Should You Join Women’s Bible Study?

Here’s my latest post, featured this week on the “True Woman” blog–a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. 

If it’s not in your church’s foyer yet, it will probably show up soon: the sign-up table for women’s Bible study. Will you glance over at it, wondering if you should sign up? Will you linger at the table, checking out the plan, wondering if this is what God wants for your year?

Perhaps you’re caring for a young family, with a to-do list that only gets longer if little hands try to help. Maybe you’re reluctant to fill the boxes on your calendar with extras, wanting to protect the fleeting years with little ones at home. Or perhaps it’s now your aging parents who need your attention, and you worry about balancing your schedule.

Or maybe it’s not your calendar that’s the obstacle; it’s your fear of being open and vulnerable. As your kids have grown, so have the personal and relationship challenges you face—and you have big kids now. It’s hard to be honest about the fear, devastation, and sorrow you face on a daily basis.

Or perhaps this is the first year you’ve even considered Bible study. Maybe it wasn’t an option or you couldn’t commit. You feel nervous and uncomfortable about joining—worried you’ll say the wrong thing or not know as much as the others. You wonder if you missed your chance years ago.

Weighing the Options

Whatever your life stage or situation, considering women’s Bible study is always an exercise in weighing your priorities. Even when you long for spiritual growth, sometimes you wonder if participating in women’s Bible study at church is the best way to cultivate that growth. You wonder if it might be better to just study the Bible at home. In your jammies. Maybe you could join an online study group or something.

As you weigh your options, I’d like to offer three things to consider, along with some personal experiences:

1. The days are long, but the years are short.

Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” There’s something about looking forward to the end and then thinking backward that helps keep things in perspective. What kind of wife, mom, sister, worker, or friend do I want to be at the end of this year? How about the end of this decade? What will help me get there?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been involved in some sort of women’s Bible study group. I’ve helped with leadership in various ways: leading worship, leading a small group, and large group teaching. If I were to compile all of the hours I have devoted to connecting with other women around God’s Word, it would be an enormous chunk of my life.

It definitely crowded out other activities. For example, I never signed my preschoolers up for sports or music programs. Instead, they enjoyed the childcare program at Bible study. And I was never part of a “girls’ night out” group or a bunco club.

Some might criticize the way I arranged our calendar—prioritizing my own growth over activities for my kids and opting out of community-building opportunities. But all of us have to choose what we’ll add to the weekly rhythm of life. I chose Bible study. And if all of those hours spent studying God’s Word with other women were retracted from my life, I believe I would be a completely different person. And I also believe that the change in my life as a result of participating in various studies had a direct impact on my family.

So as you and I look at the coming year, let’s think about who we want to become. Let’s consider whether joining a women’s Bible study can help us get there.

2. Wisdom is formed in groups.

Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” The people you “walk with” on a regular basis change you. They shape your perspective on life. Your Bible is filled with wisdom, but God designed for that wisdom to be three-dimensional, displayed in the lives of others. Now, I can’t promise you that everyone in your Bible study group will be wise, but if you’re looking for wise women, a Bible study is a great place to start.

Back in January, a local bookstore in my town hosted a launch party for the release of my new book. I was secretly worried that no one would come, and I’d need to apologize to the bookstore. To my great delight, the room was filled! As I introduced my various friends to each other that night, I noticed myself saying something repeatedly. “This is Michelle. We first met in Bible study.” Or “This is Kim. She’s part of my summer Bible study group.”

Many of these women who were supporting and cheering me on had been doing so since before my book had a title. In fact, the wisdom and truth I got to share in the book was partly shaped by the stories, conversations, and insights offered to me by these friends. They were there, celebrating what God had done, because they are part of my life.

Who will show up at your next celebration? Who is part of your life? Do you have wise friends who look to God’s Word for help, guidance, and hope? If not, Bible study is a great way to cultivate friendships like these.

3. The Church isn’t meant to be virtual.

I know, I know. The Church isn’t a building. And now, with the new multi-site churches forming, even the local church often isn’t contained in one building. In addition, we can often “connect online” with our church service or various Bible study groups. Video no longer feels “virtual” to us. It feels like we’re in the room.

But are we? I have a friend who says he would far prefer to travel and present to clients in the same room. He relies so heavily on body language and the relational aspects of communication to assess how clients are receiving the message and how he can better serve them.

If this is true in business, perhaps we should prioritize screen-less relationship building in the church. I’m not saying online Bible studies are bad or wrong. They are meeting a great need for many! But for those of us who can physically meet together, I think we should do so.

Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

It’s not that we can’t encourage and stir up one another for love and good works from behind a screen. Hopefully, that’s what I’m doing right now! It’s just harder to connect personally. For instance, after you read this post, you might forget my name, where I’m from, and what I look like—which won’t offend me. But if that happened the day after we had coffee together, I would struggle to not take it personally.

Signing up for a Bible study is the equivalent of having coffee rather than reading a blog post. It’s more personal and a bigger commitment. It will cost you more time and relational energy.

But success in the Christian life is achieved as a group, not just as individuals. On my own, I quickly become discouraged, deceived, and distracted. But when my group gathers to refresh each other’s faith, remind ourselves of truth, and pray together over struggles, it’s like a weekly reorientation. I walk out thinking, Oh, yeah! This is why God gave me life! And this is how I’m supposed to live it.

Obviously, you and the Lord need to sort out your calendar. But if the Lord makes a way for you to tether yourselves to other women who want to follow Jesus and link arms with women who help you keep your eyes on Christ, I can’t think of a more worthy commitment.

From our Revive Our Hearts team: In case you haven’t heard . . . Revive Our Hearts and Moody Publishers are offering a special Livestream event on just this topic—living out the gospel together! You could gather your Bible study group and make a weekend of it! To learn more about Revive ’17 LIVE or register your group, head to Revive17.com/livestream.

Sacred Mundane: God’s way of Transforming You

Kari Patterson and I are both first time authors, published by Kregel. Since she lives in Oregon, we haven’t officially met, but we’ve become fast friends. I highly recommend Kari’s new book, Sacred Mundane. See details below on how to win a FREE copy!  

You know the Bible story of Naaman, right? Naaman was a commander of the Syrian army. He had favor with his king and success in battle because God had given him victory. However, Naaman had a problem.

He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. – I Kings 5:1 (emphasis mine)

In her brand new book, Sacred MundaneKari Patterson writes,

“We all have a but, and it’s a problem. (If you read that out loud it sounds terrible. I’m sorry; there was no other way.) Because you are created in the image of God, knit perfectly and wonderfully in your mother’s womb and cherished by him, you have value and worth and honor. You are dazzling and delightful. You are dearly loved. You have gifts, talents, and innumerable things going for you. You have strengths and skills, power and potential.

“But – there’s something in the way. Something that limits our freedom, confuses our purpose, steals our joy. No matter what great things we have going for us this thing constantly lurks on the fringe of our attention, subtly inhibiting, hindering, holding us back. For Naaman it was leprosy; for some it’s crippling fear; for some it’s anger or unforgiveness; for some it’s a desperate need for approval; for some it’s an issue or habit that’s hung around so long it has become an accepted part of life. Hangups have a way of hijacking our identity.

“Now, Naaman couldn’t have carried on as a commander with this issue out in the open; he had to hide it as long as he possibly could. We do the same. We wear long sleeves, so to speak. We know how to compensate for that weakness we’ve had with us for such a long time. We can still cope and manage life pretty well. Perhaps “it’s no big deal,” so we just shrug our shoulders and pretend it doesn’t bother us. That much. But deep down we know that there is something not quite right, something that subtly robs our peace and joy, something that clings to us and keeps us bound. Something we just can’t kick.

“And like leprosy, it spreads. Left alone, our hidden heartsickness always spreads. We think we’re find (we look fine!), sailing along in our long sleeves, but then that one thing – that person, that comment, that one hormonal moment – yanks off our protective layer, and we realize the problem is still there. It had been there all along, underneath. We resolve to deal with it. How? Add a turtleneck. Maybe some gloves. Don’t get close to any situation where baring our skin or our souls is required. We become careful, cautious, learning to control our environment so our lack is less apparent.

“But this isn’t life. This isn’t freedom. And we know it. Somewhere deep down, we know: this isn’t the me I was created to be. This isn’t the life I was meant to live.” (Sacred Mundane, p. 12-13)

Can you relate to what Kari writes, here? She uses the story of Naaman as a powerful example of what God wants to do for all of us to make us clean and whole. Are you ready? Here it is: Like Naaman, God invites us to dip down into the muddy waters of daily life that are right before us.

Muddy Waters

Wait, what? That’s not what we wanted to hear, right!? We wanted some dramatic healing. Some man of God to put his hands on our shoulders and pray over this insecurity or fear or anger or bitterness or addiction so that – whoosh – it’s gone! We’re transformed!

That’s what Naaman wanted, too. He wanted Elijah to come and wave his hand over him to cure the leprosy (I Kings 5:11). But instead Elijah sent word that he was to dip into the muddy, smelly, daily waters of the Jordan.

Kari writes,

“How often we balk at God’s bidding when he tells us to simply go and dip down deep into what is right in front of us, the waters we most despise, because that is where true healing is found. How we wish for a prophet to wave his hands over us and miractulously make us mature, make us well, make us new. How we wish we could just walk through the doors of church and have the “godly dust” sprinkle on us and make us whole. Can’t we just get a spiritual spray-tan?

“Truth: you are made new by dipping into the dirty, dusty dailiness of life. By letting your days transform your life. It is the mundane, overlooked, ordinary stuff lof life that changes us from the inside out. That heals us. That transforms us.” (Sacred Mundane, p. 15)

The Next Five Minutes

In my new book, Control GirlI wrote about how the “small arrow” moments of the day transform us. It’s not just the big, life-changing moments of surrender, spaced out by decades which turn us from Control Girls into Jesus Girls; it’s our choice to surrender something to God in the next five minutes. And then it’s repeating that choice to surrender the same thing to God, 57 more times in the same evening. That’s what changes us. Kari expands this idea into a whole book!

Becoming Clean

Think of it. God wants to change us! To heal us! But like Naaman, we foolishly object to the way God wants to make us clean. This husband? These kids? This noisy, messy, sticky life? Really? This is what God plans to use to change me? Like Naaman, we’re ready to storm off.

But Kari Patterson taps us on the shoulder with Sacred Mundane, just like Naaman’s servant. She asks us to take another look at those muddy waters of daily life, and then causes them to actually seem inviting. She shows us that as we dip ourselves repeatedly into the things we wish we could change or escape or skip, these sacred, mundane things are the waters that God uses to make us clean and whole.

Kari Patterson is a great writer with a passionate message. I highly recommend this book, either for yourself or your small group (men and women). Also, don’t miss the nine week Bible study, included in the back. 

For a chance to win a FREE copy of Sacred Mundane, leave a comment either on the blog or social media. Winner announced August 21. 


Kari Patterson reaches thousands of women worldwide through speaking events and her popular blog, Sacred Mundane. She’s a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, Bible teacher, mentor, and passionate seeker of truth. 

Sacred Mundane was released in July, 2017 by Kregel Publications (my publisher!). All royalties from the sale of this book will benefit World Vision’s work with women and children in need.

And the Winner Is….

Congratulations to…

Shirley Strait!!!

Shirley, my publicist from Litfuse Publicity Group will be in touch via email with details on how to claim your prize. You can also email your mailing address to info@litfuse.com.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the giveaway. It was fun. A special thanks to everyone who participated in the blog tour! I so appreciate the time and energy you put into your careful reviews!!! (Read reviews here, or on Amazon here.)

If you didn’t win, and would like to get the book, here are some options for you:

  • Amazon:
  • CBD.com: Currently in stock for $10.99.
  • Barnes & Noble: Currently in stock for $14.99
  • Kregel: My publisher will cover your shipping cost if you use code (CG17) when you call customer service at 800-733-2607.
  • Here. Order from me here. Today only, get $5 off the Combo Pack (which includes our coloring book and a sampler pack of meditation cards), using code: (jesusgirl5).

Control Girl Quiz

Have you taken the Control Girl Quiz yet? Have you invited your friends to take the quiz?

Over 12 weeks, I’ll be unpacking the quiz, question by question. This past Monday was the first post, titled, “Control Girl Quiz: Do you struggle with anger?

Also over the next 12 weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of your stories in a series titled “Control Girl to Jesus Girl”. You can listen to Elizabeth’s story here (most of the stories will be written, but we videoed Elizabeth at our Baker Book House release party.) If you’re interested in sharing your story with me of how the Control Girl message is changing you, I’d love to hear from you! Use the contact form below.

Other Resources

Have you checked out the other resources?

Thanks again for all of your enthusiasm and support on this project. I am so excited about what God has already and will continue to do through this book! Please feel free to contact me using the form below. I’d love to hear from you!

The most important thing, though, isn’t winning prizes or selling books. The most important thing is transformation. We don’t want to be Control Girls forever. Let’s head in a new direction, shall we? Let’s be Jesus Girls!!

Love,

 

A “Birth Announcement” for my Book!

It’s here! It got to hold my book in my hands for the first time this week!

It feels like an eternity ago, when I first announced my book’s “due date” to you, as I compared writing a book to having a baby. And now, as I held my brand new book, I felt a bit like a new mom, counting all of the fingers and toes! I checked the back cover… I looked at the spine… I took a ridiculous number of pictures and shared them on Instagram…. I held my book lovingly and felt its weight in my hands…

What a labor of love this book has been, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Here’s a facebook video of me, sharing a little about the book:

 

I’d love for you to consider Control Girl, either for yourself or your group. We have lots of free resources, including a FREE Discussion Guide, for you at ControlGirl.com. (Use the dropdown box under “Control Girl”.)

If you’d like to help me spread the word about the book, here are some things you could do:

  • Share the video or this link with a friend!
  • Share this post, or a link to the book on social media or via email! You could say, “I’m interested in this book and thought you might be, too.”
  • Pass information about the book to your women’s ministry director. Please let her know I’d be happy to answer questions, or help in any way I can!
  • Invite me to speak at your church or your group. I’d love to share the message of Control Girl with your group!
  • Pray! God is ultimately in control of how far and wide this book goes, and He loves it when we pray for Him to move!

My ultimate hope, as I write and speak on the topic of control, is for women to be taken with Jesus. I long for us to be enticed with the sweetness of surrender (rather than bound by the futility and frustration of trying to control everything)! My passion is for us to go from Control Girls to Jesus Girls.

God is in control! That means we don’t have to be. Isn’t that good news???

Control Girl

Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible is available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Barnes & Noble.

Information & Resources

How the Book is Arranged
Free Discussion Guide
Companion Coloring Book
Schedule a Video Chat with Shannon
Invite Shannon to Speak
Control Girl Meditations
Printable Control Girl Labels
Contact Shannon

How the Book is Arranged

This book is designed the book to work well, both for the individual, and for groups. (See a note to leaders.) Control Girl divides each chapter into “lessons”, which allow the reader on a time budget to engage a complete train of thought as she reads the chapters part-by-part. Each lesson begins with a correlating Bible passage, and ends with several application questions, and a meditation. (Download FREE meditation cards here.)

There are nine chapters in the book:

  • 1 Path of a Control Girl
  • 2 Eve: It Looked Good to Me
  • 3 Sarah: It’s Up to Me
  • 4 Hagar: Out from Under Her Control
  • 5 Rebekah: Standing in for God
  • 6 Leah: Invisible and Unloved
  • 7 Rachel: When She Has More
  • 8 Miriam: Taking the Lead
  • 9 Control Girl to Jesus Girl

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Free Discussion Guide for Leaders

Leaders, thanks so much for considering this book for your group’s study! Please consider downloading the FREE Discussion Guide  which will help draw your women into meaningful discussion centered on God’s Word, as you work through the book together.

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Companion Coloring Book

Reflections on Surrender is an adult coloring book, filled with truth about control, ourselves, and God–messages that closely correlate with Control Girl.

While you don’t have to work through the Bible study to enjoy the coloring book, the two do complement each other nicely.

The original artwork in Reflections on Surrender was done by  Janyre Tromp (who, by the way, was also the editor for Control Girl). We hope that as you add color and design to the artwork, you’ll also soak your heart in the truth on each page.

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Schedule a Video Chat with Shannon

 Shannon loves to connect with long distance groups using her materials, using video conferencing. If you’d like to invite Shannon to connect with your group, please use the contact form below. If you are part of a West Michigan group (within 15-20 minutes of Grandville, MI), Shannon would love to stop in and meet your group! Please use the contact form below, to check on her availability.

Also, Shannon would love to add your group’s picture to her prayer list! You can email it to her at shannon@shannonpopkin.com.

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Invite Shannon to Speak

Shannon loves to serve churches and groups in any way needed. She offers herself as a speaker for events or weekend retreats. Shannon’s Control Girl Retreat is a great way to kick off the book study for your group. Please connect with her if you’re interested in any of these options using the comment form below.

Please visit Shannon’s speaker page for more detailed information on her speaking ministry.

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Control Girl Meditations

At the end of each lesson in the book is a “for meditation” section. Our hope is to help women build a bridge between what they say is true (God is in control) and how they actually live (as though they have to control everything).

But we want to make it easier yet! By using either the “Control Girl” tab at the top of this page, or clicking here, please find a set of  FREE downloadable meditation cards, arranged by lesson (sampler pack available now). You can print these as 4×6 cards or photos, or you can share and save them digitally–all for free!

Also on this page, find some guidance and ideas for how to use the cards.

Chapter Meditation Printables

Here’s another resource for either individuals or group leaders. For each chapter, we’ve created a printable page with that week’s meditations. You can use these for your own personal meditation and review, or to help with group discussion.  We hope that these will be a useful resource and a blessing to you!

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Printable Control Girl Labels

In the introduction for the book, Shannon suggests keeping a journal of your personal responses to the application questions at the end of each lesson.

Just for fun, here are some labels that you can print off for the cover of your group’s journals (or feel free to use them however you like!). 

Here’s a pdf that will work for Avery (or off brand) 2 x 4 inch labels, 10 per page:

2 x 4 Inch Labels Control Girl to Jesus Girl 2

(Or save the jpg above to print a single label).

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Contact Shannon

Dear Friends,

Thanks for considering Control Girlalong with our various other companion resources. My hope and desire is that each of us might leave behind the weak-hearted, selfish ways of the Control Girl, and little-by-little, become Jesus Girls instead.

Warmly,

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For release information about the book and occasional updates from Shannon–along with subscriber-only freebies and giveaways, sign up here:


 Email Address


 

The Clean Sweep of Gospel Confession

I’m thankful for the chance to be one of the bloggers at TrueWoman.com, which is where this post first appeared

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There’s a story from my college days that I’ve been notorious for. It goes like this: One day at the mall, I noticed a guy walking beside me, wearing a Michigan sweatshirt. Since I’m from Michigan and went to school in Virginia, I always enjoyed meeting people from my home state. So I said, “Are you from Michigan?”

He said, “Uh . . . yup.”

“Really? Me, too!” I said with enough enthusiasm to make up for his lack. “Which part of Michigan?”

He said, “Uh . . . Grand Rapids.”

And I said, “Really? Me, too!

Suddenly it dawned on me that I was not in Virginia, connecting with a fellow Michigander. It was Christmas break, and I was home. I was in Grand Rapids.

Quickly, I turned on my heel and walked the other direction, leaving Mr. Michigan sweatshirt, no doubt, muttering, “The things a girl will do to strike up a conversation.”

It was a great story. Everyone loved it. Wherever I went, people would say, “Have you guys ever heard Shannon’s Michigan sweatshirt story? You’ve got to hear it.” And I would tell it again. There was just one problem: The story wasn’t true. It never happened.

It almost happened. I really was in the mall, walking next to a guy wearing a Michigan sweatshirt. And I did momentarily forget that I was in Michigan. And I did almost ask, “Are you from Michigan?” But I caught myself, then chuckled over how funny it would have been if I had actually asked that.

That night, when I was with a group of friends, I told the story as if it had happened. It was funnier that way. And so the lie began.

I don’t recall when I started regretting the story, but I do remember cringing when someone told it at our wedding. And I remember feeling sick when my new husband and I promised to never keep anything from each other. There were a number of occasions when I laid awake, feeling so guilty after having told the story to yet another group of friends. I even tried to convince myself that it was true. It could have been true. It felt true! But of course, it wasn’t.

It certainly wasn’t the only lie I’ve ever told or the only story I’ve embellished (especially as a child!). But because I had lied so publicly and so repeatedly, I felt a deep sense of shame. It was my secret, and I hated it.

Coming Clean

Last summer, on our way to church, my husband and I were talking to our kids about integrity. Someone had stretched the truth, and there were consequences. Trying to stress the gravity, I said, “Kids, lying is a difficult habit to break. If you tell a lie, the best thing to do is confess it right away, and be free of it.” As I said this, God brought the familiar pang of conviction over my sweatshirt story. But this time, I decided to do what I was urging my children to and come clean.

There in our van, I confessed my secret. My kids had grown up hearing the story, but I now revealed the truth. I spoke the confession that had been corked up in my heart for so long and then let the tears spill.

Afterward, my husband reached over to squeeze my hand. There was compassion in his voice when he said, “It’s okay, honey. You didn’t have to worry about telling me. I forgive you.” Then he led our kids in prayer, thanking God for my confession, and asking Him to help us all to tell the truth—especially after we’ve first told a lie.

Three Lessons on Sin

In retrospect, I notice three lessons about sin, tucked into my experience with the sweatshirt story.

1. Sin entraps.

I never intended for the story to go as far and wide as it did. I thought I would share some humor with a few friends, then move on with no consequence. But that little story grew into something ugly that followed me for twenty-five years. It was a sin I didn’t want to continue participating in, yet I felt trapped. And what was holding me hostage? Shame.

2. Shame magnifies.

After confessing my sin of lying, I realized how silly it was that I never did so before. I had been so ashamed of what people would think or say if I told the truth. Yes, lying—like all sin—is serious and wrong. And yes, embellishing can quickly turn into counterfeiting, fraud, or perjury, so it’s best to take our sin very seriously. But shame doesn’t help us rid ourselves of sin. Instead, shame inflates sin—making it bigger and bigger in our minds. The only thing that can puncture our shame and set us free is the needle of confession.

3. Confession frees.

I was surprised by how freeing it was to confess my sin to my family that day in the car. Why had I held on to my façade for so long? It makes no sense, really. By claiming to be a Christian, I’ve already exposed myself. I’ve let the world know that my heart was so wicked, it took the slaughter of Jesus to clear my guilt. In his book Tempted and Tried, Russell Moore puts it this way: “I am crucified with Christ. My corpse is hanging in the sun, publicly marking me as a sinner, worthy of death. Why then, would I try to cover the fact that I’m a sinner?” (p. 174).

Shame bullies me into hiding my sin, but Jesus invites me to swing wide the door of confession and let the light of the gospel in to sweep my heart clean of sin. When I confess my sin, I simply restate what I’ve already said is true: I am a sinner, saved by grace.

Friend, don’t be entrapped by some longstanding habit or past sin. Don’t let shame hold you hostage. Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Won’t you let the light of the gospel sweep your heart clean today?

What sin have you kept covered? How can you puncture your shame by confessing your sin? To prepare your heart for confession, draw a picture of the cross, with your hidden sins written in big letters on it. Remind yourself that Jesus has already cleared you of guilt.

When Dad says, “Sure,” and Mom says, “No way!”

400x400 When Dad Says Sure

This was first published on the Dove Parenting Blog (minus the faith perspective, which I will include here.)

When our son was in elementary school, I walked down to the basement to find him snuggled on the couch next to Daddy, watching a war movie. “What are you doing?” I asked my husband in exasperated tones, “He’ll have nightmares for weeks!”

My husband disagreed. Since it was a Civil War movie, he argued that kids our son’s age were there, watching the battles in their own communities. Snatching the remote from my husband’s hand, I said, “Well, if we had a war in our town, I’d be focused on protecting our kids; not entertaining them with it!”

Ten years later, my perspective on little kids’ watching war movies has not changed, but my perspective on parenting has.

In many marriages, one parent is more protective than the other. That happens to be me, in ours. And even though our kids are now teens, this hasn’t changed. My husband is still the one who shrugs and says, “Sure,” when the kids want to go running after dark or drive long distances alone. And I’m still the one who says, “No way!”—especially when it comes to questionable entertainment.

As two parents, who completely disagree on what our kids should be allowed to do, how can we operate as a united force? And as two Christians, trying to build a godly home, how can we embrace our roles as husband (loving leader) and wife (submissive helper) when we disagree?

Here are three guidelines that help me, when I disagree with my husband on parenting choices:

1.     It’s okay that we disagree.

Two parents who both love the same set of kids can provide a checks and balance system to parenting. We’re probably both more right together than we are on our own. So it’s okay that we disagree, as long as we’re willing to work toward a decision that we mutually agree upon.

If couples never disagreed, we would need no instruction for wives to submit and husbands to lead. (Eph. 5:22-23) There is no sin in disagreeing, or seeing things differently. The sin comes when we neglect our roles; when a wife insists on bullheadedly taking control, or when a husband deflects his responsibility to protect his family with good decisions.

Disagreements should be expected, especially in parenting. It’s our response to disagreements that is key. Will we selfishly insist on our own perspective? Or will we operate as partners, and help each other grow?

2.     Welcome my marriage partner’s input.

I meet many wives who complain that their husbands are too passive. But often times, these same wives are the ones who admit that they have control issues. When a wife marches in and clicks off the TV in the middle of whatever movie Dad just rented for the kids, it doesn’t invite his future input. And when a husband brushes off his wife’s concerns and takes his teens to see the rated R movie she was protesting, it doesn’t invite her input, either.

Husbands and wives, we are better together. If our kids are blessed with two capable, loving parents, this is to their advantage! We should invite input, rather than veto each other without discussion.

3.     Be respectful.

Without respect, a parenting discussion (which should happen privately, by the way)  is sure to go sideways—especially over something as emotionally charged as protecting our kids. Respect is displayed through tone of voice, letting the other person finish a thought, and truly listening. (Not snatching the remote and saying, “No way!”)

Validate that your spouse loves your kids as much as you do. Admit that you might be too lenient or too protective. Talk about how to compromise, and pray together for wisdom. Then respect your spouse enough to stick with whatever you agreed upon.

We probably won’t get every decision right, as parents. But we’ll do a far better job of parenting in a balanced, thoughtful way if we do it with a partner. God designed it to work that way.

Are You Scoffing or Celebrating?

What Does My Godliness Celebrate- Back when my kids were much younger and still rode places with me, I asked them a question one day. We were driving down a long road, and the car was quiet, and so I said, “Guys, What is the thing you most love to think about when it’s quiet? Where does your mind drift? What are you hoping you’ll get more time with when your work is done? What is that thing that you crave–that you think will make you most happy?”

Cade, who was six, started to give his answer out loud, but I said, “No, no. Just think about it in your mind.”

Glancing at them through the rear view mirror, I imagined them trying to decide between video games, legos, and movies. I let the quiet linger in the car, but then I released the clincher.

“Ok, do you have your answer? Have you decided what you love most?” I said. “Was your answer God? Because He says that we should love Him most. If your answer was something else, God says that is wrong. He calls that other thing an idol. Anything we love more than God is an idol.”

I had a sense of satisfaction. I had buried them under a thick layer of conviction. I just knew it.

Cade said, “But, wait. My thing that I picked was…. Daddy.”

Bless his sweet little heart. I presumed he was dreaming of Lego knights and Mario Bros! But as a son, Cade knew that it couldn’t be wrong to want more time with his Daddy.

A Pharisee’s Heart

In Luke 5:27-35 some Pharisees show up at a party. Levi has just left his tax collecting business and plans to follow Jesus now. So he has invited all of his friends, and made Jesus the guest of honor. He did not, however, invite the Pharisees.

Jesus went out to respond to directly respond to the Pharisees, who were grumbling about Jesus dipping his hand in the same bowl with these nasty sinners. But Jesus said, “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, for I have come to call sinners to repentance.”

The Pharisees scoffed at this. They said, “It doesn’t look like repentance happening in there! When John the Baptist called for repentance, his disciples fasted and prayed. Your followers are in there partying!”

But Jesus said, “Why would they not be? I’m here!”

Levi had just left a sinful way of making money. He felt more free than ever before. He was excited about Jesus. So he threw a party! And Jesus showed up, not to make some sinful people feel less judged. He showed up because Levi’s new faith was worth celebrating!

But the Pharisees didn’t think so. According to them, Jesus should have declined the party invitation. Why? Sinners were there. Never mind that one of these sinners had become a Jesus follower. Never mind that Jesus was the guest of honor. The Pharisees had turned godliness into a list of things you didn’t do and people you didn’t associate with, rather than a relationship worth celebrating.

What am I celebrating?

Sadly, this is often the mistake I slip into. Like that day in the car. I was interested in showing my kids what they shouldn’t do, shouldn’t love, and shouldn’t think of as an answer to my question. But had I invited them to celebrate anything? Christians are the ones who should be celebrating! We are healed of our sin disease. We are free–both of any coming consequences and it’s current bondage!

Yes, there is a place for fasting. Fasting helps us clear away the cravings for sin, which should not be celebrated. It helps us focus on our Lord and look forward to the day that we will enjoy a celebration in honor of all He has done! But as Christians, we have much to celebrate. One day, we will dip our hand into the same bowl as God, Himself. We are friends of God. Our relationship with Him satisfies our every craving.

What better picture of this than a little boy dreaming of more time with his Daddy? Longing to spend more time with him and knowing that nothing will make him more happy? That’s how Levi felt about Jesus. He would have given up anything just to be with the Lord. He had quit his job! And not because he felt convicted by a command to put God first and have no idols. Levi left everything behind because he wanted to follow Jesus more. And now he was celebrating his decision! He was celebrating his new relationship with Jesus.

So that day in the car, after I delivered the clincher to my children, it was I who was convicted. God, keep me from having the heart of a Pharisee–always deducing godliness to a list of things not to do. Help me to be like a child, just craving more time with you; celebrating that I am your friend; amazed that my sin disease has been healed. You are my guest of honor, dear Jesus. May I always live in celebration of You!

2016: For Such a Time as This

2016-I live in a time when machines do my laundry, gasoline gets me where I’m going, and an empty bin in the produce aisle seems odd.

I live in a place where the flick of a switch gives me light and the twist of a handle gives me clean water.

I live in a world of convenience, packaged with lots of margin.

As a little girl, I went to church happily on Sundays, with parents who loved God and never worried about reading me Bible stories next to an open window.

As a school girl, I went to kindergarten on the government’s dime, completely expecting to earn a diploma–which I did.

After graduation, I went to college, traveled, read, and listened to pastors, speakers, and apologists. I learned to think. I learned to see. I learned to contrast the ugliness of sin with the piercing purity of God’s Word.

As a young adult, I was deeply stirred to change the world. I was idealistic and strong. I had answers and deep hope in God.

As a young teacher, I gained a husband who loved me, loved God, and became my partner in life. Together, we were sure we could change the world.

When our babies were born, we learned that we were selfish and weak, and had far less control than we thought. We felt like children, ourselves–thankful for a Father who doesn’t give us everything we ask for, and who gave us each other to hammer out the sharp edges in our hearts.

When our kids were little, I spent my specks of free time writing; blending hope with struggle. When my thoughts were published in magazines, my confidence emerged. I smiled widely at new opportunities to write and speak.

When the internet began replacing ink, I found that my words could travel further. I started a blog and loved making new friends. I shared Jesus in stories about simple life.

After my last child began riding the bus, my husband smiled on my plans to use a quiet house and a little laptop to reach out to the world. He never made me feel as though the hours spent arranging words were wasted.

Then social media arrived on our planet and changed life as we knew it. I had new ways to connect with people and share hope and truth.

Now that my kids have grown taller than me, I see life’s preciousness and precariousness with new clarity. I’ve had twenty-five years of adulthood to watch the fingers of sin and corruption spread into the lives of people I know and love. I hate the devastation. I long for light to triumph over darkness. I have even more urgency to spread hope and truth.

And now I see that it was all selected for me, by God. This era. This nation. This family background. This education. This husband. This creativity. This passion. And this tool–a screen facing people across town and across the world. It’s all from Him!

I would be wrong to shrink back, pinned by feelings of inadequacy. I would be wrong to let distractions keep me from my calling. I would be wrong to allow fear to steal my passion. God is the one who put the pen in my hand and the words on my tongue! If I stop speaking and writing, words of hope for God’s people will arise from another place. And who knows but that God has placed me before this laptop, and before each microphone I face, for such a time as this?

So here I am, Lord. Send me. Send me!

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Parading Behind What’s-His-Name

Parading BehindWhat's-His-NameBack when Cole was in second grade, our friend Nate ran for State Representative. Nate invited our family to join a group of friends walking with him in the 4th of July Parade, and we accepted the invitation.

We had never walked in a parade before! As we lined up, and put on our matching red t-shirts that read, “Nate 4 State”, Nate gathered our group together. He thanked us for walking with him, and said all we needed to do was smile, wave, and pass out candy.

But about a quarter of the way through the parade, Cole decided to step things up a notch. He became the self-appointed town crier. As Nate weaved from one side of the road to the other, shaking hands and introducing himself, Cole ran behind him. He would point at Nate and yell to the crowds, “This is Nate! Vote Nate for State! Nate for State!!” (See him, there in the blue shorts?)

He had an absolute blast, running along behind Nate. And I had fun watching his passionate personality emerge in the face of the crowd.

As we drove home that day, Cole said, “I really like that guy. What’s his name? Mr. Veerman?”

“You mean Nate?” I asked. “Mr. Vriesman?”

“Yeah, Mr. Vriesman,” said Cole. “I really like him.”

This made me laugh. How can you run behind a guy for a mile, urging hundreds of people to vote for him, and yet not know his name? We love Nate, and consider him a friend. We’d vote for him every time, and even march in another parade with him if he ran for office. But our family knowing Nate wasn’t the same thing as Cole knowing him personally.

This is the mistake I think we often make with Jesus. We think that because we’re part of a family, or another group of people who love and promote Jesus, we know him. But we know him in a “what’s-His-name” sort of way; not personally–which puts us in grave danger. Christ says that there will be those who worked His campaign–marching and waving banners in his name–who are turned away from the entrance to heaven. They will say, “Lord, didn’t we do mighty works in your name?” ie: Didn’t we wear a Christian t-shirt and march in a parade? Didn’t we go on missions trips? Didn’t we invite friends to Christian concerts? 

But Christ will say, “Away from me, I never knew you.” (Matt. 7:21-25) My friend Chris Brauns, says that nothing scares him more as a pastor, than to think that there are people in his own congregation who think they are going to heaven, yet aren’t. It should scare us, too.

Campaigning for Jesus as a stranger, even earnest campaigning, is pointless. Jesus isn’t as interested in gaining our endorsement as He is in gaining our friendship. He died on the cross to absorb the punishment and offense for our sin, so that the barrier between us us and God could be removed! He did this because He wants to know us. He wants us to know Him. Personally.

When Jesus says, “Depart from me,” it will only be to the people who don’t know him.

Do you know Jesus? Consider carefully, for there is no greater question in life. Eternity hinges on your response.