You Don’t Want What You Actually Deserve

When was the last time someone said to you, “You deserve better”? Or when did you last think, I don’t deserve this…?

These are common statements in American culture. We’re told by the media, and by society at large, that we’re entitled to certain outcomes––and we’re easily convinced, for this belief runs in our blood. At the root of everything, from our private discontentment and grumbling to our public complaints, is a sense that we’re good and deserving and can judge our circumstances rightly.

But we aren’t, and we can’t, because sin has corrupted everything. We’re naturally blind to a right estimation of ourselves, and our sense of justice is skewed––which means we don’t actually want what we deserve. We will see that we have far more than we deserve only when we grasp the undeservedness of the gospel; and we will only look at ourselves and our world rightly, through God’s lens, when we respond to his kindness to us in Christ.   

God’s Overwhelming Holiness

To think rightly about what we deserve, we must start with God. Our flesh wants to make everything about us, as if the world revolves around humans, but creation tells a different tale: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). If we pause to consider the grandeur of a starry sky, the delicate beauty of a sunrise, or the diversity of plant and animal life, we must confess that our lives are but a tiny blip in the radar.  

Creation shouts of our eternal God. Everything begins and ends with him (Romans 11:36).

God not only communicates his greatness through creation, he speaks through his Word. When he spoke to Isaiah, the prophet couldn’t stand before his holiness; he trembled before him, calling down curses upon himself (Isaiah 6:5). John, the beloved disciple, dropped as though dead when he saw Jesus in all his glory (Revelation 1:17). When we encounter God’s holiness through Scripture––when he speaks his perfect, true, pure words to us (Psalm 19:7-9)––we have no choice but to respond in a similar way.

The holiness of God will always be overwhelming to unholy sinners.

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Five Lessons I’ve Learned in Five Years as an Editor

“Do you have any tips to share about being an editor? Any books to read or things you wish you knew when you started?”

A friend and fellow writer recently sent me these questions. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about how someone can develop an editorial eye and make strides in this elusive, but important skill-set. I figure some of you might have similar questions, so here’s my attempt at an answer!

Let me preface by saying two things:

I didn’t study writing or English in college. What you’ll find in this article, then, isn’t lessons from a classroom, but those learned through work-related experience and diving in headfirst. I don’t pretend to have a refined knowledge of all-things-grammar and technical aspects of writing, nor do I have all the answers! These are simply reflections.

I’m writing this also for writers. Good writers are skilled self-editors, and good writers keep their editors in mind as they write. It’s a beautiful gift when a writer submits an article to Unlocking the Bible, and it’s mostly done. Growth in the skill of self-editing will greatly bless the editor who receives your submission!

Without further ado:

Lesson #1: Editing isn’t taught, it’s caught.

I can’t take credit for this brilliant statement. My co-worker and editor extraordinaire, Tim Augustyn, first said it. I was training my first co-editor and asked Tim for advice. He said, “Editing isn’t taught––it’s caught.”

By this, I don’t think Tim meant there’s no possibility of learning the editorial skill-set through books or courses; rather, we learn best by watching, analyzing, and doing. Just as an apprentice would learn by studying his master as he worked, so we learn editing in a similar way:

  • When we’re reading great books, we observe and analyze voicing, word choice, argument-flow, and the rhythm of sentences.  
  • When we’re being edited, we study what our editor is doing and learn from their suggestions and decisions, and even by the way they communicate.
  • When a writer reasonably pushes back on our work, we’re learning how to become better editors.

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How Churches Can Help Women Study God’s Word

I’ll never forget my trips to the teacher supply store in elementary school. I loved teaching my students (aka my sister) and decorating my “classroom” in our basement with calendars, lessons, and inspirational posters. One such poster stands out in my memory: it had a photograph of three smiling kids, and it read, Laughter is contagious.

Today, I continue to lesson-plan and teach, but now I do it in the context of the church, where one of the most important truths to “catch” is a settled conviction that Scripture is God’s inerrant Word. When we highly esteem the Bible in our churches and preach it from our pulpits, the effect is Scripture-saturated ministries––women’s ministry included––and the equipping of our people to study it for themselves.

A Contagious Conviction

What does it mean to highly esteem God’s Word as a church? The answer to this question could be an article in itself. But for the sake of being concise, this means we:

  • Hold a settled conviction that Scripture is God speaking to us, and that all his words are true, trustworthy, and useful (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Firmly believe the power of the “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
  • Invest our ministries, and our lives, in the proclamation of God’s Word because we’re utterly convinced that it never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).

When this is what we believe about the Bible, and when our pulpits overflow with these convictions, the effect upon a congregation––and a women’s ministry––will be contagious. Women will grow in their desire for God’s Word as their churches consistently proclaim it. 

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Parents, Your Tiredness Is an Opportunity

No parent likes to be tired. God created us to need rest to function and raise up our kids another day. A good night’s rest is a gift, and we see this more clearly when it’s lacking—and let’s be honest: For most parents, quality sleep is often lacking

When the nights are interrupted and the morning starts early, all I want is not to be tired. To feel like I can conquer what’s ahead. To greet the day with joy. Or, to use nap time to accomplish something, rather than give into my need and nap myself.

I’m often so busy fighting tiredness that I forget to look for what God may be doing in and through it. If he promises to work all things for our good, this extends even to our fatigue—so rather than seeing tiredness purely as an unwanted hindrance, we can seek the opportunity within it to look for God’s good purposes.

Five Opportunities Tiredness Gives Us

What might these be? Parents, your tiredness is an opportunity:

To seek God’s plan above your own

I’m never more aware of my desire to control things than when they spin out of control. This includes sleep. When I’m rested, I get the crazy idea that I’m in charge of my day. I carefully craft plans and am sure I’ll execute them. But not on tired days. On tired days, I’m barely getting by. I’m aware of my weaknesses, my needs. I see how my life is in God’s hands.

Tiredness awakens me to the reality that I’m not in control.

And this is a good thing, parents. Scripture says pride comes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18)—how often do we pridefully think “we’ve got this”? On tired days, we have an opportunity to taste reality: We’re desperately in need of God, our Sustainer, every moment and all the time. What an unexpected gift, to see clearly through the fog of fatigue!

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10 Truths to Set Leaders Free

Friends! I’ve collaborated with some sisters in Christ from Revive Our Hearts to offer you a free ebook: 10 Truths to Set Leaders FreeWhether you lead a large women’s ministry at your church or simply gather with a few friends to study God’s Word, we all need to know God’s truth in order to point others toward it. That’s why we’re excited to deliver this ebook.

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CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE E-BOOK

We’re exploring the most common lies leaders believe and the truth that sets us free. Here’s an inside peek:

LIE #1: A leader must meet everyone’s needs and expectations. (Melissa Kruger)

LIE #2: I must be strong and always have it together. (Kristen Wetherell)

LIE #3: If I work hard serving the Lord, ministry will go smoothly. (Susan Hunt)

LIE #4: My leadership role makes me more valuable and important. (Shannon Popkin)

LIE #5: My ministry is more important to God than my marriage and family. (Erin Davis)

LIE #6: It won’t matter if I skip my personal time with God. (Kelly Needham)

LIE #7: I’m the only one who can do it. Ministry depends on me. (Leslie Bennett)

LIE #8: I’m responsible for changing people’s lives. (Linda Green)

LIE #9: My ministry is insignificant compared to leaders with larger platforms. (Paula Marsteller)

LIE #10: Ministry is so busy there’s no time to rest. (Judy Dunagan)

Together, let’s speed ahead leaving the dust of lies in the rearview mirror.

Good News for Stressed People

If you’re stressed out, raise your hand.

My hand is raised, and I know I’m not alone. Millions of Americans—Christians included—would say the same. I often don’t know stress is affecting me; I’m usually fine one moment, and crying the next. And as much as I want to blame stress, making myself a victim of its pressures, I know I need to take a deeper look at my heart.

What’s at the root of our stress, beneath the circumstances that seem to cause it? And how does God’s Word speak to our struggle with it?

Moses’ Heavy Burden

Moses found himself in a difficult position after the Exodus. God had delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, bringing them miraculously through the Red Sea and into freedom. Moses and the people had beheld God’s great glory and power in the destruction of their enemies and the provision of divine rescue. They saw him do what they could never do for themselves.

After crossing the waters, the people continued to see God provide, as he sent manna to nourish their hungry bodies and water from a rock to quench their thirst. God also provided wisdom and justice for the Israelites through Moses, who would “judge the people…from morning till evening” (Exodus 18:13). But there was a problem—

When Moses’ father-in-law [Jethro] saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” (v. 14)

Jethro was concerned for Moses, and rightfully so. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Moses was “stressed out,” per say, but there were either indications of this, or Jethro had the foresight to see the coming effects of what Moses was doing.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” (vv. 17-18)

Wearing Ourselves Out

Do you resonate with this account? Perhaps your intentions are good, but you’re wearing yourself out because you’ve taken on too much and not asked for help. Or perhaps you’re obeying God by simply doing what he’s asked of you, but circumstances have become heavy with tension, complications, or hardship.

Like Moses, we’ve seen God’s great works throughout biblical history; more than Moses, we’ve beheld God’s greatest work in delivering us from sin and death through Christ. Yet, like Moses, we may be carrying heavy burdens, unable “to do it alone.”

Jethro’s response to Moses reveals three important truths about stress that we should take to heart:

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Moms, It Is Our Privilege

On hard days of mothering, it’s easy to see it purely as a type of suffering, rather than a blessed privilege. And it is a type of suffering. Motherhood is tough. It requires us to give up our plans in favor of what our kids need most. It demands our preferences for theirs. It’s strenuous on our bodies as we carry babies and hoist toddlers, and it tests our hearts as we soak up tears, discipline in love, and spend ourselves for little immediate return.

Yes, motherhood is a form of suffering. But in the middle of its trials, when we’re exhausted and weary, we can quickly forget what a privilege it is––often at the same time as when it’s hardest.

Pictures of Jesus

As I rocked our infant daughter in the quiet of her room, the day’s trials melted in light of the moment. Wise words from a mentor came to mind: “Remember what a privilege it is to be the picture of Christ to her.”

What a privilege indeed.

Don’t we need to know this truth, mommas, when it seems we can’t catch a break? When our kids are demanding so much from us, and we aren’t sure we can give any more? When our patience runs low because our little one has pushed our buttons and tested our love?

Consider Him

We need to know who Jesus is—what he’s already done and what he’s doing right now. Then and only then, as his Spirit works in us, will we grasp what a privilege it is to reflect him as we mother.

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How to Make Sense of Confusing Bible Passages

What in the world?

I was reading Psalm 128 and I thought, Surely this passage is used to promote the prosperity gospel:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,

   who walks in his ways!

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;

   you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. (vv. 1-2)

I kept reading:

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine

   within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots

   around your table.

Behold, thus shall the man be blessed

   who fears the Lord. (vv. 3-4)

Now I’m even more confused, I thought. What about homes that never see the blessing of children? Does this psalm apply equally to them?

Five Principles for Confusing Bible Passages

Let’s be honest: Scripture can be confusing sometimes. As we grow in our knowledge of the whole Bible story, we run into these passages that can feel like roadblocks on a straight-and-narrow journey. So what do we do with them? How do we make sense of confusing Scripture passages?

1. Read the surrounding verses.

From the pulpit, Pastor Colin Smith often says, “Interpret Scripture in light of Scripture.” This is sound wisdom because all of God’s Word is breathed out by him and is useful for our growth (2 Timothy 3:16). It’s perfect and without error, which means God cannot contradict himself. So, if a verse or passage seems difficult, confusing, or misplaced, we interpret it in light of what directly surrounds it. Ask the following questions:

  • What did the author say immediately before and after?
  • What did they say in the previous chapter(s)?
  • What’s the message of the book as a whole?

Seek answers to these questions, and you’ll find you have a much clearer idea of what’s intended in the initial passage. Let’s apply this principle to Psalm 128:

Psalm 128. The surrounding psalms were written upon the return of God’s people from exile. God had restored their fortunes and blessed them by delivering them from their enemies and bringing them home. What the psalmist writes isn’t, “If you’re good, God will bless you,” but “God has been good to you and has restored that which you lost when you were in exile.” It would’ve been clear to God’s people that this blessing was far from what they deserved for the very sin that sent them into captivity—yet God was faithful and kind to them.

2. Think similar and different.

Now consider the whole of Scripture and where you’ve seen similar words or themes. Ask, Where have I seen this before? You can also ask where you’ve read something seemingly contrary to what you’re reading, which will shed light on the meaning of the present verses.

Psalm 128. I read the word “blessed” and immediately think of Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The poor in spirit are those who fear the Lord (Psalm 128:1), who recognize their sin and confess their eternal need for a Savior. Jesus says that God’s kingdom will be theirs—and to have such blessing is the ultimate way in which “it shall be well with [them]” (v. 2). So Psalm 128 isn’t necessarily about God promising earthly prosperity—although blessing does come from “the labor of [our] hands”—but eternal prosperity, the good and security of our souls.

3. Consult sound commentaries.

One of God’s good gifts to the Church throughout the centuries has been commentary on Scripture, written by learned, wise theologians who love God and his Word. We should always try to interpret what we’re reading with the help of the Spirit and other Scriptures before reading other interpretations since they can influence our thinking. (Of course, we want to be influenced for good—but we’ll grow more in studying Scripture as we seek our own interpretation first, even if it gets corrected).

Psalm 128. English minister Joseph Caryl clarifies the meaning of verse 4: God extends his goodness both in family blessing and in spiritual blessing. He says,

…the man fearing God shall be blessed more than [with wife and children]: his blessing shall come in the best way (Psalms 128:5): “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion”; his temporal mercies shall come in a spiritual way, yea, he shall have spiritual blessings: “He shall bless thee out of Zion”; and he shall have blessings beyond his own walls: “Thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.”

4. Study the passage with other believers.

If a passage of Scripture still confuses you after seeking context and reading commentaries, ask a friend or small group to look at the verses with you. Share your struggles with it, pray together for the Spirit’s clarity and help, and discuss it.

Some of the most enlightening moments for me have happened with other believers, as they explained truth to me in a fresh way and guided my interpretation of God’s Word. Who might you ask to open the Bible with you? What burning questions could you bring to your small group this week?

5. Submit yourself to God’s Word.

Ultimately, the secret things belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29). We won’t be able to grasp everything we read fully, nor will all our questions be answered. If we could wrap our minds around God—all he is, all he’s planned, and all he’s said—he wouldn’t be worthy of our worship. His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours, and this is the way it should be (Isaiah 55:9)!

So, at the end of the day, when we can’t fully understand what we’re reading, we choose to trust the One who speaks without error. We trust his invitation that when we seek him with all our hearts, we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13). We trust in Christ’s promise to give us the Helper, the Spirit of truth, who will guide, counsel, and lead us into truth (John 15:26).

And the more we hunger to know him more and treasure the infinite depths of his Word, the more we will worship.

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

Three Helps for Ministering to Women with Chronic Pain

I’m a wife, mother, and member of our church, and I’m involved in women’s ministry—

I’m also a woman struggling with chronic pain, which affects all of these roles.

At least 100 million Americans have chronic pain. This means that one in three people at your church fights a daily battle with physical issues ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating affliction. Some struggle to exercise and clean their homes; some find it difficult to work jobs; some can’t pick up their children or carry groceries; others are laid up in bed and can hardly function.

The reality? Most of the time, you won’t know about these pains and their emotional and spiritual implications—many people with chronic issues don’t look sick or weak, and we struggle to ask for help. So what can you do, as a leader, to minister to the hurting women in your congregation? How can you support us, both spiritually and physically?

Three Helps for Ministering to Women with Chronic Pain

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but because I have chronic pain, I’m familiar with what we strugglers often desire and need (even if we won’t admit it). Three helps come to mind:

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