Saturday, October 31, 2015
Lynn Austin is one of my favorite authors. And she didn't disappoint with this new book, On This Foundation. The story is the biblical account of Nehemiah as told through the 3-D imagination of Ms. Austin.
I loved every character in this book. They were real, believable and well-developed as the story moved along. Of course, Nehemiah is the central character of the book and the background Ms. Austin gives him seems as if it must have moved off the pages of the Bible...but it's not all there. But because our place of pain is most often our place of reign, the background she created for Nehemiah doesn't seem just believable, but probable.
Lynn Austin touches every aspect of the day in Jerusalem--from the impoverished to the rich rulers. And from the few details in the Bible, she develops emotion, imagination, and a desire to study the true story to see what is fact and what is fiction. And because you know the story and how it ends, I don't need to retell it here. But what you'll find in this work of fiction is the human response to a big call from God. This book isn't just a work of fiction...the Holy Spirit through Lynn Austin touched areas of my life through the truth in this book.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend it! I didn't want the book to end.
Thank you to Bethany House for providing this book for review. 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
Friday, October 30, 2015
I was reading the account of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple in John 2 this morning. The synposis:
- Moneychangers are in the temple selling sacrifices to the temple--at exorbitant prices--cheating the people.
- Jesus comes in and begins throwing their tables over and driving them out and driving the animals out with a whip.
- He tells them, "My house will be called a house of prayer. Stop making My Father's house a place for your own profit!"
- The disciples remember the scripture, "Jealous devotion for God's house consumes me."
- The Jews ask, "Who gives you the right to shut us down. If it is God, then show us a sign."
- Jesus says, "If you destroy this temple, I will rebuild it in 3 days. He was talking about the true temple--his body.
I asked God to teach me what this means for me...today. And He began reminding me of some things. I Corinthians tells me that my body is the temple of God. Whenever I choose to follow Jesus, my life becomes His and my body becomes His temple. So...it's also possible for "moneychangers" to enter the temple of God (me) and rob me. The psalmist says he'd rather be a gatekeeper in the house of God than live a wealthy life in the tents of the wicked. We are that gatekeeper!! We are to guard what goes into our minds. II Corinthians 10:5 says to "..take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ..." Whatever we allow into the temple of God (our body and soul--mind, will, emotions) can either bring worship to God or contaminate the temple.
So...who are the moneychangers? Satan and his demons. They are constantly lying to us. When we don't take thoughts captive, we're basically inviting their lies into our minds to set up shop. And they come in with thievery, distortion, and cheating. At first, it was hard for me to wrap my mind around this. But God just told me to examine my life. It seems I'm constantly discovering lies I've believed which God is helping me remove from my life. For instance, I've always thought I'm not an emotional person. But God recently took me back to two different incidences in my life where I was laughed at because of my emotions at a young age--and I learned to put a lid on it. When I began to believe that lie, what was stolen from my life? Emotions--to worship God. I've bottled up emotions out of fear of being ridiculed. And the only ones ridiculing me were the enemy. And there were bigger lies that I allowed to set up shop. I believed that I was bossy (and really was!). But I believed I would never change. So instead of someone helping me to understand how to turn that into leadership, I just tried to keep from being bossy--all on my own. I never took that thought captive to the obedience of Christ. As a result, my potential was stolen. Who God created me to be was distorted. I was cheated out of my purpose. What did the moneychangers profit? Their side "won" by keeping God's kingdom from reaching full potential and expanding like He wanted. Their main goal is to keep people from coming to Christ. But if people do come to Christ, they want to make sure they never fully understand their power and authority in the kingdom of God.
Jealous devotion for God's house consumes Jesus. He wants complete control. He wants the moneychangers driven out! And he again wants the temple cleansed and to become a house of prayer--of worship--which was His very original intent. " It's better to be a gatekeeper in the house of God..." takes on a whole new meaning.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Jesus had brothers--James, Joseph, Simon & Judas. Brothers who didn't believe he was the son of God. (John 7:5) Mary knew what it was like to have division in her family.
First of all, Mary was convinced Jesus was the son of God. She'd given birth to him in an extraordinary way--and then there was just one confirmation after another! In fact, God used her to initiate Jesus' public ministry. Had he done private miracles in their home? We don't know. Maybe the Spirit of God just revealed to her it was time for Jesus to start his ministry. And maybe she'd been in embarrassing situations herself and wanted to prevent that kind of humiliation for her friends. But when the wedding party was about to run out of wine, she came to Jesus with the problem. She knew who he was and what he was capable of doing.
Enter Jesus' four brothers. They were there when the water was turned into wine. And maybe they'd seen private miracles in their home. We don't know if Joseph & Mary had revealed to their other children who Jesus really was and explained his holy birth. I just wonder about their home life. Jesus was perfect. None of them were. Did it seem Jesus was never disciplined? That things were unfair? That Jesus was favored or more loved? Did they grow up resenting their perfect brother? Yes, those brothers were with him in the beginning of his ministry but either there was already growing animosity...or something shifted. Was it when they heard about Jesus wrecking the temple and driving out the money changers? Was it because none of them were chosen as a disciple? Was Mary's heart hurt a little over that issue? Was it when they saw the Pharisees--respected religious men of their day--come against Jesus? Was it because everything was just so public? Maybe the brothers were being ridiculed because of Jesus. Or maybe things just weren't happening as they'd expected.
Mary was human--she was just chosen by God for a big job. And she was a mother. I believe she loved her children equally--each for who they were. But she was also a mother who just wanted all of her kids to get along. Did she lose her way in trying to be a peacemaker? The reason I ask is because of the account of Mary and Jesus' brothers coming to him as he was teaching a large crowd. They couldn't reach him because of the crowd. The people closest to him told him his mother and brothers were outside. And Jesus' response was, "Do you want to know who my mother and brothers are? My mother and brothers are these who listen to the word of God and do it!" I believe it was a stern rebuke. In my heart, I believe Mary knew a division was growing between her sons and wanted to help them work it out. Maybe she was even going to suggest that Jesus back off a little from such a public ministry and quit antagonizing the Pharisees. But Jesus drew the line: To follow me, you must listen to the word of God and obey. Were they offended? I can almost guarantee the brothers were. Their anger grows. But I believe this was like cold water in Mary's face to wake her up to the truth that these were the two most important questions everyone had to answer for themselves. Will you hear the truth of God's word? And will you obey? And even though she'd had a miraculous conception and had given birth to the son of God, she had to answer those questions for herself.
Later, in John 7, we're told Jesus' brothers had become quite contemptuous towards him. The dividing line had become a great gulf! They sarcastically suggested he go up to Judea and do things even more publicly--"Get famous, Jesus!"--go show off. I love how Jesus responded, "My time has not yet arrived; but for you, My brothers, by all means, it is always the right time. You have nothing to worry about because the world doesn't hate you, but it despises Me because I am always exposing the dark evil in its works. Go on to the feast without Me; I am not going right now because My time is not yet at hand." He couldn't be goaded into doing anything apart from his Father's will.
There was a huge division in Mary's family. And she couldn't fix it. In fact, it grew and grew. But that's not the end of the story. We find Mary at the cross. She chose to hear the word of God and obey. And the brothers? Well...some of them gathered with the disciples in the upper room to pray after Jesus' ascension into heaven. Not all of them. But those who did had one mind and purpose with everyone else there. (Acts 1:13-14)
No, Mary couldn't fix the rift in her family. But when she was at the cross, Jesus, in his dying breath, made provision not just for his mother, but for his brothers, as well. He assigned his best friend, John, the task of caring for Mary the rest of her life. He opened a way for the possibility of healing to move in. He was offering his mother "family" because she'd chosen to follow him. And with that very same act, Jesus graciously released his brothers so they could make the choice to follow him...or not. And some did.
Monday, October 26, 2015
I've spent time talking about the perils of ministry and have read lots of blogs on the same topic. But today, I want to talk about the JOYS of ministry. There are so many!! Andy & I have been in ministry for 40 years and on staff of a church for 35 of those years. We've learned a lot on that journey. And boy! Do I wish I could go back and teach the things I've learned to a younger Becky. But that younger Becky had to learn a lot of things the hard way. And the most important thing I've learned is that God is most interested in our journey. Are we teachable? Will we obey? Will we apply truth and grace to our life? Will we love? Will we change? As I reflect on the past 35 years, here are a few things I'm most grateful for...
No matter the size of your church, instant friends are available to you. Of course, these relationships have to be developed, but even on the first day of being at a new church, the promise of friends is there. Will everyone be an intimate friend? No. But everyone can be a friend at some level. We pastor's wives are just like anyone else. Our personalities are going to "connect" with certain people more than others. And there are just some people more willing or more available to make deeper connections. Some of my friends have been staff wives but most have been lay people in the church. I think it's so important to go to a new church with the attitude that I am going to LOVE the people! It's a choice. And a good choice. My life is so much richer because of the people I've met in the four churches we've been a part of. I can't imagine missing out on any of them!
A PLACE TO GROW
Man! Have I done a lot of growing in the past 40 years. There's no more beautiful place to grow, develop, and change than within the body of Christ. God has promised "iron sharpening iron" between family members. I think the difficult things stick out in our minds just because of how hard they were. And I did grow from them. But as I meditate on my growth, I think God grew me most in the sweet places. Andy & I were a part of a prayer group we called P&P (Praise & Prayer) for several years. We learned so much about God, how He speaks, how He works, how He delights to hear us and answer us, and how He still does miracles! Our faith grew so much during that time. I also grew from praying with a group of women. We were crazy enough and needy enough to see God do some awesome things--like save marriages, deliver from drug addiction, and return prodigals home. It was through relationships within the body of Christ that I began to see who I was in Christ.
I've been able to be myself in the churches we've been a part of. No one taught me how to be a pastor's wife. And because Andy started out in youth ministry in a church we'd already been members of for 5 years, no one had any expectations of me. We were already a part of that church and they knew me well--and I was actively involved. And because of that experience, I assumed I could just be myself...and I did. Honestly, I think that's key. If we don't put on airs or fear expectations and just present ourselves as "this is who I am," things go so much more smoothly. And I think being willing to do the dirty work (being a servant) helps. We develop relationships when we roll up our sleeves and clean a playground together or wash dishes with others. They begin to see and know we're just like them.
I've never been affirmed more than through the body of Christ!! I am so serious about this one. First...you need to know my love language is gifts. And our churches have lavished gifts on us: clothing, refrigerator, patio furniture, cars (yes, plural), repairing cars, a trip to Israel, a house remodeled and filled with new furniture when we returned from a mission trip to China, food, gift certificates, money for three of our children's weddings, and so much more. Just yesterday, our church honored us for Pastor Appreciation Day. Their words were so kind, the love was evident...and yes, there were gifts. Over and over we have been affirmed. But as much as gifts say "love" to me, the power of someone's words washing over me is even more amazing. Recently, I went to a sweet man in our church and told him that his confidence in me meant more than he could possibly know. He was a true encourager in my life. Actually, God has used the affirmation through the years to change me. I had a "poverty mindset" years ago, but because of the gracious giving of others towards us (which was so humbling), I began to see the true character of God--and His opinion of me. Close friends and their generosity--and not just towards me--changed me. Because of their example of generosity in my life, I became a giver...a giver of affirmation and gifts.
I've loved helping my husband's ministry. We've been partners since the beginning. I opened our home (no matter the size) for every kind of youth activity, dinner parties, game nights, open houses, small groups, and prayer meetings. I've taught youth Sunday school, mentored girls, etc. But it was a give-and-take. Andy encouraged me to spend time with friends. He would watch the kids at night so I could go get a Coke and spend time girl-talking. He encouraged me to go on women's retreats and eventually lead them. He encouraged me to use my gifts and express myself--and not just in his ministry. In fact, he was my best cheerleader when I became the director of a benevolence ministry. I've helped him. He's helped me. We've had a great partnership through the years. But we've also partnered with those in our churches doing ministry, going on mission trips, youth camps, etc. When you partner with others, a strong link is formed.
I started to put laughter as the title for this section, but realized it was much deeper than that. I have loved laughing with the body of Christ. There's nothing I enjoy more. But I've also cried and even wailed with the body of Christ. And there's nothing that builds a better bond than crying with a brother or sister over needs together. I've been angry with some of my brothers and sisters (as they have with me!), but I have always tried to work it out. I can't stand rifts. But I have loved deeply. I have deep relationships from every church we've been a part of. There are people I could call at 2:00 in the morning who would be by my side as quickly as they could get there--and I'd do the same for them. Andy & I have been with people in some of their most painful crises (and they with us), which has built a forever-bond.
I think I could go on and on. What a privilege God has given me to be a pastor's wife! God told me when I was 12-years-old that I would be a pastor's wife. And He's spent 40 years training me and working stuff out of me. But most of all...HE'S BLESSED MY SOCKS OFF!!
Monday, October 19, 2015
I joined Facebook in January of 2008. It seemed to be a more adult version of Myspace--even though I loved getting to decorate my own Myspace page. ;) When I joined Facebook, we wrote on each other's walls and our own wall about what was going on in our lives. We checked in on one another...we connected with people we didn't get to see very often.
I remember when Pinterest came into existence and everyone began putting their pins on Facebook. I was so frustrated. Why couldn't we keep them separate? (High D on DISC...) And then began the advent of videos, memes, political ads, sports ads, business ads, etc.
So this morning, I did an unofficial survey. I just went through the first 100 posts on my Facebook. And I divided them into broad categories. And here's what I came up with:
1% Group post
1% Photo of other people
13% Religious Ads/Stories
15% Political Ads/Stories
15% Videos (Mostly humorous)
15% Personal Messages
17% Business Ads/Promotions of Personal businesses
Facebook has definitely evolved. I just think it's an easy way to post mindless stuff, to jump on someone else's bandwagon, or post things out of boredom. I'm not saying reposting is bad. I've done a lot of it myself. I know I've read memes which seemed meant just for me at just the right time. And others can write articles which convey my heart.
But what if we all took responsibility to change the percentages? I've made up my mind to write more personal messages, post my own photos, make my own funny videos, encourage others myself instead of using a meme. I want do some REAL connecting instead of mindlessly reposting. I can see how mindlessly reposting is a lazy way which can turn my mind into mush. I want to connect with purpose. I'm choosing to revolve.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Have you ever had someone take over the control of your computer remotely? My son, David, who lives in Minnesota works in IT and today I texted him because I kept having a malware cleaner pop up wanting to clean my computer. (He told me, "I wouldn't install malware. Haha!" I do know that much, Dave...) So to fix it, he had me download a program which would allow him to remotely operate my computer. It looks like this (watch the cursor--my hands weren't touching my laptop--I was filming):
I told David I loved to see him work--it was almost like having him here! As I watched him clean up my computer, I had the thought that this was a lot like giving God control of my life. I had to give David permission to work remotely on my laptop. Just like I have to release control to God. David took over because he knew things I didn't know. He could tell at a glance what needed to happen when I didn't. Just like God. He knew how to repair the problem and bring order out of chaos. And after it was all over, my machine was operating properly and at a better speed. All like God. It was an interesting analogy to watch take place right in front of me.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
FARMERS. There's no one like these people. I have uncles who have farmed, but I was never around them throughout a season. So I just had no idea....
Farmers have more faith than anyone I know. Every year they take seed and plant it in soil which they have turned and prepared for those seeds. They don't know for sure what will happen. They're trusting that seed to germinate and sprout and grow and bloom into a crop worth harvesting and selling.
But they also know it may be a season of drought where the wind dries up the soil and whips it across the highways--and takes the topsoil and their seed into the next county! Our farmers have faced many years of drought, fear, and hopelessness. But they keep on doing the same thing the next year in faith...believing God for better results.
Or they may face a year of torrential rains which washes their seed away or floods their fields which makes planting hard, late, and foreboding. We've had rains which have turned farmer's fields into playas. You can't plant in a playa. Those rain clouds can also bring hail which can completely destroy an entire crop in an instant.
Probably the hardest things farmers face isn't what nature brings, but what man brings. I don't understand things like market values and commodity markets. But just in my two years in a farming community, it seems like every time the crops come in, the market plunges. And the farmers are left having to accept prices calculated by the powers-that-be. What you may not know, farmers are barely making it. Many will have a hard time paying back banks. And you probably know someone who has had to sell their farm. It's heartbreaking!
But if they can, these farmers keep doing what they've always done. They're risk-takers! But more than that, they're men and women of faith. And they are committed to feeding their fellow countrymen. They believe in what they're doing! You won't just see men on those tractors, combines, trucks, and balers. Their wives pitch in when they have to (some even love it!) and many times you'll see photos of them with their small children "helping drive" or asleep in the cab. These families are devoted to your family. They work long, hard hours to provide food for us all. They miss meals so we won't have to. They purchase equipment with prices which would boggle your mind.
This is my thank-you to the farmers I know: Troy, Barry, Clay, Dean, Buck, Wade, Jesse, Richard, Darrell, Andy, Jason, the Brittens, Bells, Childresses, Gaines, Dysons...and some I know I've forgotten. And to their wives who help--either in the fields, at home, cooking for crews, doing books, or just by not giving in to fear: Kim, Carole, Nicole, Adrianna, Jill, Skye, Karri, Sue, Kari, & Mina...and some I know I've forgotten. I love your hearts and how big they are. I love your work ethic. I love your concern and love for your fellow man. I appreciate the L-O-N-G hours you put in. I see your sacrifice, your hard labor, and the tiredness in your faces at times. I know what you're doing for the rest of us. And I love you for it! I see so many spiritual applications in what you do. You have the heart of God. But most importantly, thank you for giving the rest of us a good example of faith.
I love farmers.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
When I had small children, I had to learn how to say "NO!" No to being over-involved in activities...especially church activities. I remember a woman who was older than me told me that it was OK to say "no." And she went on to say that I didn't even have to give a reason. No was enough. And if I couldn't do that, I should at least tell the person asking that I would pray about it. That would give me time to honestly pray and consider if I had time to give to the project and time to also pass the idea by my husband who knew my limits.
I learned that lesson well. It became easier and easier to say no to things which either weren't my gifting or that I didn't have time for. What's become harder is opening myself up to saying "YES!" again. I wish I could remember which book I read, video I watched, or exactly where I heard it recently (to give credit where credit is due)....to SAY YES! Quit saying no to things out of fear. Or because it's out of your comfort zone. Or because you're too old. Or because you've never done it before. Or because you may not like it. Or because you'd rather be in your easy chair.
Start saying yes. Say yes to that hike. Say yes to babysitting your grandchildren. Say yes to bungee-jumping. Say yes to keeping the church nursery. Say yes to new and exotic foods. Say yes to joining a different culture for an event. Say yes to a walk along the river holding hands. Say yes to a dessert.
I think we get so used to saying no that we become closed off to life. And I think the older we get, the easier it is to say no--which changes our attitude...for the worse.
We recently went to Minnesota to visit our kids and I purposed in my heart to say "yes" before we left. And what I discovered is that when I decided to say yes, my attitude was completely different. I'd already made up my mind to enjoy life, to explore, to experience new things. And I had a blast!
I encourage you to examine whether you're saying "no" way too often. Don't become stale, old, and unchangeable. Start saying yes and you will experience life with new eyes and a fresh attitude. I think it will keep you much younger for much longer.