Archives for February 2012

“Just Call Me Bitter”: When Adveristy Won’t Relent

“When it rains, it pours.”

Ever heard that? Ever lived that?

I’m talking about those times when one trial is followed by another trial, which is followed by another trial, and so on. Or better yet, those times when multiple trials fall on you at the same time like a ton of bricks, shattering those idealistic, cutesy, just-believe-and-it-will-happen, “the best is yet to come” theories about life into a thousand different pieces. Fact is, life is not a Thomas Kinkaid painting.  And in most cases it looks nothing like the pretty picture we paint of ourselves via status updates, mobile uploads, and Tweets. Those who say that Jesus came to help us “live our best life now” are sadly mistaken. Last time I checked, the promise was that we will live our best life later, when all of our sin-junk is dealt with for good and we get to see our Savior face-to-face (Rom. 8:18-30; 1 Peter 1:6,7; Rev. 21:3, 4). In the meantime, pain is inevitable. Adversity is guaranteed. And sometimes it sticks around for a lot longer than we bargained for.

Enter Naomi.

You may or may not be familiar with her story, which is contained in the Old Testament book of Ruth. (If you have time, stop and read it! The entire book is only 4 short chapters and it’s anything but boring. You will LOVE it!) Naomi was from the small town of Bethlehem in Judah. Her name means “pleasant” or “lovely” and the response of the people of Bethlehem when she returned indicates that it was a fitting description of her (Ruth 1:19). She seems to have been much-loved by those who knew her. I picture her as the fun-loving, outgoing type who was known for her warm smile and glass-half-full perspective on things. She had a strong faith in God who had richly blessed her with a husband and two sons (1:1, 2). No doubt she was a grateful woman, committed to heartfelt worship and adoration of YHWH.

But those were the good ole days. As pleasant as Naomi and her life may have been at one time, she was no stranger to hardship. In fact, I don’t know of any character in the Bible aside from Job who experienced more loss and adversity in a relatively short amount of time than Naomi.

In the five short verses that introduce the book of Ruth, Naomi experiences famine (literal and spiritual) in her home town, moves to a strange pagan land, loses her husband, marries her boys off to Moabite women (which would NOT have been the heart’s desire of any devout Israelite mama), and then – right when we think it can’t get any worse – loses both of her sons as well.

Feeling a little bit better about your life right about now, aren’t ya?

The part of Naomi’s story that gets me every time is when she returns to Bethlehem. Ruth 1:19 says that “all the city was stirred” when she arrived and the women of the city said, “Is this Naomi?” Her response to them is heart wrenching:

“Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, when the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty afflicted me?”

Ugh! [Hand to my heart.] Can’t you just feel the deep anguish behind those words?

We aren’t given a lot of information about the pre-Moab Naomi. But one thing we know for sure – she returned to Bethlehem a different woman.

A grieving woman.

A broken woman.

A needy woman.

A woman who knew all-too-well the soul-searing pain of loss. Some are made to drink from a bitter cup. Naomi was handed a gallon-sized jug and was pretty sure that it came with free refills.

I haven’t experienced Naomi-sized adversity first hand, but I have witnessed it enough to know that a good percentage of the precious people who read this blog know exactly what it’s like. Us church folks hear a lot about walking through “seasons” of hardship, which implies that there is a definite starting and ending point to the pain. But what do we do when that’s not the case? What happens when we have come face-to-face with the terrifying possibility that the bitter waters of adversity may keep on flowing through our lives for years to come? What if there’s no end in sight?

Our tendency is to bust out our “go-to” verses and act like everything will be okay in the morning. But we can’t just throw Jeremiah 29:11 at the grief-stricken and move on. Scripture offers us so much more than that. I believe Naomi is a beautiful example of how to deal with long-term trials. Here are some lessons she teaches us:

1)      Don’t be afraid to see God’s hand in your pain.

Yes, all pain is in some way, shape, or form rooted in the fact that we live in a fallen world. What took place in Genesis 3 is, at the most basic level, the reason why “bad things happen to good people.” But nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE in Scripture is it even remotely implied that God sits idle by and watches His people walk through hard stuff all the while thinking, “It’s too bad I can’t do anything about that.”

Like Job, Naomi understood that it is the Lord who gives AND who takes away. (Job 1:21; also see Lam. 3:38) She understood that God is sovereign over everything, and every circumstance – even the ones that cause His children a great deal of pain. I love what John MacArthur says about her “Just call me bitter” speech: “In calling herself ‘Mara,’ she was not suggesting that she had become a bitter person; but (as her words reveal) that Providence had handed her a bitter cup to drink. She saw the hand of God in her sufferings, but far from complaining, I think she was simply acknowledging her faith in the sovereignty of God, even in the midst of a life of bitter grief” (Twelve Extraordinary Women).

Why is this important? Well, Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “[God’s] work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” Psalm 25:8, 10 says, “Good and upright is the LORD . . . all the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” Lamentations 3:22 says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. For His compassions never fail . . .great is [His] faithfulness.” Ephesians 1:11 says that God works “all things after the counsel of His will.”

In light of the love, wisdom, faithfulness, righteousness and mercy of our God, what would happen if we dared to see all of our circumstances – even the downright horrific ones – as part of His plan? I know, I know. Insert clarification about the difference between God’s perfect and permissive will here.  Sorry, not going to go there right now. I’m a simple girl who likes to cut to the chase. Here’s the bottom line: God’s is sovereign . . .over everything . . .including our pain.

There’s just something about seeing every circumstance as the will of an all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing, infinitely loving, perfectly just, totally sovereign God that makes it bearable. There’s an indescribable peace that comes from knowing deep down that that a good, big-picture-seeing God is in complete control of my life, including my anguish. Naomi knew that peace.

2)      Move on in faith.

Widowed, destitute, and still grieving the loss of both of her sons, Naomi had to move on with her life. While some would be paralyzed by such devastating circumstances, Naomi  “moved on” with a steadfast, unwavering faith in the God who had “afflicted her” (Ruth 1:21). In fact, she is the one behind the bold plan for Ruth to basically propose marriage to Boaz –a plan that I believe was rooted in a firm conviction that her God would provide a redeemer to rescue them from their hopeless, impoverished state. (Oh what a GORGEOUS picture of Jesus the book of Ruth paints!!!)

I remember when I was learning to drive and I experienced my first Florida-style torrential downpour behind the wheel. It went something like this: “Should I pull over, mom?” “No honey, it’s more dangerous to stop. Slow down, but keep going. You’ll eventually drive through it.” I believe the same advice applies when we find ourselves holding the bits and pieces of a life shattered by one heartache after another. Slow down, but keep going. You will eventually drive through it. And as you do, God will provide for you every square mile of the journey just like He did for Ruth and Naomi. Promise.

3)      Anticipate restoration.

As you may already know, the book of Ruth has a very happy ending. Boaz redeems Elimelech’s land (and Ruth along with it) and God blesses Ruth with a son (who ends up being David’s great grandfather!). Interestingly enough, Scripture records what the women said to Naomi upon the birth of the child. “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then, we are told, “The neighbor women gave him a name saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi!”

Um, wait a second. Isn’t Ruth the one who had the son?

I’m sure they said a lot of wonderful things to Ruth as well. But what the Spirit preserved for us to see is that the woman who went out full, but came back empty was full once more! In fact, she had gained far more than she lost, and the neighbor women were beyond ecstatic as they traced the hand of God it in all.

There’s no shortage of Scriptures that point to God’s faithfulness to bring beauty out of the ash-heap of a life ravaged by trials (Is. 61:3). Here’s just a small sampling:

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.” (Ps. 30:11)

 “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Ps. 126:5, 6)

 “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” (Ps. 94:18-19)

 “You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” (Ps. 71:20)

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

The woman who once declared, “Call me bitter,” was finally given sweet water to drink – buckets of it! The God who had afflicted her for reasons far beyond our understanding, chose to do “exceedingly and abundantly more” than anything Naomi could have asked or imagined (Eph. 3:20). HE IS ABLE TO DO THE SAME FOR YOU. And I dare say, He is willing. I don’t know how and I don’t know when and it’s very likely it will happen in a way you don’t expect (and may not have chosen), but based on the authority of His Word, God will prove Himself faithful in your life. I have more confidence in that truth than I do my next breath.

Wait for it. Count on it. Expect it. Embrace it. And when it comes, make sure you use it to reflect to beauty and worth of the glorious Giver. Because ultimately, that’s the whole point.

According to Webster’s, relentless is defined as “showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace.” That may very well describe your pain. But it also describes the faithfulness and goodness of your God. When adversity won’t relent, neither will His love.

That, sweet sister, will get you through some trials.

Book Club: Twelve Extraordinary Women, Video 5 (Ruth)

This chapter was goooooooooooood!!!

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Dealing with a Failure Hangover

This will be short. My house is a wreck, I’m days behind in my current Bible study workbook, a mountain of dirty laundry is calling my name, and it would probably be a good idea to make sure the water and electric bills are paid. Happy Monday to me!

Last night was ugly. Details are unnecessary – just know I didn’t win any “sweetest, most gracious wife ” awards. I didn’t even deserve a “thanks for trying” certificate. Ironicly, I took two pages of notes on “blessed are the meek” that morning. Apparently none of it stuck. Instead, I ended up giving my whole family a stunning, real-life picture of James 1:23, 24.  You’d think that I’d know better by now. For goodness sake, how many times have I taught women to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3, 5)? I’ll answer that for you: LOTS of times!

But last night I chose to be selfish. I chose to be disrespectful. I chose to sin. And in doing so, I failed. Again.

Fast forward to this morning. I’m at the dining room table ready to meet with Jesus and “marinate” in the Word for a while. But there’s a yucky feeling in the pit of my stomach. A weight on my heart. A strong desire to do something else, anything else. I just wasn’t “feeling” it. Not at all.

Last night’s failure became this morning’s barrier to sweet, intimate fellowship with my Savior – like some kind of spiritual hangover. I just didn’t feel like facing the Lord with the guilt of last night’s “Aprile-must-have-her-way-or-else” show still heavy on my heart. He’s got to be sick and tired for dealing with the same old junk, right? It would be a lot more comfortable to just start on the laundry.

But thank God,  I didn’t.

I had already made things right with my husband, but not with the Lord. That was the issue, and I knew it. God’s desire is for the guilt we feel to lead us to him, not away from Him. So to Him I went.

Psalm 86:5 and 15 were extra sweet to me this morning: “For you, O Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you . . . You are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.”

As I sat at my table this morning, I basically had two choices. I could focus on my failure. Or, I could fix my eyes on the one place where failure is forever eclipsed by grace. That place is the cross of Jesus Christ – the ultimate expression of the love, forgiveness, and mercy David wrote about in Psalm 86. It’s not a place where my sin is forgotten or excused as though it’s no big deal. It’s where my sin is paid for and washed away by the precious, priceless blood of Jesus.

Can I just stop and say, “Wow!”?

I chose to look to the cross, and I have to tell you – it made all the difference. Not one load of laundry has been done, but I had a blast with Jesus this morning. And praise God, I’m a different woman than I was a few hours ago.

Are you “hung over” on failure today? I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be. He’s ready to forgive you, sweet sister.  What are you waiting for? Put that laudry down. I promise, it will be there in all it’s mountainous glory when you’re done.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Help For Recovering Beth Mooreaholics

My name is Aprile. I am a Beth Mooreaholic. Well, I used to be. But the addictive tendencies still remain.

Sadly, there was a time in my life when my spiritual well-being was pretty much traceable by the release dates of Beth’s studies. (Yes, I will call her Beth. I have an entire shelf full of her studies. I have done a few of them twice. So, for all practical purposes, we are best friends.) In those days, completing one of her studies came with a mixed bag of emotions which included a profound sense of accomplishment and a decent amount anxiety. Accomplishment, because I had made it through the 5,000+ hours it takes to fill in every blank of a Beth Moore study. Anxiety, because I was pretty much convinced that I could not enjoy the Scriptures without her.

Oh she would just HATE that!

Fast forward to the present. I’m still a big fan. I still look forward to each study she puts out. I am still deeply grateful for how her teaching impacts my life. And, for the record, I still don’t get a lot of her questions and word studies. (The “huh?” factor is part of her appeal, I suppose.) But the older and wiser “me” has realized that there is life and learning beyond Beth Moore. Lots of it! There’s a whole world of Bible study resources just waiting to be discovered. And while they don’t come with that charming Arkansas twang and cute Texas hair, they are just as good (if not better) at helping you to engage your heart and mind in the study of God’s Word. I’m pretty sure Beth would be the first to tell you that.

So let’s say you’re fresh out of Beth Moore studies and/or ready to branch out. Or, maybe she’s not your cup of tea. Perhaps you’ve never even heard of her, but you’re in the market for something to help you focus in and “marinate” on the Scriptures. Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

Navigator’s Life-Change Series

From the publisher: “LIFECHANGE Bible studies allow the Bible to speak for itself. You’ll see for yourself what it says—not what someone else thinks it says—and develop the skills and desire to dig even deeper into God’s Word.”

There is a “Life-Change” workbook for most, if not all of the books of the Bible. They are inductive studies, which mean they required a lot of self-discovery. You will do a lot of your own word studies, cross referencing, etc. While this type of Bible study can be a bit tedious, there is NO BETTER WAY to learn the Bible! I love, love, love these books!

Kay Arthur’s “Lord” Series

From the publisher: “The ‘Lord Series’ by Kay Arthur is an insightful, warm-hearted Bible-study series designed to meet you where you are – and to help you discover God’s answers to your deepest needs.”

Each book in this series is essentially a  hybrid of an inductive Bible study workbook and devotional book. Kay supplies a little bit of her own personal insight and stories, but the bulk of these books are designed to make the reader work through the passages on her own.  I like that these books are divided into days. Some of the workbooks are topical, while others cover books of the Bible (you have to read the descriptions to find out). My personal favorite is Lord, I Want to Know You which is a study on the names of God.

John MacArthur Bible Studies

From the publisher: “John MacArthur takes readers on a journey through biblical texts to discover what lies beneath the surface, focusing on meaning and context, and then reflecting on the explored passage or concept. With probing questions that guide the reader toward application, as well as ample space for journaling, The MacArthur Bible Studies are an invaluable tool for Bible students of all ages.”

If you want a no-fluff resource that cuts to the chase and guides you in understanding the meaning of a passage and how to apply it, you will love these workbooks!

Mary Kassian’s Topical Studies

It’s a shame that I meet so many women who have never heard of Mary Kassian. She is without a doubt my absolute favorite author/speaker/teacher in the world of women’s ministry today. She is a fierce defender of God’s design for men and women and an incredible communicator of God’s truth as it relate’s to all things female. She has authored several books, but she has also put out a few topical Bible study workbooks you must check out sometime. Here they are with the publisher’s descriptions. All of these can be used for small group OR individual study.

Conversation Peace: The Power Of Transformed Speech – “Here’s a women’s study that really hits home. Mary Kassian masterfully presents the biblical principles to help women revolutionize their speech habits and improve their relationships by focusing on ways to positively avoid sharing gossip, throwing negative barbs, or snapping sarcastic replies throughout everyday life. Includes leader helps.”

Knowing God by Name: A Personal Encounter – “In Knowing God by Name: A Personal Encounter, author Mary Kassian focuses on 35 Hebrew names of God that describe His character, His relationships, and His purpose. As you learn the significance of each ancient word, you’ll be awestruck by the Lord’s magnificence and your heart compelled to worship and praise Him.
The Member Book includes brief daily study with fun and engaging learning activities. Saturated in Scripture and words from ancient hymns, Knowing God by Name is a rich, meaningful study for any woman desiring to know God better.”

Vertically Inclined: Climbing Higher with God – “Most believers experience a life with a few highs and lows, ups and downs, and maybe an occasional mountaintop experience. But this exciting, seven-session, video-based study is especially designed to show Christian women how, by tethering themselves more securely to Him, they can climb to greater spiritual heights. As a resident of the Canadian Rockies and experienced climber herself, author Mary Kassian brings a unique understanding of the difficulties and dangers that await on any journey and offers fascinating insights on how that parallels our spiritual path. Along the way, participants will be challenged to: develop an increased loyalty to Christ and His work; to examine their values and renew their determination; to take steps to increase their love for Christ, and to enjoy Him more. And each week’s lessons will equip women to safely and successfully ascend the peaks of the Christian life. Help the women in your church gain a different perspective with this exhilarating, video-enhanced study, they’ll experience the thrill of following Christ to new places!”

In My Father’s House: Women Relating to God as Father – “This study explores how a woman’s image of God the Father is often based on her experiences (or lack of experiences) with her earthly father. Examines these attitudes/experiences with her earthly father in light of what the Word says about the fatherhood of God. Can be studied in weekly meetings or during personal devotional time for 30 days. 6 sessions. Includes leader helps at back of book for small-group discussion.

And set to release next month (March 2012): Divine Design, An Eight Week Study in Biblical Womanhood (co-authored with Nancy Leigh DeMoss). I literally shouted out loud when I heard this was in this works!!! Here’s the description: “What does it mean to be a woman’ The current cultural ideal for womanhood encourages women to be strident, sexual, self-centered, independent — and above all — powerful and in control. But sadly, this model of womanhood hasn’t delivered the happiness and fulfillment it promised. The Bible teaches that it’s not up to us to decide what womanhood is all about. God created male and female for a very specific purpose. His design isn’t arbitrary or unimportant. It is very intentional and He wants women to discover, embrace, and delight in the beauty of His design. He’s looking for True Women!Bible teachers Mary A. Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss share the key fundamentals of biblical womanhood in this eight week study. Each week includes five daily individual lessons leading to a group time of sharing and digging deeper into God’s Word. And to enhance this time of learning together, on-line videos are available featuring Mary and Nancy as they encourage women to discover and embrace God’s design and mission for their lives.”

What are you waiting for? Get yourself one of these fabulous study guides and start “marinating!” Who knows, you might just discover that having a blast in God’s Word never had anything to do with Beth in the first place.

Book Club: Twelve Extraordinary Women, Video 4 (Rahab)

Is it me, or is this book getting better and better? What an incredible chapter! Don’t mind the “comfy pants.” They will most likley become part of the regular book club wardrobe. 🙂

Be brave and comment!!!

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