ONE, TWO, THREE…..GO!!!!
Those were the famous last words I yelled at the 2013 Women’s Retreat I was both directing and teaching. One of the activities we had planned was a large scavenger hunt spread entirely around the resort where the retreat was being held. The plan on this particular afternoon was the 100+ ladies, divided into teams of 8-10, would do the scavenger hunt and then return after about an hour when the next lesson and small group activity would take place.
Great plan, right?
Well, little did I realize that scavenger hunts are HARD to plan. One wrong clue, one incorrect step, and the entire thing is flamboozled, which is the best word I can think of right now to describe what happened next–flamboozled.
Within about 5 minutes the first confused cell phone call came in from one of the groups. My assistant frantically looked at me and began exclaiming that the hunt wasn’t working and the ladies were all ending up at the same place. Nothing was working! She was panicking and I needed to make a decision immediately.
I told her to call each group and tell them to return to the chapel. I would go ahead and teach while she and the other workers fixed the problems with the scavenger hunt, and then it could occur after my message.
I turned from her and began to get my thoughts together, praying for guidance in this turn of events, when I noticed the volunteer workers around me. One of the young men there who was doing all of our sound and media was calmly taking action, seemingly nonplussed by this new occurrence. My assistant and others, however, were not so calm. They were panicking. This wasn’t the plan and the plan had to stay intact. What will happen?
Then the groups started arriving back at the chapel and I saw the same two manifestations of this new course in the participants. Some of the ladies came back laughing and smiling, simply enjoying each other’s company, while some of them came back clearly upset that the plan had not worked. Why hadn’t it worked? What was going to happen now that the plan hadn’t worked?
It just so happened that the theme of this particular retreat was “The Amazing Race” on Hebrews 12:1-2,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
As I watched the women return, I began remembering a scene from one of my favorite Steve Martin movies, “Parenthood.” In this movie, Martin plays a man whose life is not turning out the way he expected. His job is wrong, his children are wrong (and he’s just found out that his wife is pregnant AGAIN), his family is wrong, his friends are wrong… In essence, he was feeling much like some of these ladies at the retreat were feeling when the scavenger hunt hadn’t worked: What was going to happen now that the plan hadn’t worked?
In the movie, just when Martin’s at his wits end and about to go to a Christmas play that his daughter is in, his grandmother walks into the room and tells the now famous “Roller Coaster Story”:
Of course, we can see that Martin has missed the point, though his wife hasn’t. In the next scene, they go to the play, and Martin begins to see just how smart his grandmother is:
Why, do you ask, did this particular scene come to my mind as I prayed for guidance in my next message to these wonderful women? What does the message of “Enjoy the ride!” from a secular movie have to tell us, as Christians, especially in terms of our running this race called life?
Well, the answer to those questions became the new subject of the message I gave in the minutes following the scavenger hunt debacle. I began my message by telling the women about the scenes from “Parenthood” that you just watched. Then I told them that there were some of them who were a lot like Martin in the movie. I watched them. I saw them come into the chapel frustrated and somewhat put out that things hadn’t worked out as planned.
They were not enjoying the ride. They were certainly running the race, but they weren’t enjoying it. Why?
The simple answer is a lack of trust in God, because a Christian who truly trusts that she serves a sovereign and loving God who is wonderfully in control of every aspect of her life will enjoy the ride. She’ll enjoy it because she doesn’t worry or fret about the unexpected, knowing that none of it is unexpected to God. She’ll be able to run the race set before her not in constant agony over how things don’t go as planned, but in joyful anticipation of both eternity and the amazing ride God has planned for her.
After all, God promised us in Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
He know the plans He has for us! John Piper once preached on this verse and said that the word that the prophet Jeremiah used here for “plan” is actually the word we might know as “plots.” God actually plots for His children! That’s beautiful!
The point here is this: Christians should enjoy the ride of this life–every one of the ups and downs, ins and outs–because they are all part of the plan of the Creator of the Universe, plans that are promised to work for our good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)
So life hasn’t turned out exactly like you expected? How are you going to respond to that? Instead of fretting and worrying, why not enjoy the ride of your life? God’s driving the roller coaster, and He is the perfect Operator.
Christian, Enjoy the Ride!
Three young men took the stage, and we anticipated their worship. One of the many things that Africans have over on Americans is their ability to worship, and we knew that we were in for another beautiful song offering from these handsomely dressed young men.
Heidi looked over at me and smiled. We were well into day five of the “Count Your Blessings” conference in Blantyre, Malawi, and every experience had proven to be more blessed than the last. It’s always my immense pleasure to get to speak at these conferences, but it’s even more my blessing to get to witness the genuine love for our Savior that the African people display. In particular, I get great joy from watching the dedication and love from the young people.
The Praise and Worship Team is made up of all young people, and they take great pride in their worship. They spend months rehearsing leading up to the conferences, and each of them either makes or has made their matching ensembles for each day. These young people arrive early every day and they are always the last to leave, often leading worship ten to fifteen times each day.
However, on the last day of any conference I’ve attended in Africa, the team wears its best outfits and there are a number of special worship offerings given throughout the day. On this particular last day of the conference in Blantyre, we had been worshiping together with the team for about an hour when a trio of young men dressed smartly in red satin ties and black shirts and pants walked up on stage. (more…)
She sits in bible study again this week, and she smiles every time it seems appropriate. She says “Amen!” with the rest of the ladies when something particularly moving is said, and she answers questions when they are asked of her.
But still she doesn’t feel it. Still she doesn’t feel anything.
There is a vague recollection, a faint memory of feeling her faith once upon a time. It seems that she can almost grab onto this long ago heart condition, but then it slips away, more elusive with each passing moment.
What happened to that girl she once knew who was so on fire for Jesus? Where did she go? It doesn’t make it any better that everyone else around her seems to be having no problem living in the faith they proclaim. They cry and laugh and genuinely seem to feel what they believe.
Life just got in the way, and now she is left with doubt and pain at this Spiritual Sahara Desert which has become her life.
Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever entered into seasons of your life where you can only describe your faith as in your head but seldom in your heart?
Are you living in the Spiritual Sahara?
Have you ever run away from something, and I don’t mean something that might threaten your life? I mean, has there been a time in your life when you ran because you didn’t want what was in front of you, so you did a 180 and took off like lightening in the opposite direction?
Most of us, if we’ve lived for any length of time, can remember at least one of those times, maybe even more than one. As Christians, that running most likely involved running from God. Not too many believers would say that in some way at some time they didn’t run from what God was telling them to do. After all, there is a little Jonah in all of us. (more…)
“Those are not my children.”
“That is not my husband.”
Have you ever looked around at your life and thought any of these things? I mean, this isn’t what we signed up for, right? No one told us the day we walked down that isle or the day we graduated from school or the day we heard our child’s first cry that things would one day take us to the brink of despair.
That’s someone else’s life. That’s not mine.
But then one day it is. One day you wake up and all those women whose lives were battered by unfaithful spouses or lost children or sickness or death are suddenly not just remote prayer requests. No longer can you abstractly look at those sad and torn lives and feel sympathy. Now you are smack in the middle of empathy. You’re living it, and the only thing you can do is look around and wonder, “What happened?”
The truth is that if you’ve been an adult woman for longer than three minutes, you will have experienced these emotions, and you’ll experience them more than once. We were never promised a rose garden in this life, and for the most part, we realize that.
But sometimes it’s not just a weed-infested garden that we find ourselves in the middle of. It’s a pool of sticky, slimy toxic waste, and we think, “Nope. This is not my life.”
What are we to do in those moments? What does a Christian woman do when even getting out of bed seems abundantly out of the question?
I have recently experienced yet another of those seasons in my life as a woman, wife, and mother, and I was struck with these thoughts in rapid succession. Huddled in the corner of my bedroom, lights off, and curled up so tightly on the floor that my joints ached, the despair caught me almost off-guard. I wasn’t even crying correctly because I couldn’t breathe well enough to make a sound. I just rocked and gasped for air. And then my thoughts changed from “This is not my life” to “I have to fix this!”
Isn’t that the way we are? That’s how God created us women. We manage things. Paul referred to women as the “managers of the house” in Titus 2:5, and managers manage things. Consequently, our first instincts are to manage our situations.
It only took me a few minutes, however, to realize that I couldn’t manage anyone out of anything this time, and instead of moving from that realization toward Christian resolution, I moved toward anger with God.
“I know You think I’m this strong. I know You think I can handle this, and I know You said I wouldn’t be given anything more than I could handle, but I’m not this strong! This is too much!”
Of course, I didn’t actually yell these things out loud, although I have before. No, this time I screamed with boldness in my head. I really was confounded by God’s apparent misidentification of my supposed strength. I needed Him to reconsider.
Have you ever felt this way? Are you feeling it now?
I am ever amazed at our Father’s grace. I’m in awe of His constant and abiding love and patience toward us. He could have yelled back at me right then. He could have struck me down completely for my irreverence. That would have been warranted.
However, what He gently did was fill my head with these words:
Debbie, I do not ordain these things in your life to point you to your own strength. I ordain them to move you toward Mine.
You see, it will forever be our propensity to try and make things about us. It’s my knee-jerk reaction to bolster my own fortitude and figure things out, and then to be angry when I’m just not strong enough or smart enough or tolerant enough or when I feel forced to do things on my own. This is unfortunately an anger that when harbored will quickly turn into bitterness.
Indeed there are a lot of bitter women out there, and among them is no small number of bitter Christian women. Why? Because we simply aren’t strong enough, and truthfully, that was never God’s point.
Everything is about Him, and these times are meant to bring attention to Him, to His strength, His love, His mercy, His care, His tolerance, His grace, and His perfect plan.
What do we do as Christian women in moments of such complete despair that we can’t even breathe?
I was pouring out to a dear friend in the middle of this—which, by the way, I highly encourage you to do—and she reminded me of exactly what we are to do when we look at the life we now live and wonder how it all went so wrong so quickly. She reminded me of Psalm 121,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
When you are on your bedroom floor and the pain is beyond your ability to bear, you do the only thing you can do, you do the only thing you should do, and you lift up your eyes.
Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There are going to be moments in these lives as pilgrims in this foreign land when we are nothing less than confused by the things that happen. We can become downcast in our souls over the heartache inflicted on us by the ones we love the most, and we will gaze at our circumstances with a sadness that feels insurmountable.
What do we do?
We lift our tired, tear dimmed eyes toward heaven and unto our Father. We rest in His divine and loving purposes. After all, we have a hope that the world does not share, a hope and an assurance that we do not serve a God who is an “absentee Father.” Our Lord is fully involved in the lives of His children, and He has promised us that He has a plan, a plan that will not harm us but will bring us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) He has promised us that all of our lives are purposed for our good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)
So, my sisters, lift up your eyes to the hills. From where does your help come? Your help comes from the Lord, the very Maker of the heavens and the earth.
I was speaking with someone the other day, and he, when speaking of Christian women, very accurately said, “Theology must drive their uniquely God-ordained lives.”
However, that is often not the case for Christian women, and that is devastatingly sad to me. It’s sad, and it’s a tragedy.
Our Christian society has been inundated with “women-centered” curriculum and topics-based conferences, which are good in and of themselves. We, as Christian women, have probably never before in history had so many resources at our unique disposal that guide us and encourage us in our lives.
As I said, this is all good.
What alarms me is that oftentimes, theology is not the driving force behind most of these resources. Womanhood is. They’re driven by questions such as:
· Who are you as a woman?
· What kind of woman are you?
· How do you live as a fulfilled and successful woman/mom/wife?
Of course, Christianity and the role of being a Christian is many times peppered into these topics, but theology…not so much. What has consequently happened is that womanhood drives our theology, instead of theology driving our womanhood.
The results have been watered down studies or situational encouragement, all with their foundations in what it means to be a woman who happens to be in Christ.
Skimming through any online Christian resource or walking through a physical Christian bookstore, the “Woman’s Studies” section is fraught with books like Coffee with Jesus, or Living a Stress-Free Life, or Friendships of Women.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not bashing these sorts of books.
They are helpful and certainly have their place within the life of a Christian woman. What I am concerned about, though, is that we have placed the proverbial cart before the horse. How can I possibly know how to live a stress-free life or have correct friendships, even if the premise of these things is Christ, without having first immersed myself in the doctrine of Jesus Christ? How can I live practically without first understanding the theology that must drive these things?
I am not a woman who happens to be in Christ. I am a Christian who happens to be a woman.
I most certainly believe that there are Christian men and there are Christian women, and they are both called to live their lives as Christians in uniquely male and female ways. God created us differently for a reason, and those reasons most definitely extend to how we live as men and women. But what I also firmly believe is that there are common, distinctive theological truths that must drive both male and female lives as Christians, and if we try to live either of those paths without the foundation of this theology, we are simply spinning our wheels or even worse, spinning off course.
As I teach many woman’s seminars, workshops, and conferences, one thing I stress long before I teach on whatever woman-centered topic I may be covering is that all Christians—men and women alike—are called to first and foremost be theologians.
Know on Whom you have believed and in what you have believed. Without that firm foundation, everything shifts uncontrollably, no matter how many times you say the name “Jesus.”
“And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:26-27)
Too many Christian women are feverishly trying to live their lives in the best way they possibly can, ways that will bring peace and contentment to their families and themselves, but they are doing so to the detriment of knowledge first. Without the foundation of accurate, God-honoring and God-glorifying doctrine, all of our efforts at living the successful and contented Christian life are ultimately weak and ineffectual. As John Piper once said,
“Wimpy theology makes for wimpy women.”
Does theology drive your womanhood, or does your womanhood drive your theology? Sometimes a deeper consideration of where we begin will result in the success we are looking for in the first place.