Good Intentions Don’t Count

I am doing a Bible study about intentional living. So I wasn’t expecting a verse about marriage to pop off the page. But then I shouldn’t be surprised, God is always intentional about getting our attention so that He can make us more like Jesus.

“Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

Don’t see anything about marriage in that verse? That’s because you’re not reading it with the intention of seeing God’s plan for your marriage. It’s there.

The Bible also says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Don’t you imagine in that our unions would be much improved if we governed them with wisdom? If we related to our spouse with wisdom and in the fear of the Lord, don’t you think we could avoid many of the pointless arguments, cold shoulders and the silent treatment? Where does this heart of wisdom come from? How do we cultivate a fear of the Lord in our homes and in our relationships?

We gain a heart of wisdom when we learn to number our days. The phrase, “Teach us to number our days”, has a much stronger meaning in the original Hebrew. It means to: Consider, be skillful in, reckon, prepare for and appoint with intention the temporal, brief mornings and evenings of life. (That’s just my lengthy amplified paraphrase.)

Often, I don’t think we approach our marriages intentionally. The expectation is for love and fuzzy feelings to buoy the relationship through the hard times. But when things get really gritty, there’s no deep-seated recourse, no Biblically founded intention to hold the marriage together.

There’s a catchy little phrase that has spawned many a movie. “Live each day as if it were your last.”

That saying is a modern assertion of the truth of Psalm 90:12. Even unbelievers know that acceptance of our brevity brings freedom, genuine love and a correcting of priorities. How many stories are told of someone diagnosed with cancer who suddenly determines to reconcile with a long-estranged sibling? How many times have we heard of someone learning they have months to live and suddenly choosing to work less, spend more time with family and begin seeking God? There’s no denying that numbering our days produces wisdom and ignites intention in our hearts.

So what if we could harness this knowledge of our few and temporal mornings and evenings so that we might have this wisdom now for our marriages and other relationships?

In American vernacular there’s a big difference between having good intentions and living intentionally. I go to bed each night with good intentions to speak kindly to my husband tomorrow and pray for him. I have good intentions when I plan to make his favorite dinner tomorrow or remember to ask about that meeting he had yesterday. Good intentions are my plans to go to the gym and eat more vegetables.

But living my marriage intentionally requires that I apply some elbow grease to those intentions. If I don’t do the hard work to make good on those intentions, then that is all they remain—good intentions, and I must plan again to live intentionally.

Marriage is one of those few relationships that we commemorate every year. Save for the embarrassed hubby that forgot several times, most couples know exactly how many years, and could calculate how many days, they’ve been married. We number those days. Therefore, we’re halfway toward a heart of wisdom.

Next time strife or bitterness raises its head or that gulf slowly widens between you and your spouse, stop and count the days. They are few. Psalm 90 goes on to say that we have 70, maybe 80 years if we’re lucky.

We are finite creatures. All our miseries and complaints are so small and short-lived compared to the eternal glory purchased for us by Christ. The first step toward governing our marriages with wisdom is to recognize how fleeting they are. Next, we must intentionally order, prepare for and appoint our days.

It’s so easy in the heat of the moment, to assume that this crisis of miscommunication or hurt will ruin our lives, make or break our relationship. It can’t destroy us if we don’t let it. When we number our days, view them in the true light of their brevity, it’s much easier to take a step back and intentionally form our response or reaction to every situation.

So, do the math. Number your days. Let that practice form within you a heart of wisdom, the beginning of the fear of the Lord. And then intentionally, with more than good intentions, conduct your marriage with wisdom.

Who or What, Why It Matters

Have you ever tried to tell someone about your faith and been blocked by the question, “But how can God be good when bad things happen?” Or, “Can you explain why things like miscarriages, natural disasters, world hunger and other terrible things happen?”

Maybe you’ve asked those questions yourself, and you wonder if what you believe can really be true. If it is, how do you explain some things?

The apostle Paul had every reason to ask the same questions. He wrote the book of 2 Timothy to a dear friend while sitting on the floor of a jail cell. He’d been arrested for preaching about Christ. Paul should have been asking, “Why?”, and “Is what I believe so important?”, but he wrote instead, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able…”.

Did you catch it? Paul wasn’t trying to figure out what he believed, and he wasn’t telling Timothy about any thing that he believed. He had been obedient to God; it was difficult to explain why God was letting him suffer. But Paul knew Who he believed. That’s the answer we must always come to when we cannot explain the things that happen in this world. We must know Who we believe and we can know that He is trustworthy.

It Is Telos!

It Is Telos!

Why do you think Jesus died?

Let me give you a hint—I’m not looking for the Sunday school answer.

To discover the truth, you have to go way back before the Gospels. You have to go back about 700 years before Jesus was even born.

Isaiah 53:3-5 says,
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (ESV)

Did you catch it?

Of course Jesus died for our sins. Of course, it is through His substitutional payment that we are forgiven by God and enjoy full freedom now, and eternal life forever. That’s what we learned in Sunday school and it’s absolutely true. But did anyone ever point out that Jesus bore your grief and sorrow? Did you notice that his punishment entitles you to peace and healing?

The word for sorrow here is ma’kob in the Hebrew. It means both physical and mental pain. And the word for healed is rapha’, which means many things. It can refer to the restoration of nations, a restoration of favor, the healing of national hurts and personal distress.

I don’t mean to minimize the truth that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for our iniquities and transgressions. (Those are big words for rebellion, perversity, depravity, iniquity and guilt.) Every single person on earth needs to be rescued from those things; no one is innocent of them, and each one must be paid for.

However, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was complete in so many more ways than we recognize in our annual skim through the last few chapters of the Gospels. There’s a recurring word in the final chapters of John that points to the all-inclusive, all-encompassing, all-surpassing, finished work of Jesus. It is the word telos. Telos means: the end of an act, that by which a thing is finished, the aim or purpose.

The first Scripture that I’m referring to is John 13:1. The Bible says that Jesus “loved [His own] to the end”, or telos.

Next, in John 19:28, as Jesus hung on the cross, moments before He spoke His last words, the Bible gives us a peek into His mind. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”.

Finally, Christ’s last words, “It is finished,” in John 19:30.

I think the word telos in each of these verses bears more weight than we ascribe. Throughout His ministry, Jesus said that He came to give us many things—far beyond our Sunday school answer of eternal life and heaven. Jesus said that He came to heal the sick, to bind up the broken hearted, to bring us abundant life and complete joy. (Matthew 9:12, Luke 4:18, John 10:10, John 15:11)

Where would we be without this Savior? Of course we would be alienated from God, dead in our sins, condemned for eternity. When we believe on Jesus Christ, according to John 3:16, we are saved. Then that it gets better than we ever imagined! We receive all good things from the bounty of our generous Heavenly Father’s riches.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, NIV)

Yes, thank Him for salvation! But may we fall to our knees with wonder and gratitude for all that He has given us—far beyond eternal life. Jesus came for our sorrows and sickness. He came to bring healing, joy and life.

There is nothing that we need or desire that remains undone. Believer—It is Telos!

My Book Reviewed by The Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center

Last month, I was greatly honored to have my book reviewed in the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center’s monthly newsletter. I’m excited to share it here with you all. If you would like a copy of my book, it’s available on Amazon through the links on the left of this page or you can contact me for a signed copy.

BOOK REVIEW: The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story
By Abby Kelly (Bettie Youngs Books, 2014)

This past August, Robin Williams killed himself; his depression and past struggles with substance abuse defeated him. Phillip Seymour Hoffman also succumbed to a drug overdose this year. These sad losses highlight how possible it is to die from addiction, and how recovery is not simple or automatic just because you say you want it. Therefore, we need to pay careful attention to recovery stories of people like Abby Kelly to learn as fully as possible what the ingredients are that pulls someone out of the brink of despair and makes them choose recovery. In her memoir, The Predatory Lies of Anorexia: A Survivor’s Story, Ms. Kelly recounts her exhausting fifteen year ordeal with “my addiction to the disease of anorexia.” The author’s compulsive appetite for approval, appreciation, and acceptance fueled her anorexia which became her attempt to feel special, unique, and in control. Ms. Kelly recounts her three inpatient hospitalizations, extensive counseling, and thoughts of suicide. Gradually she chooses recovery through her growing belief in God. “God broke the chains of my disease,” she declares. “I am loved by God and my family. I’m beautiful just the way I am. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” There is no “one size fits all” for recovery from addiction. Every person’s recovery is as unique as a fingerprint. In her book, Abby Kelly, now free from anorexia for five years, tells her unique story of her commitment to prayer, Jesus, and religious transformation which led her eventually to embrace the beauty of her body and her soul and to turn her back on the false and “predatory lies” of anorexia.

Book review submitted by Mary Anne Cohen, Director of The New York Center for Eating Disorders, author of French Toast for Breakfast: Declaring Peace with Emotional Eating and Lasagna for Lunch: Declaring Peace with Emotional Eating. http://www.EmotionalEating.Org. Mary Anne Cohen’s book, Lasagna for Lunch: Declaring Peace with Emotional Eating, is now available as an e-book from Amazon.

Walking in Season

hdr-autumn-1252757-mIt used to be, when I was “well”.

Then it was, “When I’m am confident.”

Next came, “When I discover what God wants me to do.”

Then, “When I’m finally brave enough to  do what God wants me to do.”

Next came, “When God blesses what I am doing.”

And then He did.

Now, I’m feeling topsy-turvy in the chaos of all His goodness. Oh not that He wasn’t good before, but only in this season am I finally appreciating the cultivation of the earlier ones. Only when I am caught in the fear that this season provokes do I recognize the beauty of seasons past.

Not so many months ago, I spewed random words on a page, of interest to no one. I collected sheets of private musings, pedantic stories, journal entries and heart murmurs. I posted them in obscure places, submitted them to a few magazines, folded them up in Christmas cards, tucked them into “love you” letters and sent them out to everyone brave enough to be in my address book.

At that time I was between the seasons of, “When I discover what God wants me to do,” and, “When I’m brave enough to do what God wants me to do.” But that’s just the thing, I kept looking for, chasing after some nebulous goal that I believed God had hung in my foggy future. I imagined God standing just behind me, a fatherly hand on my shoulder wondering if I’d ever try hard enough, peer deep enough, have enough faith to strike out in that darkness and unveil my life’s purpose.

In the very first book of the Bible, in the very first chapter, God intentionally created seasons. Isn’t that staggering? It’s not as if He’s pacing upstairs waiting for me to reach the climax of my life. He’s not wondering when I’ll discover my purpose and get about the business of pleasing Him. That was, THIS IS my season.

I told you about not so many months ago, but if I’m honest, not so many hours ago, I was fretting my hands about this season. I’m feeling snowballed with all of the tiny things to do in the process of publishing and publicizing a book.

I prayed for this, right? I determined that God wants me to be an author and declared that I’d honed in on my calling, facetiously deprecated myself for taking more than 30 years to find out what God made me to do. And now?

I’m worried about not having enough creative juices or time to write for all the opportunities. I’m concerned about not having enough hours in the day to speak life to, and receive encouragement from, the relationships that God is giving me.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about nature’s seasons? Is it the crunch of lifeless leaves when you walk down the park trail? Is it the beckoning, long shadows of summer when you walk to the mailbox late in the evening? Is it the deep impressions lingering in the snow when you walk your dog in the winter time? Is it the cacophony of indiscernible, sweet fragrances when you walk through the garden in springtime?

I always see myself walking when I think of seasons. Slowly meandering through their measured window of time, experiencing each one in all its splendor, beholding it from every angle, walking.

Soon after God designated seasons, He placed man in the Garden of Eden. And do you know what He did? Every single evening, He invited Adam and Eve to come walk with Him.

There’s no rushing seasons. Sure, sometimes the lines seem blurred and winter keeps a firm grasp on the thermometer a little longer than we prefer, but it gives way. And then, when we’re tired of resting in the folds of spring, like buds held closed by an invisible hand, there’s still nothing to hasten summer. It’s a steady walk through these seasons.

And there’s bounty in every season, bounty and cultivation. When my options seemed few and my creativity abounded, God was cultivating excitement in me—ideas for the words He would share through my fingers. The bounty then was rest and time and freedom. Now, the bounty is opportunity to bless others, wide doors to use the gift and treasure of writing that He has given me. Now, I am cultivating trust, recalling rest and realizing confidence as I see the beauty behind each door He opens.

Simply, I worry when I need to be walking—steadily, following Christ. He’s the one who opened once invisible doors and He will show me which ones to enter and which ones to pass by.

An Interview With God’s Word

This devotional was first published in the ezine ‘Tween Girls and God

Have you ever heard of the “5 W’s and an H”?

I studied journalism in college. I loved reporting, interviewing, writing and even editing articles. My favorite part was talking to people I’d never met, asking them questions and then piecing the story together. Being concise is one of the most important elements of writing a news story. I remember Dr. Senat saying over and over, “Cut out the extras! Get to the point! Answer all the reader’s questions and then stop writing!”

The best tool Dr. Senat gave his students as we were learning to write “tightly” were the “5 W’s and an H”. So, I figured, it might also be a good tool to pull together the most vital information about the Bible. Let’s ask God’s Word these questions!

Who is the Word of God? John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
The Word of God is much more than just the thick book you carry to church. It’s more than a collection of stories or even a “road map to heaven”. The Word of God is a person.
John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This means that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.

What is the Word of God? Even though the Word of God is a person, we are also told that it is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path”. (Ps. 119:105) The Word of God guides us to make right decisions, teaches how to obey God and shows us how to follow Him.

Where is the Word of God? Isaiah 55:11 says that the Word of God comes directly from His mouth. “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” And it is also hidden in our hearts. When we believe in Jesus, He sends His Spirit to live within us and since Jesus is the Word of God, then God’s very Word can live inside us. From within us, it helps us to keep from sinning against God.
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Ps. 119:11)

When is the Word of God? This one’s easy even though it’s hard to understand. God’s Word is forever. It never ends, it never fails, it’s never wrong and it’s never silent. 1 Peter 1:25a says, “‘…but the word of the Lord endures forever.’” And Ps. 119:89 says, “Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (There’s a freebie, too! That’s another answer to the “where” question!)

Why do we have the Word of God? Oh my goodness, can you imagine if we didn’t have God’s Word? How would we know Him? How could we believe in Jesus and be saved?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 gives us many other reasons we have God’s Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

How do we use the Word of God? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 answers this question to. We use God’s Word to teach ourselves and others about Jesus. God’s Word is useful to correct us when we’re wrong and to train us to be righteous; to teach us that through Christ we “have right-standing with God”.

That was some good investigative reporting! We asked all the essential questions and essentially “interviewed the Bible” about God’s Word. Do you learn something new?

Why don’t you try writing a good news story about God’s Word. Write a short article telling someone about God’s Word—how important it is to you, how you use it every day and why everyone in all the world should hear it?

The Answer to Your Heart’s Cry

When thankfulness heaves dry,
And prayer is stillborn,
Listless lips, somber heart
Percussion of praise halts,
And the Army halts,
The prayer warrior falters…

Daughter, glory in My verdancy,
Marvel at Me.
How is it that you could be lonely
in My presence?
Hear Me speak in the rush of rain,
The charge of damp angel feet through the balsam trees.

I have come, in response to your prayer.
I have heard and answered.
I have come for your joy and My glory.
Both complete the other and find permanence there.

I have never needed you,
But I chose you,
And love you as sister, daughter, bride, friend.
Find your hope, inhale My faith for you.
Sit back, rest and watch My glory.
And let all your longings be fulfilled and overflowed.

The banks of your loneliness will
Erode in the power of My Life-giving flood.
Watch Me. Behold Me. Taste Me.

Be still and know that I am God.
Taste and see–
I, The Lord, am good.

Verses for further study and encouragement: 1 Chronicles 14:13-15, Psalm 34:8, Psalm 116:1, Matthew 23:9, Hebrews 2:11-13, Isaiah 54:5

Active Rest, Walking out the “Stuck”

I’m really good at giving advice. And I’m pretty good at taking it from others. I start to struggle a bit when I know that I need to take my own advice. More accurately, when I need to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as He tells me something I don’t want to hear.

There are a lot of things going on in my life that I don’t have much control over. Yet, I’m wearing myself out, tangling myself up in my mind trying to get a grip on them, force the proper outcome, demand the delayed response, see the future. But I’m hearing God say “rest”.

How does one rest? What does one do in the meantime? I mean, the world keeps spinning, expectations keep mounting, time marches on and: I still don’t have an answer God! I don’t know what to do about this circumstance, that situation or another relationship.

The One Word God gave me as a lens through which to view this year is walk. I sat with my Bible on my lap, staring out the window at a gloomy, spring morning and waited, as best I could, for God to give me something more. I didn’t know how to get up, or what to do next if He didn’t answer me. Finally, He spoke:

Abby, I want you to see the correlation between walking and rest. Do not charge ahead as if you’re in some race toward a marked finish line. There are no lanes, no finish lines, just a person-goal, Myself.

When I was deeply entrenched in my eating disorder, compulsive exercise was one of my greatest challenges and resting was very hard for me. In “workout vernacular” there’s a term active rest. It is those seconds between sets or days between workouts that capitalize on all your hard work. During those rest periods, the muscles and tissues grow and rebuild. Without them, the body’s ability to perform diminishes.

When those rest periods are used wisely, the body is able to lift more, run farther and perform more efficiently over time. In those periods, it is beneficial to drink water, consume nutrients, stretch—and walk. Stagnant rest is detrimental to muscles, but slow, constructive, mindful movement accelerates healing and increases longevity.

Walk, Abby. This is how you wait. One foot in front of the other; the next right thing.

The exercise analogy can be related to the importance of rest in my daily life and walk with God. So often throughout Scripture, God calls us to wait on Him. Usually, I spin my wheels in those spaces, wondering when He is going to act, or maybe I can just step in and do whatever it is for Him. But God calls me to wait, tells me to rest for my own good.

He knows that when I slow my movement, consume the nourishment of His word and walk mindfully through each day I’ll eventually come upon His answer. And after those seasons of slow movement, rest and recovery, I will be able to serve Him longer, in more difficult circumstances and with a stronger faith.

This was first published at http://www.FINDINGbalance.com