Category Archives: Ordinary Woman

Hunting Hope

When I receive a book for review, I can usually tell within a few pages if it’s one I want to keep or pass on. If it’s one I’ll tell clients about or one I’ll shelve and forget. Hunting Hope: Dig Through the Darkness to Find the Light by Nika Maples is not only a book I’ll keep and recommend, but also one I’m ordering for my ministry’s bookstore. I began underlining on page 2 (page one was very short) and I have tabs throughout. My indication of a good book.

So what’s so great about this book? Other than everything?

Authentic Voice:

First, Maples speaks with an authentic voice. She is a survivor of systemic lupus and a massive brainstem stroke that left her a quadriplegic at age 20. She fought her way back and became a public school teacher in her native Texas. She still struggles with the lupus and with falls. But she has learned how to mine God’s character and conform hers. She doesn’t sugarcoat her points, but rather shares from the depths of her discipleship.

Excellent Writing:

Not only does Maples make good points. She makes them well. She has the ability to turn a phrase, and then illustrates her points with great stories—most of them aimed at herself. Hunting Hope is a good read, a compelling read.

Transformational Points:

Maples has been tested in the fire. She had to learn to trust God or die. Her writing isn’t theoretical. It’s real. And transformational. If readers will pay attention, she offers hope for those trapped in situations that don’t seem fair. She shows God to be faithful. She says, “when we have nothing left to lean on, we learn to lean on God.”

It seems that most writers are either all miracle—believe God will heal everything all the time. Or no miracle—just thank God in the suffering. Maples says, “We should always ask for a miracle, but while we wait, God’s calming presence in our lives is a miracle in itself.” She focuses on obedience: “God unfolds His plan after the person takes a step of obedience, not before.” She affirms that wounded warriors have a vital place in the church: “Our worst life experiences may be exactly what qualify us to lead with authority…. The darkest moments of our lives might be the beginning of our divine mission on earth. So many times, the battlefield is a training ground.” And she recognizes that trials are just an exercise. An opportunity to grow in godliness.

My Only Complaint:

I’m usually not a fan of discussion questions in books. They are usually trite. But this is one book I wished Maples had added discussion questions. Now I’m going to have to write them myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll be teaching this book.

So please, I don’t say this often, but BUY THIS BOOK.

Hunting Hope Nika Maples

Anointed … And Stupid

We see it in Scripture—and unfortunately, in real life—all the time.

A person is highly gifted. Anointed. Being used by the Lord. But then they get stupid and everyone is left scratching their head.

Samson's Final Vengeance

Samson’s Final Vengeance                                                     Photo Credit: Kurt Cope (BPECA)

Samson’s Final Vengeance

Take Samson. Called and chosen before conception. A Nazarite from birth. Called to judge Israel and save them from the Philistines. But his downfall was women. After living a pure, set apart life, he hits young adulthood and lusts after a Philistine woman (Judg. 14:3). He took her as his wife (in clear violation of Deuteronomy 7:3), and in his youthful arrogance, baited his 30 Philistine “companions” with a silly riddle. He then allowed his wife to manipulate him into divulging the answer to his riddle. So he seized the prize from 30 men of Askalon, a Philistine town 20 miles away. Scripture says the Spirit of the Lord came on him in power (Judg. 14:19) and he conquered these unsuspecting men.

Yes, he was anointed. He had the Spirit of God. But was he fulfilling God’s call on his life? Then adding injury to insult, he abandoned his wife in a huff. Her father gave her to one of the friends. When Samson decided he wanted her back but her father refused, he tied torches to the tails of 300 foxes and burned the grain of the Philistines. This, of course, caused even more ire among the Philistines, who threatened the Israelites. His response was neither wise nor politically correct. “I merely did to them what they did to me” (Judg. 15:11).

The Israelites tied him up to turn him over to the Philistines, but Scripture says that the “Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands” (Judg. 15:14). He grabbed the jawbone of a donkey and killed another 1000 Philistines (Judg. 15:16), violating the prohibition against touching anything dead (Lev. 11:39) and possibly compromising his Nazarite vow.

Did Samson learn his lesson? No way. He went to the Philistine seaport of Gaza and slept with a prostitute, again becoming a target the Philistines (Judg. 16:1-3).

Lesson learned? Surely, you say. Nope. “Sometime later” he fell in love with yet another woman – Delilah, who collaborated with the Philistines. And once again he was snared by her pleadings to learn the source of his strength. It took a while as they toyed with one another, but in the end, Samson caved to her wiles and divulged the source of his strength. He was captured, blinded, and imprisoned.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! It’s easy to criticize Samson. His weaknesses are so obvious. Maybe ours aren’t quite as glaring. Or are they? But how is it that we are so willing to test the grace of God by giving in to our individual weaknesses and expecting Him to work through us anyway? And why does God continue to honor the anointed when they (we) give in to sin? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but personally, I am committed to pursue splendor and try my best to avoid stupidity. How about you?

I Want it All!

I Want It All! Exchanging Your average Life for Deeper Faith, Greater Power, and More Impact by Gwen Smith

I Want It All! Exchanging Your Average Life for Deeper Faith, Greater Power, and More Impact by Gwen Smith

Do you want ALL God has for you? Would you like to exchange your average life for deeper faith, greater power, and more impact? Then you’ll love I Want It All: Exchanging Your Average Life for Deeper Faith, Greater Power, and More Impact.

Did you know that there are certain kinds of greed that God applauds? I believe that he jumps for joy when we refuse to settle for less than ALL he has for us. When we pursue him with such fervor that we are willing to leave it all on the field, as they say in sports.

If you’re tired of ho-hum, mediocre Christianity, you’ll enjoy Gwen Smith’s spunky, conversational style as she challenges us to increase our faith, exercise our power, and increase our impact. Her girlfriend approach gets real and doesn’t hide behind perfection. Rather, she shares her story, warts and all, and engages us at all levels.

Smith’s writing voice is clear and fresh. She uses alliteration and poetic language skillfully. Her appeal will be primarily to the 30-40-year-old female audience. As an older woman, I didn’t find much new. But that is not to diminish the value for the Gen X and Millennial generations. The content is good and valuable. Would that we would all take it to heart. Would that each of us would cry out, “I Want It All!”

Is the Gospel Being Distorted?

This week I’ve had discussions with two moms whose adult sons have lived with non-Christian girls in long-standing relationships. Both parents raised their boys with Christian values, but somewhere along the line, worldly values overtook them. One mom was devastated and prays regularly for her son and his girlfriend. The other mom took a more ho-hum attitude. After all they are in love…

Values are Changing Photo Credit: Flickr/ Parker Knight

Values are Changing                                                                                                         Photo Credit: Flickr/ Parker Knight

These moms aren’t alone. Increasingly we are seeing a dilution of the gospel in the lives of our kids. Faith isn’t as important to most of them as it was and is to us. influenced by their schools, their peers, TV and movies, music and culture, today’s Millennials are more “open,” but often at the expense of the beliefs they were raised with.

We see the same thing with other issues of the day as Millennials buy the cultural lies about homosexuality, Islam, abortion, and the environment. Chelsen Vicari addresses this in her article “How the New Christian Left Is Twisting the Gospel.”  She suggests that faith leaders in many of the “hip” (read: growing) churches are “encouraging young evangelicals to trade in their Christian convictions for a gospel filled with compromise. They’re slowly attempting to give evangelicalism an update,” and the results are leading to a new variation of Christianity that would not be recognized by their grandparents.

Why does this matter? Because the very fiber of orthodoxy is being sacrificed on the altar of cultural relevance. We are sacrificing the gospel of Jesus Christ in an attempt to be relevant, loving, understanding, and compassionate. What we, and our kids, don’t realize is that Jesus wasn’t always these things. He was counter-cultural. He ruffled feathers. He irritated the leaders. But he didn’t compromise. And his steadfastness was attractive.

This year, let’s be very aware of the influences that are wooing our young people and let’s take a stand for orthopraxy (right practice). Let’s be willing to be unpopular as we give our kids good reasons to follow the real Jesus, not the pop-Jesus. It won’t be easy, but then, few worthwhile things are…

 

 

 

Happy Birthday to Me!

Forty years ago today I made the most important decision of my life. I stopped fighting and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Happy Birthday to Me! Photo Credit: Abby

Happy Birthday to Me!                                                        Photo Credit: Flickr/Abby

Little did I know what that decision would mean. I was simply looking for a life preserver, a fire insurance policy. Since my friend, Jadene, had shared Jesus with me a few months before, I knew that day would come. I figured that when I hit bottom, I could just pull out Jesus – my “get out of jail free card” – and all would be well. It took me awhile to realize that I didn’t have to hit bottom. After all, how much lower could I go? And did I really want to go there?

I drove from San Francisco to the church her husband pastored in Fresno, and in a bucket of tears, surrendered my life to the Great Unknown. And that Great Unknown met me, right where I was. I didn’t have to clean up my act first. I just had to come.

Well, by the time I got back to San Francisco, He was already beginning to rearrange the furniture of my life. Within a week he threw me into a Christian singles group where I was loved, discipled, and given every opportunity to grow. And every time I said yes to an opportunity, they gave me another. Never since have I seen a better discipleship program, and these folks were all lay people, unpaid and untrained. But they nurtured me to maturity and laid a firm foundation for me. Many of these people are still my best friends, and one – the coordinator of the group – is my husband.

I want to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has played a part in my life over the past 40 years, and a monstrous thanks to Jesus, who rescued me from the miry pit and set my feet on solid ground. I couldn’t ask for a better life.

Thinking About End-of-life Care

It’s not a popular subject, but you know, we’re getting to the stage of life where we ought to give end-of-life care more than a passing thought. And if not for ourselves, then for our aging parents or siblings.

end of life

Don’t wait until you need to make end-of-life decisions                                                      Photo Credit: Ted Van Pelt

An article in MedPage Today suggests that as advanced as we are with acute and even chronic care, we as a nation don’t do a very good job with end-of-life care. We don’t ask older patients what is important to them. Doctors, trained with w “fix-it” mentality, don’t consider the benefit of diagnostic tests or treatment for something that isn’t lethal. We as consumers – and as advocates – need to think about end-of-life care for ourselves and talk to our loved ones as well.

Obviously, everyone needs an advanced directive and a health care power of attorney. Your physician can provide you with those forms. And think about those in your circle of influence who have no one. We have a friend on disability who has no family. The last time he was in the hospital, no one knew to call us. We learned about it through a church prayer request. We’re visiting his doctor next week to set me up as his DPA (durable power of attorney) for health care and get his advanced directive in order.

But beyond the legal is the emotional and spiritual. What are your goals and dreams? How do you want to die if you have the choice? I have a friend with Alzheimers who absolutely does not want to go into a facility, while another friend with the same disease who told his wife that when he no longer knew her, she should put him in a facility. We can’t always comply with these wishes, but knowing them at least helps in making decisions. What are the spiritual practices that are important to you? What are your greatest fears concerning end-of-life care? These are the conversations to have now, while they are relatively unemotional. Then you’ll be better prepared when the time comes.

 

I’m Done!

This afternoon I pressed send on my final paper for my final class for my Master of Arts in Theology (Biblical Studies) from Fuller Theological Seminary, Bay Area! I was able to walk in the graduation in June, but with one class remaining over the summer, it seemed a bit anti-climactic. And wouldn’t you know, this was one of the most tedious classes I’ve taken. Yes, even accounting for the senioritis I experienced.

Working on my master’s degree has been one of my major efforts at pursuing splendor. I started the program at the age of 59, taking one class per quarter. My idea was that I really wanted to learn this time. In my previous degrees (BA and MPH), I worked full time, even while pursuing a master’s degree in the 1970s. I never felt that I learned much. My goal was to finish. This time I was free to devote more time and energy to my classes, and to move slowly. There was no job goal. No urgency. Just the desire to learn all I could and be enriched from each class.

Now what? What I know so far is “more of same.” More writing, speaking, and personal ministry. However, I also believe God will open new doors for me and perhaps even point me in a new direction. I’m excited and ready for my next adventure. All I know for sure is that it won’t include retirement – much to my husband’s disappointment.

When You Think You’re Dying

Making change is hard. Sometimes very hard. When I’m doing ministry and encouraging change, I often hear, “I feel like I’m dying!” And that’s true. Change often feels like death, and in fact, requires a death.

Go Ahead and Die!

Go Ahead and Die!                                                                                                                        Photo Credit: Jhong Dizon

Here’s the deal. Many of the behaviors and attitudes we want to change actually require a death. A death to the habit. A death to the factors that drive the habit. A death to the good feelings that the habit generates. It feels like death unto death.

But here’s the reality. When we make a change that is good for us, it can be a change unto resurrection. We may be in the “grave” for a short time, but if it’s a change for good, it’s a change to resurrection. We come out better. We come out transformed. We will never be the same again. The old has indeed passed away, the new lies broad before us. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

So if you feel like you are dying as you try to change, that’s a good thing. Continuing the old habit will bring death. But allowing the habit to die, well that brings resurrection! So go ahead. Die!

Thriving in Babylon

thriving in babylon

Thriving in Babylon: Why Hope, Humility, and Wisdom Matter in a Godless Culture

Have you been discouraged as you see our culture deteriorating? Have you faced fear as ISIS spreads and homegrown terrorists spread panic across the world? Have you lamented the loss of freedoms caused by court decisions, increasing regulation, and political correctness?

Meet a man forced to live in a fast changing and godless society. He faced fears about the future, concern for his safety, and the discouragement of world that seemed to be falling apart at warp speed.

Sound familiar? His name was Daniel, and with the power of hope, humility, and wisdom, he not only thrived, he changed an empire while he was at it. Though he lived thousands of years ago, he has a much to teach us today. But his key message is this:

Even in Babylon, God is in control.

In Thriving in Babylon: Why Hope, Humility, and Wisdom Matter in a Godless Culture, Larry Osborne explores the “adult” story of Daniel to help us not only survive – but actually thrive in an increasingly godless culture. Here Pastor Osborne looks at:

-Why panic and despair are never from God

-What true optimism looks like

-How humility disarms even our greatest of enemies

-Why respect causes even those who will have nothing to do with God to listen

-How wisdom can snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat

For those of us who know Jesus and his promises, and understand the full implications of the cross, the resurrection, everything changes—not only in us, but also in our world.

This is an easy read, but filled with thought-provoking challenges. Is my faith really all I think it is?

Give Away!

And here’s the good news! David C. Cook has provided me with an extra book to give away to one fortunate reader. Leave a comment below telling us what concerns you most about our world today -or- how you are finding ways to thrive in your Babylon. I’ll randomly select one of you to receive the book on August 7.