Why We Can Count on God to Be Faithful

Waiting is hard but knowing who we wait for makes it easier to wait expectantly.

My prayers lately have been increasingly filled with intercession on behalf of many who are enduring illness, grief, uncertainty, and trials of many kinds. And as I look around at our world and the rampant chaos and suffering, I, like the prophet Habakkuk, cry out to God: “How can a holy and just God allow this suffering? How can you let the wicked prevail and let good people suffer?” This morning, God answered me by taking me on a tour through Habakkuk, Colossians, and Second Peter. In the words of Scripture, God answered my question. “Wait for it…”

Wait for It

God reminded me, as he reminded Habakkuk, that just because I can’t understand why God works the way he does, doesn’t mean I can’t trust God.

And just because God doesn’t work according to my time table, doesn’t mean he isn’t working.

Over and over through the history of God’s interaction with his Creation, he proved his ways and timing are good and just; that in all things he is working to restore and redeem. In all things, and using the most unlikely and even unseemly people and circumstances, God always fulfills his promises and reveals himself to be holy and just.

So when we struggle and face unfair suffering, we can call out to him and he will reassure us of his faithfulness, goodness, and justness.

When we can’t count on anyone or anything else, we can count on God to be faithful.

We Want Either; God is Both

Ironically, when we are the ones sinning and suffering we plead for mercy. But when others sin against us, in our humanness, we cry out for vengeance and swift justice. Depending on our circumstances we want God to be either merciful or just, but God is always both merciful and just.

God repeatedly warns his people not to confuse his patience with permission to sin. He shows mercy and long-suffering because he desires to see all redeemed (2 Peter 3:9). But he is just and thus all wrongdoing must be accounted for.

In fact, we know that he has poured out his wrath on sin. He poured it out on the cross.

Every sin, every injustice, every act of rebellion was met with God’s holy and just wrath poured out on Christ who bore all of humanity’s sin.

Our sin and the sin of those who sin against us were all covered by Christ’s blood.

Are You Offended by God?

Habakkuk was offended when God declared he would use a brutal, pagan people to bring his own covenant people to repentance (see Habakkuk 1-2).

Likewise, we can find it offensive to realize that the same blood that covers our sins is the blood that covers those who sin against us.

But let’s not be like the unmerciful servant who refused to forgive a small debt despite having his own massive debt forgiven (See Matthew 18:21-35).

Let us take to heart Paul’s words to remember what God has done for us:

Since you’ve been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on things above, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed—and he is your life—you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.Colossians 3:1-4

We have even more reason than Habakkuk did to trust in God. We have the Holy Spirit, the deposit that guarantees the fulfillment of God’s promise to make all things new in Christ.

And because we are filled with his Spirit, in our suffering, he will supply us with his strength to persevere. He will fill us with his Spirit so that we can join Habakkuk in declaring:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls.
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.—Habakkuk 3:17-19

Wait for It

We don’t have to know when and how God will fulfill his promise of making all things new. We know he will.

Peter, encouraged believers facing unimaginable hardship and persecution to persevere in their faith. He called them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” as they waited for God to fulfill his promise to make a new heaven and a new earth free from sin, pain, injustice, and sorrow. Those ancient words are also for us.

So, I will lean into my good God and entrust to his grace and mercy those who are hurting and suffering. I will confess that I have mistaken his patience with permission and allow his discipline to restore me to his path. I will bring my confusion, sorrow, and frustration to the cross and trust God to redeem it all in his way and in his timing.

Will you join me in waiting expectantly for God?

Something to Help You Wait Expectantly

If you’re in a difficult time of waiting to see God act, I highly recommend my friend Wayne Stiles’ book, Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing. Want a sample of the rich Scriptural wisdom you will find in the pages of his book? Download the summary sheet I made listing my favorite “takeaways” or principles presented in Wayne’s book. Just click the picture or button below to get your free copy of this summary sheet.

Waiting On God Principles

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Your turn.... What helps you trust in God’s faithfulness when you face difficult circumstances or people? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What Happens When We Bring Our Brokenness to God

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When my youngest son, Justin, was about 5, we bought him an Indiana Jones action figure set. He loved it and played with it all the time. But, one day I noticed he hadn’t played with it in a while. In fact, he had tried to hide it.

When I asked him about it, he hemmed and hawed and made some lame excuse for not playing with it anymore.

I knew something had happened to it.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I knelt down and looked in his sweet, chubby little face and said,

Justin, I love you, no matter what. And if something has happened to your toy, if you’ll bring it to me, I’ll help you fix it.”

He looked up at me with such relief and he ran and retrieved his little action figure out from under his bed.

He brought me Indiana Jones —like this:

Indiana Jones Story

Somehow Indy’s head had come off.

Justin knew what was wrong. He just couldn’t fix the problem himself.

But as soon as he was honest with me about his problem and brought it to me, I fixed it for him. And he was able to take his restored action figure and get back to using it for its intended purpose.

From Broken to Whole

That is exactly how it worked for me when I first came to Christ. I knew something was broken in me. I just wasn’t able to fix it no matter how hard I tried.

But God could and he wanted to. He wants to for everyone.

I didnt have to do anything except bring God my brokenness and trust that what he had already done on the cross was sufficient to redeem me and make me whole.

In that moment of initially getting real with God and accepting his grace, he gave me a new identity. I was now his child.

My new identity brought with it a new kind of security. Because I am his child he will never leave me or forsake me. Wow!

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, John describes this transformation  in verse 12:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God “— John 1:12 (NIV)

New Identity, New Security

Our identity as believers is that of God’s child, and our security is found in that relationship.

But it took time for that new identity and security to sink in, and for me to consistently live out of that new reality.

I had to grow in my understanding of him and his love for me. And as I grew in my relationship with God, I began to understand the implications of that relationship for all of the other relationships in my life.

Getting real with God, becoming his child, is just the beginning of the journey.

We have entered the gate and are secure in his sheepfold. (See John 10:1-18) But once we are in the gate, we are to follow our Good Shepherd, growing and maturing as we go.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus described these two aspects of a relationship with him:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Did you catch that, he calls us to not only come to him but to learn from him.

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, walking authentically with him and learning from him, we experience more and more the life he came to give us.

This new life as his disciple is a process, not something that we will master instantaneously.

If we are not nurturing our relationship with Jesus, we can quickly forget where our identity and security truly come from.

When we pull away from Jesus, we limit our ability to tap into our source for abundant living.

Our pulling away or ignoring him doesnt change the reality that we are God’s child, but it limits our experience of the abundant life he gives us.

Listen, we live in a corrupt, broken world, and it can take a toll on us.

  • It beats us over the head with messages that we are not good enough,
  • batters us with a never ending stream of trials and temptations, and
  • fills our calendars with so much busyness that it shoves us off track from spending time on the truly important things.

It isn’t enough to just go through the religious motions.

We must consistently bring that real self—the one that has been beaten, battered, and shoved off track—back into the presence of God and let him remind us of who we really are—his beloved child.

If we don’t go to God, we will end up going to the world and other people for our identity and security.

Get This Free Step-by-Step Guide

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If you need a little guidance as to how to

  • grow closer to Christ,
  • bring your true self to him regularly, and
  • find the peace, purpose, and passion for life that Christ intends for you to have, then…

Grab the FREE GUIDE I’ve made for you. It will walk you through some simple, practical steps to strengthening your relationship with him.

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Your turn...  What does it feel like when you bring your messy, broken self to God and let him put you back together and make you whole? What helps you do that? What makes it difficult? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Your Power Is NOT in Yourself But in His Spirit

FREE 4 x 6 Print to Encourage and Remind You

Even when we are excited, energized, and eager to pursue God’s calling on our lives, there are inevitably times when it gets scary. And if you’re not periodically frightened by the challenges you face, may I respectfully suggest you are probably living within your comfort zone rather than truly running hard after God’s purpose for your life. He rarely calls us to the safe and comfy boat and regularly beckons us out on the wild waves. So, for those moments when you feel in over your head, repeat the words of encouragement on the photo below.

By the power of His Spirit-2

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I’ve made you a free 4 x 6 high resolution version of the gorgeous photo by Roberto Nickson shown above. It includes the encouraging words from this post to remind you where your power comes from when you get discouraged! Click the button below and I’ll instantly email you a file that you can upload to your favorite photo printer (Shutterfly, Walgreens, Target, etc. or your home printer) and have prints made that will fit in a standard size frame.

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The Water May Not Always Be Smooth But Don’t Be Afraid!

One of my favorite passages is found in Matthew 14:22-33. This is the account of Jesus walking on water. Immediately after he miraculously feeds more than 5,000 people with five small loaves and two little fish, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and head off across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus remains behind to dismiss the crowd and spend some time alone with his Father in prayer. Sometime between 3:00 am and 6:00 am, Jesus walked across the lake to catch up with the guys in the boat. They were battling waves and wind which can be fierce on the Sea of Galilee. Seeing what they thought was a ghost, the men were terrified. But Jesus said to them,

Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Then Peter does the most astonishing thing—at least I find it extraordinary. He asks Jesus to call him out on the water with Jesus. And Jesus says, “Come.” Then Peter climbed out of the boat and walked on water toward Jesus! 

It was only when he became distracted by the wind that he faltered in fear and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus who immediately reached out and caught him. Jesus chided Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” And when they both boarded the boat, the wind and waves calmed and those with Jesus declared,

Truly you are the Son of God.”

It is easy to head out on your mission when the lake is smooth as glass. It is much harder when the winds whip the surface into threatening waves. Yet, either way, getting out of the boat would not be my first inclination. So, I’m impressed with Peter’s faith and “out-of-the-boat/box” thinking. He has the right idea. He wants to be doing what Jesus is doing and be where Jesus is. I want that too.

May God give me and you the courage and faith to follow Jesus onto the crashing waves.

Take Courage2

 

Praying Scripture for You

The same strength that raised Christ from the dead is the the power God places in us by his Spirit to empower us to do what he calls us to do. Like Peter, we may slip and fall sometimes, we may let the doubt and distractions creep in and crowd out our concentration on Jesus, but when we cry out for help, he will be there.

I couldn’t remember exactly where in the Scriptures I had read that the power we have access to is the same power that raised Christ. So I looked it up (It is found within Ephesians 1:15-23, by the way). Paul mentions it in a section of his letter where he conveys what he is praying on the recipients’ behalf. It was so beautiful, I want to pray those same sentiments over you now.

Glorious Father God of our Lord Jesus Christ, may you give to all whose eyes fall upon these words the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they may know Jesus better. I pray also that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened in order that they may know the hope to which you have called them, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and your incomparably great power for us who believe.

That power is like the working of your mighty strength, which you exerted in Christ when you raised him from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And you, God, placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. 

When we feel doubt or fear, remind us of the power that dwells within us. Help us fix our eyes on Jesus, grasp hold of his outstretched hand, and rise above the challenges to complete the work you have called us to. In the mighty and powerful name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen!

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After making the second graphic above, I decided I wanted a 4 x 6 of that for you as well. So click either or both buttons below to let me know which photo(s) to email to you. Enjoy!

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Your turn... What causes you to become afraid or overwhelmed while trying to answer God’s call on your life? What helps you through the fear/overwhelm? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

4 Simple Ways to Connect with Jesus In Your Busy Life

Experience more peace and less stress without undergoing a major schedule makeover!

Life moves fast these days and it seems like our schedules are more jam packed than ever. It’s easy to get so caught up with the world that I can’t seem to see or hear God. Personal experience and Scripture confirm neglecting my connection with Christ leads to becoming empty, burned-out, and not pleasant to be around. And the more compartmentalized I make my faith, the harder it is for me to find time to focus on Jesus. On the other hand, over the years, as I’ve integrated time with God into the everyday moments of my busy life, I’ve grown closer to Him, more at peace, and less stressed. Here are four simple ways I connect with Jesus in my daily routine.

Grab the free cheat sheet of Simple Ways to Connect with Jesus in Your Busy Life

I say four ways, but really these are more like four general ways with many specific ways you could tailor each one to fit your particular preferences, resources, and routine. So, take these principles and get creative. You’ll be abiding more in Jesus without having to undergo a major schedule makover.

I’ve even made you a handy little checklist with ideas, apps, and other resources you might find helpful as you take these examples and customize them to fit your lifestyle and daily routine. Be sure and grab that checklist before you go!

1. Let Jesus Wake You Up

I hate—no make that HATE!!!—getting up in the morning. I’m a natural night owl who battles insomnia on a fairly regular basis. So once I get to sleep, I want to stay there!

My husband and I used to wake up to either the jarring sound of the alarm or the the inane chattering of the DJs on the local pop or country radio station morning show. Irritated, I then drug my bleary-eyed self out of bed at the last possible minute before I had to get my son up for school.

I wouldn’t connect with God until after I got the kids off to school and I settled in to read my Bible or devotional. This was usually an hour or so after I crawled out of bed. And, if I wasn’t intentional, I easily became distracted with my to-do list and skipped my morning time with God completely.

I knew I needed to connect with God in a meaningful way first thing in the morning if I wanted my day to start with less stress and more peace. So, I asked my husband to change the alarm to the local Christian music station. That simple alteration transformed my mornings. Now, I wake to a praise song and am able to lie there praising God before my eyes even open.

How could Jesus become a part of your wake-up routine? Check out the Cheat Sheet I made for you. I’ve listed several ideas and apps you may find helpful.

2. Commune While You Commute

Transform the time in the car to time to worship and commune with God.

With today’s technology, running errands, driving carpool, or heading to and from work are great times to integrate Scripture, prayer, and worship into your day.

I subscribe to several podcasts featuring sermons from great preachers (See the cheat sheet for a list of my favorites). I listen to these on longer drives and it helps me reflect deeply on God’s Word and his action in my life.

Shorter jaunts are great for some on-the-go prayer and Scripture “reading”. The daily prayer on the Abide app now features the daily Bible verse from the YouVersion Bible app. YouVersion has a feature that let’s you listen to the Scriptures so it is easy to hear the context of the daily verse. Before you back out of the driveway, cue these up and you’ll transform that time in traffic into time in prayer and the Word.

And of course, you can listen to Christian music as you drive. I made a playlist on my phone that features my favorite hymns, Gospel, and praise songs. I call it my “Worship on the Go” playlist.

I’ve linked to a few additional ideas and resources for drive time devotional ideas on the cheat sheet.

3. Exercise Your Faith and Your Body

I must confess, this is one I’ve neglected lately and I need to get back to it! Why walk alone when you can go with God? Pop in some earphones and turn on that “Worship On the Go” playlist and take a walk or hop on the stationary bike at the gym.

Alternately, if you have a workout buddy who is also looking to build more time with God into their daily routine, plan a way to incorporate a spiritual discipline into your exercise plans.

Maybe start with a short time of praying for each other, work on memory verses, or discuss the Scriptures you’ve studied. Be spiritual, as well as exercise, accountability partners.

4. Tie in Faith to Your Family Conversations

Another confession: I have not done a great job of training my kids to have set times of Bible reading and quiet time. That is something I really regret not establishing before they were old enough to push back. I am unstructured and didn’t grow up doing that myself.

However, I do try to naturally bring faith into the everyday conversations we have. Essentially, this is just putting God’s instructions (see Deuteronomy 6:7) into practice.

As they tell me about their day and the challenges they’ve encountered, I weave God’s character, his commands, and promises into the conversation. I want them to see their whole life is connected to God, not just Sunday mornings or “quiet times.” And I want them to value the wisdom of God’s Word and apply it to what is going on in their daily life.

Deut 6_7

Integration Rather than Compartmentalization

As we find ways to practice an awareness of and communion with Jesus in our daily lives, we develop confidence in Christ’s faithfulness and ability to sustain us in our ordinary moments. Challenge yourself to discover ways to worship God as you participate in your daily activities.

And don’t forget to grab the Cheat Sheet with a list of apps, podcasts, and resources you might find helpful. Just click the button below and I’ll email you a copy instantly!

Yes, send me the checklist!

 

How about you? What helps you connect with God throughout your day? Share a tip or idea in the comments and help the rest of us out! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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Free Step-by-Step Guide

I’ve been feeling a little disconnected from my church family lately. I used to teach in both an adult Sunday School class as well as our Women’s Bible study group. Last year, I stepped down from both of those positions. It was the right time and it has been the right decision. But I have missed the blessings that only come from walking alongside others in a small group. So, as Lent approached, I decided to seek out a small group which would challenge my spiritual comfort zone. Last week I began participating in a spiritual formation class which is certainly stretching some spiritual muscles I haven’t exercised in a while. And one of this week’s exercises led me to pray a passage of Scripture specifically for you.

paraphrase of Ephesians 3:18

I’ve prayed Ephesians 3:14-21 for each of you who are a part of the Making It Real Ministries community before. It is how I closed the post How to Strengthen Your Relationship with Christ in Ways that Work with Who You Are and Your Season of LifeAnd this week, I did so again.

My Prayer for You

Using the words penned and prayed by Paul, here is what I prayed over and for you:

I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name and  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

Strengthened with His Power

While most of us like to think we can live life in our own strength, the truth is we can only live powerfully through the power of his Spirit dwelling in us. Our weakness allows God’s strength to be all the more apparent to us and others. (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Much like one is better able to see the stars illuminated in the night sky of the countryside rather than in the harsh glare of the city lights, one is able to recognize the capability of God when it is contrasted with our inability.

Flipping a light switch on and filling a dark gloomy room with a comforting glow can make us feel self-sufficient, while standing alone in the inky isolation of a rural Texas pasture gazing up into the heavenly lights brings to mind the Psalmist’s words:

Psalm 8:3-4, NIV (Psalm 8:3-4, NIV)

It is precisely in those moments where our unworthiness is most vivid that we find out how well rooted and established in love our faith is.

This foundation upon which our faith rests is not the Hallmark love of cards, candy, and fleeting sentiment, but the deep, abiding, never-failing love of God; a love so solid, so amazing that we can only grasp the breadth, width, height and depth of it by the power of God’s Spirit revealing it to us.

God’s self-sacrificing, redeeming, and transformational love transcends our human understanding. It makes no sense to creatures who naturally are self-centered. Yet it is the very manifestation of God’s nature. God is love. (1 John 4:8,16 NIV )

When Christ dwells in our heart, we are able to face the true answer to the Psalmist’s question: it is not because of who we are that God is mindful of us; it is because of who God is. It is not our worthiness but his grace.

He knew before he even created us that we would need his forgiveness and redemption (see Ephesians 1:3-10). And in his mercy, he planned to sacrifice himself to meet our need.

Christ Dwelling in Your Heart

Christ dwelling in our heart can bring about more than we can ask or imagine. As we submit to him and cooperate with him, we will stand amazed at what he brings about.

In my own life, I’ve seen him transform messes into messages, cynicism into hope, and division into unity. I’ve tasted the fruit produced from abiding in his presence. It is glorious. And it leaves no doubt as to its divine source.

Strengthening Your Relationship with Christ

If you are not feeling rooted and established as deeply and strongly as you would like, maybe, like me, you need to step a little further out of your comfort zone and let him reveal himself to you in fresh new ways. Or, maybe you need to find ways to relate with God that are more in line with your current season of life.

Whatever the reason, if you desire a stronger, more intimate fellowship with God you might find it helpful to go through the process outlined in this free step-by-step guide.

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I pray God will use it to guide you to meaningful ways of abiding in him and him in you. Just click the button and request your copy and I’ll email it to you instantly.

Yes, send me the guide!

 

How about you? How is your relationship with Christ? What do you do that helps you abide in him and keep you aware of his presence in you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

How to Get the Most Out of the Sermons You Hear

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In the eighth chapter of Luke, Jesus tells and then explains the parable of the sower of seed. (See Luke 8:4-15) Of course we want to be the “good soil” — “those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

If that is our desire, then we would do well to take to heart Jesus’ advice in Luke 8:18:

So be careful how you listen; for whoever has a teachable heart, to him more understanding will be given; and whoever does not have a longing for truth, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.” (AMP)

Good soil rarely just happens. Care must be taken before, during, and after planting so as to produce a bountiful harvest.

Luke 8:15 NIV and 23 Tips to Get the Most Out of the Sermons You Hear

Intentionally Prepare Before the Sermon

Pray for God to prepare your pastor, the congregation, and yourself.

Ideally, pray throughout the week, but at the least, pray before your pastor starts preaching.

Prepare your heart, mind, and body to be ready to receive what God will reveal.

Get adequate rest the night before, eat breakfast before heading off to church, allow enough time so you’re not rushed, cranky, and distracted.

I don’t always do these things and I can see a direct correlation to my receptivity, or lack thereof, accordingly.

Be expectant and prepared.

Enter the worship service expecting to encounter and hear from God. And be prepared to capture the insights God has for you. This mindset and preparation allows you to reflect on those gifts of wisdom and insight God will give you and apply them in your life.

I’ve had my heart and mind moved by something God spoke through my pastor. And at the time, it is so vivid and clear I can’t imagine not being able to remember it later. Yet, if I haven’t written it down, I inevitably find myself groping helplessly to retrieve that golden nugget from my feeble mind a day or so later.

So prepared with an open heart and mind as well as some means of collecting what we expect to receive, we are ready to hear God’s Word proclaimed.

Actively Participate During the Sermon

Having arrived prepared and expectant, we still must actively receive and retain the seed that is sown. We can listen without truly hearing and heeding if we are not engaged with our body, mind, and soul.

Notice and note.

As you listen to the sermon, notice when God quickens your response to a particular Scripture, story, or concept.

Record those, as well as any questions or ideas you want to explore later, on whatever note-taking device works best for you.

Allow the message to critique you.

Instead of critiquing the message (or the messenger), allow the message to critique you and show you where you are doing well and where you need to grow or improve.

The purpose of a critique is to help improve the one evaluated. Come humbly before God and let him reveal what yet needs to be refined in you.

Keep your eyes on your own paper.

Focus on how the Word applies to you rather how it might apply to others.

We’ve all done it: elbowed our spouse or kid when the preacher said something. I know I’ve been guilty of that more than a time or two.

Funny thing is, God always seems to zing me back a few moments later. It’s like he is reminding me, “Keep your eyes on your own paper!”

Focusing on what we can learn and not allowing ourselves to be distracted by thinking, “Man, I wish So-and-so was here to listen to this!” insures we will reap far more from the sermon.

0ptimized_Luke8-8NIV

After the Sermon, Tend What You’ve Been Given

We can prepare the soil of our heart and receive the seed sown, and yet that still doesn’t insure we will produce a good crop. Just because the seed gets in the soil, doesn’t insure it will thrive once it meets resistance.

What we do after we leave church has a lot to do with whether those carefully recorded ideas, questions, and insights bear fruit.

In the parable, Jesus described three possible responses to the seed sown:

  1. Receive the word with joy but not allow it to take root. (Luke 8:13)
  2. Allow what is planted to be choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures. (Luke 8:14)
  3. Persevere in producing a crop. (Luke 8:15)

How do we tend our crop with perseverance?

Pray and reflect on what you have received.

Set aside some time that afternoon or evening to review your notes and pray for understanding and wisdom to apply the insights given.

Identify application opportunities.

Where in the coming days can you immediately apply what you have heard?

The more time passes between receiving and responding, the less likely we are to reap a harvest of good fruit. The more likely the tender shoot will be choked out by the daily routines and distractions.

Move from planning to doing.

Put the Word into practice. Write the card, take the meal, sign up for the study. Whatever prompting God gave you, act on it so it bears fruit.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”Matthew 7:24 NIV

Dont wait until it seems easy.

Rarely does God call us to do things we think we are fully equipped to do.  Usually, he asks us to take action in spite of not feeling ready or able.

Then we lean into his strength not our own and the fruit produced glorifies God not ourselves. He is the foundation. He is the one who will cause our obedience to produce something.

Just as the power is not in the preacher but in the Gospel that is preached, the result of our efforts is not from our ability but from God working through our willingness to let him use our weakness to show his strength.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NIV

Some of us are blessed to have pastors who are well-prepared, passionate, and gifted preachers. But remember, whether or not your pastor is eloquent, organized, and erudite, if you come willing to hear, God will sow his Word into your heart, mind and soul.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” —1 Corinthians 3:5-7, NIV

0ptimized_SermonNotes 1 Cor 3-7

23 Tips to Get the Most Out of the Sermons You Hear

I want you to produce much fruit that glorifies your heavenly Father (see John 15:1-9). So, in addition to the ideas I’ve shared in this post, I’ve created a Tip Sheet with twenty-three tips and ideas to do before, during, and after a sermon so that you can reap the biggest possible harvest of fruit from it!

Request your copy of this free Tip Sheet by clicking the button below and I’ll email it to you instantly!

Yes, I want that Tip Sheet!

How about you? What helps or hinders you when listening to a sermon? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Grow in Your Understanding of Jesus with These Reading Plans

Last week, I shared Five Benefits You Can Expect When You Follow the Christian Calendar. Based on how many readers requested the copy of the calendar, many of you want those benefits.  So, this week, I want to provide you with an introduction to the current season as well as point you in the direction of some reading plans that will help you in your quest to reap the rewards we discussed in last week’s post.

Free Reading Plans and Free Calendar

Count on Growing During Epiphany

Epiphany, which was on January 6, celebrated the arrival of the Magi to worship Jesus. Matthew’s account (See Matthew 2) highlights the message that all who are willing to recognize who Jesus is are welcome to come and worship him. This King of the Jews is Savior of all who would receive him.

Depending on denomination, the time from January 6 until Ash Wednesday, is known as the season of Epiphany or Ordinary Time (as in ordinal or order of things). The Sundays are referred to by their order after Epiphany (for example, Second Sunday after the Epiphany).

In some traditions, this season is referred to as Growing Time. Whatever we call this season, the emphasis is on the manifestation of Jesus as God Incarnate and the long-awaited Savior.

An epiphany is an appearance or manifestation of a deity. And the term can also refer to one’s gaining insight into the reality of something extraordinary through something commonplace. The counting of days as the season progresses emphasizes the concept of progression or growth.

During this season, we follow the story of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature from the infant worshiped by the Magi to the pre-teen sitting among the teachers in the Temple astounding all who heard him (see Luke 2:40-52). One of the highlights of this theme of growing in revelation and understanding is the account of Jesus’ baptism (see Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34).

Our understanding of who Jesus is continues to expand as we read of his miracles and teaching throughout the Gospels. And the season of epiphany reaches its climax in the account of the Transfiguration (see Luke 9:28-36; Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8).

Try it!

No, really. Try it right now! Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you better understand Jesus as you read the Scriptures. Then, click on those links in the previous two paragraphs and read at least one account of each portion of Jesus’ life. As you read, pay attention to what is revealed about who Jesus is.

By focusing our Bible reading on this motif of growing in our understanding of who Jesus is, we are better prepared to reflect on our need for him. We are also better equipped to see just how uniquely and completely Jesus meets our need to be reconciled with our Creator.

Helpful Bible Reading Plans

If you haven’t focused your spiritual growth and Bible reading around the Christian Year before, I invite you to give it a try and see how enlightening it can be. There are a multitude of reading plans which will help you do this. Here are just a few you might consider:

  1. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)

The RCL is a three-year cycle of Scripture readings structured upon the seasons of the Christian Year. It is used to varying degrees by the vast majority of mainline Protestant churches in the United States and Canada. The list of readings was compiled by representatives of nineteen different denominations. The RCL differs somewhat from the Roman Catholic lectionary, primarily as to the feast days that are specifically observed by the Roman Catholic Church.

  1. The Book of Common Prayer Bible Reading Plan on the YouVersion App

This plan follows the Daily Office Lectionary found in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) used worldwide by Anglicans and Episcopalians. But one doesn’t have to be a member of those denominations to benefit from the reading plan.

  1. Daily Reading Plan by the American Bible Society.

The American Bible Society has created a nice printable 2015-2016 Christian Year reading plan. It provides daily readings corresponding to the various seasons of the Christian year in a simple format that could be tucked in your Bible.

FREE Seasons of Faith Calendar

Many readers downloaded a copy of the Seasons of Faith calendar I made for you. This calendar describes each season of the Christian year and gives the 2015-2016 dates for each season.

If you want to develop your own reading plan, you can review the descriptions of the themes for each season and use a topical Bible to find relevant passages to read. (That’s what I’m doing this year.)

If you haven’t requested your copy yet, it isn’t too late. Just click the image or button below and I’ll email your copy instantly!

Send Me the Calendar!

Help Choosing the Right Study or Plan

If you need a little more help selecting which Bible study or reading plan is best suited for you, check out my guest post over at Life Letter Cafe.  llc-blogger

At the end of that post, be sure pick up the free step-by-step guide to choosing the plan perfect for your learning style and schedule. The post is called How to Enjoy Reading the Bible and Get More Out of Your Time In It. It will help you evaluate those three plans above or any others you might be considering. It will also give you some ideas for where to find reading plans and Bible studies that are best suited for your needs.

How to Enjoy Reading the Bible

How about you? What type of Bible Study or reading plan are you using? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Five Benefits You Can Expect When You Follow the Christian Calendar

FREE Printable Calendar

Have you ever thought of how many different calendars influence our lives? What goes on your schedule at any point depends on which type of year you are focused. For instance, the recent changing of the calendar year on January 1 set off an avalanche of New Year’s resolutions. The fiscal calendar brings to mind budgets, bills, and taxes associated with various checkpoints of time (end-of-the-month, quarters and year-end). And for all of us parents, the school calendar dominates many of our plans. In fact, a look at one’s calendar quickly shows where one’s priorities are. Does the calendar framework you use keep the first thing first? What should be our first priority? Well according to Colossians 1:17-18, first place goes to Jesus Christ! And guess what, there is a calendar framework that is ideal for helping us keep Jesus in his rightful place.

But many people are only vaguely aware (or maybe not at all aware) of the Christian calendar. I’ve decided to intentionally structure this year’s ministry calendar on the foundation of the historical Christian year because of the many benefits it provides. If you’d like to reap these same rewards in your life, keep reading and be sure to grab the free calendar I’ve made you!

Unlock Five Wonderful Benefits By Following This Calendar

If you don’t have a background in a liturgical congregation, you might be unfamiliar, and possibly even uncomfortable, with this calendar. You may hear the word “liturgical” and think ridged, monotonous, arcane rituals. Or, you might just scratch your head and wonder, “So what?”

Or, perhaps you are somewhat familiar with the seasons of the church year. The words Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter are not total strangers to you, but these seem like islands in an otherwise unconnected tide of days, weeks, and months.

A Proven Method for Building Unity in Diversity

The concept of reverently experiencing and sharing the story of Jesus and the Gospel message through a Christian calendar dates back centuries upon centuries to the time of the early church. Yet, no place in the New Testament do we have God commanding set dates and schedules for observing feasts, fasts, and other sacred days as God did for the Jews in the Old Testament.

Thus, there is not one, uniformly adopted version of the Christian year. There are many variations as to the specific dates, vocabulary, and color-schemes associated with the liturgical calendar across the church universal (and even within some denominations). For example, the pattern and dates used by Eastern Orthodox believers differs from those used by the Protestants and Roman Catholics. Even within denominations, you’ll find variations in how the calendar is observed.

However, as I researched this topic, I discovered that despite the many variations, all versions of the Christian year are anchored by the two high holy days of Christmas and Easter. Whatever the date, color-schemes, or names given, the calender lays out a clear cyclical progression beginning with Advent and concluding with a time of growth in our discipleship as followers of Christ as our sovereign King.

Both from my study and practice, I believe you will experience at least five benefits from making the Christian calendar the foundation on which you build your schedule and through which you evaluate all the other calendars fighting for control of your life.

Colossians 1:17-18 NRSV

Five Benefits of Ordering Your Life According to the Christian Calendar

When we familiarize ourselves with the cyclical pattern of the Christian calendar and begin to build all of our others upon this foundational structure, we will experience many benefits. As we observe the different seasons and study their corresponding passages in Scripture, we can expect to:

  1. Recognize the presence of God and the rhythms of our relationship with him in our day-to-day life.

The secular calendar insures we remember to honor our Mother, Father, Sweetheart, Veterans, and so on, but only the Christian calendar keeps Christ front and center. As we purposefully prioritize our relationship with and worship of God, we will more readily be sensitive to his presence and prompting.

The time-tested format provides different perspectives on and opportunities to engage the mysterious yet revealed Emmanuel (God With Us).

  1. Counteract the priorities and values espoused by the world with those espoused by God.

Intentional journeying with Christ through the trials and triumphs of his story disciplines us to avoid the lure of instant gratification, hedonism, and pursuing our own personal agendas at the expense of heeding the call to self-denial, sacrificial service, and the taking up of our cross to follow Jesus.

As one whose been in a life-long (and often losing) battle for self-control, I’m looking forward to the rest of this year-long trek with Christ producing a harvest of that particular fruit of the Spirit. Of course, I realize I’m probably in for a season of pruning before I see that harvest.

  1. Be equipped with both the truth and grace necessary to live victoriously in a fallen world.

As we regularly and deliberately abide with Jesus, we will better recognize our need for him. And in truly experiencing our need, we better appreciate and enthusiastically receive what our Savior provides.

The framework of the liturgical calendar prevents us from skipping over the uncomfortable parts of Christ’s story (and our own) so as to hang out in the less challenging events, Scriptures, and doctrines. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never grown when I was comfortable.

  1. Unite more closely with the Body of Christ as a whole by focusing on what we have in common rather than on the less essential differences.

Instead of seeing our brothers and sisters in other congregations as “the competition” for church attendance and tithes, we will recognize and embrace the reality of our shared head, Christ Jesus.

As we come together across denominational lines to worship, serve, and glorify God we will gain new appreciation and affection for one another. And in the process of doing so, we may find our faith deepened and enriched by taking the time to listen to why and how others do and think differently on the less essential aspects of the Christian faith.

  1. Cultivate our understanding and experience of traditions, rituals, and celebrations.

For example, the Christian calendar provides a lens through which the many and beautiful facets of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism become apparent. Consider how our hearts will be quickened in a slightly different way as we receive the bread and cup during Lent as opposed to during the Christmas season.

We will become more conscious of how the various themes, stories, events, and people of the Bible fit together in one overarching story of the redemptive work of God in Christ.

How I’ll Be Using the Christian Calendar on the Blog

Actually, I’ve already been using the calendar to inform my choice of topics for my blog posts. So you may not notice much of a difference. Since the ministry officially began in late 2013, I’ve struggled to stay ahead of my deadlines. This year, I’m doing more intentional planning for my editorial calendar. It just makes sense to be guided by the traditional liturgical pattern.

By sticking to the historical framework, I will better cover the whole of Scripture. At times, that will no doubt prove more challenging than just writing whatever happens to be on my mind that day. However, I have no doubt the Holy Spirit will reveal new things I need to work on and areas in which he wishes to help me grow. Hopefully, the process will serve you well and we can all grow together as we experience the benefits listed above.

Get A Handy Printable Calendar

I’ve created a calender for you to print out and keep at your desk, on the fridge, or wherever you generally do your scheduling.

On one page, you’ll find the seasons and special days along with their themes explained. On the second page, you’ll find the dates specific for the 2015-2016 Christian year. I’m using this as I plan my blog content and classes. I hope you find it helpful as you make your plans, too.

If you’d like me to email you this calendar to print (or to keep on your phone or computer as a PDF), just click on the button below. I’ll email your copy instantly!

Send Me the Calendar!

And the winner is

Last week I asked for your help in selecting the cover for my newest resource. I’ve designed a Sermon Notes journal with many helpful features for recording and retrieving key insights and Scripture references. It will be available in both paperback and spiral bound versions and it could also be used to take notes in a Sunday School or Bible study class. I just couldn’t decide on a cover.

So, I asked my readers and social media followers to help me out. The votes are in and the as the chart below shows, Navy/Silver won with 51% of the vote!
voting results

FYI, a few people left me notes and even an invitation to coffee but didn’t leave a name in their survey comments. So I don’t have a way of identifying and contacting you. If you left me a note in your survey response, please shoot me an email and I promise to respond!

Thanks for your help! I’ll be sending the book to the publisher later this week. If you’d like to learn more about the book or to be notified when I start taking pre-orders, please just click the following button! I’ll send you a coupon code for a special pre-order discount!

Get Coupon Code!

 

 

My Readers’ Favorite Posts from 2015

Plus My Favorite Five Posts of the Year

I write what God prompts me to write and what I think will serve you well. I founded Making It Real Ministries as an act of obedience not as a pursuit of visibility. So I rarely pull up Google Analytics and see how many people viewed the posts. However, at the end of each year, I check in and see what posts were read most often. It helps me see what topics interest you most and where I might be able to provide more help. So, in today’s post, I share with you the five posts most viewed from 2015.

Featured image Top Posts 2015

Top 5 Posts Published in 2015

Of the posts I wrote this past year, these five were viewed most by the visitors to my website.

  1. How to Discern God’s Will When Faced With Choices
  2. Flying Above the Fear on a Wing and a Prayer
  3. Do You Know How to Disagree Without Discord?
  4. How I Made Peace with the Mystery of Suffering
  5. How God Got My Attention with a Fruitless Fig Tree

Top 5 Posts Overall in 2015

When you include the posts published at anytime since the blog began, these are the top five posts viewers read in 2015:

  1. Hope Floats! 10 Scriptures to Encourage You in Rough Times
  2. How to Apply God’s Truth in Your Daily Life—An Easy to Follow Guide
  3. How to Enjoy Reading the Bible and Get More Out of Your Time in It
  4. Four Things We Can Learn From Peter’s Failure and Jesus’ Response
  5. How to Discern God’s Will When Faced With Choices

My Favorite Five

Several of the posts that are my favorites didn’t make either list but I want to share them with you. These are special to me because I’ve heard from people (either via email, phone, social media, or in person) that God used the post to impact their life in a positive way.

  1. Did I Fear of Fear Not? Let’s see…
  2. What to Do When There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day
  3. How To Have the Courage To Put Down the Mask and Be Authentic
  4. Despairing of Hope? Let the Lord Fight for You!
  5. Do You Settle for Off-the-Rack when God Offers You Custom-Made?

Will You Help Me?

While I don’t pursue numbers for the sake of numbers, I would be foolish to ignore them entirely. Part of exercising good stewardship over this ministry is to make sure I’m doing what is necessary to insure it is able to continue having a positive impact on my readers.

As I reviewed the analytics for the blog I realized we nearly doubled the number of readers since last year. In 2015, nearly 10,000 people stopped by the website. That just floors me!

What moves me isn’t the abstract numbers, but the fact each number represents a real person with hopes, dreams, struggles, and challenges. It is a huge privilege to minister to you and I pray God blesses you with his presence, grace and truth throughout 2016.

How You Can Help

As part of being a good steward of this ministry, I need to put more attention into growing the number of visitors who become subscribers. My mentors tell me that for a blog to remain viable, one needs to reach at least 1,000 email subscribers. We are growing our email list slowly but surely. However, with only about 230 subscribers we are a long way from that point of long-term viability. So I’m asking for your help.

Become a Subscriber

If you have benefited from the articles on Making It Real Ministries, would you please consider subscribing. There is no cost to subscribe and once subscribed, you’ll get an email whenever I update the blog.

I’ll also send you a free guide: How to Strengthen Your Relationship with Christ in Ways that Work with Who You Are and Your Real Life. As a subscriber, you also get special discounts, offers, and early-bird notice of special events. Just click the button below to subscribe.

Optimized_Free Guide How to Strengthen

Click Here to Subscribe

Already a Subscriber? Encourage Your Friends to Subscribe!

If you’re already a subscriber, would you please share your favorite article with your friends and encourage them to subscribe. It is super-easy to share a post. Just click on the share buttons above or below the post to post it on your social media or to send an email to a friend. When you share the post, consider letting them know why you find it valuable to be a subscriber.

Then throughout the year, if you enjoy or benefit from a post, please remember to share it with your friends and encourage them to subscribe to the blog.

With your help I know we can reach that 1,000 subscriber goal and insure we are able to keep sharing God’s truth and grace through Making It Real Ministries!

How about you? What was your favorite post this past year? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

How Grace Differs From Mercy and A New Resource to Share

Insight into Christ's "upside down" kingdom...

Dr. Pam and Keith Harrison

This is a guest post by Dr. Pamela Harrison. She and her husband, Keith, are the co-founders of High Seas Ministries, a ministry dedicated to serving guests and crew members of the cruise ship industry. She teaches the complete Bible as presented in The 10-Day Bible Companion on ships and for groups on land. They are passionate about presenting God’s Word in a way that anyone can understand it and share it with others! For more on the Harrisons and the ministry, visit www.highseasministries.org, or send an email to pam@highseasministries.org.

Yesterday, many of us celebrated Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year.  The season of Advent—that glorious anticipation of hope, love, joy, and peace—begins next Sunday.  Soon we will push ourselves to the limit to meet all the requirements placed on us by others—and ourselves—at this busy time of the year.  But, for now…let’s stop.  Just for a moment. And consider this amazing, “upside-down” kingdom of Christ as the Bible describes it.

So began the "upside down" kingdom of the long awaited King of Glory!

A Very Different Kind of Kingdom

We get an early hint that God’s kingdom is not like man’s when we read of Esau’s forgiveness of Jacob in Genesis 33:4:

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”

Once Jacob finally got away from his Uncle Laban, he faced another challenge—his twin brother Esau, the same one he had deceived out of his first-born child status and blessing. He certainly had no reason to expect Esau to be anything but angry and bent on revenge, even after twenty years had passed, so he sent gifts ahead with his servants to ‘soften him up’.

Jacob soon discovered, however, that it was not Esau who would be given gifts in this situation, but Jacob himself, for Esau had forgiven him and greeted his younger brother with affection. Jacob, who deserved justice, received not just mercy, but grace.

In the 21st century—as in Jacob’s time—most people want to see justice done, especially justice for everyone else. When a wrong is done, we want to see that wrong avenged—someone must pay!

We see justice as “getting what you deserve.” Mercy, on the other hand, comes by throwing ourselves at the feet of judgment and pleading for the opposite of justice—“not getting what we deserve.”

What, then, is grace?

Continue Reading »