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You Are Always With Me

I’ve been making my way through Luke in the mornings. During Lenten season I enjoy the gospels especially as we soberly march toward the cross, our hearts flinging open with joy at the resurrection. This morning I was in Luke 15 reading about the familiar parable of The Prodigal Son. Sometimes it’s hard to mine anything new from these well tread passages, though the Holy Spirit is good at showing us anything we may have missed, or maybe can only now handle. Today I don’t know if I have anything new for you, but one particular thought was new for me.

The story is told in verses 15:11-32, culminating with the father’s response to the oldest son who’s understandably frustrated, even angry that a party has been thrown celebrating his younger brother’s return—the brother who, by the way, had squandered the inheritance on foolish, even tawdry, living. That guy. A friend of mine recently told me that if she had been the older brother she would have stood there, hands on hips, saying, really?—in the spirit of  Seth and Amy from SNL. All this comes to a broil when the older son essentially does say really?, and has it out with the father, to which the father responds, “Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

I once heard someone share about this passage and the “everything I have is yours” part, and it was just remarkable. I’ll never forget it. She shared about a deeply coveted experience she’d missed having only for the Lord to remind her that absolutely everything He has is hers. It turns out that someone else needed to experience the moment she’d hoped to have, and in the end, nothing was lost because when you belong to God and all He has is yours, there can be no true loss.

The phrase leading up to “everything I have is yours”, is “You are always with me”. I hadn’t thought too much about that phrase before until this morning. This is a stunning remark in light of everything the older brother was so upset about. We get angry or jealous about someone else’s party, the attention they’re receiving that maybe we should be receiving. We compare things for things, “She shouldn’t have gotten that, when I’ve done all this.” Or “Why is he getting the promotion when I’ve done all the work?” Why the nicer home, bigger family, better spouse, elaborate vacation? We focus on the monetary and material—why the ring, the calf, the robe? For him? For her? Are you kidding me?

And then the father brings us back in five words, “You are always with me.”

He brings us back to relationship. To what it means to wake up to him everyday. To see him out in the fields of our work. To call out to him with any question, because we can, because he’s right there, with us. To collapse at his table at night and dine with him over a lavish meal. To crawl under the covers knowing our beds are under the roof of his favor, the watch of his eye. The party for the younger son was significant, the celebration a study in grace and mercy, no doubt. But the grounding of the father’s words, “you are always with mewas the prize the younger son had forfeited for a season. Son, daughter, you have me! We’re together. Always. Don’t you see this is everything?

I suppose the question is how important this is to us. Would we rather have the party of the father or the presence of him? The father was reaching out to the older son’s heart when he said “you are always with me”, because absolutely nothing on this earth, nothing, no. thing. trumps relationship with God.

I don’t know what’s gnawing at you, but the offer of relationship with God through Christ is so intimate, so personal, so fulfilling, higher than even the most lavish of material celebrations. God sent His Son to die for it. As we set our sights toward Easter, my prayer is that we never forget that Christ came for many things, not the least of which was for relationship. So we could know him. (1 John 4:13-15.) You may be many things today: Disappointed, frustrated, confused, maybe even angry like the older brother. But don’t be lonely. We have The Father who has availed himself to deep abiding relationship with us. And as a bonus, he’s kicked in everything he has, as though it’s our own.

 

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My Friends Are Writing Books

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For those of you who care, I was originally in this picture holding all these books, but that was the day before The Antelope in the Living Room arrived (the book, not an actual Antelope – the actual Antelope is in Melanie’s house), and by that time I had ceased having photographically worthy hair. So, just picture me with cute hair sitting in that cute french chair. Now, onto my news…. My friends are writing books (or people I wish were my friends) and they seem to be doing so at rapid speed and I feel the need to bring each and every one of them to your attention because I love all these authors. You’ll notice that I haven’t read all of them yet, but all of these wonderful writers I know, so I feel really confident writing about their work. There’s no rhyme or reason to the order so make sure you scan the whole post because the book you may need – right this very moment – might be near the bottom.

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Little Black Sheep: A Memoir

by Ashley Cleveland

 

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Back in the day – and I do mean way back there – Ashley’s guitar playing extraordinaire husband, Kenny Greenberg, produced my first signed record. It was a dream come true for me to have a record produced by Kenny and also to have Ashley sing on one of the songs – I thought I was gonna die. I knew a little of Ashley’s story at the time, but not nearly what I know now after having read her book. This is truly one of the best books I’ve read in years for many reasons. For one, while Ashley’s story is harrowing at times it makes Jesus’ redemption shine all the brighter. She is a beautiful writer – as beautiful as she is an artist. I literally could not put the book down and I reference her turns of phrase often. In addition, if a loved one struggles with addiction, or if addiction has characterized some of our own path, this is a truly remarkable read.

 

The Antelope in the Living Room

by Melanie Shankle

9781414385549_p0_v1_s260x420I  started reading this last night after being one of the last people on earth to see “Saving Mr. Banks”. What can I say? So far, The Antelope in the Living Room is right up there with Mary Poppins. If you think I’m biased I will tell you forthrightly that I certainly am. Melanie, her husband Perry and their daughter Caroline are three of my favorite people in America. In Texas. In San Antonio, specifically. Whenever I’m anywhere near their home, perhaps to their dismay, I make myself at home with them for at least a night. In fact, I’ve actually begun to share all the very minor holidays with the Shankles. For instance, I was part of their crawfish boil last year on Cinco de Mayo. Okay, but about Melanie’s book. Melanie is one of the funniest writers I know while also bringing depth. As you can see from the cover, you’re going to have fun if you buy this book, which you should do. But, you’re also going to be encouraged, especially if you happen to be married and that marriage is not all that you imagined it to be at one time. That said, I’m not married and I’m having a jolly of a good time reading it and learning some important things along the way – like what not to register for if I ever do get married.

God Is Able

by Priscilla Shirer

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This just came to me in the mail a few weeks ago and I’m excited to dive in. Let me just say that if there’s anyone who can get you excited, get you motivated, get you believing again, Priscilla’s got this gift. As you can see from the title, she tells it like it is. There’s also something to be said for her communication skills. If you’ve never heard Priscilla speak, LifeWay has a great option for you and you don’t even have to leave your living room – you don’t even have to leave your bed, for that matter (but maybe don’t tell people that). Priscilla has her own simulcast happening on April 5, 2014, simply click here for more information. In the meantime, get the book. I am confident you will be blessed. I always have been around Priscilla.

 

Chasing God 

by Angie Smith

chasingGod_bookI know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in this case let’s just go for it because this cover is stunning! And I feel certain Angie lives up to it. I just got this the other day, and it’s in the stack I can’t wait to get to. But let me just say this about Angie: One of this things I remember about her first book, I Will Carry You, was her fresh insight into Scripture. Also, she’s funny. One of the funniest people I know, actually. She is a deep soul and a gifted writer, and based on what I know of her journey this will be a treasure-full read. (I just used the word treasure-full, which is perhaps why no one has ever asked me to write book reviews.) At any rate, I’m really glad Angie is one of the many incredible women speaking into our generation today. This will definitely be worth the read. No doubt in my mind.

 

 

Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose

by Candace Cameron Bure

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So… who doesn’t relate to this? I mean, the part about trying to balance everything at once. (Maybe not the part about being absolutely gorgeous while in the kitchen in your red dress and matching high heels and twin puppies). Seriously, I had the fun of being able to do an event with Candace a year or so ago and I was a nervous wreck. She – very kindly – said something from the stage about how she’d gone through one of my bible studies and how thankful she was to be there with me, and I was thinking, “Uh… I’m kinda freaking out because I’m here with D.J. Tanner, let’s be honest.” Growing up, I was glued to Full House on Friday nights. TGIF anyone? But setting D.J. aside for a moment, I was really impressed with Candace’s kindness, honesty and commitment to Christ. She had some really insightful thoughts on marriage and motherhood (and starring in movies), and the women at the event loved her. I hope we get to do it again sometime, and I’m hoping to be a little less nervous the second time around. (Also, I’m a big fan of her publisher B&H, which also published Priscilla and Angie’s book – but this is just a side note.)

Restless: Because You Were Made For More

by Jennie Allen

Restless-Because-You-Were-Made-for-More-by-Jennie-Allen-666x1024Perhaps you’ve heard of the IF: Gathering. If not, click on the link so you can officially say you’ve heard about it because there are some pretty great things happening over there. Jennie is a bible study and book author, speaker and founder of IF. She’s also a wife and mother and understands what it takes to juggle responsibilities that are running in opposite directions, not to mention a ministry. When you’re with Jennie you can’t help but witness a woman who’s passionate about getting a generation unified and on mission for the God she serves. Jennie’s determined and she’s, well, admittedly restless, but she’s not viewing that as a bad thing necessarily. You’ll have to pick up her book for her to unwrap this for you, and if you do, I know you’ll get an honest and vulnerable voice for the journey.

 

 

A Little Salty To Cut The Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon

by Sophie Hudson

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I have a couple things to say about Sophie. First off, I love her. When you meet Sophie you immediately start thinking about – besides how funny and likable she is – how much you love her. It’s just her nature. When my friends mention Sophie’s name in conversation like how they want to visit her, or they love her writing, or how hilarious her blog is, I always say, “I love that Sophie.” Every time. And here’s the second thing about Sophie – she’s a really excellent writer. A true writer’s writer. AND SHE USES A LOT OF CAPS. So if you missed her first release this past summer, because no one told you HOW GOOD THIS BOOK IS!, and if you’re needing some encouragement, a friendly voice, some warm southern stories, and an author you will love, I highly recommend A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet. Oh, and you will laugh, yes, you will laugh.

 

Stripped: When God’s Call Turn From “Yes!” to “Why Me?” 

by Lina Abujamra

I like Lina because she’s straightforward. She’s committed to Scripture and to telling its 9780802409652_p0_v1_s260x420truth. I received this a little while ago and I wanted to include it because Lina is a single woman, a doctor, a leader in ministry, an author and she seems to have some timely wisdom for those whose lives may not be working out exactly as they’d hoped. Anyone? Lina’s not the type to allow you to wallow, though. She gets after it and she shares biblical truths in practical ways that will inspire you to keep moving ahead, even when the road is taking it out of you. Also, Lina wrote a book on singleness called Thrive. I often get asked if I know any good books out there on this topic, so I’m happy to mention this as a great option.

 

 

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I Bought A Car

Yesterday I bought a car, a brand new one right off the lot. You would have had to have known me for the past 22 years of my driving career to get the full, supernatural weight of this act. When I turned 16 my dear grandfather generously gave me his ocean blue Dodge Omni. (Just Google Dodge Omni to get a feel for my junior and senior years of high school.) I drove it into the ground, or rather as long as I could before I came home to find that my mom had sold it because she could get $300 for the tape player – this is a true story. She added that money to a savings account I’d been building while working for two years during college so I could buy my first ever used Jeep Cherokee…. for a grand total of $4,200. I drove it for 8 years until it caught on fire to its death. It literally caught on fire. I bought a lemon of a used Trooper for $8,000, drove it two years while it leaked oil onto every free road in Nashville, sold it for $3,500 and then bought another used Cherokee for $8,500 that I’ve driven for the past 8 years.

This brings me to Saturday: A day off, a day of happiness, a day of pure bliss wherein I had a junk car with no payment and money in the bank. Until, that is, my friends coaxed me out the door for the “blowout” sales that, of course, were ending in the next five minutes; there would never be another sale of its kind, not in the history of humankind, nor ever to come. The 2013’s on the lot HAD TO GO or else people might die at their desks. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity I would be a fool not to seize. And so, I waited because this is what I do. I took the weekend to consider my options, pull the consumer reports, get advice from friends, and apologize to my Jeep for my pending disloyalty. On Monday morning, lo and behold, the deals were still there – the sales had been extended, oh my word. And so yesterday, after much thought and prayer (yes, I pray over my cars) I drove a brand new car off the lot. As night fell and the streetlights gleamed in the wintery steam of January’s air, and as I drove out into the world in my charming new vehicle, I lost approximately $5,000 in value. At least this is how my mind works.

It’s that thing about cars not being investments that just kills me. Every time someone says that the first thing a car does is lose value, a little piece of me shrivels. I think this is why I’ve never spent much on them because I so prefer the idea of sustainability, increase, one seed that grows into a plant that in turn gives you many seeds. (As opposed to paying a bunch of money for something that will eventually end up in a heap of metal parts.) So when I woke up this morning and looked out the window at my super smart, blizzard pearl exterior, brand new car, it was with mixed emotions, partly because I can be a downer, but also because all this is just true. I was happy for the car, but I couldn’t help but think of how many things in life I dump my time or money into, stuff that decreases in worth as fast as cotton candy disintegrates in your mouth – stuff I try to actually protect. Right, did I mention I also paid for a warranty on this car? Because when buying a new car the first thing you want to do is start thinking about all the things that are about to break. I could just die right now.

On the other hand, when I hear the term ‘compounding interest’ my heart flutters. I’m getting a little, tiny bit older, and more than even I find myself pondering the beauty of eternal investments. I am genuinely grateful for the work I get to be a part of here and in the Amazon, the relationships I get to pour into and who pour into me, dear readers I have the privilege of writing for, the teaching of the Word that never returns void. I am thankful for the opportunity to sow into churches and ministries who change the course of people’s lives. Today, as we live and breathe, we have the opportunity to do what counts for eternity! We have the opportunity to grab joy right out of the air when we give our money, our time, our resources – a lasting joy that doesn’t disintegrate when you drive off the lot. When a dear friend of mine recently left her job to take over a Christian non-profit for half her salary, another friend said to her, “This is your new inheritance. Go get it!” I’m so grateful that God has ordained a sacred economy where our heavenly treasures can’t be bothered by moths or rust or thieves, where our investment is secure and our joy safe. God is good to give us this reality, but it’s a reality we have to choose. Jesus told us to store up heavenly treasures, suggesting there are other types of treasures we can live for. Let’s get after our God-given inheritance this year. It’s more sustainable and profitable than we could ever imagine. I’m excited. And, please, keep me in your prayers as I head to the Amazon in mid-February for the Third Annual Jungle Pastors’ Conference put on by Justice and Mercy Amazon.

Looking forward to 2014 with you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas and The Minter Kitchen

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Merry Christmas Everyone. If you’re like me you’re scrambling to get everything pulled together in the next week or so. I was reminded this morning of that beautiful verse, Colossians 1:17, which says that in Christ all things hold together. Deep breath. And when I take long enough to consider this, I find it to be not only an inexhaustible concept but also a comforting truth.

I am working busily on finishing up a book and then will be diving into writing my next bible study for LifeWay. More news on those shortly, but in the meantime… how about a recipe? The wonderful people at LifeWay have put together something they’re calling The Minter Kitchen. Now, if you actually saw my kitchen you might not be as excited about this monthly posting – all I can promise you is that these are some of my go-to recipes that I often cook and enjoy. And occasionally even serve to others. So check it out, along with some of the other fun things they have going on on the LifeWay Women’s Blog.

Lastly, please share any recipes you’re currently enjoying in the comments section – I’d love to see them and try them. Also, please be sure to check back here for new dates on the calendar – would love to see you on the road. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on the new book and new bible study.

Merry Christmas,

Kelly

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A Saint in the Amazon

A few weeks ago I returned from Manaus, Brazil, what many call The Gateway to The Amazon. I spent a week on the river with Justice and Mercy Amazon visiting some incredible villages along the river in some obscure areas, and then spent four days meeting with dear friends and jungle pastors in Manaus. (I had a phenomenal week, which is probably a story for another post.) While in the city I requested to see one of the most remarkable followers of Jesus I’ve ever met, a sixty-eight year-old Brazilian woman named Ana (name has been changed). I first met her at our First Annual Jungle Pastor’s Conference a few years ago, and I’ve made a point to see her every visit. Ana’s hard to get your hands on, though. Half the time she’s booked up teaching one of her three-hour classes on hermeneutics, working with her pastor at her church or temporarily living in another country in South America serving the poor. Last year she voluntarily dwelt in a hut, I believe in Peru, where she had to draw her own water, describing conditions I don’t even understand – she was there teaching the bible. And I think she had health issues at the time.

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But it’s her smile, her peace, her profound inner joy that in many ways defy the difficult life she’s had: a broken engagement years ago (Ana has remained single), two bouts with cancer, an accident that caused excruciating back pain and literal persecution for her faith. A person can’t fake the attributes her countenance and spirit beam forth. These don’t come from having more stuff or pleasure or entertainment. We hear these words a lot, but they are the fruit that comes from the Spirit. Ana’s peace, joy and radiance is what I want, I just don’t always want the road that unleashes them. But I’m also at the point where I’m not willing to miss Him for anything.

I had an hour with Ana sitting in a friend’s living room. Her grey hair flipped up at her shoulders brushing her cream top, printed with lavender roses. She was also wearing a jean skirt – I’m so sure: adorable. With all of you in mind and, selfishly, with me in mind I asked Ana a few questions about life, faith, her relationship with Jesus. Here are a few of the things she told me…

“If every woman believed what God has in store for her, every woman would devote her life to the service of God.”

She was not wagging her finger when she said this. She was perched on the edge of her seat leaning toward me with an inviting smile the way a mother bends toward her child and says, you don’t want to miss this for anything in the world! Her zeal reminded me of Mary of Bethany: When you’ve tasted the person of Jesus – when you know Him – you will spill your all over Him with delight, even urgency. Instead of wondering how I could drum up greater sacrifice or employ more disciplines, Ana by her very presence reminded me that when you know Him, you will delight in loving Him.

“When God saves you, there’s a specific place for you in His service”, she continued. “There’s only one way to find this out: intimacy with Christ.” I wonder if you believe that about yourself. Or maybe the better question is do you believe that about God – that He really does have a place for you? Sometimes I wonder this, and the remedy comes through spending time at His feet…. listening (Mary of Bethany), or as Ana put it “intimacy with Christ.” The question becomes, am I spending the time?

Ana went onto explain how she talks to God just like she was speaking to me – She tells Him everything, discusses even the mildest of details with Him. She described how we can know His voice like a woman can distinguish her husband’s out of a thousand. She explained how she listens to the Lord by reading His Word – she just finished her 145th reading through the Bible. (But no guilt here – just take it with a spoonful of encouragement, because that’s how she dispensed it. That’s how I took it.) She talked about three qualities that help her discern His voice in any given situation: Peace, joy and assurance in accordance with His Word.

If your background is anything like mine, none of this is necessarily new. Spending time pouring over God’s Word, listening and petitioning in prayer, serving God through obedience are all things we know. But it’s not the “new” that’s going to change us, rather a recommitment to the timeless.

So much distracts us today, perhaps more than at any other time in history. The iPhone alone could be my undoing. I can’t imagine there ever being a time where I had access to more opinions, arguments, “comments” about everything, and yet Ana reminded me once again of The Voice, the One that matters above all others. The Voice of the Shepherd whom His sheep know (John 10:27). She inspired me to take back the time to hear Him. Not that I wasn’t reading the bible or listening, but to re-up my commitment. To really guard it. To silence the alerts and alarms. To protect the space.

Beyond what Ana said it was the serenity of her presence that spoke the clearest. She knows who she is; She knows what she’s supposed to do; She knows the One who goes with her. And out of that understanding flows a peace and a beauty as deep and attractive as the Amazon. This lovely woman didn’t offer me a “how-to” because relationships aren’t that clinical. But she reminded me that purpose, peace and knowing are all attainable qualities through intimacy with Christ. She reminded me the abundant life in Jesus is possible.

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You Just Never Know What Bible Study Can Do

Summer is approaching – I hate to say it while still reveling in the fairer temperatures of spring, but if you live in the South I’m afraid spring blinks more than it settles in. In a few weeks children will be set free from school, college students will return home, we’ll go on vacations, long-weekends and mission trips while enjoying the looser rhythms of June, July and August. I can hear my garden crooning from the backyard.

The question is how will we use these summer months for our spiritual enrichment? We plan for getaways and gardens, and we need this same level of intentionality to study God’s Word. But you ask, how can I stay motivated to do this during the summer? (So glad you’re thinking along these lines.) For starters, Beth Moore’s Summer Study this year will be on Priscilla Shirer’s new release: Gideon: Your Weaknesses. God’s Strength. All the info you need to be part of this can be found here.

Beth’s Summer Study is an incredible resource for studying God’s Word through the summer, whether by yourself or within a group. And if you’ve ever watched Priscilla teach you know I’m telling the plain truth when I say she’s one of the best communicators out there. What I’m trying to say is that you can invite your friends into the mix with the utter confidence that they will not. be. bored. And you will not be embarrassed for having encouraged them over. Moreover, Priscilla communicates Christ, so what’s not to love?

Which conveniently leads me to my next thought about YOU possibly leading a group this summer, whether as part of Priscilla’s study or another one God’s put on your heart. There are so many! (A few authors to consider below.) I feel extra spirited about this because of something I experienced this week. So, a little story for your enjoyment…

A few days ago a friend and I drove ninety minutes out of Nashville to a small town in Tennessee where we dropped in on a bible study (pics below). They’d done some of my studies, and through a mutual friend of my late grandfather’s (long and interesting story here) invited me to “surprise” their group. What I didn’t know beforehand was that the host of the study was 92.

I write this unto you another way, ninety-two.

She was wearing sky blue pants, a seabreeze sweater, and aqua marine earrings that tied the whole ensemble together like two berries on a shortcake. She’d assembled 40 plates of chicken salad, fruit and pasta served with homemade cheese straws. You better believe the tea was sweet and the coffee was piping. The deserts were legion. She said she had lots of “help” but you could tell who ran the show: Erline.

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Woman after woman – young, “older” and everyone in between – entered her home with shock and awe at the sight of me plopped in the middle of the living room. (There may have been squealing.) (I kept looking over my shoulder thinking maybe Oprah had dropped in.) I had never quite experienced this kind of admiration, but what they clearly didn’t understand is how far more stunned I was by them than they could have ever been with me. I was inspired by Erline’s gusto at –have I mentioned this? – ninety-two year’s old; the group’s commitment to meet and serve one another week after week; the compassionate way they invited their friends and neighbors into their fold; the humility of the lead woman from the local church.
A few of the women shared about what studying God’s Word together has meant to them. Some described the grief of losing sons and husbands, and how God has comforted them through their pain; Others talked of how God spoke through the pages of Scripture; Still a newly declared U.S. citizen shared about how she hadn’t left her home in years until a woman from the study taught her English and invited her to this gathering. A phenomenal story.

The legacy of this bible study group will have eternal ramifications.

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My friend and I left emotionally drained and filled at the same time. So humbled by how God uses us, and so moved by how He meets His people when they simply gather, seek Him and encourage one another. I drove away reminded of how POWERFUL studying Scripture and praying together is; How necessary; How vital to our beings, relationships, homes. I was inspirited to be like Erline who opened up her home as well as the other women who brought food and facilitated the study through their local church.

The visit stirred up memories of me sitting in my parents’ sunroom, along with nine other college friends, while my mom slid in a VHS Tape of a “new” Bible Study teacher named Beth. The woman on the videotape was blonde and funny. She knew Jesus. And she changed the course of my life. Beth Moore of course was vital to the process, but equally so was my mom who opened up her home to us college girls. She lured us with baked goods and warm mugs. She gave us a pastel floral couch on which to discuss the difficult years of college. Could you be that person this summer? This fall? (maybe sans the floral couch.) Consider what opening up your home for a summer bible study could do for the lives around you. If (one more time) 92 year-old Erline can do it, perhaps…

***Here are a few LifeWay authors whose studies you might enjoy, a few I know and respect: Angela Thomas, Tammie Head, Jen Hatmaker, Jennie Allen, Lisa Harper, Jennifer Rothschild, Mary Jo Sharp, Vicki Courtney, Kay Arthur, Mary Kassian, Margaret Feiberg, and I hope I haven’t left anyone out. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list, but these are a few LifeWay friends to get you started if you’re looking for a place to begin.

 

 

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Quiet and Small, It’s Okay

Sometimes quiet and small is okay. It may not make for clever Tweets or garner a slew of comments on Facebook, but it’s nothing to fear; Sometimes private is good. Not every picture has to go through the filters of Instagram and rocket into the public square, it can be for just you; And sometimes hidden is best. Not every blog or bestseller has to be about doing something huge, radical, revolutionary, monumental. By the way, this is not a criticism of the well-known voices we listen to or a critique of their remarkable work. In fact, I am friends with some of these influencers who would be guilty of burying their talents if they did things any other way–they are using their notable gifts truly for the glory of God and they are having a profound reach. So set all of them aside because this is not about them; It’s not a this-way versus that-way. I simply want to ponder another side of what faithfulness looks like.

Tonight two people came to my house to pray. Usually we have six or seven, but this evening there were only three. I made Trader Joe’s French press decaf and served Trader Joe’s sea salt brownies, because I love TJ’s that much. It was small, quiet and I think powerful.

For 46 days my sister and I gave up the same thing for Lent and went through a devotional by Henri Nouwen. The two of us did it together and we read in silence most every morning. Pretty ordinary. Pretty doggone quiet. Still I pray God has changed us through this very small fast.

Over a year ago a friend of mine picked up a struggling woman on the side of the road, got to know her family, and has shared in both their ordinary and special occasions. She’s driven them to church and appointments, bought the kids’ school ornaments for fundraisers and simply been a friend. She doesn’t tell this story from a stage because she doesn’t speak on platforms but, kinda quietly, she’s building the Kingdom.

I had two Jr. High youth leaders who used to take my friends and me to Denny’s after youth group–I consider teen ministry at Denny’s modern-day suffering for Christ–bought us burgers and listened to our urgent and dire struggles that we believed, if not solved, might end the world. They discipled me with patience and love and let several of us spend the night on many occasions even though we nearly burned their house down because of poor microwave popcorn skills. They didn’t get the chance to Instagram the smoke billowing from the kitchen for the reward of a hundred “hearts”, because Instagram didn’t exist. They never blogged about their many years as youth group leaders probably because there were no such thing as blogs. Their service was mostly hidden, but they helped direct the course of my life.

I know a woman who cooks dinner every week for the young single girls in a nearby church. She leads them in Bible Study and meets with them individually for coffee. I once heard her pray with all sincerity, “Lord, there’s not a yacht on any sea I’d want to travel more than I want to be with these girls each week.” (And that, of course, made me think of all the European coastal destinations I’d like to see and how sometimes I want this more than I desire to minister.) The mark she’s making on these women’s lives is profound and hardly anyone knows she’s been doing this every week for two years. She doesn’t have a Facebook profile.

As I’ve been pondering over the past few months, the question is certainly not whether or not social media, publishing, speaking on large platforms, Tweeting, blogging, gaining followers is wrong. This would be to miss the thinking entirely. The question is at what expense are we being drawn to bigger, louder, larger, best-selling, more famous? Are we losing anything in the pursuit? Are we measuring our faithfulness to Christ by “likes” or by lives?

I can only answer these questions for myself and the answers are not always flattering. Paul speaks to Timothy about the value of leading a quiet and peaceable life which is good and acceptable in the sight of our Savior (I Tim 2:2-3). I am yearning more than ever before for a quality of life pleasing to Him, whether known or obscure. This morning I read in I Cor 3:12-13 that “If any man builds on this foundation [Jesus Christ]…his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.” Social Media and pub deals and music contracts can be of great value but they will not be what brings the value of our work to light. This will only be measured in Jesus.

So I guess I want to encourage so many of you who are going about the daily business of seeking Jesus and loving others, some in front of enormous crowds, others in front of a few. Remember the quality of your labor is not measured in numbers or followers or sales, valid as this may be. As I read Henri Nouwen’s Lenten devotional I was reminded of how he spent the last years of his life ministering in a small community to those with special needs. At times in his writing you can sense his angst, as if he feels he’s not adequately using all his knowledge or skills, or that he’s almost disappearing, and yet his writings have transcended his life. The way he served in obscurity is now changing people in the light. Amazing how God can do this.

For “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Heb 6:10) May we humble ourselves together? And in a world of big, let us never fear what’s quiet. Or small. Or hidden.

*Beth Moore wrote a fabulous blog that overlaps these ideas and I think you’ll find it freeing. Check it out here.

 

 

 

 

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Sharing God’s Mercies In A New Year

A family pic: Mom, Katie, Dad, Me, Megan, David

Christmas is out the door, with the exception of a few hanger-on pine needles I’ll be finding well into August. It’s time for another year, and like a train on a schedule it doesn’t hold its doors for me to get on board, before its smoke plumes and whistles and gears start cranking. Ready or not.

I begin each New Year with a general sense of contemplation, as I imagine most do. Whether we buy into resolutions, diets, gym-joining, goal-setting, we are naturally designed for turning seasons and fresh beginnings. It is only right and good that we consider afresh what we long to do, who we long to be this coming year. Marketing companies may cash in on what this month represents, but its newness they did not create. This is God’s gift of time measurement. Without it we’d have days running into one another unbound by solstices or seasons, the markings that make it possible for us to determine things like, “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far.” Januaries give us context for what is “far”. They offer us a moment to pause and consider what has happened, and what we long to have happen.

I’ve been doing much of my contemplation this year through the Gospel of Mark. A new friend of mine encouraged me to steep myself in this particular book because Mark writes more about the Kingdom of God than any of the other Gospel writers. Since one of my desires this year is to see a greater coming of Jesus’ Kingdom here on earth – in everyday, real life we’re talking about here – I’m enjoying a book I’ve read many times before, only this time in a different way.

I mused with this new friend who happens to be ministering in a particularly unsettled part of the world. I told her how I struggle to talk about the Gospel in ways the people around me understand, even desire. This is a much bigger conversation than whatever fits into the going length of a blog these days, but her response to me needs little room. In fact, she began with a question: “Kelly, what did Jesus tell the man from Gerasenes, the one He cast the demon out of, to do?” We were eating at a place called Potbelly’s. Just being at a place with this name made me less smart. I couldn’t remember. She smiled and then began to deliver a truth the way Proverbs speaks of a word fitly spoken. “Jesus simply told him” she said, “tell your people about the mercy God has shown you. That was His evangelism strategy.” (Mark 5:19, for precise quotation).

I nearly burst into tears for two reasons I can trace. The first was out of relief. I have so thoroughly complicated the process of sharing my faith, witnessing, evangelizing, however you may name it, that I have missed the ease with which a person speaks about Jesus who has firsthand experienced Him. We should speak of His mercies as naturally as the songbird carols from our windows; I have never once prompted her. If we have a redemptive story to tell we should tell it often to all manner of listeners. Which brings me to my second traceable reason for tears: Sometimes I struggle receiving the mercy God has shown me. If I can’t connect to His personal love then the faith-story I tell others will be forced and awkward, saddled with inaccessible doctrines that may be true, but they won’t be life. The man from Gerasenes had everything he needed to share the fame of Jesus in his community because he’d had a personal encounter with Jesus.

We will talk about Him to the degree we experience Him.

I am still contemplating. Contemplating about what the Lord has done for me, and how He has had mercy upon me. I am examining why I often struggle to receive such goodness, or simply fail to recognize it. The truth is that every Christ-follower has a story of mercy to share, and when we share it with passion, humility, joy and even ease, well then, perhaps more people around us will respond the way the people of the Decapolis responded to the man from Gerasenes.

“and they were all amazed.”

 

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Making Yourself Known?

It’s a rainy Monday morning in Nashville, but I’m not complaining because my red and green leaf lettuce transplants need the water and I need an excuse for a hot cup of PG Tips. Also, it’s Bible Study night for me at The Village Chapel and it’s easier for me to stay in and study on cozy mornings like these. At any rate, I’ve been wrestling with something that’s pretty prevalent in our culture – even in our Christian culture, maybe especially in our Christian culture – and I wonder if I’m alone. Now that we live in this strange new world of social media, there is an extra pressure to make ourselves known. The idea of self promotion is not new, but today it feels not only familiar but “essential”. Social media for promotion is being touted not only as an extra resource but as our responsibility. Books are being written and conferences given on how to make ourselves known, heard, read, downloaded; how to promote our work; how to increase Twitter followers and Facebook friends; How to ramp up blogger comments, and on and on…No doubt these are some well thought-through resources with wise insights about how to leverage a brand new medium that has the potential to reach people in once impossible to touch corners of the world. Surely these books are especially useful when a message is worthy of being heard, read or watched. BUT, (and I’m just throwing this out there)…

If something has felt “funny” to you in your spirit about trying to get yourself “out there”, if you’ve ever felt like you’re striving, competing with others, feeling left out, comparing yourself, feeling “less-than” or, maybe worse, “better than”, than here’s something remarkably freeing I read this morning… I was in Luke 14 reading about Jesus’ 40 day temptation in the desert, where Satan tempted Christ to depend on earthly bread, turn His worship away from the Father, and even test the Father. After this grueling journey through the desert, hungry, this is what we read happened next in Luke 4:14, “Then Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread…

In light of this platform-building-thing with which I’ve been struggling, I was grabbed by the italicized phrase. “News about Him spread”. WHY? Because He marketed, promoted, Tweeted, got tapped for a huge conference, blogged, found a great manager? Not exactly. Because He emerged out of a crushing walk through the desert in the power of the spirit. Huh, not the way I would have thought news would spread. Interesting that the combination of suffering in obedience coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit were the wings that carried the news like a trending topic on Twitter or a New York Times Best Seller.

Again, not that any of these aforementioned resources are inherently bad by the way – they can be good disciplines and resources when used in the right spirit; It’s just that in the Christian realm I believe good news can spread independent of what we spend so much time thinking we must have. A good song, an insightful blog, a clever Tweet will come and go, but a person who walks in the power of the Spirit, well now, that’s rare – and news about what God’s doing in their lives tends to spread in ways mysterious. And more importantly, the news we need to worry about spreading is not the news about ourselves but about Jesus. Ah, double freedom.

So this morning I am dwelling on what obedience looks like in the face of temptation; I’m dwelling on what it takes to walk in the power of the Spirit. And I’m so moved by the counter-cultural truths of Luke 4:14 that I’ve decided to use social media to blog about it… go figure.

Happy Monday to all of you… Walk humbly today. Walk in the Spirit. Make Jesus known…
Kelly

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Living Proof!

Our Winners for the Beth Moore Simulcast Giveaway were Midge and Mary Ann! Thank you all for your encouraging posts. He really does redeem lives. He really does rebuild and renew us. So thankful for our graceful and merciful God!

Hi Everyone,

In case you were wondering who got the Olympic medal for world’s worst blogger this summer, I took home the gold. It was a proud moment. But I’m back with great news about this Saturday, September 15th. You may have heard that one of my all-time favorite bible teachers, Beth Moore, has a simulcast on this day, but you might not have realized that you can be part of this special event in your own living room, on your porch, in your pajamas, eating sugary muffins or bagels with cream cheese. Yes! If you want to involve your friends, which I highly recommend, you can invite them over, or better yet invite yourself over to their house if they have a cushier couch, or stronger coffee. You get the idea. HERE IS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO MAKE THIS A REALITY! (PS – I know college football is on, but this is a perfect time for TiVo, or just remind yourself that there will be college football games on every fall Saturday for as long as America endures. What Beth is going to share will only happen once.)

Listen, I’m urging you to tune in this Saturday because I believe Beth’s specific message will have a profound effect on your everyday reality. She’s touching on an issue every single one of us deals with, something that keeps us from living the full life Jesus came for us to enjoy. Also, I happen to be passionate about her teaching, because her teaching of the Word has literally changed my life – or in keeping with the name of her ministry, you could say I am Living Proof of what God has done. If I could distill the intricate, sometimes agonizingly slow, changes God has worked in my heart, I would say I am living proof of God’s love because He has healed an extraordinarily anxious, even angry, soul into one of peace and greater wholeness. I have by no means arrived – not even close – but the profound transformation that’s taken place in my being could have been accomplished by none other than Jesus Himself.

So… here’s what I’m thinking we should do: Comment on how you are Living Proof of God’s love. This is a great exercise because it forces you to reflect on what God has done in your life, and it encourages others in their journey. Also, we just so happen to have TWO FREE simulcast registrations to give away, and we’ll randomly draw those from those who comment. (We’ll do this Wed at noon, so be sure to get your comments in before then.)

I know there are so many events to attend at this time of year. I’m actually speaking in Portland, TN on Saturday and will love being with the women who will be there! But if you don’t have any other in-the-Word commitments this weekend, I can’t encourage you enough to hear Beth’s heart, no matter what your knowledge of the Bible or even the Christian faith. There are NO prerequisites necessary. You won’t want to miss this, I just know it.

September Blessings,

Kelly

 

 

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