Faith

Did God Really Say … ?

When my kids were little, one of our homeschool lessons was on “red flags.” We talked about  what things others might say to get you to do something your parents have told you not to do.

We wrote two examples on small flags made of red construction paper: “No one will know” and “Everybody’s doing it.” We also discussed a few others, including this classic red flag question: “Did your mom or dad really say that? Are you sure? Maybe they actually meant something else.” I stressed that a red flag meant they should stop and think about what they were about to do, and that their parents have given them rules for a reason, even if they don’t understand the reason at the time.

Red flag comments or questions often come from someone who appears to be a friend, or seems wiser or cooler than you are, and/or seems to be having more fun than you are. Through questions or comments like the ones above, they plant some sort of doubt in your mind and encourage you to disobey. This method of sowing seeds of doubt has been ensnaring people, both children and adults, since the beginning of time. Literally.

The very first red flag question in history

The first, and most notorious, act of disobedience in the history of humanity is related in Genesis 3, also known as “the Fall.” Adam and Eve aren’t children, but they are children of God. They are naïve and as yet untested in life. You know the story: God (the Father) had previously forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they were tempted by Satan to eat from it. They ate, and sin entered the world.

It’s no coincidence that Satan used the same method that people have been falling for throughout history, the method that we still caution our children about today. The serpent came to Eve with a carefully crafted plan to deceive her, and the first step of the plan was to plant a seed of doubt about God in Eve’s mind. In various Bible translations, here is the common red flag question that Satan asked her:

“Did God really say…”

“Can it really be that God has said…”

“Did God actually say…”

“Is it really true that God said…”

[and even just a pointed and skeptical:] “Really?”

Instead of answering, “Yes, really,” and turning away, Eve allows the serpent to plant a seed of doubt. She then unwisely continues talking, unequipped though she is to tangle with the enemy. She tells him what God said, but she gets part of it wrong (God had said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” 2:16-17, but Eve has added, “neither shall you touch it,” 3:3). Her willingness to engage in conversation and misstatement of God’s word (for whatever reason) does not go unnoticed by the serpent.

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Faith · Parenting

Parents, Gen Z Must Own Their Faith

You’ve done all the right things. You took your child to church from birth, sending them to Sunday school, VBS, and children’s worship. You gave them kids’ devotionals for Christmas and answered all of their childlike theological questions. You made sure that Jesus was the focus of Christmas and Easter. You talked about Jesus openly and frequently in your home, prayed with your child, and involved them in service projects and other outward extensions of your faith.

And yet.

And yet now they’re drifting … drifting away from the faith, heads turned by secular and worldly beliefs and temptations, questioning at least some aspects of what they’ve been taught about God, about Jesus, about Christianity in general.

This probably causes you great concern, especially if you never went through a questioning period in your own life. Maybe your own adolescence and young adulthood were solid as a rock, resting on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the things you had been taught in your church and by your parents. Maybe you never strayed, and you can honestly say that you’ve never known a day when you didn’t know Jesus.

Or maybe you weren’t a Christian until you were an adult, and you were determined to raise your kids in the faith so they would never experience that kind of confusion and wandering. Maybe you were told that if you just followed Proverbs 22:6 and “trained up a child in the way he should go,” your child would not depart from the faith. Maybe you see your own wanderings echoed in your child and you wonder why your sincere, prayerful efforts seemingly didn’t work.

I have many friends who are raising Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) kids. As the mother of three Gen Zs and one late-model Millennial, I’ve heard a lot of stories, sat with a lot of moms, and prayed a lot of prayers over kids who are drifting from God, questioning what they’ve been taught, and seemingly turning from the faith in which they were raised. Often these changes, for both boys and girls, come about between the impressionable ages of 16 and 21.

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Faith

Testimony of the Mind and Heart

I love hearing Christian testimonies because I’m fascinated by the many ways that God works in the lives of very different people.

I was a Christian for many years before ever fully describing to anyone how I came to Jesus. I was never asked to, and I never volunteered. But when we joined a new congregation a few years ago, as a part of my membership interview I found myself sitting in a room with two elders before church one Sunday morning. My testimony was part of the membership process.

Now, being a person who spent her first 30 years living apart from Christ, and having a somewhat unusual upbringing which led to some poor life choices, my testimony (I now know) takes a good 25 minutes, give or take, to tell properly. But that’s quite a speech, and church was starting soon, so I whittled it down considerably while still conveying the most important parts of God’s saving grace in my life. I made sure to mention how I stumbled across the books that first introduced me to Jesus as a young child, how and why I fell away from the faith for 20 years, and the book that brought me back—first to God, and then to Christ.

I was able to condense 30 years of my spiritual life down to about a ten-minute monologue (the gist of it is here). But as my lips were calmly saying all the things I needed to say, my brain, not at my bidding, was playing a movie in the background just for me: my entire testimony, my entire life, flashed before my eyes. And suddenly I was overcome with emotion—an overwhelming feeling of God’s goodness to me, his faithfulness, his patience … and I found myself finishing my testimony with a spontaneous and heartfelt statement: “I don’t understand why God chose me, why he saved me, of all people. Because I did nothing to deserve this. I had ignored him and avoided him for all those years and he still pursued me and brought me back.” And by then I was crying.

This statement and these tears weren’t at all my intention when I sat down with these two men I didn’t even know all that well. One of them handed me the tissue box and said gently, “It sounds like you came to Christ in a very emotional way, with your heart.” I found this an odd statement at the time, because I thought I’d made it clear to them that God brought me to himself, twice, through books, through reading, through my mind. But here I was, getting choked up over the goodness of God and how he saved a wretch like me. Why did he do it? I still couldn’t fathom it, and it had me in tears. It was an emotional moment, for sure—a moment belonging to the heart.

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Faith

Six Steps Along the Path to Contentment

How content are you with your life? Are you fully content with …

… your job?

… your relationship status?

… your spouse?

… your children—their personalities, interests, and aptitudes?

… your church?

… where you live?

… your degree of worldly success?

… how much stuff you have and how new it is?

… your personal or household income?

… your health or self-image?

Discontentment has been a part of being human since … well, since Adam and Eve, and every generation since. I know I’ve struggled with it my whole life. I’d like to say that when I became a Christian 25+ years ago, I was able to overcome my struggle and have since conquered discontentment … but that’s not true. I still find myself needing frequent reminders, encouragement, and instruction on how to be fully content and accepting of the life that God has chosen to give to me, in every respect.

Along this lifelong path to Christian contentment, I’ve found much support along the way—people and books that have helped me grow in this area, step by step through the years. I can trace the path I’ve taken, book by book, mentor by mentor, and maybe some of this will encourage or help you along your path to contentment, too:

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Faith

What Makes a “Strong Woman” Strong?

“This book is great for girls because it has strong female characters.”

“Vote for her—she’s a strong woman who will fight for your interests.”

“At this college, we prepare strong, independent women for their careers.”

“Strong woman” is a phrase heard often these days, and because I admire both words and women, I’ve been paying attention. It’s used in politics, on campuses, in the media, and even by little girls who know at a very early age to describe themselves as “strong.” It’s made me think about what strong actually means—what is the implication when people say “strong woman”?

The tone used when saying “strong woman,” especially in politics, often sounds as if the speaker is correcting a common misconception that women are generally weak or dependent by virtue of their gender, and that the “strong woman” is an exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary woman. But do people actually view most women—“ordinary” women—as weak? Or even worse, is this the way most women view themselves?

I don’t believe so. I grew up at the height of “women’s lib” in the ’70s, and it’s never occurred to me to think of myself as weak because I’m female. I can’t remember a time when I was ever perceived that way by others, either.

So I wonder sometimes what others’ reactions are to hearing that someone is a “strong woman.” I’ll be honest about my reaction: it grates on my ears. Why is that? Because every time I hear it, my brain has the same reflexive response:

Do I even know any women who are not strong?

But then, maybe my definition and the world’s definition of “strong women” are not the same.

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Faith

Mansions in Heaven

There are some things about heaven that I’d really like to know. For instance, will our pets be there? Will there be people of all ages, including babies and senior citizens? And, very important to the here-and-now me: will there be stories and novels to read?

These and many other questions won’t be answered until Jesus calls me home. For now, I must be satisfied with the things I have been told about heaven, and one of my favorite things is this:

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Faith

Give God Room

A difficult person.

An uncomfortable situation.

A frustrating relationship.

An unexpected dilemma.

In our fallen world, these kinds of problems are all too common. And we often react to them in one of two predictable ways:

We worry, or we try to control.

In some ways, these are opposite reactions (worry is mostly passive; control is mostly active), and yet it’s quite possible to do both at the same time. I’m actually quite good at both and often manage to do them simultaneously, over the same problem.

It’s not a skill that I’m proud of, and yet I’m also sure that I’m not alone in having mastered it.

When we’re faced with a situation that seems to have no solution and no end … or with a person who really gets under our skin … or with a sudden problem that’s completely out of our comfort zone … or with a relationship that’s going downhill fast and we see no easy way out … do we react in the way that God would have us react?

In my kitchen, I have many little pieces of paper taped to cabinet doors with quotes that I find particularly important or inspiring. These quotes come and go, but one of them is so perfectly universal in its application that I think I’ll never take it down. It’s this one:

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Faith

That Bible Book You Don’t Like and What to Do About It

Here’s a question you may not be asked very often: what’s your least favorite book of the Bible? Which book do you avoid reading, or skim over lightly when it shows up in your Bible reading plan? Which book confuses you, frustrates you, or (let’s be honest) bores you?

Could it be Leviticus or Numbers? What about some of those Old Testament histories? Any of the major or minor prophets? Revelation, anyone?

For Christians, the Word of God is essential for spiritual growth, relevant to everyday life (even in the 21st century), and irreplaceable by other means. This description applies to the entire Bible—all 66 books, whether we like them or not. And let’s face it: those unliked books aren’t going anywhere. Every time you open your Bible, there they are—Leviticus, or Job, or Song of Songs, or Revelation, or Ezekiel—waiting for you to understand and even enjoy whatever God would have you learn from them.

So what’s the best way to learn to like the book of the Bible you like the least? My own answer to this, and one I think would apply to any book, is to study it.

Several months ago, I deliberately chose my least favorite book in the Bible for the women’s Bible study group at my church (I’ll share more about that in a bit). I had a theory that a deep study using reputable resources would give me a new appreciation for why God had included this particular book in his Word. At the same time I was deciding to tackle this unliked (by me) book, I discovered that my friend Sara had been doing a Bible study at her own church on a different book, the one that’s the butt of many Bible reading plan jokes: Leviticus.

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Faith

Good Habits from Painful Beginnings

How often does God allow something negative or painful in our lives so that we begin something new—a new habit that is for our own good?

Last spring, I developed shoulder bursitis, a painful condition that required months of time-consuming physical therapy. After my insurance quit paying for the therapy, my doctor and therapist both recommended that I continue going to the training facility on my own, in order to keep my shoulder from getting worse. By this time I had frozen shoulder (less pain, but limited mobility). So for nearly a year now, I’ve been going to the gym two or three times a week.

“Going to the gym two or three times a week.” For some of you, that phrase would roll naturally off your tongue. This was not the case with me. I’ve never been the kind of person who would make a habit of going to a gym, or even try it once, for that matter.

The fact that I am now a person who “goes to the gym” still astounds me. I feel like an imposter every time I say it. But it has, in fact, become a habit. It’s true that I often wake up not wanting to go (I may never get over that), but the minute I arrive, I’m glad to be there. If I have to skip a visit, my body feels it and I look forward to the time I can go back and feel good again.

Against all odds, and much to my amazement, going to the gym has become a habit for me.

Because I’m a Christian, I can’t help but wonder … did God allow that shoulder pain in my life so that I would form a good habit because of it? Without it, I’d never in a million years have gone to a gym—I was too busy, too self-conscious, and too broke. But now that I’m going, I’m pretty convinced that it’s making me stronger, healthier, and likelier to spend more years on this earth with the people I love.

Once I started thinking about my pain leading to a positive habit, I began to wonder how many times God works in this way. How often does he allow something negative or painful in our lives so that we begin something new—a new habit that is for our own good?

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Faith

Be Careful, Little Hands, What You Type

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Most of those have been part-time from home—a small vocational and financial miracle from God that allowed me to stay home with my kids.

Nearly two years ago, during the spring of 2020—the Pandemic Spring—I began this blog. I’d been thinking about doing this for a long time, but life kept getting in the way. During the Pandemic Spring, the many plans I’d had were cancelled left and right and I suddenly had the time to consider blogging for real. Everyone else’s plans were cancelled, too, so my tech-savvy and artistically talented daughter was also on hand to help me get this blog off the ground.

The writing hats I wear, often on the same day, are very different. One hat, my professional hat, is 100% dictated by what my clients want me to write. I receive no visible credit for this writing (my name isn’t on anything), but I do receive payment. It’s a good trade. I need to earn money doing something I love, something from home, and something people are willing to pay me to do. Writing is all of those things for me.

The other hat, my blogging hat, is quite different. No one tells me what to write, or when, or how, or for whom. I have no deadlines, no boss, no colleagues, and no financial reward. My motivation to write consists of feedback from readers (all writers have somewhat fragile egos and I’m no exception), my love of words, my desire to help and encourage others, and a conviction that God wants me to use my writing to do that. Also, to be honest, that indescribable feeling of elated relief that comes after having written something (the process itself is a form of mild self-torture; the after-feeling makes it all worth it).

There’s so much freedom in this kind of writing that I sometimes have to remind myself of the most important difference between the types of writing that I do:

The writing I do here has my name on it.

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