- Have you ever made plans you refused to give up even when it became clear they were not what God wanted for you? What were the consequences?
- Can you pinpoint problems in your life/your family that are a direct result of the sins of your (or your family’s) past?
- As Patience learned, truth and mercy go hand-in-hand to make the way to forgiveness (Proverbs 16:6). Have you ever erred on the side of speaking the truth without mercy? Or on the side of showing mercy to the neglect of the truth? What were the consequences?
- Have you ever wondered, like Patience, if the people you loved were lying to you? How did you react? How should you react?
- Patience is totally impatient and plowed ahead with things when she, at times, shouldn’t. Would you categorize yourself as a patient or impatient person? Think of a time when you acted with impatience. What did your impatience get you? Think of a time when you acted with patience instead. What was the result of your patient attitude?
- Responsibility is a minor theme in the book illustrated through the two dogs in Whitewashed. Compare and contrast Honor’s dachshund Chigger with Poppa’s coon dog Keynes. What do the two dogs show you about their masters’ views on responsibility?
- The biblical story of Esther is interwoven throughout the plot. What does Patience learn from Esther? Compare/contrast the two women.
- The book’s title, Whitewashed, has reference to Jesus’ indictment against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27 when he calls them whitewashed tombs. How does that label play out in the novel?
- Does Patience ever live up to her name? If so, when? When have you had trouble living up to your name (or calling)?
- What do you know about the Underground Railway movement? How would you feel being historical Simon, Peter, Abe, or Sadie? If you are a mother, can you imagine being in Hannah or Eve’s shoes?
- What are the implications of the Underground Railway movement for human trafficking today?
- I implied in Whitewashed that Hannah and Eve poisoned both Simon’s grandfather and uncle because of the way they devoured innocence. Do you think the women were justified in their actions? Why or why not?
- Racism is a sin of our nation, including the church. How can you, as a Christian, repent of that national/church sin? What ways can you root seeds of racism from your own heart?
- Vengeance is a big issue in the book. The Bible states in Romans 12:19 that vengeance belongs to the LORD. In what way did the Vengeance character misuse that verse? What in the person’s past led to that behavior?
- Are there sins/crimes a professing Christian would never commit? Consider the Vengeance character.
- In college life today, the emphasis on academics versus athletics is often glaringly unbalanced. Do you think that’s a problem? Why or why not? Why did the Vengeance character have such a problem with it?
- Have you (or anybody you know) ever embraced darkness as Lily Rose did, i.e. struck rose and manacle tattoos, countless piercings, goth makeup, abusive boyfriend, disdain of school, family, church, etc.? Why did Lily Rose behave as she did? How should Christians respond to people like her?
- Have you ever known anyone caught in the agonies of Alzheimer’s? If the person was a Christian, you may have noticed a marked calm when the Bible was read and/or hymns were sung. Why do you think that is?
Have you ever gotten up to do something and been distracted along the way—completely forgetting to do what you intended? Maybe you promised to have your daughter’s soccer uniform clean and ready for her game that night. Maybe you even washed it, but on your way to put it in the dryer, you became sidetracked. Could be the distraction was important—your son got sick or your husband needed help finding a file for work. Maybe you needed to get meat out of the freezer for supper.
Or maybe what made you lose focus wasn’t so important. Maybe your best friend called to gossip about the neighbor, or a commercial on television caught your eye. Could be you just never made it past the cookie jar on the kitchen counter. Either way, the result was the same. At the end of the day, your daughter asked about her uniform because it was game-time. You rushed to the dryer only to find it empty. With a sinking feeling, you turned to the washer and pulled out a soggy lump—her uniform, totally unfit for the big game. You failed to do what you promised.
Often we fail to do what we’ve promised God as well. We tell Him we’ll attend Worship, study our Bibles, spend time in prayer, memorize Scripture, and nourish those fruits of the Spirit. But we get distracted along the way. Sometimes the distractions are important. Sometimes we have to deal with illnesses, job troubles, or family problems.
But sometimes the things that derail us aren’t so important. We neglect Worship to go shopping or skip our quiet time so we can sleep in. Instead of reading books that nourish our souls, we veg out in front of the television. We spend an hour backbiting our sister in Christ rather than memorizing the Scriptures that command us to love one another. No matter what distracts us, the result is the same. We come to the end of our lives and God asks for an accounting because it’s judgment time. We rush around in our minds, trying to produce a clean garment of godliness, only to pull out our soggy lump of a life and feel sorry for the time we’ve wasted. We’ve failed to do what we promised.
God offers forgiveness for His repentant children, but let’s not waste the life God gave us. Let’s not allow anything, whether petty or important, to distract us from our true purpose in life: to glorify God in all that we do, say, and think. Let’s keep the promises we made to God when He adopted us as His own. Let’s spend time in His Word and in prayer, worship with fellow believers, and encourage one another to grow in grace and godliness.
Doomsday predictions have been around for centuries. Think of last December’s Mayan Calendar predictions, the Y2K scare of 2000, the Heaven’s Gate Hale-Bopp suicide of 1997, the current Blood Moons craze. Christians and non-Christians alike have long latched onto landmark dates or planetary alignments as “the day to end all days.” They’ve worked themselves into frenzies of fear and frantic preparations. Then as each chosen date has come and gone, they’ve been proven wrong.
Some skeptics use each wrong speculation as ammunition against “those kooky Christians.” Others use the false prophecies as proof that the world will never end. Even professing Christians are lulled into a false sense of complacency with the here and now and, though they may never admit it out loud, fall into living as though Christ will never return. Or worse, they get so comfortable with life on Earth, they don’t really want Him to come back at all.
And yet Jesus says He will return as a thief in the night. He says to be on the alert because nobody knows the hour or the day. He says when the end comes, we will be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, we won’t be expecting Him to come when He does. So how should Christians live? Quit our jobs, stockpile food and guns, hide out in caves? Simply continue on with daily life as if the end will never come?
The Bible calls Christians to exist in a peculiar tension, one that puts us in a constant state of readiness for Christ’s return. We are to follow these three principles of preparedness:
Live life. Believers are told to “work in quiet fashion and eat [our] own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:12, NASB). We are to labor at our job, enjoy our food, walk our dog, kiss our spouse, parent our children, pay our bills, wash our dishes. In other words, we are to go about the business of life.
Be ready. At the same time, we are to be ready for Christ to return at any moment. We must live like the five wise virgins who kept oil for their lamps so that when the bridegroom came, they were all set to go with him (Matthew 25). This does not mean we should hoard oil or any other physical supplies. It means we are to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christ’s return. First, we must look to Jesus to save us from our sins. Then we must study the Bible, memorize Scripture, and share the Gospel with the sinners around us who aren’t equipped to face Judgment Day.
Pray continually. As we live day-to-day life in a state of readiness, we are to pray, “Maranatha. Lord, come quickly.” As Christians, we should never tremble in fear of the end of life as we know it. We must never be so immersed in the stuff of this world that we forget to long for Heaven. Instead, we should tremble in anticipation of the triumphant return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We should beg Him to come back for us. Today.
Mighty God Prince of Peace
Everlasting Father My Righteousness
The Word Immanuel
Messiah Son of God
Son of Man Suffering Servant
Alpha and Omega Beginning and End
Prince of Glory My Salvation
My Joy My Song
Crucified One Firstborn of the Dead
The Second Adam The Lion of Judah
Son of David Rabbi
My Friend Very Present Help in Times of Trouble
Holy One of Israel Very God of Very God
The Lamb The Living One
King of Kings Lord of Lords
The Christ, the Son of the Living God
Who do you say that Jesus is?
As pastors’ wives*, we usually don’t get our own desks, but we fill an important church position nonetheless. Not just as a sounding board for our husbands, but as an influencing factor to the church women. How we use (or misuse) that influence can help or hinder our husbands’ ministries and can build up or tear down Christ’s church.
See. The first step in properly exercising our authority is seeing that we have it. For some of us, the mere thought of such responsibility makes us want to hide under the bed. For others, that authority prompts us to list all the things and people we plan to “fix” in the church. Our true role lies somewhere in the middle. We’re not called to change everybody and everything into our image of perfection; we are called to recognize that our speech, attitude, and attendance are on display before the church as a model of Christian womanhood, for good or for ill.
Embrace. How our authority plays out depends on our talents and seasons of life. God has gifted some of us as singers, speakers, writers, teachers, organizers, musicians, hostesses, etc. We’re to use our gifts for His glory. When we have babies or young children, we probably shouldn’t take on major, time-consuming roles; however, we should be conscious of other women watching the way we mother. As older women, we should watch for opportunities to guide (gently!) other women to greater faithfulness.
Speak. The influence of our position gives us a platform from which to speak. For the shy ones among us, being “the pastor’s wife” can give us courage to greet visitors or invite neighbors to church. In cases where a woman needs to be reproved for sin, our position gives us the authority to talk to her about it, sometimes with a frankness that our husbands can’t. In such situations of reprimand, we must check our heart attitudes carefully. We only want to speak with humility, gentleness, and wisdom.
Grow. In order to exercise our influence the way God wants, we need to maintain a proper relationship with Him. That means we need to be in Worship, praying and singing with the church and hearing God’s Word preached. We need to maintain personal Bible study and prayer times. Without tending to our own spiritual growth, we’re apt to fall into a wrong use of our authority. After all, we want to be a wise woman like Abigail, not a vicious she-devil like Jezebel!
*NOTE: This tip also applies to elders’ wives and, depending on your church’s ecclesiology, deacons’ wives and other women’s ministry leaders.
God’s commandment for us to keep the Sabbath isn’t about squeaking in the minimum required time at church on Sunday. God wants more, and in return, He promises great blessings. Here are some ways we can maximize the gift of the Lord’s Day:
- Show up. Yes, the Sabbath is a day of rest, but that doesn’t mean we ought to sleep in and skip church. When we show up for Bible Study, Worship, and other activities with God’s people, God promises great benefits, including the greatest blessing of all, His presence with us.
- Participate. Showing up is necessary, but it isn’t enough. If we’re snoozing on the back pew during Worship Service or texting during Sunday School, we’re not learning what God wants to teach us. To get the most out of church, we need to take an active part in whatever’s going on. We should sing during song time, listen during teaching and preaching time, discuss during discussion time, pray during prayer time, and talk with others during fellowship time.
- Give cheerfully. Part of the blessing of the Lord’s Day is offering back to God a portion of whatever allowance or pay we’ve been given. If we can’t give ten percent with a good attitude, we should figure out what we can give with joy and do so faithfully. On the other hand, if we can give more than ten percent cheerfully, then we should do that.
- Use our gifts. God gave every Christian at least one talent to use for His church. When we look for ways to use our gifts, we get the pleasure of serving others in the congregation. Also, when we do the jobs we’re equipped for, we’re not leaving the burden of those jobs to somebody who wasn’t gifted to do them.
- Don’t grumble. Remember what happened when God delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, and all they did was grumble about the good things God did for them? They died after wasting their lives wandering in the wilderness when they could’ve lived fulfilled lives in the Promised Land. When we spend our time at church gossiping and complaining rather than worshiping and learning, we miss out on God’s blessings. In fact, we may just be earning God’s judgment instead.
- Appreciate our leaders. God gave us teachers, elders, deacons, youth workers, and pastors to help us get the most good out of the Lord’s Day and to help us continue living God’s way throughout the week. If we learn a lot from a particular Bible Study, it encourages our teacher when we say so. If a particular youth activity was really fun for us, we should thank our youth minister for planning it. We can also send the occasional card, text message, or email saying how much we appreciate the hard work our church leaders put in for the good of the church.
- Thank God. When we keep the Sabbath the way God commands, we see more and more clearly what a great gift the Lord’s Day is. Cherishing the Sabbath makes us want to praise God still more for His goodness to us.
I know, I know…when it comes time to plop down in front of the television, the last thing we want to do is think. We want to veg out and just have fun. Yet the Bible commands Christians to evaluate everything we take into our mind. Visual media—television, movies, plays, YouTube videos—can be a great way to experience places and adventures we might not otherwise experience or to feel what characters feel in sorrowful or exciting situations. Visual media can even strengthen our faith in God or help us introduce a non-Christian friend to Christ.
But not every movie, play, television show, or video is good for us. The Bible teaches in 1 John 4 that Christians must test the spirits to discern what’s true and what’s false. In other words, we have to test what we choose to watch. Sometimes rejecting a movie or television show is a no-brainer because our parents said we aren’t allowed to watch it or because the content is clearly bad for us. But what about those shows that fall into neutral territory? How do we decide which movies we should skip? How do we know which YouTube videos we should post on our Facebook wall? Here are three questions that can help us decide:
- What’s being said about Jesus? Lying spirits hate Jesus. If a television show spouts lies about Christ, we need to turn it off. No matter how much a play or movie stirs our emotions, we can’t embrace it if it actively denies the biblical truths that Jesus is God who became man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, rose again, ascended into Heaven, and is coming back one day.
- Does the world love it? Popularity doesn’t equal truth. In fact, if the world loves a play/movie/TV show/video, Christians should be wary. By nature, the world loves what is worldly and hates what is from God. Remember, labels can be deceiving. Just because somebody labels a show “inspirational” or “faith-based” doesn’t make it Christ-exalting. I’m not saying every “family-friendly” movie that gets nominated for an Academy Award is teaching lies. I’m just saying we can’t buy into it without careful testing because not everything labeled “faith-based” is based on faith in the right Person.
- Is it biblical? This question doesn’t let us be lazy. We can’t simply point to a tacked-on Bible verse at the end of a YouTube clip and call it godly. We have to ask if the verse is being interpreted right. We have to ask if it’s been taken out of context. In order to recognize whether something is biblical, we have to know what the Bible actually says. If we’re not sure whether something fits with the Bible’s teaching, we should ask for help from a parent, youth leader, pastor, or mature Christian friend. And of course, we should always pray for God’s help in discerning the truth.
So what do we do if we realize the latest, greatest movie or television show doesn’t pass the test? We don’t watch it—no matter how many of our church friends adore it. But if it passes the test, great. We can relax and enjoy the good gift God has allowed us.
We love underdog stories, don’t we? We cheer when the street rat Aladdin wins the hand of Princess Jasmine. We clap when the Little Engine That Could makes it over the mountain with all those toys and goodies for the children. We applaud when the weak boy Harry Potter defeats the wicked, powerful Lord Voldemort.
We don’t like to be underdogs ourselves, though. We want to be strong and heroic. We want to have it all together. But sometimes we get weighed down with our own frailties. As Christians, we feel too weak to do anything worthwhile to help a world drowning in sin. Yet God doesn’t look at things the way we do.
God chose a young boy named David to defend His Name against the Philistine giant, Goliath. He chose tiny, insignificant Bethlehem to be the birthplace of the King of kings. He chose a helpless baby born to an unwed mother to save His people from their sins.
This world praises the strong, the rich, and the powerful. To the ungodly, the fact that the God of the Universe condescended to become a human makes no sense. Why would an omnipotent, immortal being ever choose to become human—much less a poor, weak Jewish baby? Because, as 1 Corinthians 1:25 tells us, the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God loves to use what appears weak to mankind as a means of displaying His great power. Through His Son Jesus Christ, God gave us the gift of His strength.
That means in those disheartening moments when our frailty weighs us down, we should look up and see what God is doing. Who knows? He may just be working through our weakness to display His great strength.
I typically read through a book of the Bible at a time, a chapter or two per day, trying to go slowly enough to comprehend the meaning. Recently, while reading Ezekiel, I got stuck at chapter 40. That’s the section where the LORD gives Ezekiel very precise details about the temple, so precise that the descriptions fill chapters 40-42. I’m sure these chapters intrigue archaeology buffs, but my mind went on autopilot, as it often does when I attempt the genealogies, and I simply couldn’t see the point of the chapters. In fact, about halfway through chapter 42, I wandered away to the Psalms for a few days.
Then I remembered that all Scripture is profitable for instruction, and, rather reluctantly, I went back to Ezekiel, determined to slog through it. I’m so glad I did because Ezekiel 43 makes it plain why the previous three chapters list the exact cubits for each porch and chamber. It shows clearly why it matters that the court was a perfect square, that there were precisely five hundred measures between the “holy” and the “profane” chambers, and why the priests had to be so careful to change their garments before moving from one chamber to the next.
In Ezekiel 43:7, the LORD says, “‘Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings…And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger.” And later in Ezekiel 43:12, God says, “Behold, this is the law of the house.”
In other words, the temple belonged to the LORD. It was His to define, and His to command. He would allow neither kings nor nations to determine what belonged in His holy place. It was His. As Master, He set the law of the house.
What does that have to do with us today? We don’t live in ancient Israel, but as Christians we do belong to God’s kingdom. As such, we recognize the church, especially the sanctuary, as a place set apart for the worship of the LORD. If God didn’t allow anyone but Him to determine what was proper in His temple in Israel, why would He allow anyone but Him determine what’s proper in His sanctuary now?
Think of it like this: when I decide to incorporate into the sanctuary a particular furnishing or decoration or employ a particular means of communication or expression that runs contrary to what God commands, I’ve set myself against God. I’ve offered abominations in His name, simply because I like something or because it makes me feel good.
I’ve set up idols in the most holy place and demanded that the Holy One of Israel deal with it. That’s a pretty dangerous attitude.
God has made it clear throughout Scripture that He will never share His glory with another. Our idolatrous worship sets us at odds with this Holy God. If God, in His righteous anger, consumed those who defiled His holy place in Israel, how dare we think He won’t do the same to us today?
There is hope, though.
In Ezekiel 43:10, the LORD says, “If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make it known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes…so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them.” In other words, if the people of Ezekiel’s time would repent of the way they’d mistreated God’s temple, if they would be ashamed, Ezekiel could tell them all about God’s grand design and His expectations of them. If not, God would allow them to continue on their sinful course, and they would be destroyed.
God, in His mercy, offers us the same options.
If we cling to the ways we profane God’s holy sanctuary, if we continue to worship the idols we’ve set up, if we persist in setting anything or anyone alongside Him as worthy of our worship, if we continue to use means of communication or expressions of our choosing rather than His, if we refuse to repent, He will let us continue down our path to destruction. He’ll let us reap the consequences of loving ourselves more than Him. He’ll dwell far from us.
But if we will be ashamed of the way we’ve loved a particular feeling or image or expression instead of adoring God alone, if we will repent of our idolatry, then He will forgive us. He will dwell among us. He will teach us His ways.
Let’s repent of our idolatry. Let’s recognize the sanctuary for Whose it is…God’s, not ours. Let’s worship God as He demands. Let’s love Him above all else.
Did you know that music has magical power? It can influence our thoughts, actions, and decisions. A wise man once wrote that music is the gateway to the soul. Another man said that music gets past the guard of the heart easier than things like speech and writing. When I heard about these theories, I wanted to know how they worked. I came up with three observations.
First, music uses melody to influence my feelings. For example, a sad, sweet melody can make me nostalgic, and a bright, cheery one makes me feel happy or joyful. This can be good or bad. If I allow the melody to influence me, I may be unnecessarily angry or sad. However, if I need to be cheered up, then being influenced by the melody can help.
Second, words influence me. For some reason, words put to a good melody stick in my mind better. I often remember the songs we sang in worship better than the sermon. This influence can be a good thing if the songs reinforce the sermon points. Then they help me remember important truths.
Third, repetition in the lyrics drives ideas into my head. It works like a hammer in that it just keeps hitting the same spot. If all I listen to is secular music, this factor can cause a problem. However, if I listen to good Christian music as well, then it can help me learn more about my faith.