That’s what Crystal Evans Hurst prayed for when life felt out of control. She just wanted a break from her life! Listen in as Crystal shares her journey of missteps and mistakes, all while learning to trust God with her future. Click HERE for the podcast on She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl in You.
Our culture applauds what we can produce, what we can show, and what we can upload to social media. But God notices us even when we are tucked away in hidden places. I loved talking with author Sara Hagerty about how sometimes being hidden is a good thing and that God still enjoys us, even if we’re living what the world might consider an unproductive life.
Click HERE for a podcast of my radio conversation with Sara Hagerty.
Sometimes we allow the negative labels of others shape our identities. But God has His own dream for our lives, and it’s worth discovering. Ministry leader and fabulous woman of God Jo Saxton (I like her name!) shares her journey of broken identity in hopes that we will find the courage to discover our own. God is in the business of restoration, as pointed out in Jo’s new book, The Dream of You. Click HERE to listen to the podcast of our interview on Faith Radio.
Keeping the story of your life to yourself? This week I had the pleasure of interviewing author Jamie Ivey on her new book, If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free. It will make you think twice about hiding your past from your friends. Click HERE for the podcast.
Some time ago, I attended track-and-field day for my young son, Sam. As a volunteer at the long jump station, I filled out a name tag and took my post. For some reason, I simply wrote “Sam’s Mom.” Child after child would pass through and they would immediately know that I belonged with that snappy little 3rd grade boy named Sam. We had a connection. Even after the event was through, children would run up to me and say, “Sam’s Mom—look at all the ribbons I won!” or “Sam’s Mom—can you watch me run?”
Knowing who I belonged to somehow made the kids feel like they knew me. We were buds. My name was not important in that particular context. But my relation to their friend was significant. Furthermore, as Sam’s Mom, I saw myself not as a teacher or writer or radio host, but as someone who was there to serve the 3rd graders during their special day.
It reminds me of the gospel writer, John.
In his gospel account, he writes about the unmatched and unparalleled love of God. John has often been described as the beloved disciple. This title is not given as a status symbol—Jesus did not play favorites. Jesus himself does not use this title for John or any other disciple. But rather, the beloved disciple was how John described himself in the gospel that bears his name.
On several occasions, John refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
Listen in as he describes himself in the following verses…
One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him (Jesus). John 13:23
Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom Jesus loved standing nearby, and he said to her, “Woman, here is your son.” John 19:26a
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around and jumped into the water. John 21:20
Perhaps this was John’s way of exhibiting remarkable humility. Or, maybe his experience of being loved by Jesus was more precious to him than even his own name. John is said to have had a greater understanding of God’s loving nature because he experienced God’s love in a distinct way. He knew and experienced this love of God in a way that trumped everything else that he thought about himself. He was no longer just John. He was no longer just a fisherman, a sinner, a disciple-in-training or a flawed human being. His identity no longer came from what he did or didn’t do, but came from the One who knew all of these things about him, and yet loved him fully anyway. John’s based on his identity in relation to Christ. He simply saw himself as the one whom Jesus loved.
Imagine how our life might look different if we started from this assumption. I am the one whom Jesus loves. And as such, our worthiness would already be established. Our status would already be decided. We might pray differently or act differently toward our neighbors. We might love others with the same love he bestows on us.
He knows me.
He sees me.
And He still loves me.
I am the one whom Jesus loves.
When we think of ourselves this way, we begin to read Scripture differently. It is no longer for those people of that time. Each verse is written with us in mind. Imagine this paraphrase of John 3:16:
For God so loved [Jo] that He gave His only son, that since [Jo] believes in Him, [Jo] shall not perish but [Jo] shall have eternal life.
The Bible is personal. It’s God’s love letter to us. We are the ones whom Jesus loves.
How about putting that on your next nametag?
I was rummaging around in the chest where I keep my childhood belongings when I came across a well-worn toy from my youth—The Magic 8 Ball. Maybe you had one too? Perhaps, like me and my grade-school friends, you used to ask this magic ball if a certain boy in your math class might someday ask you out on a date, and then squealed with delight when the fortune-telling ball revealed, “It is decidedly so.”
Perhaps your questions were a bit more mature in nature like; “Will I go to college?” “Will I get married?” “Should I say ‘Yes’ to that job opportunity?” Chances are, that Magic 8 Ball didn’t always get it right, and your reliance on such toys faded out soon enough along with acid-washed jeans and Bonnie Bell lip gloss. I, too, found the same flaws in the ball’s ability to direct me down the right path. That’s how my Magic 8 Ball found its way to the bottom of my chest.
I hadn’t lost the desire to gain direction and advice; I just figure the Magic 8 Ball might not be the way for me to get it.
So how does a person gain the ability to make right choices? I’ve noticed that a series of right business decisions can land a person that job they’ve always wanted. A couple of right decisions can heal a strained relationship or bring restoration to a difficult situation. In the same way, the choice to spew hate can cause relationships to end, and a couple of bad career choices can land you in the unemployment line.
When the Lord asked Solomon what he wanted from God, Solomon could have chosen riches or fame or the power to kill his enemies. He could have chosen to have the most beautiful woman on earth or the largest kingdom ever known. But instead, Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:12), and God granted him a wise and discerning heart.
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
1 Kings 3:9-12
Thankfully, Solomon shared many of his wise sayings with us in the book of Proverbs.
This book of short truths tells us that people who have wisdom enjoy its benefits. The person who has wisdom, for example, is faithful and trusts in the Lord. The wise put God first and turn away from evil. The wise know right from wrong, they listen and learn. Wise people do what is right.
But Solomon isn’t the only person to receive wisdom. God is generous with his gifts of discernment. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5). This wisdom isn’t something we have to chase after or save money to purchase. Wisdom isn’t a resource a psychic can sell or a secret a horoscope can reveal. In fact, consulting these sources would likely be considered unwise. Rather, wisdom is something that we receive by drawing near to God and asking for it.
So I’ll put my Magic 8 Ball back in its spot at the bottom of my chest. I’ll remember fondly the wonder and excitement of childhood superstitions. But to receive true wisdom and guidance and advice for my life, I’ll turn my eyes back to the Word of God. And I’ll remember the words of wise King Solomon:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.
I was always a little nervous about praying out loud in a group. Even praying a dinner blessing would sometimes cause a bit of stress. I would worry that I was somehow doing it wrong. The words always sounded fine in my head but when they left my mouth they were somehow less than lovely. I wanted to take them back, to edit, and then put forth my prayer in perfect grammar and proper theology.
I have tried acronyms in order to craft the perfect prayer: P.R.A.I.S.E., ACTS, PRAY, P.R.A.Y.E.R. They are all wonderful tools and have brought great clarity to my prayer time. But for me, I find myself holding back. I find myself more concerned with the format than I do with the subject.
At least I know I’m not alone. Maybe you’ve struggled too? Jesus taught his disciples to pray. They wondered how to communicate with the God who loved them, so Jesus encouraged them to come to him whenever they felt a need. He wanted them to know that the door was always open.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
There have been other times in my life when I can’t seem to stop the words from spilling out. These prayers may not have any continuity. There is no structure. But these prayers are real as well. Read More
My heart was beating wildly as I watched my son stand at the edge of a small cliff off the coast of southern Greece. The beautiful turquoise waters beckoned him to jump, but his feet said “no.” While I had watched seven older cousins make the leap, I wondered if giving permission to my youngest to jump off a cliff might have not been my best parenting decision.
Fear was gripping his little mind. There was the fear of physical harm if the jump didn’t go well, and the fear of humiliation if he decided to crawl back down the cliff. After all, his brother and cousins had already made the leap.
I tried to yell up words of encouragement when I remembered years ago, trying to get him to jump off the diving board at our local pool. If I remained on the side of the pool, he would jump off the board sideways, narrowly missing the edge of the pool. But when I swam out beyond the diving board, then he would jump out safely and swim right to me.
I immediately left the side of the cliff where I was safely watching from afar and swam out to where he would ideally land. I said, “Just jump out to me and swim my way, just like we used to do at the pool. Don’t look down, just look at me. I’ll be right here.”
What happened next was a combination of sheer terror and sheer delight (mine and his) as I watched my son leap from the edge of the cliff and into the water in front of me. Within seconds, he emerged from the brilliant blue, wide eyed and smiling. He swam right to me and screamed, “I did it!” He may have doubted the water, but he trusted me at my word, that I’d be there when he came up.
In his gospel, Matthew tells a story about the disciple Peter, who also towed the line between fear and trust.
I like the concept of setting some resolutions for the new year. I feel like January is a time of reset, a chance to take a deep breath and head into the next year with a plan to become someone, well… better. Numerous polls and articles list the top resolutions. Some people want to be thinner, some stronger, some wiser, some wealthier. Some want to be more generous, while others want to read the Bible more. Most of these goals have something in common—people want to be better versions of themselves. Let’s face it, we all want to improve. And the start of a new year gives us an opportunity to start fresh.
After all, the writers in the Bible are continually encouraging us to try and follow Christ’s example, reminding us to be… better.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Julius Caesar instituted New Year’s Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of New Year’s resolutions began in ancient times, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral bent—mostly to be good to others. To them, Janus was the god of beginnings.
Looking back, I realize that God is more than just the god of beginnings. He is God over our past as well. And sometimes, looking at what He has brought me through helps me to realize that He will also lead me forward in hope and confidence.
As I turn my head and look back at 2016, I am grateful for all that God has shown me this year. He has shown me great kindness through the love of my children. He has shown me great grace, in forgiving me when I have fallen far short of who I can and should be. He has shown me great compassion as I grieved the loss of two dear friends who left this earth far too soon. He has shown me great understanding, how that loss has changed me—sometimes not for the better. He has shown me great love when I have been somewhat unlovable at best and downright awful at worst. I am so grateful for the way in which he sees me as holy, thanks to the cover of Jesus’ sacrifice. And as I look back, I realize how that sacrifice and the love that continues is what has sustained me through this past year.
So, as the Romans chose to do, I will look forward to 2017, resolving to focus on what God has in store for me. I pray that it will be healing. For the sake of myself and for those I love, I do need to heal. But regardless of how quickly that happens, I resolve to look forward to wholeness—a completeness that can only come through looking first at Christ, and realizing that I am not alone. I am surrounded by other believers who will cheer me on in the year ahead.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
I hope you will join me in looking back and seeing the great gifts from the past year, and in looking forward to focus on the great gifts that lie ahead as we daily place our trust in Him. And know that you’re not alone. I, and many others, will be running that race with you.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power… (2 Thessalonians 1:11)
Let’s look forward to this new year together.