Book Review: Prayers for New Brides


This book is the kind of book I wish someone would have handed me back in 1999 when I was preparing to get married or after the wedding when I was struggling to figure out what in the world I was doing as a new wife.

My impression of marriage back then was love, living together, sex, and doing whatever we wanted together. It’s the thing you did when you loved someone and didn’t want to ever be apart from them. Isn’t that how they portray it in books and movies? Attraction, romance and a pretty dress, a honeymoon and happily ever after. That’s all there is to it.

Despite both my husband and I being believers in Christ, I didn’t really understand back then how marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church, and even now, after 11 years of marriage and five years widowed, it’s still something I’m trying to figure out. Better pre-marital counseling, a Godly wife as a mentor, and a resource like Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God’s Armor After the Wedding Dress might’ve helped me recognize that sooner and resulted in a more God-honoring marriage.

What I like about Prayers for New Brides is that it’s organized in short, 2-3 page chapters that make it easy to use as a daily devotional. With 40 chapters, this book works nicely as a 40-day devotional, complete with suggested prayers and Scriptures.

You know what would be a great way to use this book if you’re a bride planning your wedding and about to say “I do”? Adopt this a group study, of sorts, for you and your bridesmaids to do together, reading, discussing and praying for your marriage in the 40 days leading up to your wedding. Bonus: Involve the mother of the bride and your future mother-in-law.

What if you’re already married? Well, every marriage could use prayer and a little refreshment, so use the 40 days like touch up paint to strengthen the marriage you’re in.

Single? Whether you’re single and waiting for the right one or single again on the other side of a divorce or death, the prayers and discussions about God’s design for marriage are healthy considerations for determining what kind of future marriage you desire and for understanding what went wrong in a first marriage or how to do things different if given a second time around.

Prayers for New Brides would also make a nice addition to an engagement or bridal gift or even to a recently married woman who could just use a little encouragement.

I’m giving away my review copy to a randomly selected bride, whether you’re recently married, soon to be married, or married many many years. To enter, simply comment on this post with your wedding date and year. Winner will be randomly selected on Oct. 1, 2015.

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God’s Heart for Haiti and the Child for Whom I Have Prayed


For the months and weeks leading up to Haiti my prayer was adapted from a Christian song that says “break my heart for what breaks yours.” I prayed for God to break my heart for what breaks His about Haiti.

What He showed me is this: while the poverty and starvation and sickness saddens Him, what breaks His heart is the spiritual poverty, spiritual starvation and spiritual sickness.

So going into the trip I was prepared to minister to the spiritual. I didn’t want to go to Haiti and just see what it’s like. I wanted this trip to have positive impact on the country’s future, one community, one family, one child at a time.

So this little boy above was one of my “one child at a time” moments.

He walked in with a group of children, all between the ages of 3 and 7, I guess. An adult sat him on a bench full of children and his little head immediately started bobbing down and back up as he nodded off to sleep and jerked back up.

Without hesitation I walked straight to him and scooped him up, holding him where his head could rest on my shoulder. I was a complete stranger — and one with white skin! — yet this little son was so exhausted he didn’t care. He rested on my shoulder and was out like a light in a matter of minutes. He, and the other children, walked a long way to come to the sports camp. The heat anywhere in Haiti is intense, but in Souvenance there are hardly any shade trees, and it’s very desert-like. So these children, and especially this young boy, were hot and tired before they even played the sports games we brought.

He slept on my shoulder for nearly an hour while I walked around dispensing crayons to our group of color-ers and commenting “bell” (creole for beautiful) to the children coloring.

It was near time for the evening worship to start and I sat down with him. I shifted to hold him like in the photo above and he didn’t stir.

One of the friends with me asked, “What are you going to do with him when it’s time to leave?” Goodness, I hadn’t considered that. No woman had approached me to check on her son, so I had no idea who he belonged to. Someone would come inquiring for him, I assumed, at least the children that he walked with, I hoped. Or if we needed to walk him or drive him home, we’d figure it out.

I learned through the translators that he came with one of the young women in the church and he was her cousin’s baby. These cousins were part of a family who participated in voodoo worship. I asked his name and it was something like Fredrick.

So for the next near hour I held Fredrick while he slept soundly — It was like working in the Haitian church nursery — and I prayed for him. I prayed for his health and rest, that he be protected from the evil practices of his family, that the revolution to set this community and this country free from the bondage of voodoo start with him as a new leader who believes in Jesus and follows Jesus. I believe it can and will happen and that this child could be the catalyst.

Near the end of the church service, he woke up and I could tell by looking at him he felt refreshed. He sat with  me until another child came up and took him by the hand and led him out of the back of the church.

I watched him til he was out of sight, and just like that he was gone.

I watched out the door to see if I could see him and the adult who came to fetch him or he and the other kids walking down the road when he popped back in the door and walked down the church aisle straight back to me. Just as I started to scoop him up again the child came back for him, took his hand and made him leave me. Fredrick cried and protested by the child made him go.

It broke my heart. I kinda fell in love with him and his future in those two hours.

I didn’t see him again the rest of the trip, but I haven’t stopped thinking and praying for him. I really hope I’m back in Haiti some day and that I see him again and that some day 20 years from now I’m privileged to see and hear his story and see him as a mature young man doing great things for the Lord in his country.

I want to see him again and show him the picture of us and tell him “I prayed for you as a baby and I dedicated you to the Lord,” because while he is not by biological child I believe God gave him to me in that moment and I dedicated what God gave me to God and His purposes and God will honor that.

Can’t wait!

Priscilla Shirer breaks down what it means to put on the FULL armor of God



If you’ve never had the opportunity to sit under the teaching of Priscilla Shirer you are flat out missing out. This woman is empowered, y’all. Like Yoda said about about Luke, “The force is strong in this one.” And by force I mean Holy Spirit. She’s got an anointing, that’s for sure.

She was in my hometown a few months ago presenting a simulcast that was broadcast live around the world, and I and several thousand others were so fortunate to have attended this day of worship and teaching in person and in my city!

She taught from Ephesians on the armor of God, giving us a battle plan for victory and teaching us how to push the enemy back and take back what he’s stolen.

Stop right there. Take back what he’s stolen. Hmm. He’s a thief. But just what has he stolen from me? I wrote down a few things: my marriage, my faithfulness, my integrity, my loyalty, my reputation, the future I envisioned, my ability to trust myself. That’s a lot, and I want it back. Think about it: Just what has he stolen from you?

Before getting deep into the armor, our teacher spent the morning setting up our battle scene

Ephesian 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The struggle is unavoidable.

There is a struggle, but it’s not against what we think it is. It’s not against the people in our life or the circumstances we are in. In my case, it’s not against my messy habits or my being too busy, it’s against the enemy in heavenly realms. That’s what the verse says. The enemy, Shirer said, wants us to think that life is a playground not a battle ground. But which is it, really? No matter where you go or what you do, you will have a struggle. The enemy can not destroy you, but sure is going to try to distract you.

We may not want the struggle or the war, but quoting the movie Lord of the Rings, she said, “Open war is upon you whether you (want) it or not.”

The enemy has lost and he knows it. He wants us, though, to forget. Let us not forget.

Your enemy is invisible.

Satan is not the opposite of God. God has no opposite. Satan is nothing more than an illusionist and a copycat. If he’s paying attention he’s probably pretty mad I just typed that.

The location to battle is accessible.

The battle is in heavenly realms and we’re stuck here on Earth so what are we supposed to do about it? Well, good news. Ephesians 1:3 tells us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places …” and Eph 2:5-6 tells us “even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

We have access to where the battle in heavenly places is happening, and that way is Jesus! We have access to to the places where the battle is really happening through Jesus, and there are spiritual blessings waiting on us there. Amen!

Our weapons are not physical.

The armor of God is not an actual armor of strong metal. It’s salvation, it’s truth, it’s peace. It’s intangible but nevertheless real. Also — and this is good — it’s not our armor. It’s God’s. We get it from him, it’s provided to us and we are commanded to put it on.

Victory is irrevocable.

You won! Don’t act out of fear or insecurity. Stand victorious and with confidence that you won!

So there’s 7 weapons: 6 that correlate to physical pieces of armor and No. 7 is prayer.

Weapon No. 1: Truth

What is truth? Truth is God’s standard, not ours. Satan’s greatest tactic is deception, especially distorting God’s truth. He is the master illusionist. One of his greatest illusions is to keep you in the dark about your own deception. When you’re in the midst of deception you don’t even know it, you can’t see it. Everyone else can, but not you.

But there is hope in truth. Ephesians 5:13 says “everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” The light is God’s Word. God’s word will reveal truth. Test it.

Weapon No. 2: Righteousness

What is righteousness? Upright living that lines up with God. Unrighteous living opens us up to a full frontal attack, leaving us unprotected. Righteousness takes on the role of a breastplate, guarding our heart. Living unrighteously exposes our heart, leaving it vulnerable for attack. And once he gets to you heart, he’ll mess with your thoughts and what you hear. Guard your heart with the breastplate of righteous living.

Weapon No. 3: Peace

I don’t have more notes about peace, sorry. I got up during this part to go get a coffee. :-)

Weapon No. 4: Faith

Your faith is a shield!

Here’s something cool I bet you never thought of: the first three pieces of your armor are your uniform. You wear it. Never leave home without your truth, righteousness and peace. They are your belt, breastplate and shoes.

The other three pieces though, beginning with the shield of faith, are not things you wear. They are things you carry, things you take into battle with you. Cool, huh?

So about faith: James says put your faith to work. Faith without works is dead, he says. In Shirer’s words: give your faith a job!

If/when God calls you do something and you say no and/or resist, you are saying that you’re God is not faithful, that you’re God can’t be trusted.

Your/our enemy is sending flaming javelins at you/us to distract us. These distractions can take on the form of fear and insecurity. But our God is faithful! Walk in faith anyway! Doing what God has called you to anyway — aka faith — is the only thing that will make the fiery darts stop! Activate your faith!

Weapon No. 5: Salvation

Salvation is to be worn as a helmet protecting our mind. This isn’t just salvation from hell and to heaven but that are saved from the strongholds of sin and the world. We are saved from bondage and given to freedom.

We are to practice who we are in Christ and what are salvation truly means. Ephesians 1:4- says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will …”

Those few verses alone call us chosen, holy, blameless, loved, predestined and adopted, and the rest of the Word tells us more of the same.

Here’s a video I took of Priscilla Shirer showing us how to practice who we are in Christ. It’s incredible!

Finally, Weapon No.6: The Spirit

This is the Holy Spirit in personal form, a personal Rhema word from the Holy Spirit in us to us. The Spirit is a sword. All the other pieces are defensive. The sword is offensive. We’re to use it fight, not just to protect. How do use the Spirit as a sword offensively? Speak God’s Word outloud. Speak God’s word over your life and chop the enemy to pieces!

Whales Aren’t Fish, or The Time I Taught Preschoolers About Jonah


I volunteered in preschool recently at church not really knowing what was expected of me. I expected to do something along the lines of change some diapers, corral some kids and play with kids and toys.

What happened though is I was asked to teach the kids a story and sing some songs.

OK. I didn’t really come prepared to do that but I can tell a short Bible story and sing some songs, no problem.

I gathered the kids around and one of the boys handed me a book about Jonah and said, “read this.”

Great! That solved what story to tell.

So I read the book and a few pages in the story says that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. One of the boys interjects, “Whales aren’t fish.”

Hmm. Well, let’s talk about that. I asked all of the kids about what makes a fish and fish, and I heard a lot of very good answers —like fish live in the water, and fish eat other fish. One girl said fish eat insects like sea beetles and sea ants. OK. I’ve never heard of that but we’ll go with it.

Despite determining that fish live in water and whales in live in water, and a number of other similarities between fish and whales, there was no convincing this boy that whales are a kind of fish. Which is a good thing since I looked it up later and discovered that he was right; whales aren’t fish. Whales are mammals. Every time the story referred to Jonah in the belly of the fish the boy said to me, “It was a whale not a fish.” I just let him and read on.

Then came an even tougher question but one that turned this story into more than just another fish tale. After hearing me read that Jonah didn’t obey God, a little girl asked, “What does it mean to obey?” Wow. Great question.

It was a great opportunity to talk to the kids about doing the things we’re told to do. Jonah was told to go to Nineveh. He didn’t go. That was disobedience. If your parent tells you to put away your toys and you don’t do it, that’s disobedience.

I described Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish whale as his “time out.”

One little girl piped up, “My brothers have to sit in time out.”

The whole experience felt a little like playing host on “Kids say the darndest things.”

 

Vengeance is Mine


Once upon a time I was mad and I wanted to exact revenge. I thought up all the ways I could do it, too. I’m talking Carrie Underwood-style “Before He Cheats” kind of revenge.

If you’re not familiar with the song, a few lyrics:

I dug my keys into the side of his pretty little suped-up four wheel drive / Carved my name into his leather seats / I took a Louisville Slugger to both headlights / Slashed a hole in all four tires

Like that.

 You know what they say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and I was feeling scorned.

But when I felt my imagination running just a little too wild in this direction I’d reign myself in with part-Scripture and part-adage

“Vengeance is mine says the Lord”

I “comforted” myself that God would get ’em, that God would exact my revenge.

And being God and all He’d fix ’em real good.

Not exactly a Christ-like attitude, is it?

So I’d just stop thinking about it all together until the mad feelings came up again and then the cycle would  repeat itself.

Until one day I had a break through.

“Vengeance is mine says the Lord” means God owns it, not just dishing out but determining who gets avenged.

Hmm.

I had already determined that this person needed to pay for how they hurt me and I would stop myself from exacting that hurt myself by saying “God will get ’em” when really it’s not even up to me to judge and condemn that someone needs to pay.

And even more than that, I beg for mercy when it comes to paying for the hurts I cause but I beg for just punishment when it’s me that’s being hurt, when the tables are turned.

Also not Christ-like.

We’re to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly.

Not condemn or desire (or exact) revenge.

Paul wrote to the church at Rome (12:19) “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

He is quoting here Deuteronomy (32:35) “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”

Who is he talking about here? Who’s foot will slip, and who’s day of disaster is near?

Well, if you read the whole chapter in Deuteronomy you’ll see that he’s talking about the neighboring nations to Israel, their “enemies” who turned their back on God and worshipped idols.

Who is he not talking about?

People who hurt us.

God’s not a mob boss ordering hits.

He’s patient and merciful, to me, to those hurt us, to us all.

And I’m so glad.

I’ve gotten over my hurt (well, mostly), and I no longer wish for revenge.

I had lots of un-Christ-like feelings and reactions, and that wasn’t right.

So you know what is Christ-like?

In his own words:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Book Review: The Gospel of Yes


What if we looked at God’s word and the Christian life as a series of yes’s instead of a list of “thou shalt not’s”?

This is the theme Mike Glenn explores in his book The Gospel of Yes.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group to review, but the reason I chose this title is because my pastor has preached for years “put your yes on the table,” meaning telling God yes to whatever he has for you instead of limiting God with fear-based no’s. But the book wasn’t really about us saying yes but about God saying yes.

This is a paradigm shift for those of us who grew up with our faith being about all the things we shouldn’t do — what I refer to as the “thou shalt not’s.” It is true that there some things God says no to. Glenn writes,

“God said ‘no’ to sin because it violates his holiness, but wanting us not to break his laws is not his number-one reason for opposing sin. He hates sin because it destroys the people he loves.”

Glenn’s point is that in a way even His “no” to sin can be looked at as a “yes” to something better.

But avoiding sin alone is not enough, is not true Christianity, i.e. following Christ. For one, we can’t avoid sin completely. We are born sinners and we will struggle with sin of all kinds as long as we are on this Earth, in Satan’s lair. So living a faith that’s based on performance of what we don’t do isn’t going to work.

Glenn turns that idea around and looks at the things to which God says “yes” and he finds yes’s in creation, in the cross, and to us.

God is never going to say yes to sin, so this isn’t a book that will leave believers thinking they can do whatever they want in the name of God being a yes-man. But it challenges us to look at God’s word in a new way and explore how God might be trying to give us a “yes.” This book will certainly challenge and expand your thoughts.

A New Church and Thoughts on Church Culture


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A friend slash one-of-my-former-small-group-teachers slash former-children’s-pastor-to-my-children is starting a new church in the Huntsville area. It’s called Refuge Church, and you can read more about the why and when at findrefugehere.com.

While I’m very happy to promote Refuge Church, that’s not why I’m writing this so I’m not going to tell their story here. It’s not my story to tell, and they tell it well on their web site.

I’m writing this because as part of supporting the new church I’ve sat in on some planning meetings where discussions have been had about church culture, and I went down to Birmingham this past week with them to Church of the Highlands to see how they accomplish a welcoming culture and how they set up a school as a church (which is what Refuge will be doing) and still maintain a welcoming, hospitable culture.

Refuge leaders talk about the idea of excellence in everything the church does and they’ve used Disney World as an example. Did you know that after closing Disney repaints certain areas of the park? They replant flowers and landscape daily to give their parks the same fresh and new look and feel every single day. Why should Disney, an entertainment company, be the best at something and the church not even care about those things?

It’s irritated me for a long while — and I’ve been guilty and irritated at myself for this too, so not casting stones — that we’ll wake up early or stay up late for sporting events and entertainment but 9 o’clock church is too early to sacrifice sleep for. Also, why should the sporting events and concerts have all the fun and church be “boring”? Why do we cheer louder on Saturday for our favorite team than we do for God on Sunday?

So, at Church of the Highlands this past week, we talked about the things that struck us about how church here was different than “traditional” church. One of the things I said and noticed right off the bat is people want to be here. We got there at 7:15 for the 8 o’clock service and people were already there at the church’s Starbucks-like cafe and the church bookstore and the Internet cafe, interacting with each other and getting ready to serve and/or worship. Between the 8 o’clock and 9:30 services the corridors were full of people waiting for the 8 o’clockers to get out of the sanctuary so they could go in at 9:30. There was an eagerness to be there and to fellowship with people and to sing to God and to hear teaching from the pastor, and that to me was refreshing.

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People waiting to get into the 9:30 service

Along the themes of excellence is a small detail that may not seem to contribute much to the kingdom of God but it really does, and that is the bathroom soap. I had heard about the bathroom soap before coming — what’s that say that your church has a high reputation for good soap that people two hours a way are talking about it? The bathroom soap is a stress relieving scented soap from Bath & Body Works. Are people going to get saved because of the bathroom soap? Probably not. But are people going to feel loved and cherished and lavished upon by God’s people when even the soap is special? Maybe so. And they’ll continue coming to that safe place, and as long as the pastor is preaching God’s word, salvations will happen. Church of the Highlands has had more than 8,000 salvations so far this year, so there just be something to this.

On the way down to Birmingham I asked Jason, Refuge pastor, if he had a sense of whether Church of the Highlands — which was a church start 12 years ago and now has more than 20,000 members at three locations and three services (a total of nine services) — are primary pulling from other churches or are they successful are reaching the unchurched? This is an important question I think because we don’t need more churches for churched people to move around between, but a church that’s successfully drawing in those who aren’t already in church is something I can get behind.

So, Jason asked this to the Highlands pastor that met with our group, and his answer blew my mind and was paradigm shifting. He said, churched or unchurched, it doesn’t matter; people are disconnected from God and that’s who they’re seeking to minister to and to draw in so that people are connected to God, whether they’ve been in church their whole life or are brand new believer. Wow, right?

So I want to end with a funny story about the photo at the top of the worship service. The worship was rockin’ with instruments and lights and we were singing when just as I pulled my iPhone camera out to take a picture the power went out. Instruments, lights, microphones, everything were out. But you know what? We all kept singing and didn’t miss a beat. The leaders kept playing their instruments even though we couldn’t hear them and we all kept singing the chorus a capella, and it was kinda beautiful. I stood there thinking how awesome this was that the power went out but that the lack of electricity didn’t stop or even slow the praise. The electricity may have gone out, but the power of worship didn’t wane one bit.