Book Review: No More Faking Fine

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending has an important message we often forget. I was challenged to find ways to be more authentic with God and with the people around me. I was reminded it’s okay to ask questions and seek for answers. It’s fine to express doubts and discouragement to God. If I ask Him to answer me, He will.

“Lament . . . is simply expressing honest emotions to God when life is not going as planned. . . . It’s a prayer that says, God, I’m hurting–will you meet me here? And as such, it is a prayer to which God always responds (No More Faking Fine 33).

The girl looked at me in shock: “Oh, no. Christians should never express doubt or frustration. We are supposed to always trust God. God only wants our praise. If we talk about our struggles, we’ll make Him look bad.”

Really? What about Job? His story is 42 chapters long–much of it expressing discouragement and frustration. He even said he wished he’d never been born! Yet God did not rebuke Job’s honesty. God answered him and rewarded him for staying faithful through his questioning.

And what about David–the man after God’s own heart. He penned dozens of Psalms expressing his fear, loneliness, and depression.

Yet how many of us have hinted at the brokenness we feel or the doubts clouding our thinking only to be told, as I was, that it was unspiritual to express our struggles?

Maybe it was a look someone gave or getting pulled aside for a private lecture. Or maybe it was a well-meaning Bible teacher who said that Christians are only supposed to express praise to God. But somewhere, some way we became convinced that “spiritual” Christians never share doubts, fears, or worries. We must put on our fake happy smiles when we go to church. Instead of being honest about our struggles, we tell everyone that life is fine and God is good.

This wrong misconception of what our communication to God and each other should look like is what Esther Fleece seeks to debunk in her book No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.

Esther lived the first three decades of her life putting it all together for church and watching her life fall apart at home. She became so good at putting on the happy, praise-filled cover that few realized what was really going on inside her. Eventually Esther realized she had created a facade that prevented her from having deep, meaningful relationships with God, friends, and family.

Esther uses what she learned from going to Christian counseling and from several years of deep Bible study to show that “there is no ‘fake it till you make it’ in Scripture. When we fake fine, we fake our way out of an authentic relationship with God, others, and ourselves” (37).

(Let me give a caveat here! Esther Fleece is not seeking Biblical permission to go around with whining. Instead, she encourages her readers to learn the Biblical concept of lamenting–which is honestly expressing our thoughts and emotions to God and then asking Him to answer us!)

Many of David’s psalms are written in the lament format. David starts off expressing his raw, honest feelings to God. As he shares how he thinks and feels, he begs God to answer him or rescue him. And God does answer him. Most of David’s psalms end with God showing Himself to David and David reworking his thoughts and feelings so they express the truth God showed him.

Another way people in the Bible lamented was by sharing their current struggles and then reflecting back on the great things God had done in the past. When they spoke out loud their fears and then reminded themselves of God’s character and the many things He had done for others, they were strengthened and encouraged in their own struggles. (See Psalm 77 for an example.)

We all know “fake” people. It’s impossible to have deep relationships with them because everything is surface-oriented. Most of us want more than surface friendships. We crave friendships where we can be ourselves without fear of condemnation and where we can share the hard things we are going through.

That is the sort of relationship God wants with us, too. He doesn’t want a shallow relationship. He wants to be our “Abba Father.” But we won’t develop a deep relationship with Him if our communication is shallow. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spend time thanking Him–because we should. Or that it’s wrong to ask for things. But our prayers should include time being honest and genuine with Him–telling Him what is in our hearts: our fears, struggles, doubts, and dreams. And when we ask Him to speak to us, He will answer!

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jere. 33:3).

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending has an important message we often forget. I was challenged to find ways to be more authentic with God and with the people around me. I was reminded it’s okay to ask questions and seek for answers. It’s fine to express doubts and discouragement to God. If I ask Him to answer me, He will.

What kind of rating would I give Esther’s book? May I give two ratings–one on content and one on execution? I would love to give this book five stars. It started out strong. It’s premise is biblical and needful. I learned a lot. But Esther rambled and repeated a lot in the middle third of her book, losing the power of her message. I almost gave up halfway through because I felt she was saying the same thing over and over. I’m so glad I finished the book, though, because she regained her stride in the last third as she wrote about the connection between lamenting and forgiveness. So it deserves 5 stars for content, but I’d give it a 3.5 star rating for execution. (Keep in mind the fact that I’m very picky!) Nevertheless, it’s going to stay on my bookshelf. It made a difference in my life. And I find myself still talking to others about it several months after I read it.

Letting Go to Find Joy

The lies change our memories and our perspectives. Suddenly we aren’t focusing on the positives. Every interaction becomes tainted. And if those lies aren’t exposed, they will follow us through our lives, dragging us down a darkening path.

It started with a question at the doctor’s office: “Do you intend to go back to teaching some day?” A simple question, but it set off a torrent of emotions, many of them negative. Did I still like teaching? Was I any good as a teacher? What about all the mistakes I made as a new teacher?

The next morning, as I was still wrestling with my dark thoughts, I received a message from one of our home school co-op leaders: would I be interested in teaching a Shakespeare class to the high school students next fall.

Now my emotions were really mixed: excitement at the thought of teaching some of my favorite literature (I am that nerd that LOVES Shakespeare!) and fear that I would fail.

And then I got thinking. Why the mixed emotions? As I wrestled in my mind, I realized when I look back on my time as a junior high/high school English teacher, I don’t remember many good parts. I’ve chosen to remember the mistakes–and I made quite a few as a new teacher–and the disappointments. I’ve focused so much on my regrets and feelings of inadequacy as a teacher that I’ve forgotten the students who appreciated me. I’ve forgotten some of the wonderful learning moments we had together. I’ve blocked the happy memories.

I’d forgotten how much fun we had acting out Taming of the Shrew together as a class. (Even our foreign exchange student from Korea got into it!) Some of the wild and funny times in my junior high classes (the highlight of my day). The crazy speech activities. The deep discussions as we tore apart Night and Things Fall Apart. And watching students find books they loved for the first time in their lives!

It wasn’t always long days and mountains of research papers to grade. Or seniors with bad attitudes and angry kids taking out their frustration with life on whatever authority was in the room. Yes there were plenty of days when learning about adverbs or how to write a research paper wasn’t the most exciting thing to do. But there were many wonderful days as we prepared for speech meet, discussed good books, and allowed ourselves to get lost on rabbit trails that were hilarious, but had nothing to do identifying the parts of speech.

I need to go through my school tote and look at the pictures of the edible map from The Great and Terrible Quest, read some of the hilarious essays I secretly copied, and find those memories I lost.

But that is what lies do. They take over and rewrite history. And soon we forget the good times, the positive interactions, and the blessings. This can happen in relationships, at jobs, and in churches.

The lies change our memories and our perspectives. Suddenly we aren’t focusing on the positives. Every interaction becomes tainted. And if those lies aren’t exposed, they will follow us through our lives, dragging us down a darkening path.

That’s how Satan puts us in bondage. When we believe those lies, they become chains that we wear–robbing us of joy and freedom. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to live the lies we’ve received. John 8:32 says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

When we put on the belt of truth Paul talks about in Ephesians 6, Satan can’t attack us with lies. We are protected with something far more powerful than any weapons he has in his arsenal. Lies cannot stand up to truth anymore than darkness can last when light appears.

But we have to choose to listen to the truth and believe the truth–and that is really hard (at least for me!). I hear the truth and tend to say, “But, but, but. . . .” It’s hard to accept the truths that I am loved, I am not a failure, I am who God made me to be. It’s easier to believe the lies that I failed, and I messed up, and I failed again. But those are lies. They are wrong. And they do not bring the joy God wants us to have. So I am striving to banish the lies and accept God’s joy-filling truth in my life–which means I have some major rethinking to do!

To go back to the question at the doctor’s office. . . . Will I go back to teaching high school English full-time at some point? I don’t know. I have other dreams I’d like to pursue, too. I don’t know what the future may hold. But in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the teaching opportunities that come my way, because I do love teaching, whether it’s teaching my kids, teaching at church, or teaching a class at the home school co-op. Will I make mistakes? Yes, I will. I am human. Will I sometimes wish I’d spent more time preparing for a lesson or found a different way to make it interesting? Absolutely! But I’m going to let go of the lies I’ve been believing and choose to accept the truth that God made me to be a teacher. He is the one who gave me that passion. He does not make any mistakes in His creation. And I am going to use the passion and ability He gave me wherever I can to glorify Him and help others. I hope you can let go of any lies you’ve believed and do the same!

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Book Review: Sacred Privilege

There are some books that reach into our souls and breath life into our spirits. And this book was one of them. It brought me up out of a dark place and gave me a renewed vision for who I am and the calling God has given our family.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Have you ever met someone only to discover he/she could be your identical twin? That’s how I felt when I started reading Sacred Privilege: Your Life and Ministry as a Pastor’s Wife by Kay Warren. Her book impacted me profoundly because our lives, interests, and personalities are so similar.

We both love English and history. We are both pastors’ wives. We both know the unbearable pain of watching someone we love battle a debilitating mental illness. We are both introverts who struggle with being in the public eye. And we both face some of the same struggles personality-wise when it comes to being a pastor’s wife.

But even if you aren’t an introverted, big-picture, dreamer-type, this book will bless and challenge you. In fact, though it is written for pastors’ wives, I think most of it would apply to anyone involved in any type of Christian ministry, full-time or lay. She includes chapters on accepting how God made us, taking care of ourselves, privacy, dealing with criticism, change, raising kids in the ministry spotlight, etc.

As I read Sacred Privilege, there were several chapters that stood out to me. One of them was Chapter 2, “Sharing the Dream.” I’m going to be honest with you. I wanted to marry someone who was involved in helping other people. But I never felt a sense of “calling” to be a pastor’s wife. I’ve struggled with that lack of calling on and off for a long time. So chapter 2 was exactly what I needed. We are a team. He needs me–my love, support, spiritual gifts, etc. in his ministry. It’s not an easy life, but it is a “sacred privilege.”

Chapter 3 on “Accepting Who You Are” was also life-changing. I know I’m not the only pastor’s wife who feels like I don’t have the personality or spiritual gifts of a pastor’s wife. Shouldn’t pastors’ wives be extroverted, fun-loving, and extraordinarily talented? Kay disagrees. She says, “Success in ministry is . . . . about thriving, flourishing, and growing strong on one’s calling and in one’s character” (58). She challenges her readers to accept that most of us are ordinary people, and that’s ok! God knew what He was doing when He placed us in the positions we have. We have our security in Christ. It’s time to accept that and flourish wherever we are using the strengths He has given us. (Side note: God uses our weaknesses, too, to further His kingdom [II Cor. 12:9-10].)

“Is my prayer life sufficient to cover this new responsibility?” (91). This chapter on “Adapting to Change” made me stop and pay attention. I used to take on new responsibilities because I felt I was supposed to. Then, a couple of years ago, I was challenged to never take on a new responsibility without praying about it first. So I started doing that. But Kay Warren says it goes beyond that. If I don’t have the prayer life to support my new responsibility, I’ll be doing it in my own strength and most likely burn out or fail!

I could go on and on (can’t you tell!). I loved the chapter on being authentic in ministry and sharing your life. But my absolutely favorite chapter was Chapter 9: Protecting Your Private Life. Kay went through 7 steps to make sure we are holding ourselves accountable to make sure our private lives match our public image, and (most importantly) God’s standard.

So many Christian leaders end up ruining their testimonies because they are hiding secret sins, and then those sins get exposed. Kay uses II Corinthians as her basis for her 7 steps to keep a clean conscience and a right heart before God and man.

Kay Warren then closes out her book talking about criticism, radical forgiveness, and running the race with an eternal perspective.

Are you getting the hint that I absolutely love this book? In fact, writing this book review makes me want to reread it. (And I seldom reread nonfiction!)

There are some books that reach into our souls and breath life into our spirits. And this book was one of them. It brought me up out of a dark place and gave me a renewed vision for who I am and the calling God has given our family.

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When Waiting is Best

Some things just take time. Like Simeon waiting for his messiah.

I don’t like waiting. In fact, I am probably one of the world’s most impatient people. I am always looking for ways to make things better or do things faster. And I don’t want to wait for change to happen.

But many times we need to wait. Lasting relationships usually take a long time to develop. Pregnancies need to last 9 months. Some decisions turn out better for having been made slowly. And sometimes we have to wait a long time for an answer to prayer.

Like Simeon.

He had to wait a long time to see the Messiah. Some times he probably felt like giving up. Maybe he wondered if he’d misunderstood God’s message. Maybe he’d been sick or distracted and missed his savior’s arrival.

But he waited.

And so did Anna.

She had served the Lord at the temple for many decades. And still she waited.

God’s timing isn’t our timing. We pick our “deserved” timeline based on our needs, wishes, hopes, and prayers. We forget about all the other people in the world–people we may never meet–who’s lives are connected with ours. They have needs, wishes, hopes, and prayers, too. And sometimes someone else needs more time. Or an event needs to take place. Or God just has a different timeline.

It’s hard, when we are weary with waiting, to remember that He knows what is best. The creator of the world and savior of mankind knows far more than we can ever know. He knows when our best thoughts and dreams will not produce the best results. And He knows we cannot, should not, be forced into accepting Him.

Some times we find out the why of waiting. At other times, we never know. It is frustrating and lonely when we fight it. But there is a joy in waiting when we trust He knows best.

I was reminded of that this week. We’ve prayed for a friend for over twenty years. And laughed, talked, sweated, and laughed some more with her. And there has been no answer. Well, no visible answer. No interest. No change.

And then Friday I received a letter. She’s studying the Bible. Willingly. Eagerly. And then she says the words I thought I’d never hear: “I want to find a church family.”

It wasn’t God’s timing twenty-three years ago when we first met her. It wasn’t God’s timing a few years later when we gave her her first Bible. And it wasn’t God’s timing when my mom tried to have a Bible study with her. But maybe now is the time.

And if it’s not, God knows the perfect time. He knew her and loved her before the world began. And I have to accept it.

In the meantime, I’ll keep loving and waiting and praying. Some things just take time. Like Simeon waiting for the Messiah.

Learning to Just Be Me

There are things I need to change. But there are also things about me that are not meant to change. So I will ask Him to help me change what needs changing and accept the rest of me just as I am.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. They typically don’t last, leaving me feeling like a failure. But this year I decided to have just one. It’s not your typical resolution. I’m not resolving to exercise more, eat less chocolate, spend more time with my kids, or wake up even earlier to read my Bible before my kids wake up. I probably need to do all of those things. I hope some of them will happen, but mostly I just want to work on just being me.

You see, in the world of social media, peer pressure, and my own crippling insecurity, I’ve lost sight of who I am. I’ve become so focused on who I think others want me to be that I’ve lost my joy.

I’ve rejected the person God made me to be in search of someone I wish I could be. I’ve burdened myself with guilt because I’m not more athletic, or healthy, or artistic. I’ve beaten myself up because I don’t have a business-minded bone in my body. I’ve guilted myself because I don’t have the talent to create a booming home business or the energy to stay up late at night building up a big blog following.

I’ve allowed myself to feel like a failure because I don’t enjoy cooking, can’t stand running, struggle feeling comfortable in social situations, and don’t love cooing over newborns.

But that is not who I am. If I’m going to believe God when He says I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), then I need to accept that He created me exactly the way he wanted me.

Sally Clarkson wrote a wonderful blog post about taking time each New Year’s to declutter one’s soul–to deal with and dispose of sin, attitudes, and actions that steal our joy and hinder our relationship with Christ and those around us ( And that is what I need to do.

Did you notice that list? sin, attitudes, and actions. Not talents, interests, or personality types.

God knew me and designed me long before I was born. He created me with unique strengths and weaknesses for the life He intended me to live. He made me interested in books and music. He did not design me to be business minded, athletic, or tall!

There are things I need to change. But there are also things about me that are not meant to change. So I will ask Him to help me change what needs changing and accept the rest of me just as I am.

After all, some of the things I think of as weaknesses actually might be my greatest strengths.

gray concrete castle
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Willing to Obey

Mary was an ordinary girl. There was nothing unique about her, unless it was her love of God’s word and her willingness to do whatever he wanted with her life.

A couple of months ago our women’s Bible study group did a brief study of the life of Mary. As I was preparing to teach the lesson, several things about Mary, her life, and character made an impression on me.

Mary was an ordinary girl. There was nothing unique about her, unless it was her love of God’s word and her willingness to do whatever he wanted with her life.

Mary would have been as shocked as any of us would be by a visit from an angel. There had been no direct revelation from God in four hundred years. And even before that silent period, angelic or divine revelation was by no means an every day event! Just six months earlier, Zechariah doubted his visit from Gabriel and was punished by losing his ability to speak. Yet when Gabriel spoke to Mary, she showed no doubt, only curiosity: “How can this be since I’m a virgin?” And when the angel answered her, she believed him (Luke 1:38).

But if Mary had no trouble believing the angel, she could not expect that everyone else would be the same. Elisabeth was the only one Mary could be absolutely certain would believe her, since Elisabeth and Zechariah had also been visited by an angelic messenger.  Also, if she found Elisabeth was pregnant (Gabriel had told Mary this news as a sign he was speaking the truth), then that would show she had been conversing with a messenger from God and wasn’t imagining the whole thing!

Mary “pondered things in her heart.” Based on that statement (which appears two times in Scripture: Luke 2:19 and 2:51) and her excellent knowledge of Scripture (Luke 2:46-55), it appears that Mary was an analytical person who spent time studying and meditating on God’s Word.

Women in Bible times were not usually well educated, but Mary had an amazing knowledge of the Scriptures! Since women did not attend school, she must have learned at home from godly parents who instilled a knowledge of the Scriptures and a love of God in the heart of their daughter.

As a result, her Magnificat is full of OT references, particularly in regards to the story of Hannah. Mary must have felt a kinship with Hannah in the days following Gabriel’s visit—both women would give birth to miracle children who would be dedicated to the service of God.

“My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46) is a paraphrase from Hannah’s Magnificat in I Samuel 2:1, spoken after she presented Samuel to the Lord at Shiloh.

Luke 1:52 is also taken from Hannah’s Magnificat in I Samuel 2:7-8. Both women praised God for humbling the mighty and raising up the poor and humble. 

And verse 53 of Mary’s Magnificat is likewise based on Hannah’s prayer of praise and thanksgiving (I Samuel 2:5). God always satisfies those who hunger for him, but he has no use for those who are satisfied with earthly riches.

Mary’s Magnificat uses many other Old Testament passages–verses from the prophets, Psalms, and various covenant promises made to the patriarchs. 

God loves when his people pray to him and praise him using Scripture. And Mary did just that as she and Elisabeth praised their wonderful God.

By the time Mary returned home, she was 3 months pregnant and starting to show. She could not hide what was happening much longer. It appears from looking at the book of Matthew that it is at this point Joseph found Mary was pregnant and made the decision to divorce her  (Matthew 1:18-25).

God knew his son would not only need a spiritually sensitive mother, but a godly, earthly father as well. Joseph’s compassionate, just character is demonstrated in his decision to“put her away quietly.” By choosing to spare her humiliation, he was hurting himself. He would have to return the dowry and lose all possibility of regaining the bride price he had paid.1

Instead of bringing Mary before the religious leaders for a public trial, he simply had to get 2 witnesses to sign the divorce decry and then hand it to her. Her shame would still be known, but the humiliation would not be as public.

If he did not divorce her, he was declaring that either he was the father, or he had allowed her to become a prostitute. Either way, his reputation and the reputation of his family would be ruined.

Apparently by the time the angel visited him, Joseph had made the decision to divorce her, but had not officially signed the papers. He never signed those papers; he instead obeyed the angel and took Mary as his wife.

Becoming the earthly parents of the Messiah was not easy. Both Joseph and Mary lost their earthly reputations. No doubt they had family and friends turn against them. Later, after they settled in Bethlehem, they had to flee to a foreign country to save their young son’s life. Years later, Mary would watch her son die the most cruel death known to man.

Perhaps it is a good thing God doesn’t show us what we will have to experience in the future. Instead, all he asks of us is that we live each day the way Mary did, with her words on our lips: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).


“I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye”: Letting Go of the Law to Live by Grace

A lot of people were helped by Josh’s book. But a lot more were hurt. For that reason, Josh has decided to stop publication of his best seller. While he still stand by many of the principles in the book, he has come to realize that there are many that are not Biblical or helpful. It’s time to let go of the rules and seize onto our relationship with God.

If you were like me going through adolescence in the late 90s or early 2000s (or were a parent of teacher to adolescents in that time period), I’m sure you heard of or read Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was the gospel on relationships to many Evangelical, conservative, and/or homeschooling families.

Some, like myself, found some helpful principles in the book and moved on. Others believed it contained a God-blessed formula for finding the perfect mate. Still others had it used as a weapon against them.

Best case scenario, it made friendships between the opposite sexes extremely difficult. (You felt like you couldn’t talk to someone of the opposite sex without him/her thinking you were interested in marriage!) Worse case scenario, it put extreme pressure and guilt on its readers. And some just gave up on finding a Christian spouse altogether. 

There were some helpful principles in the book, such as not wasting time on relationships that were doomed from the get-go. Or making sure God was the center of the relationship. Another helpful principle was getting counsel and accountability from others  (one that applies in all areas of life).

And Josh still stands by those principles.

However, as he began to hear more and more how his book was held up as the gospel on relationships, as he heard from people who were shamed or hurt from the legalism in his book, as he realized there is no black-and-white, fail-proof formula for a God-honoring relationship, Josh began to rethink much of the content in his book.

For me, one of the most compelling moments in the documentary was when he discussed the idea that any good or moral wisdom elevated on par with Scripture leads to legalism and turns its followers into Pharisees. You see the Pharisees added thousands of laws to the Torah (God’s inspired Word) in order to make their followers pure and acceptable to God.

Even today, many Christians are prone to the same thing. We add rules on dress, relationships, entertainment, marriage, child rearing, etc. These rules change as our culture changes. But one thing stays the same–if you don’t follow them, you aren’t spiritual.

Sometimes the command to be separate (II Cor. 6:17) is taken to the extreme. Yes, if the world is doing something that the Bible clearly defines as sin, we are to stay separate. But it doesn’t mean everything in our culture is bad. We are not called to separate just for the sake of separation. How can we reach a culture if we’ve totally isolated ourselves from it? But I digress!

Many readers of I Kissed Dating Goodbye took it as a command to form a new culture. Josh’s ideas (and he was 21 and single!) became God’s new truth. It was a formula with a guaranteed outcome. Followers felt they were promised a wonderful, happy, perfect marriage if they followed his ideas.

Those who did not follow the book to the letter, or who had a history of failed relationships, were made to feel inferior. The documentary talks about how once someone had a failed relationship, his/her chances of finding a spouse in those circles decreased dramatically!

It also put too much of an emphasis on one kind of purity–virginity. The all-consuming goal was to remain a virgin until marriage. (And, yes, Josh still believes God designed sex for marriage.) But what about those who were molested as a child or who did not grow up in a Christian environment? What about those who didn’t make it to the altar before sleeping together? Does God care about sexual purity more than any other kind of purity? Is that one sin so much worse than any other sin that people deserve to be branded as impure for the rest of their lives? Of course not! Is it possible to be sexually pure and yet live an impure life or vice versa? Absolutely!

I am amazed at Josh’s humility. When was the last time a Christian superstar made a public admission s/he was wrong? What would Christianity look like if every Christian in the world, no matter how famous, revisited his/her words (written or spoken) on a regular basis and made adjustments or apologies as needed?

A lot of people were helped by Josh’s book. But a lot more were hurt. For that reason, Josh has decided to stop publication of his best seller. While he still stand by many of the principles in the book, he has come to realize that there are many that are not Biblical or helpful. It’s time to let go of the rules and seize onto our relationship with God.

(Currently Josh’s documentary is available to watch for free:

Abigail: Willing to Hold Ourselves and Others Accountable

But Abigail was more than a peacemaker. A peacemaker just negotiates a compromise. Abigail, in a roundabout way, confronted David’s sin. She held David accountable. Galatians 6:1-3 reminds us that each of us has a responsibility to watch over our fellow believers. If someone we know falls into sin, we are to gently attempt to bring him/her back to God. We also are to watch our own attitudes and actions so that we don’t become proud and fall into sin. None of us have reached the point where we are above falling into sin.

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a couple of lessons at our church’s women’s Bible study. We were finishing up a series on women of the Bible. I could think of no better woman to include in that study than Abigail–a bold champion of right.

* * *

Abigail’s story is told in I Samuel 25. David is running for his life away from King Saul. He and his 300 mighty men just had a chance to eliminate Saul. This seemed like the perfect way to fulfill God’s promise to make David the king of Israel, but David refused to take matters into his own hands:

The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” (I Samuel 24:6)

He recognized that life and death belong to the Lord. God had a plan, and it was not David’s place to rush it.

Once again, David proved he was merciful, trustworthy, and honorable. He left vengeance in the hands of the Lord. He proved he was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) and worthy to be the next king of Israel.

Often when we have a spiritual victory, it is quickly followed by some sort of test. Full of confidence, or perhaps pride, we often fail the test. Unfortunately, this is what almost happened to David.

If it were not for Abigail’s confrontation, David would have mercilessly slaughtered Nabal, his family, and his servants. David would have had blood on his hands. And when it was time for him to become the king of Israel, the already divided country would have been more divided: stay with Ishbosheth, the weak son of Saul, or follow someone who had earned a reputation as being fierce and cruel—David.

As we meet our characters, I’m reminded that each of us has a reputation. Maybe it’s based on something we did or did not do in the past. Maybe it’s based on who our family is (and that is hard to change). Or where we live. Or our job. But we each have a reputation. As Christians, our reputations should reflect our savior, Jesus Christ. We need to be careful how we live our lives, because once we tarnish our reputations, it is almost impossible to remove that tarnish.

This story focuses on three main characters:

Abigail: Her name means “My father rejoices.” She is described as “discerning and beautiful” (v. 3).

Nabal: His name means “Foolish” Did his parents name him this or did he earn this nickname? Regardless, v. 3 says he was “harsh and badly behaved,” v. 17 tells us he was “worthless,” and v. 25 says he was as foolish as his name.

David: His name means “Beloved.” Up until this point he had a reputation of being brave, fearless, and honorable. He was God’s anointed future king of Israel.

Apparently Nabal was a supporter of Saul (or perhaps whoever would benefit him the most). I’m sure he’d heard of David. Even the surrounding countries knew about David’s defeat of Goliath. But Nabal was self-centered. He only cared about his own convenience and gain. Giving food to David’s men would not meet that goal. He didn’t care about God’s promises. He only cared about himself. And right now David was a hunted fugitive. Look what had happened to Ahimalech the high priest when he gave David bread—he and his whole family were murdered by Saul’s command (I Samuel 21-22). Supporting God’s anointed came at a price.

Meanwhile, the man who had just spared the life of King Saul completely lost it! He knew vengeance belonged to God, but now he was taking matters into his own hands. The stress of living in fear and hunger overwhelmed him. He had done something nice for Nabal, expecting something in return. Perhaps this is why Jesus (Luke 6:35) tells us to help others not expecting anything in return. We should be helping others to be a blessing to them, not thinking about what we can get out of it.

Nabal’s servants were supporters of David. Instead of informing on him to King Saul, they had developed a relationship with David and his men. It was meant to be mutually beneficial. David protected the sheep herders, and he and his men received food in return.

Abigail was put in a difficult position. She was expected to obey her husband. But his actions were foolish and wrong. If she didn’t take food to David, she and her husband would die. If she did, and her husband found out, he would no doubt make her life miserable.

Apparently Abigail was used to rescuing Nabal from his folly. While some would argue she was not being submissive to her husband, others could argue that what he wanted done was wrong. Besides which, she was saving his life! Acts 5: 29 reminds us that in a conflict between right and wrong, we are to obey God rather than whomever may be over us (husband, boss, political leader, etc.)

This was a life or death situation. Abigail did not even attempt to reason with Nabal (see v. 17). Instead she took matters into her own hands to stop David and save her family.

Abigail was a courageous woman. That does not mean she did not feel fear, but rather that she did not let it paralyze her.

Abigail was not afraid to plead for her life or to confront David’s sin. Nor did she try to pretend her husband was someone he was not. She was honest about Nabal and what he deserved. She was also honest with David about who he was and what his responsibilities were.

I find it interesting that she did not attack David. Nor does she rebuke him. Instead, she starts off by blessing David for withholding vengeance (v. 26). And then she reminds him of his character and responsibilities (vv. 28-30) and of God’s power. She concludes (v. 31) by showing him the positive end result of his prudence: no guilty conscience!

I’m impressed and convicted! Too often, I want to attack to wrongdoer and force him/her to acknowledge his/her crime. But when we attack people, they just get defensive. And once someone gets defensive, it’s hard to admit wrongdoing.

Abigail never told David he was wrong for wanting to kill Nabal. She didn’t run up to him screaming that he was committing murder. Instead, she reminded him of who he was. And she reminded him of the God he served.

By appealing to David’s character, she won his attention and respect. We all want to feel respected. She made it easy for him to change his plans without losing face. Abigail was one smart lady!

If she hadn’t confronted David, his reputation would have been ruined. And he would have murder on his conscience for the rest of his life.

David returned the blessing. He recognized and admitted he was in the wrong. And he praised both God and Abigail for keeping him from murder (vv. 32-35).

God is way better at vengeance than we are. Nabal paid for his selfish, uncaring, foolish ways. And it happened without David staining his hands and conscience.

And God blessed Abigail for her role in this story as she played the part of a peace maker.

But Abigail was more than a peacemaker. A peacemaker just negotiates a compromise. Abigail, in a roundabout way, confronted David’s sin. She held David accountable. Galatians 6:1-3 reminds us that each of us has a responsibility to watch over our fellow believers. If someone we know falls into sin, we are to gently attempt to bring him/her back to God. We also are to watch our own attitudes and actions so that we don’t become proud and fall into sin. None of us have reached the point where we are above falling into sin.

It’s not easy to confront sin. Often we aren’t sure how to do it. And often the response is not as positive as the one David gave Abigail.

It’s especially difficult when the person in error is in a position of leadership.

A lot of leaders, especially those in Christian circles, have fallen into sin over the years. David himself would sin again a few years later with Bathsheba. And Nathan the Prophet would come and confront him—leading David to repentance (Psalm 51). We are all capable of sin. And we all need accountability partners in our lives. I have heard over and over that all Christians should be both discipled by someone and discipling someone else. One of the reasons the Bible has so much to say about discipling each other is that discipling includes encouraging, teaching, training, and confronting sin if necessary. We all have areas where we need to grow and sin we do not realize. No one is exempt.

In Kay Warren’s book, Sacred Privilege, she devotes a chapter to maintaining our testimonies. She is concerned over the number of Christians who fall into sin and not only ruin their lives, but also tarnish Christ. Even though she is primarily writing to Christian leaders, there is much of what she says that applies to every Christian.

Model of Integrity

(from Sacred Privilege by Kay Warren, pp. 190-194)

1. “Aim for a clear conscience, seeking to live with holiness, integrity, and sincerity.”

(II Cor. 1:12)

  • Acts 24:14-16 (Paul before Felix)

2. “My audience is God.” (II Cor. 2:17)

  • I am not trying to impress anyone else.

  • I’m not trying to profit from serving God.

  • Everything I do should be for God, not men. (Col 3:23)

3. Serving him is a “sacred privilege,” so I “will get rid of secret, shameful sins.” (II Cor. 4:1-2)

  • Any role, ministry, or chance to serve that we have is a gift from God and should be treated with honor.

4. I will make every effort to have my private and public lives match—no hiding or

pretending.” (II Cor. 5:11)

  • I Samuel 16:7 – We can’t fool God. He knows our thoughts and the true intentions of our hearts.
  • Numbers 32:23 – The truth usually comes out; even if it is after we are gone. And that truth can ruin our testimonies and tarnish God’s name.

5. “I will keep in mind how easy it is to discredit the ministry [God’s work, my testimony, my church] by my behavior and lifestyle.” (II. Cor. 6:3)

  • Our lives should be our greatest testimonies. People notice hypocrisy. If we say one thing and do another, we show we are not a new creation (II Cor. 5:17).

6. “I will get rid of anything that contaminates my body or my spirit.” (II. Cor. 7:1)

  • Colossians 3:1-10 (esp. v. 9)–We are supposed to be changing from the inside out.
  • II Cor. 4:16

7. “Everything in my life—including my finances is in order. I will live with transparency and work hard to do what is right in the sight of God and others.” (II Cor. 8:19-21)

May we all seek to be like Abigail as we graciously confront, challenge, and encourage each other to be all that we can be as we serve the Lord.

When I am weak, then I am strong

Sometimes I notice things the first time. Other times I need to see them several times in order to recognize God put them in my life for a purpose.

Today was one of those days. First I saw the verses on a friend’s Instagram post, but I glossed over them. Then they were my Sweet Blessings scripture writing assignment for the day. I paid some attention this time. By the time I saw them a third time, their message was sinking in.

You see, life isn’t always what it looks like from the outside. On the outside, the house may be clean, the kids dressed, my make-up on, but inside there is a struggle. I feel so overwhelmed and inadequate so much of the time. (I think we all do!) The kids fight. I yell at the kids. I clean and cook and clean again. The kids fight some more. I run up the stairs to change another dirty diaper (while the kids fight–again). It’s mundane. It’s wearisome. It’s life-changing. Or is it? Yes, it is, but not in the “rescue someone from a burning building” kind of way.

It may not be saving anyone else’s life, but it is changing mine. Every hard day reminds me of my need for God. Every night I’m up and facing the exhaustion of another sleep-deprived day I’m reminded I need His strength.

So when I’m exhausted and weary heart and soul, I need to read, really read, II Corinthians 12:9-10: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul begged God to change his circumstances and remove the thorn. But when God told Paul that His’s power was evident through Paul’s struggle, Paul’s attitude changed.

Paul’s response overwhelms me: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” When my weaknesses are overwhelming, that is when Christ’s power is displayed. The weaker I am, the stronger Christ becomes. When was the last time I wanted to appear weak so Christ could appear strong?

I’d rather appear strong. I get upset when I don’t feel or look that way. We all do. Christ is shoved in the corner, sort of like a magic genie–unnoticed until we need something. So I need life to be difficult–not all the time, lest I become totally weary, but often enough so that I’m reminded to look to Christ as my source of strength and not any accomplishments of my own.

And so I’m being changed–saved from my own self–every time I let go of my own pride and accept Christ’s power at work in my life. And his power is far and above anything I could produce on my own. That’s the amazing miracle of progressive sanctification. I’m saved once and for ever, but I’m being saved each and every day. I just have to step back, stop fighting, and let Christ work through me.

Rediscovering the Awe and Joy of Christmas

Have you ever gotten burnt out? I know I have! Just plain weary of doing the same thing year after year, day after day. I remember when I first got burnt out with Christmas. I thought it was exhaustion from finishing finals 3 days before Christmas. There just wasn’t time or energy to get into the Christmas spirit. When the burn-out continued post-college, I reasoned it was adulthood. I was a child no longer. This must be normal; it was one of those things—like sleepless nights with a newborn—no one talks about. It would change when I had kids. So I waited . . . and waited. And then Quentin came along. With kids, Christmas changed for the better. There was certainly a lot more excitement, especially on Christmas morning. But some things hadn’t changed– at least not in the way I was expecting.

You see, what I was missing was not the unconstrained excitement of a child ripping off wrapping paper. What I’d lost was the wonder and awe associated with the miracle of Christ’s birth. That excitement can’t come solely from Christmas carols, lights, and presents. Little children are amazed at the miraculous story because it is new to them. The story is no longer new to us, but it doesn’t have to be dull or routine. We reread or rewatch our favorite books or movies over and over again, never tiring of them. I recently rewatched The Scarlet Pimpernel. I can quote most of the movie. But it is still one of my favorite movies. I loved watching it again. Why? Because even though I know what happens next, there is always some new detail previously overlooked. Some expression explained. Some nuance revealed. The dialogue still makes me laugh. The suspense still excites me. So it should be with Christ’s birth. It is a story full of miracles, nuance, and meaning. A story that waited 4000 years to be told. A story full of awe and wonder and joy.

I’d like to look briefly at three women who experienced the awe and wonder of Christ’s birth first-hand. I hope they will prove an encouragement and inspiration for us as we seek to reclaim their excitement as our own.

The first component of rediscovering awe and joy is obedience. And the first woman we’ll look at is Mary: We cannot experience the awe and excitement of Christ’s birth if we are not living in obedience to His word.

Luke 1:26-38

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

God did not give Mary an easy task. She was young, unmarried, and would face horrific gossip and criticism from those around her. We look back and consider that Mary was given the greatest task and blessing any woman has ever received. But she might have been tempted to feel God was ruining her  life–that what he asked of her was too difficult. She could have said, “Why me?” She could have fought God’s plan. But she did not. Instead, she believed the angel and willingly accepted God’s role for her. The cost would be great. Her betrothed almost divorced her. No doubt family and friends turned against her for her seeming immorality. She would have the privilege of raising the Son of God, but she would also have to flee for her son’s life to a strange country. And 33 year later, she would experience the greatest sorrow a mother can know—watching the death of her first-born son. And yet she did it willingly. There is no indication that she fought God or even considered refusing His plan. Instead, she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

Is there anything God is asking us to do that we are holding out on? Are we fighting Him? We may not always like God’s plans for our lives. I know there have been several times in my life when I felt God had really messed up–again! I was not happy with His plan for my life, and I made sure He knew it. But there was no joy in the battle. God promises peace to those who focus on Him (Isaiah 26:3). And He guarantees “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) for those who choose “the path of life” and seek His presence. No where does He say life will be easy. But He does promise to “never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). The first step to rediscovering joy at Christmas is to stop fighting Him and accept His plan for our lives, whatever it may be.

The second component of finding awe and joy is worship. There are so many things to love about Christmas—the lights, decorations, music, gifts, and traditions. But sometimes we get so wrapped up in the extras we forget about the true purpose for Christmas. We’ve sung the carols so many times, we no longer pay attention to the words. We’ve read the Christmas story over and over, so we gloss over it and forget to stop and worship God for the great miracle that took place.

Elizabeth and Mary hadn’t seen each other in a long time. They had so much to tell each other. But they didn’t get sidetracked with the latest gossip. They immediately took the time to worship God for what He had done.

Luke 1:39-45

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

When Elizabeth heard the news, she worshiped. So did her unborn baby, John the Baptist, who leaped inside her. She blessed the unborn Savior and Mary, His mother. She recognized the amazing significance of this miracle when she said, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 2:43). She knew Mary was the mother of the Messiah. In verse 45 she also blessed Mary for her belief in the angel’s message and her willing obedience.

Elizabeth was not the only one to respond to Christ’s coming with worship. Mary also worshiped the Lord in her Magnificat:

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

In the midst of doubt and uncertainty, Mary recognized the great miracle being done in her. She was not grudgingly fulfilling God’s plan for her. She acknowledged God as her savior and praised Him for His power and mercy. She recognized what was happening was the fulfillment of prophecies and promises given generations before. I love her comment, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 2:53). She’s not talking about physical goods here, but of spiritual satisfaction. If we seek God, He will fill us. He is our source of satisfaction and joy. Possessions do not satisfy. This is something we need to teach our children, especially at Christmastime. Giving gifts is a wonderful tradition and a great way to show our love to others. But if the focus of Christmas is the presents, the joy will be brief and the let-down that comes after will be depressing. Only the joy that comes from a vibrant relationship with Christ will last after Christmas Day is over.

The third component of rediscovering awe and joy is sharing or giving. For this I want to look at Anna. Luke describes her as someone “who did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:47). She was obviously a very godly woman. The whole focus of her life was worshiping God and waiting for the Messiah. Of course, as an elderly widow she did not have the constraints on her time that some of us have. We can’t leave our children and husbands to fast all day and pray all night. But our desire and goal should be to make spending time with God a priority every day.

Luke 2: 36-38 (This is when Mary and Joseph took Baby Jesus to be dedicated at the temple.)

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Verse 36 tells us Anna was a prophetess. There are two kinds of prophecy: foretelling and forth-telling. We don’t know if she did any foretelling, but she certainly did some forth-telling. She was so full of excitement over Christ’s birth, she just had to speak of Him to everyone she met. I’ll admit I am too often afraid of people and what they will think of me to speak of Christ to everyone I meet. Anna is a challenge to me. One of the purposes of Christmas is to share the good news with others. Anna fulfilled that purpose. She was so full of excitement and joy, she couldn’t keep quiet. We should be full of that same unconstrained excitement.

We often hear that Christmas should be about giving. Usually this is in reference to gifts. And gift giving is a wonderful way to show love to others. But if we are really filled with awe and joy about Christ’s birth, we should want to give His story to others, too.

Christmas is often a time when people are more open to listening. I know there are many ways to share the joy of Christ’s birth. A simple one is making sure any Christmas cards or letters we send out clearly express our faith in Jesus Christ and His gift of salvation.

Often people are willing to come for a Christmas service, even if they never set foot in church the rest of the year. Visiting neighbors, inviting others into our homes for a Christmas dinner or tradition, and being willing to talk about the real reason for Christmas are other ways we can share Christ. It is easy to do this when you have kids! Everyone wants to know what Santa is going to bring them. I’m purposing this year to be more bold than ever before in gently explaining that we don’t celebrate Santa, but instead celebrate the birth of our Savior. It may make people uncomfortable, but it is what Anna would have done.

If we are feeling burnt out, worn down, or discouraged, maybe this is the year to reevaluate the Christmas season. Maybe it is time to take a new look at the traditions and activities we are involved in. Are we allowing friends, family, Hallmark, or Pinterest to tell us what we must do to have a special Christmas? Are there things that are distracting us that need to go? And once we’ve removed the distractions, we then need to find some ways to add Christ back into Christmas–to obey, worship, and share His message.

One new thing I’m doing this year is Scripture writing the prophecies and stories of Christ’s birth. There are so many prophecies about Christ’s coming. It is amazing! Isaiah is full of the news of Christ’s birth. How could anyone read it and not know the Savior has come? Writing Scripture has been a great way for me to slow down and really pay attention to Christ’s birth in a worshipful manner.

So let’s find some ways to rekindle that excitement. Whether it is creating a Christian Advent calendar or Jesse Tree with your kids, or doing random acts of kindness, or baking for your neighborhood, or going Christmas caroling, or just spending some serious time studying the story of one of God’s greatest miracles, let’s rediscover the joy of Christ’s Christmas miracle. It is a far more amazing story than any Hallmark movie!