I love how the Holy Spirit leads and guides us when we are ministering. So many times I have had Him step in and totally change the direction I am going in while I’m speaking. Unlike us, He knows exactly what every person in the room is thinking. So if He prompts us to change direction we can trust that there is someone in the congregation that needs exactly what He is leading us to say next.
Yesterday as I was ministering in the jail service I had one of these wonderful experiences. I was going in one direction, when an image popped into my mind accompanied by an understanding of what the Holy Spirit was impressing upon on me. There were some new ladies in the jail, but there were a few who had fallen, and as a consequence had returned to jail.
I briefly shared my testimony with the ladies and shared 2 Corinthians 5:17 with them. It says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old has gone, the new is here!” I often use this verse when I share my testimony. I also shared John 8:36, and talked about who the Son sets free is free indeed. Next I explained 1 John 2:1-2, and how Jesus is our advocate, and the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He is our defender.
But the Holy Spirit nudged me back to 2 Corinthians 5:17, and gave me the image of an old car in need of restoration. I knew exactly where He was going. I began to explain to the ladies that when we ask Jesus to forgive us, and we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, He makes us brand new. Then I shared this illustration.
When I was growing up, my dad restored old cars, and still does. He is really good at it. I can remember him driving up with many old beat up cars with little to no paint. Some had broken windows, and ratty upholstery. Others had holes in the floorboards, dented or missing fenders, rusted bumpers, and busted dashboards. In other words they looked like a hopeless pile of junk.
Mom and I would roll our eyes because we never could see what my dad saw in those old cars. He always had a vision for what they could become when all we saw was a mess. Dad would do the engine work and get it running good, sometimes replacing the engine with a more powerful one. Then he would sand down and remove all the old paint. He would fix all the dents and dings, and have it repainted in a bright beautiful color.
Next he would replace all broken or cloudy glass, and have the bumpers and ornamental pieces re-chromed. Then he would have the inside done, re-upholstering all the ripped or rotted seats, and replace the carpet. After all that work was done, he would do the finishing work; new fancy wheels and new tires, radio, etc. Before we knew it the car would be ready to go, and he would take it to a car show and come home with first place trophies.
His old cars looked so nice because he really worked hard to restore them to their original condition. They looked like they had just rolled off the manufacturers assembly line. And though they looked perfect to the natural eye, the fact remained that underneath all that restoration—beautiful paint, new chrome, and upholstery—it was still the same old car.
My dad is a perfectionist and his cars looked perfect. But in reality he couldn’t make the car brand new no matter how hard he tried. He wasn’t the original designer. The same is true in our lives. The only one who can make the old brand new is our Heavenly Father, because He is our original creator. When we give our lives to Christ, the old is gone. We become brand new creations. He doesn’t patch up our battered parts, or sand off our rough edges and cover us with a fresh coat of paint. No, he makes us brand new.
There are no defective parts in us at all. Our failed areas, and the parts that are not working according to His desires, are not replaced. They are made brand new. It’s as if we have rolled right off the manufacturers assembly line. We are born again! We have a new life, and a new start. Others may not be able to see what we can be, but Jesus has the vision to see us as brand new creations.
I watched as each lady’s eyes began to well up with tears. And I fully understood why the Holy Spirit had led me in this direction. So many times we struggle with the thought that our past defines us, and no matter what happens we will still be defective. We often feel like the dirt that has stuck to us, or the dirt others have thrown on us is there to stay.
We have to realize that Jesus desires to make us brand new. There are no defective parts left when we turn to Him. We have the opportunity to stand up and walk into the brand new future we have in Jesus. We no longer have to be held down in guilt and shame. Our dirt isn’t covered up, it’s gone. The old has gone, the NEW has come. And the amazing part is, when we continue to follow Him we only increase in beauty. We are never the same. There are no defective parts.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!
I’m continually amazed by how God seems to call upon us to minister to others when we feel we have the least to give. Not only does He use us in powerful ways when we feel like we have nothing to give, but in turn He refreshes us, revives us, reveals His plans to us, and meets our own needs in the process.
I’m reminded of this example in the Bible. 1 Kings 17:10-16 (NLT) says,
“So Elijah went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, ‘Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?' As she was going to get it, he called to her, ‘Bring me a bite of bread, too.’
But she said, ‘I swear by the LORD your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.’
But Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the LORD sends rain and the crops grow again!’
So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the LORD had promised through Elijah.”
Last weekend we had our Tennessee District Women’s Conference. It was powerful. Three hundred ladies worshipping together, drawing closer to God together, and He showed up in all His glory; what a blessing it was to be a part of the “Fierce Conference.” The week before the conference had been incredibly busy for me, and the three day conference was busy as well. Before I could even get home from the conference that weekend I realized I was coming down with a cold…great.
The cold knocked the wind out of me, and literally landed me on the couch for a whole week. I was miserable. Add the let down that comes after every amazing conference—I don’t like let down, maybe cool down is more appropriate—and I was down for the count.
Well, I thought, maybe I could get some writing done since everything else had come to a halt. I was hoping to at least get caught up on my blog. (Yes, I’m aware that I’m terribly behind. Please forgive me.) So, I tried to write but I couldn’t put two sentences together to save my life. I had a really bad case of writer’s block.
I prayed, I read my Bible, I did daily devotionals, and still nothing inspired me to write. With my deadline for my second book looming in the distance, I began to feel even more anxious. What would I write? Will I ever have another inspired thought in my life?
When I was at the women’s conference, there was a common thread that was woven throughout the entire event. It was the simple but compelling admonition to, “Tell your story!” We all have a story to tell. Writing my first book was fairly easy to write, because I simply told my story.
This morning when I woke up I had a message from a pastor friend. He wanted me to listen to a video of him sharing his testimony, and asked if I could tell him if I thought it was book worthy. After listening to his story, I encouraged him to write the book. I explained to him that his testimony would be a great help to other pastors going through the same thing. He was thrilled and thanked me for encouraging him to write it.
Later in the afternoon another pastor friend messaged me and asked me to listen to one of his recent sermons. As we began to talk about the topic of his sermon, he began to share some of the things on his heart about where he feels God has him in ministry right now. You guessed it, I told him he should write a book. He asked me if I thought the timing was right. As the Holy Spirit impressed it upon my heart, I told him, “Yes! Now is the perfect time. Write the book while you wait for your next assignment!”
Now, in my current state of writer’s block, desperation, and lack of enthusiasm for writing my own book, I still managed to pour into and encourage two other ministers to write their stories! I didn’t really feel like I had any encouragement to give, but I strongly believe in the power of sharing your story. I have seen what God can do with us when we choose to be transparent, and simply tell our story. I have seen how God has used my own story over and over again in ways that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Our stories are powerful, and we all have a story to tell.
People will gladly pick up a book that deals with the same issues they are going through. It’s confidential. It’s non-confrontational. They can read the pages, and feel like someone else understands them without even talking to that person. They can learn from the mistakes of others, and make detours to prevent those mistakes in their own lives. They can be encouraged just by knowing they are not alone. We always have something to give, even when we feel like there is nothing left. We have a story.
So many times, we feel that we are running on empty. We may feel tired, burned out, sick, or depleted. But God loves to pour into us and through us when we are emptied of ourselves. The widow thought she had just enough oil and flour for one more meal for herself and her son. But when she shared with Elijah, it became more than enough!
God can do more with nothing, than we can do with everything. Don’t ever think you don’t have something to contribute. You always have enough to be a blessing to someone else. Tell your story, and then encourage others to share their stories.
Now, do you know what happened to the rest of my day? After encouraging others, and telling them the story of how I wrote and shared my own story, I was inspired to write again. When we give from the little we have, God provides. And… This is how we fight our battles!
Rev. 12:10-11 (NIV)
“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;”
Last week my wonderful loving husband sent me away to a cabin in the woods so I could get alone with God and just write. I’m currently working on my 2nd book, and I really needed a place to go where I could just focus on writing. I wanted to find a cabin somewhere that had all the amenities of home, but also had a beautiful view and privacy. I found the perfect place in Rising Fawn, Georgia.
I was mesmerized by its beauty from the moment I drove onto the property. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect setting. Situated on the most stunning, placid lake with a deck that extended over the water and a view of the most majestic mountains just beyond the lake, I was almost certain I was in heaven! I quickly unpacked and went outside to sit on the deck to just unwind and enjoy the view.
The next morning, I went downstairs and started a pot of coffee and prepared to spend some quality time with God before I began to write. I was hoping to get so much done in the seven days I would be here, but I ended up writing only three chapters. Little did I know that this trip was not meant to be solely spent in the cabin writing chapters. God had more in store for me than that. Oh, how I cherished the conversations I had with Jesus out there in His beautiful creation, but even that was not the sole purpose for this trip.
One afternoon, I received a text message from the cabin owner and she said she would be coming over to clean another cabin in the area. She asked if I needed anything while she was there? I told her that I was fine, but I would love to see her other properties she had available to rent. She came over, and that is how I met my friend Sheila. We instantly hit it off, and talked for most of the afternoon.
Before we parted ways, she asked me if I had heard of “Miracle Pottery?” I hadn’t heard of it but I was intrigued as she told me the incredible story of the lady who ran the shop. She suggested I make a trip into Alabama to visit this shop and talk with the owner whose last name just happened to be “Miracle.”
I got up early the next morning and arrived just as the little pottery shop opened. I was amazed to see all the beautiful pottery, most of it engraved with Scripture verses. But, when I met the store’s owner I was completely blown away. She invited me to have a seat with her in the back of her shop, and we began to talk about Jesus. As she began to share with me all the things she had been rescued from in her life by the healing power of Jesus it was all I could do to fight back the tears. This lady was a living miracle!
I ended up spending the entire day with this lady, and what an experience it was! When I returned to the cabin that afternoon, Sheila texted and asked how it went. I told her, and she replied with, “I have someone else I want you to meet.” At this point I was well behind schedule for what I wanted to accomplish as far as the book was concerned. But something wouldn’t let me say, “No.”
Sheila met me at the cabin at 6:00 p.m. the following day, and we went to a very interesting place called “Uncle Lar’s Outpost.” Sheila wanted me to meet the lady who owns and manages the store. When I met Shannon, I could sense there was just something special about her. We sat out on the front porch of the adorable outpost and began to talk about Jesus! I was amazed by her testimony as well. I could not believe all the things she had survived in her life. Seeing this strong, beautiful lady in front of me I would never have dreamed that she had been through so much and I was amazed by how she had come out of the trenches victorious and glowing with the light and love of Christ.
After talking for a little while, she invited me to come back to do a book signing at the outpost. There was no way I could refuse. After all, it would be like coming home to visit family when I returned. Sheila and I left and went to eat at a Mexican restaurant where she shared more of her own story with me. There was no doubt in my mind that God had brought these two ladies into my life for a reason.
In my mind I had envisioned a week of silence with no social interaction; just time alone to write and focus on my upcoming book. God had other plans. This little adventure had all the trappings of a Christmas Hallmark movie, without snow, Christmas or a romantic love interest of course; I left him at home! I thought the solitude and beauty would provide inspiration for my book, but actually it was the experiences and the people God introduced me to that inspired me to write.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to return in November to see what God has in store for the two day book signing. Who knows how many other people God has ordained for me to meet while I’m there? I can sincerely say I know He is up to something. I’m believing He is providing for the greatest chapter yet. I’m so thankful for my new found sisters, and I’m thrilled to spend more time with them as together we witness the sovereign plans of God unfold.
We often plan our steps and have ideas about how things are going to go. But, if we allow God to step in and lead us wherever He sends us, I believe we will have the adventure of our lives. Nothing is more exciting than divine appointments, and nothing is coincidental with God! Follow His leading and direction. You will never be disappointed.
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 NIV
here to edit.
I think a lot of times pastors, leaders, and others in ministry feel like we should keep our real feelings to ourselves. We are supposed to be “tough” at all times, or at least put on the appearance of being tough. Don’t ever let anyone know you are going through something or know that you are struggling. We are supposed to present a strong example for others to follow.
But, if we do that, I don’t think we are being honest. I believe in being transparent. I’ve never once hoped anyone would believe that I am superhuman. There’s no such thing because the root word “human” exposes it all. Anytime a human is involved, the trials of life are going to be present. And as long as the enemy of our souls can bring trials to God’s people, you better believe he will.
Last week was a terrible week for me. I felt like I had been plunged to the bottom of a pit, and covered with a thick layer of mud. I couldn’t figure out why. I just suddenly felt like I couldn’t preach. I felt like my anointing had flown out the window, (if I had ever been chosen and anointed in the first place). I felt like I had missed the mark entirely. I felt absolutely defeated. It hit me suddenly, and without warning. I just woke up one morning and felt like an absolute failure.
On top of that, from the moment I signed the contract for the publishing of my second book, my right hand went numb. It’s hard to write a book with a numb arm and hand. I had prayed, and had everyone else to pray for my healing, and still nothing had changed. Was God even listening to me anymore? Every day I felt as if I was sinking deeper.
I quoted Scriptures that I knew I would share with anyone else going through the same thing, but the darkness just seemed to close in around me. I woke up Friday morning after a very restless night, and on top of everything else, I was supposed to go minister at the jail that day. I was thinking, “I’ve got nothing for them! I can’t even encourage myself, how can I minister to anyone else?!”
Though I didn’t want to go, I made myself do it. I complained the whole 45 minute drive to the jail. I’m sure God was sick of hearing me whine and complain, but I felt so defeated I just couldn’t hold it back. I went into the jail and we began to sing the worship songs I had chosen for us. I still felt like I had nothing to give these ladies. After we sang the last song, one of the ladies asked if we could sing the song we sang last week.
She said, “It talks about what God says about us.” I knew she was talking about the song “You Say,” by Lauren Daigle. I went to the computer and pulled it up, and we began to sing along. These are the lyrics:
"I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity
Taking all I have and now I'm laying it at Your feet
You have every failure God, and You'll have every victory
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
You say I am held when I am falling short
When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours
And I believe, oh I believe
What You say of me
As we sang those words, I lost it. Hot tears filled my eyes as I began to think of how I had stopped listening and believing what God says about me. I had let the enemy replace what I knew to be true, with his lies. All because a few things didn’t go as planned. Someone had attacked me as a person and minister, and really hurt my feelings. I was struggling with writing my second book with a deadline quickly approaching. I had been so busy running here and there, and trying to fit in everything I could because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was just overwhelmed and exhausted, and I didn’t want to get out of bed.
So, what had I done? I pushed away the words of the one who really loves me—Jesus. I didn’t allow His words about me to penetrate the darkness. I dwelled on the image the enemy wanted me to see of myself. But, guess what? As I began to sing those words in worship to Jesus, the blinders fell to the floor. The sun shone into that windowless jail room, and His presence flooded in like a reckless raging river.
When we finished singing, I told the ladies my message was about feeling defeated. Through tears, I told them about my week, and how horrible I had felt. Before long, ALL of us were crying. I asked them to raise their hand if they felt defeated. Almost every hand went up. As we continued to talk about how the enemy wants to keep us defeated through life’s trials, and his crafty lies we all started to feel better—myself included! The Holy Spirit began to just pour words into me, that freely fell from my lips almost without thought. I felt His anointing more powerfully than I had in a LONG time.
We all began to declare that we are VICTORIOUS through the blood of Jesus Christ, and God moved in a powerful way. We had CHURCH. When I asked who was ready to accept Christ as her Savior, every hand went up. Even those who had already repented. We prayed and celebrated. One of the ladies asked if we could sing, “I went to the enemy’s camp and took back what he stole from me.” I didn’t have the music, so we all sang it acapella! It was so powerful.
Do you know what happened? Every single one of us went to the enemy’s camp and took back the joy he had stolen from us. We stomped the floor and let Satan know he is under our feet! One lady sang “Mercy Seat” acapella, and it was so anointed we all had goosebumps. Then they all asked if we could sing “Victory in Jesus!” It was one of the most beautiful services I have ever experienced.
When I left, I thanked God for giving me a glimpse of what their desperation and defeat felt like. Maybe that is why I had such a terrible week, I don’t know. What I do know is that when we choose to believe what God says about us, and refuse to listen to the lies of the enemy; we cannot be defeated. We are over-comers through Jesus Christ! Those ladies may be behind bars, but they are more free than many sitting on church pews. If you are feeling defeated today, lift up your face and look toward heaven. Jesus loves you. You cannot be defeated!
Photo by Matteo Vistocco at Unsplash
Compassion In Action
The past few weeks have been extremely busy, and yesterday was no exception. All of the running around, meeting deadlines, meeting people, and just going, going, going nonstop seems to have just conditioned me to be in continual state of rushing. To be honest, it has been really tiring, and to be really honest I can get a little short fused when I feel like I’m always in a frenzied rush.
Yesterday, I had to stop at a store to pick up another case of bottled water for something I’m working on. They were out of 24 packs, so I had to get the 36 pack of bottled water. I was trying desperately to maneuver through the aisles toward the register, so I could check out and hopefully not drop them. I should have just gotten a cart when I came in the store, but remember—I was in a rush.
I underestimated how heavy a 36 pack of bottled water could be apparently, but I soon found out. When I finally got to the register there was an elderly man in line in front of me. At this point, I thought for sure my arm was going to completely come unattached and fall to the floor with all the water bottles. He only had a couple of items, so I was grateful.
But, as he ever so slowly took his money from his wallet and continued to move at a snails pace, I became more and more impatient. Any minute these 36 bottles of water were going to be rolling in 36 different directions when I dropped this pack. I was thinking, “Please, just hurry up and move!”
The lady at the register told the elderly gentleman to have a good day. Then—under his breath—I heard the gentleman say, “I never have a good day anymore.” Immediately, my impatience turned to shame. What could be more heartbreaking than never having a good day?
I got a really good look at him as he turned and walked toward the door. Now I was in a bigger rush than I had been before! I wanted to talk to that man. I wanted to pay for this water and run it out to my vehicle as fast as possible so I could flag down this sad looking gentleman.
I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let him get away before I can get out of here.”
I moved as quickly as I could to my car and threw the bottled water inside. Then I turned to see where the gentleman had gone. He was just starting to back out of his parking space to leave, so I ran toward him waving. I guess he thought I was just being really friendly because he waved back at me.
I kept running toward him motioning for him to stop. He finally stopped, and I approached him. I was overwhelmed by the sadness in his eyes, and I felt so guilty for being in such a hurry inside the store that I didn’t take the time to notice that before.
I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but overhear what you said inside the store. You said, you never have a good day anymore. So, I was wondering if I could pray for you?” He said, “Well, sure I guess.” He turned his truck off right there in the middle of the parking lot. He looked at me and said, “Twenty years ago I broke my left leg. It was all messed up! It’s never been right since then. It gives me trouble everyday. I can’t remember the last good day I’ve had.”
Somehow I sensed he wasn’t just talking about his leg injury. I felt a deep sadness that just seemed to emanate from every pore of his being. I looked into his eyes and said, “Sir, can I ask you a question?” He nodded, and I continued, “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?
He looked at me and replied, “Yes ma’am I do.”
I said, “That is great. I’m so glad to hear that. Now let’s pray for that leg of yours.”
As I began to pray for him, I prayed that God would restore the joy of his salvation, and that his leg would be healed in the Name of Jesus. I prayed that he would have many, many, many good days, and even more great days, and that He would know that he never faced a single day alone because Jesus was with him! Honestly, I don’t remember what else I prayed, but when I opened my eyes there were tears in his big blue eyes.
It wasn’t tears of sadness this time. I no longer felt that sense of hopelessness that had been so prevalent earlier. He looked at me and speaking through tears muttered, “Thank you ma’am.” He then started his truck and drove away.
We live in a society that is so fast paced. The enemy of our souls would love to have us so consumed with our daily activities that we never even look into the eyes of another person. Many times—I myself— have found myself trying not to make eye contact with those around me, so that I can speed through my tasks and keep moving.
We all like to think of ourselves as compassionate people. But, what if we took the time to put compassion into action? It’s great to have compassion for others, but it’s even greater to act upon it when we know the Holy Spirit is prompting us. I pray that God will continue to slow me down and open my eyes to those who are hurting around me.
Let’s try to do this together! Ask God to lead you to someone who needs prayer, or needs to be encouraged or uplifted this week. Then share your stories with me! I want to hear them.
One final note! This past week my blog was named #24 in Feedspot's Top 40 Evangelical Blogs. Thank you for reading, and sharing my blog posts with others. It's you--my readers--that helped me accomplish this!
Blessings, Donna Sparks
I am a sentimental person. I cherish memories from years gone by. I look back at pictures of my children when they were just tiny babies, and I’m usually smiling and biting back tears at the same time. How did they grow up so fast? Where did the time go? It breaks my heart to know that I will never hold them in my arms as infants or toddlers again, but I smile because of the beautiful young women they have become today. It’s definitely bittersweet.
Many of us reflect on days gone by with warm hearts longing for sweet family members who have since passed on. We look back longingly on days from our youth when we felt like we could take on the world, and our only care in the world was how high we could swing before the swing set legs began to lift off the ground. There are many reasons to look back at sweet memories, and cherish those precious moments.
But, there are some things that just need to be left in the past. If we spend too much time in the past, it can not only be discouraging, but it can hinder our future. That’s especially true when it comes to our spiritual lives. I can look back at times when I wasn’t a Christian, and if I dwell on those mistakes from my past, I can start to re-live the guilt and shame. If I spend too much time looking back, I can be so consumed with the past that I fail to see what God is trying to do with my future.
I think we can all be hindered to an extent if we are not willing to plunge forward without looking back. I don’t enjoy sharing many parts of my testimony because I despise the sins of my past. But, I choose to share the story because it demonstrates God’s mercy and grace in my life, and what He can do in the lives of others. I certainly don’t look back longingly to my past life and all my failures. I choose to look ahead to all the adventures with Christ I have not yet experienced.
There are examples in the Bible about not looking back. If we look at Genesis 19, we can see a very specific case where looking back rendered a disastrous outcome. When the angels of the Lord came to rescue Lot and his family from the destruction that would soon come upon Sodom and Gomorrah because of God's punishment for their sin; the angels told Lot and his family to not look back.
Genesis 19:15-17 & 26 NIV
5 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”
16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
When I first studied this passage, I began to think about what a harsh punishment that would be for just looking back at a city. I would hate to be turned into a pillar of salt! But, as I continued to study the passage I realized, first of all, Lot’s wife disobeyed. She was told not to look back, but she did so willingly. I still don’t believe God’s punishment was based entirely upon her just looking back at the city, but I feel that it was the way she looked back. I think she must have looked back longingly at the city.
Though we know that Sodom and Gomorrah was overcome with sin and evil, I wonder if Lot’s wife looked back thinking of the home where she raised her children? Or, maybe she longed for the comfort of being in a place where she was comfortable and familiar with everyone around her. Leaving would mean starting all over in a brand new area, building a new home, and making new friends and new memories. I’m sure she didn’t long for the sin of the city, but she had grown comfortable there.
Ouch! This is where it starts to hit home. Do we find ourselves looking back at our old sinful lifestyles because of what we hate to leave behind? Do we hate to leave behind friends who are bad influences in our lives? Do we hate to leave the comfort of the familiar? When we come to Christ and surrender our lives to Him, the old man is gone. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says we become a brand new creation. If we put the brand new, clean creation back into the same old sinful environment we will continue to be comfortable with sin.
If we are going to move into the future God has for us, we have to take hold of His hand and follow His leading. Don’t look back at what the enemy would tell you, you are missing out on. If the enemy of our souls can get us to look longingly back to our sinful past, or sinful influences from our past, he has accomplished his goal. He wants us to miss all that God has for us. He wants us to become immobile like Lot’s wife. We are as useless as a pillar of salt if we are stuck in the past.
If we continue to look back, we will never realize the power and anointing God has for us in our present or future. There’s nothing in my past I would ever trade for what God has given me, or done in me. Nothing can compare to all the wonderful things He has done and is doing. God has so much more to offer you than this world could ever give. Joy, lasting peace, and eternal life with Jesus is worth more than anything your past could ever offer you. Press forward, and leave your past behind. You don't belong there anymore. You are a new creation, and God wants to use you in miraculous ways. Don't Look Back!
When I was attending the Christian Book Association Conference in Nashville a few weeks ago, I had an experience that inspired the direction for this blog. The conference was held in the Gaylord Opryland Resort. It was quite crowded on the main conference floors, but up in the media areas of the hotel, it was pretty quiet. In fact, it seemed that I was the only one there!
I was scheduled for an interview with Donna Feyen from “More Than A Review.” I was a little early, so I was taking my time and walking at a leisurely pace. I happened to notice a man softly playing the grand piano at the far end of the media mezzanine. As I got closer I decided to pause and listen for a little while. He played so beautifully, and I kept my distance not wanting to disturb him in this private moment. I just soaked it all in, and quietly prayed for God to be with me, and help me during my interview.
After a few moments, I continued on to the room where my interview was to be held. Donna Feyen was amazing, and it was a really fun interview. When it was over and I came back through the area, the man was no longer playing the piano. I really never gave him a second thought. Until…
Later that night, I was looking through the conference magazine, and I noticed that Michael W. Smith was also attending the conference. He was there to do a book signing for his new book. Suddenly the lights went on! I was standing on that mezzanine listening to Michael W. Smith playing the piano! How could I not have known it was him? Why didn’t I recognize him? Maybe I should have paid more attention. My mind was just not open to the possibility that it could be Michael W. Smith!
Maybe it was because I wasn’t expecting to see him there. It wasn’t a normal every day occurrence to just walk up on Michael W. Smith playing the piano. Since I wasn’t looking for him, and didn’t expect him to be there, it was as if he was out of context to me in that moment. I’m sure you have experiences of your own where you may have overlooked someone, or something because it just didn’t seem to fit the situation. We all do it.
As I reflected on this impromptu secret concert, it made me think of other things we tend to take out of context. One in particular is God’s Holy Word—The Bible. Maybe you have seen people who pick and choose a verse here, or a verse there and use it in the wrong context. They might pick a sentence here or there, and make it fit their own view, even though their view is wrong.
Context is the key to good Biblical interpretation. Sometimes it helps to think of the Bible as a series of letters written between different people that we are to read and learn from. This is especially the case when we are reading the Epistles—or letters—of the New Testament. Rather than being addressed to us, the readers, individually, each letter has an intended audience, and a certain cultural, temporal, and geographical context in which it is set.
For instance, let’s look at a verse that is so often taken out of context. Paul wrote to Timothy: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
If we look at the whole picture including who the letter was intended for, the cultural norms at the time of writing, and the geographical context (the church of Ephesus) we can see this was not meant to apply to every instance of women in ministry. Paul encourages the women to learn. This was not common in the traditional Jewish culture. In fact women were very restricted in religious education.
So, why would Paul have women to study and learn at all, if he never intended for them to teach? Paul commends women for their leadership in house churches, so he is not making a contradictory blanket statement here about women teaching or leading in the churches. Instead, he is addressing the issue of certain women who were being disruptive and domineering in the worship services at Ephesus.
In Romans 16:1–6, Paul sends greetings to many friends and fellow workers in the faith. He mentions many women who have been involved in leadership and service to his apostolic work, including Junia, who is listed as an apostle. In Philippians 4:2–3, Paul references two women who have contended by his side for the cause of the gospel, an obvious testament to their work and leadership within the church.
These Scriptures attest to the fact that 1 Timothy 2:9–15 should not be interpreted as a universal rule for all women to be silent in the church nor does it imply that women should be exempt from teaching or having authority. This interpretation would be in direct conflict with the close context of 1 and 2 Timothy, as well as other writings of Paul, and the testimony about women in leadership in the early church in the book of Acts.
There are many other instances, and Scriptures I could share that are commonly taken out of context. It’s important to study the Word of God. We have to go all in, and see who the passages are speaking to, the cultural norms and customs of the time period, and the geographical context. It's as simple as who, when, and where.
It’s so easy to take things out of context, if we don’t pay attention. Study God’s Word, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. He will do it.
2 Timothy 2:15
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
How would you rate yourself as a listener? I admit, when I have a lot going on—like I have lately—I find myself going a little A.D.D., and seem to have trouble listening. It seems my brain just overloads from time to time, and I simply lose my focus. Anyone else, or is it just me?
It’s not always easy to be a good listener. I can think of a few lectures I’ve had to sit through when I thought I might fall asleep if I had to listen for another fifteen minutes! Listening is just hard sometimes.
But, when God starts talking we must do our best to listen. It can certainly save us a lot of trouble if we do. This past week as I was going to do my weekly jail ministry I was praying and asking God what He wanted to do in the service. I seemed to get no reply. I tried so hard to be still and just listen. I still didn’t hear anything—not even a whisper!
The ladies came into the room with me, and we briefly talked about what had happened since the meeting last week. I opened with prayer, and we all stood to sing a few worship songs. As we were worshipping, I was still praying and asking God which direction He wanted me to go in?
Finally, He gently whispered, “I haven’t given you anything because I want you to ask Anna (not her real name) to speak today.” Anna is one of my sweet ladies in the jail. She has been saved, baptized with the Holy Spirit, and is on FIRE for God. I’m blessed every time I see her with hands raised worshipping God, and tears rolling down her face.
I asked God, “Are You sure You want me to ask her?” In His sweet gentle way, He assured me. After we finished singing, we all sat down at the table. I looked at the ladies and said, “Well, things are going to go a little differently today.” They looked at me with puzzled faces. I continued, “Things are going to be different because Anna is going to bring the message today.”
Of course Anna looked at me like I had lost my mind at first, but then she quickly said, “Ok, I can do that!” I told her to come and sit at the front, so she could minister to us, and she did. I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen in the next few moments.
Anna had us to turn in our Bibles to Ruth, and she began to share with us about the relationship between Naomi and Ruth. Then she began to share her testimony with us, and how she had always been afraid to let others get too close to her, because they always left. As she continued to share the importance of sisterhood, and how we as women all need each other, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I think we were all in tears as she poured out her heart, and spoke to us with such beautiful transparency about the friends, and others who had abandoned her in her life. My heart broke for her. Then she began to share how she knew beyond a doubt that God had brought her into the jail at this very time because of the close friendships she had made with all of us, and how our relationships with Christ have bound us all together as friends, and sisters. She told us she was no longer afraid to let others get close to her, because God had delivered her from the fear of abandonment.
She did an excellent job, even though she was certainly put on the spot. I was so proud of her. We all prayed together, and she told me that she would likely be gone the next time I came because she was getting out. When the other ladies left the room, she came to me and said, “Miss Donna, thank you for giving me the opportunity to minister!” I told her that God had told me to ask her to minister, and that I was honored to do it, because I had complete confidence in her.
She said, “I have to tell you something! Last night I was reading Luke 12, and I remember stopping on this one Scripture. I couldn’t stop reading it, and though it’s not the exact same circumstance, I believe God was preparing me for the very moment you asked me to minister in the service this morning.” She said, “The verse was: Luke 12:11 When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
She continued, “The first thing that popped into my head when you asked me to speak was, ‘the Holy Spirit will teach you what to say at that time.’ And, now I know why I stopped and re-read that verse several times. I believe God was preparing me even then!”
I agreed with her. I’m glad we were both listening. All of the ladies were blessed because we quieted ourselves long enough to listen to the Father’s instructions. Sometimes I wish He would let me know His plans a little sooner so I wouldn’t have to panic as much, but I know I can trust Him. He is always on time, He may be last minute, but He’s never late!
Are you listening? We certainly don’t want to miss the blessings He has in store. Take some time to just be still in His presence, and listen. He loves to speak to His children.
“I will listen to what God the LORD says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly.”
“God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: Power, O God, belongs to you;”
I love how God goes to great lengths to get our attention, even in our busyness! He is never too busy for us. Let me give an example.
Last week I had the great honor of attending the Christian Book Association’s Unite Conference & International Christian Retail Show, with my sweet and beautiful publisher Suzi Wooldridge. I also enjoyed a wonderful few days with some other amazing Bridge Logos authors and dear friends—Angela Donadio, Heather DeJesus Yates, Julie Wilkerson Klose, and our super creative publicist Danielle Stoltz. I was fortunate to be in such great company, and the whole experience was just overwhelming to say the least.
I was thrilled to do my very first ICRS book signing on Monday, and I met so many amazing people through that experience. I was informed on Tuesday night that my book had been picked up by a Korean publisher, and would be translated to the Korean language, and distributed throughout Korea! I was also blessed to be interviewed on four amazing broadcasts. The whole event was simply breathtaking. God has certainly been busy pouring out blessings over me, and I am so thankful to Him!
But, as blessings are being poured out upon us, we must not be too busy or too distracted to do what we were first called to do. The thrill of everything happening so quickly, and all the attention can cause us to lose focus if we are not careful. We must remember, God has not called us to be successful. He has called us to be obedient. When we are obedient children, we can expect blessing to naturally follow us.
When I arrived at the show on Sunday, I met my publisher and we ran some errands, and put together gift bags for my book distributors. We had fun just hanging out together working on the bags! But, in all the excitement, I left my purse in one of the halls in the Opryland Hotel. It was an hour or more before I realized I had left it somewhere. I left Suzi, and hurriedly went back to the last place I could remember having my purse—right outside the Fed-Ex office in the hotel.
Praise God, when I got back there I saw it sitting on the counter in the Fed-Ex office. Someone had picked it up for me, and nothing was taken from it. Hallelujah! I was walking back to my room when a frantic looking couple stopped me and asked where to go to register for CBA Unite. I told them I was sorry, but I didn’t know. The lady looked at my tag hanging from the lanyard around my neck, and said, “But you are registered.” I explained that my publisher had picked it up for me. I apologized for not being able to help, and continued the hike back to my room. (If you’ve been to the Opryland Hotel, you understand why I said,"hike")!
With literally thousands of people attending CBA Unite, I didn’t expect to see the couple again. Later that night we walked back to the CBA show floor, so I could show Bryan and the girls where to meet me the next day for my book signing. Oddly enough, we met that same couple again. The lady stopped walking, so I approached her and pointing to her lanyard and tag I said, “I see you found the registration area.” She laughed and said, “Yes.” And that was that.
The next day as I was walking around the enormous showroom floor, I happened to see the couple again. They were talking to some distributors, and I kept walking. For some reason, I had an odd feeling upon seeing them again. I certainly wasn’t continuously running into my own friends at the show this often, and there were more of them than just this one couple.
The next day, Danielle helped me pass out the gift bags, and introduced me to our distributors. I had a few bags left so I took them back to the room. On the final day, I decided to go to the floor and give away the final couple of bags. I didn’t know who I should give the final bag to, so I prayed and asked God to lead me. Immediately the couple that I kept bumping into came to mind. So, I prayed again and said, “Ok God, if something is going on here, and you would like for me to talk to these people, let me just see them here one more time.”
I promise you with all my heart, I turned around and they were right behind me. I approached them, gave them the last gift bag, and introduced myself. They asked what my book was about, so I shared a little of my testimony with them. The gentleman looked at me and said, “Can I ask your advice about something?” I humbly agreed. Now, I’m not going to reveal the situation, for their privacy, but it was obvious that God had set up this entire meeting! As the Holy Spirit began to speak through me, the lady’s mouth dropped wide open, and tears came to her eyes. I had no idea what their situation was, but God DID. We continued to talk for quite awhile, and then I prayed with them both right there on the show floor.
God knew exactly where they would be, and what they needed. I’m glad He was patient with me, as I ran marathons around the hotel to get from meeting to meeting. He never let me forget that couple. That divine encounter was set into motion before any of us even arrived at the show. As busy as I was, He kept reminding me in His sweet gentle way that there was ministry to be done. Yes, spreading the word about my book was important to me, because it carries His message of grace to all who read it. But this precious couple was just as important to Him. He's never too busy to leave the ninety-nine, for the one.
No matter how busy or exciting the things are that are happening around us, we must always be ready to listen and obey. Slow down, take a minute and ask God, “What is YOUR plan for this moment?” He will let you know. I pray that precious couple was as blessed as I was through that experience. What a loving, caring, and patient, God we serve! There’s never a need that is too small for Him to meet, and there’s never a need too great for Him to meet, and He's never too busy. He is ALL we need.
Psalm 139:16 NIV
“Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”