Wednesday

Why You Need Church (and I Do, Too)


My husband and I became Christians in our late teen years. Led to Christ through the efforts of caring, soul-winning members of two different local churches, we were immediately adopted into God’s family. These kind people who loved Jesus also loved us. They overlooked our rough edges and immature ways and took time corporately and individually to teach us what it looked like to live the faith life. 

We’ve walked with God for almost forty years. Second only to accepting Christ as our Savior, being active members of a local church has been the single best life decision we’ve ever made. 

Here’s why: 

1. Church helps us gain wisdom and discernment. My Toastmasters club teaches me how to speak effectively. My dental hygiene study club keeps my professional knowledge up to date. An occasional nutrition class reminds me to make healthy food choices. Only the church helps me learn how to make wise parenting decisions, live peacefully with my spouse, care for my aging parents, pray with power, share my faith, and make God-centered life decisions. 

At every new stage of life, God met our family’s need for wisdom and knowledge through his Body, the church. In the early days of our parenting, godly couples several years ahead of us invited us to a Bible study. “Bring your baby,” they said. “She won’t be a problem.” How did they know we were lonely, overwhelmed, and struggling? Maybe they didn’t, but God did, and he opened their hearts to invite us. That study, and the fellowship and friendship it provided, gave us the hope and help we desperately needed. 

A Growing Kids God’s Way class taught us that strong families begin with strong marriages. A Let Prayer Change Your Life study cracked the door on the power of prayer. A Love and Respect study helped us identify sources of conflict that had troubled our marriage since its early days. In every age and stage of life, the church has met our need for guidance through a class, a resource, or a relationship. 

2. Church helps us connect with like-minded people and those with similar goals and values. In a church, certain standards of thought and conduct are understood. Parents look out for each other’s kids and blow the whistle if they see something concerning. They’re not afraid to challenge our kids if they hear words or see behavior that contradicts God’s Word. 

They provide invaluable reinforcement in the weary trenches of parenting. They bolster our faith with their examples of standing for righteousness even when it costs something. They provide a peer group for wholesome activities and meaningful pursuits. 

3. Church attendance is good for your health. Laura Rowley, in her article, “5 Surprising Scientific Reasons to Attend Church” writes, “Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiologist with the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a study of regular church-goers over two decades with his colleagues. He found that people who attend religious services at least once a week enjoy better blood pressure, healthier cardiovascular, immune and endocrine functions and less coronary artery disease than those who don’t attend at all”. 

The article also notes, “People who go to services regularly are less likely to be depressed. A survey of nearly 100,000 women over 50 who attended religious services found they were 56 percent more likely to have a positive outlook on life and 27 percent less likely to be depressed, according to a study in the Journal of Religion and Health. 


4. Church knits people’s hearts together unlike anything else. Because we share the same Holy Spirit, our friendships are deeper, our conversations more intentional, and our time together richer and more life-changing. We’ve discovered the collective joy of serving our community, each other, and the Lord. Nothing builds a friendship like packing and inspecting 2,600 Operation Christmas Child boxes in a single afternoon. Or packing and delivering 100 Thanksgiving food boxes. Or volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or a homeless woman’s shelter. 

The satisfaction of working together on projects like these makes shallow, self-centered pursuits pale in comparison. At the end of the day, the shared experience of laboring together for a cause greater than ourselves builds eternal relationships.

5. Church is there for the good times and the bad. We’ve celebrated new babies, graduations, and marriages together. We’ve mourned job losses, cancer, and death. When our family received word while out of the country on a mission trip that my sister-in-law had died of a triple brain aneurysm, we couldn’t make it back in time for the funeral. Members of our church helped make funeral arrangements, fed the family, and stood beside our loved ones in our absence. For one daughter’s wedding, friends baked cakes and pies, tied a hundred bows, and cleaned up late into the night. We’ve done the same for them, with joy. It’s what family does.


6. Church gives us something bigger than ourselves in which to invest our lives. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4:2 reminds us, “He who has been given a trust must prove faithful.” Each of us have been entrusted with a measure of time, talent, and treasure. One day we’ll give an account of what we did with it. And while there are a thousand good causes, there are also a thousand empty pursuits. 

Christ gave believers one assignment—to build his kingdom by pointing others to himself. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;” (Matthew 28:19-20). God’s kingdom is the only one that promises eternal rewards and endless joy. Every time we give, teach, pray, and serve in God’s name, we invest in people—people who will live forever. When all is said and done, this is the most meaningful and significant way to spend and be spent. 

These six reasons why we need church are a small sample of the hundreds I could describe. I’d like to conclude with perhaps the greatest reason: We need church because God is there. Yes, God lives in us, so, technically, he is present wherever we are, but when we gather as a body of believers for the purpose of worshiping him, his presence is almost palpable. He speaks through the music and the preaching. He draws us to his side through the collective prayers of his children. He inspires us through stories of others’ faithfulness. We are stronger, wiser, kinder, sweeter when we sit in our Father’s house, surrounded by our brothers and sisters, for the sole purpose of drawing closer to Him. 

Why, oh why, would you want to miss this? 

If you regularly attend a church, don’t stop. If you don’t, perhaps it’s time to give it a try. What do you have to lose? And what might you gain?

Now it’s your turn to share a reason why we need church. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to visit Hungry for God online and leave a comment. 



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Sunday

When You Don't Want to Share God's Love -- A Confession



"But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’"  Jonah 2:9 

I didn’t know Ed Huntington’s name* until the day he murdered my uncle. Although all three of us lived in the same neighborhood, I’d never met my uncle’s next door neighbor. Until early one September morning. 

An ongoing squabble between the two men escalated. Ed ran into his house, grabbed his gun, kicked down my uncle’s front door, and shot him. Twice in the ankles. Twice in the knees. And once in the heart.  

And he never spent a night in jail. 

He hired a high-powered lawyer who mounted a self-defense case and convinced the jury Ed should be declared innocent of all charges. While Ed resumed his normal life, my family struggled to pick up the pieces of our own. 

We shampooed the blood from the carpet, but nothing could erase the horror from our minds.

Knowing my uncle was dead while his murderer walked free was more than I could bear. Bitterness and hate grew in my heart. Why had he received mercy when he deserved punishment? 

I often think of this dark period in my life when I read the book of Jonah, because Jonah and I were a lot alike. I hated Ed Huntington, and Jonah hated the Ninevites. Both with good cause. 

The Ninevites were Assyrians, long-standing enemies of Israel. A cruel and heartless nation, they would attack neighboring countries, kill all the men and children and rape and take the women captive. The nation had staged several attacks on Israel during Jonah’s day, and it’s possible he had witnessed their brutality. Or lost a family member to one of their assaults. 

So when God called Jonah to go to the people of Ninevah and preach against it, I’m not surprised he said no. No way was he going to warn the Ninevites that if they didn’t repent of their wicked ways, God would judge them. 

He wanted God to judge them. He wanted them to get the punishment they deserved for the evil they had done. He wanted them to suffer like they’d caused others to suffer. 

If the Assyrians spent an eternity burning in hell, it still wouldn’t be long enough. Tell them about God? Oh no. For all he knew, they might repent. And then God, the loving God who is gracious and compassionate, might forgive them. 

Nope. Not happening. 

Jonah bought a one-way ticket on a ship headed for Tarshish and sailed as far away from Ninevah as he could go. 

In the months following my uncle’s death, I grew increasingly bitter against his murderer. One night, unable to sleep, I opened my Bible to the story of the rich man and Lazarus. 

The rich man didn’t appear to be like the Assyrians—like Ed—and yet he was suffering the fires of hell. Ed Huntington deserves to be punished like that, I thought. 

And so do you, the Lord whispered into my heart. 

What? I deserved to be punished? The thought shocked me and caused my spirit to rise up in righteous indignation. I’m not a murderer. I haven’t taken an innocent life. I’m a good person. 

But your sins were just as offensive to me, the Lord said. All have sinned and fallen short of my glory. There are no exceptions. The only difference between you and him is that your sin is covered by the blood of my Son. 

In an instant all my pride, anger, and bitterness crashed down on me. I saw myself as God had seen me so many years ago—lost and wallowing in my sin, desperately in need of a Savior. 

With this realization came God’s call. As God had told Jonah, so God told me—Go and tell. Tell him that the God who had forgiven you was also willing to forgive him. 

My desire for vengeance still lingered, but my desire to obey God was stronger. Knowing it wasn’t wise to knock on a murderer’s front door, I chose to write Ed Huntington a letter. I told him how much his actions had hurt our family and how bitter I had become. “You’ve escaped punishment on this earth,” I wrote, “but one day you’ll stand before God and give an account of your life. Only the mercy of God will spare you from eternal punishment.” 

Then I told him how our gracious and compassionate God had made a way for sinful man to stand before Him without fear of judgment. “Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). I’ve experienced this forgiveness, and I hope you will too. Because Christ has forgiven me, so I forgive you.” 

Jonah experienced a similar change of heart toward the Ninevites. 

Sloshing around in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights caused him to ponder God’s mercy. Instead of allowing him to drown in the sea, God had sent a great fish to save his life. As the recipient of amazing grace, Jonah promised to extend that same grace to the Ninevites.

“But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’” (2:9). 

I don’t know if Ed Huntington came to faith in Christ because of my letter, but I hope he did. I do know that because of Jonah’s obedience all the inhabitants of Ninevah repented and called upon the name of the Lord. And while their repentance didn’t erase the effects of their sin, in some ways, it may have redeemed them. 

Whether we’ve sinned once or a thousand times, in small ways or in great, we’re equally in need of God’s forgiveness. 

Is there someone in your life who has sinned against you or someone you love that you’ve been unable to forgive? Has this unforgiveness hindered you from obeying God in other ways? Talk to God about it. Ponder, as Jonah did, the great sin debt God has erased from your life and how grateful you are for his forgiveness. Think about God’s gracious and compassionate heart. Ask Him to give you this same heart. Commit to extend mercy and forgiveness to others as you have received it. 

*The story is true, but the name is fictitious.



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Thursday

Refresh Your Faith Cover Reveal!

Hi Hungry for God friends,

I promised I'd share the cover for my latest book, Refresh Your Faith, Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible on the day my 4th grandchild was born. Unfortunately, I failed to take into account that I'd be so busy taking care of the new baby's three siblings that I wouldn't touch my computer for three days.

I'm delighted to say we welcomed Collin Gabriel into our family early Tuesday evening. He weighed 7 lbs. and 7 oz and is practically perfect. We love him already.

We're preparing to welcome by book baby into the world in the spring of 2020. Although I don't have ultrasound pictures, I can show you a picture of the newly-designed cover. It's not as awe-inspiring as Collin, but I'm pretty excited. 

I hope you like it as much as I do. Leave me a comment below and tell me what you think.






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Wednesday

When I Said No to God





"Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy." Jonah 2:8

I thought I’d surrendered my life to God the day I prayed to receive salvation. “I’m sick of living my life my way,” I prayed that day in my pastor’s office. “I don’t want to be in charge any more. I need someone bigger than me to control my life.” 

I meant that prayer with my whole heart. 

In the days that followed my conversion, God began to change me. My questionable music went first. Then I tossed my bikini in the trash. Next I stopped watching the steamy nighttime drama I looked forward to every week. 

Strangely enough, none of those changes were painful. God would show me what he wanted me to surrender to Him, and I did. Joyfully. 

But then I sensed God calling me to do something I really didn’t want to do. Much more significant than giving up questionable music, a skimpy bathing suit, and a trashy television show, this was huge. 

If I called you to go to the mission field, He whispered to my heart one day, would you say yes? 

No way, I thought. I’ll never go to the mission field. I love my life here. I love my country, my routine, and my comfort zone. The mission field is okay for some, but not for me. Absolutely not. 

Up to this point in my Christian life, I’d always said yes to God. Now, for the first time, I said no. I was just like the Jonah of Bible days, and I knew how he felt. 

I didn’t climb aboard a ship headed in the opposite direction from where God wanted me to go, but I was acting just as rebellious. 

Despite a clear call from God, Jonah decided he’d rather die than share the gospel with the nasty Ninevites. He bought a ticket on a ship heading far away from where God had called him to go. 

In response to his disobedience, God stirred up a great tempest. When the sailors drew lots to find out who had angered the God of the wind and the waves, Jonah’s lot was chosen. "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you” (verse 1:12). 

Jonah could have surrendered his rebellious heart to God as his shipmates tossed him overboard. He could have said yes to Him when his lungs burned because he couldn’t hold his breath any longer. Or when the great fish swallowed him. Surely that should have broken his will, 

But it didn’t. 

Jonah spent three days and three nights sitting with his arms crossed in the pitch black belly of the whale. Floating in gastric juices and inhaling the stench of rotting fish, he forsook the mercy of obedience by clinging to the worthless idols of prejudice, superiority, and rebellion. 

Until a light dawned. 

“When my life was ebbing away,” Jonah prayed, “I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” 

My surrender took a little longer than Jonah’s, but eventually I found myself in the belly of a fish that looked a lot like my living room. I was homeschooling my young daughters, and every morning we’d begin our day with a Bible lesson. “It’s very important to obey God,” I told them. “You can trust Him to know what’s best for you.” 

As they nodded their heads solemnly, the hypocrisy of my statement washed over me. I had no right to teach my daughters to obey God when a rebelliously-black heart beat in my chest.

 Ashamed, I stumbled to my bedroom, shut the door, and fell to my knees. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. “Lord, I’m so sorry I’ve said no to you. I was afraid if I obeyed you, I’d be miserable. But living in disobedience and rebellion is more miserable. I miss the sweetness of your fellowship and the warmth of your smile. I want your blessing on my life. I still don’t want to go to the mission field, but I trust you to know what’s best for me and my family. Whatever you tell me to do, I’ll do it. Amen.” 

Jonah’s prayer of repentance was much shorter than mine: “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good." (verse 2:9) 

“And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (verse 2:10). 

My release wasn’t quite so dramatic, but it was every bit as glorious. A whale-sized load slid off my back, and I felt the Lord smile. My joy returned, and my spirit soared. All was well again between me and my Savior.

 More than twenty years have passed since I surrendered my life to the mission field. While I’ve taken several short term mission trips and been willing to go where God sends me, He hasn’t told me to serve Him as a full time missionary away from home. 

When I wonder about the purpose of those difficult days so many years ago, I suspect, like with Jonah, that the issue wasn’t about the specific call as much as it was about my willingness to obey whatever God called me to do. Would I embrace the worthless idols of disobedience, rebellion, and comfort or embrace the mercy God extends toward me to obey? 

Life is a series of surrenders. While some are more difficult than others, each one presents an opportunity to say yes to God. 

Is there a part of your life you’ve been unwilling or afraid to surrender to God? Is He calling you to take that step of faith? You can trust Him. Whether you say a prayer like mine or use your own words, talk to God about it. Tell Him that whatever he calls you to do, you’ll do it. 



Are you hungry for God, but starving for time? 
I’d love to send you a 5-minute e-mail devotion twice a week to start your day off with the Lord. 

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Note: I promise never to spam you or share your email address.

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Sunday

Three Eyes and a Mustache? What Will My Book Baby Look Like?


Look at these faces—all of them, including the black one with the big ears. These are my grandchildren and my grandpuppy.

We spent Labor Day weekend together in the mountains of North Carolina. We hiked (as far as little legs could hike), picked apples, played games around the kitchen table, and laughed a lot. At one point, the kids and the puppy raced around the living room chasing each other in a blur of feet and arms and paws and mouths wide open panting in delight.



The game began when Halsey the puppy dropped the front half of his body to the floor and wagged his butt in the air like a flag on race day. He sprinted off, claws scrabbling on the hardwood floor, trying to gain his footing as the kids joined in the chase. After a few laps around the room, it was hard to tell who was chasing whom, but it didn’t matter. The fun was in the chase, not the catch. 

I remember waiting for a glimpse of each grandchild's face. The gestation period for a baby seems interminable. The waiting period to adopt a French bulldog puppy is almost as long. With three grandchildren, a grandpuppy, and another grandson due any moment, I’ve had many months to anticipate their arrival. Forty-nine at last count.

As I waited, I imagined what they’d look like.

Would they have their father’s bright blue eyes and cleft chin? Their mother’s silky hair and long legs? Would they have fair skin or dark? A dainty nose or a more prominent one?

I speculated about the puppy, too. I’d seen pictures of his mother and father. Would he be brindle or solid? Short-legged or longer? Would he have pointed ears or rounded ones? And what about that goofy, tongue-lolling grin so characteristic of a Frenchie?

I hoped my grands would be cute, but I knew, whatever they looked like, I’d love them. 

In the spring of 2020, my latest book, Refresh Your Faith, Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible, will release with Discovery House (Our Daily Bread publisher). As the author, I had a lot of control over the book, but not the cover. That was up to the design team at Discovery House.

All I could do was imagine what it would look like . . . and hope. And pray.


Would the graphic artist capture my passion to help faithful, dedicated, bored Christians get excited about God’s Word again? What would that even look like? Would it look feminine but not girly? Soft but smart? Accessible but intriguing?

And then a frightening thought hit me—what if it’s UGLY?

I guess I'll love it anyway, I decided, because it’s mine. But oh, Lord, please make it pretty. 

I felt like I was waiting for the first glimpse of my baby’s face, hoping and praying it wouldn’t have three eyes or a mustache.

At long last, the promised book cover picture arrived in my Inbox. Would you like to see it?

If you haven’t already, click over to the Hungry for God Facebook page (CLICK HERE) and LIKE the page. Then check back on Wednesday morning for the cover reveal. (Hopefully it’ll come through in your feed, but Facebook posts don’t go out to everyone right away.)

For those of you who aren’t on Facebook, stay tuned here. I plan to post the cover reveal on my blog on the day my fourth grandchild is born. 

When will that be? His due date is Friday, but only the Lord knows.

I can’t wait for you to see my book baby’s face. And I’m glad you’re along for the journey.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time," Ecclesiastes 3:11.





Are you hungry for God, but starving for time? 
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Because busy women need to connect with God in the craziness of everyday life.