A New Thing

This is what the Lord says –

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19

I am guilty, as I’m sure you are, of remembering the former things instead of forgetting them, of dwelling on the past instead of moving forward, of not perceiving what God is doing in my life because I’m stuck on what’s already been done.

We rehearse the ways we failed and the ways we were failed by others.

Combing through our childhoods, looking for explanations – excuses – as to why we are what we wish we weren’t.

Combing through our careers, looking for choices we made that led us to the jobs we wish we didn’t have.

Combing through our marriages, looking for moments that brought us to the places we wish we weren’t.

Combing through our broken relationships, looking for reasons we aren’t as close as we wish we were.

Other times we run to the former things because we’re certain they were better than where we are now. 

We replay those handful of good memories made perfect by the passage of time, wishing we could rewind to relive those days we’re certain were our best.

All of this dwelling on the past, whether we’re loathing it or glorifying it? It’s no good.

Because when we look back – with our eyes and with our hearts – we can’t see what’s happening now. We can’t perceive the new thing – the good thing – the Lord is doing right under our noses when they’re pointed toward the past.

The Lord – He’s always doing a new thing for us – in us. He’s always making a way in the desert, streams in the wasteland.

A New Thing
image via numanzaa at freedigitalphotos.net

He  is continually renewing and redeeming all that we thought was barren and parched (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Do we perceive it?

Are we paying attention to the now?

The new things God is doing in each of our lives – they spring up like Jacks in boxes. And like children surprised something so delightful comes out of something so plain, God wants us to laugh in astonishment as He raises new things from our nothings.

Don’t miss it. 

Spread your smile wide and your eyes even wider and delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).

He is doing a new thing. For me. For you. 

 

Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

A Holiday Survival Guide for Moms Who Hate Crafts

Hey, Moms,

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I think I managed to have the children complete 6 out of 28 “things they are thankful for leaves” for our Thanksgiving tree.

Encouragement For Moms During Advent

I can’t decide whether I’m proud of that number or embarrassed… On the one hand, I’m surprised we got that many done, given that this craft-adverse mama couldn’t psych herself up enough to start the project until the week of Thanksgiving… 6 is pretty impressive when you look at it that way.

And now Advent season is coming, and we moms feel the pressure once again to “make memories” with our little ones and point them to Christ so they don’t lose Him somewhere in the wrapping paper, but, honestly, few of us really believe we can do that without making ourselves flat crazy…

But before we pull out our brown paper bags – to hyperventilate in, not to create some glitter-laden, pipe-cleaner reindeer head – there’s some truth we need to remind ourselves of…

Those 6 days of Thanksgiving leaves – taped to the mantle because this mom couldn’t fit in a trip to a craft store to find some decorative branches, and just what would I put them in anyway? – those 6 days of reading thankful scriptures and leading little ones in scrawling their own thanks in crayon on the back of each leaf and taking the time to tell the Giver, “Thank You” – were better than none. 

Read that again, Mom.

Some is better than none.

Whatever effort we make during Advent will be better than nothing, too.

Because He was never after crafts anyway.

The best thing you can do for your kids during Advent?

Take the time YOURSELF to marvel at the grand orchestra that is the redemption of mankind through one… little… baby. When we are in awe of Him, our kids will find Him awe-some as well – the real point of Advent.

I want to wait with bated breath for Christmas morning to finally arrive because the true story that God became baby to save you and me from ourselves is just. too. good.

And if there are no homemade cookies and popsicle stick snowflakes made by little hands too sprinkle and glitter happy, that’s ok, because the waiting for the unfolding of God’s redemption plan – from the Fall til that first Christmas morning, from His ascension til His return – poised on the edge of our seats – that is enough.

Because He was never after crafts anyway.

No, He’s after our hearts.

It’s hard to keep this focus. Understatement, I know.

But I know something that can help because just reading the introduction has already helped me. It’s a new Advent devotional book called The Greatest Gift by One Thousand Gifts author, Ann Voskamp. I could not be more excited about this resource I am using to right MY heart, and, lucky for us, these are on sale for $7 at Lifeway today.

You need to read this book. Your kids need you to read this book. A few pages each day will keep the awe of Christ in the front of your mind – on the whole of your heart – front and center for your little ones to see, to feel.

And if you manage to bake some cookies with them somewhere between now and Christmas morning, consider yourself an overachiever.

♥ Kelly

The One Thing God Will Never Ask You to Sacrifice

I wrestled long through the night, trying to convince God my situation is the exception to His rule…to His Word. He listened while I presented my argument 1,000 different ways, but my logic couldn’t change His mind.

God is God so He is always right.

When I awoke the next morning, I was tired. From the lack of sleep, yes, but even more so from the fighting to make myself Him… to take His place as the One who calls the shots…

Well.

He does intend on making me like Him, but not Him.

I could tell I’d lost my case the night before, and I was desperate. So I did all I could do – I shot straight with Him. Finally.

Through my tears I poured out the heart behind all my lobbying. And through His tears He talked me through the truth.

“It’s not fair…” I railed, less like a toddler and more like a battered soul that can’t take one more punch. And with no pause He responded “No, it’s not… And it wasn’t fair that Jesus hung on a cross for crimes He hadn’t committed but He did it anyway because of love.”

“Jesus sacrificed Himself even though it hurt,” God continued. “And don’t think for a minute it didn’t hurt. When Christ called out to Me from the cross, it was a cry – ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'”

Tears formed faster than I could blink them away.

God went on.

“‘With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last,’ the scriptures say. Jesus’ sacrifice hurt Him. But He did it anyway. Because He was motivated by love for you.”

The words confounded me. How? How could Jesus knowingly – willingly – walk into such pain and keep His focus so narrowly on the joy on the other side?

The truth of the matter is loving sacrificially will hurt me too, but I can’t look Jesus in the eye and tell Him He doesn’t know. I can’t tell Him my hurt is greater than His was. The difference between me and Jesus is that His sacrifice cost Him the Father… when Jesus took our sin, He and the Father were separated

As I learn to sacrifice, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, one thing I will never have to say is, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus had to give up even that – His relationship with His Father. I may be called to go to great lengths, but that will never be one of them.

God brought me back from my thoughts. “I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU,” He emphasized to me. “I will walk with you, one foot in front of the other. And you may limp. And it will hurt. So if you need to put your arm around My neck, I will support you.

And we will walk. Together. One foot in front of the other.”

Light in the Darkeness

I was in the Ozark “Mountains” over the weekend. I use quotes because I was born in the Rockies. So the Ozarks are mere hills. Nevertheless, they were still beautiful, especially to someone who lives in the flat lands of Memphis, Tennessee.

There are many pictures I wish I had taken, but I only took one.

Light in the Darkness
Table Rock Lake, Branson, MO

It was an overcast morning when we drove to Table Rock Lake. The wind was whipping, trying to knock me over with its might. I muscled my way to the rocky shore. I scanned the horizon for the most picturesque shot. There seemed to be no way to capture the autumn leaves, the vast lake, and the mountains in one image. The wind blew my hair straight behind me. I raised my phone and snapped a careless picture.

We enjoyed the scenery for another minute or two before returning to our car.  In the stillness and the shade of our vehicle, I was able to examine my shot. And I noticed something in the picture I hadn’t seen in reality. The sun broke through the thick clouds and illuminated the center of the lake.

I felt as if God Himself was parting the clouds and shining brilliantly through just to show Himself to me. Except He knew I couldn’t handle a direct vision of Him (Exodus 33:20), so He showed me only what I could handle – a bit of the light that radiates from Him. 

Aside from being beautiful, the metaphors abounded.

It occurred to me that when it is a cloudy day, gray and heavy, the sun is still there, we just can’t see it. Similarly, when night comes and the sky is black, the sun doesn’t cease to exist, we just can’t see it.

I thought about life. Sometimes it feels like a cloudy day or a darkened night. We ache, we wrestle, we hurt, we break… and we look to the sky… we can’t see the Son, but He’s still there.

He doesn’t cease to exist when bad things happen or hard times linger longer than we’d like.

Jesus called Himself the light. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” (John 8:12).

The Son is the sun, whether the sky is clear or overcast, whether it’s day or night, whether you’re light or heavy-hearted. 

And the promise from the Son stands. Whoever follows Him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

When the clouds come and dusk gives way to dark, follow Him and have light. Follow Jesus and possess Him. With Him, you are not alone, and the darkness will never overtake you (Isaiah 43:2).

The Problem with Reading Through the Bible in a Year

Last year I jumped on the band wagon and read through the entire Bible in a year. I’m glad I did it. It forced me to read parts of the Bible I rarely venture into, and it gave me a good overall view of all that Scripture contains.

When I finished, I started over. Mostly because an amazing Bible teacher whom I think the world of told me that she has read through the Bible every year for 30 some odd years. She said it very humbly and without a hint of bragging simply to make the point that, although she has never been to seminary, she has a thorough understanding of the Bible because she spends time studying everyday.

I was inspired. I want to know the Bible inside and out, just as she does, so I figured I ought to do what she does and read through the Bible every year for the rest of my life.

Well… the calender tells me I should be over halfway done with this year’s reading, but I am only one third of the way through. I’m finding myself frustrated with my Bible-reading plan lately, unmotivated to keep plugging along…

Am I allowed to say that?

I’m a Bible teacher and a woman with a Bible degree and someone who loves Scripture immensely… but I’m also someone who wants to quit reading through the Bible in a year…

And I have to ask myself why…

Clearly, I think Bible literacy is hugely important, and the more we read and study, the better we will know God. But trying to cram 5 or 6 chapters into one sitting every single day is leaving me empty. There isn’t enough time to ponder, reflect, and digest what’s being communicated. I am more focused on checking off the chapters I’ve read than on listening to what the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to me. The reading plan makes me feel rushed and pressured, so my reading becomes rote and dry…

image via Rawich/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Rawich/freedigitalphotos.net

And, really, what’s the point of that? To accomplish some goal I can feel proud of? While it would make me feel good to be 60 years old and able to say, “I’ve read through the Bible every year for the past 32 years,” that’s not why I read the Bible.

I read the Bible because it is the living Word of God, which means God Himself uses the words on the page to speak to my spirit, personally. That is a thrill that delights me more than anything else this side of Heaven.

And for me, the problem with reading through the Bible in a year is that the sheer volume of information doesn’t allow me the time to stop and listen to the Holy Spirit. It’s when I slow down and ponder a handful of verses at a time that I most often hear from the Lord.

So yesterday I shelved my plan. Plans are not bad, mind you. They can help keep us accountable to staying in the Word… but I may exchange my old plan for a read-through-the-Bible-in-three-years plan to break it down into a more meaningful portion.

The Lord affirmed this decision yesterday. I cracked open Psalm 119 and read the first two verses. That’s all. He spoke so intimately through the second verse, there was no need to read on.  He and I thought through and had relationship as a result of my reading just a couple of verses instead of hundreds.

If your current Bible-reading plan isn’t cutting it for you, I hope you feel the freedom to change it up. He wants you; find an approach that will give Him that.

The Problem with Comfort Objects

God wants more for us than we want for ourselves.

Which is awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

Our hearts are so broken and bent toward sin that if someone were to ask us what we want in life, our list would be pretty self-centered. My list contains things like happiness, fulfillment, healthy family and friends. I want to grow old with my first husband, and I want my kids to thrive.

These things might seem benign on the surface, but I know the real motives underneath – I want to avoid pain and maximize pleasure.

And so do you.

But God wants more for us than a good time. He wants us to live lives that matter. Comfy, cozy lives don’t accomplish much. Self-preservation seems right, and it is natural, but it misses the heart of God (Proverbs 16:25).

We’re all here for 2 reasons: to know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16). But our pursuit of pain-free living often prevents us from knowing God (and, thus, making Him known).

How?

Because we find things that feel good and provide comfort, and we latch on to them for dear life, refusing to let them go.

(Note: this is called idolatry. I know, I know, too harsh. But true.)

We are born doing this. As newborns, we literally latch on to our mother’s, for nourishment, yes, but any mother can tell you, her baby hangs around well past meal time, suckling solely for the comfort. As we grow, this pattern of behavior continues, it just manifests differently.

When all our energy is focused on our comfort objects, we don’t have much time (or room in our hearts) to draw nearer to God. Problem.

But draw nearer we must. It’s the only way we can be fulfilled for any length of time, and it’s the only way we can fulfill our life purposes – to know Him and make Him known.

So God, lovingly, gently, and Fatherly-y (like a Father?), beckons us to find our comfort in Him.

Naturally, that doesn’t typically go over well with us. Our entire lives have been spent seeking and holding on to comfort objects that weren’t Him. To put them into their proper places – lower places than the Lord – is foreign and scary and hard and scary.

But He wants better for us than we want for ourselves. So He continues to encourage the process of loosening our grips on our chosen comforts that we might find our hands free to grab onto Him, the Ultimate Comfort.

I have a feeling the sooner we I cooperate, the better it will be for all involved.

How about you?