Let the Bible Be Your Primary Source of Spiritual Nourishment

Hello from the IF:Gathering here in Austin, TX. What an honor to spend time with so many Christian women leaders of similar heart. This global gathering of women not only includes the 2500 attendees here in Austin (tickets sold out in four minutes!) but over 2000 IF:Local groups all across the U.S. and around the world. It’s estimated that 500,000 people viewed the event last year. God is raising up an army of courageous women to link arms and live for the glory of God and the good of others.

Part of my contribution will be on stage Saturday morning with Margaret Feinberg, Rebekah Lyons and Esther Havens as we dive into John 15. Time will be limited so I thought I’d expand a bit on the four color clicky pen method of reading the Bible here. I’m also taping IF:Equip videos with Jeanne Stevens and wanted to include the part from 2 Timothy 3:16 about Scripture in this post.

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I usually have my Muji pen for journalling (seriously, such a great pen from Japan), a meaningful Starbucks gift card for underlying, and my four color clicky pen. What I like about using the four color pen is how it helps me read with intention. It’s like mining for gold or precious jewels. As I read I am asking, “What does this passage teach me about God? What do I learn about His character, His heart, His ways, what He loves, etc.”

Underline in GREEN: anything you learn about God’s character, I also underline prayers in the Bible like Col 1:9-12 and I box names of God in green (e.g. Father, LORD, Shepherd, King, Living Water, etc.)

Underline in BLUE: anything that is our part–things we are to know or do

Underline in BLACK: consequences of sin

Underline in RED: promises of God and any other extra special verses

Sometimes I combine colors, sometimes I circle repeated words. My encouragement is to become familiar with and make your Bible your own.

2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”

  • teaching=to know
  • reproof=to stop
  • correction=to change
  • training in righteousness=to do

Hope you find this helpful as you study God’s word. We are blessed to have countless resources, the internet, and wonderful devotionals, but remember nothing replaces the written Word of God. If you have never read through the entire Bible, I encourage you to set a goal to read it through. Begin in the gospel of John.

Let the Word of God be your primary source of spiritual nourishment.

** You can view IF:Gathering 2016 for free online through midnight Monday, February 8th.

IF:Gathering Racial Reconciliation Roundtable

Greetings from Austin, TX. Amazing city. Amazing food. Amazing people. Took part in the IF:Gathering yesterday and the day before. Click the link to sign up to hear the sessions. Powerful weekend. The leadership and women I met were humble, down-to-earth, Kingdom-minded warriors. Warm. Welcoming. Brave. Courageous. I’ve always held strong to the belief: you become like those you are around. Grateful for every woman I met. I want to be more like them, because of how I saw Jesus in their lives and in their eyes. I was invited to contribute. Taped several mini Bible studies for IF:Equip and an interview on unity and diversity.

IF:Equip bible studies

IF:Equip bible studies

Yesterday, in a remarkably intimate setting, even though surrounded by 2000 in attendance at the venue and over 20,000 women watching live stream, seven of us discussed the elephant in the room: racial reconcilation. We began unpacking issues of awareness, ethnic diversity (or the lack thereof), racism, unity. The 20 minutes onstage continued for another full hour of taping as we continued to share stories of discrimination and barriers. We sat around a table, looking into each other’s eyes. Through conversation we risked and brought our stories into this space of grace and truth. Our perspectives of the God we love deepened through exposure to each other’s stories.

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Among the many “God’s perfect timing moments,” my article for Today’s Christian Women, “Rocking the Small World Boat” went live right in time for the conference. In it I share about awareness and included resources and tips to help further the conversation. You can click the link to access the article. TCW graciously unlocked the article so IF:Gathering and IF:Local women would have access to the resources.

I’m still turning over in my mind the content, the names, the faces, the experience. Anticipating how God will move, trusting Him for movement in the right direction.

Changed lives. Changed world.

 

Did you participate in the IF:Gathering? If so, I’d love to hear your feedback!

 

Offering Everything Back to Him

She asked me to tilt my head forward, combed my wet hair straight through to the ends, and then looking at me while we both faced the mirror she said through her smile, eyes twinkling,

“It’s long enough to donate, you know.” 

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Wow. It would be like coming full circle!”

She threw her head back laughing, and with her warm, Alabama accent she declared,

“That’s exactly what I was thinking! Full circle.”

Last Wednesday, the official release date of “Warrior In Pink,” I had an appointment with Jesslyn to get my hair cut. The same Jesslyn who has always, always cut my hair. The same Jesslyn who knew I was pregnant before I knew because she could tell the texture of my hair had changed. The same Jesslyn who gifted me with the sassy magazine haircut when I was diagnosed with cancer and knew I would go bald. The same Jesslyn who came over to our house to shave my head when the harsh chemo meds began taking over my body and my hair began to fall out. The same Jesslyn who styled my crazy “muffs” when curly chemo hair grew back.

Fighting back tears I replayed in my mind those milestone moments with Jesslyn.

Full circle.

And how wonderful. How absolutely appropriate to donate my hair back to someone who would be walking the now familiar road of cancer treatment.

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And symbolically the donation of my hair reflects the place the book holds in my heart. I’m seeking to offer everything back to Him.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things…

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Cancer has altered my hair from stick straight to wavy curls. And cancer has altered my heart. The One who remains unchanging through each and every twist and turn is the One who has sustained, provided, led, and loved with perfect faithfulness.

To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36

We are blessed to be a blessing.

He is worthy of our all, our everything.

Willful, Will-less, or Willing

Sometimes when I speak I find myself sharing things I didn’t plan on sharing. Weird audio-visual mishaps take place, derailing my train of thought, and I’m left scrambling on the inside. But sometimes those unplanned things end up being exactly what someone needed to hear. I’d chalk that up to the Holy Spirit’s work and the prayers of our ministry partners and friends.

Just a week ago I stood in front of a room packed with over 400 college students representing 40 campuses across the country. Our annual West Coast Epic conference took place down in San Diego. I had spent the past two years speaking at the East Coast conference so it had been awhile since I experienced conference west coast style (you know, things like the emcee Olympics event in Sochi, a staff zombie flash mob, students sharing in the form of spoken word, creative art, string quartet, rap, the lip sync contest sing off, etc.). What an incredible weekend filled with incredible students learning about our incredible God.

Epic West Coast Conference

Darrin, wearing the conference director hat this year, led the 50 or so staff in a time before the students arrived of personal evaluation and surrender. Symbolically pouring out a vial of water representing our lives poured out to God, he asked the staff to pray and add their “lives” to a glass vase as an offering to God: willing to go, do, say and give whatever God asked. And from this place of surrender the staff welcomed students who arrived from everywhere. Some alone, without knowing a single person, some with their posses and school flag (Arizona! :-) ).

So with this as the backdrop I went up on stage to deliver the first talk. The cordless microphone gave us all sorts of trouble; weird feedback, popping, and the like. My staff friend, Duncan, came up to the stage halfway through the talk and unwound the long cord and handed me a handheld mic. I lost my place in my notes and ended up skipping an entire section of the talk. When I looked at Gilbert, the time-keeper, I realized I still had more time. So I summarized, and went on to share, but not from my notes, about a willful, will-less or willing heart.

Turns out, based on questions and feedback, most people wanted to hear more about what I hadn’t planned on sharing.

I first learned about these three postures of the heart in a class I took at Talbot Seminary. (One day soon I plan to return to resume the Master’s degree I will eventually earn–at the age of 86).

Okay, so here goes:

A willful heart: says “I’m going to do this.” It is characterized by striving and depending on my own strength.

A willful heart may come from a place of wanting to live a life pleasing to God, but this life is spent trying to muster up willpower to charge ahead. Willful hearts can feed into pride and legalism. If convicted of sin the response of a willful heart is “I will do better. I will try harder.” When my heart is willful, I’m trying to live life in my own effort, and trying to be obedient in my own effort. Willful hearts can lead to burn out. Sometimes after all the striving and the inevitable disappointment, it leads to

A will-less heart: “God’s going to do it all. It doesn’t matter what I do.”

Will-less hearts are the “whatevah” (hold up the “w” with thumbs and pointer fingers). It’s a passive place of who cares, “God’s going to do what God’s going to do so what I do is inconsequential.” When my heart is will-less, I stop being engaged, I give up and my thinking is “why try.” I become cynical. When I sin my attitude is “Oh well. At least it’s forgiven.”

The heart is not changed or transformed when we are willful or will-less.

Rather than a willful or will-less heart, God asks for

A willing heart: “God I am desiring to grow. I will do whatever it is, but on my own I can’t.”

The willing heart recognizes our inability to live the Christian life on our own and expresses our dependence on God’s power. The key to the willing heart is really the issue of being yielded. It’s not about signing up and being a missionary in a foreign land and eating bugs. It’s the willingness to go if God asks. It’s the willingness to stay even if you want to go. It’s about a life surrendered, laid open. This is the key to the Christian life. This is how God’s Spirit is unleashed to empower believers to live the Christian life.

Our lives, a poured out offering to the Lord

God, I am willing to go where You want me to go, do what You want me to do, say what You want me to say, give what You want me to give.

The last morning of the conference students were invited to sign a card and symbolically pour out their lives to God.

Willing hearts.

One hundred and eighty-three students expressed willing hearts.

This new generation of leaders, through the power of the Holy Sprit, will change the world.

Do you have additional thoughts to add to this conversation?

When God Says No

“If ever we needed prayer, it is now. The pain is indescribable.” I read and reread Maegan’s post on Facebook in absolute shock and disbelief. No. There must have been a mistake. This can’t be. None of the thousands upon thousands who rallied in prayer the past several weeks expected the story to end this way.

Rain fell steadily from the normally bright blue skies here in Southern California the first Saturday in December. Our family, dressed in dark colors, joined hundreds of family and friends, filling a church to capacity. Love and sorrow flowed through the aisles as we gathered to honor and remember Josiah Robins. Heaven joined us in our grief.

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Family and friends were gifted only two short decades with this young man of character. Our lives intersected with Josiah’s family through our friendship with his aunt, uncle and cousins. Jonathan and Josiah had AP Lit class together their junior year. Michael played the game “Heroscape” with Josiah and his cousins late into the night. Two words I most associated with Josiah: kind and grounded. Josiah’s quiet strength and the unstoppable love of his extended family influenced people all across the country. We wept as we collectively celebrated a life so full of promise, suddenly cut short.

Early in November a motorcycle accident in Arkansas sent Josiah to the emergency room. After realizing the extent of his injuries, the doctors had him airlifted to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He spent his final weeks in the ICU. A star athlete throughout his young life, his healthy body made steady improvement even as his underwent surgeries including having both his legs amputated.

As word got out, the faithful rallied and prayed. And God heard prayers for Josiah, his siblings, his mom, his extended family at all hours, from coast to coast and around the world. We prayed in faith, asking and believing God for complete healing and restoration. Everything seemed to point to answered prayer.

Then a stroke.

Then he was gone.

God said “no.”

I’ve struggled over the outcome of how I thought Josiah’s story would end. In fact I haven’t written a blog post since his death. I’ve turned over a thousand times in my mind the way his short life abruptly came to a close and I can’t make sense of it. Josiah’s death wasn’t the result of gang violence, or alcohol or drugs. His life brimmed with possibilities. As a young African-American man, son to a single mom, big brother to his three younger siblings, his life stood in stark contrast to poor choices he could have made but didn’t. Instead, he leaned into God and with fierce loyalty he purposed to love and protect his family. He chose to live a life that made them proud. Grounded, he rose out of the difficulties he both experienced and witnessed, like gold.

I just don’t understand.

Looking for answers I return to my coffee stained, tear-stained, well-worn Bible. More than looking for answers, my eyes search for Him. And I have learned and continue to learn His ways are not my ways, His thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). I cannot fully grasp all of who He is, but still I seek. In the pages of my Bible I catch glimpses of His heart. And of His mysterious ways.

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In Mark 5:1-20 I read about Jesus and the man from Gerasenes possessed by a legion of demons. The demons torment the man day and night causing him to cry out and gash himself with stones. When Jesus confronts the demons they ask him to send them into the pigs (v12-13).

He says yes.

The townspeople, familiar with the demon possessed man, find out about the deliverance and get scared. They ask Jesus to leave (v17).

He says yes.

The man who had been demon possessed, now calm, clothed, and clear-headed, asks to accompany Jesus (v18).

He says no.

Jesus loved the man He rescued and restored. But unlike the first two petitions He responded “no” to the man’s request. I realize how resistant I am to hear “no.” I unconsciously equate “no” with absence of love or favor.

When God says “no” to us He never stops loving. His “no” is never cruel or petty or haphazard. His good purposes cannot be thwarted. So I am left scanning the pages wondering who Jesus wanted this man to meet in Decapolis (v20).

This side of heaven, because we exist in the confines of time, we don’t see the outcome of each story. More often than not, especially the longer we walk the earth, we find ourselves with more questions than answers. Since we cannot see past the ups and downs and the twists and turns of life we have to wait for more of the story to unfold. Josiah’s aunt, my friend, Kierstin, shared at the memorial service, “Josiah’s death is not the end of the story.”

And while I believe Kierstin’s words to be true, my heart grieves deeply along with the Josiah’s family and friends of all Josiah’s missed milestones: his college graduation, awards, travels, birthdays, wedding, children. Holding both the grief and the hope, I can’t help but think God’s “no” to our prayers for Josiah involves so much more than we know at this point.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father if it’s possible for the cup of suffering and dying on the cross to pass him (Matthew 26:39).

God says no.

Even to His Beloved Son.

What is your reaction when God says no?

Love is: Laying Down Your Life

Prepping talks for the Cru Red River Region Staff conference this coming weekend. Looking forward to seeing my staff friends who serve on college campuses all over Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. One of my favorite Bible study tools for the New Testament is the Discovery Bible:

9780802441591This wonderful resource is great for folks like me who haven’t *yet* had the opportunity to study Greek. Different symbols, words and numbers help add depth and understanding to verb tenses, translation and emphatic words used in the original New Testament text.

For example:

John 15:13 reads:

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Initially I read the verse to mean the greatest act of love is to physically die in someone’s place (like Jesus taking our place on the cross for our sin). I picture jumping in front of a would be assassin and taking a bullet for someone I love. Laying down my life. (And yes. I have been watching “Alias” on Netflix. In the middle of season 3. Go Sydney Bristow!)

But it turns out the word life in Greek is psyche (from which our English word psychology is derived). This explanation of life is the inner life of a person, the personality, or ego.  It’s what gives a person individual distinction before God. So rather than bios (the duration of earthly life or existence), Jesus is teaching that laying down our lives (feelings, desires, affections and aversions) is something we do over and over.

The verse right before this one about laying down our lives reads:

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

Love in this verse is agapao–unconditional love which seeks a person’s highest good, an unselfish affection for another without the expectation of receiving anything in return.

We are to love one another by laying down our lives for one another. Again and again.

This is greater love. Dying in someone’s place is a one time event. But choices to daily lay down my ego, laying down my agenda, lay down my rights and seek another’s highest good is the selfless way Jesus demonstrated love.

My challenge today:

How will I lay down my life for those I love?

Do you have any other thoughts to add to these verses?

 

Everyone Needs A Prisca

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who takes the time to truly listen and understand the struggles of the heart.

Someone who models an authentic life of faith and grace and prayer.

Someone who has survived the current life stage you are seeking to navigate.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who believes wholeheartedly in the goodness of God and lives for eternal things unseen.

Someone who reminds us the ministry is unending, but the window interacting with our own children is small. And taking time to be good to ourselves is crucial.

Someone who applauds steps of faith and prays diligently. And then prays some more.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who is humble, a learner, compassionate, and incredibly, incredibly wise.

Someone who doesn’t fix problems, but knows how to hold emotions.

Someone to model after because they so reflect the heart of God.

Everyone needs a Prisca.

Someone who is mature, who speaks words of hope, who knows how to laugh at herself.

Someone who helps restore perspective.

Someone who loves well.

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Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7) 

I have six names written in the margin of my Bible next to this verse. Prisca is one of them. I’ve been blessed to know her for twenty years. She is one of my heroes of the faith.

Who do you have written on the margin of your Bible?

Who has your name written in theirs?

Loved By God

Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake. Still working my way through “The One Year Chronological Bible.” Two days ago I read about Daniel in Daniel chapters 10 and 11. The angel addressed Daniel as “greatly loved of God.” He explains the moment Daniel began praying, which was three weeks prior to this appearance, his request was heard in heaven. Some kind of fierce spiritual battle took place which required Michael, one of the archangels, to aid the angel in order for him to deliver the message to Daniel. He later tells Daniel,

“Dont be afraid, for you are deeply loved by God. Be at peace, take heart and be strong!” (Daniel 10:19)

I know in my head God loves me. I sing about it, in the privacy of my car, throughout the day. But something about the description of being

greatly loved

and

deeply loved

by God

has stopped me in my tracks.

Not just loved. But loved greatly. And deeply.

I’ve been turning these truths over and over in my mind.

I forget He loves me and begin to fret. I forget He loves me and I start taking responsibility for things I was never tasked with. I forget He loves me and I scramble for control. I forget He loves me and live as if everything depends on me. I forget He loves me and I forget He is with me.

A strong foundation of love makes all the difference in any relationship. The circumstances can be exactly the same, but the heart attitude is different. Love changes everything.

The kind of intimacy Daniel shared with his God kept him from rebelling or becoming bitter when he was taken from his home and sent away to Babylon as a teenager. His understanding and experience of God’s love, character and provision gave him courage to go against the crowd and abstain from the food eaten by the king and royal court. His obedience and steadfast faith kept him loyal to HIs God. He refused to bow down to worship the Babylonian king and was thrown into the lion’s den.

Daniel, just like you and just like me, experienced trials, bewilderment, heartache, discouragement, disappointment, unanswered prayer, life threatening situations, and all the while he was greatly loved and deeply loved by God.

So often my thinking is limited. Short-sighted. Off.

I think of being protected from experiencing trials, heartache, disappointment as evidence of being deeply and greatly loved. While I’m sure God has protected me from unseen difficulties, I also understand being greatly loved and deeply loved includes the hard times. The times when life gets derailed, when well laid plans are disrupted; the times when I personally fall and fail. I am greatly loved and deeply loved in and through those hard times. The intensity of God’s love is not based on my circumstances or my response. His love is great and deep and unconditional.

God’s love is tender and fierce.

Deeply loved means He knows my circumstances, struggles, and secrets. He gives strength to persevere and walk through the valleys. He is for me. With me. His purposes are higher and include a bigger plan I am often unaware of. His motivation always has and continues to be love. So it is from this foundation of love that I bring my fears, insecurities, failures and concerns to His safe keeping.

He loves you and he loves me greatly.

Deeply.

And like the angel shared with Daniel, knowing God loves us deeply helps us to be at peace, take heart and be strong.

I am seeking to mull and mediate and respond to what it means to be greatly loved by God.

What does it mean to you for God to love you deeply?

Julia drew this picture of me speaking at the Epic East Coast conference a couple years ago. Her words ring true.

Julia drew this picture of me speaking at the Epic East Coast conference a couple years ago. Her words ring true.

Keep On Praying

We lived at the base of the mountain named Pine Brook Hills. The name, Pine Brook Hills, might suggest grass-covered mounds, but hairpin turns and steep inclines required the use of snow tires and sometimes chains during the winter months. These were, without question, mountains. The houses were sprinkled far apart and the driveways were long and the views, breath-taking. From one of those houses surrounded by pine trees too many to count, a mom and one of her daughters faithfully prayed. The prayers drifted up to heaven like smoke from their chimney. The daughter, my sister’s classmate, prayed that God would bring my sister and me to Himself.

The prayers went up. And life went on. And years went by.

Much later on God would answer those mountain prayers. Our family would move from the house at the base of the mountain in Boulder, Colorado clear across the ocean to Hong Kong. And there in Hong Kong my sister and I would fully commit our lives to God.

When I returned to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado, I spent the next five years teaching Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church where Jill Wedlake, the mom who prayed for us, was the director of the children’s program. Our lives would continue to criss cross. Then they moved to Italy when I moved to Berkeley.

And years went by.

Last month, in Grand Junction, Colorado, we had a sweet reunion with the Wedlake family. I was able to introduce Jill and her husband, Jerry, to Michael and Julia. We stayed overnight at their house. Sydney, the daughter who prayed, came over for dinner with her two kids. And sitting over chips and salsa at the kitchen counter, I thanked them both for praying all those years back.

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And as we drove away from their home the next morning my heart was renewed to not give up. To keep on praying. And to pray with my own daughter for God to draw her friends to Himself. This side of heaven we may not see exactly how He answers the prayers we pray. But each of us had someone who prayed for us. And each of us has people God has placed in our lives for us to pray for as well.

God hears prayer and He answers.

Don’t give up. Keep on praying.

Casting Off Fear

Most mornings my eyes open and my mind floods with random to-do list items, varying levels of concern over relationships, home, finances, the future. Included now in those first morning thoughts is Book #2. The last few months I have been marinating on content for my next book proposal and with it comes a new level of fear. Writing about cancer usually garners the sympathy of pretty much everyone. A certain safety zone exists because the topic of cancer includes the universal struggles of physical pain, suffering, and possible death. Writing about cancer trumps the polarizing topics of faith, gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, etc. I’ve noticed most comment sections on blog posts about cancer avoid the internet nastiness often found online. I like the safety zone. I like to be liked. But God seems to confirm and reconfirm at least an attempt at Book #2.

This morning, while sipping coffee and processing with God about my fears of not being smart enough, experienced enough, and just about everything enough, I read in my Bible reading plan timely words:

“for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and take care of you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 1:7)

Don’t be afraid of the people.

As God calls you and me to various tasks, our part is to be willing and to go wherever, say whatever and cast off the fear of people’s disapproval. He is with us and will take care of us.

If He is sending us, He will be with us. Of this we can be sure.

Where is God sending you? What fears do you need to cast off?