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User Archives: Amy Carroll

  • What Your Pastor's Wife Needs Most in a Friend

    Posted on October 3, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    AMY CARROLL

    {Editor's Note: October is Pastor Appreciation Month. We recognize there are women serving in churches in a variety of roles, and encourage you to show your appreciation for all those serving in ministry this month.}

    "One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend." Proverbs 22:11 (NIV)

    I sat in mute sadness, as I listened to the woman sitting in the driver's seat beside me.

    Tears streamed down this pastor's wife's face as she described her family's financial struggles. No one had asked her about her return to the workforce. She felt nobody cared about her as she transitioned from home to full-time work. Years before, a "friend" in the church gossiped about a confidence she shared, so this woman felt she could no longer trust anyone with her pain.

    Another pastor's wife stoically described the 20 years she spent alone in a pew Sunday after Sunday until one woman finally reached out in friendship. Her face lit up, as she told me about her new friend who now sits with her and banishes the painful loneliness she felt amongst the crowd at her own church.

    Isn't it strange? Pastors' wives are often some of the most admired women in the church, and yet they are often the most lonely. When listing my life-long friends, I realized two of the five are pastors' wives.

    That's a pretty big percentage, so what binds me to these women? Their loyalty, love and acceptance. They're a treasure to me, so I've been thinking: What does a pastor's wife most need in a friend? How can I be that kind of friend?

    When talking to my besties and searching Scripture, two main needs emerged. Pastors' wives need their friends to be: 1) free from expectations and 2) free from self. Here's what I mean ...

    Free from Expectations

    Both of my friends defy the stereotypes attached to a pastor's wife. They need friends who will let them be themselves, women with their own identity separate from a spouse or the church.

    Releasing our pastors' wives from our expectations is the greatest gift we can give.

    Pastors' wives are real women just like us with flaws, varying gifts, dust on their dressers, arguments with their husbands and a wide range of personalities. If we want to be true, pure-hearted friends without ulterior motives, we need to affirm all their facets, cover their imperfections with love and encourage them to follow their passions rather than just expect them to conform to a mold.

    Free from Self

    Some days, it's all about me ... or at least that's how I act at times. In my selfishness, I've had thoughts like: She hasn't answered my email. I wonder what I've done wrong. Or, I can't believe she just blew by me in the store. She must be mad at me.

    I'm learning to let go of selfish thoughts and give my friends space.

    Pastors' wives minister to the many people, carve out time for their husbands during their odd hours off, work, run their households, reach out to neighbors, care for their children and more. The list is unending. They need friends who are selfless, patient friends who give them grace instead of demand perfect performances.

    We also have to refrain from gossip. I hate to admit it, but there's a part of me that longs to repeat confidences when I want to feel more important or in the know ... like I'm part of the inner circle. As their friends, we have to overcome the desire to build up ourselves and to put our friend first by never, ever, gossiping.

    Both my friends expressed how important confidentiality is to them. It's a deal-breaker for your pastor's wife. As today's key verse points out, good leaders delight in friendships with those who are in pure in heart and speak graciously. Indeed ... sincere, caring, kind and genuine relationships give life to those who lead.

    In the midst of church life, we walk through all of life's joys and pain together with love and loyalty. It's what pastors' wives want in a friend ... and it's what I want, too. That's true friendship and a desire at the heart of everywoman, pastor's wife or not.

    Lord, help me to be a truly loyal friend to my pastor's wife, putting her needs above my own. Purify my heart and my words to be a joy and encouragement to all my friends. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Proverbs 17:17, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." (NIV)

    Job 16:20, "My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God ..." (NIV)

    Ecclesiastes 4:10, "If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    What is an action step God is calling you to do this month to encourage your pastor's wife?

    What is something you can do if you find yourself in a setting where there is gossip or criticism about your pastor's wife?

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org

     


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Proverbs

  • How to Live an Invitation

    Posted on August 27, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 19:34 (NIV)

    Walking into the building, I kept my head down and peered around the room from under my lashes. The butterflies in my stomach took flight as I assessed the unfamiliar surroundings. The room was filled with strangers and mysterious equipment, making my hands slick and my heart pound.

    I was a foreigner in a new land: the gym.

    You might laugh, but have you ever had similar feelings in a new situation? Even though I'm seasoned in many settings, the first time I visited my gym, I remembered the feelings of being the outsider. The newbie who doesn't know the culture, secrets to fitting in or how things work.

    Being a "foreigner" is uncomfortable, but when we pass that stage and become a "native," it's easy to forget those feelings and become oblivious to the needs and feelings of a newcomer.

    Even though I'm fully integrated into my church family, that first foray into the gym brought flashbacks of visiting churches after our move. I remembered the discomfort of walking into rooms full of people I didn't know, wondering if anyone would speak to me. It was difficult to navigate unfamiliar surroundings, trying to pick up on the unique vibe and vocabulary of each place.

    Those were the days when my "house" hadn't achieved the status of "home." I walked my neighborhood and wondered about the people behind the doors. Would I be accepted here? Maybe even loved? In those early months, every place and every interaction held the starchy, scratchy newness of jeans just off the shelf. How I ached for the warm softness of the worn and familiar.

    On the day my new neighbor Nikki visited and brought a pie, things began to shift. Her children were the same age as mine, and as they ran off to play, Nikki's kindness and happy smile opened a door into a new place of belonging. Even before I earned "native" status, she treated me as a friend. Nikki lived the powerful truth in our key verse: "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born" (Leviticus 19:34a).

    God created us for expanding community, and He calls us to live a life of welcome.

    When we remember our days as a newcomer, our time as "foreigners in Egypt," we can live life with one hand joined and the other open. One hand holds the hand of the precious community God gives us — neighbors, family, friends, and brothers and sisters in faith — while keeping the other hand free to draw newcomers into the circle.

    The hand joined to our community keeps us close and connected. It's where we commit to live our truest self, working through the messiness that inevitably arises with close living. It's the people we eat with, pray with, play with and love. When we have the blessing of a tight-knit group, sometimes it's easiest to close the circle, joining both hands with those we know well. But God asks us to keep one hand free, always looking for one more new friend to draw into the loop.

    My awkward first visit to the gym lifted my eyes from my everyday busyness and engagement with my well-established loved ones. Now I'm trying to be a walking invitation to the "foreigners" around me. "Come join us!" my heart cries.

    Let's go with a heart of invitation to work, school, church, the neighborhood party ... and maybe, even the gym.

    God, help me shake the complacency of being a "native." Lift my eyes to see people around me who are new and in need of my kindness. Show me how to reach out to others in love to draw them into my circle, living a life of invitation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    Colossians 3:10-11, "Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ." (MSG)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Is there someone new in your neighborhood, workplace or church who needs to feel welcomed?

    Pray and watch for a way to reach out and make them feel included. Follow through one day this week, then savor the joy of bringing encouragement to someone else.

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Leviticus

  • A Key to Remembering

    Posted on June 23, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

     

    God used a hard circumstance to teach me a powerful lesson this week. I lost my keys. It was the ring with my car key, electronic door opener and house key. Because of my schedule that day, they could only have been in two places: inside the house or outside in my front yard. Where someone could pick them up. And break in. And murder my whole family. Can you feel my rising panic?

    I was calm at first, certain the keys would just be lying in an unusual place. This is something I can handle, my subconscious murmured, so I started to search. I scanned the house quickly, but the keys didn't appear readily. Then I crawled through each room on my hands and knees trying to get a new perspective and looking under furniture. Not there.

    Soon my husband and son got home, and we armed ourselves with flashlights to search the yard many times over. No keys there either.

    Since it was long past bedtime, I finally prayed half-heartedly, wedged dining room chairs under the doorknobs and went to sleep, tossing and turning through the night. In my heart, though, I was sure I would find those keys.

    As dawn broke, I re-searched all the places from the day before and places I'd missed. Frustration and fear set in. I began having visions of hundreds of dollars spent on rekeying locks and replacing the door opener.

    Finally, in a conversation with a friend, I asked her to pray earnestly. I hung up the phone, leaned against my fireplace and cried out to God: "God, You know we need that money for college tuition. I'm really afraid someone has found those keys and is going to break into the house. Please help me. You know where those keys are. Will You show me where they are?"

    I didn't have any immediate fresh ideas, so I headed to my back deck to uncover the flowers I had tucked under a sheet the night before to save them from a freeze. As I yanked off the sheet, something shiny caught my eye. My keys dangled off the side of the flowerpot, where they must have fallen as I worked the day before!

    As I headed into the house, my thoughts were overcome with wonder. I understand God is not on my timetable, so prayers aren't always answered immediately. But in this case, my prayer was answered instantly. Why had it taken me so long to turn to God?

    I thought about the month before when I got a callback after a mammogram. I instantaneously turned to God in prayer, and I continued to pray for one and a half weeks until I could be rechecked. In that harrowing, seemingly "big" circumstance, I experienced the blessing of peace that resulted from prayer long before I received all-clear results.

    I processed how often my own pride, the conviction I can handle things on my own, keeps me from instant prayer ... and from the comfort, peace and power of God's presence.

    Now I'm going to use my keys as a reminder. Will you use yours, too? Each time we pull them out to use, let's remember to humbly pray about the big and little things. As we do, we'll experience the peace of God together, washing over us as well as all our circumstances.

    Jesus, make me humble. Help me run to You in prayer for all things, the big and the little. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    James 5:16b, "... The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (NIV)

    Ephesians 6:18a, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests." (NIV)

    Psalm 123:1, "I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    What are the big things in your life that need prayer? What are some things you've been managing yourself that you need to give to God in prayer?

    Make a list of both big and little things that need prayer. Break them into seven groups for the seven days this week. Set aside time each day this week to talk with God about your list. He'll be listening!

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Philippians

  • Does Anybody Really Like House Rules?

    Posted on May 21, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love." John 15:9-10 (NIV)

    From the day I drove off with my newly printed license, my parents made the house rules clear: Any tickets or accidents would be my responsibility. All was well until my friends and I took off for the beach my senior year, and I backed into a parked car before I even caught a glimpse of the ocean.

    I cried knowing I'd have to work all summer at my minimum wage, fast-food job to pay for the damage I'd done.

    The sting of that seemingly unfair rule smarted until I became a parent, and my son scratched the side of a car on a mailbox last summer. Suddenly, from the view of a mom, the same rule I'd resisted as a teenager taught my son responsibility and care.

    Yet with God, the ultimate loving parent, we don't always understand that the same principles apply. Sometimes God's directions seem arbitrary and unfair. Especially in a culture lacking clear boundaries of right and wrong.

    We find ourselves thinking things like, Surely we should get to decide how much of the truth we tell at work, when to forgive a critical friend or the limits of our sexual behaviors. We're adults now, after all. Rules are for children, right?

    Yet, God wants to give us a new perspective on the subject of commands and obedience. His ways are often the opposite of our ways, and today's key verse, John 15:9-10, shows us that a life of obedience to God is a reward, not a punishment:

    "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love."

    In these verses, Jesus calls us to remain in His love, a very safe place to be, by obeying His commands.

    The word "remain" in verse 9 can also be translated "dwell" or "reside." That helps me picture God inviting us into a dwelling place with protective walls built layer by layer with His commands.

    All caring parents have house rules. And God is the most loving parent of all. He has established a beautiful place where we're invited to live with Him, protected and cherished.

    But for a woman who struggles with feeling like she has to work to earn God's love, the conditional statement "if you keep my commands" has been hard to understand. I've had to dig deeper to understand how God's love and obedience work beneficially hand-in-hand.

    Undeniably, God is love (1 John 4:16). The phrase describing God as "abounding in love" is found in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, Psalm, Joel and Jonah. "His love endures forever" is repeated more than 20 times in Psalm 136 and dozens more times throughout Scripture. If God says it in His Word so many times, there's no doubt He means it! We can know for sure that God's love is always available.

    It is unchanging and always there for us, but we have a choice. We choose through the condition of obedience to remain in His love or through disobedience to walk out of its protection.

    Jesus' declaration of love feels like a warm blanket wrapped around me in a cold world. God, our heavenly Father, is drawing us into the beautiful life He created us for where His commands are simply the walls of the residence. Let's choose to move in and dwell in the presence of our Father's love.

    Lord, I choose to trust that Your rules are for my good and growth. I want to remain in Your love, and live a life of obedience to You. When I want to push against Your ways, help me to look around at the walls of Your dwelling of protection and be thankful. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    TRUTH FOR TODAY:
    2 John 1:6, "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." (NIV)

    Psalm 119:14-16, "I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word." (NIV)

    REFLECT AND RESPOND:
    Are there any areas of life where you're not living in obedience to God's Word? How might that leave you unprotected or hinder your growth?

    Read through John 15. How is God's care for you and His desire for your growth pictured in this chapter? Journal your response to God's deep love for you.

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with John

  • Why My Savior Complex Had to Die

    Posted on April 30, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28 (NLT)

    For years, something in me longed to be a savior. It was the space within my heart that lit with imagination when I watched heroes on TV save a falling baby with a mattress, rescue survivors from a mudslide or wrestle a hijacker to the floor of a plane. I aspired to be a woman with such daring, admired by thousands.

    That desire carried me on a trip to Kolkata, India, where I was determined to make a difference with my positive attitude and can-do spirit!

    I prepared with confidence and traveled with bravado, but when I arrived in the city, my assurance began to wilt. Walking out of the airport into the dead of the night, our team was surrounded at once with impoverished women and children begging. Shouldn't they be sleeping?

    Decrepit buildings lined potholed streets, patrolled by feral dogs and rifle-armed policemen. Rancid smells and unfamiliar sights assailed our senses.

    On the way to our hotel, we drove by a billboard proclaiming, "Kolkata: City of Joy." The very idea whiplashed my brain, and my deepest motives were exposed. What was I thinking? This isn't a job for me ... making Kolkata the City of Joy is truly a God-sized job!

    In that moment, my desire to be a hero was both exposed and crushed. My smile and positive attitude alone would not feed the hungry, free women from oppression or liberate captives from spiritual darkness with. No, only Jesus the Savior could meet such overwhelming need and make a difference! I was simply there to serve Him.

    Why did I want to be a savior? The truth was a mix of good and bad. I desired to help people, ease their suffering and introduce them to a loving God. But all that good was spoiled when mixed with my desire to feel virtuous, to gain recognition from others for the "noble" things I was doing and to feel I had met God's requirements.

    The works inspired by my savior complex might have looked good on the outside, but they were achieving self-gratification rather than pleasing God.

    Jesus is our true hero, the only real Savior. Jesus brings good news to the poor. He can bind up the brokenhearted. He provides freedom for the captives and releases prisoners from the darkness. Jesus brings God's favor, comforts those who mourn and cares for those in need. He gives us beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning and praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3). Jesus is beautiful and powerful and worthy of being the Savior.

    In Matthew 20:28, Jesus reveals His superhero, Savior secret to His followers, and it's a huge surprise: "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."

    The secret is service. As we serve our Savior and those around us, we can become behind-the-scenes heroes in God's eyes. Humble service may not make the news, but it can definitely change the world.

    Years after my lesson in Kolkata, I walked into a new volunteer position with my same bright smile and positive attitude. The difference was I wasn't there to be a savior, but instead to serve my Savior.

    Jesus is the hero to admire; I'm just there to roll up my sleeves and stand beside Him as He saves the world.

    Jesus, I praise You as the only worthy Savior. Will You change my motives from a desire for admiration to a desire to humbly serve You? Please change my savior complex to a servant's mindset? I long to follow Your example in serving Your people. In Your Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    Have your motives to serve the Lord ever gotten mixed with a desire for recognition or to feel virtuous?

    What is one way you can serve someone anonymously this week?

    Power Verses:
    Isaiah 43:11, "I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior." (NIV)

    Psalm 115:1, "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness." (NIV)

    Ephesians 6:7, "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people ..." (NIV)

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Matthew

  • The Sacred Us

    Posted on March 17, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." Titus 2:3-5 (NIV)

    She didn't know I was watching. But I was. And what she did changed my heart and marriage.

    Friends of mine told me about Deborah, a woman at our church who had decided not to speak negatively about her husband. Although I truly love my husband and think he is wonderful, he isn't perfect. So at the time, I didn't think there was much harm in occasionally complaining about him to friends and co-workers. After all, they had plenty to say about their husbands.

    But something about Deborah's commitment challenged my heart. I began to watch her and her husband for signs of a difference. I also listened carefully to see if she really stuck to her commitment. She did, and the fruits of her faithfulness were obvious.

    Deborah and John had been married far longer than I had and had three beautiful children. But they acted like they were still on their honeymoon. Their devotion was untarnished by the mistrust and bitterness caused by a critical heart and complaining lips.

    Seeing the difference in them made me much more aware when I started to "vent" or complain about my husband. I thought about how terrible I would feel if I walked into a room and heard him speaking negatively about me. So I followed Deborah's lead.

    It didn't take long before I started to see fruit in my marriage too. Lots of it! The more I spoke well of my husband, the more I thought well of him too. His virtues far overshadowed his few imperfections. Praising my husband to my friends actually grew my love for him. Plus, I never worried what might be repeated to him.

    I have come to believe strongly in the "Sacred Us." My husband and I have a bond that is stronger than the bond I have with anyone else. There are things that only the two of us share.

    Although I love to talk, I don't need to share everything going on between us with others. If there are problems, I can always pour out my heart to God, and Scripture encourages us to do that. I also have cultivated relationships with several godly, truth-telling women who love my husband as a brother in Christ as much as they love me. They will listen, offer godly counsel and tell me in a skinny minute if I'm the one who's wrong. Choose women who exemplify Titus 2:3-5 when you need to problem-solve or when you need focused prayer about a situation.

    Without ever knowing it, Deborah changed many of the marriages in our church for the better. Let's all resolve to be the "Deborah" among our friends. I want my words and actions to make that kind of difference — to strengthen my marriage bonds, to encourage others and to glorify God.

    Dear Lord, please help me control my tongue. I need Your help to praise my husband instead of criticize or complain. In times of crises or conflict, remind me to turn to You first. Bring godly women into my life who will join with me in this endeavor so that we can encourage each other. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    Pay attention to the topics of discussion with your friends. How often does the conversation turn to criticism of husbands? Stop yourself when you begin to join in! Then go a step further and say something positive about your husband.

    Cultivate friendships with other women who speak positively of their husbands and hold each other gently and lovingly accountable.

    Power Verses:
    Philippians 2:14-15, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe ..." (NIV 1984)

    Psalm 141:3, "Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips." (NIV 1984)

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Titus

  • Being Right Doesn't Mean I'm Righteous

    Posted on February 17, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." Revelation 2:4b-5 (NIV)

    I still have pounds to lose and overflowing closets, but this year my resolution isn't based on external goals. Instead, there's a heart issue clambering for attention, and God is filling me with a simple prayer: Lord, please make me completely righteous and not a bit self-righteous.

    The word righteous means, "acting in accord with divine and moral law, free from guilt or sin" according to Webster. But being righteous and looking righteous are two different things.

    Looking righteous is something I've mastered.

    I know how to follow the rules, play the game and fit into the church crowd. Maybe you're like me and are wired to work hard to get things done "right." I like to please my peers and check items off my to-do list.

    Often it wins me the approval I crave. I get pats on the back, and it all looks good on the outside.

    But on the inside — in the quiet moments — I can find myself exhausted. Defeated. Numb. Those feelings let me know I've crossed from being righteous through Christ into trying to earn righteousness myself.

    Sometimes my self-righteousness leaks out and reveals its ugliness through judgmental thoughts and attitudes towards others. That's when I find myself looking down my nose at those struggling while thinking I have it together or snapping with impatience when someone delays my next task.

    Then I read Revelation 2 in a new light. In this passage, Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for their good deeds. He praises them for hard work, perseverance, intolerance of wickedness, sound doctrine and endurance. It's a list of wonderful works indicating righteousness.

    But Jesus follows with a stunning and scathing indictment, "You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (Revelation 2:4b-5).

    Those verses highlight the root of the issue and reveal the Ephesians were in the same predicament as me. They were working hard, but without love they had become self-righteous, and God won't tolerate that.

    Could I have lost my first love? Was that the cause of my self-righteous thoughts? I began to think back to the days when I first fell in love with my husband. I was crazy about him, and couldn't get enough time with him. Love for him filled me with an explosive joy bubbling over on everyone around me. Not only did I want to hug him, everyone else was in danger of being hugged too!

    The same is true when my heart is overflowing with love for God. That joy bubbles over to those around me. It makes my heart sincere and gracious, rather than hard and judgmental.

    To maintain the right heart, God asks us to keep returning to our first love with Him. To rediscover the newness, lightness and joy we felt at first. He urges us to constantly rekindle passion for Him, which will deepen our love for Him and others.

    The beautiful part is God doesn't call us to love without Him setting the ultimate example. His love is "wide and long and high and deep" (Ephesians 3:18, NIV), and it surpasses our thoughts and the works done in our own strength.

    Pursuing righteousness solely through good works is an empty endeavor, always leaving us impossibly short of the goal. Returning to our first love ensures full righteousness as we follow Jesus, for He is our righteousness. "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30, NIV).

    Renewing our first true love produces righteousness. True righteousness creates more love for God and others. It's a beautiful cycle, and it's a goal that transforms us.

    Lord, please make me completely righteous and not a bit self-righteous. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    What can you remember about your first days of falling in love with Jesus? Write down your memories of how you felt and what you did during that time.

    Has that first love faded? Spend some time in the quiet today offering a worship/love song to Him. Ask Him to rekindle your passion.

    Power Verses:
    Proverbs 21:21, "He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor." (NIV)

    Luke 6:33, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (NIV)

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Revelation

  • Looking for Hidden Beauty

    Posted on January 24, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NASB)

    As a child who grew up swimming in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, I was used to wading into murky waters. The sun sparkled brilliantly on the surface, but most of the time I couldn't see anything past a few inches from the top of the brownish Atlantic Ocean. My young mind whirled as my toes met with all kinds of unknowns.

    "What's that sharp edge?!"

    "Oooo ... a slimy thing!"

    "What just brushed past me?!"

    A sting from a jellyfish and watching Jaws fueled my active imagination and latent fears. I couldn't see what was swimming in the vast expanse around me, so I worried, "What's in there?"

    One rare day, I waded into the ocean and much to my surprise, my toes were in full view! I don't know what caused the unusual clarity, but that day our waters were like the crystal-clear blue seas of the Caribbean.

    Suddenly, I could see all the delights around me. Brightly colored seaweed, flashing silver scales of a fish, and shells were pushed along the bottom by the tide. The sight that remains sharp in my memory, though, was a yellow piece of seaweed with several exquisite black and white striped angelfish swimming around it.

    Was THAT what I had been worrying about?

    The little vignette looked like something I'd pay to see in a public aquarium. The beauty was riveting, and I was shocked to know these gorgeous fish had been there all along, hidden by the cloudy water.

    Life is so often like the lesson I learned that day. Most of the time we are wading through life without seeing every situation clearly, and it's easy to become fearful of what we can't see.

    But just because the beauty is hidden, doesn't mean there's no beauty to be found. I've often gone through hard times when I couldn't see where my next footstep would land. That's just a season, though, not the whole picture. We truly only see in part, but thankfully we can befriend the One who knows fully.

    If we could only see our lives through God's eyes, the lens of eternity, we'd see that just below the surface there is something beautiful. He has created each day and each moment with purpose. Sometimes our vision will be cloudy and other seasons will bring enough clarity to see the loveliness of God's concealed work.

    I remember sitting beside my friend's bedside as death approached. Watching her still face, I prayed for God's will to be done quickly and peacefully. Walking through that experience with her, a young mother with precious little boys, was a very murky time for me. I just didn't understand why her life had to end so soon.

    But as I prayed, God reminded me that every minute of her life was beautiful and precious, even those she spent near death in a hospital bed. Rather than just seeing the heartache and pain, God opened my eyes to see His good work in and purpose for my friend's life. Years later I still remember the beauty of her life. Her example of proclaiming God's goodness in the midst of a tragic reality modeled deep faith in her Father's reign over her eternal story.

    In each season of our lives, even the ones moving through murky waters when we can only see in part, we can trust in the One who views it all. There is something beautiful happening just below the surface. May God give us eyes to see it clearly.

    Lord God, You are good. I trust You are doing beautiful things in my life even when I can't see them. Please help me trust when I don't see Your eternal picture clearly and hold on tightly to You until a new season of clarity. Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    How would things change if you truly believed that this season won't last forever—that it's only part of God's bigger, eternal picture?

    List some of the other seasons of your life. Looking back, can you see with clarity some of the beautiful work of God even in the hard ones?

    Power Verses:
    Ephesians 3: 20-21, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (NIV)

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with 1 Corinthians

  • Unmixing Our Motives

    Posted on January 3, 2014 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:5 (NIV 1984)

    I'll never forget when mixed motives almost killed my true calling. Soon after accepting a leadership position in the women's ministry of my church, a friend on the team came up to me. "Oh! We forgot to tell you," she said with a grin. "You're in charge of the annual women's conference."

    Despite the surprise, I loved every minute of organizing the event. But as I interacted with our guest speaker, envy began to wind itself around my heart. If it could have spoken aloud, it would have said, "I want THAT!"

    I wanted her platform.

    I wanted her eloquence.

    I wanted her audience.

    I wanted her cute outfit.

    Fortunately, I recognized these "wants" as signs of covetousness rather than signs of my calling. I knew God had called me to be the women's ministry director during that season—not to speak. And each time I desired what that speaker had, it took my focus off what God had for me.

    So I asked God to kill the weed of envy that was choking the life from my calling to lead women. I asked Him to purify my motives and steer my heart to the women He had called me to serve.

    It's so easy for wrong motives to creep in to our hearts. You might not want to be a speaker, but maybe you're the mom who dresses her children to impress others. Or maybe you're the employee who takes charge of the room to show your boss your readiness for the next step up.

    There's nothing wrong with cute children or promotions, but so many times our motives trip us up. Instead of being pure, our motives get mixed with other things that sully the outcome—emotionalism, pride, and strong personal preferences are just a few.

    Several years after my prayer to remove my "speaker envy," God started whispering to me about speaking as I prayed and read the Word. My first reaction was to think, "There's that old, nasty envy again. God, purify my heart!"

    But this time was different. As I unpacked my motives, I realized God had really changed my heart. He'd refined my motives to just one, and that was to obey Him.

    Philippians 2:5 states our ideal position: "Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus" (NIV 1984). Our one motive should be to follow Him and become more like Him. That's the motive that should supersede and reign over any others. How do we practically live that out?

    I think the clue is in the following verses. "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (Philippians 2:6-7, NIV 1984).

    Our focus has to be on becoming nothing. Nothing is not our status or worth. We are always holy and dearly loved children of the King.

    Nothing is to be our chosen position as a servant.

    How does this look in everyday life? Jesus is our perfect example. He is everything: the Lord of lords and the King of kings. He is so incredibly powerful and important that Colossians 1:16 says "all things were created by him and for him" (NIV 1984). Despite His exalted position, Jesus showed the purity of His motives toward us by giving up all He had.

    As I've thought about how to imitate Jesus in my motives, I ask myself two questions when making choices:

    • Does this put me or others first?
    • Is this a choice to be more or to be nothing?

    These two questions expose any twisted motives and bring me back to my chosen position of nothing. Day by day, my motives are refined. It's a painful process sometimes, but it's a good process that ultimately produces pure motives with divine outcomes.

    Lord God, You are the only One with uncontaminated motives. I confess mine are often mixed with pride, emotion, or personal opinion. Please purify my heart. Forgive me, un-mix my motives, and help me move forward with a pure heart. Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    What decisions are you making today? Are they cluttered by impure motives like unforgiveness, fear, pride, or overwhelming emotions?

    Pray and ask God to show you any impure motives that might affect your decision-making, and then ask Him to remove the ones He shows you.

    Power Verses:
    Psalm 51:10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me." (ASV)

    Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (NIV)

    © 2014 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with Philippians

  • The Giving Gift

    Posted on December 16, 2013 by Amy Carroll

    Amy Carroll

    "They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." 1 Timothy 6:18-19 (ESV)

    It was time to decorate for Christmas. As I set up my new artificial tree, I pondered what to do with the old one. It still had lots of life in it and rather than donating it to an organization, our family wanted to add a personal touch and show love to a specific family.

    We wanted to put into action what we're told to do in 1 Timothy 6:18-19, "They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." (ESV)

    When I went to my volunteer job at the domestic violence shelter the next week, I asked the manager for a suggestion. "I'd like to donate our Christmas tree to a mom who has just completed the shelter's program and moved into her own home," I explained. The manager gave me a woman's name, and my husband Barry and I made plans with her for delivery.

    On the night we were to meet Robin* and her children, Tasha* and Nathan*, Barry and I loaded the car with anticipation. We drove to her neighborhood and hauled the tree and bags of lights onto the porch. Before we could fully knock on the door, it was flung open to reveal the twinkling eyes of excited children.

    "I didn't expect a big tree!" Robin exclaimed. "I just thought it would be a little one to set on the table!"

    Tasha and Nathan literally danced around the room as Barry set their tree up and showed them how to put lights on it for the first time. While they decorated, Robin told me about her hopes and dreams for a safe future for her and the kids.

    As we drove away, my husband and I reflected on this truth; it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. It's a glimpse of God's image in each of us. We are created by a Father who delights in giving to His children.

    That night, we didn't just give a Christmas tree and some lights. We shared an evening of friendship, laughter, and joy. And gave the gift of time. We brought the love that only Jesus can give us for those we don't know.

    The Christmas season is a time we focus on giving gifts and doing good to others, but I want to emulate God's giving and goodness all year long. That starts by focusing on the way He gives. It's an overflow of His character and an example of how He calls us to share what we have with others.

    God gives lovingly. (Exodus 34:6)
    God gives freely. (James 1:17)
    God gives abundantly. (Psalm 132:15)
    God gives wisely. (Romans 16:27)

    As you're running errands, look to see who you can bless with a kind word or a cup of coffee. As you're putting up your decorations, think about whose home you could bring some festivity to. And as you pause during your day, remember who you can give the gift of prayer and encouragement to. Let's all develop our giving gift by giving more like our Father and by being a blessing to others!

    Lord God, You are my example for how to give good gifts. Please give me Your heart to be generous and a blessing to others. Help me be mindful of the receiver and to give carefully to ensure my gift is a blessing. In Jesus' precious Name, Amen.

    Reflect and Respond:
    What do you have that you could share this Christmas season?

    What steps do you need to take before you give to make sure the gift is a blessing?

    Power Verses:
    Matthew 7:11, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (NIV)

    2 Corinthians 8:7, "But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving." (NIV)

    *The names are fictitious in order to protect the safety of our friend and her children.

    © 2013 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.

    Proverbs 31 Ministries
    630 Team Rd., Suite 100
    Matthews, NC 28105
    www.Proverbs31.org


    This post was posted in Daily Devotion, Proverbs 31 and was tagged with 1 Timothy

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