—that different, better life need not wait until heaven. Satan and the broken world around us would have us think so, but Jesus insists: “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10).
I think it’s perfect that Christmas is closely followed by New Year’s. With the birth of Christ, all things were—and are—made new. As applications for jobs, internships, and grad schools pile up, my future feels as hidden as ever. I don’t know what’s next. But a renewed sense of freedom has been shooing my fear out of the dark corners. As I stand on the brink of huge change, I feel God reminding me that the transformative power of his incarnation isn’t restricted to a single day of the year, phase of life, or region of my heart.
As we usher in 2013, what are you waiting on God for? Perhaps, like me, you have been pressing on with a weary soul. Maybe you too are seeking freedom from the trap of resignation. What would it mean for you to live in the hope of life that is Christ and his coming? Could you dare to believe in his promise of abundant life, on earth as it is in heaven?
Ashley Gray is a writer and regular contributor to the TCW blog.January 2, 2013
Speakers at the 2013 Passion Conference taught me why it’s important to help stop human trafficking worldwide and motivated me to step up.
When I came on board with TCW in September of this year, our cover story profiled Katariina Rosenblaat, a sex trafficking victim who was rescued and now runs her own organization to help raise awareness and rescue and restore girls trapped in the trafficking industry nationwide (“There Is H.O.P.E. for Me”). Her story both shocked and amazed me—I knew sex trafficking was a problem, but everything changed when I was able to put a face to the issue. I wanted to know how I could help others like Katariina, and the article provided me with several resources to do so.
When I arrived at the 2013 Passion Conference in the Georgia Dome this week, Katariina’s story was repeated to me several hundreds time over from global human trafficking organizations and representatives gathered to motivate the 60,000 college-aged attendees to take a stand to end human trafficking worldwide. International Justice Mission president Gary Haughen, Wellspring Living founder Mary Frances Bowley, and Slavery Footprint founder Justin Dillon were among guests featured as speakers at the conference. They each motivated the crowd to get involved in the fight against human trafficking by becoming educated and donating time, money, and prayer to the fight, and their captivating stories and zeal for rescuing modern-day slaves was contagious.
Here are the top three things I learned at Passion on how to help fight human trafficking:
1) Get educated.
Mary Frances Bowley, author and founder of Atlanta-based human trafficking rescue and restoration organization Wellspring Living, recently wrote a book called The White Umbrella: Walking With Survivors of Sex Trafficking. The book is an account of her work with hundreds of sex trafficking victims in Atlanta since 2001 when Wellspring was first founded, and gives a face to the issue of trafficking in the U. S. Bowley was part of a round-table discussion at Passion 2013, and informed us that even though we may feel like ordinary people, we can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of those suffering simply by donating compassion and awareness to the cause of human trafficking by donating time and resources to organizations already functioning in our local communities.
2) Raise awareness.
Slaveryfootprint.org is a site founded by Justin Dillon to educate Americans on how they individually are contributing to the human trafficking industry worldwide. Dillon’s goal is to raise awareness, and after completing the site’s brief survey, I discovered 65 slaves work for me based on my personal lifestyle choices. Naturally, this concerned me, and led me to want to start living intentionally. As I seek ways to personally become more conscious of how my consumerism may negatively effect those in modern-day slavery, I’m thankful for Laura Leonard’s tips on healthy shopping habits as well as opportunities to donate financially to organizations.
3) Take action.
The Polaris Project, a government-funded rescue hotline available 24 hours a day (1-888-373-7888) is not only a rescue line for victims of trafficking, but is also a resource for those hoping to get involved in the fight against human trafficking in their local communities. According to the Project’s founder, Bradley Myles, with one simple phone call, you can find organizations to plug into locally that are already fighting human trafficking in your communities; give tips on trafficking establishments or rings you may have heard of in your city; and gain advice on how to start a church or community group to help raise awareness in your local community. I plan to call as soon as I arrive home in Chicago.
As daunting as the issue of human trafficking seems, I was encouraged by these worship lyrics at Passion: “Though the need is great, our God is greater” (Chris Tomlin's " I plan to go into 2013 with a renewed sense of purpose and fervor to help fight human trafficking in my local community, inspired by the words of Psalm 147:5—won’t you join me?
Allison J. Althoff is Today’s Christian Woman’s associate online editor. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.
Worshiping God with 60,000 college students is an experience I’ll never forget—are emotional encounters with Jesus underrated?
Tuesday night, conversation buzzed in Atlanta's Georgia Dome as a light fog hung over the crowd and Scripture passages rolled across large LCD screens. Anticipation filled the air as the lights dimmed, spotlights turned to the stage, and Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Kristian Stanfill, and Christy Nockels came on stage to lead 60,000 university-aged students in worship. The buzz of conversation turned to a roar as guitars came to life, signifying the start of the 2013 Passion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
To an outsider, the scene looks more like a U2 concert than a worship conference. To a Passion attendee, however, it’s just another year of a conference where hearts are changed and a generation comes together to “make Jesus famous.”
“This is not about Passion,” founder and pastor Louie Giglio said during the conference’s main session Tuesday night. “This is about allowing Jesus to do a work in you that no one else could do.”
This comment brought me back to my experience at the Passion Conference in 2011, where I was one of 22,000 students gathered at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. As a senior in college at a conservative Christian school in the Midwest, I had rarely ventured outside the sanctuary of my conservative Lutheran church in Minnesota or my college campus chapel in Illinois, and the conference, at first, seemed like a spectacle.
Emotional expression was not commonplace in my traditional faith upbringing, and I was completely overwhelmed by Passion’s worship band—the thumping bass and euphoric screams coming from peers around me as they raised their hands in worship was a shock, and the repetitive mentions of “breaking chains” and “living for Jesus” were phrases I had never internalized before.
Gradually, over the course of four days, my heart was turned inside out by truth-filled messages spoken by Beth Moore, Louie Giglio, Francis Chan, and John Piper. The worship songs we sang contained more emotion than I’d ever experienced in song, and this “awakening” led me to pour out tears I’d been holding in for years. As I worshiped, prayed, and cried my hopes, fears, and failures out to God, I received support from an eight-person “community group” I was placed in for the duration of the conference, and gained peace and understanding from friends and mentors who changed my life forever.
When I got on the plane to leave Atlanta at the conclusion of the conference, I knew I had experienced God in an explosive way I hadn’t known was possible three days earlier. God had jumped off the pages of a hymnal into my heart, and I would never be the same—but what would happen when I left my group of new 22,000 Christian friends and arrived back home?
Passion taught me the importance of being authentic, both in worship, in community, and in daily devotional practice. I began “renewing my mind” in Christ (Ephesians 4:23) by prioritizing daily Scripture reading and memorization, and started replacing secular music in my iTunes library with Christian worship and rock songs.
I was able to successfully translate the spiritual encouragement and motivation I gained at Passion into my daily spiritual walk, and haven't slowed down since.
This year, the Passion Conference is being held at the Georgia Dome, and Allison is on the ground reporting for Christianity Today. Beth Moore, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, and more are among the speakers featured, and you can follow the conference’s live stream at this link: http://live.268generation.com.
Have you ever encountered God in an emotionally powerful way? What was it like?
Allison J. Althoff is Today’s Christian Woman’s associate online editor. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.