Gain a new perspective on your problems!

Enter the contest for a free paperback by author Wayne Stiles; plus grab the special freebies!

Wayne-pic-blog

This is a guest post by Wayne Stiles. You can download his free e-book on how to grow strong in the Christian life. I subscribe to his blog and really enjoy how he connects the Bible and its lands to our everyday real life!

Also, I loved his book, Waiting on God—What do do when God does nothing!
Enter my contest to win a free copy of that book. Just leave a comment below!

Close one eye and look closely at a marble. It seems massive. In fact, the marble is all you see. It dwarfs everything else. But its size is an illusion.

A basketball is bigger. The planet earth is even bigger. Come to think of it, God is infinitely bigger than your marble. Your problems are like that.

Perspective on Problems Guest Post

Life is filled with marbles. When you fixate on your marbles, you can’t see the reality that they are small in comparison to God’s power.

Sure, they’re real. Of course they hurt. But your life is more than your problems, just as the world is more than your marbles. Or it can be. You can stop staring at your marbles. You only need to sit up, blink a few times, and look around.

God is much bigger than your marbles.

Playing Marbles with Jesus

Jesus gave a bag of marbles to His disciples one day. More than 5000 marbles, in fact. They described it this way:

His disciples came up to Him and began saying,

The place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.

But He answered and said to them,

You give them something to eat!”

And they said to Him,

Shall we go and spend two hundred denarii on bread and give them something to eat?” —Mark 6:35-37

The disciples did what we do. We ask God to get rid of the problem.

Jesus’ command was as astonishing as it was emphatic:

YOU give them something to eat.

The men leaned in to look closely at the marbles, they did the math, and they saw the impossibility of Jesus’ command.

And that is exactly what we need to learn as well.

1024px-7dbpc315432-marble

(Photo by wjlonien, Own work, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Lord will lead you to do what you cannot do on your own.

God has called us to some impossible tasks. The odds will always be 5000 to 12.

Your education, your money, your planning, your energy, your influence, your personality—everything you have at your disposal will fail to solve the problem.

The disciples focused on their marbles and saw the inadequacy of their resources. Even though they were willing, they were unable to do what Jesus had said.

The Lord can enable you to do what you cannot do on your own.

If Christ called them to feed more than 5000 people, and what they had was inadequate, the Lord must have had a source of supply they had overlooked.

Jesus took the few loaves and fish and multiplied them for the more than 5000 people that day (Mark 6:44). The number of people mentioned reveal that the size of the marble is absolutely irrelevant. God is bigger—much, much bigger.

After the disciples saw the true size of this marble—small to God—Jesus immediately tossed them another marble in the form of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their response? Yep. They focused on the marble.

life is a bag of marbles

(Photo by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

They had to learn what we have to learn. Our marbles come in all colors and shapes, but none of them are bigger than God. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

Get Some Perspective on Your Marbles

I don’t mean to minimize your problems. They’re real. They hurt. They even seem cruel at times. Instead, I’m suggesting you keep them in perspective.

God asks rhetorical questions of Himself that we should ponder:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? . . . Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. —Isaiah 40:12, 15

Yes, the marble is there. But keep it in perspective.

God is bigger.

A Photo to Help Keep Things in Perspective

perspective on troubles

I’ve made a printable that goes along with Wayne’s excellent post. I adapted the graphic above to fit in a 4 x 6 frame vertically. Just request a copy and I’ll email you a digital version of the photo. You can print it at home or your favorite photo processor and pop it in a frame to remind you where to take your troubles!

Send me the photo!

Will you win the free copy of Wayne’s book I’m giving away?

Next Friday, I’ll randomly select someone to win a copy of Wayne’s amazing book: Waiting on God—What to do when God does nothing. All you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment on this post below.

If you don’t want to share publicly about your problems, just leave a general comment you feel comfortable sharing. Extra entries to anyone who shares this post on social media and tags Making It Real Ministries on Facebook or @LauraNaiser on Twitter!

What's your marble? Share what feels like the weight of the world to you right now. I’ll lift you up to our faithful and mighty God in prayer! And you’ll be entered to win a copy of Wayne’s book Waiting on God! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Loving doesn’t always equate with pleasing. Love anyway!

Let's explore what godly love really means.

Love never fails. It may feel like you’ve fallen flat on your face sometimes, but true, godly love never fails. It perseveres through trials of all sorts. It speaks truth even when it hurts, but it does so with grace and a heart for the best interest of the other person.

Spurgeon-Love your neighbors

The worldly view of loving someone is often equated with pleasing them. Not offending them. Not asking anything of them. Its a love of convenience; of unruffled feathers.

But that is not the way God loves and it isn’t how he calls us to love as his disciples. Godly love involves both truth and grace. And because of that, it won’t always mean the giver or the recipient will experience the act of giving and/or receiving godly loving as pleasant.

The classic words penned by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 are often read sentimentally. But if we will slow down and dig into the Scripture we will see he is calling us to something far more than a warm fuzzy feeling. He is calling us to love in self-sacrificing ways for the benefit of those we love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.1 Corinthians 12:4-8a

1 Corinthians 13_4-8NIV

Love is Patient

Patient in this context means exercising understanding and patience toward people.  It could also be translated as longsuffering or enduring patiently as opposed to hastily getting angry and being quick to punish.  One of my dictionaries also pointed out that it is a quality of a person who is able to avenge himself yet refrains from doing so.[1]

Love is kind

The word translated as kind carries with it a willingness to help or assist.  To be kind is to serve others and help them.

Love does not envy or boast

Envy means feeling discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, or possessions. In love, we rejoice when others do well.

When we boast, we speak with exaggeration and excessive pride, especially about ourselves. Godly love is humble. 

Love is not proud

The word proud in our language has both a positive and negative connotation.  Here the Greek is more like saying, “Love is not puffed up or arrogant.”

Love does not dishonor others

When we exercise godly agape love, we don’t behave in an ugly, indecent, unseemly or unbecoming manner.[2]

Love is not self-seeking

Worldly love is always striving for what is best for self.  Godly love is always striving for what is best for others.

Love is not easily angered

Now, please notice, this does not say that love never gets angry.  Anger is an appropriate response to a violation, but agape is not easily provoked to anger or indignation over little things.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

This is a trickier phrase to translate.  In the original it literally means to think no evil, but the words also can mean to take no account of the evil that is done to one.  The gist of this concept is not having one’s mind occupied with counting up the wrong that has been done to you.  That sounds to me like love doesn’t hold a grudge.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.

The word for evil is a Greek word for injustice, what is out of harmony with what is right and true.”[3] Agape rejoices when the appearance of something agrees with the reality of it.  In other words, love has integrity.  It is not happy when there is injustice and unrighteousness but rejoices when right and truth prevail.

Love Always…

Now the next few are also a little bit tricky, but it helps to recognize Paul grouped the three together for a reason.

All three actions have to do with handling difficult situations or people.  It helps to understand these if we can see the interconnectedness of these qualities. Also, remember the ultimate focus and source of these qualities is God, not necessarily the object of our agape love.

Love always protects.  This phrase can be translated several different ways, each capturing a little of the original meaning.

Look at some various translations and see what I mean:

  • “Love quietly covers all things”[4];
  • “Love bears up under anything and everything that comes;”[5]
  • “love bears all things.”[6]
  • The literal translation is “all things covers quietly.”[7]

Now at first glance that may sound like love covers up wrongdoing, but since earlier in this passage (and elsewhere in Scripture) we are taught love is not happy when there is injustice but rejoices in integrity, we know that a cover-up of evil can’t be the meaning here.  It is more subtle than that.

It is more along the lines of love doesn’t drag someone’s faults out into the open and harp on them.  Agape addresses sin but deals with the sin in a manner which provides dignity and grace to the sinner while the sin is being dealt with.

Love always trusts, a word that can also be translated “has faith” or “believes”.  So you will see this phrase translated variously as:

  • “Love believes all things,”[8] or
  • “love is ever ready to believe the best of every person.”[9]

Obviously Paul is not saying that agape believes anything or is gullible because we’ve already seen how important truth is in the exercise of agape. I think it is more like, agape believes that in God all things are possible (see Matthew 19:26).

There is no situation or person beyond the ability of God to bring about change, healing and wholeness.  We can trust in all situations that our sovereign God is able to accomplish His will and purposes.

Love always hopes, or expects with desire[10].  Agape is living and loving expectantly.  It is expecting the desired outcome regardless of (or even in spite of) the circumstances.

Agape places its hope not in the circumstances but in God’s ability to bring to pass that which He has said He will accomplish and what is best for us and His kingdom purposes.

Love always perseveres.  Earlier, when we covered “love is patient” I pointed out the focus there was the kind of patience one exercises toward people. In this phrase, the concept of persevering has to do with the patience in the face of hard times.

Agape can persevere in the face of extraordinarily difficult circumstances because agape’s source of security and strength is God not the circumstances.

Now, it would be easy for this concept to get twisted with regard to how one exercises agape when the difficult circumstance one faces is an abusive relationship.  I want to clarify this concept by connecting it to something we discovered about agape earlier.

When we say that apape love endures difficult circumstances, I want to be clear I’m not saying that if one finds themselves in an abusive situation, agape calls for you to just take the abuse and endure it.

No! Remember all the other aspects of what agape does and is.  Abuse is out of harmony with the character and will of God.  As someone who has been in an abusive relationship, I know firsthand how much perseverance it takes to get out of that circumstance.

I strongly encourage you, if you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, please seek out the support and counsel of knowledgeable and capable people who can guide you with wisdom about how to handle and resolve that situation.

If someone tells you that this verse (or any other verse) means you should just endure it, seek wiser counsel!

So remember, agape can persevere in the face of extraordinarily difficult circumstances because agape’s source of security and strength is God not the circumstances.

Finally, love never fails.

The word translated as fails means love is never in vain. God’s kind of love never falls away or falls back in the face of opposition.[11]  Love stands its ground and the effort is never in vain or without effect. We may not see or experience the fruit of our loving action, but we can be assured that God will bring about a result.

That is who God is and how he acts out his love for YOU!  It is pretty awesome and amazing isn’t it?

Godly love is not just a sentimental Hallmark concept!

God’s nature and character are fully and completely expressed in this agape love that we’ve just described in detail.  When God acts, He acts out of who He is and that action is expressed through agape love.

And that love has tremendous power to change lives and circumstances! This is the love he commands us to show our neighbors.

Sources:

[1] (Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, Zodhiates; p. 939)

[2] Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, Zodhiates; p.284

[3] Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, Zodhiates; p.84-85

[4] The Interlinear Bible, Green.

[5] Amplified Bible

[6] NRSV

[7] The Interlinear Bible, Green.

[8] NRSV

[9] Amplified Bible

[10] Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, Zodhiates; p.570

[11] Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, Zodhiates; p.551-552

Discover Hidden Treasures in the Genealogies of the Bible

To be perfectly honest, when I used to come to a passage of Scripture that began with So-and-so was the father of Thus-and-such, my eyes would glaze over and I’d just skip the list of who begat whom. BORING! Or so I thought.

Yet when my Bible study teacher pulled hidden gems of meaning out of these endless lists they didn’t seem like such a snooze. In fact, I sat enthralled by the insights that apparently were hidden from unequipped eyes.

Once you understand a few principles, you will also be equipped to reveal the riches concealed within these long lists of names.

Discover Hidden Treasure - Genealogies

Genealogy has become a popular hobby in the 21st Century. We have websites like ancestory.com which help you trace your lineage back generations. Send in a DNA sample and you’ll get a report mapping your ethnicity going back multiple generations. You’ll have a good idea from which region of the world your ancestors hailed.

According to the Genealogy Products and Services – Global Outlook Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc, genealogical enthusiasts spent between $1,000 to $18,000 a year to discover their roots.

The Purpose of Genealogies in Biblical Times

Modern researchers place thousands of dollars of value on tracing genealogies when all that depends on the information is satisfying one’s curiosity.

Now, imagine your ability to pursue your calling, live where you desire, determined your taxes, and who you could marry depended on verifying your family lineage. In Biblical times, there was a lot more than curiosity riding on one’s genealogy. [3; p. 1608]

The ancient purpose of one’s genealogy was not to create an exact timeline of who was born when. Rather, the people included in the list and the information given about them was chosen to suit the author’s particular purpose.

Various purposes of genealogies include:

  1. Show relationships and distinctive traits of Israel and her neighboring nations.
  2. Provide coherent and inclusive genealogical system for Israel.
  3. Bridge narrative gaps.
  4. Provide chronological framework of important biblical events.
  5. Census-like function for military or political purposes.
  6. Provide qualifications for an office/role.
  7. Protect the spiritual purity of Israel.
  8. Affirm continuity of God’s people through the exile.
  9. Highlight the sovereignty of God in His ordering and governing of history.[2]

I’ve made you a cheat sheet that clarifies each of these nine functions and gives examples from the Scriptures. If you’d like a copy, just click the button below and I’ll email a copy to you instantly.

Discover Hidden Treasure - Genealogies Purposes

It was accepted practice to use a combination of high profile historical figures, precise patterns, and specific sets of symbolic numbers to convey the author’s larger message about who a particular person was and how they fit into God’s plan. The telescoping of generations was frequently used to obtain numbers, sequences, and patterns which the author used to his rhetorical advantage.

Each roll provides a narrative thread of God’s overall tapestry of redemption. And the outlines reveal not only information about the people in the list but also their God who orchestrated the events chronicles by the names featured.

You may find it helpful to download the infographic versions of the genealogies of Adam to Abram I made for you. Just click here and I’ll email you a copy right away. It will make it much easier to visually follow the flow and notice the little gems I’ve excavated for you.
Biblical Genealogies Adam to Abram LB

Send me the infographics!

Adam’s Line: Cain versus Seth

For example, compare how the author of Genesis handles the line of Adam as traced through Cain in Genesis 4 and through Seth in Genesis 5. If you pay attention, you’ll discover a few theologically significant little jewels.

Did you notice how there were no ages given in Cain’s account?

Yet, when Seth’s line is given, the author carefully denotes the age of the fathers at the birth of the son, the years lived after the son’s birth, and the age of the father when he died.

Do you see the definitive pattern? In Seth’s line, each man’s life is categorized into two era’s: before the child’s birth and after the child’s delivery. [1]

Hmmm, I wonder if that B.C and A.D. pattern might prefigure the significance of the birth of a particular child (Jesus) in a particular family line of a man after God’s own heart (David)? And if you check out the genealogy of Jesus over in Luke 3:23-38, you’ll see that both Jesus and David trace their line back through Seth to Adam. Cool, huh?

When you read through Cain’s lineage the author emphasizes how Cain’s descendants built cities, developed technologies and made cultural advances. All very valuable contributions from a worldly perspective. Whereas the emphasis made in Seth’s story is how his progeny related faithfully with God.

So is it any surprise that Cain’s line is wiped out in the flood of God’s judgment on humanity’s wickedness, while Noah, a descendant of Seth, is used by God’s grace to provide hope for the renewal of mankind.

{Adam to Noah} Compared with {Shem to Abram}

A great example of the use of numerical patterns is seen when you compare the generations from Adam to Noah (including Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 5) with the generations from Shem to Terah (and his sons Abram, Nahor, and Haran, ) (Genesis 11:10–26).

As discussed above, Noah was the man through whom God chose to redeem humankind during the flood. (Genesis 6 – 9) Abram was the man with whom God chose to cut a covenant through which God would ultimately redeem all mankind. (Genesis 12; 15)

Notice when the author outlines the lines of each man there are ten generations from Adam to Noah and ten from Noah to Terah.

Then, the man representing the tenth generation is the father of three sons. Out of the two sets of three sons, God chose one in each set to be the instrument of his blessing and play a key role in the overall redemption story.

Ten is a number used to signify completeness while three often represents the divine. Thus, the author conveys God is at work in the lives of His chosen ones to bring his plan of redemption to completion. There is a divine order and sovereignty to the way their history unfolds.

The Table of Nations

Want to understand the relationships, animosities, and significance of certain nations and individuals in the remainder of the Old Testament?

Then you’ll want to check out the list of family lines known as the Table of Nations (see Genesis 10). FYI, this is also on the free infographic I made you. Also, consult your Number Symbolism Cheat Sheet I made you in a previous post.

Notice the number of nations is no coincidence. Seventy nations is a multiple of both 7 and 10 so it conveys a sense of completeness as determined by God. This account of the nations reflects the perspective at the time Genesis was authored. Thus there is no discussion of anyone the Israelites were not aware of outside their known world of the ancient Near East. [3; note on p. 24]

So don’t skip over the genealogies!

I hope this post helps you see the hidden gems and layers of meaning conveyed within those long lines of “So-and-so” begat “Thus-and-such”. Take a closer look the next time you come across a genealogy in the Bible and see what treasure awaits!

Question: What’s something interesting you’ve learned from one of the genealogies you’ve studies in the Scriptures? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Sources:

  1. Coming to Grips with Genealogies by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary as published on Bible.org.
  2. The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies: With Special Reference to the Setting of the Genealogies of Jesus by Marshall D. Johnson (London : Cambridge University Press, 1989)

  3. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016)
  4. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003)

Is it time to declutter and restock your faith pantry?

Simple 3-Step Process PLUS FREE Guide

I’ve been returning to better eating habits and cooking more at home. But, until recently, our pantry was still crowded with junk food (and old diet food from my last well-intentioned effort to lose weight). Much of what was in the cabinet was expired, and other stuff just wasn’t serving my current purposes. All the clutter of things I no longer needed, used, or derived benefit from hampered my ability to access and use the items which supported my healthier style of cooking. Time to clean out the pantry!

Faith Pantry

It was kind of a pain to set aside a Saturday morning for this cupboard cleaning project, but boy did it feel great once I was done and staring into a well-organized cabinet filled with the ingredients I need to make tasty and healthy meals.

And what a sense of relief to not have to dig past temptations and push aside clutter to find what I was looking for!

Our Faith Pantry May Need a Makeover, too!

Many turning points or transitions in our lives reveal a need to declutter the support structure which feeds our faith.

Ecclesiastes 3_1NIV

Maybe you find yourself in a new season of life:

  • new baby,
  • kids transitioning from elementary to middle school (or middle to high school),
  • a newly empty nest.

Perhaps you’re facing a season of illness or grief.

Or, a move to a new town or a change in your living arrangement has required you to adapt to a “new normal.”

All of these reasons (and many more) may bring about a realization it’s time to let go of some old stuff to make room for the new.

Or, we may discover we’ve had some precious treasure buried under the disarray of an over-crowded schedule.

Just as our closets, pantries, and budgets need to be intentionally tended and pruned back, so too does our faith pantry.

By faith pantry I mean the soul-sustaining infrastructure we use to nurture and grow our walk with Christ.

Our faith pantry can become a source of discouragement and stress if it contains habits, worship styles, Bible studies, small groups, service and outreach ministries, and other means of living out our relationship with God that just don’t fit as well as they used to.

We may realize the strategies that served us well in the past are no longer meeting our current needs for communing with and serving God in our new situation.

3 Steps to Declutter & Restock Your Faith Pantry

1. Assess Current Needs & Resources

Make an assessment of your current needs and resources. Consider changes to your schedule, environment, and interests.

What needs do you have (relationally, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and so forth)? What needs are being met (or not)?

What resources are available to you in your current season or situation? Do you need to fill in some gaps? What is lacking? What is no longer serving you well?

For example, let’s consider the resources of time and energy. A new mom with a tiny infant will have fewer hours and less energy to devote to an intensive Bible study than she did prior to becoming a parent of a newborn. Whereas, a newly retired person may have more free time than they previously enjoyed.

If you moved, for instance, you may have lost your support system of friendships, church family, and other relationships and activities you used to rely on. How can you fill in those missing pieces in your new scenario?

2. Provide or Prune

After having assessed your current needs and the resources you have available to meet those needs, you are likely to discover there are activities, habits, and such that are in need of pruning and others in need of propping up with extra provisions.

That evening Bible study that suited your schedule perfectly when you worked full-time no longer is the best fit for your new schedule, as a stay-at-home mom.

Or, perhaps you went from spending a lot of time with people to being more isolated. So, whereas studying the Scriptures on your own was fine before, now you long for the opportunity to discuss and share your studies with other people.

What unmet needs need new resources to nurture what has been withering? Where do these resources exist and how can you access them? Who could you ask for input, advice, or counsel?

What needs trimming back to accommodate new needs or to make the most of new resources? Do you need to make a change to the groups, volunteer positions, and such you have been participating in? What can you delegate, delete, or re-purpose?

3. Refine Your Results

Once I had cleaned out the pantry in our kitchen it became easier to cook the healthy food that supports the lifestyle I want to develop. However, I know if I don’t periodically do little spot checks and regularly add items to or remove items from those shelves, I will not have what I need to properly feed my family.

The same is true of our spiritual cupboard. Try the new Bible study, small group, or volunteer opportunity. Then assess how well it met those needs you identified. Make alterations and refinements as needed to keep your faith pantry well stocked!

FREE Step-By-Step Detailed Guide

I’ve written about this concept before and used the analogy of cleaning out one’s faith closet and figuring out one’s unique style of walking with God.

For that article, I created a guide to walk you step-by-step through discovering your needs and resources to create a custom-made walk with God that is biblically sound and tailored to your current season of life.

It’s essentially the same process I covered in this post, only at a much more detailed level. So if you need some more guidance to get your faith pantry (or closet) restocked and decluttered, click the image or button below and I’ll email you the free guide.

()ptimized_Custom v Off the rack

Send me the FREE GUIDE!

How's your faith pantry these days? When was the last time you put some thought into providing for or pruning back the items in your spiritual storehouse? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

The best bible study I’ve done in a long time…

Seamless by Angie Smith is a study well worth your time!

If you’ve ever felt like the Bible was a bit overwhelming or confusing, you’re not alone. Even those of us who grew up in the church hearing all the various stories are likely to think of the sixty-six books as separate books in a library rather than one seamless story of truth and grace. But that is exactly what the Word of God is: it’s a beautiful story whose plot runs from the first word of Genesis to the last words in Revelation.

Seamless Study Review

Last fall I had the pleasure of participating in a study of Angie Smith’s Seamless: Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story. In seven weeks and with a delightfully transparent and fun style, Angie guides her readers through the adventure that is the Scriptures.

In down-to-earth, everyday language, Angie helps you see the people, places, and promises of God’s Word as one graceful thread woven throughout the Bible. Seeing the “satellite” view, as it were, helps you get your bearings when you later zoom in and study a particular section of the sacred text.

The seven weeks you spend with Angie will dramatically change how you understand the Bible.

Angie’s tour will bring fresh perspective and a breadth and depth of understanding to the entirety of Scripture.

Simple but Not Simplistic Approach

I found her book to be approachable without being simplistic. She tackles complex theological topics in a style that feels like good friends chatting over a latte rather than a professor in a classroom. Her ability to connect Scripture with messy, real-life circumstances is a true gift!

This study would be ideal for an individual or small group. It lends itself to an intimate discussion and personal reflection. Yet, it also worked wonderfully for our large women’s Bible study group at church.

Teen Version Available As Well

And Angie offers a version specifically for teen girls. What a fabulous way to introduce the young ladies in your life to the the story of God’s truth and grace! You and Angie will equip them with a solid biblical foundation and set them out on a life-long love of studying the Word. The entire Student edition complete with member book and DVDs is on $60 via amazon.

Affordable Video Bundle

There are video lessons available for download from www.lifeway.com/seamless. Lifeway has a bundle price of only $24 if you download all seven sessions at once. Or you can download each session individually. If you’d rather get the DVDs you can buy the leader kit for $70 from Lifeway.

Here is a little sample overview video:

Just wanted to share this wonderful resource with you.

FYI, if you purchase through the amazon.com links, you’ll be helping support my ministry because I’ll receive a tiny referral fee—and by tiny I mean 4% so obviously that ain’t why I’m recommending this study;)  Any referral fees will be put towards covering my costs of running the website. There is no affiliate connection via Lifeway.

If you try Seamless (or if you’ve done the study already) I’d love to hear your thoughts on this study. 

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Surprisingly Simple Strategy for Lowering Your Stress

Be intentional about building margin into your schedule!

We’ve all got those pesky margin munchers. The limiting beliefs, the bad habits, and fears that eat into the margins of our lives until our schedule is over-run with commitments, tasks, and responsibilities. When we take on more than we are designed to handle, something’s gotta give and it shouldn’t be our health, sanity, and most vital relationships. Unfortunately, when the load is too heavy, those three things are typically the first to go overboard. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Try the simple strategy outlined in this post and I think you’ll find you will regularly have more margin in which to really LIVE!

Compare the two pages in the graphic below.

Margin With and Without

The one on the left has no white space around the edges or between paragraphs. The monotonous text is never broken up with images or space. With text crammed from top to bottom and side to side, just looking at the packed page is a strain, I can’t imagine trying to read a book with that layout. It would be arduous to focus on the content, particularly if it was complex in nature or emotionally taxing.

Yet many of us live our lives like that. Never breaking up the monotony with some space for reflection, relating, and resting. No wonder we’re stressed out and exhausted. Does a life more like the page on the right look more enjoyable to live? Of course!

The margins are not superfluous. They are crucial.

We all know we need to be intentional when we say yes to something or someone.

However, faced with a multitude of requests from good people to do good things, our intentions will quickly become swamped by feelings of guilt and misplaced responsibility. And (let’s be honest) there is usually some element of stroking our ego and maintaining an illusion of control which causes yes to fly out when a no is actually more appropriate.

Simple Steps to a Saner Schedule

Get Clear On Your Priorities

There are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week, 365 days in a year. You’re not going to get more time. If everything is important, nothing is. So let’s be sure we have clarity when it comes to how we want to spend our time.

Knowing what is important is the first step. Get honest with yourself about your priorities.

Actually write your most important areas of your life down on a sheet of paper. For example, mine are:

  • Relationship with God
  • Marriage
  • Parenting
  • Health (physical, emotional)
  • Personal Growth
  • Service to Others

Now, use your list of priorities as a compass to navigate the rest of the process.

Ecc 4_6 NIV

Click the image to see the Scripture passage at BibleGateway.com.

Compare Your Reality With Your Ideal

Do a quick brain dump of your project list and calendar for the next 90 days. Be sure and include your day-to-day responsibilities (I tend to overlook those things like laundry, grocery shopping, and so forth that take real time on a regular basis). So take a second look at your list and be sure you have not only the glamorous but the mundane covered.

Now step back and evaluate whether your list reflects your priorities. Are all of your most important areas of life represented on your project/to do list? Are they getting the necessary quality and quantity of focus or are you short-changing these important domains because you’re spending too much time on urgent but less important commitments?

Is it realistic to think you can get to all of those things given the time you have available (without robbing time from sleep, exercise, and such to squeeze in a few more items?).

Ask yourself WHY each item is on the list/calendar. Is the reason in alignment with your priorities, values, and beliefs? Or, as most of us discover, are there tasks listed from one of those less noble motivators, such as:

  • If I don’t do it, it won’t get done (also translated as “it won’t get done like I’d do it).
  • If I say no it will cause a problem/inconvenience for someone else.
  • There’s no one else who is capable of doing X.
  • What will people think if I don’t help out with Y?

Put an X by any item that is out of alignment with your core values and priorities.

Put a M by those things motivated by ego or a desire for control.

Now, highlight those things that ONLY YOU can do. These are things for which God has given you unique stewardship (for example, only you can be your kiddos mom/dad. Only you can be a spouse to your spouse.) Highlight only those things that no one else could do—be honest with yourself!

Get Real About Your Stewardship of Time and Talents

Putting too much on our plate shows a lack of faith in God to provide. And it reveals we have too much faith in our own ability to provide.

We are guilty of pride if we think we are the only ones He has gifted and equipped to accomplish all those tasks/projects on our list. And, we’ll be so busy doing things He never called us to that we can’t exercise proper stewardship over our own calling.

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey used the illustration of filling a container with various sized rocks. If you put the big ones in first, the little ones will fit in around them. However, if you put the gravel and sand in before placing the large rocks, you’ll never get it all in the container. What would you rather leave out? The grit and gravel or your most important priorities.

Let’s put our big rocks in first…

Put the tasks, appointments, and commitments you’ve highlight on your calendar/to do list system. Block out a little extra time around each one to allow for the unforeseen (but seemingly inevitable) hiccups.

Now, before you put anything else on your calendar / to do list block off some margin in your calendar. Yes, margin is a big rock! If you don’t plan it, your calendar will end up like that page on the left without white space around and within the text. You need to leave room for rest, reflection, and restoration. Think of those as the images on the page that break up the monotony and help you interpret the text around them.

Now, if you have space, energy, and focus left to allocate, you may add in additional items. Do it intentionally!

Free Guide to Getting the Right Things Done

Need a little more detailed step-by-step process? Try the tips and method I’ve outlined in the free cheat sheet, What To Do When There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day.

()ptimized_Get The Right Things Done - no slug

Send me the free guide!

Need Some One-on-One Guidance?

I’d be happy to coach you through the process. We can meet in person if you’re in the Georgetown/Austin area of Texas. Or I can coach you via the phone or Skype. Check out my coaching page for more details and to book a free consultation session.

Why you need to stop listening to yourself and what to do instead.

“You’ll never be able to do this.” “What were you thinking, you idiot?” “You will always get it wrong.”  Ever hear those words in your head? Sometimes that little voice in our head can be a real jerk. And if given free reign, it will keep on speaking lies and we’ll keep on listening to them. It’s time to tell that naysayer to zip it! But do you know how to silence the negative self-talk and get it to stay quiet, even when you come up against obstacles?

Silence the negative voice

You’d probably never dream of speaking to someone else the way you spout off to yourself. And if you heard someone browbeating your friends or loved ones the way you regularly slice yourself up, you’d come unglued and rush to their defense, right?

So why don’t we silence the inner bully?

At some level, we do this because we don’t see ourselves as God does. We allow ourselves to believe what the world tells us.

We get our identity wrapped up in what we do, accomplish, look like, and so forth. We lose sight of the fact that in Christ, we are precious children of God.

How to Muffle the Meany

Remember Who You Are

If we are going to mute the muttering going on in our heads, we need to start by reminding ourselves of our true identity.

As believers, we are forgiven, redeemed, loved.

We are equipped, empowered, and enough because we stand in the the righteousness of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

Identify Whose Voice We’re Hearing

When the voice in our head is belittling us we can know it is not the voice of the Holy Spirit.

In John 14:25-27, Jesus explained how they would guard themselves against the persecution they would face from without and the doubts they would experience within. Listen to what he says,

 All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Does that sound like the Holy Spirit is someone who would slam and scorn you? I don’t think so. He is our Advocate. He is for us, not against us.

While the Holy Spirit can speak truth into our hearts and minds that can be painful to hear, He speaks truth to build us up not tear us down. He reminds us of God’s teaching, character, and promises. He reminds us of who we truly are in Christ. If we follow His voice, the outcome will be peace.

All of that is so different from they way I tend to talk to myself. While the Holy Spirit teaches me, my negative self-talk rips me to shreds. The result is anything but peace.

Replace Your Words with God’s Words

In many ways, beating ourselves up or filling our mind with self-doubt is a bad habit.

We habitually default to the old messages that drew blood the first time we heard them. Maybe the words originated in the mouths of a parent, sibling, classmate, teacher, or some stranger. But now, they are self-inflicted.

I’ve discovered something important about eliminating a bad habit: It is so much easier and more effective to replace the bad with something good.

So, fill your mind with God’s Word. Spend time reading the Scriptures. Use an app on your phone to listen to the Bible while you exercise, clean, cook, or commute. Saturate your mind with Truth.

Instead of listening to yourself and those old scripts, listen to God. Let him write new scripts on your heart and mind.

Then, the next time you rev up the self-ridicule, silence it with some of God’s truth and grace.

Grab this Scripture Cheat Sheet

I’ve pulled together some of my favorite verses for various situations that tend to trigger my negative self-talk. I’d be happy to send you a copy via email. Just click the button or image below to request your copy and I’ll send it right away! Then you’ll be ready to silence your inner critic with some of God’s truth and grace.

Silence Negative Self Talk LM FI

Get your FREE Scripture cheat sheet!

Question: What situations trigger your inner critic? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Why Doing and Saying Nothing is Not a Biblical Option

And why how we respond matters so much to God.

A tired and ragged man approached my small group sitting in the courtyard of our downtown church discussing our lesson. He asked if we could help him. We all looked at each other and back at him. None of us twenty-somethings knew what to do so, I’m ashamed to say, we awkwardly did nothing meaningful. As the man walked away he was probably wondering what the point of the church was anyway. That happened over twenty years ago and I’m still haunted by it. The Holy Spirit hounded and convicted me in my prayer time in the days following that encounter. I vowed if I God would give me a “do over” I would behave differently.

Do Something

A few months later, my friend and I were loading our car in the deserted church parking lot after class one late afternoon. I looked across the campus and walking toward us was a man who looked eerily familiar. My companion said to hurry up and get in the car, but I told my friend I would be right back. I took off across the lot toward this man as if he was a long-lost friend and I silently thanked God for this second chance.

It was not the same man as before, just another in a similar situation. I smiled and shook the man’s hand. I asked how I could help him. He seemed surprised by my eye contact and friendliness. He only wanted some directions to the nearby assistance center run by the city.

I gave him directions and asked if there was anything else I could do to help. Did he need food? Did he have a place to sleep? He assured me he was fine and just needed directions. He thanked me for helping him, smiled, turned and walked down the street toward the assistance center a few blocks away.

As I returned to the car, my worried friend asked why I had done something so seemingly reckless. I told her I wasn’t about to run away from the second chance for which I had prayed.

The man really didn’t want anything but directions so it wasn’t like I did much. But the attitude of my heart had been so different this time and I was keenly aware of having done something instead of nothing. I treated the man with kindness, dignity, and respect and provided the directions he asked for. Not much in the scheme of things, but it was far more than I had done in the previous instance of need.

I watch for opportunities now in a different way than I did back then.

When we see need, injustice, or oppression God expects us to move toward meeting the need, working for justice, and lifting up the oppressed. And he expects his children to do so in a manner that reflects his character. 

There are many Christians who provide good role models for doing this. We find the accounts of the earliest in the book of Acts. The many letters in the New Testament also record example after example. And in modern times, we have many role models as well.

MLK Blog Post FI

MLK Wasn’t Just Eloquent, He Walked the Walk

During the 1960s, “while others were advocating for freedom by ‘any means necessary,’ including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals.”(1)

We can learn much about living out our faith in Christ by the example set by this courageous preacher and civil rights leader.

I’ve been reading through some of his speeches, sermons, and letters and have compiled a few favorite quotes to share with you. I hope the principles Dr. King voiced and modeled as he worked tirelessly for social justice inspire you to live out your faith and calling with passion and integrity.

MLK Nonviolence

When eight Alabama clergymen directed a statement to Dr. King, he answered their questions and confronted their spiritual hypocrisy from his jail cell in Birmingham.

In this famous letter, Dr. King explains why it would be wrong to ignore the injustices occurring in their city just because he lived elsewhere. If you haven’t ever read the Letter from Birmingham City Jail, I highly recommend you take a few moments today and do so.

MLK Injustice anywhere-rev

While he spoke specifically of racial injustice, the principle applies to all types of injustice. If we ignore when someone else’s dignity and worth are trampled, we will inevitably find ourselves impacted.

Repent of Indifference and Silence

It isn’t just violence we must repent of and guard against. It is also apathy and silence in the face of injustice.

During World War II, Winston Churchill cited a quote from Edmund Burke in order to jolt those in his nation who were complacent when it came to the atrocities committed by the Nazis elsewhere in Europe.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Dr. King articulated that same thought when he addressed the graduating class of 1964 at Oberlin College. This commencement speech, Remaining Awake During the Great Revolution, is also worth reading!

MLK Repent of Indifference 

Truth and Justice Go Hand in Hand

One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is In The Loop with Andy Andrews. One of those episodes introduced me to the joltingly relevant book, How Do You Kill 11 Million People: Why the Truth Matters More Than You Think.

This book examines how the terrible injustice and oppression in Nazi Germany happened at that time in that country. And with chilling and timely insights into how such horrors could unfold again anywhere good people turn a blind eye to evil and deception.

I urge you to read this book. Don’t worry, it’s not a politically slanted tirade. Regardless of whether you are a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, you’ll be captivated by the careful reflection on why we must demand truth and justice.

Read it to your kids (I did) and discuss with them our responsibility to take action and speak up when we see injustice and to use our votes to support people who tell the truth not just what makes us feel good.

In the book, Andy recounts the eyewitness testimony of a congregation member at a church near the railroad tracks on which the Jewish mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents were packed and transported like cattle to the death camps.

We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.

This very kind of indifference was addressed by King Solomon in Proverbs. He challenged the people of his day (and through the Scriptures, us) to speak up to rescue people in situations precisely like those on the trains in Nazi Germany, in the firebombed churches of Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement, and anywhere people trample over the vulnerable.

If you do nothing in a difficult time, your strength is limited. Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’ won’t He who weights hearts consider it? Won’t He who protects your life know? Won’t He repay a person according to his work?”Proverbs 24:10-12

Let’s open our eyes and ears. Let’s repent of our inaction in the face of injustice. Let’s repent and repudiate violence as a means of protest.

10 “King Rules” That Guided MLK

Alveda King, Dr. King’s niece, shares the principles that guided her uncle and the entire King family in her book, King Rules: Ten Truths for You, Your Family, and Our Nation to Prosper. I found it to be quite compelling and insightful.  She tells the story of seven generations of her family through the lens of ten biblical principles that have guided and directed each generation. It was these ten truths that gave them courage to work for change in an unjust society, strength to overcome immense tragedies, and joy through the good and bad.

It is noted in the book that while the title “King Rules” conveys the fact that the King family was guided by these principles, these are really the rules of the King, Jesus Christ. These values endure and empower because they are eternal.

I’ve made you a cheat sheet of these ten principles. If you’d like a copy, just click the image or button below and I’ll email you a copy right away.

I’d like the FREE Cheat Sheet!

Your turn: What helps or hinders you from taking action or speaking up in the face of need or injustice? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

(1) http://www.thekingcenter.org/about-dr-king

Make 3 Mindset Shifts and Get Out of Your Fearful Funk

3-mindset-changes

When we are depressed, anxious, or flat-out afraid many of us tend to retreat into hiding. We go to our comfortable spots and hunker down. For me, I tend to burrow into the sofa and escape to the land of Netflix.

STILL WATCHING Netflix

But hiding like that doesn’t solve any of my problems, it just distracts me from them. And far from improving my situation, my passivity almost always makes things worse.

I’ve found my key to getting off the couch is a shift in my mindset. Once my thinking tacks, I find it easier to move forward with action. And the more action I take, the less depressed and hopeless I feel.

Israel’s Cycles of Ups and Downs

The book of Judges records the long years of conflict and oppression God’s people experienced after entering the Promised Land. The stories you’ll find in this book represent a time when the nation of Israel seesawed spiritually, physically, economically, and emotionally from highs to lows.

The story of Gideon, in particular, illustrates the impact of internalizing and living out of a godly perspective. When we internalize biblical truth we are empowered to emerge from our hiding places and walk in God’s strength.

When the angel of the Lord initially seeks out Gideon, he finds him threshing wheat in a winepress. (Judges 6:11) This would be kinda like an angel coming to call me and finding me swaddled in a blanket on the sofa three hours into a Netflix marathon.

Nobody threshes wheat in a winepress. One has to be out in the open where the airflow can seperate the wheat from the chaff. Gideon was clearly hiding out in fear.

The first mindset shift Gideon needed to make in order to come out of hiding and take action are revealed in the words of the angel.

1. Recognize the Lord is with You

The very first thing the angel said to Gideon was, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” God sees in him strength, courage, and capabilities Gideon is oblivious to while focused on his troubles and fears.

judges-6_12

When we remember that the Lord is with us and promises to never forsake us, we begin to shift our thinking toward God and away from the strongholds that drag us down.

Gideon’s response to this first message demonstrates he isn’t yet ready to come out of hiding. He questions the messenger as to why all these bad things are happening to him and God’s people if the Lord is with them.

The angel’s response is the key to our second mindset shift.

2. You Have Strength, Use it!

The Lord’s response via the angel is to the point:

Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)

Our strength is God. And on this side of the resurrection of Christ, we have something eternally that Gideon only had temporarily: God within us.

We must not wait until all our circumstances are ideal. We need to take action now with what we’ve got and trust God to fill in the gap between our insufficiency and what is needed to fulfill our calling.

There is a reason the Almighty uses weak people like me and you: so it is clear the power is not ours but is God’s within us. The power and the glory belong to God.

2-cor-12_9

We can’t boast but we also can’t hide. We’ve got to get off the couch and go in the strength we have. To do this, we need our third mindset shift…

3. Get God Back on the Throne

In reality God actually never comes off his throne of sovereignty. However, when our thinking gets out of wack, we can allow other things to crowd out his rightful place on the throne of our heart and minds.

We must recognize God’s rightful place: first place in everything. (see Colossians 1:17-18)

Colossians 1:17-18 NRSV

Right Thinking Leads to Right Actions

In Gideon’s case, wrapping his head around these three truths capacitated his ability to take action.

His first task: tear down the idols the Israelites had been worshiping instead of God.

Do you see the transition from internal change of thinking to external action?

Taking action is scary. In Gideon’s case (and often in ours) new thinking initiates new actions which brings conflict with his friends and family. We will begin to live differently and in ways that impact those around us. Conflict or disapproval from those around us can be navigated successfully if we have firmly fixed in our mind the three concepts conveyed to Gideon by the Lord.

Gideon tore down the idols. However, please notice, he didn’t do it gallantly. (Judges 6:25-27) Yet, he did it nonetheless. (Judges 6:27) His courageous action originated in his shifted thinking.

"Courage is being scared to death...and saddling up anyway.--John Wayne

 

Seek Reassurance from God When You Need It Then Saddle Up

Over and over again, we see Gideon express his fear as he takes bigger and bigger action in response to God’s leading. When he is scared, he asks God for confirmation and reassurance. God patiently provides. (Judges 6:17, 36-40)

The fear doesn’t go away but Gideon doesn’t allow the fear to have the final word. He gives that to God.

We aren’t action heroes, we are children of God. We don’t have to be graceful, confident in ourselves, or even unafraid. We just need to take action with what we’ve got. And remember, as a believer, what you’ve got is the Lord with you!

not-action-heros

 

If you’re in fearful funk right now, I encourage you to read Gideon’s story in Judges 6. Let it help you incorporate within yourself the three biblical truths:

  1. Recognize the Lord is with you.
  2. You have strength, use it!
  3. Get God Back on the Throne

Then put your new way of thinking into action. Seek reassurance from the Lord as you need to, and come out of hiding. Walk in the knowledge you are a mighty warrior capable of living out God’s call on your life because He is with you.

Fear-Fighting Checklist & Scripture Verses

3 Mindset Changes LM FI

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Quick & Easy Overview of Number Symbolism in the Bible

Get a free printable of the infographic!

Have you ever noticed how certain numbers sure do seem to show up a lot in the Bible? Well, there is a very good reason. In the ancient culture of these texts, the rhetorical use of numbers was accepted cultural convention. Using extremely large numbers of soldiers, for example, was a hyperbolic way of communicating the strength of a king’s army or kingdom. And certain numbers had specific concepts associated with them.

Number Symbolism Featured Image Blog

Familiarity with the concept of number symbolism will help you notice important ideas conveyed in the biblical text.

However, I want to caution you: Be sure to consider the context (literary genre as well as the general context of the particular passage) before assuming a number is used symbolically rather than literally. You can check the notes in a good study Bible or commentary to help you assess the deeper meaning (if any) of a particular number in a particular passage of Scripture.

I’ve made you an infographic cheat sheet of some of the most common numbers. Again, these numbers are not always symbolic but being aware that they can be communicating additional ideas will help you get the intended message from the text.

The infographic is really long, so I’m not sure how it will work on mobile devices.

However, you can get a free copy that is designed to print on letter-sized paper if you click on the image of the infographic (or click the button below it). The printable is actually nicer as I was able to create it using my InDesign software rather than Photoshop.

I hope this information is helpful to you as you study the Word. If it is, please consider sharing this post with your friends and social media networks.

My mission is to help as many people as possible see how God’s truth and grace intersect with their real lives. You can help by sharing my posts using the share buttons above (and in some cases below) each post!

Send me that Infographic!

FYI, if you want to look up the passages mentioned in the graphic, I recommend using BibleGateway.com! It makes it super easy and fast to find a specific passage or look at multiple passages.

Number Symbolism Actual Graphic

You made it through that long image!

I hope you learned something helpful. If you want to look up the passages mentioned in the graphic, I recommend using BibleGateway.com! It makes it super easy and fast to find a specific passage or look at multiple passages.

I listed my sources but wasn’t sure how to make an active link inside the graphic itself. If you’re interested in those here are active links:

Dr. Bob Utley (http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/special_topics/symbolic_numbers.html)

Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (ISBN: 978-0-8054-2836-0)

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (ISBN: 978-0-3104-3158-9)

NIV Bible Commentary (978-0-310-22020-6)

Get a printable version!

Send me that Infographic!

Question: What would you add or change to the infographic? You can leave a comment by clicking here.