Teach me, Lord
the way I should go
I will follow You
so peace I’ll know
Show me, Lord
the things I should do
I’ll rely on Your Spirit
so my errors are few
Teach me, Lord
the way I should go
I will follow You
so peace I’ll know
Show me, Lord
the things I should do
I’ll rely on Your Spirit
so my errors are few
It’s been three weeks since I went to the Faith & Culture Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since, but with the NaPoWriMo challenge and other responsibilities I just didn’t have time.
But I’m glad I waited, because if I’d written this post two weeks ago I probably would have simply listed bullet points of what some of the speakers said. While that may be useful and interesting, because they said a lot of profound stuff, it wouldn’t get to the heart of what I learned. In the past few days, I’ve been pondering what I truly learned from my conference experience and that’s what I want to share today.
First, I learned to listen to God’s nudges to do something even if it makes no sense. He has a plan and blessings will ensue if I am obedient.
The first day of the conference I wasn’t sure which breakout session to attend during the first set of breakouts. I had tentatively decided ahead of time to attend one that I thought I should go to and that looked interesting. But that morning I felt a strong nudge to attend a session titled Christ-Centered Editing led by Leanne Sype. It seemed ridiculous to me because I know about editing. At work, I live and breathe editing, am familiar with style guides and grammar resources, and know the importance of having someone else edit your writing. But the nudge was strong so I went with it.
It didn’t take me long into the session to realize I was in the right place. Leanne was a wonderful presenter who talked not about the mechanics of editing, but rather about a number of books she had the privilege to edit. The titles of those books spoke to me. Her focus on Christ-centered big-picture editing of those books was spot on.
Leanne talked about not writing or editing to sound like someone else who is a great writer, but rather to find my own God-given voice. It requires surrender to Christ when I write, staying tuned to Christ so my nature voice will emerge in my writing. In my notes I wrote, “Organized, linear, logical is my voice.” Turns out this is what I needed to hear.
The real blessings from my obedience to that nudge came later. Blessing one was when, in a session by Bob Welch the next day, Leanne sat next to me and we had a wonderful conversation. I found out she was a delightful person with fears and insecurities, just like me.
Then, the following week when I received my score sheets for the essay contest, I discovered that she was one of my judges. She gave me awesome, encouraging feedback and a good score. She affirmed that my organized, linear, and logical way of writing resonated with someone and was an encouragement to trust God. Her feedback, coupled with the less-than-positive scores and feedback of the other two judges, reminded me that my writing, my voice, will not resonate with everyone. But God will take my writing where it will be an encouragement and those who flat-out don’t connect with my writing shouldn’t discourage me from writing what God wants me to say.
Second, I learned to listen to God’s nudges to do something even if I really don’t want to do it. When I registered for the conference, I signed up to meet with an editor from a mid-sized publishing house. I had a plan to pitch to him a daily devotional on being fearless. I began working on the book proposal, but I struggled with writer’s block.
God began nudging me to pitch a different book—my memoir. I did not want to write my memoir, at least not yet, and I told God so. The nudges continued and my conversation with God about the subject ended with “Fine, I’ll write a book proposal!” I sat down at my computer to work on that book proposal and the words fairly flew onto the page.
I was still conflicted because the publishing house I had the editor-appointment with doesn’t publish memoirs; they do a lot of devotionals and other types of books, but not memoirs. I decided I would just talk to the editor about the two projects and get his feedback, without expecting him to have any interest in either book. But as I prayed for direction, I felt uneasy about this plan. I knew the editor was at the conference with the hope of finding a new book idea that he could get behind, and I would be wasting his time just seeking advice.
The Tuesday before the conference, as I prayed, I felt a new nudge. “You could sign up for a second appointment with another editor or agent,” the Lord said. So that’s what I did. I signed up to meet with an agent, who I later learned specialized in memoirs.
The blessing came when the editor and the agent independently suggested that I combine the two proposals. The editor told me that daily devotionals are not selling that great these days, perhaps because there are so many on the market. However, a book about overcoming fear written in a memoir style would fit into a popular trend. Then he told me to email him a revised book proposal for a book along those lines. (There was more to his suggestion, but I don’t want to reveal too much about my current book idea just yet.)
If I had walked into the appointment with the agent with only the devotional proposal, I don’t think the current book idea or the editor’s offer to consider my book proposal would have happened. Because I was obedient to God’s nudge to write a proposal for my memoir even though I didn’t want to, I was blessed by this new direction and opportunity.
There is more that I learned at the conference, but this blog post is already long enough. Perhaps I’ll share more another day.
While I was taking a break from blogging I missed a number of Form For All lessons at dVerse Poets Pub, so I decided yesterday to go check out the lessons I had missed to see if there was a new poetry form I could try. Sam Peralta—one of my favorite dVerse teachers—offered a lesson on the Japanese poetry form called the sedoka that consists of two tercets with lines of 5, 7, and 7 syllables each. Sam wrote, “The poem’s two verses usually provide two perspectives on the theme, with a sharp division after the third line, and a soft turn after line five, before the conclusion.” I decided to give it a try with one of my favorite themes.
Savior, then Lord
He died on the cross
Saving the souls of mankind
A free gift of salvation
We accept His gift
But this is not quite enough
For true change He must be Lord
I could just have easily titled this post God’s Timing Is Perfect, but I want to focus on the real lesson I learned from a recent encounter with God.
Starting about two months ago, every time I would hear the song Beautiful by Mercy Me I would think of a friend and feel a nudge from the Holy Spirit to email a YouTube link to this encouraging song to her. This happened seven or eight times in the course of two months. Each time I didn’t follow through. Until the last time when I replied to God is an exasperated voice (in my head), “Fine, I’ll send her the link.” And I did.
I sent the email on a Friday evening, then worried that maybe I shouldn’t have. I know this person is a Christian, but because of our relationship I wasn’t sure it would be well received. I should have known better with God involved.
On Sunday I received a reply email thanking me for sending the song link and saying that it held a message she needed to hear right then. “Sometimes timing is everything,” she wrote.
This is why I could have titled this little post God’s Timing Is Perfect. But what I learned from this is so much bigger. I learned that God knows me better than I know myself. He knew that I would not follow through on His nudge the first time it came, nor would I do so the second time. In fact, He knew it would take seven or eight nudges before I would throw up my hands in frustration and finally give in.
I believe that God’s hand was in this whole situation. Each time I heard this song it was part of a shuffled playlist on my iPod. My biggest playlist that includes this song has over 450 songs and the smallest has 178, so the odds that this one song would come up so many times were pretty amazing.
I had no idea when would be the right time to share this encouraging song, but God knew exactly when my friend would need it most and what He needed to do to make sure I shared it at that time.
And now I want to share this song with you all today as a reminder that you, too, are beautiful in His eyes.
For Lent, our pastor is sharing a sermon series based on our Christian toolbox. Last week we learned about forgiveness. This week the tool we were challenged to pull out of the toolbox is faith.
Hebrews 11 provides the best illustrations of faith. It is filled with stories of people who lived by faith – Bible greats like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua are all commended for their faith.
In each example, faith was not the end of the story. In each example, faith led to obedience to God’s call. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua all stepped out in faith and did exactly what God asked of them even if it seemed crazy.
Noah built an ark when it had never before rained. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son. Joshua commanded the Israelites to march around Jericho for seven days to make the walls fall. These Bible greats all acted in faith, believing that God would be faithful in return. But although each of these people was obedient, it is for their faith that they are commended.
God commands us to do good to others, to feed the hungry and heal the sick. He commands us to step out in faith in so many ways. But if we only step as far as we think we can in our own power it’s not really obedience, and we are not fueled by faith.
Many years ago when I was looking for a job, I saw a posting for a job opening that was two weeks old. It was only a part-time job, and I wasn’t going to apply, but I heard this voice in my head that said, “Just send in the resume.” I didn’t end up getting the posted job, which had already been filled when I sent in the resume. But I did end up being offered a full-time position with the same company as the managing editor of a legal newsletter. The 5 ½ years I spent in that job was the perfect experience for my current job as Director of Legal Publications.
If I had ignored that voice – the voice of the Holy Spirit prompting me to step out in faith – who knows where I would be working now. At the time, I really didn’t think I would ever have a full-time job again because of the many years of major depression I had gone through. It was only by the grace of God that I was able to not only step out in faith and take the job when it was offered, when I didn’t know if I could do it.
The wonderful thing is that when I stepped out in faith and was obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, God was faithful in return. But without faith I couldn’t have done it. At the time I trusted that God’s hand was in the situation and He knew what was best.
I know this seems a small thing compared to building an ark or marching around a city for seven days. But it is just one example of how stepping out in faith that leads to obedience can be a blessing.
So many people avoid church because they think they have to clean up their act and follow all the rules first. But these people have it backwards. To be fair, the problem may be that the church often looks down on these people instead of embracing them and telling them of the One who can clean up their act for them.
Rules and religion will never lead to Heaven or freedom from sin. Only knowing God through Christ Jesus will allow us to gain both.
My fellow blogger Pr. Bryan Lowe of Broken Believers posted on Facebook, “We must believe before we can really obey. If we flip the equation we will end up with nothing. That is scary.” I thought this quote was a perfect summation of what I was pondering writing in this post. It is certainly possible to obey somewhat and for a time without believing, without knowing Christ. But such obedience comes at the price of peace and is not clothed in freedom from sin.
I’ve been listening to Sanctus Real in my car lately, and one song in particular has me thinking about how knowing God through a relationship with Christ is the answer. “Til I Got to Know You” from Pieces of a Real Heart by Sanctus Real starts this way:
I tried perfecting myself
Would You love me more without my mistakes?
I tried not to ask for Your help
‘Cause I didn’t want to scare You away
Yeah, I was always worried I was going to let You down
Oh, I felt like I was standing in between the lost and found
‘Til I got to know You
I was out of place ’til You found a way to break through; it’s true
I was just a skeptic ’til I got to know You
When we try to obey on our own FIRST before we believe, before we know God, it is very hard. In fact, it is impossible. But when we seek to know Christ first and foremost, then He comes into our hearts and obedience becomes a joy. He sends His Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to guide us in righteousness, His righteousness.
Paul preached Christ and Him crucified because he wanted everyone to know God and to understand the depth of His love and mercy. Peter preached the Christ he had come to know and trust. People flocked to their message by the thousands. If we did the same in churches today, people would flock to Him once again.
Are you worried that you are unable to obey and that you will let God down? Are you avoiding church because you think you have to clean up your act first? Are you missing out on the love and mercy of Christ because you don’t know Him? If so, I invite you to pray right now and ask the Holy Spirit to make Christ known to you. Then go dust off your Bible, or go to Biblegateway.com, and read through the book of John. You will find Him and His love and mercy there. And when you know Him you will know Heaven and freedom from the bondage of your sin.
Last week I received the following quote in my daily Quotemeal from Heartlight.org. I really liked it and immediately copied and pasted it into a draft post for later writing. As I thought about what I would write for today, I was reminded of this quote.
It is not that we keep His commandments first, and that then He loves; but that He loves us, and then we keep His commandments. This is that grace, which is revealed to the humble, but hidden from the proud.
— St. Augustine of Hippo
I found this quote to be a wonderful summation of the Gospel. It is a great reminder that we cannot earn God’s love, we cannot earn salvation. God’s love always was and always will be available to us. His salvation is a gift that we do not deserve, but that our gracious God desires to give.
This quote is also a great reminder of the effect that a deep understanding of God’s abounding love and amazing grace has on the human heart. Such an understanding — sometimes referred to as “heart knowledge” — of God produces in the heart of the believer a profound appreciation for God’s saving grace. “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (NIV). This appreciation leads to a desire to show God’s love to others, and loving others is God’s greatest commandment after loving God Himself. Jesus said that these two commandments summed up all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:40.
It is a wonderful thing that God loves us first, because if we needed to keep His commandments before He would love us, we would all be lost. I am thankful that He first loved me, and that He has changed my heart.
The last part of this St. Augustine quote is also important. It is the humble, those who understand their need for a savior, who can understand the truth of God’s grace. But the proud refuse to admit that they cannot be good enough on their own merits. The proud believe that they can earn God’s love but that others who are not as good as them cannot.
Throughout scripture God has expressed His disdain for the proud and His love for the humble. “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” Proverbs 3:34 (NIV).
God’s grace is available to all, but pride prevents many from accepting His free gift, from even understanding how awesome it is. Humility is the lens through which you will find our Lord’s love.
We had a guest speaker in church on Sunday, and I really enjoyed his message. He spoke of the Gospel and how it is unique among the world religions. He noted that every other world religion is about “do this (obey), and then receive the blessing of God or the gods.” The Gospel, on the other hand, is about “receive this blessing from God (the gift of His Son’s sacrifice on the cross), and then you will want to do this (obey).”
He used a great illustration to demonstrate our situation and God’s response. He talked about his nephew, who is about 3, going out into a Portland “snow storm” at Christmas time to make a snow angel. The problem was that generally a Portland snow storm creates more mud than it does snow, and the little boy quickly was covered in mud. He tried to wipe the mud off, but his hands were unclean and so he ended up just smearing the mud all over. So what did he do? He began to cry and call for his dad.
Enter the dad, clean as can be and with towels for cleaning the little boy. Because he was himself clean and had the right tools for the job, he was able to get the poor boy cleaned up.
We are like the little boy. We are filled with sin, but are unable with our unclean hands to clean ourselves up. Hard as we try, we just make more of a mess. Other religions and self-help books offer as their only advice that one should work harder and pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps, to wash oneself clean. Then we will receive the blessings.
But when we cry out and call to our Father in Heaven, He comes in the person of His Son Jesus and washes us clean. When we are not able to cleanse ourselves (which is always, no matter how hard we try), God cleanses us from our sin and restores us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8.
Many mainstream Christian churches today are losing sight of this important truth. In an effort to be politically correct and all-inclusive, some churches have begun to teach that it is not necessary to know Jesus Christ as your Savior. So as not to offend anyone, some churches teach that Christ died for all people, even those who don’t believe. This teaching assumes that all religions are the same and lead to the same God.
But all religions are not the same. Humans have freewill and a right to choose what to believe, but that doesn’t mean all belief systems lead to the same place or the same God. A religion that requires one to follow all the rules in order to receive a blessing does not reveal the character of the God of Christianity. Our God blesses us because He loves us, not because we earn His blessing. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10.
Jesus warned His disciples, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” Luke 21:8. You have freewill, and can believe what you choose, but be careful that you are not deceived.
I have in my office a small deck of angel cards. Each card has a cartoon picture of an angel and a single word on it. Periodically (meaning at random intervals whenever I feel like it) I pick three new cards and place them face up on my desk by my computer monitor where I can easily see them.
I pick three for the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sometimes I have a specific issue in mind when I pick them, other times I just want three new words. There really isn’t a bad word among the lot and all tend to be “words to live by.”
Today I picked three new words: Obedience, Release, and Strength. I am pondering how to live by those words today and what help they can be to me (and maybe to you).
Obedience: This was the first word I picked, and so corresponds to the Father in the Trinity. The word obedience appears 21 times in the Bible according to my www.Biblegateway.com search. The word obey or obeyed appears another 223 times. Obedience to the Lord makes one prosper. 2 Chronicles 31:21. One who scorns obedience to his or her parents comes to an unpleasant end. Proverbs 30:17. The verse I likes most regarding obedience was 2 John 1:4-6:
It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.
Release: This was the second word I picked, and so corresponds to the Son in the Trinity. The word release appears 57 times in the Bible. One interesting section involves the release into the desert of the scapegoat upon which the sins of Israel were to be placed. Leviticus 16:22. This is an interesting forshadowing of what Christ would do for God’s people when He carried our sins to the cross. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue and reads a scroll from the prophet Isaiah, which He says is fulfilled in Him. Being one of the “oppressed,” I really like this passage:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Strength: This was the third word I picked, and so corresponds to the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. The word strength or strengthen appears 237 times in the Bible. Some of those references are to the strength of men, but more often it is God who gives strength. In Exodus is the song of Moses and the Israelites to the Lord: “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Exodus 15:2. One of my favorite New Testament passages is from Paul’s letter to the church is Ephesus, where he refers to the Holy Spirit as being the source of our strength. “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Ephesians 3:16-17
Obedience. Release. Strength. These are words to live by. When I use them to reflect on scripture and God’s plan for me, they become part of the Word of Life that gets me through another day.
I have the following poem hanging in my office. I don’t know who wrote it, or I would give them credit.
They may see the good you do
as self serving.
Continue to do good.
They may see your generosity
Continue to be generous.
They may see your warm and caring nature
as a weakness.
Continue to be warm and caring.
For you see, in the end,
it is between you and God.
It never was between you and them anyway.
So often we worry about what others think of what we do or what we say. But truly the only one that matters is God. For if we do what is right in God’s eyes, most of the time most people will see that we have done what is right. When they do, God will be glorified.
This poem reminds me of two great verses in the Bible:
Matthew 5:15-16 – “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
1 Peter 2:11-12 – “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
So never forget, it’s between you and God. If we all try to do what is pleasing to God, the world will be a better place.