The Importance of Prayer

Who I Am Lies In Who God Is

This year, I have been praying that God would show me what it truly means to be His child. It’s always interesting to me how God answers my prayers. It’s never in the way that I expect!

First, He led me to a book about who He is. (You can read my review of The Real God HERE). I initially thought I would be reading and learning about who I am in Christ. Instead, God first led me to who HE is. You’d think after all these years as a believer, I would have realized that it never starts with me.

It Starts With Prayer

The second thing God led me to was about prayer. It seemed everything I heard or read had something to do with the power of prayer. I’m a little slow on the uptake. Eventually, though, it dawned on me that I can’t ever access the full power of being a believer unless I fully commit myself to the practice of prayer.

So, then I started asking God to teach me to pray. Again, He was so good to lead me to various sources. One of those was Draw the Circle for 40 Days by Mark Batterson and Storm by Jim Cymbala. (reviews of both these books will be coming soon!) In both of these books, the authors hit on prayer as not just something to cross off your spiritual to do list. Instead, it is a crucial part of living out the Christian life.

Prayer Comes With a Learning Curve

While I’ve always believed in the importance of prayer – and I’ve done several studies myself and taught others – I still tend to default into the thinking of prayer as the “last resort.” I want to change that into thinking of it as the first line of defense.

For me, studying the Scriptures comes more naturally. As a word-nerd, that probably isn’t surprising. I often find my quiet time heavy on Bible study and lighter on the prayer portion.

I also think as modern Americans we have a view of prayer that isn’t very Biblical. Yes, we are supposed to pray for the everyday stuff, but the prayers in the New Testament often focused on spiritual growth and understanding – not just on the current physical need of the believers.

Excited to Learn More

In light of the importance of prayer, I have decided to do an indepth study on the prayers in the New Testament. What did Jesus pray about? How did He pray? What did Paul and the other apostles pray about? Where did they pray and when?

I’m ridiculously to see what I God is going to teach me, and I can’t wait to share it with you guys!

So, what place does prayer have in your life? Do you feel like you need to learn more or is it something that comes easily for you? I’d love to hear about it!

Missing Jesus

Seeing Something New in a Familiar Story

I’ve been reading through the book of John lately, and today I came to the familiar story of Lazarus. Maybe because Easter is only a few days away or maybe because I’ve taken the time to mark the timeline as I’ve been reading, but it just hit me that this miracle happens not that long before Jesus’ crucifixion.

The other thing I never noticed was that this miracle – arguably the biggest miracle Jesus ever did during His ministry – was also the catalyst that convinced the Jewish leaders they had to get rid of Him.

The story of Lazarus is found in John 11 (and also in Luke 16). The story is a familiar one. Lazarus falls sick, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, send for Jesus. However, Jesus doesn’t hurry to heal Lazarus. Instead, He waits. He waits long enough for Lazarus to die and be buried for four days.

The sisters and the surrounding crowd don’t understand this. Jesus had proven He could heal people, so why didn’t He come sooner? This was especially confusing, as Jesus was less than a day’s journey away when He first got the news Lazarus was sick.

Worth the Wait

So why wait? By waiting, Jesus proved without a shadow of a doubt He had authority over life and death. By raising Lazarus from the dead after four days, Jesus didn’t simply reanimate a lifeless body. Jesus actually reversed the decaying process. When Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb, there was no question about what happened. Lazarus had been dead for four days. As Martha said, when that stone was rolled away, an awful stench of decay probably rolled on out of there, too.

Predictably, this miracle caused many of those there to believe that Jesus really was the Christ. Suddenly, all Jesus’ claims of being God’s Son didn’t seem so farfetched after all.

Not Everyone Responds to Miracles With Belief

But I found it really interesting that not everyone had this reaction. In John 11: 46 it says, “But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.” Instead of believing, they started broadcasting the news to the Pharisees. It was no secret they were Jesus’ greatest critics.

I have no idea why this group of people did this. Maybe they were confused and were seeking answers. Maybe they just wanted to add a little fuel to the current flame of conflict. Maybe they just wanted to see what would happen.

Whatever the reason, this news caused the Pharisees and chief priests to get really worried. I found it also interesting what these men were worried about.

Instead of Seeing Hope, the Pharisees Saw a Threat

In the Old Testament, there were a series of miracles or signs that the coming Messiah would do. Jesus had done many of them. Now, He had done one of the last remaining signs – raising a man from the dead.

You would think the most religious men around would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah and been overjoyed. Instead, they miss Jesus and only see what His presence could take from them: their place and their nation.

Instead of seeing Jesus as a Savior, they saw Him as a threat.

The very things that should have given the Pharisees reason to believe, caused them to turn on Jesus. John 11:53 says, “So, from that day on they together planned to kill Him.”

What’s Causing You to Miss Jesus?

Despite all their knowledge and training, the Pharisees totally missed the Messiah in their midst. It is so easy to be astonished that the Pharisees and chief priests, men who were supposed to be the most spiritual of anyone, didn’t recognize that the Messiah had come.

But, we often do the same thing. We get so hung up on our knowledge and training, our denominations and our politics, our desire to prove we are right, that we miss Jesus in our midst. We don’t recognize Him because we are looking for someone altogether different – a god of our own making, not the one we find in the Bible at all.

As Easter weekend approaches, we all need to ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked Peter. Who do you say that Jesus is? The answer will determine how you live your life.

I hope you have a blessed Easter and truly experience Jesus in your midst.

 

 

 

The Gift of Being Present

Not Bothered By the #1 Fear

When I was 5 years old, I stood in front of a crowd of people at a Word of Life camp and gave my testimony.

In my Sunday school class, I would climb on top of the table and tap dance to “lead” the other kids in the singing.

To say speaking in public isn’t a fear of mine is probably a vast understatement. So, when I agreed to teach a workshop at a teen conference, I wasn’t all that nervous about leading the workshop.

You’d probably be surprised then, to know that in the weeks leading up to the conference, I found myself getting more and more anxious. That’s the thing about the enemy – if he can’t get to you by coming in the front door, he’ll sneak in any available window.

About Converge

The teen conference I was a part of – Converge 2017  – is this huge teen conference that is organized and put on by a local teen ministry Teens for Christ (you can find out more about them HERE). It included a couple wonderful speakers (Ben Stuart and Chip Dean), awesome worship bands, and a variety of workshops from which the kids can choose. Besides the teaching, kids also have an opportunity to serve. On Saturday afternoon, the teens gave away over 60,000 lbs of food at various drop sites and prayer walks where the kids were able to go door to door, passing out food and praying for area residents. It culminated with kids walking in from the north, south, east and west parts of the city to our town square for a time of prayer.

Can I just say, it was a pretty amazing site to see all these people praying in our town square – different races, different denominations, different social and economic circles, some from different states, even. For some, all they had in common was Jesus.

The event started Friday evening, ending around 11 p.m. Then it picked back up again early Saturday morning, and didn’t end until late Saturday night. I think I left the fieldhouse around 11:30 p.m.

When the Enemy Hits You From Behind

All that sounds great, right?

Well, to someone like me, this not only sounds awesome, but also completely exhausting. I’m a pretty low energy person, and events like these are always intimidating to me.

This is actually my third time attending Converge as a workshop leader, and every year, I have the same fear – that I just don’t have the energy to participate all day, both days.

This year was no different. As the date got nearer, I could feel my anxiety ratcheting up. Dread instead of excitement, started to fill me when I thought about the conference.

I started to hear doubts like, “Why do I do this to myself every year?” “I should probably say no next year.” “They have plenty of speakers – most better than me – so maybe I should just tell them I can’t do it this year.”

God’s Reminder

My anxiety was not helped by the fact that I got the sick about two weeks before the conference. I felt pretty crummy, and my plan to be prepared early took a major hit.

As I headed into the Monday before the conference, I wasn’t panicking but I was close. Not only did I have to deal with my normal low energy self, but now I had to deal with the tail end of illness and not being totally prepared.

As I prayed and prepared that week, I found myself whining to God. “You know I can’t do this. I don’t feel prepared,  and I don’t feel that great. I just don’t have what it takes to do this.”

It was at this moment, that I felt God gently saying, “It’s not about what you can do; it’s about what I can do. It’s not about your strength; it’s about mine. It’s not about your ability; it’s about mine.”

Talk about being convicted. I was getting ready to teach about God’s goodness and generosity and how He is always for us, yet, I neglected to apply it to my own daily life.

 Making a commitment

So, I made a commitment to God that I was going to show up and then trust Him to take care of the rest – including my ability to keep up.

And you know what? This was my best Converge experience yet. Yes, I didn’t get enough sleep Friday night. Yes, I did find myself hitting a bit of a wall energy-wise around 7 p.m. Saturday evening. But I made it all the way to the end.

There were several times during the day when I was tempted to opt out, at least for a little while. However, God kept nudging me to not quit.

Contending

My word for this year is “Contend.” The thing is, I tend to be a quitter. I don’t like doing hard stuff, and often if something seems too hard, I don’t even start.

God has been teaching me over and over this year that with His help, I really can do all the things He asks me to. Fear has been such a stronghold in my life in so many ways over the years. Yet, God has faithfully been breaking those strongholds one at a time.

“I sought the Lord and He answered me, and He delivered me from all my fears.”       ~ Psalms 34:4

This year was the best Converge I’ve attended. A big reason for that was because I made the commitment to be present through the whole thing. I chose not opt out when I got tired or weary.

From being able to watch my son step up on the prayer walk and pray with people and be a leader, to sharing a God’s message in my workshops, to being able to pray and be there for teenagers I know and care about during prayer time at the very end, God blessed my socks off from start to finish.

I would have missed all that if I hadn’t chosen to trust God and commit to be present.  I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did!

What thing is God asking you to do that seems too hard? Where does He want you to be present that seems impossible? I’d love to hear about it!

 

God Can Work Through Anyone

Do you really believe God is in control?

I know, we all SAY that we believe that, but do we really? If the past election season is any indication, the answer to that would have to be a resounding no.

I am 44 years old, and I have never seen so many people descend into hysteria and ugly behavior like I did during and after the 2016 election. Sure, I’d seen people upset before about the outcome of an election, and let’s face it, there have been some pretty ugly presidential campaigns in the past where feelings ran high.

When Anxiety is Contagious

But 2016 was different. I found myself becoming fearful and anxious. There was a feeling of desperation that seemed to hang over everyone like some awful spiritual smog.

I found myself coming again and again to Psalms 146.

I wish now, I had been reading through the stories of the kings. During this time, the nation of Israel had split, with two of the 12 tribes becoming Judah and the rest becoming Israel. There was no love lost between the now split kingdom, and they often fought each other, spilling blood and destroying the land which God had given them all.

The leadership under which the people found themselves was lacking, too. Judah had a few good kings, but while many started out well, they tended not to end well for a variety of reasons. (You can read about King Joash, King Amaziah and King Uzziah to find out more).

A Kingdom Without Hope

Israel’s track record wasn’t any better and was actually much worse. All their kings seemed to have the phrase “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” after their introductions to the throne.

Things seemed pretty grim and the hope that anything would change seemed dim. The glory days of King David and King Solomon seemed very distant. I’m sure a lot of the Jewish people wondered where God was, and even more of them had lost sight of God all together. They were too busy bowing down to false idols.

But tucked into 2 Kings 14 between the stories of two of Judah’s kings, Amaziah and Uzziah, we find a nugget of hope and evidence that despite the bad leadership and the people’s sinful ways, God was still on the throne and still sovereign.

God Steps Into the Void

In 2 Kings 14:23, it says, “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam, the son of Joash king of Israel (2 different Joashes here) became king in Samaria and reigned forty-one years.”

Jeroboam was no different than his predecessors and has the same tag line after his intro  – that he did evil in the sight of the Lord. And yet, the following verses are not about his destruction or the further destruction of Israel. Check out what it says instead.

“He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which He spoke through Hiss ervant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel which was very bitter for there was neither bond or free now was there any helper for Israel. The Lord did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under the heavens, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.” 2 Kings 15:25-27

While I’m sure God would have preferred to work through a king that followed Him, He had promised not to wipe out Israel. The Israelites were doing a good job of trying to wipe themselves out, but God was still in control. While things seemed hopeless and the king seemed less than ideal, God still used Jeroboam to accomplish His purposes.

In Proverbs 21:1 it says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LordHe turns it wherever He wishes.”

God is Bigger Than Circumstances

No matter what circumstances look like and no matter what human has attained apparent control, no person can thwart the will of God. As believers, we can trust in God’s sovereignty and His goodness. No matter how much evidence seems to point to the contrary, God can use anyone to do His will  – even the unwilling or the wicked.

I don’t know about you, but that truth eases a lot of my anxiety. While life can feel out of control, God is always in control.

How about you? Have you been feeling anxious or helpless at the state of current affairs? Take heart because there is no safer place than in the palm of God’s hand.

Become Scripture Confident

The Importance of Studying the Bible Yourself

Learning to study the Bible for myself changed my life. I grew up in a Christian home and accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 5 years old. After going to a Christian school and spending two years at a Christian college, I knew A LOT about the Bible. I could tell you the history of Israel from Abraham to their times of captivity and beyond. I had heard a zillion sermons on various passages and read tons of books about the Bible.

But when I stopped reading about the Bible and dove into it myself, I was blown away. I still get ridiculously excited when God reveals a new truth. I’m still amazed when I reread a story I’ve read many times before and God shows me something new.

I met Ellen Hopkins in a Facebook group to which we both belong. When I heard that she had written a three-part Bible study that taught how to develop the confidence to study the Bible for yourself, I knew I wanted to share them.

Ellen’s studies, Scripture Confident through the Old Testament, Parts 1, 2 and 3, gently introduce you to various study methods, all while taking you through key passages in the Old Testament.

Scripture Confident Through the Old Testament, Part 1


Part 1 helps you to develop the habit of Bible study and prayer, while showing you how to make basic observations, understand the importance of context, detect conjunctions and when and how to use cross referencing. While you learn these study methods, you will also be diving into the Old Testament from Creation to the judges.

 

Scripture Confident Through the Old Testament, Part 2

 

In Part 2, you will learn the fine art of interpretation, using outside sources and how to determine the implications of what you are reading. This study takes you through the united and divided kingdoms of Israel. Personally, I really love these passages because there is so much to learn from the parade of kings in the Israel’s history.

Scripture Confident Through the Old Testament, Part 3

In Part 3, you will learn how to apply what you are reading. You will also take a look at the various Biblical genres which play a key role in how you interpret and apply a passage of the Bible to your own life. Ellen also takes time to review what you’ve been learning. While you get Scripture confident, you’ll be studying about the captivity and restoration of the nation of Israel.

 

Get Started

While you can do the studies yourself, Ellen (and I), recommend finding a few friends with whom to go through these studies.

If you are thinking that there is just no way you could possibly have time to really study the Bible for yourself, the great thing about these studies is that you can do most of the daily lessons in about 15 minutes. Quite honestly, if you are too busy to spend 15 minutes with God, may I gently suggest that you are too busy, period.

You can find Ellen Hopkins at Scripture Confident Living where you can check out more of her resources. Personally, I’m super excited to have met Ellen (virtually, anyway) and find her Bible studies. I hope you’ll check them out, too!

When It’s Better To Be Broken

Admitting You Can’t Do It Is Actually a Good Thing

Have you ever had a task thrust into your lap and you felt totally unprepared? Maybe you have a child born with a disability you weren’t expecting. Maybe it was a ministry God called you to and you were wondering what He was thinking. Maybe it’s just life and feeling totally overwhelmed by the everyday. Whatever the cause, we have all had moments when we feel that there is just no way that we can do what is being asked of us. We feel our human brokenness keenly.

While nobody really likes feeling unable or broken, it’s actually a really good place to be in. Why would I say that? Well, it is when we are in this humbled position that we turn to the One who can help. Without our self-sufficiency and pride to get in the way, we leave God with an open door to step into our lives.

Because that’s the thing – we need God every day even when we think we’ve got it under control. 

A Young King Who Felt Unable

The last few weeks, I’ve been sharing some lessons we can all learn from the kings of Israel and Judah. You can read about King Joash and the importance of making your faith your own HERE, and you can read about King Amaziah and the importance of wholehearted devotion to God HERE.

Today, we are going to look at King Amaziah’s son, Uzziah. You can find his story in 2 Chronicles 26 and a more abbreviated version in 2 Kings 15:1-6. Don’t let the name change confuse you – Uzziah is called in 2 Chronicles, but he is referred to as Azariah in the version in 2 Kings.

Uzziah was only 16 years old when he became king, and he inherited the throne because his father was assassinated.  While a 16 year old in Biblical times  was much more of an adult than a 16 year old today, I’m sure Uzziah was overwhelmed with the task of becoming king. Uzziah was probably fearful, as well, since both his father and grandfather had been assassinated. Based on his own experiences, stepping onto the throne didn’t seem like the path to longevity.

God Came to a Young King’s Aid

Yet, here he was, king of a kingdom, so Uzziah did the only thing he could. He sought God.

He did right in the sight of the Lord according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had an understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him.” 2 Chronicles 26:4-5

God prospered King Uzziah and gave him victory in his battles. It says that God helped Uzziah against the Philistines (a long time enemy of the Israelites), the Arabians and the Meunites. Even the Ammonites gave him tribute.

God Did More Than Expected

In verse 8, it says, “his fame extended to the border of Egypt, for he become very strong.”

Not only did Uzziah conquer in battle, but he also built up the cities in his kingdom and God blessed him  with abundant livestock, fertile fields, and vineyards.

“He built towers in the wilderness and hewed many cisterns, for he had much livestock, both in the lowland and in the plain. he also had plowmen and vinedressers in the hill country and the fertile fields, for he loved the soil. 2 Chronicles 26:10

His army was one which everyone in the surrounding countryside admired and feared. They weren’t just fierce fighters either. His army had the best of gear, too, and he had skilled inventors who developed “engines of war.”

In verse 15, it says, “Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong.”

Uzziah realized he could not rule a kingdom alone, so he sought God, and God helped him.

A King Who Forgot Where His Success Came From

Unfortunately, once Uzziah became strong and well-known, he forgot where all that help came from.

“But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God…” 2 Chronicles 26:16a

Instead of being thankful and remembering how he had gotten to this point in his life, Uzziah became puffed up with pride. He started to believe his own press. You’ll notice it says he acted corruptly and the result was that he was unfaithful to God. The reason for both those things was a proud heart. That pride became his downfall. 

Uzziah got to the point where he felt he was above God’s rules, and so he went in to burn incense in the temple. This was a big no-no. Only consecrated priests were supposed to burn incense to God.

A King Who Once Sought God, Now Runs

When he was confronted by a contingent of priests, instead of repenting, Uzziah became enraged. He had gotten so proud and full of his own importance, Uzziah didn’t even realize the danger he was in. That is, until he looked down at the hand holding the censer and saw that it was covered in leprosy.

“Azariah, the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and he behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him.” 2 Chronicles 26:20

What a complete turn around – where once Uzziah had sought the Lord, now he was running from Him. All because of the pride that had corrupted his heart.

Uzziah’s rule started out the right way – a young man, overwhelmed by the burden of ruling a kingdom, sought God’s help. God helped him, but instead of being grateful, Uzziah started to believe his wealth and strength were through his own efforts and cleverness.

The Pitfalls of Pride

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction; and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Pride is something that can so easily creep into our lives. It’s tentacles can wrap themselves around our hearts without our hardly realizing it. Like Uzziah, even God’s gifts can get twisted into something that turn our hearts away from Him and toward our own agendas and plans.

Uzziah had it all – prosperity, renown, and military strength. In his success, Uzziah seemed untouchable. Yet, all of that couldn’t save him when he turned from God, the very One who had brought him to such a place of achievement.

In the end, Uzziah’s pride cost him, not just his health and his leadership role. but also separated him from God.  

“King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 26:21

The sad thing is, this didn’t have to be Uzziah’s fate. He could have chosen to humble himself, rather than continue in his pride.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”  I Peter 5:6

Rather than forcing God to humble us, let’s take the time to examine our own hearts and humble ourselves. The results are usually a lot less painful.

How about you – have their been areas where pride has crept into your life? Is that staunch self-sufficiency more about your pride? Do you insist on always being the helper and not the helped? Are you struggling with overwhelm because you are trusting your own understanding rather than leaning on God’s?

A Review of Beauty and the Beast

Disney’s 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast will always hold a special place in my heart. It came out the same year I graduated from high school, and I really identified with Belle. Not only was I a fellow bookworm, but I too had a thirst for adventure and seeing new places. When she sang, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere; I want it more than I can tell,” it was like she was singing for me, too.

Not to mention, for anyone who loves to read, who can resist the Beast’s awesome library?

Ahem, anyway, last year, when Disney made their live action Cinderella, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There have been numerous live action incarnations of the story of Cinderella, but this was, by far, the best one I had seen. It was truly a gorgeous movie both in its cinematography and in the beautiful lesson in forgiveness it shows.

So, I was super excited when I saw Disney was doing the same with my favorite, Beauty and the Beast. I’ll admit, I might have squealed just a little when I saw they had cast Emma Watson as Belle. She was the perfect choice.

Then I read the blurb about Disney introducing homosexuality into the classic story line. Everyone online had an opinion about it, and it turned into kind of a hot topic in some circles. I even read one post lecturing on the moral depravity of the actual story of Beauty and the Beast as it promotes bestiality. Um, okay. I think someone totally missed the moral of that fairy tale.

By this time, I had already bought tickets for my son and I to see it. (Got a GREAT deal through Groupon and scored two tickets for less than $7!). My son is almost 16, so I thought we’d go and see for ourselves.

So, here is my review of the movie. (This contains a few spoilers so be aware of that before you read further!)

 

The Things I Really Liked

This is a classic retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Those who are fans of the animated Disney version from 1991 will not be disappointed. The story line sticks very closely to that movie with a few minor changes which didn’t take away from the movie at all and made the story richer.

This version, however, gave more of a nod to the original French fairy tale. If you have read that fairy tale, you will know that what actually caused the father, Maurice, to get on the wrong side of the Beast was picking a rose for his daughter Belle. That minor crime lands Maurice in the Beast’s dungeon. I really liked that the movie goes back to its French fairy tale roots.

The other thing I thought this movie did better than the animated one was to explain why nobody in a village only a few miles away has any idea that a PRINCE that has been turned into a BEAST is in a giant castle and all of his servants have been bewitched. I mean really? Nobody noticed that? In this new version, that backstory is explained in a very satisfactory manner. (I hate plot holes, so I felt very happy with this change!)

In the live action version, the Beast’s character is much more fully drawn. He has some great one liners, and we get to know him a bit better than in the animated version. The CGI on this was very good, as well. His transformation is all the more poignant in non-animated form.

Another great addition is an explanation of what happened to Belle’s mother. Since in most Disney movies, the mothers are missing and there is never an explanation, this addition of some background really helped to round out the story. Not only did we get to know Belle and her father better, but we start to see the Beast in a new light.

There were also a few new songs in this version. They were very enjoyable. My 15 year old has been walking around singing the Beast’s solo all week, so I guess he enjoyed the addition of the new songs too!

The Elephant In the Theater

Honestly, I really enjoyed this version, and there wasn’t anything that stood out as jarring. Going into it, I knew that Disney themselves were saying there was a “genuinely gay moment.” I had no idea what that meant exactly, and I have to admit to some trepidation.

Supposedly, LeFou is in love with Gaston. One of the producers of the movie said, “LeFou doesn’t know if he wants to be Gaston or kiss Gaston.” Another review I read before I went to the movie, said that some of LeFou’s actions make it somewhat obvious he likes Gaston as more than just a friend.

However, although it is clear that LeFou is a devoted sidekick and he does come across as a bit flamboyant at times, I didn’t feel that it was obvious that the character was supposedly gay and longing after Gaston. If I hadn’t read the original article stating that LeFou was supposed to be gay, I’m not sure if the movie would have given me that idea or not. It’s hard to say, since I knew going in so I couldn’t help viewing the movie through that lens.

There were only two moments in the movie that were at all questionable, in my opinion. The first happens when the villagers storm the castle, and all the various castle occupants fight back. When the wardrobe whips a bunch of dresses at three village men and they end up dressed as women, two of the men yell and run away. But the third guy, smiles and then minces down the stairs.

The other moment comes at the very end. Everyone is dancing and people are whirling around. LeFou and the character that enjoyed his makeover end up dancing together. They smile at each other. It is literally less than 10 seconds of film. A small child would probably laugh and think it was funny that a boy got stuck with another boy with which to dance.

My Overall View

Overall, the movie was excellent and was very well done. Young children probably won’t pick up on anything that is obviously homosexual, and I never felt that there was an agenda being pushed. If your child is a bit older, they might. Then again, my son’s friend watched the movie, and he had no idea when the movie was over. He’s 16.

One warning for parents of small children is that since this is a live action movie, the scenes are a bit more intense and dramatic, which might scare younger viewers.

One of the things I love about the story of Beauty and the Beast is it is one of transformation and redemption. The Beast, who once was a handsome yet very unkind prince, had his exterior transformed to reflect his heart – beastly. In a beautiful twist, the Beast finds love changing him, so his face no longer reflects his heart, and his beauty is hidden inside an ugly shell.

At the same time, the village hunk, Gaston, never changes. His handsome exterior hides an ugly heart, and the only one he ever seems to love is himself.

The fairy tale is not a spiritual one, but it can remind me of some spiritual lessons. The first being that I need to remember to look deeper than someone’s exterior, and that even someone who is seems snarly has more to offer. It’s a big reminder that while man can look at the outside, only God sees the heart.

Finally, this story reminds us that love is transformative in so many ways. Like the Beast, we are ugly inside and out until God’s love gets a hold of us. When it does, it can truly change our whole world and those around us.

Have any of you seen Beauty and Beast? What did you think? I’d love to hear about it!

 

When Growth is Messy

I woke up this morning to the rumble of thunder and a nagging headache – a sure sign that the day would be dreary.

As I dodged raindrops running out to the car to take my youngest to school this morning, I shivered. It was supposed to be the first day of spring, yet it was cold, damp and dreary.  Definitely not what I think of when I hear the word spring.

The truth is, though, even though I’d like to think of spring as tulips and daffodils shyly opening their petals and gentle sunshine, that’s usually not what it is like here in Northwest Ohio. March, which heralds the start of spring, is a notoriously ugly month, weather-wise.

The grass is brown and soggy. Usually, you can find small clumps of grey, dirty snow which hasn’t quite disappeared yet, the pristine white sparkle long gone.

My backyard becomes a soupy mess of mud and the melting snow reveals all those times I didn’t get the yard pooper-scoopered.

Everything looks brown and wet and muddy and ugly, but something is going on that we can’t see just yet.

Before we can get to the trees budding out and the flowers opening their petals and the gentle sunlight, there needs to be rain and mud.

In the midst of all the messiness, growth is taking place. 

Growth, whether in nature or in our own lives, is messy and often not very pretty. I know, I want growth to fit neatly into my planner. I want to capture it in a perfect Instagram picture with just the right filter, but that isn’t the truth of things, is it?

Instead, on the surface of our lives is the mess, We find ourselves walking through the mud puddles of difficulty. We feel like we can’t find the light and everything is brown and rainy and dreary.

We can’t see what God is doing beneath the surface. We can’t see the root growth that needs to happen before the time of blooming.

 

But, if we can just pull on our rain boots and persevere through all the mud and messiness, we’ll see that growth. One day, the rain will stop, and we’ll see green shoots poking out of the still damp earth. Beautiful buds will appear that couldn’t have blossomed without the root growth that took place before.

How about you? Are you walking through a particularly messy or muddy time in your life? Does it seem like rain will be in your spiritual forecast forever? Take heart! God is doing the deep root growth in your life. The season of blooming is coming!

When You Walk Through the Valley It’s Nice to Have Someone Go With You

I don’t personally know Kelly Minter, but I will be forever grateful to her.

In the months following my brother’s death, I did one of her Bible studies with my Sunday school class. I wasn’t in a place to really come up with my own lessons, and I had done several of Minter’s studies in the past. All of them had been excellent.

Minter is a quietly intense teacher, and her studies have space for both digging deep and quiet reflection. Stepping into I, II and III John was just what my tattered soul needed during that valley time.

It is always amazing to me that God brings what we need when we need it. In Psalms 119, it says over and over that His Word is our strength and our help. I know, for me personally, it was a deep balm that helped to heal the deep wound in my heart.

The Bible study came with videos that I showed in class, but you certainly do not need them to do the study (although they are very good!).

Minter spends the bulk of her time in I John which is the longest of the three epistles. I John can be a bit convoluted, so walking through the book with Kelly was a great way to dive deep and really get a lot out of it.

I have also really loved Minter’s other studies which include Ruth: Loss, Love and Legacy; No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols; and Nehemiah: A Heart That Can Break.

She has a new study that came out this fall that I am looking forward to doing called All Things New which is a study of 2 Corinthians.

So, what are some Bible studies you’ve loved? I’d love to hear about them!

The Importance of Being Wholehearted

I stared at the words on my screen, horrified by what I was reading. Suddenly, I snapped back into reality, closing out the screen. I felt like I needed a scrub brush for the inside of my brain.

Bookbub sends me emails about free e-books, and I had opened a sample of one of those books to check it out before I downloaded it. I really love fantasy stories – particularly ones that take a new twist on fairy tales or legends, and this book was supposed to be a new take on Alice in Wonderland. Based on the obvious romance cover and word descriptions, I thought I better check out the sample before downloading it just to be on the safe side. After all, I didn’t want anything too racy in my reading queue. Unfortunately, I could never unsee what I had just read. Bleck!

A Little Compromise

During my college years and into my early 20s, I used to read romance novels. You know, the ones with that guy from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter on the cover. I jokingly referred to them as brain candy because, after reading the difficult books required in my college classes,  being able to read something that required no thought was a relief. But like any candy, what I was reading wasn’t really good for me.

A few years after I graduated from college, God challenged me to read only Christian fiction for a year. Like a cleanse or detox, not reading those books for a year opened my eyes to just how much was in them that, as a believer, I shouldn’t be reading.

For the most part, I’ve avoided racy romances since then, recognizing that wasn’t what I should be putting in my mind and heart. So, when this yucky stuff came up in that sample, I found myself whining to God about it. I pointed out I was trying to be careful with what I was reading and I definitely hadn’t gone looking for that type of book!

In the midst of my whine-fest, God gently pointed out that if I was being wholehearted in my obedience, I wouldn’t have even checked out that sample.

See, I love a good story, and there are still a few romance authors who tell a great story with an intriguing plot and intelligent, funny heroines. I told myself that I would just skip over the racy parts. I was an adult. I could handle it. But by allowing compromise in this one area, I had opened myself up to the absolute garbage that had popped up on my sample screen.

When We Don’t Start With a Whole Heart

In the Bible, during the time of the kings, this not following God with a whole heart was also a problem. It led to all kinds of unhappy endings.

We talked about Joash and his inability to follow God when he no longer had his mentor with him. (You can read about him HERE). His son Amaziah also started out well, but in 2 Chronicles 25:2, it says, “He did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.”

That lack of wholehearted devotion to God got Amaziah in a whole heap of trouble. He started out doing well. While he put to death the assassins who killed his father, he did NOT kill their children. This was actually following the Law of Moses. Score one for Amaziah.

He then went out and battled Edom and won very convincingly. Score 2 for Amaziah.

However, in the process of defeating Edom and taking the spoils of war, Amaziah also brought home a few idols. Maybe he thought they were worth something, or maybe he convinced himself they demonstrated fine craftsmanship. Whatever the reason, he brought the idols into his home and ended up bowing down to them.

After his big victory and then turning his eyes from God to powerless idols, Amaziah started to get a bit full of himself. He set his sights on Israel this time. During this time, the Israelites had split into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel. The king of Israel at that time, King Jehoash, told Amaziah to be happy with the victories over Edom, enjoy his glory, and go home.

In 2 Kings 14:11, it says, “But Amaziah would not listen.”

Not Being Wholehearted Leads To Unhappy Endings

Because Amaziah had started worshiping false idols, God allowed him to be defeated. He ended up getting captured and the temple was ransacked.

Amaziah lived 15 years after this stunning defeat. He ended up losing his life just as his father did – by assassins who chased him down.

“From the time that Amaziah turned away from  following the Lord, they conspired against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish; but they sent after him to Lachish and killed him there.” 2 Chronicles 25:27

A Lesson We Can Learn

I find the stories of the kings to be fascinating and frustrating. Why in the world would you turn to a false god (ones that often required horrible things like child sacrifice) when you had the power of the Almighty God on your side? It seems so silly.

But then I look at my own life. I see the areas where I am not wholehearted. I see the areas where I allow other things to become more important than God in my life.

Idols are not just statues made of precious metals or wood or stone. Idols are anything that push God from the number one place in our hearts.

When I am not wholehearted, it opens me up to things I wouldn’t have even encountered if my obedience had been complete and not compromised.

Are there areas of your life where you aren’t wholehearted? The story of Amaziah shows us that it’s worth checking the state of our hearts.

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