Category Archives: Bible

All Summer Long by Melody Carlson

all summer longThe weather is gorgeous, the calendar is full, and time to relax is much appreciated. For me, this summer means surviving lots of extrovert activities—grad parties, family get-togethers, camping trips with friends—and that means my
“introvert days” are extra important. If I don’t have a chance to be quiet, to recharge by myself, to feed my mind without the noise, I get super grouchy. Just ask my husband. I am not a pleasant person to be around.

I’m battling the grouchiness with some extra reading time. I decided to give up Netflix unless I’m at the gym or with my husband in favor of more time to read my Bible, journal, and get sucked into some good books.

I’ve read some fun ones so far, but All Summer Long by Melody Carlson has been my favorite. It’s a chick-flick in book form. The main character is as lovable and ambitious and hopeful as your favorite rom-com heroine, and her love interest is every bit as dreamy as Tom Hanks. (Okay, maybe not quite Tom-Hanks level, but you get the picture.)

I’m a long-time fan of Melody Carlson. When I was a teenager, I discovered her Diary of a Teenage Girl series, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it probably changed my life. Carlson’s characters became my role models, my example of what a Christian teenager and healthy relationships should (and should not) look like.

I loved this love story. And if you like happy, fluffy romance with a leading lady who follows her dreams thrown in, you’ll love it too.

5 stars—I loved it and will recommend it to everyone.
(Learn more about my star system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

Breaking Rules Isn’t the Problem

God used a book to make me aware of my people problem. I was sitting on the couch watching TV when something slammed against the front door. I jumped and saw the UPS man climbing back in his truck. Weird. I wasn’t expecting a delivery.

When I opened the door, there was a small cardboard package from Barnes and Noble with my name on it. Curious, I tore into it and found the book People Over Profit by Dale Partridge (the founder of Sevenly). But I didn’t order it. I never order my books from Barnes and Noble. Jonathan didn’t order it. It couldn’t be a review book—those always come directly from the publisher. I asked my boss if he sent it. (His response was, “No. Did you want me to?”) I even called Barnes and Noble. The lady on the phone was obnoxious—”I can see why it would be unsettling to get a book you don’t remember ordering. Did you check your credit card bill?” Uggh. There was no order number, no packing slip. She transferred me to a different department and then they hung up on me. Where the heck did the book come from?

peopleoverprofitI still don’t know. But since it was about the very same issue God was dealing with in my heart, I decided I needed to read it. It wasn’t life-changing, but there was so much wisdom. I think anyone who works with people—coworkers, clients, customers, church attendees, whatever—should read it. It was a quick, easy read full of practical advice:

“After all, the killer of quality is not efficiency. Rather, it’s the desire to do things at a pace that can only be achieved by compromising one’s values and mission” (pg. 36).

“How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you” (pg. 63).

“The marketplace, left to itself, doesn’t see people” (pg. 64).

“When you say a company believes that people matter, it means they hold the following convictions: People are valuable. No Person is worth more than another. Every person deserves to be treated fairly and with respect. Organizations should be empathetic to all people they touch” (pg. 65).

“Too many companies treat their customers like a mere metric of profitability . . . they’ve begun operating as though customers exist to serve them rather than the other way around . . . A ‘people-matter’ organization works to make customers feel special and valued. They don’t just tell patrons that they want their business; they work to retain it” (pg. 67).

“Companies are good at valuing some of the people they touch, but few value all of them” (pg. 71).

“Companies that believe people matter must believe that all people matter” (pg. 72).

“We often forget that every organization is just a group of people–individuals with hearts, minds, desires, hopes, and feelings who are enlivened by a common mission” (pg. 75).

“By adopting “people-matter” principles and fusing them into an organization, companies can build a loyal tribe of individuals who will fight alongside their leaders and help build an unstoppable enterprise” (pg. 75).

“Authenticity is the act of telling people what you believe and care about, not telling them what you think they want you to believe or care about” (pg. 106).

“It requires bravery to accept who you are and stop trying to be what you think people want” (pg. 112).

“Quality isn’t what you say it is; it’s what they say it is” (pg. 124).

“Quality means listening, responding, and making changes quickly” (pg. 125).

“Look for ways to build the incredible into the ordinary . . . offer them the freedom to do for one what they wish they could do for all” (pg. 133).

“We should give because we love others, because we want to meet their needs, and because we believe that people matter” (pg. 138).

“Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will” (pg. 147).

“When you sense fear of the unknown, it’s often a sign you need to walk into, not away from, what is repelling you” (pg. 174).

Want to read more about my people problem? Check out these two posts: People Matter (more than rules) and I Don’t Follow the Rules.

I Don’t Follow the Rules

My boss’ gentle reminder to love people was just the start of many, many indications that I have a problem. After that conversation, symptoms started showing up everywhere—other people would talk about their struggles with the same issue, a pastor would preach about it, someone even sent me a book about it (more about that in my next post!).

I’ve learned that when God wants me to work on something, this is exactly how He gets my attention—He sends me the same message a thousand different ways until I notice the pattern and start to do something about it.

When I was praying about it, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to read what Romans says about grace and the law. I’ve read it a million times in hopes that I might figure out the mysterious and complicated relationship between God’s law and grace. I even took an entire class on the book of Romans in college.

Here are a few things I wrote in my journal after that reading:

“God, You’re challenging me to value people more than rules. You love them whether they follow the rules or not, and I should too. Why is it so hard to do? I like it when people follow the rules. I know what to expect. It gives me some control over the situation.”

Yikes. There’s that word: control. That’s another thing I struggle with.

“How do I love them? How do You?”

I really wanted God to tell me. I obviously had no clue.

“You love me even when I’m mean and manipulative. Even when I’m lazy and controlling and micromanaging. When I’m forgetful. When I’m petty. When I’m selfish. When I’m judgmental. When I’m wrong. Even when I’m ugly. Even when I’m fat.”

(Ugly and fat have more to do with my self-esteem issues, but that’s anther discussion entirely.)

“The law is useful for many things, but it’s not where my salvation comes from. And that’s how I’m supposed to love other people, too.

“It’s like Jesus’ death and resurrection and my salvation are God’s way of saying, ‘Hey, she’s not perfect, but I want her here anyway. I love working with her and she adds value to our team. I don’t expect her to get it right every time, but I trust her. I know who she is and what she stands for because she’s Mine. And that covers a multitude of mistakes.'”

When I realized God gives me the same kind of grace I try to give my coworkers, it became a lot easier to understand why and how to love people who don’t follow the rules.

Because I don’t follow the rules.

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin (Romans 4:7–8).

Even if we’re smart, even if we’re hard workers, even if we do everything right, we have God’s favor because of our relationship with Him. Following the rules is just icing on the cake. And it makes it a whole lot easier for Him to use us and convince others to work with us.

We don’t get God’s blessings because we follow the rules. We get them because He loves us.

He is Risen Indeed

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Good Friday is a solemn celebration, a reminder of how bad things were—how bad things are. It’s a reminder of what life is like without Jesus. Most years it rains, or at least clouds over with darkness.

But Easter is bright and hopeful. A celebration of grace and love and life and mercy, a reminder that we’re loved by an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator who became flesh and died so we could spend eternity with Him.

Spring (at least in the Midwest) is the perfect time to celebrate the juxtaposition of life and death that holy week brings—bleakness and bright hope.

The seasons mirror the work God does in our lives, in our world. It’s a cycle of life and death. A reminder that good things come to an end, but for a reason. It’s not senseless. It’s not the last word. Death is required for new life to break forth. The leaves must turn crisp and fall, the peaceful white snow must cover the land, hiding that death and ushering in the new life that comes with spring. The birds start to sing again. The flowers send shoots up out of the soil. The air embraces you with a warm breeze. Summer is coming. Sunday is coming.

As I’m preparing my heart for Easter, I’m remembering just how bad it was before He came—how bad my life could have been without Jesus—and I’m praising God for the new life He brings.

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

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Finding God at the End of the Path

trailIt’s no secret that I don’t like where we live. Our apartment is great, but the area leaves a lot be desired. At least for me. When Jonathan took his new job a few years ago, we had to leave St. Louis Park, a lovely suburb where we had a great apartment just blocks from the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. We could walk to Trader Joe’s, Target, the gym—even Lake Calhoun was just a mile away if we took the Greenway. Then we moved here. It’s not walkable. And I don’t feel safe when I’m outside by myself. I never go anywhere.

But then I started reading a book (Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubiettathat contrasted worry with delight. The author asked the question, “Where have you encountered God’s delight through creation?” The answer was easy. I love walks that give me the chance to think and observe details—everything from picker bushes to perfect leaves to the eight-point bucks that like to hang out in our neighborhood.

I decided to get out and go for one of those walks, to put aside my fears—because really, they’re unfounded—and venture out by myself. Well, I only kinda put aside my fear. I told my husband where I was going and walked with my hand around my phone in my pocket. My bluetooth headset was in my ear, and I was ready to click it twice to call Jonathan if I got in trouble. I even debated whether to wear the hood of my puffy winter jacket up or down because, what if someone snuck up behind me and I couldn’t see them because of it? How far around the lake should I go? Should I stay away from the wooded parts of the trail where I was less visible from the road (but still able to be seen because the trees are bare and my coat is a bright color)?

trail2Then I came across a non-paved path that wound down a gradual hill and disappeared into the weeds along the lake. A path I had never noticed before. Spurred on by the idea of delight, my curiosity got the best of my anxiety. You only live once, right? What if I could meet God at the end of that trail, wherever it led? But should I text Jonathan to tell him exactly where I was? What if I unknowingly ventured out on to the ice? What if I fell through? I’m not a yeller. No one would hear me. Should I just turn around and go home?

I didn’t, because I was determined to do something scary, to take a risk, to ask God to use the experience to chip away at the wall of fear I’d put up between us.

You know what? I didn’t get attacked from behind. I didn’t get kidnapped or raped. I didn’t fall through the ice. (I did get the poop scared out of me by a fairly large bird that flew right in front of me, however. Not actual poop, since I know some of you are wondering. Geez.) You know what else? I told God I was afraid, and He told me it was okay. I didn’t have any grand epiphanies or see any awe-inspiring views, but I started to see my fear melt away as I took a risk and took God at His word. He’s always with me and I don’t have to be afraid.

lakePerhaps it seems silly to you that I was so afraid to go for a walk by myself. I wasn’t terrified, I wasn’t shaking, I wasn’t convinced I was going to die. But I did ask a whole lot of “what-ifs” as I jumped to the worst possible conclusions and imagined the scariest scenarios. This is just a small glimpse of what it’s like to live with anxiety. This wasn’t even the crippling kind. But I’m hoping I can keep having experiences like this that expose my fears and allow God to chip away at them with His love and kindness and care for me. I don’t want to spend my whole life surrounded by “protective” walls of fear that don’t let me see or experience the world around me. What kind of life would that be?

Actually, I know what kind of life that would be because I’ve been living there. It’s a pretty lonely, boring one. I want more than that for myself.

(Check back in a few days for a full review of Jane Rubietta’s book, Worry Less So You Can Live More.)

What the Bible Doesn’t Say

uploads-14115120538776712c565-a699942aI was talking to some friends about healing when the subject of Paul’s thorn in the flesh came up. (Read what the Bible has to say about it.)

“I like to think it was panic attacks,” I said.

Another girl piped up across the room: “Or an eating disorder.”

We all laughed as we identified with Paul in that moment, but it was a serious conversation. We all have things we struggle with—sins and issues that come up time and time again, even after we’ve given them to God, sometimes repeatedly.

It’s not uncommon for people to debate Paul’s thorn and guess at what it was. More than once, I’ve discussed it with people who have expressed frustration that Scripture isn’t more explicit, telling us exactly what it was and why he wrestled with it.

But I think that was on purpose. If we knew what that thorn was, it would be harder for us to relate, to put ourselves in Paul’s place and wrestle with it the way he did, to be encouraged by the words, “My grace is sufficient for you” even when our prayers are answered with a miraculous healing or our own personal thorns.

So take heart. Be encouraged by what the Bible doesn’t say about Paul’s suffering and use his story to find meaning and purpose in your own difficult times.

And just like God doesn’t explain Paul’s thorn, he often does offer us explanations either. But through Paul, we learn there’s greater purpose for our suffering, something much bigger than our own pain. Our suffering unites us with Christ. After all, God didn’t take the cup from him, either.

2015

kids playing in the snow

One of my grandparents took this picture. I found it when I was sorting through some of their old slides.

I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions in 2014 because God was teaching me about grace, and that meant not getting caught up in my own brand of legalism. But that grace got twisted and turned into laziness.

I’ve been convicted over and over again about how undisciplined my lifestyle has become. So 2015 is going to be a year of goals rather than rules:

  1. Run an entire 5k. I’m considering a race that takes place Memorial Day weekend.
  2. Write and publish 52 blog posts. One a week feels pretty doable. (One post down!)
  3. Read through the Bible in a year. I’m going to try this plan from YouVersion.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions or set goals each year?

Settled

map

Waiting for Settled

Until last week, I believed someday I would reach a point in my life when I felt settled, like I had arrived, like I could get comfortable where I was and coast on through the rest of my life.

What was I thinking?

I thought if I could just get married, finish college, get a full-time job, buy a forever house, have kids…everything would feel more long-term, more permanent, more settled.

But it doesn’t work like that. It wasn’t a lighting-strike epiphany, more like a foggy mist of realization that settled over me quietly as I drove to work, when I was wondering if what I have now is all there is. And if it is, wouldn’t that mean I’m settled now? And wouldn’t that be terrible because, really, I don’t want to be stuck like this forever?

What Being Settled ISN’T

Being settled isn’t a result of the circumstances in my life or what I do or don’t do. It’s not about who I married or how I’ll parent or whether or not my student loans are ever going to be paid off. If being settled is about those things, I’ll never get there. None of those things are constant. None of them will last. None of them are eternal.

What Being Settled IS

As I read Psalm 37 last week, I remembered memorizing verse 4 in high school:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

Even back then, I knew that meant if I delighted myself in God, my desires would begin to line up with His. That was so much easier to do when I wasn’t responsible for my own life, when I didn’t have to make decisions about where I would live or work or when I would have kids or even whether I should put that pretty bottle of nail polish back on the shelf because, really, I already have like 20 bottles and that $8 could go straight toward my student loans. And when those are paid off we can finally think about a down payment on a house . . . Anyway . . .

At this point in my life—age 27—I’m clinging to verse 23:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in His way;
Psalm 37:23 (ESV)

It’s the same idea as verse 4, but it seems a little easier to understand now that I’m grown up and worrying about things like feeling settled.

The entire Psalm is about that settled feeling I’d been searching for. It says, “fret not yourself” and “He will act.”

So I’m learning that being settled is about trusting God, about delighting myself in Him, about waiting for Him to act, to direct my steps, to fight my battles, to count my days, to bring forth my righteousness, just like Psalm 37 says.

The Wayfinding Bible

Wayfinding-Bible

 

I’m sad to say I’m just now getting this review up. I’ve had the Bible for . . . let’s just say it’s been a long time. But with no deadline, it was easy to push it off until later. So without further ado . . .

First things first: this Bible is a paperback, but it looks nice. The design is simple, clean, and pretty. (But don’t worry—it’s not too feminine for a guy!) It’s the New Living Translation, which is a paraphrase, not a literal translation, but I love that it gets me out of my NIV bubble and helps me to read with fresh eyes. It’s probably my favorite version to read from.

Right away, I loved the concept of this Bible. It has three main “routes” you can take through Scripture:

The Flyover Route—54 readings that give you an overview of biblical events

The Direct Route—215 readings that help you understand how the whole Bible fits together

The Scenic Route—386 readings that give you a new appreciation for God’s Word as you read familiar and unfamiliar passages

A fourth route, the Thru-Hike is listed in the back and takes you through the Bible chronologically.

And each reading isn’t just Scripture. Book introductions, historical markers, and other features provide background info, summaries, and maps to give you further insight into the text.

What I loved most about The Wayfinding Bible was the layout. Most reading-plan-focused Bibles I’ve seen have weird organization and passages are often re-arranged to fit the reading plan. But this one isn’t like that. While it looked confusing at first, a quick read of the User’s Guide in the first few pages made it easy to navigate each route (sorry—pun intended). And if you don’t want to follow any of the reading plans, you can skip around however you like and the “routes” don’t get in the way. Props to whoever designed it—it’s no small accomplishment!

If you zip through your daily Scripture to reading only to realize you have no idea what you just read (that’s me more often than I care to admit), The Wayfinding Bible would be a great tool to keep you on track. The frequent summaries and other features make it easy to follow along and keep tabs on what’s going on.

And if you’re looking for a Bible with a reading plan, go with this one! The four different reading plans will give you a deeper understanding of the scope of the Bible.

*I received a free copy of The Wayfinding Bible from Tyndale in
exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher.

Celebrating Taylor

rula-sibai-pink-flowers-webI didn’t know Taylor, but I knew of her. I knew she was a beloved youth leader in our ministry, and I knew she was impacting lives.

On Monday I went to her funeral. I had heard Christians should attend funerals as a reminder that life is short, and I wanted to celebrate what I had been told was a life well lived.

I sat in the church parking lot for at least ten minutes, watching cars slowly fill the parking lot and people shuffle through the doors in pairs. I went inside and watched as some of the people who are near and dear to my heart grieve for someone who was near and dear to theirs. They hugged their other friends a little tighter, held them a little longer. I was on the outside looking in, learning what it means to life a life of influence as the people who loved Taylor most told her story.

I sat near the back, off to the right, as Taylor’s family and friends shared things I already knew—I had been hearing about her life for the last week as people filed in and out of the church office, talking about what had happened. I watched as, one after another, my pastors brought hope in the midst of their own grief—each had special memories of Taylor. They talked about her faithfulness, her joy, her meekness, and her impact.

Through them, Taylor’s life, though it ended when she was only 23, told a beautiful story much bigger than her own. A story of the hope she found in Jesus. It was evident in every memory shared, every tear shed.

One of the pastors said “her life was to glorify God,” and he quoted John 12:23–24—“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” I had been thinking about that all week. It was difficult to lose Taylor, especially for those who knew her best, yet God was getting so much glory. Despite the sadness of her passing, hundreds of people were hearing about her faith in Jesus.

I’m left wondering about my own life and praying that, when God calls me home, my life tells that same story—the story of a God who loves despite failures, who forgives despite unrepentance, who saves despite death.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus, I have one question—why? What’s stopping you from living for Him?

Click here to learn more about the hope and purpose that comes from following Jesus. And if you have questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. Email me at editionally (at) gmail (dot) com.