Monday, October 31, 2011

The Joy of Journaling

By Hannah S.

When you think of journaling, you may think of writing class or a diary from your younger days. But as I have renewed this discipline in my life, I have found such joy in recording and reflecting on the way God is working in my life.

I can hear the groans as many of you think of journaling as one more item to add to an already busy to-do list. But let me assure you the spiritual discipline of journaling has made my time with the Lord more effective.

First let me clear up some of the misconceptions that I had about journaling. It is often referred to as a spiritual discipline and thus I struggled if I did not journal every day. The burden of adding this to my quiet time was too much for me to handle. I found myself wrongly feeling guilty if I wasn’t making an entry every day. I do think this is a spiritual discipline, but it is not on the level of prayer, reading Scripture, or meditating on God’s word. My journal has actually become a tool that has helped me with these other disciplines, but it is not something that I do every day. There have been seasons of life that my entries are very few. Yet I am so thankful for those entries that capture a snapshot of what the Lord was teaching me.

Now let me move to the benefits of keeping a spiritual journal:

1. Journaling helps me meditate on Scripture.
I began to journal as a way to meditate on Scripture. I had found myself reading Scripture in the morning, and then by early afternoon having a hard time recalling what I had read. So I began to do my Scripture reading with my pen in hand ready to record and reflect on passages from God’s word. I can’t tell you what joy this has brought to my spiritual life! Not only was I thinking deeply about the passages that I was recording but I was also applying them to my own life and circumstances. I was truly meditating on God’s Word as I would make an entry in my journal. Sometimes I would write the passage in my own words. At other times I would record questions that I had about a certain passage. Other times I would use the words of Scripture to cry out to the Lord. There is something about writing and mulling over a passage that helps me to slow down and absorb the truth.

2. Journaling helps with self evaluation.
I found that as I have journaled about events and happenings in my life that I have begun to see patterns of sin that reappear in certain situations. Not only has this helped me to have a plan of resistance in times that I am particularly vulnerable, but it often reveals the idol that is at the root of my sin. As I have expressed my feelings in writing, I can often see the error in my thinking and more clearly see what sins need to be “put off” in my life. When I have taken emotions and thought about what is causing me to feel a certain way, it has helped me to see the root of sin in my life. Journaling has caused me to delve deeply into what my emotions are revealing about my thinking.

3. Journaling helps me control my tongue.
I know that this may sound odd, but hang with me and I will try to explain. The way that I often process information is by talking. As I am talking through my thoughts, I can often see a clearer picture of what needs to be done or what my response should be to a specific situation. This is not how everyone is wired, but I have found true in my life the old saying, “thoughts disentangle themselves when passed through the lips and across the fingertips.” The trouble with processing information in such a manner is that it can often lead to gossip. As I am working through things by talking, I am bringing in someone who is not part of the problem or part of the solution. There are many things and struggles in our lives that do not need to be shared with other people. We need to take these struggles straight to the Lord and not bring others in on the situation. Being able to write about these issues in my life has made my journal a great sounding board. It is a place where I can express what I am really thinking and then discern what is true and what is not. These entries most often turn into prayers of confession and a cry to the Lord to change my heart. Let your journal be the place that you “disentangle your thoughts” and flee from the sin of gossip!

4. Journaling leaves a spiritual heritage.
One of my favorite books is called Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. One of the reasons that I like this book is because over the pages you see the ups and downs of the main character’s Christian life. It is refreshing to see her weaknesses as well as the victories in her life. As I reflected over the years of this lady’s life I could see progress that brought me encouragement. I pray that someday when one of my daughters or grand children pick up one of my journals that they might be encouraged to see the real struggle of a believer who was battling sin in everyday life. I pray that they will identify with my weaknesses and have hope that God does transform us into His image. At times when progress seems slow, it has been a joy to look back and see how the Lord has grown me in my thinking. A journal gives you a tangible way to see growth in your life.

5. Journaling is a great way to reflect on the goodness of God in my life.
Not only do I record my struggles in my journal but also the blessings from the Lord. Aren’t we all so quick to forget how the Lord has provided for us? We are just like the Israelites as they grumbled their way through the desert. They were caught up in the moment and forgot what great things the Lord had done for them. By recording and reviewing the details of blessings in my life, it has reminded me of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life. Like the people of the Old Testament set up monuments to the Lord to remember God’s great work in their lives, let your journal be a monument to the way the Lord has provided and cared for you.

I pray that these few thoughts will give you a renewed passion for the discipline of journaling. There is no right or wrong way to journal – make it your own. It is a tool to be used to assist you in your Christian walk, and I pray that you will find joy as you reflect on the goodness of God to mold you into His image.

Click here for a list of journal prompts to help you get started.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 4

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. This is the last of a 4-part series. Click here to read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

In one of Pastor Quinn's sermons, he touched upon gossip. It was one of the most practical ones I'd ever heard. Basically - and this is my paraphrase - he explained how a simple statement of fact can turn into a question which can turn into a judgment. I'll give an example. It has to be a ridiculous one, so that I don't inadvertently tread on any toes!

Let's say a friend has decided to have her house painted blue with red polka dots. Another friend says to you, "Hey, so-and-so has had her house painted blue with red polka dots." Nothing wrong with that, right? It’s an innocuous statement. Here's where it can begin to be gossip. You say, "Gosh - why would she choose those colors?" Still not too bad, but heading downhill. Your friend replies, "Yes, I'd never do that." Uh oh! Now, one of you has decided to judge so-and-so. It would be very easy for the conversation to degenerate into gossip after that, because you'd both be discussing so-and-so's poor choice of house color and feeling smug, because you would never, ever in a million years do such a thing! Do you see how insidious it is? We have to nip it in the bud, and one of the ways to do that is to be slow to speak.

A few weeks ago, Philip De Courcy preached an excellent sermon on the sin of worrying. One very striking way to exacerbate our sin of anxiety is to continually express our worries to others. Sometimes, it's way easier to speak to other humans about it, rather than take it to the One who can give us the strength to endure any trial. I have done this over the years. Kenny would say to me, "Linda, every time you speak about a particular fear or worry, the stronger it becomes in your mind and emotions. You need to stop speaking about it so much, and once you have taken it to the Lord, leave it be." You know, it pays to listen to our husbands. They can sometimes offer excellent advice! Who knew?

The bottom line is that we who have the honor of calling ourselves by the name Christian should "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called" (Ephesians 4:1). There should be a definite difference between the world and us. We should be first listeners and then speakers. We should think before we speak. We should remember that "the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart" (Matthew 15:18). We already know from Jeremiah 17:9 that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" I said earlier that God gives us the means to change our hearts and set our minds on Him. We ask Him. He's the One who puts in us the desire to change. Then he gives us the tools: His Word, which, as Hebrews 4:12 informs us, is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Psalm 119:11 tells us that memorizing God's word will help us keep our minds on Him and turn away from sin: "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You." Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could say with David in Psalm 17:3, (without expecting a bolt of lightning to strike us from the sky for our audacity), "You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me and You find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress"?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 3

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. This is part 3 in a 4-part series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Now, you can't discuss listening attentively without addressing being slow to speak. The two go hand in hand.

The Bible is repleteLink with injunctions to think before we speak.
  • Psalm 141:3
- Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.
  • Proverbs 18:7
- A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul.
  • Proverbs 10:19 - When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, 
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
  • Proverbs 21:23
- He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.
and one of my favorites:
  • Proverbs 17:28
- Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.

There are many, many more. Since God found it necessary to instruct us regarding the use of our tongue, it's obviously a problem. He doesn't leave us without the means of rectifying it, though (at least as much as we can on our earthly pilgrimage). All we have to do is ask Him. David implores the Lord in Psalm 51: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Psalm 19:14 says, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer." Second Corinthians 10:4-5 remind us that it's not only our own sinful flesh we're fighting but a mighty adversary: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

So, knowing all of the above, why do Christians speak so much? And it's not just a female problem! Men can be just as loquacious! Many of us speak to fill what we perceive as an awkward silence. Sometimes nervousness can cause excessive chatter. However, I think one of the main reasons for speaking too much and not listening to others is pride. We simply think that what we have to say is more important than what anyone else is saying. If we're in a group setting, we grow irritated if we don't have the opportunity to express our opinion on something. That is the source for a lot of interruptions. The desire to be heard over-rides any consideration of common courtesy.

We live in a very "touchy-feely" society - one in which we're all encouraged to express ourselves and emote! A product of that kind of environment is conversations with way too many personal details. Have you noticed how much information even comparative strangers will give about themselves, their parents, their husbands, kids, etc.? When sitting with a group of friends, we can really reveal way too much. Our rule for speaking about our close family should be the same as the one for speaking about others - if we wouldn't make certain remarks when the subject of those remarks is present, then we shouldn't make them when the subject is not. It doesn't automatically cease to be gossip just because we're speaking about a family member.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 2

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. This is part 2 in a 4-part series. You can read part 1 here.

Years ago, when Steve Lawson was our pastor, we had a couples' retreat. One of the sessions led by Steve was on listening and being courteous to one another. He emphasized that when conversing with another person, we should keep our eyes focused on the speaker's face and not allow ourselves to be distracted by anything else taking place in the same location. Steve practiced what he preached. During a conversation with him, he kept his eyes fixed on you. If someone passed by and gave him a quick "hi" or patted him on the arm, he'd not acknowledge it, but would keep totally focused on whoever was speaking to him. To him, it was very discourteous to the other person for him to look away and smile at someone else or give a quick greeting. Ironically, some people characterized him as being unfriendly and rude! His critics didn't understand his view on listening attentively.

Our courteous listening shouldn't be restricted to other adults. My three-year-old Sunday school kids deserve the same attention from me that I'd accord to someone older. So do our husbands and children!

It used to drive my husband nuts if the phone rang when he was speaking to me, because I'd immediately grab it and answer it! This was before we had caller ID, so I had no clue who was calling. Eventually, (I'm a slow learner!) I realized that it was hurtful for him to think that his conversation wasn't as important as any random phone call. Now, I even resist glancing at the phone to see who's called until he's finished speaking.

When you have several young children - especially if you are also home schooling - you have to be realistic. Of course you want to get down to their eye level and show them they're important enough for you to listen intently to what they have to say. However, some little people are very talkative, and you could spend all day just listening to them! As delightful as that would be, unfortunately, laundry doesn't get done by itself nor any of the other household chores. We have eight children - all of whom have been home schooled. While the current baby was sleeping and the older kids were doing schoolwork on their own, I'd rush around doing the various household chores. Often my preschool kids would toddle behind me, chattering away. Stuart, who is now 17, would say, "Mom, are you listening at me?" It was so cute! As he followed me, I'd call out. "I'm listening!" Now that the cute, wee voices have given way to deep, masculine ones, I still find myself automatically calling out, "I'm listening!" when I hear one of the boys who are still living at home say, "Hey Mom!"

Have you noticed how restful it is to speak to someone who is silent while you speak, only nodding or shaking his or head to acknowledge comprehension? No interruption. No mouth open ready to insert a comment as soon as you draw breath. Just listening attentively to what you are saying. That's how we should all be.

If John 13:5 says "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Then isn't it being other-centered and showing love by courteously giving someone all our attention? Shouldn't we be different from the world? I've always said to our kids that our home should be a place where we can express our fears without mockery and relate others' compliments about us without derision. We have to be a refuge from a fallen and degenerate world. Our Christian family should be the same way. We should be secure in the knowledge that a Christian brother or sister has our best interests in mind and is eager to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Being a Good Listener, Part 1

Linda A. spoke about being a good listener at a recent Wise Women segment of our Wednesday night Bible study. Over the next 4 days, we will look at sections of her talk. I hope that breaking it up this way makes it easier for all of you to read about this very timely topic.

I'd like to speak about listening properly to others and being careful about our speech. This has been something that has been on my heart for some time now. James 1:19 tells us to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." This verse can be interpreted various ways - our vertical relationships with God and our horizontal relationships with each other. I'd like to concentrate on the horizontal relationship tonight.

I began to be convicted a few years ago about my inadequate listening skills. My older daughter Victoria and her husband Ben moved to Auburn, Alabama, 5 years ago to pursue their PhD in English. Since we didn't see each other very much, we spent a lot of time on the phone. I'd be so excited to speak to her that I'd barely let her finish her sentence before I'd rush in and give her all our news. In fact, sometimes I was not even really listening to what she was saying, because I was waiting for a pause so that I could have my turn at speaking. Victoria was very gracious and rarely complained. However, occasionally she'd say, "Mom, I hadn't finished speaking!" Gradually, I began to notice it for myself and determined to change. Needless to say, I'm still a work in progress!

I've noticed that I'm not alone in this rude behavior! In fact, the attentive listener is the exception rather than the rule.

Our inattentiveness can take various forms. I'm listing seven, but I'm sure you can come up with others.

  1. Many of us are just waiting for the other person to pause, so we can speak. We're not really interested in what the other person is saying. We just want to speak ourselves.
  2. We don't even allow the other person to finish his or her sentence. We interrupt and turn the conversation back to ourselves.
  3. We interrupt by saying, "Oh, I know what you mean. You mean…," and then go on to give our point of view about the matter. Funnily enough, when this has happened to me, very rarely has the other person been correct in his or her assumptions. If I'd been allowed to finish my thought, this would have been apparent!
  4. We inject little humorous asides as the person speaks, which is very distracting to the speaker.
  5. We don't focus on the speaker, but look around, scanning the room for familiar faces, waving at others, and sometimes even walking away or turning to speak to someone else, while the other person is still speaking.
  6. We have our cell phone clutched in our hot, little hands and answer texts - or even check our e-mail - while the other person is speaking.
  7. We keep our eyes glued to the TV screen while the other person is speaking.

Do we really believe Galatians 5:13-15: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”? If so, then shouldn't we crucify our old flesh, wrench our thoughts away from ourselves for a few minutes, love our neighbor, and focus on what he or she is saying?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Female Friendships

By Becky A.

Female friendships have been on my mind a lot lately. They are both difficult and refreshing, fulfilling and frustrating.

My thoughts on female friendships have evolved over time and probably will continue to evolve throughout my years. In my early years, I desired female friendships, but found myself a very jealous, competitive friend. With those heart issues, I wasn't very successful at female friendships. Most of my close friends were guys, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

As I grew older, got married, and grew in the Lord, I had female friendships, but they were a cheap substitution for a lacking marriage relationship. Wade and I were not close, so I pursued closer friendships with women. Because of the imbalance of these relationships, and the contrast to God's design, my friendships were not godly or sustaining friendships. God wouldn't honor them when I was focused on complaining about my husband, cultivating my own personal interests, and being around people who would meet my needs.

After a time, God began to do a major work in my marriage that brought reconciliation and renewed love for Wade and me. We grew closer. In an over-reaction to the past phase of my relational life, I then began to think that female friendships were unnecessary and "usually sinful." The blame for a bad marriage, I wrongly thought, fell on my female friendships. This, again, was a wrong, unbiblical view of female friendships.

It took a few years, but God began to convict me of how callous and cold this view was. I was hurting women who thought they were my friends. I still remember one particular email that expressed the pain I had caused. My thinking (and boldly sharing what I thought about friendships) also made women confused. They began to question how they felt about female friendships. I made them seem insignificant by the way I talked about my beliefs. Shame on me! It actually showed my immaturity.

As God convicted me, I began to ask Him to show me how to define my friendships with women from Scripture rather than the self-help books that fill our Christian bookstore shelves. What did He desire them to look like? How could they honor the Lord? It also meant that He started challenging me in two areas: What kind of friend was I? And what kind of friend would enhance my walk with the Lord?

I will tell you that my thinking was still not clear or godly, but God slowly began to show me from His Word how to love the body of Christ. As I read passages like Romans 12:9-21, I Corinthians 13, I John, Proverbs 31, Titus 2, and also about how Jesus treated people while He was on earth in the gospels, I saw a different picture of friendship than I had lived my whole life.

If I am honest -- and I have to be -- I will tell you that I didn't like what I was learning. This love that Christ talked about was hard. I enjoyed serving myself! It would require more from me than I wanted to give. And I will tell you it is still hard for me. Godly love in friendships calls for vulnerability, quick forgiveness, forbearance, acceptance, open and honest communication, ability to seek forgiveness, humility, and selflessness: all areas that my prideful heart struggles with daily. It meant I needed to shut up and listen way more than I ever had. Ouch! I needed a fresh, honest look at who I really was inside, and it was not pretty. But it is also kind of the Lord to continue to show me. Being the loving Father that He is, He desires my holiness and can't leave me in my sin.

Though it was hard, my heart desired to be a godly friend and to honor the Lord in this area, so I began to ask God to change me from the inside out. As He has been changing me, I want to tell you some things He is flushing OUT: pride, anger, control, self-protection, holding grudges, high expectations of others but low expectations of me, lots of opinions (mine!), being overly sensitive......just to name a few. There are many!

There are also things He is trying to GROW within me: meekness, self-denial, others-focus, balance, vulnerability, service, acceptance of others who are different from me, and mutual respect. I have a very long way to go in these areas, but God is very patient and long suffering. He continues to show me where I am failing, but also encourages me to repent and turn back to His plan for loving relationships.

There must be, in my own heart, a deep desire to grow in the Lord and to see my friend grow in Christ. This will mean that I am willing to edify them in the Word, as well as gently speak the truth in love when necessary. If someone coddles me while I am thinking wrongly or in sin, they are not my true friend. True friends desire my spiritual intimacy with the Lord.

We mutually respect each other's life and time. We know our place. We care for each other, but sometimes our time together will not reflect just how much. One of the most important aspects for me is that we hold the friendship loosely. What that means to me is this: there is no room for jealousy. We encourage other friendships. We aren't easily offended. When something happens (or nothing happens for a while), we assume the best. We believe the best about each other.

Seeing how my thinking has changed over the years, I can only believe that it will continue to change as I grow in Christ and in experience with women's friendships. Yet, here is where I find myself now. I believe it is more godly and balanced, but I continue to pray that God will open my eyes to see how I can live with female friends in a way to honor Him.

My heart is full with the friendships that God has given me at this time in my life. I can honestly say that I have several very close, godly friendships, and that encourages my heart. God is growing me and, as He grows me, He is sharing with me the blessing of godly friendships. I am daily grateful!

Lord, may I learn to live with others in the body of Christ as You lived among believers while You were here on earth. It will require less of me and more of You. Please make this true in my life. May my friendships always edify the body of Christ.

This article was excerpted from Becky's blog. Read the entire article here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Galatians Done's and Do's

By Jennifer R.

Thabiti Anyabwile recently posted about a session he heard at a conference which summarized the entire book of Galatians. He listed the 29 gospel indicatives (things that are "done") and 13 gospel imperatives (things we are "to do") from the book of Galatians. Since Tim is preaching through this book and many are memorizing it, I thought this list would be helpful for us to review.

29 Indicatives

  1. The gospel is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:1).

  2. The gospel delivers us from the present evil age to the glory of Christ (Gal. 1:3-5).

  3. There is only one gospel and to desert it is to be damned (Gal. 1:6-9).

  4. The gospel is ours by divine revelation and not human imagination (Gal. 1:10-12).

  5. The gospel is grounded in a gracious election (Gal. 1:15).

  6. The gospel is constantly in danger of being lost and needs to be defended (Gal. 2:4-5).

  7. The gospel that saves Gentiles is the same gospel that saves Jews (Gal. 2:7-9).

  8. There are ethical imperatives that follow the gospel (Gal. 2:11) and no ethnic distinctions in the gospel (Gal. 2:12-14).

  9. The gospel is good news that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the Law (Gal. 2:15-16).

  10. Through the gospel, we are identified with Christ and His work on the cross (Gal. 2:20).

  11. The love of Christ for sinners is made evident in the gospel (Gal. 2:20).

  12. We receive the Holy Spirit by faith in the Gospel, the same Spirit who justifies and sanctifies (Gal. 3:2-5).

  13. The gospel that saved Abraham in the past is the same gospel that saves us in the present (Gal. 3:7-9).

  14. Relying on good works not only does not save but actually curses (Gal. 3:10-11).

  15. The gospel is the good news that Christ has redeemed us from the curse as our penal substitute (Gal. 3:13-14).

  16. The gospel is rooted in a covenantal promise that precedes the law (Gal. 3:17).

  17. The law is good because it shows us our sin (Gal. 3:19, 21).

  18. The law is good because it is our school teacher who leads us to Christ to be justified by faith (Gal. 3:25-26).

  19. The gospel unites us to Christ where we’re all one in Him–soteriological not ecclesiological (Gal. 3:27-29).

  20. The gospel is grounded in Trinitarian theology (Gal. 4:4-6).

  21. Gospel redemption leads to adoption as a child of the Father (Gal. 4:7).

  22. The gospel gives us a knowledge of God freeing us from rules (Gal. 4:8-11).

  23. Faithful ministers will be passionate for the ministry of the gospel even if it results in anguish and a broken heart (Gal. 4:12-20).

  24. Works-salvation leads to slavery, while Mt. Sinai leads to freedom (Gal. 4:21-31).

  25. To pursue salvation by works obligates us to keep the entire law perfectly (Gal. 5:1-3).

  26. To be justified by works is to fall away from justification by grace through faith (Gal. 5:4-6).

  27. The gospel that saves us also sanctifies us (Gal. 5:7-8).

  28. To preach a false gospel invites judgment and calls for the strongest condemnation from the faithful (Gal. 5:10-12).

  29. The indicative of the gospel naturally leads to the imperatives of the gospel (Gal. 5:13-6:20), which opens onto the imperative section of the letter:
13 Imperatives

  1. We will not indulge and pander to the flesh (Gal. 5:13, 16-21).

  2. In love we will serve others (Gal. 5:13-14).

  3. We will not brutalize one another in word or action (Gal. 5:15).

  4. We will live in the Spirit whom we received when we believed (Gal. 5:22-26).

  5. We will engage in spiritual restoration (Gal. 6:1-2).

  6. We will be humble (Gal. 6:4-5).

  7. We will serve and do our part in the body.

  8. We will bless those who teach us (Gal. 6:6).

  9. We should embrace reaping (Gal. 6:7-8).

  10. We won’t grow weary in well-doing (Gal. 6:9-10).

  11. We will accept persecution for the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:11-13).

  12. We will boast only in Christ and His cross (Gal. 6:14-15).

  13. We will pursue peace, mercy, grace and Christ (Gal. 6:16-20).

Monday, October 10, 2011

A God Thing

By Deborah H.

In the course of my work as a hospice nurse, I met some great people. A few years ago, I was privileged to meet a lady named Sue and her family. Sue’s father was one of my favorite patients. Sue and her husband asked her parents to move in with them so they could care for her dad as his lung cancer continued to take its toll.

There were difficulties, but Sue remained unflappable -- always patient, calm, thoughtful and kind, content to remain in the background. One day when she walked me to my car, I could see the strain and sorrow in her face. Her dad’s death was looming nearer and there were tensions in some of the relationships in the home. Yet, Sue never complained.

Seeking a way to encourage her, I said, “You’re doing an excellent job, Sue. I’m proud of the way you’re caring for your dad and keeping your cool as things get tougher.” She slowly shook her head. “It’s not me.” With tears misting her clear blue eyes, she told me simply, “It’s a God thing, Deborah.” That simple statement served to encourage me, instead.

It was the first time I’d heard that expression. Since then, it has become one of my favorites. It has a way of encompassing so many ideas and concepts. I find it repeatedly useful in my conversations.

What is a “God thing”? I’ve never heard it defined. But to me, a God thing is any situation or concept which is inexplicable except through the lens of God’s total sovereignty. It could manifest itself as an empowering energy behind extraordinary composure or strength (as in Sue’s case), or in a situation of the indisputable evidence of God’s handiwork. It’s true that everything in our lives is brought about by His sovereignty. In that sense, everything is “a God thing.” But we don’t always see His hand in all things. So when I see Him at work in my life, or the lives of others, I sometimes exclaim, “That’s definitely a God thing.”

Some may perceive this little phrase as trite or irreverent. That’s not how I mean it. I’m certain that’s not how Sue meant it. Instead, it’s short-hand for saying, “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways. . . . For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen,” (Romans 11:33,36).

That doxology speaks to the wonder and marvel God is. It speaks of His wisdom, majesty and power. It acknowledges His sovereignty in all things. It attributes all acts of goodness and loveliness to Him. It gives Him credit for any circumstance He brings into our lives. It praises His holy Name.

There’s nothing irreverent about saying, “It’s a God thing!” And there are plenty of times when, instead of reciting the whole doxology, I can exclaim this tiny phrase to express my awe.

In her quiet, soft-spoken, unassuming way, Sue attributed her extraordinary composure, peace, kindness and compassion to the Father in four simple words -- “It’s a God thing.”

Once we truly comprehend the truth that “all things” belong to the Lord, it seems we can see His hand in every aspect of our lives. It is through Him that any good comes from us [“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,Ephesians 2:10].

It is through Him that our lives are ordered according to His master plan and design [“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,Romans 8:28]. Nothing that happens to us is beyond His sovereign control [“And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. . . . and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being,’Acts 17:25-28].

That may be a mouthful for some—a little too involved for every conversation. But when confronted with God’s empowerment, His intervention, His blessing, the wonder of His created world, even with the trials and sorrows He brings our way, it is sometimes fitting to simply say, in gratitude and amazement, “It‘s a God thing!”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Praying for Others

By Becky A.

Do you find it hard to pray for others? Do you find yourself using the same phrases over and over again? Does your prayer life seem boring and mundane? Do you struggle to stay focused?

Prayer is hard work. It takes so much concentration and investment to stay engaged. So how can we refresh our times of prayer for others? How can we find new ways to ask the Lord to bless and be with them?

One of the greatest tools to use in praying for others is Scripture itself, in my humble opinion. There are no greater prayers than the ones you will read in God's Word. I find myself drawn to Paul's prayers often, finding them very relevant to anyone's given situation. One of my favorites to pray for others is Ephesians 3:14-21. Go read it. I think you will find yourself wishing someone would pray this for you daily.

Today I found myself reading in John 14-17. We are often told to model our prayers after the official "Lord's Prayer" found in the gospels (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). However, I found it so refreshing to read how Jesus Christ Himself prayed for those He was leaving behind! And I found myself praying these things for my family.

Let me share just a few with you:

John 17:3 - That they might KNOW the only true God and Jesus Christ

John 17:8 - That they would receive the Word and understand

John 17:11 - God would keep them

John 17:13 - They may have the joy of Christ FULL in themselves

John 17:15 - God would keep them from the evil one

And that is just a taste. Go check it out for yourself!

Want to pray effectively for your family and others? Pray what Christ prayed. Read and pray through His words to the disciples and to His heavenly Father before He died (John 14-17).

This post originally posted on Becky's blog, A Mission and Ministry at Home.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Creative Gift Ideas, Part 4

In a recent Wise Women segment on Wednesday evenings, Candy S. presented a great list of creative gift ideas. There were so many, in fact, that we've split them up into several posts. You can see ideas for young children here, ideas for girls and boys here, and ideas for women and men here. Below is the fourth and final group of ideas. (Click on the images to go to the websites with more information.)

For the Home

  • Disinfectant Wipes Cozy - Measure circumference of container and add 2 inches for overlap and seam allowance. Measure height of label that you’ll be covering and add 1 inch for seam allowance. Hem all edges and sew Velcro to short edges for closure. You can also check out this link for a Mod Podged version and ideas for reuse of the containers:

  • Tile Coasters

  • Altered Kitchen Towels

    Other ideas—use trims such as rick rack, freezer paper stenciling with fabric paint
  • Napkins and Ribbon Napkin Rings

  • Framed Calendar/Menu Board

For the General Public

  • Thought Bubble Pictures - Trace or draw thought bubble shape onto plywood or MDF and cut out using jigsaw. Paint with black chalkboard paint.
  • Picture Blocks

  • Photo/Verse Stand

  • Make Your Own Notepad - Photocopy design. Cut to size, Stack pages and cardboard backing evenly and weigh down or clip to keep pages steady. Paint top edge with Slick Paint and let dry completely. Add a magnet to back if desired.
  • Comfort Packs

  • Gift Card in a Snow Globe