Alright friends, now we get down to the technical stuff. The nitty gritty. So what is the Inductive Bible Study method? If you already know, fabulous! If you don’t, no worries. Most people I talk to, even those who grew up in the church, have never heard of it.
Inductive Bible Study is a strategy for approaching God’s word. It’s a technical term for an observational style of reading. The inductive strategy uses another fancy-pants theology word called “Exegesis” (go brag to your pastor afterwards that you learned a new vocab word). Exegesis literally means to look for or pull the explanation directly from the text, which in this case is Scripture.
Remember how I mentioned some books, devotionals, and message series are topical?
“How to Be a Better Parent!”
“How to Have More Faith!”
“Five Tips for Living Your Best Life!”
In those instances, the author or speaker already has a specific point to make and they find Scripture that backs up their topic. Or perhaps you’ve done a theme or word study before, looking up as many verses on “love” or “patience” or “fear” as you can. None of these things are inherently bad, they merely produce different results.
What the inductive method aims to do is to read the text, figure out what the text is communicating, and then determine what is to be learned from it. As opposed to saying, “I want to learn about love, let’s look up verses on love,” you might read the story about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Despite it being undignified in their culture for a man of status to run, verse 20 states: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
In this case, you observe the father’s great love and compassion for his rebellious son. And in noting this passage as a parable which intends to teach a lesson, you can deduce that the father’s love in the story therefore connects to the deep love God has for his people, even in their broken state. At that point, you can reflect and determine how that applies to your life today. Hence, why the Inductive Method can be referred to as an observational style as well.
We will discuss Genre, Context, and Application in more detail in the coming blogs, but for today, I wanted to provide you with a tool to begin using. There are much lengthier ones out there, and some that are more concise. This is the length I settled on using. Until you get used to the rhythm of noting the genre and context, observing, and then applying, it’s quite helpful.
Download it, print it off, and tuck it in your Bible. My challenge for you this week is to give it a try. Use the guide and just practice.
I wrote my first rough draft to this series 4 years ago. Four! I was perhaps newly pregnant with our youngest child. But in my typical perfectionist fashion, I tucked it away and sat on it.
Newly inspired, I polished it and planned to release it last Spring. Then COVID hit and all of our worlds flipped upside down. Just to add insult to injury, my computer crashed this summer, losing all of my documents from the past few years (yes, I know, quite the lesson in backing up files). Instead of picking myself up by the bootstraps and rewriting immediately, I wallowed in the loss of all my creative writings that were gone.
Well, after a good cry (or, ya know, three), I gave myself a good kick in the rear and started over. So let’s give this a go again:
For the past decade, I’ve had this growing awareness of something crucial; a bit of a crisis in the Christian church that needs remedying. At least from the numerous conversations I’ve had with other believers, I don’t think it’s merely a personal hunch. Many Christians do not read their own Bibles and don’t know what’s really in the Bible. As a culture, we’ve become great at reading Christian self-help books or devotionals that reference a Bible verse, but even finding a “Bible study” that reads the Bible directly can be challenging.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” -Psalm 119:105
Growing up, I went to church every Sunday for worship service and Sunday school, attended Wednesday night services, completed a discipleship class as a teen, along with a mission trip and other volunteer gigs over the years. Needless to say, I wasn’t a Christmas-and-Easter-only sort of a kid. Despite that, I missed how the Bible all connected. I could tell you about individual stories, could explain salvation, and knew a dozen memory verses. But to explain the Bible as a whole, well that was an entirely different level.
Churches became really good at teaching stories like Daniel in the Lion’s Den or Jonah and the Whale, and at teaching topical series that reminded us to “have more faith” or “how to have better relationships.” Maybe I missed something, but I never saw the big picture. I don’t think anyone within my church is to blame. I think I’m simply a product of the generation, of the cultural trend of the time, but suddenly a whole generation doesn’t know the Bible. If you’re reading this and thinking “actually Renee, my church or school really did help me understand it all,” consider yourself fortunate. You seem to be in the minority.
Why does any of this matter anyway? Boy, I’m glad you asked! There are a few significant reasons why reading the Bible shouldn’t be a task reserved for your pastor.
1. We’re starving ourselves of the lifesource the Bible provides.
We were made for fellowship with God. And one of the best and easiest ways to learn about and get to know our Creator God is by opening up the holy Scriptures. We actually cheat ourselves when we don’t take time to read it. Our souls become undernourished when we fail to read and know God’s word.
Christian authors, speakers, pastors, church leaders, and devotional books are all great tools and resources, but they should remain secondary to our own reading of Scripture. When we rely only on our church leaders and devotional books for all our information about being a Christ-follower, it’s really just second-hand faith. It’s as if we’re gleaning the crumbs off the ground instead of sitting at the table and biting into the very bread of life itself. You get a taste, but you miss out on the full sustenance God has to offer.
2. We become like lemmings with no discernment of our own.
I once worked with a middle-aged woman who was quite vocal about her faith. She confidently declared that she didn’t need to read her Bible; her pastor told her everything she needed to know. She was only the first of many I encountered who seemed to hold this same sentiment.
I wish it were not true, but in this fallen world in which we live, that can be a dangerous notion to live by. I’ve seen some pastors twist scripture in order to yield power, ones who lazily added hodgepodge verses to their preferred topical series, those who’ve taught some weird theology, and one who even referred to the words of Jesus as “Christianese,” as opposed to something which to regard with reverence. I’m sure we can all picture some televangelist out there who’s had more than suspect teaching.
We don’t need to end this blog feeling a sense of distrust toward our pastors and Christian leaders. Please don’t misunderstand my end goal. There are scores of phenomenal pastors, several of whom I am honored to know personally. But in a day and age where there are so many differing opinions being thrown out there, we need to know God’s word ourselves in order to have a compass with which to distinguish. Furthermore, humans make an awfully unreliable foundation, and it is unfair to put them in that position in the first place. When we raise up individuals on a pedestal, they are bound to fall and to fail us. Be careful not to replace God with false idols. There is nothing wrong with being guided by the teachings of Christian leaders; the problem begins when we elevate them as God instead of remembering they are merely a follower of God, doing their best.
“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”- 2 Timothy 3:16 (Msg)
When we don’t know God’s word ourselves, we lack the ability to discern. We may be swayed to follow our political party, our church traditions, or our family’s “way of doing things” without ever considering God’s heart on a matter. We may be tempted to spew hate instead of welcoming and loving our neighbor. We may even one day find ourselves carrying a “Jesus Saves” flag on the steps of the Capitol building, all the while acting in a way that does anything but reflect the heart of God.
3. Finally, and this might be the one I get the MOST excited about, when we fail to read God’s word, we miss out on the unending goodness and richness it has to offer.
Spoiler alert- some of the traditions I learned as a kid aren’t actually biblical. For instance, things about heaven and Revelation. I learned the cultural trend of the time; not the Biblical text. And before you go throwing stones at me for heresy, just bear with me- it’s actually better than you might think!
A couple of years ago I sat across from a woman who began to share during a small-group discussion in a New Testament Bible class we were attending. All her life she had grown up in the church and even attended Christian school. She fought back tears as she pointed at her Bible and said, “None of this is anything like I learned, but it is so much better!” It was as if her eyes had been opened to the message of the Bible and the extreme depth of God’s love for his people for the first time. It was life changing for her.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12-
Guys! That is what I don’t want you to miss out on! The Bible is like an onion: the more you peel back and learn, the more layers you find. It’s incredible! I remember a moment last year in a Bible study on Acts where a passage in Acts 3 meant something so much deeper to me because of something I learned the year prior (that will be an exciting blog to share later!). But we all have to start somewhere. Without understanding the greater context, the small moments and details won’t make sense. We aren’t going to be great theologians overnight. But you’d be amazed at the growth that happens with 10 or 15 consistent minutes a day. Little by little. Or, as a favorite pastor of mine likes to say, growth through “slow and steady faithfulness.”
I’m not here to slap anyone on the hand or make them feel shame. Quite the opposite! I’m hoping to enrich, educate, and empower. Many people don’t open their Bibles out of pure intimidation. Let’s be honest, it can be confusing, especially if no one ever taught you how to read it. Knowing how to study the Bible shouldn’t be a skill reserved for Bible students and theologians. Yes, there are amazing layers that can be delved into after one studies Greek or travels to the Holy Land themselves, but nothing about Christ’s saving message for all mankind should require a PhD to open up his Word. With a few simple tools, you can confidently read your Bible.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to teach you what I can from my humble wheelhouse (remembering that I am merely a servant of God myself; don’t go putting me on that pedestal).
Learn what Inductive Bible study is, what it means, and why it’s useful
Learn why Genre matters
Learn why Context matters
Look at the Bible from a bird’s-eye view to understand the BIG story, one big rescue story; the cliff notes version, if you will
Talk about using the Inductive method to apply passages to our life, and how to do it in the correct order
Look at tools I find helpful
Practice what we’ve learned and dive into some scripture
Discuss why the head to heart connection matters
If you’ve made it this far- a gold star for you! I hope that you choose to journey with me over the next few weeks to learn and grow as a consumer of God’s holy Word.
I find there are days when it feels like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Global pandemic, riots, political polarization, human trafficking, radical groups destroying our sense of security, people out of work and businesses forced to close their doors, friends struggling with anxiety and depression, kids in the community losing their battle with mental illness, infertility afflicting some couples and other mommas struggling to feed their children. I could go on, but in case I hadn’t already depressed you, I’ll stop while I’m ahead.
We want to be a light in the darkness. We want to help those around us. We want to bring about justice, but we’re completely overwhelmed by the weight of it all. There are times when the burden is just too much to bear.
Personally, I know there have been days where I’ve told God, “I just can’t do this. The burden is too hard to take.”
Several years back, I first read this story about Amy Carmichael. It resonated so deeply with me that now my mind is always drawn back during moments of complete overwhelm. If you haven’t heard the name Amy Carmichael, she was an inspirational missionary in India around the turn of the century and served there for over 50 years. Amy’s claim to fame was founding an orphanage and working with women and children. Most significantly, she worked to rescue young children who were either at risk to be, or had already been, sold to the Hindu temple priests. Due to customs at the time, these children would be used as temple prostitutes to honor the gods and to earn money for temple priests. Clearly detestable and absolutely heartbreaking.
In her book, The Gold Cord, Amy Carmichael writes about how she founded her ministry and orphanage, and the extreme challenges they faced. There is this moment in the book, just a few chapters in, that made me stop and reread it several times. Feeling utter defeat at losing some of the children they wanted to rescue from prostitution, and feeling helpless as to how to save any more of them, Amy writes that the burden was unbearable; it was too much to carry.
She walked outside and God gave her an image:
“At last a day came when the burden grew too heavy for me; and then it was as though the tamarind trees about the house were not tamarind, but olive, and under one of those trees our Lord Jesus knelt, and he knelt alone. And I knew that this was His burden, not mine. It was He who was asking me to share it with Him, not I who was asking Him to share it with me. After that there was only one thing to do: who that saw Him kneeling there could turn away and forget? Who could have done anything but go into the garden and kneel down beside Him under the olive trees?”
Don’t get distracted by the fact that you don’t know what a tamarind tree is. It’s simply an indigenous tree to that area, the same as me saying, “the trees about the house were not oak, but olive.” And the reference to olive trees is because in the Gospels, Jesus went out to the grove of olive trees and prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion. Amy is stating an important fact here: the burdens of the world are not meant to be carried by us! Our Lord knows that. He knows the world is ugly and full of treacherous things. The whole point of Jesus coming to this world as flesh and dying on the cross as our Savior is because he knows that! The entire Old Testament is clear proof that humans stink at being their own savior. We cannot do it. It’s too much for our capabilities. The burden is too much to take and it ends in failure each time.
But here is the beautiful part: God does invite us to partner with him.He does ask us to live as ambassadors for Him, which, simply put, means to reflect the King whom we represent. He welcomes us to intercede for the people, the community, the world around us.
In his classic book, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers discusses this same topic of becoming burdened when we try to do or fix things on our own: “We must distinguish between the burden-bearing that is right and the burden-bearing that is wrong.” He goes on to explain that God does put things on our heart to carry, but they are meant to be “rolled back” onto the shoulders of God. “If we undertake work for God and get out of touch with Him, the sense of responsibility will be overwhelmingly crushing; He takes away the sense of responsibility by bringing in the realization of Himself. ….the burden is lightened by the sense of companionship.” (from the April 13 devotional)
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
“The burden is lightened by the sense of companionship.” I love that. It is not this idea that because the burden is God’s, we do nothing. Rather, we can freely and weightlessly come alongside God and do the work he’s placed on our hearts. We can provide a meal to sick neighbors, get weekly take-out from a local restaurant trying to stay afloat, sing songs outside an assisted living facility, and write notes of encouragement to healthcare workers. We can purchase gifts through Women At Risk International, donate diapers for new mommas, or volunteer as a mentor at Love INC. We can be the first to extend kindness with those on the opposing side, do weekly check-ins with friends who are hurting, and pay for someone’s coffee.
We can lift up holy hands of prayer and ask for God’s mercy, all the while knowing that ultimately, this life rests in God’s hands. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus in our own sphere without carrying the weight of the world. The results are God’s business. Our job is to obediently follow where God leads.
So if you are finding yourself weary today because of the impending darkness in our world as of late, take heart that the burden doesn’t rest on us. God is still sovereign. He is still carrying us– even when things look bleak. He is still enacting his rescue plan and he will still bring about justice one day. I will continue to say this again and again: we are still in the waiting. The final day of restoration, where heaven meets earth and all things are made new, has not yet come. And while we wait, we can choose to partner with our gracious God. Not getting weighed down by the burdens, but coming alongside our Savior to intercede and to act on behalf of who or what is broken.
As for Amy Carmichael, despite a discouraging and uphill climb to start her ministry, she saved over a thousand children from futures that would have otherwise been filled with poverty or prostitution, even building both a school and hospital on their ministry site. She inspired future missionaries, including Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Her foundation still exists to this day, run by local Indians, and supports hundreds of people on over 400 acres.
Praise God that Amy didn’t throw in the towel when her task felt too daunting. Her story has served as a powerful reminder to me that while we may not be able to right every wrong today, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference and bring a little bit of God’s peace to this world. Stay strong and keep on rolling back those burdens. God hasn’t given up on us, so don’t give up on the world yet, either.
I wrote this well before I knew what all would enfold today. The message hasn’t changed. But friends, I think we all desperately need to hear it again. While some have been more guilty than others, I have seen it on both ends of the spectrum.
We have to let go of the hate.
Don’t take my word for it. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, listen to his words.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
What is a fairly common passage read in modern-day church from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this would have been radical teaching to its original Jewish audience. Levitical law taught to “love thy neighbor” and urged not to hold a grudge against their own people, but that didn’t entail outsiders and enemies. Old Testament scripture never explicitly says to hate enemies, but some Jewish sects taught that idea based on examples of pious Old Testament figures like David, who wrote about hating the wicked and those who aren’t following the Lord (Psalm 31:6, 119:113, 139:21). So it would have made perfect sense to the Jews to love their fellow Jews, but to hate the wicked outsiders, Romans, and Samaritans– or any non-Jew for that matter.
However, Jesus doesn’t just direct them not to hate their enemies, he goes so far as to say to love and pray for them! He’s asking them to love the dirty tax collectors who rip them off, the cult-like Samaritans living the next town over, and the domineering Romans impeding on their freedom. Jesus drives the point home by comparing his listeners to tax collectors and pagans if they don’t love in this way– “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of God here. The final Day of Restoration has not yet come, but Jesus’ coming as flesh initiated a call to kingdom of God living while we wait. He was calling these Jewish listeners to a higher form of living– “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If they are to be the salt and light of the earth, his people to spread salvation to the ends of the earth, they needed to live in such a way that reflected they were children of their holy and righteous heavenly Father.
So what does that mean for us? While the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture may differ from Western 21st century culture, our general challenges and struggles aren’t so different. Our lives are filled with political, moral, cultural, and social conflicts just as theirs were. And in the same way Jesus first called Jewish believers to spread the message of salvation through kingdom living, so we the church are called to do the same.
Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society?
Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society? Or do I blend in amongst the crowd? How do I react when political debates begin at a family party? How do I treat my neighbor that I’ve determined has the “wrong” yard sign? How do I respond on social media when someone posts an outrageous opinion? How do I treat the neighbors who move in down the road that don’t “fit in”?
Jesus is not saying that we roll over dead or stick our head in the sand to sin and evil. Other passages of scripture make it quite clear that he stands against wickedness. But he is calling us to a higher form of love; a love that rises above the worldly standard to only love those whose political views align with ours, share the same denomination, have the same color skin, or live in the right zip code. He is calling us to love in the way he has loved us, still covered in our filth of sin. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19
How can we engage with those who have hurt us or with whom we vehemently disagree? How can we shift our own hearts to begin to lift our enemies up in prayer instead of lifting up our noses? How can we begin to see our fellow humans through God’s eyes?
We may not be able to fix society on our own, but we can make a difference in our own sphere. We can control what we teach our children about those who “aren’t like us.” We can be the first to extend a humble hand of forgiveness. We can choose to speak with kindness even when we don’t feel like it. We can demonstrate outrageous, Christ-like, kingdom of God living right here, right now.
As it was those 2,000 year ago, Jesus’ call to love and pray for our enemies is radical. And yet it is this very form of radical love that reflects the heart of God and will ultimately bring about change.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35
Last week I shared my feelings with you. Not my sugar-coated, this has all been so fun feelings. But my sincere acknowledgement that some days have been hard. Some days have gone well, and sweet family memories were made. But other days everyone’s emotions have run high, and things have been….interesting…to say the least.
Now I want to turn to scripture to examine what we can do with all those “feels”— all those spiraling feelings.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, there is a poetic style of writing that shows up again and again when God’s people need to lay out their pain. They are songs of sorrow called “lament.” It shows up in books like Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Lamentations, and the minor prophets. Nearly a third of the Psalms are songs of lament. In these you will find a pattern of protest, petition, and praise. The authors lay out their sorrow to the Lord, then ask the Lord for help, and finally you will see an attitude of praise or trust based on their knowledge of what they know to be true of God.
In Psalm 22, King David, described as one after God’s own heart, but no stranger to pain, writes:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
By night, and am not silent.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.
In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed….
You who fear the Lord, praise him!…
For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one;
He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”
David presents his brokenness and humanity to the Lord, and with the frequency at which it appears in scripture, it does not seem to be something God frowns upon. In psalms such as chapters 13, 88, and 102, David asks the Lord to hear his cry, answer him, and restore him. Also take note at how David reflects on Israel’s history for assurance that his Lord is still to be trusted. If this same God was able to part the sea and provide food in the desert, surely David can trust him now.
A few years back I heard a sermon on lament where a pastor from Detroit referenced the 3 Rules of the Dysfunctional Family.
Lament, on the other hand, teaches us to feel, to talk, and to trust. Lament teaches us to bring our anxiety, our confusion, our questions, and our despair to God, rather than running away and withdrawing from him. It teaches us just how healthy it can be to cry out to God and lay out all that emotion; all those feels.
The key however, is not ending the conversation after “feel” and “talk.” We don’t merely unload and walk away. That’s when we remember the character of the God we serve. We remember that he is good and compassionate and just. We remember all the times in our lives he has already proved faithful. And because we can be confident in who he is, we can trust, even when we’re still in the waiting; the pain; the unknown. We choose to be like the psalmists, who take time to lament but ultimately choose to trust.
The truth is, we could probably each write our own song of lament at this point in time. We’ve all lost something. We’re all grieving. Whether it’s senior years, class trips, end-of-year goodbyes to our students, or sports seasons. Sisters’ weekends, family vacations, baby showers, or weddings. Maybe it’s lost wages and layoffs, postponed doctor’s appointments, hugging loved ones, or a sense of security……and maybe even your sanity.
While we wait in this unknown of how long and how bad, we can lean in to our Heavenly Father. On the especially bad days, we can accept those emotions and offer them up in petition. And then we can rest in the knowledge of a sovereign God who is big enough to handle both our feelings and this heartbreaking situation. We can echo the heart of David when he says,
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”
-Psalm 13: 5-6
And we can rest in the knowledge that we serve a God who is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
As for me, I’ve gotten it all out. I’ve had my moment and accepted the situation at hand (as much as one can, I suppose). I’ve asked the Lord for discernment and to help me bring a sense of peace to my little people at home. And I’ve raised up the white flag on homeschool. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns in my household. But with what now looks like a lengthy stretch that my children will be out of school, it’s what is needed right now. So by golly, if I have to homeschool, I’ll at least do it well.
Let’s continue to pray for each other. Let’s continue to feel the emotional ups and downs and not feel ashamed. Let’s continue to extend grace. Let’s continue to talk to one another and to our God. And always, always, let’s continue to trust him to carry us through. ❤
I already failed. A week in and I already failed. I said my biggest challenge would be not letting my kids drive me crazy and I’ve already been defeated. There may have been a few tears shed, and not just by the little people.
Being stuck at home with 3 tyrants for days on end is taxing. By the week’s end, I simply did not want to be around my kids anymore.
How is it that 10 days and counting of being stuck with mommy ALL THE TIME has made my kids want mommy MORE?! Thursday night my oldest was in full-blown tears because I wanted to take a 20 minute bath in solitude. Somehow she ended up sitting in the corner of the bathroom reading books while I took that bath so she “didn’t have to leave me.” Don’t judge me. Our defenses are all down. This same child has taken to crying at bedtime because she “misses mommy.” I only wish she’d give me opportunity to miss her.
The clinginess. The whining. I think I’m going to lose my mind. By the time my husband came upstairs from his remote office Friday night, I grabbed my plate of dinner, headed for our bedroom, locked the door, and rented a movie off Amazon. “You got the kids honey? Okay good- I’m going to go into a vegetative state now, thank you very much.”
He’s a good man.
With the belief that I can’t be the only one out there who feels this way, I’ll be the first to say: I didn’t want to homeschool. I still don’t want to homeschool. But as one mom commented to me, not only are we all suddenly thrust back into stay-at-home parenthood, we’ve also been tossed the task of create-your-own homeschool program. This may not be bad for those whose kids will happily read books all day or sit nicely for their virtual learning. Or for you blessed souls who actually enjoy homeschooling—on you, a special favor of the Lord must reside. But when you have a 7 year old who cries anytime you look sideways at her, a 5 year old with sensory issues that can haphazardly give you floppy body syndrome one day or hyper-active-crazy-man the next, and a toddler who is determined to out-annoy the entire household by poking, spitting, and flinging a lightsaber in your face with “I wanna fight you!,” it starts to grate on your nerves.
Not to mention a 5 year old who can beat anyone in a talk-a-thon with his incessant questions and wonderings. “Mom, why doesn’t the sun go around the earth?” “Mom, why do we only have one moon?” “Mom, why do they call it a Star Destroyer if it doesn’t look like a star?” “Mom, if I pray to Jesus will my nightmares go away?” “Mom, why do we have nightmares?” “Mom, why did Kylo Ren go to the dark side?” “Mom, why do spiders have silk?” “Mom, why is it called silk?” “Mom, what is silk?”
“Mom!” “Mom!” “Mom!”
No one believes the amount of mental energy this child drains from me until they spend a day with him. It’s a mental workout just to keep up with his spiraling, whirling, fantastical thoughts. My mind just wants to rest some days, friends! It just wants some peace and quiet.
Two weeks ago said 5 year old finally returned to school after 3 months of homeschooling him. It took everything in me on that first day of drop-off not to exit the school and break into song with, “Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day!”, with full-out leaps and twirls across the parking lot. Don’t worry, I refrained. Those days he was at school I had so much energy, even by mid-afternoon. I voluntarily told my husband he could work late one night to finish some projects. Fast forward to this extended stay-cation and I’m stalking outside our office door for any sign that his remote workday is over.
The honest truth is, it’s been one stinking, awful year, full of tears and trials and uncertainty and change. Just as a I’ve wrapped my mind around one thing, everything has changed. Just as I adjusted my entire routine and got the hang of homeschooling my middle guy, I was offered hope to have him finish out the school year at a nearby school who could assist with his sensory needs.
I was back in business, baby! I had put my life on hold for my child, but I was allowed to dream again. I was allowed a chance to think beyond the hours of my day being spent schooling my child. I got six days of freedom. Six sweet, glorious days of booting that boy out of the van and into school before the pandemic closed everything down.
So forgive me if I wanted to throw some expletives at the idea of homeschool last week. My brain had just rejoiced and settled on the idea of our new routine. And now we’re having to find a new one. Again.
The thing is, we’re all okay- physically speaking anyway. And so as I watch the news and hear of the awful devastation or know of loved ones being forced into lay-offs because of the government orders, I initially tried repressing all the emotions I felt last week out of complete guilt. Who am I to complain when so many people have it worse? How petty of me. How selfish.
But I’ve realized ignoring them altogether doesn’t help either.
God’s heart is breaking over the suffering the world is feeling right now, of that I’m certain. But he still cares about our hurts and our struggles and our daily challenges too. That’s what makes our God so marvelous. He’s the God of the big and the small. Just think about the loved ones in your life. Do you not care about the friend having a bad day because of the social isolation just as much as you do for the friend who found out they’ve been laid off? Their needs are different, but you love and care about both of them. Then think just how much more God cares too.
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” – Psalm 55: 22
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:7
Let’s just be honest, this whole situation is really hard. For everyone.
Everyone is feeling a sense of anxiety or uncertainty. Whether we’ve been directly impacted by sick loved ones and family working on the front lines, or for the first time in our lives, we’re concerned we’ll run out of bread and toilet paper.
The lie is that we shouldn’t feel scared or overwhelmed or anxious about everything happening if we follow God or if we don’t have it as bad as so-and-so. But the reality is, our walk with Jesus doesn’t shield us from life’s pain, and it certainly does not cease our human flow of emotion. Where our walk with the Lord should change things is in what we choose to do with the aforementioned emotions. Later this week, we’ll take a look at what we can learn from God’s word and how we can find peace in the midst of the swirling emotions.
Prayers and blessings to you all in this unbelievable time in which we find ourselves. May you each find bright spots to get you through the days and weeks. And will you please offer up prayers on my behalf that my children don’t get the best of me.
Our good moments from this week. I haven’t been a complete failure as a parent.
My how the events of the past few days have changed things. A week ago, my kids caught a stomach bug from school and I jokingly remarked at least it wasn’t Coronavirus. Now saying such a thing would sound highly inappropriate.
We’re doing okay in our household. We have food. We have toilet paper. We are fortunate enough to have employment that isn’t effected by all the closings. We do have a child with asthma, so we have to exercise extra caution there, but we’re all healthy so far. My biggest challenge is keeping my 3 kids from going stir crazy…and from driving me crazy! But considering the circumstances, I can barely complain about that.
However, I have kept thinking how can we be a blessing to others in all this? When there are suddenly ripples of panic spreading, how can we provide words of encouragement and calm?
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
Who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
– Isaiah 52: 7
Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” If you remember your high school physics class, entropy is sort of like Murphy’s Law applied to the entire universe. In my attempt to not slaughter the meaning out of my own scientific ignorance, entropy is a measure of disorder, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all closed systems tend to maximize entropy. Reversing that ever increasing tendency toward disorder requires the input of energy.
If that was too much of a textbook definition for you: everything drifts toward chaos, toward disorder. It isn’t difficult to look around and see that. It took little effort to set people into panic. It took little effort for toilet paper aisles to be emptied and long lines at grocery stores to be formed. If I ignore my house for one day, my little people can wreak such destruction, you’d wonder what type of hooligans inhabited it. Give it a month and dust and cobwebs begin lining my shelves. Ignore my garden for a week and unsightly weeds begin poking their prickly little heads through the dirt.
You get the idea. Chaos is inevitable in this life and comes by default if nothing is done to stop it.
Fortunately, God’s way is not that of chaos, but of peace. Last year in Bible study, we talked about the Biblical theme of Shalom (the Hebrew word for “peace”) versus Chaos. There is a running theme in the Bible of God bringing his peace and order to the chaos of our world. I wish I could pour over all the detailed information that’s in the Bible regarding this theme, but for the sake of space and time, we’ll have to settle on the abridged version:
In the beginning was chaos, nothingness. Genesis chapter 1 uses the Hebrew word “Tohu”, which means “formless, without function, chaos, confusion, emptiness.” But God creates order; he creates man into a world of peace. Then God gives the creation mandate in the garden: it was instructing Adam and Eve to continue to bring things into peace, out of the chaos. At the Fall, when Adam and Eve sinned, humans thwarted God’s original design for shalom. But God established his Covenant, which was a means to get back the peace he always intended for creation.
Then in Genesis 12 God adjusts his strategy for shalom. Instead of pushing out the chaos, he begins to bring shalom out of the chaos by choosing a people group with whom to bring about peace- these are the people you come to know as the Israelites, via “Father Abraham”. Herein begins a message that says “don’t run from the chaos, but engage it!”; “bring God’s peace to the chaos!.” God’s intention with the Israelite people? To bring God’s message of peace and love to the entire world. To be a beacon of hope in the mixed-up, crazy chaos of this world.
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing…..All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
– Genesis 12: 2-3
If you call yourself a believer, a Christian, a Christ-follower, you are part of that same people group who God commissioned to be his image-bearers, his peace bringers, his light in the darkness. Israel’s role of representing God has been passed down to us. We are his stewards and he chooses us to reflect his image, including the goodness and peace that he is. When we don’t do our job, the chaos of this world can take over.
We have a choice in this COVID-crisis, and in every crisis for that matter. Will we be like everyone else around us? Panicking or spreading anxiety-inducing speculative comments or pointing blame at whoever tickles our fancy for the moment? Will we isolate ourselves and ignore those in need around us, hoarding Costco-sized packs of toilet paper, milk, and eggs for just ourselves and the dog, while saying under our breath, “Sorry ‘bout your luck, suckas!” Or will we dare to be the hands and feet of Jesus at such a time as this? Can we rise up as Christ-followers and spread the shalom he so desires?
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14: 27
I challenge all of us to really think about how we can bring God’s peace to our families, neighborhoods, communities, and even the world right now. This will look different for everyone, depending on your own situation, but we can all do something. Maybe it means sending encouraging, hand written notes in the mail or writing a check to help families out of work. Maybe it’s dropping off groceries at a local collection site or sharing a roll of toilet paper with your neighbor. Maybe it’s checking in daily with a family member who’s completely isolated during these weeks. Perhaps it is counting your blessings each day to maintain peace within your own heart. Maybe it’s saying no to social media posts that discourage and saying yes to words that uplift and build others up. Maybe it’s setting aside 15 minutes every day to pray for those effected around the nation and world.
For our family, part of bringing God’s peace starts with our kids. Letting them know they are safe and cared for and don’t need to be anxious in a confusing time. But it has also meant thinking outside of our own four walls and helping in the places we can; not feeling guilty about what we cannot do, but actively fulfilling the needs within our ability.
I don’t have all the answers in this mixed-up, unprecedented COVID-crisis in which we find ourselves. To some degree, we’re all taking things one day at a time and making new decisions as we learn new information. But nevertheless, I know our Lord is looking down at us and wants us to share his peace and goodness and love in spite of the chaos at hand. In that way, we will truly reflect the heart of our Father. I would love to see you all share in the comments what ideas you’ve come up with on how to be peace-bearers in your communities. We can all learn from each other.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16: 33
Sometimes life hits so fast and so hard. And just as I’m launching a 5 part series on trust, one of the greatest object lessons regarding trust smacks me square in the nose.
It left me wordless. Fingers paralyzed to type anything of sense. Some days it was enough to breath in and out and shuffle through the duties before me, let alone to sit down and let my mind creatively flow with text.
Then there is always the dilemma of what is too much to share. I want to develop a platform of genuine faith and honest emotion of the rawness of life’s ups and downs. But I also want to protect the privacy that those so precious to me deserve.
So my blog went dark for a season. Most of you in the busyness of your own agendas probably didn’t take notice. But for those of you who did, that is why. I have a heart for this ministry but my family is also a ministry, and my family will always come first.
Most recently we faced the parenting challenge of telling our kids about a hard transition. We heard desperate pleas and saw tear streamed faces, but our decision had to hold strong. It’s been one of the harder moments of parenting to date. Our kids only see the present pain which is directly in front of them; the struggle and inevitable discomfort which accompanies change. But my husband and I see the future pain and risk from which we are protecting them.
There is so much we can’t explain to them; so much they should not be allowed to be exposed to or asked to carry. They should not be forced to see the full ugliness of sin or our fallen world and asked to carry the burdens of an adult. They need to be allowed to be 7 and to be 5. They deserve a childhood.
We’ve provided what answers we’re able, but for the rest, we simply ask them to trust us. We’ve asked them to have faith that they have a mommy and a daddy who ultimately want what is good for them. That we love and cherish them and at times have to make hard decisions which protect them from that which they cannot see.
Oh how God challenged my heart later that night. After tucking my daughter into bed and assuring her that though it would be hard, I would hold her hand tight through the process, God began to prick at my spirit. How much is our walk with our Heavenly Father like that?
We seldom fully understand why he asks us to walk through the deep waters. We do not always understand the present pain and suffering. I don’t understand any more than my children why we were dealt this trial.
But God cannot, or does not choose to, always tell us why. Like my little children who deserve to be just that, God knows that there are times we deserve to be his children. Some things would be too much weight for us to bear. While he, on the other hand, has already been willing to bear all the weight of sin on our behalf. In the same way God didn’t tell Job of the spiritual battle at play behind some of his suffering, and in the same way that God’s original plan was to spare Adam and Eve from the knowledge of the evil which existed in contrast to his goodness, there may be times God chooses not to tell us all the “whys” for our own benefit.
Who of us has the mind of God? And who of us can expect that we can understand the grand happenings of this life in the way our Majestic God can? It’s not that it is wrong to seek to understand, but there are moments God simply asks us to trust him with a childlike faith, ultimately trusting in his goodness and provision. Blindly and loyally trusting, one step at a time.
That is the season in which I find myself presently. Faith not shaken, but blindly trusting my Heavenly Father. Knowing this upcoming season of change and transition will continue to be hard, but knowing I can face anything with him holding us as family. How glorious to serve such an intimate Savior God who does not leave us nor forsake us.
Growing up, our church had the tradition of reading The Tale of Three Trees every Christmas. If you haven’t read it, you should.
I was always drawn to the 3rd tree. In the story, the 1st and 2nd trees had more material ambitions. The first tree wanted to hold beautiful treasure; the second wanted to be the strongest ship in the world. Ah, but the 3rd tree, all she wanted was to grow so tall that whenever people looked at her, they’d look up and think of God. My little girl heart wanted so badly to glorify God; to point to God in everything I did.
Sadly, in the story all three trees get axed down and thrown into lumber yards.
I seem to be finding myself sitting in the metaphorical lumberyard as well. Nothing has quite gone as planned so far, at least not in regard to how I thought I’d point to God.
As a girl, I always imagined I’d bring glory to God through singing. I didn’t have any grand aspirations of fame, or even earning an income through music, but I thought I’d always use that gift of voice for Him. A shy little girl who hated speaking in front of people, singing was a platform for me to share my heart for God. I would carefully select songs that conveyed truths I found important to share. During my teen years, God opened so many doors for me to sing at church, school, and in the community, it made sense that I’d continue to serve God in that way.
From the moment I graduated high school, went to college, and began to spread my wings, however, God seemed to frustrate all my attempts. Every time I knocked on that music door, it seemed to slam shut or creak irritatingly. Nothing seemed to work out. I was either too young or not classically trained enough or wasn’t friends with the right crowd or people dragged their feet on promises made….and so on and so on. At one point I was so humiliated by certain feedback regarding my apparent lack of expression on stage, I almost gave up singing altogether.
Then about 10 years ago I felt God tugging at my heart to go into ministry. I can still remember the exact chapter I was reading in a book and the precise spot I was sitting on my couch when I told the Lord, “Okay, I’m in.” So in tandem with being a mother, I directed the energy I had left toward women’s ministry. Zeal in my heart, fire in my soul, I set out on my journey for the Lord. Surely that was how I would bring glory to Him!
Yet a decade later I am lacking any direction.
I’ve read oodles of books by Christian women, many of them in ministry, and I am always amazed at the apparent ease with which their path guides them into teaching, preaching, writing, nonprofit ministries and so on. Two ladies in particular graduate college, decide to start up a blog and next thing they know they’re reaching tens of thousands of women through a bona fide non-profit. Another lady decides to write a book, as if it’s so easy to even get published in the first place, makes friends with a nationally known speaker, and the next thing she knows, she’s part of another nationally known women’s ministry. I can’t even find a niche in my local church while big things seem to just fall into others’ laps. It’s hard not to be left feeling a little dumbfounded or to question your calling altogether.
“Am I missing something, Lord?”
Earlier this summer I was having some much needed quiet time with the Lord, perusing through some old journals. Suddenly my heart stopped when I came across a poem I’d entirely forgotten about, written 4 years ago. Somehow it still seemed so relevant to my heart’s current condition:
The 3rd Tree
Girl of eleven wished to be that tree.
Heart pure and sweet, with a zeal for the King.
“May all I do point to you.
May I grow tall and free so they lift their eyes to you.”
Then life had its way and cut her down.
They spit, they mocked, they pushed her to the ground.
“Maybe I’m not enough.
Perhaps I heard wrong.
Maybe I’m not called.
Maybe I’m not an appointed one.”
Dreams lay dead in the lumberyard.
A broken spirit blackens her soul.
But the King so sweetly raises her head
He dries her tears and comes to make her whole .
“Don’t you know the rest of the story?” he whispers.
“Don’t you remember that tree did bring me glory?”
Still your heart, sweet child of mine
Wait on the Lord.
Still your heart, little child of grace
Let the Sovereign One sit on the throne.
You see, as our story of the Three Trees concludes, it does not end with the trees rotting in the lumber yard. The tree who dreamed of holding treasure became the manger in which Christ lays at his birth. The 2nd tree who dreams of being a strong ship becomes the fishing boat who carries Jesus and his disciples through a storm.
And as for the third tree, who lays in that lumber yard the longest, she gets put together only to have the nails of Christ’s crucifixion pounded into her. Sounds real nice, right?
Yet thereafter, every time people looked at her, beams formed into the cross, they would think of the Savior God.
I wish I could say that I have reached that beautiful ending. That I could tell you, “Aha! This is what God had planned all along and why so many things seemed like dead ends along the way.”
But I can’t.
The truth is, I’m still in the part of the story where I’m laying in the lumberyard, wondering what in the world God is thinking. Too often we only hear peoples’ stories once they can be wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow. But I think it’s important to share about the time in-between. The waiting. The uncertainty. Otherwise we’re left with a false sense of how easily everything is supposed to go.
Only God knew how badly my heart needed to hear the truths I penned in that poem all those years earlier. More than ever, when we’re in the valley, when we’re in the waiting, we need constant reminders of God’s truth. I need only to wait on the Lord and let Him sit on the throne. As for the rest? I guess that’s part of the adventure of life.
So far in my faith walk, God seems to present me with themes, or teaching moments, that span over several years. Hopefully that isn’t a sign I’m just a slow learner.
I can remember in high school God poking at all my wounded places until I would fully surrender to Him. Giving over those false idols and footholds that would mar His image. All of me for all of Jesus. But these past few years there has been a running theme of “Trust”. Trusting when everything seems so uncertain. Trusting God to be enough. Trust.
A couple years back, already in my theme of “Trust”, I mentioned to a dear friend that I didn’t understand how things could be so easy for others. Their plans all seemed to align so well in life and they were just where they pictured they’d be. That hadn’t exactly been the case for me. The title of my blog should really be called The Girl Who Runs Into Another Wall; The Girl Who Feels Aimless; The Girl Who Finds Another Roadblock. Take your pick.
My friend was so sweet and shared the story of a woman she greatly admired. This woman had diligently followed God’s tugging at her heart to start a ministry in one of the least reached people groups in the world. For 20 years, she was told “no”, “not yet”, “it’s too dangerous”. She was given discouragement even by other Christians. But she kept trudging forward. Long into the woman’s journey, my friend ended up becoming a missionary on this woman’s team, the first team to be stationed in that part of the world. But before the team was sent abroad, after all those years of preparation and groundbreaking, the mission organization the woman worked with decided to remove her from the team entirely. They wouldn’t even allow her to serve in the same city. My friend wrote, “She never got to serve with us.”
From our perspective that seems like a huge blow. I’m sure it felt that way at first, but my friend made some beautiful points. One, this woman was in God’s will, despite it being a hard fight. The Bible supports anything but a prosperity gospel. More times than not, those champions of faith—Elijah, King David, Jeremiah, Paul— endured awful trials despite their devotion to the Lord. Easy sailing does not equate with faithful living. Secondly, while it is disappointing through our human lens, the vision God gave this woman was accomplished! Regardless of whether or not she gets to see it through to the end, she did help create a ministry team in one of the least reached areas of the world. And only six months after what felt devastating, God used her to start a team and school in another unreached city. From there, she plans to train individuals to go into more unreached towns. So her removal from the team actually led to the Gospel being more widespread.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul addresses the church in Corinth regarding quarrels between Christian believers. Apparently, there was conflict over which apostle they followed. In our culture, it would be like people arguing over which pastor they like the most. In verse 5 Paul writes,
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grows. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” 1 Corinthians 3: 5-8
What a poignant reminder. It’s not all about us. We are mere servants. It is God who moves and changes hearts and lives. We are nothing; at least, we are nothing without Christ. This world tells us we are defined by what we do. But God reminds us our worth is not wrapped up in our actions. Our value lies in who, or whose, we are: children of God. So whether we take part in God’s plan by planting or watering, it really doesn’t matter. Just that we show up and do our part.
Ironically, at the time my friend was encouraging me and shared her story about that woman, life was going pretty well for my friend. She had dreamed of being a missionary since her teens. She was one of those crazy people excited by the idea of going to the remote parts of the world, even if it meant danger and “roughing it.” And here she was doing just that: married, baby on the way, and living overseas to love on these least reached people. She was in her happy place.
But later that year her world was flipped upside down. Due to some health issues, she had to uproot her family from international serving to return stateside. She initially felt utter despair; like the rug had been pulled out from under her. Why did God bring her so far along in her dream just to take it away? Yet with each month that passes, she has begun to see more and more glimpses of the beautiful plan God has for her here. She’s now planting the first church among the same people group, only in the States. Some of the families she met abroad have even had connections to the same immigrants she’s met here. It was never the plan she would have chosen and yet she is still doing the very thing her heart always longed for.
Time after time, we see that God disrupts what we view as our perfect little plan. Only later do we see a glimpse of how He was using us for a greater purpose in His plan.
Now able to look on it with a sense or humor, my friend laughed that she had so badly wanted the experience of living abroad and doing the ministry she had envisioned, it really would have needed to be something drastic to make her change course. She wrote to me,
“Neither my friend nor myself would have ever willingly chose our present locations, but God moved us in order to spread His gospel around. That reminds me of the ‘Diaspora.’ Acts 8:1-4 talks about a great persecution that broke out against the church in Jerusalem. Because of that, the church was scattered and ‘those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.’ Time after time, we see that God disrupts what we view as our perfect little plan. Only later do we see a glimpse of how He was using us for a greater purpose in His plan.”
We don’t always understand why the Lord wills things in the way he does. But that’s not really our job. We merely need to rest, to trust, and go along for the ride.
“Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor?”- Isaiah 40:13
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” – Isaiah 40:28
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”- Proverbs 3:5-6
When we are in the valleys, the waiting, the unknown, we have a choice about what we will do; about who we will become. The choices we make now affect who we become 20 years from now. Will we grow angry and resentful? Or will we allow our faith and depth of trust to root deeply?
More than ever, when we are in that land of exile, we need to be reminded of God’s truths. We need to remember all the times he has already proved faithful to spur us on and to give us hope of his continued faithfulness. So in this short series, Stories of Trust, I hope to remind you, along with myself, of God’s truth. In this way, we can stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waist and finish the race strong.
Grace and Peace,
“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”