Archives For relationships

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, IllinoisHaving practiced daily devotions for many years, I spend some time each day (mornings usually work best for me) reading my Bible and praying. I read a certain number of chapters of the Bible, underlining as I go. And I spend time praying by praising and thanking God, confessing sin, asking for my needs and praying for the needs of others.

I will tell you that sometimes I don’t feel much like doing that. But feelings are terribly fickle.

I rarely feel like exercising or eating healthy or all kinds of things that need to be done. I like the phrase “spiritual disciplines.” I am to discipline myself in my devotional life.

But I will also tell you that feelings often follow discipline. I am glad I exercise and eat right when I do. And I feel especially glad that I regularly spend time in God’s Word and in prayer.

The longer I’ve practiced daily devotionals the more I’ve recognized its value, including:

1. It reorders priorities.

It is easy for me to prioritize the wrong things. Getting my relationship with God at the top of my list helps the rest of my list fall into proper alignment. We need to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Spending time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer is a reminder of what matters most and helps all the rest of my life to realign.

2. It promotes truth.

God’s Word is true and it leads us in the way of truth. Listen to enough commercials and you can begin to think the truth is that the world is to revolve around what you want or think you need. The lies of the world are everywhere. We need the truth of what God says. Our time with God helps us to know and remember what is true and real and lasting.

3. It teaches lessons.

By reading the Bible for yourself you begin to take personal responsibility for your spiritual growth. By all means, learn in a Bible-believing church and get in a small group Bible study. But read for yourself. Time alone with God in prayer allows you to learn lessons of faith and thankfulness and dependence upon God.

4. It changes perspectives.

A devotional life helps you to begin to think like Jesus thinks and see life from God’s perspective. It encourages you to see the big picture of faith and to deal with adversity in a proper manner. It discourages self-centered living and promotes greater dependence on the Lord’s strength for life.

5. It deepens our relationship with God.

The more I read God’s Word given to me, the more I see the kind of relationship God wants me to have with Him. I see the beauty of His grace and the riches of the Christian life. The more I pray, the more I connect with the heart of God. We talk to those we love. God talks with us through His Word and the Holy Spirit. We talk with God through prayer.

I want to encourage you to begin or expand a devotional life. Spend some time reading God’s Word. If you haven’t yet read the entire New Testament, start there. Keep a pen and paper handy to underline or note things that especially stand out to you. And then spend some time in prayer. Praise and thank God. Confess sin. Pray for your needs and the needs of others. Consider keeping a prayer list of specific people you are praying for.

Spending time with God makes all the difference in the depth and joy of our spiritual lives.

Doug Munton, online at, is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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silhouette of cross

I was completely blindsided after being called into a meeting at my church with another woman in leadership who had been upset with me for months. But sadly, I had no idea until she told me in our meeting that morning.

Months earlier, someone told her I didn’t agree with her leadership style. But that wasn’t what I’d said in a team meeting with several other leaders. Our women’s ministry director had asked my opinion about leadership training, and I shared my thoughts, but nothing I said was directed at her.

We both volunteered countless hours in ministry, pouring our hearts and lives into women in our church. All the while, we were on the same team, and I assumed we fully supported one another. But now the trust we had built for years was unraveling.

Driving home, my spirit felt crushed. It felt like I just didn’t have it in me to keep pouring out with the risk of being misrepresented and misunderstood again. I wasn’t strong enough or resilient enough. And I was exhausted from the hurt I felt and hurt I had caused.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation.

That afternoon, I sat in my home office in tears. Laying my head down on my desk, I told God, I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.

After telling Him all the reasons why it was time for me to quit, a truth buried deep in my heart rose to the surface: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).

With my eyes closed, I pictured Jesus crucified. Arms stretched wide and willing. Willing to give His life no matter what it cost Him. Willing to be misunderstood, misrepresented, questioned, rejected, betrayed, and hurt beyond comprehension.

Tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought about Jesus on the cross. And I sensed Him asking me to die to my fears and let Him live His life and grace through me. My eyes still closed and dripping with emotion, I saw the scene of Golgotha with Jesus nailed in cruciform. But this time, there was a shadow of the cross behind Him, and I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to lie down on the floor in the shadow of the cross.

I had never had this kind of encounter with God, but I sensed it was His way of showing me how to die to my fears. How to live crucified with Christ and find strength in His resurrection power, exchanging my brokenness for His humility and strength.

Lying in the shadow of the cross, I rested and waited for strength to get up again. Strength to stand at the crossroad and decide. Would I walk away from God’s calling on my life or allow Jesus to live His life through me? Would I protect myself from getting hurt again or live by faith in the One who died for me?

Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others.

On our own we aren’t enough. Not strong enough, resilient enough, or humble enough. But Christ in us is more than enough.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to get us out of hell and into heaven. He died on the cross to get Himself out of heaven and into us! That is resurrection life — and the very place we get our enough. When we’ve been crucified with Christ, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us, and the life we live, we can choose to live by faith in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation. It was far from easy, but I can look back and say it was good because God was in it, and over time our friendship was restored.

Relationships are hard. Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others. Jesus knew it would be because He faced the same temptation to walk away. Yet, He stayed the course and He stayed on the cross.

This Easter, let’s remember Jesus’ willingness to give up His life for us, knowing He would rise again and, therefore, we could, too. Let’s receive the resurrection power Christ offers as we open our hearts wide to Him and the life He wants to live through us. Let’s allow Him to be our enough, for indeed He is.

Renee Swope is the best-selling author of “A Confident Heart” and a contributing author of the (in)courage blog and “Craving Connection,” a new release from B&H Publishing. This article first appeared in HomeLife, a publication of LifeWay. Learn more at

Unintended family histories

ib2newseditor —  January 23, 2017

My wife, Beth, is definitely the gift-giving genius in our family. She has, I believe, the spiritual gift of giving, and so she is not only generous, but also has a knack for choosing gifts that are personal, useful, meaningful, and often even frugal. But this year, it seems, I got lucky, and thought of a pretty neat gift for her.

Just a couple of days before Christmas, I was scrambling to put together our annual family Christmas letter. For 24 years now, since our youngest son Ethan was born, we have produced a two-page letter with an overall family update on the front page, and individual updates on the back page.

Beth provides the raw content for the letter, and then I work at making it humorous or at least interesting. Unfortunately, multiple moves and computer changes over the years had left us without copies of many of the older letters, the ones that described little boys and grade schoolers rather than college students and young men.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family.

So I set out to find all the old computer files, to update and repair the documents the best I could, to recreate the pieces that were missing, and to print them out fresh, or photocopy the originals I could find. On Christmas morning, I presented Beth with a complete notebook of those letters, all carefully protected in clear plastic sleeves, and with front and back covers decorated with photos of our growing family across the years.

I kind of hoped that Beth would like the gift, and I thought our kids might eventually like copies too. So I made extra copies while I was at it, but only wrapped one to place under the tree. As soon Beth opened it, not only did she love it, but it became the conversation piece of Christmas.

Our sons and daughters-in-law quickly asked for turns reading it, and asked if they could get their own copies some time. That’s when I had the fun of retrieving books for each of them from the next room. To my surprise, all other gift opening came to a halt, as we all sat and paged through our family’s journey from little boys to big boys, from Illinois to Georgia and back to Illinois, from trips in America to trips abroad, and from one year of God’s faithfulness to another.

I’ve been reflecting since then on how surprisingly valuable and precious this last-minute gift was, and why it has continued to captivate our family’s attention. As a gift, it was much more than a flurry of searching, typing, printing, and inserting. It was an unintended family history, a series of annual mileposts that traced our journey as a family for a quarter century.

My thoughts turned from our family’s story, to the Christmas story, to the stories of the Bible, and ultimately to the fact that the Bible itself is essentially a family history of God and his people. None of its authors, though divinely inspired, could see very clearly beyond their own time in history and their own chapter of faithfulness. But once Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s revelation, early church fathers could compile and preserve all those chapters into one wonderful notebook that we now rightly call the Holy Bible.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family. As I discovered this Christmas, we may not fully realize the history we are writing until we have an opportunity to look back. But looking back should make us want to write this year’s chapter with great care.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at

pull quote_TOALSTONHEARTLAND | Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Because relationships are where we spend so much of our lives – where great joys abound, but also, where hurt and heartbreak often fester – it’s good to regularly pray for an ongoing transformation of our hearts toward greater love for one another.

It seems only logical – in our homes, in our places of work and in our churches – to pray for graciousness, kindness and patience in interacting with each individual who, ultimately, has been created by a loving God.

Countless times I have repeated Ephesians 4:29-32 to the Lord, after memorizing it years ago over the course of six or more months: “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (HCSB).

I remain painfully aware of various instances when I have wounded family members, friends or strangers through insensitive or judgmental words and/or actions. I have asked for and received God’s forgiveness and sought to heed His instructions for healing strained or broken relationships.

And, in yearning not to repeat misguided attitudes and behaviors, it has become a personal imperative to memorize/re-memorize/internalize a number of Scripture passages about relationships, each conveying additional nuances about God’s heart for how we should interact with one another.

One such passage is 1 Peter 3:8-12: “Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing. For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, and he must turn away from evil and do what is good. He must seek peace and pursue it, because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do what is evil” (HCSB).

Optimize your relationships by spending time in prayer permeated by Scripture — the optimal source through which God’s Holy Spirit stirs us to the highest levels of Christ’s love.

Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.