The Hope of Lent

The Hope of Lent

I love this time of year but not for the normal reasons. Lent, the 46 days leading up to Easter, is not a time of gift-giving or lavish partying. It’s not even a time for chocolate bunnies or Cadbury eggs—these don’t come until Easter morning. And the weather is typically dreary. Chilly and wet as winter tries to hang on in the tug-of-war that spring is eventually sure to win.

Lent is somber.

It’s a season for reflecting on the cross. A season to get better acquainted with the limitations of our humanity. To remember how much we need Jesus in the big things out of our control and in the smaller moments when our patience is simply fraying. It’s a time for pruning, for stripping away. The good news is that these are not ends in themselves. Lent is so that more fruit will eventually come to bear.

Twenty years ago, I sat in the office of a Christian counselor who guided me along the paths of Lent. He explained it was a time to set aside some of our normal pleasures so that something new could grow in its place. It was this “new thing growing” that caught my attention. I needed new. I was stuck. My friendships weren’t healthy, my work success or lack thereof was controlling my emotions, I didn’t know how to cultivate joy. Cutting something fun out of my life seemed a terrible idea rather than an antidote. But I agreed. Reluctantly.

I’ve never looked back.

That year I set aside some things that had held power over me. But I didn’t stop there. My counselor helped me fill that newly created space with intentional practices that focused on my relationship with Jesus. I paused longer to reflect in God’s Word, journaled, took prayer walks, talked to friends about what God was teaching me, showing me. As I did, the roots of my faith pushed deeper into richer soil. It’s dark down there, by the way. I didn’t enjoy every moment underground dealing with my attachments, my neediness, my sin. Some moments were agonizingly lonely. But God was doing a resurrection work the likes of which can only happen underneath the ground. Or behind an immoveable stone.

The other day I was talking to my friend about the cumulative effects of seasons of fasting. Each Lenten year seems to build on the next. She told me that some of the things that used to be so hard for her to lay down she doesn’t even think about anymore. Those time-consumers, those unyielding habits, she no longer has use for them. I get it. What makes this a double-win is practicing Lent not only helps us rid ourselves of the detrimental or unnecessary, but that time is redeemed for what matters. Life-giving practices now grow out of the same soil whose nutrients used to be spent on the frivolous. Lent helps us steward the soil God’s given us.

I’m reading through the back half of Mark as Easter approaches (Mark slows way down after Peter’s confession of Him in chapter 8. From there, it’s a slow walk to the cross). It keeps me intentionally focused on Jesus and His road to the cross and ultimately His resurrection. One of the most meaningful parts to me is when the disciples are arguing about who’s the greatest. We do this today, by the way—we just may not discuss it out loud and in plain daylight. Anyhow, Jesus sat down, which I assume meant He sat His disciples down too. “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all,” He said (Mark 9:35). I don’t think He could have laid it out there any clearer. To be great is to serve. To be high is to be humble. To be first is to put the needs of others ahead of our own. The Lenten season helps us practice this. As we die a little more to our comforts and addictions and obsessions, we make more room for Christ to pour His life through us.

We’re a little less than three weeks to Easter. The brunches, baskets, and bunnies will be there. In the meantime, what new thing needs to grow? Jesus, help us follow you as we walk toward Easter. Prune back what is sucking the nutrients out of us. Strip away what is not of you. Fill us with your Spirit. And on Easter morning, we will celebrate that you have made, and are making, all things new.


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Online Bible Study Options

Hi Friends,

We’ve been receiving questions about Bible studies and online video options. Here is a list of answers all in one place.

My Bible study group can no longer meet. Can we still watch the videos? Yes! We want you to be able to do this. See how to access from the list below.

  • Finding God Faithful, click here for the easiest way to view. If you are a church and have already bought a DVD kit, you will find a code inside the box that will allow you to download the videos. If you would like to share these in a protected online environment you can get permission here.
  • No Other Gods, click here for the easiest way. If you are a church and have already bought a DVD kit, you will find a code inside the box that will allow you to download the videos. If you would like to share these in a protected online environment you can get permission here.
  • All Things New Click here. This link will take you to were you can create a login to watch the videos. If you would like to watch them without a login you can download the Smallgroup by LifeWay app.
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I would like to order Kelly’s Bible studies (member books), but Amazon has de-prioritized shipment of books. Where can I get her studies? Both and are shipping fast and affordably. If you need help with shipping questions, or are struggling with pricing, please contact We want to help you with resources during this season.

What’s the most affordable way to go through one of Kelly’s studies? Right now is offering $5 Ebook options for Finding God Faithful and No Other Gods through April 15!

Are there any other free offerings during this time? We’re glad you asked. Yes! Kelly has written a 14-day devotional called The Blessed Life: 14 Days of Hope from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. You can sign up here and you’ll receive one a day for 14 days straight to your inbox.

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Competent In Real Life Ministry

Hey Friends! In celebrating the upcoming release of All Things New: A Study On 2 Corinthians (November 1), I thought I’d write a short devotional on a verse that meant a lot to me while writing this study. Especially as it relates to how I often feel about my competency in ministry.

“It is not that we are competent in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our competence is from God. He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant…” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

We’re All Called To Ministry As Believers

This verse has come to my mind many times in the past year in various settings. And before you think I’m talking about being competent in ministry settings, like teaching the Bible in front of people or writing a Bible study, I’m talking more often about the daily settings that all of us encounter and are called to be “ministers” in. I’m talking about being competent in the middle of a difficult conversation you know you need to have but are dreading. Competency in relating to a family member you’re at a loss to reach. Competency in explaining your faith to a friend with authenticity and clarity when those conversations have often felt forced or packaged. I’m talking about being competent in leading your home or business because you desire to bring God His much do glory.

I could go on because these past few days in particular I feel I’ve blundered and bumbled my way forward. I’m realizing just how incompetent I am apart from the Holy Spirit, and this is not flimsy Christian talk—this is just the truth. I find myself praying these silent prayers to the Lord, “Please make me competent for _________, because I know this is beyond me.”

In Christ, We’re More Competent Than We’ve Ever Imagined

In my earlier years I’d hoped a passage like 2 Cor 3:5-6 meant that God would make me competent as a great singer or writer, competent in business, all-around put together. Oh, but He promises so much more here. He will make us competent as ministers. And being a minister does not mean being a professional church person. It means how we daily interact with those around us: blessing, encouraging, offering wisdom, extending forgiveness, bringing healing, interceding in prayer, sharing our faith, strengthening the weak, raising the kids God’s entrusted to us. You know, being a minister in real life.

Goodness, I could go on about how this ministry is a new covenant ministry, but that might be better explored in the study, or for its own devotional on another day. In the meantime, be encouraged that in your inadequacies and fears, the complex situations that cause you to feel overwhelmed—He has made you competent.

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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.


Little Black Sheep: A Memoir

by Ashley Cleveland



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


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


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


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.




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.







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…