Engaging the Enemy

Engaging the Enemy

As a young person, I have to confess that I had this “pie in the sky” dream that if I could just talk to someone long enough, I could change their mind. That somehow God would use my wise words or carefully crafted email to help someone see the light. I recognize now that it was my pride and immaturity that drove this dream. I started to understand, many years ago now, that there are few happy endings and that people who don’t want to hear the truth just don’t want to hear the truth. I could talk constantly for a year and, without the working of God in a person’s heart, never move their opinion even an inch in any direction.

I have also learned to be much more discerning on what is even worth confrontation. Many times, haughtily thinking I knew all the answers, I would confront people about inconsequential things. I have since learned that A.) I don’t have all the answers and B.) That so many things should be simply ignored and covered by grace. Only biblical issues are worth defending. Oh, how often I would get caught up in stupid, little arguments that were just about my selfish pride! I still do this on occasion. It is a great weakness of mine!

So, while we do know that much grace should cover non-biblical issues, how exactly do we deal with the really important, biblical issues? Jesus gives us some insight in Luke 20. Here He sets an excellent example for us in engaging our enemies. Let’s take a look at it.

1. Long debates and arguments over issues are a waste of time. Speak the truth in love and then walk away.

If you notice in Luke 20:8, Jesus refused to get in an argument with them over His authority. So, too, should we refuse to argue. If the Holy Spirit isn’t working in the heart of the person we are engaging, we are wasting our time. While some people do enjoy a healthy debate about important biblical issues, we must always be extremely careful not to cast a negative light on God and His Word through our words and actions. We are His ambassadors here on earth and, for some, we are the only contact they will have with true Christianity.

2. Be consistent. It is critically important to live a life that matches our words.

We know that Jesus’s life matched His words perfectly since He was God and could not sin. We, on the other hand, struggle with this. Do our lives match what we are saying? If our kids or grandkids hear us talking about spiritual things, does what we say match how we live? If not, we are better off just not saying anything. On the other hand, we will never be perfect. This is about a humble heart and a consistently examined life and not about waiting for perfection before opening our mouths. If we wait for perfection, we will never say anything!

3. Ask them a question.

In Luke 20:24, we see that Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. How often do we get put on the defensive and just freeze? Or answer in a way that is angry or irritated? We can slow that process down and give ourselves time to think by asking a question.

4. Recognize that our greatest hostility will often come from those within the church.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. It was these organized church leaders that felt most threatened by Jesus and His claims. We have seen this play out over and over throughout church history. The organized “church” was often responsible for the cruelest campaigns of persecution. And even now–in this post-modern era–the believer who is committed to a literal, inerrant, and sufficient view of scripture will find their greatest enemies are those that use the name of Jesus Christ. We must be prepared for this sad and discouraging fact as we defend true Christianity.

5. It is okay to name or warn against false teachers.

There is this ploy of Satan’s to deceive Christians into thinking we cannot mention specific names of false teachers. This is extremely clever, since–if this would be true–it would keep many undiscerning, immature believers in the dark, continuing to read and listen to those that taint and destroy true biblical faith. But here in Luke 20, the Lord Himself sets an example by warning His disciples (within the hearing of all of the people) of the scribes (v. 46-47). He says, “Beware the scribes.” He names them and says beware! We can and should do no less.

6. Biblically think through the hot button issues of today.

I have to confess that I am not a great debater. My heart starts beating, my mind starts to race, and I start talking without thinking. I am not great when I am in “defense” mode. Jesus, on the other hand, was completely composed. He not only knew the answer to any question they could ask, He knew the reason they were asking the questions. While we don’t have the same advantage that Jesus had, we can and should wisely prepare ourselves to defend a biblical worldview by spending some time studying and researching. We must especially be prepared to defend the Gospel. I Peter 3:15 puts it like this: but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

7. Our first priority should always be to preach the Gospel.

We must remember that the Gospel is the heart of our message. The Gospel is the means by which people are saved. We must keep this first and foremost in our minds as we engage our enemy. This is the heart and soul of our message. We offer nothing but empty hope and useless words without it. While we don’t see this specifically in Luke 20, we know that Jesus’s whole ministry was focused on people understanding who He was and why He was there.

8. You will be viewed as the enemy if you preach an unadulterated Gospel. Plan on it and be prepared.

Jesus was the arch enemy of the Pharisees. He ruined their selfish plans and cast {very valid} doubts on their false religion. We see in other passages of scripture and also in church history that any believer who defends the true Gospel is going to be attacked by Satan, by the world, and even by the organized “church” (which is really just the world in disguise). This is not a very “fun fact” and has caused many to close their mouths and just go about their lives quietly. Not only do we not want to be attacked, we have this great desire for the praise and laud of men. We want to be liked. This may drive some of us even more than the desire to not be attacked. The Bible tells us to expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19; I John 3:13) and that the devil is our enemy (Ephesians 6:11-13; I Peter 5:8). Ephesians 6:10-20 gives great insight into how to prepare ourselves for attack. This is worth some study as we find ourselves thrust more and more often into battles over Christian principles that are ridiculed and rejected.

 

Instead of expecting our dreams to be fulfilled and a life unhindered by problems, let us recognize that true believers must engage themselves for battle! Being a Christian–a real, biblical one–is not fun and games. Instead, we must have courage and boldness. We must spend time in the Word and on our knees, humble and teachable before the Lord. And we are called to turn away and deny our own selfish lusts and pleasures. This is not the Gospel preached today and, like Paul, I find myself wondering how the church has turned so quickly away from the true Gospel (Galatians 1:6) but I guess that is a post for another day! I hope these principles for engaging the enemy have given you some food for thought as you face whatever spiritual battle is before you today.

 

The Little Things

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American Idol premiered in 2002. That show single-handedly launched the careers of dozens of obscure, wannabe rock stars, country singers, and crooners during its 14-year-run. I think it also helped to shape and solidify the way we Americans think about change. Instead of viewing change as something that is brought about by consistent and diligent hard work (the way it had been viewed forever), we now longed for that magic day when we would win a contest and life would change forever!

You may have no desire for fame, but I do wonder if this show, along with dozens of other shows, magazines, and radio talk shows haven’t left us believing that that magical, happy time of having our dreams fulfilled will come if we will just be patient and hang on long enough. Meanwhile, we kind of sit back and just wait for it.

This is true in the work world, where there is an expectation for promotions and raises to be given without corresponding work and effort. And it is true on the sports fields and on the dance stage, where there is this longing to be the star of the show–the one that stands out and is picked for that college scholarship or that special award that will jumpstart a career. We are just waiting for that magic moment when people will recognize our gifts and talents.

But, for most, that moment never comes.

The statistics will show that few people reach success, fame, or fortune without a lot of hard work and discipline.

As believers, our ultimate goal has little to do with success, fame, or fortune, but is, instead, centered on living holy, godly lives and growing to look more like Jesus. But, even in this area, we can be conditioned to believe that this happens by a special anointing of the Spirit or by receiving a special message from “Jesus”. We are being conditioned to believe that it is some magical experience that will take us to the next level of spiritual growth.

You can see how Christians are so susceptible to this type of thinking since–

Magic moments are IN and consistent hard work is OUT.

The other day, I had a knock on my door. When I opened it I saw a man standing there that I didn’t recognize. He reached his hand out kindly to me and told me his name. Here he was an employee of ours from over 20 years ago! What a fun time to chat with him and to see how he had grown and changed. I called my in-laws down (they live next door to us), for they had known him, as well, and we all stood in the front lawn for several minutes talking and reminiscing. At one point, the man looked at my father-in-law and said that he had given him a book about being a godly man that had really impacted him. He still had it and planned to have his sons read it.

As I listened to that exchange, I was again reminded that this is how change and growth usually occur. It is the gift of a book. Or a seemingly insignificant phone conversation. Or a heartfelt text. It’s in the conversations in the break rooms and the church hallways. Or the words of a hymn or song. But, most importantly, it is through the Word of God. Like the Grand Canyon carved by a stream of water, so we, too, are changed by the little things.

Perhaps we need to relinquish this insatiable desire for sensational, supernatural experiences in our lives. While this can and does happen to some of us (as we read in Larry’s Changed Life testimony) it does not happen to most of us. But if we keep consistently growing and changing through lots of prayer, through the Word of God, and through a humble and teachable spirit. If we realize this and put it into practice then, whether or not that “magical moment” of change we are longing for ever transpires, we will confidently know we are going the right direction instead of sitting around waiting for a miracle to propel us to change.

I would also like to add one more important note here. It is regarding this obsession that is currently sweeping through Christendom for personal messages from God and encouraging whispers from Jesus. I won’t go too deeply into it here today, but the need for sensational experiences in order to grow spiritually not only isn’t scriptural, it leads to arrogance and pride and to chaotic confusion. It has created a Christian culture that is basing its maturity on experiences rather than on the Word of God. If you would like to know more about this, I suggest you read the book Is That You, Lord? by Gary Gilley. This gives an extremely helpful, biblical perspective on this new phenomenon of “hearing from the Lord”. I know it will be immensely beneficial to any of you who are wondering about this. (Notice I am using adverbs like “extremely” and “immensely” because I am trying to get across the idea of just how much this book has helped me!!)

Real life change happens through prayer and through the Word of God–where we not only find encouragement for our thirsty souls, but we find the commands and principles for living that bring true peace and joy when we choose to submit and obey. The Bible is the power for the Christian life. And true change generally happens by reading, studying, and putting it into practice–tiresome day after tiresome day. True and lasting change takes consistent work.

But it IS possible! Sometimes we will be tempted to think that no one ever changes. And yet, we know that through the power of God and His Word, true change is not only possible but should be expected. Hopefully, your own life is a testimony to how God can change a life.

So don’t give up! It is most often the little things that bring about the changes we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

For My Dad

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day. It is the annual day to celebrate our Fathers–the men who have provided for us, who have shaped us, and who have loved us. Some of us have terrible fathers and this day is particularly hard. Some of us have unremarkable fathers and this day is just another day. But some of us have wonderful fathers and we love to celebrate this day.

I am so incredibly blessed to be in that third group. I’d like to share a few reasons why my dad is so wonderful and how he has not only shaped me but how he is also creating an amazing legacy for those who follow after him.

From my earliest memories, I recall Dad’s love for the truth. As little children, I can remember my brother lying about riding his bike in the street and dad’s reaction to this lie. From that moment forward, I never told a lie. Oh, I am not saying I have never fudged the truth a bit, but I have never told an outright lie. That was a defining moment in my life and it stuck. Forever. But Dad’s love for the truth goes far beyond his kids not lying to him. His desire and love for the truth is first and foremost rooted in the scripture. He wants to know God’s truth and to live by it. He doesn’t only speak this, he lives it. Oh, he’d be the first to admit he’s not perfect, but what an inspiration it is to his family that he continues in that love–even now–and keeps trying to grow in the Lord. He has a passionate desire to know the truth about what’s going on in the world, as well. This has greatly impacted the ministries of both my brother and I, as well, forever changing our perspectives on life. This love for truth has been instilled in us, his children, and we have tried to pass it on to our own kids, as well. Contrary to popular opinion these days, truth is absolute. There aren’t many conflicting avenues of relative truth–there is one absolute truth and that is found in God’s Word.

I also want to publicly thank my dad for being such an encouragement to me. He has–and continues to be–one of my greatest supporters. When he notices something good, he lets us know. He is quick to say “I love you” and “I am proud of you”–not only to me, but to my husband and children, as well. These words are like a balm to the soul, especially in times of uncertainty or doubt or when we are barraged by discouraging remarks from others around us. His kind and encouraging words have been like a fresh spring of water in a desert on many occasions. And, interestingly enough, this habit of his makes us much more willing to sit up and listen to him if and when he needs to challenge us on something–which is rare. But I do remember the rare occasion when we were young parents where he would say something. And we were willing to listen because we knew if he was bringing it up, it was probably important. I am really trying to emulate this with my own kids. I don’t have it down, but I keep trying! I want to build up my family with my words and not tear them down! This builds healthy family relationships and creates a tight bond of love that just can’t exist in an atmosphere of consistent, negative criticism.

My dad, like many out there, worked hard to provide for his family. This was through some very discouraging times and one of the few times I remember my dad crying was during an especially difficult job change. And, yet, I never saw him give up or land in a pit of despair. I have watched him go through difficult job changes, discouraging church changes, and, I guess most of all, an extremely painful family situation and yet, instead of landing in depression or giving up, I have watched him continually turn to the Lord and to learn and grow from these challenges. He has taught me to keep walking forward, taking one day at a time, through all of life’s ups and the downs.

Another thing I love about my dad is his ability to have fun and to be serious, too. My childhood was made up of hours playing soccer and football with my dad (and mom, too!) in the backyard or board games on our family room floor. It was made up of laughter and fun and games. But then there were also many times of serious conversations–about the Lord, about His return, about what it means to be a Christian, and about the world and where it was headed. As I started my own family, this same wonderful balance of having fun and being serious continued. Many of our family’s favorite memories center around the wonderful times we have had camping. Many of them were made around evening campfires, where my dad would sometimes laugh with abandon and, at other times, hold serious, spiritual conversations. He provided–and continues to provide–a wonderful balance between being serious and having fun. How many people do you know who love to do both? Oh, what wonderful memories! We hope to continue this legacy of being able to have fun and yet to not let our desire for fun to consume us so much that we have no serious conversations about scripture and growing in the Lord.

And, finally, I want to mention a very important lesson I have learned from my father. He has taught me not to hold grudges. He has been a living example to me of actively forgiving and living out Romans 12:18–the principle of trying to live at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. I have watched him give his best efforts in healing relationships. I have watched him not give up. And I have watched him do all of this without holding a grudge. I, too, have faced some really difficult “relationship” moments, where resolution was not forthcoming. His example has taught me to forgive even if forgiveness is not asked for. He has taught me to be open to resolution. And to love and enjoy life, despite the unresolved issues.

Dad, I know you will read this, because you are one of my biggest supporters. Thank you for everything. This list isn’t exhaustive. I know I could come up with many more ways that you have impacted me and my family for all of eternity. You have told us that your one goal was to have your kids and grandkids walk with the Lord and make an impact for the cause of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I see your son’s (Pastor Dean) ministry and I know God has answered that prayer. I also see Him answering that prayer in the growing spiritual maturity of your grandchildren, which has been a wonderful and inspiring thing to watch. I hope that He is also answering that prayer through my ministry here at Growing4Life.

Dad, you set your priorities for your family early on and then, with a humble and teachable heart, gave 150% to make it happen. Thank you for that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough about my brother and me to give of yourself. I love you!

I hope that this post will encourage others to set their priorities well for their own families. I hope it encourages my readers to use their words to build up instead of to tear down. I hope it gives people cause to think before holding a grudge and I hope it reminds us all that both laughter and serious conversation should be part of all families. But, most of all, I hope that it reminds people to hold the highest esteem for God’s Word and the absolute truth we find there. No matter what our earthly father was like, we have the opportunity to make these changes now–for our own kids and grandkids–so that we, too, can leave a godly legacy.

 

 

Some thoughts on ending a marriage

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Yesterday morning, as I scrolled through Facebook, something quite unexpected popped up. Lysa TerKeurst, famous speaker and author, announced that she is divorcing her husband. I don’t know about you, but these things rock my world. She has been teaching women to love and serve Christ for many years now and has even written a book on marriage. While I do not actually condone all that she writes and she has some extremely troubling associations (read more here), I would not wish her experience on anyone. How incredibly humiliating and awful to have to announce you are getting a divorce after you have spent much of your life encouraging women to be “Proverbs 31 women”.

This whole thing has got me thinking quite a bit. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts regarding Lysa and this announcement. They are all kind of disconnected, so hopefully you will bear with me as I meander through a few different responses to this news. And, let me add here, none of this is in criticism of Lysa regarding her decision. I do not know her personally and have no insight whatsoever into her marriage or her home. My responses are for two reasons only –to remind us to pray for her and others suffering through similar, tragic circumstances and to get us thinking about our own marriages. I hope this post will accomplish these two things.

First, I would like to say that my heart goes out to Lysa and I am praying for her and her husband. Broken marriages are a painful, terrible thing. I can’t imagine having to go through it with the whole “Christian” world watching. Not agreeing with her biblical stand and ungodly associations does not mean I shouldn’t pray for this woman and her family. And, honestly, perhaps we should pray that God would use this situation to draw her back to scriptural truth. We serve an amazing God with limitless power. He can change any heart and perhaps He will use this to change Lysa’s.

Second, one of the first thoughts I had as I read that post was this: “If that can happen to her–an author who writes about marriage and godly living–well then, this could happen to me, too!” I played with this thought for a few moments–thinking about my marriage and about my husband. And I realized that any marriage is in danger of disintegrating without proper love and care. We can never stop working on our marriages. And I can see how this does happen when two people allow themselves to get too busy and they stop communicating. Even Christian couples are in danger when life gets in the way and they lose touch with one another. My husband and I have worked and continue to work very hard at making sure we have time to talk. We do not have many date nights or special getaways, but, instead, keep our hearts in tune to one another through talks on the porch, in the car, or on the sofa at night. This has been our method since the beginning of our marriage and when we don’t have time for these, we suffer. Of course, these times have been much easier to find since the kids have grown up! We really had to search for them early on.

Third, one has to wonder about the dynamics in the TerKeurst household regarding Lysa’s career. Even I, as a tiny, insignificant blogger can frustrate my husband if I spend too much time working on it. There is also the dynamic of her husband living in her famous shadow. Most men do not care for that. I am not sure what a famous woman can do about this dynamic, but it is certainly something to consider in a rise to fame. We women–whether we are finding fame in the Christian world, like Lysa, or we are finding success in a career outside the home–must remember to keep focusing and working on our marriages. And we must respect our husbands. While I am certainly not privy to what went on in Lysa’s home, I do see an awful lot of successful women who have lost respect for their husbands or treat them like one of their children. Oh, what a sad thing! And this reminds me of Titus 2:4-5 where we read that women are to be submissive to their husbands. There is no caveat on this. It does not say “unless they earn more money than their husband”. We also read there that women are to be working at home. It is hard to do this if our time and attention is continually drawn to something outside the home. I know it is politically incorrect, even among Christians, to suggest that women should not work outside the home and I also realize there are many reasons why women may be forced to do so, but the pattern set up for us in scripture does help us to avoid a lot of issues in our marriages and families if we choose to follow it.

Fourth, and finally, one has to wonder what Lysa will do now regarding her ministry? History has shown that western Christians have very short memories. Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, Charles Stanley–all divorced and all still embraced by the Christian community. It doesn’t really seem to matter anymore. Her ministry will most likely not suffer, given the current status of our Christian culture. And that is quite an indictment on just how far Christianity has come. It used to be a big deal if the President of the United States was divorced. As relativism and post-modernism took over, that became unimportant to an American culture obsessed with money and progress. But now, we even continue to embrace Christian authors and speakers who have failed marriages. While I don’t wish their situations on anyone, I find myself doubtful that I, personally, could continue ministering in the same way. While I believe there are many other ways I could minister (even to women who are suffering through divorce and being single again), I think that I would perhaps choose to step down from being the head of a ministry. This is a personal opinion and not necessarily something I can find in scripture, as celebrity status and public ministry was never really addressed in scripture, aside from the qualifications for elders (Titus 1). What are your thoughts?

Thank you for sticking around for my thoughts on this matter. These kinds of situations–so common anymore–still give us pause to think, don’t they? And they remind us that we must continue to work on our own marriages so they don’t travel down the same heart-breaking road that the TerKeursts are on.  If you take anything at all from this disconnected, rambling post, I hope it will be that.

And, please, would you just take a moment right now and pray for this family? Satan is busy and active, trying to ruin the reputation of anyone who represents Jesus Christ. Ask the Lord to turn hearts back to Him and to heal this marriage.

 

DISCLAIMER: A few hours after posting this, I was dismayed to realize that people were not reading this post with the objective intention with which it was written but instead were viewing it as an unkind assessment of a painful time for Lysa. Please know that I am not implying anything about Lysa, her reason for her divorce, OR her spiritual status (aside from what we can clearly see that has been public knowledge for years). May I repeat: I DO NOT KNOW HER. I view her decision to divorce her husband with the greatest sorrow and completely without judgement.

I have no underlying motives for this post. Broken marriages happen. They have happened to people I love dearly. I am not judging anyone. I was simply trying to process some of the questions and fears that arise when situations like this happen. I feel like those of you who are my regular readers understand this about me. Those who have just happened to land on this post and do not regularly read this blog will not. I process and I share what I am processing and learning because many of you have expressed that this is a blessing to you. But perhaps this is one time I should not have processed “out loud”. I am still uncertain, as I sit here typing.

I cannot control what you think about me. It is one of the hardest things about blogging that there is–this judgement of me and my motives that is drawn from only one or two posts. But I can confidently tell you this post is only meant to help us to process all of the thoughts swirling around in our heads regarding this situation and to draw people to the Word as we mourn with a couple going through a very public divorce.

The Only Time It Is Okay to Be a Hypocrite

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Hypocrisy is such an ugly word, isn’t it? It is defined as: Behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. (from Merriam-Webster.com)

All of us, at one time or another, have probably played the part of a hypocrite. We have claimed to believe one thing when we are with one group of friends but our actions contradict our claims when we are with another group of friends. Some are worse at this than others.

And the basic consensus of all human beings since the beginning of time is that hypocrisy is bad. And it is! It is never good to pretend you are something you are not. Or to say you believe something with your mouth but then deny that belief with your actions.

But there is one time that being a hypocrite is not only good but also very helpful.

Curious, yet?

I have struggled my whole life with being a slave to my feelings. If I didn’t feel like reading the Bible, I didn’t. If I felt like eating a sugary snack, I ate it. Thankfully, I have grown and continue to grow in this area, but it continues to be a struggle, particularly when change happens in my life. This is always the time that my feelings rise up and scream to be heard–and when I am most tempted to listen.

But the other day, I heard someone say this: Be a hypocrite to your feelings.

Yes!

A million times yes!!

So often we hear people say things like this–

I can’t act like I love my husband if I don’t feel like I love him. That would be hypocritical.

I don’t want to read the Bible if I don’t feel like reading the Bible. That would seem hypocritical.

But feelings are the one thing we can and should play the hypocrite to. In fact, we must act differently than our feelings on most occasions. While feelings can help us process and determine certain things about ourselves, they should most certainly never dictate our behavior.

As I have watched our world go from objective, absolute truth to subjective, you-decide-what’s-true-for-you truth, I have seen the dictatorship of feelings take over the souls of many people–even Christians. It is often the reason for sporadic church attendance. It is the reason for family quarrels and fights. It is the reason for the dearth of Christians who pray and study their Bibles. Feelings are dictating behavior.

The interesting and wonderful thing about feelings is that they are very…convertible. Strange word to use, I know, but I couldn’t think of a better one. When we do the right thing– in spite of our feelings– our feelings pretty quickly get with the program and usually convert into the proper ones we should be having.

For example, when I feel irritated with my husband but I choose to treat him in a kind and loving way, I will start feeling like I love him again.

Or when I feel lazy and I don’t want to read my Bible and pray but I do it, anyway, I will often feel motivated afterwards.

Of course, this is not some magic solution and sometimes our feelings are sluggish to follow. And perhaps for some they never change. It doesn’t matter. We do what is right because it is right. We should never let feelings be our guide.

And this leads us to one other thing closely related to this: The frequent statements Christians often make regarding God’s input in their feelings. How often have you heard someone say something like this–“I feel like God…” or “God impressed upon me…”? I even catch myself sometimes saying things like “Well, I feel like God is wanting me to do this or that”. But if our feelings are so unreliable, how could we know if it is God or just some whim of our own? Oh, how much better off we are with a rational faith based solely on the Word of God than on our own ambiguous and fluctuating feelings!

So be a hypocrite to your feelings! Tell yourself that no matter what you feel, you are going to ignore it and do what is right anyway. And be thankful for the times your feelings do match your actions. They are marvelous times of blessing that motivate us to continue on the path of godliness.

 

 

This, Too, Shall Pass

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A few weeks ago I went to my daughter’s cello orchestra concert. As I listened to the music, I stared at the old-fashioned screen–a very interesting relic of the past–that was behind the orchestra. It was from the 1930s and had a beautiful, pastoral scene in the middle with advertisements for local businesses around the outside edge. My eyes went from one advertisement square to the next, where I read names that were completely unfamiliar to me. Two of the local businesses advertised had been in their final years when we had moved to the area in the early 90s and so I recognized the names. Only those two–out of the eighteen advertisements–were even slightly familiar to me.

Wow. This really reminded me of just how temporal this life is. We have a small business (as many of you already know) and sometimes we can get caught up in all of the problems and trials that come along with this particular lot in life. Business owners face issues that most people never even think about and it can be quite the challenge. My husband daily faces most of them, as he is in the day-to-day organization of the field work, while I support him and work with him to process some solutions and plans for the dilemmas and situations that come along. We have been doing it this way for thirty years now. And we have weathered a lot. But I have to admit that this year has brought some challenges that were not only unforeseen, but have also reminded us that we can’t rely on our strength alone.

These challenges can potentially be overwhelming if we forget that this is just a temporal calling.

Not only is this business just a temporary thing, but we also need to remember that our hope does not lie in any business! Only God is our hope. It should never be placed in anything else. For us, we can easily place our hope in our business if we aren’t careful. But for some of you, it may be in your family or in the government or some other thing. It is so incredibly tempting to place our hope in things other than God.

When things go wrong, this is when we find out just where our hope lies. If we are assailed by anxiety and fear, we are probably putting our hope in temporal things. Things that won’t last for eternity.

And so–as always–God has used these trials to gently draw us back to a proper perspective. And for that, we are thankful. While the trials are hard and frustrating, it is a good thing to be reminded that this world is not our home and that our affections shouldn’t be rooted too deeply here. It is good to remember that everything is temporal–except for the souls of men.

I don’t think it was an accident that I saw that screen on that day. And while I still experience moments of deep frustration and fear and even sadness at all of the cultural changes going on, I know that God has not deserted us. God has been so faithful to us through the years, answering so many prayers. We know He will continue to walk with us–just as He has for over thirty years now–as we strive to operate a business with integrity. The challenges may be more abundant than we’d prefer, but we were never told anywhere in scripture that life would be easy. So why do we expect it will be?

And, I know this will seem like a bit of a rabbit trail, but I guess I just have to add one more thing regarding this. I believe that the expectation that life will always be easy–that somehow it is greener on the other side of the fence if we can only get there–is part of why there are so many divorces, failed businesses, and church-hoppers. Years ago, we were taught to live by this sentiment: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” but now that sentiment could be replaced with something like this: “When the going gets tough–or unpleasant–or we just don’t like it– it is time to walk away.”

How thankful I am to be married to one of those rare guys who doesn’t walk away from trials and challenges but, instead, rises up to meet them. Oh, how we need more men (and women) like this!

To tie it all together–you knew I could do it :) — not being surprised by trials and challenges (and then sticking around to see them through) and having an eternal perspective by placing our hope in the Lord (and not in temporal things) both go a very long way in keeping us at peace. When we can accept God’s sovereignty in our life, always trusting that He knows best, we can experience the joy and peace that is promised us in scripture. We may not always know why. We may not always understand. But we can courageously face our trials, knowing that He will always be faithful.

The trials of this life shall soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.

May we face the battles of life bravely while keeping an eternal perspective. May we remember that there are lessons for us to learn and people, desperately lost in their sins, who need to see us live out our Christian lives in the tough times. And may we remember that all of this life’s trials pale in comparison to the glory that awaits us in heaven!

 

A few verses that came to mind while writing this post–

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I Peter 1:20-21 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

James 1:10-11 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass[c] he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Isaiah 40:7-8 The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

 

One of Our Highest Callings

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On Saturday, we attended the high school graduation of our last child. It may well be one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. How can you be so filled with joy for your child and so filled with sadness for yourself? But I know it certainly is possible to be filled with such contrasting emotions at the exact same time because it is what I experienced on Saturday.

As I went through old photos to prepare for her graduation party, I was assailed by feelings of nostalgia and joy. Wonderful memories came rushing back as I stared at photos of happy babies, busy children, and posed family portraits. And while we had our share of frustrating, angry, and hopeless moments, this was not what came to mind when I poured over our precious family photos.

When our children were born, my husband and I determined that we had one priority. Temporal things–sports, academics, accolades, and awards–do not last. But their souls–we knew their souls must be our focus. We made any decisions regarding our family with this one thing in mind. Our only goal being that our children would know God and would make Him known. We prayed that they would love Him and His Word and that they would be bold and courageous as they walked with Him. Even though they are now adults, we continue to pray this same prayer for our children, experiencing great joy as we watch the Lord grow them and use them for His glory.

The funny thing is this: We did so many things wrong. We were weak when we should have been strong. We said yes when we should have said no. We caved to our own selfish desires more times than we can count. We can see it so clearly now. Hindsight is always 20-20. And, yet, God has been so faithful to our family. Far beyond anything we deserve.

And so it is with much sadness, great joy, and a keen awareness of God’s great mercies and kindnesses to our family, that I bid this stage of my life a fond adieu. I just cannot believe how quickly the time has passed and yet here I am with the last birdie in the nest about ready to fly away. As I stare at my soon-to-be empty nest, I realize that it is time to move on to the next stage of my life. I am not sure what that looks like yet, but I know God will make it clear to me, as I continue to rely on Him for direction. I do know it includes continuing a godly legacy with my grandchildren and that will, most certainly, be one of my highest priorities.

So what is the point of this post? It is to encourage you–whether you are a parent, grandparent, favorite aunt or uncle, or teacher–to make the souls of those in your care your priority. When each of these precious children reach the end of their lives, it will be only this that matters. All else will fade away as they come face to face with the One who made them. We cannot get so wrapped up in worldly pursuits that we lose sight of what really matters.

A few months ago, I just “happened” across a song that says what I am trying to say so perfectly. As I couldn’t find a video for it, I made one of my own with some old photos of our family. I have debated at great length about sharing this video, knowing that these photos won’t mean much to those of you who don’t know our family. But decided to go ahead and post it, in the hopes that these pictures may remind you of all of the good memories you have had with your own families.

As you listen to this song, I hope that you, too, will be filled with a passion for the souls of the precious children in your lives–for this may well be one of our highest callings. May we be faithful stewards of these treasured souls. The song is called Steward of Their Soul and is by a group called Seven Arrows. I hope you enjoy it–

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Larry

Changed Lives (final)

Once in awhile I “meet” a reader who really blesses me. Larry is one of those readers. He encourages me often with his kind words and has become a main prayer supporter in my ministry here at Growing4Life. A year or so ago, he shared his amazing testimony with me. I told him that some day I would love to share it with my readers. Well, that “some day” is today! He wrote it down and I am so pleased to share it with you.

Addictions are a tricky thing, are they not? And God deals with them in all different ways. Sometimes it will take months or years to overcome an addiction through the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. But, other times–more infrequently–God will remove the sinful desire instantly. Miraculously even. This is what happened to Larry. Read and be encouraged! Pray that this will happen for you or the one you love and don’t give up hope. No matter how God chooses to work in the life of the addicted believer, know that His ways are perfect and His plans are for His glory and for the best in the life of the one who is struggling.

Here is Larry’s story–

I grew up in a place down south called Jug Fork. I was so excited when we got a TV and a rotary phone. The best I can remember is that we were on an 8-party line (for those of you who are too young to remember, this means that eight homes shared the same phone line!) The luxurious school I attended had outdoor toilets and one drinking fountain right in the middle of the school yard.

Just to give a bit of background about my childhood–I don’t remember using any curse words. In fact, I didn’t even know any. I never remember my mother and dad using curse words and so they were completely unfamiliar to me.

When I was 12 years old, a family member offered to take me on vacation with him and his wife, I had never been on a vacation. After stopping at a store in the mountains, some beer was purchased. I had never tasted beer and I really did not like the smell of it at all. It had a “you need to roll down the window” kind of a smell. After a bit of harassment, I tasted it. I recognized the taste– like water out of a rotten stump in the woods! I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, you paid for this?!” I was told to drink some more of it and it will start tasting better. Very reluctantly, I did, and it did start to taste better.

Long story short, I became a full-blooded alcoholic. My addiction became an obsession–to the point that the person who introduced me to this horrible drug said, “I can’t believe how you are acting.”

I did and said unspeakable things under the influence of this number one drug in America. I hear people say that social drinking is okay. But may I share this with you: Social drinking is the number one cause of alcoholism in the world. Before you get involved in anything, ask yourself this question: Has this activity ever harmed or enslaved anyone before? If it has, stay away from it.

I was told that I would always be a recovering alcoholic. That I will always be one drink away from alcoholism as long as I live. (By the way, that is a lie from the pit of Hell.)

One day I went to a church. I had already tried everything else and so I decided to try church. I sat in the parking lot, drinking a few beers before I went in (yeah, I did that). When I worked up the courage to go in, I found that the old preacher just kept preaching one thing (or at least that is all I heard): John 6:37.

It was Jesus speaking, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and him that cometh to me; I will in no wise cast out.” The preacher just kept saying that this means any him. These words were for anyone! It does not matter where you come from or what you have done! ANY HIM (or her)!

That day, the social drinker that became a habitual drunk took Him up on His Word. My long eloquent salvation prayer was, “Help me, Jesus.”

It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. This is true. At that time, it was hot July in Mississippi and all my friends were drinking friends. They encouraged me by saying things like—

You will never make it.

and

You want to be with us; we know you want to drink.

And I did! But I knew it was wrong. Oh, I prayed and prayed. The struggle was almost unbearable after the Lord saved me. I would still sit in the church parking lot and drink before church.

But the Holy Spirit kept working on me. Until I just could not stand it anymore! I prayed, “Lord, if this horrible thing that has got me is so bad, please help me! Please make even the smell of it make me throw up!”

Be careful what you ask for!

The next day I got in a car with one of my friends and the car smelled strongly of alcohol. Have you ever been in a car or any other place like that in which people drink? No sooner did I smell it, when extreme nausea hit me and I had an impulse to vomit. I had to get out of that car. I didn’t know what they thought, nor did I care.

Later on, I found that when I went into a restaurant where alcohol was being served, I would have to leave. As the Lord is my witness–and this has been many, many years ago now–I have had no desire to even be around that stuff.

Maybe this all means nothing to you, but I know that most people are struggling with something. We all have battles, whether it be alcoholism or something else. I did not need a 12 step program. I needed Jesus.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a program but the Lord can remove even the desire for what you know is hurting you–no matter what it is. Whether it is over-eating or wrong sexual attraction or anything else.

The key to overcoming anxiety is found only in the God of the Bible. Our God is a radical God, going to the root or origin of the problem. He will use extreme measures to correct a problem. Would you be brave enough to ask Him to make a radical difference in you? To ask Him to change your current situation–whatever it is?!

I am not saying He promises roses without thorns in life, but He does promise His abiding presence in all situations. I still learn new things about Him every day and I have learned to pray as Jesus did, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Remember the Goliath you are looking up at is the one that God is looking down on right now.

I leave you with these life-changing words that Jesus said:

Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

John 6:37

 

Photo2Unworthy but FORGIVEN,

Larry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Important Principles of Battle

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This morning in church we had a brave Viet Nam war veteran share a bit of his testimony. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to condense such an experience to just a few short moments on a Sunday morning. He concluded by comparing his experiences as a soldier to our duty as a soldier for Christ. As he talked, I found myself engrossed in what he was saying. How little we talk about the battle that is going on and what our duties are as a soldier for Christ. Most don’t want to focus on the negative. And, yet, scripture makes it clear that we are in a battle. If you have time, read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20, which is where we will find some description of this spiritual battle and also some keys to victory.

Even though it was just a short testimony and challenge for our congregation, I came away with four things we should all know about fighting the spiritual battle we Christians become a part of as soon as we are saved. Like it or not, if you are a Christian, then you are a soldier in Christ’s army. While this isn’t a specific Learn to Discern post, I do believe that these principles are key to our understanding of discernment and also help to clarify the importance of discernment in the church today.

Here are Four Important Principles of Battle

1. Stay Focused on the Enemy. He said this several times–how important it was that they stay focused on the enemy. If they lost sight of them, if the enemy stay hidden, they knew they could very well be taken out in a heartbeat. Our enemy, as believers, is Satan. And we must keep an eye on what he is doing. So often we will hear the opposite–that we aren’t to focus on the enemy, but instead just keep our eyes on Jesus. And, yes, the center of our faith is Jesus Christ, our Lord. But if we aren’t keeping an eye out for Satan and his devious plans, we are going to be deceived! And while Christians are being deceived, the lost are being told a false gospel. There is so much that hangs in the balance. We must keep our eyes on the enemy.

2. Someone Needs to Stand Guard. One of the keys to keeping the company safe was to have someone stand guard. The consequences were severe for the guard–sometimes even execution–should the enemy enter the camp while he fell asleep on duty. These guards could save the whole troop. The same is true spiritually. How interesting that instead of thanking the guards of the church, they are so often mocked, belittled, and marginalized. To stand guard in protection of the church generally means not only fierce attack from the enemy on the outside, but it also often brings on attacks from the inside. Instead of being grateful for the protection–for someone brave enough to point out how something doesn’t match scripture–churches and Christians grow angry and are constantly telling the guard that they are imagining things–that it isn’t the enemy they see. This never fails to befuddle me.

The guard has absolutely nothing to gain by calling out a false teacher and–in this current church culture–they have everything to lose. If they are brave enough to speak up to protect the church, then we’d better take heed and listen.

3.War Isn’t Pretty. As this man described some of the things that happened and the experiences he faced (and I know he gave us the “G” version, as a full description of the horrendous and awful sights he saw wouldn’t have been appropriate in a church service), I cringed. I couldn’t even imagine facing anything like this. One of the reasons for this is because I like my world comfortable and well-ordered and without conflict. Thank you very much.

But war isn’t pretty. It’s dirty. It’s violent. It’s chaotic. It’s terrifying. People get hurt and die. And you know what? Spiritual battles aren’t pretty, either. Gossip flies. Character assassinations occur. Reputations are ruined by false accusations. Christians languish in prisons and sometimes die cruel, horrible deaths. We need to stop expecting this life to be roses and lollipops. Standing up for Christ is not for the faint-of-heart.

4. Don’t Fight With Your Comrades. And, finally, he talked about how important it was that the company be unified. As I thought about this in relation to our spiritual battle, I thought about something that I started to really put in place in my life a while ago now. As a young person, I tended to argue a lot. I’d make big deals out of things that just weren’t. Somewhere in the last twenty years or so, I have learned a very important lesson: Never argue or debate anything that is not in scripture. If it won’t matter in 100 years, it is not worth an argument. Now, this can be tough–especially at home. I don’t do it perfectly (just ask my family!) but I am working on it.

You see, sometimes disagreements and divisions must occur, but only because there is an effort to compromise the Word of God. We can and we must make a big deal out of standing for what scripture teaches. But we can and we most certainly must let the other things go. If we are to gain the respect of those around us, we can’t argue and criticize and judge just because. Only a stand for the Bible and what it teaches is worth a real argument. And if we are lovingly agreeable on most occasions, then when these things come up that compromise scripture and we lovingly disagree, we will have the respect of those around us, even if they don’t like what we are saying. We must endeavor to keep the unity among believers as much as it is up to us! (Romans 12:18)

I hope this has encouraged you today. Life can be so hard. Sometimes it is hard because we are living out the consequences of sinful choices. But sometimes–many times– it is hard because we are fighting this battle against our enemy. If we are sharing the Gospel, if we are pointing out false teachers, if we are taking a stand for Christ and against worldliness, you can be guaranteed he does not like it! Let’s remember these four principles of battle and keep fighting on, bravely giving our all for the One who gave His all for us.

 

For So We Once Walked

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We once walked as the world walks. We were foolish, slaves to our passions and pleasures, and living an ungodly, worldly lifestyle. We were unrighteous, sexually immoral, and idolators. We passed our days in malice and envy and hate. This is how Paul describes those who are not in Christ (see passages below).

But then we were saved through God’s great mercy and loving-kindness! And everything changed! Everything!

You may say “Wait a minute. My neighbor isn’t saved but he is a really nice guy. He doesn’t sound anything like what Paul describes.” But we must remember that even our thought lives and secret sins are known to God. He knows why we do what we do. He knows where our thoughts turn when we are tempted. He knows if our kindness or peace-making are motivated by selfishness.

We are all wicked. There is no exception. No, not one. (Romans 3:11 & 23)

One of the things I have noticed as I have started to study scripture in a more in-depth way is its miraculous cohesiveness and consistency. How often I will read something in one book and then see the same thing reiterated in another. Sometimes by the same human author, but not always. Over and over, we see the same principles repeated.

These past few weeks as I have studied Titus 3, the phrase “But such were some of you” kept coming to mind but I just couldn’t remember where it was from. When I finally did some research, I found it in I Corinthians 6, where Paul lists those who will not inherit eternal life but then goes on to add “But such were some of you.Titus 3 says something similar where Paul puts it like this–“For we ourselves were once…” And then yesterday in church, our pastor read Ephesians 2 and, lo and behold, here was another passage emphasizing what we were and what we are now. Here we read, “…in which you once walked” .

Each of these passages has a similar theme. Paul first describes unbelievers and then goes on to say how we–you and me (and all who are saved)–once walked the same way. But now we no longer walk in this way. We are changed. We are transformed.

How has it happened?

I Corinthians 6 says it this way– “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Titus 3 puts it this way–“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

And Paul writes it in Ephesians 2 like this–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Each of these start with the word “but”. We were once lost in sin, but God! God reached out and saved us. It had nothing to do with our own righteousness or good works, but is solely because of God’s rich mercy, great love, grace, loving-kindness, and goodness.

These passages, as we study them together, hold four important lessons for us–

1. First, these passages teach us to truly appreciate our salvation. We so easily forget just how wicked we were before salvation. We start to think we were pretty good and it makes salvation seem like no big deal–particularly if we were saved as children or always lived a fairly moral lifestyle externally. But these passages remind us of what we really were in our core–wicked; selfish; dead in our sins. And this realization then fills our hearts with gratitude and joy that God loved us so much that He provided a way of salvation and eternal life. Oh, how much more we appreciate salvation when we remember the chains of sin that held us so tightly in hopeless despair!

2. Second, these passages teach and emphasize the significant differences between the lives of the unsaved and the saved. These three passages (and many others) consistently remind us that a life saved by Christ is a life lived in direct contrast to a life not saved by Christ. It is incredibly clear that salvation changes us. I understand that reflecting on this can be frightening when we think of some we know who claim to be a Christian while living in sin without conviction or repentance. But this is what the Bible teaches. Life before Christ looks nothing like life after Christ. While it is not our job to judge any individual’s salvation, it is certainly our job to teach this principle of a changed life when we talk to people about the Gospel. Clearly, throughout scripture, we find that true belief yields true change.

3. As we consider the first two lessons, we also learn (or perhaps are reminded) that the lost are not our enemies! As I read these passages, I was filled with real sorrow and tremendous grace for their terrible state. Dead in their sin, slaves to their flesh, and hopeless that anything will change. This was us! We were there. Can you remember that hopelessness? That feeling of being enslaved? Even though I was a child when I was saved, I have started to comprehend as an adult who I was without Christ–who I would be now without Him. This should fill us with such loving-kindness towards the lost. I am so saddened when I see people who call themselves Christians treat the unsaved with arrogance and judgment. This is never the proper response of any believer– in fact, it is exactly opposite of what Christ would do. We must follow God’s example of kindness, grace, and mercy as we share the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps this is one of our highest callings.

4. And, finally, these passages remind us that a saved soul is one prepared to do good works. We do not do good works to be saved, but instead do them because we are saved. This is what we are called to as believers (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8) So exactly what are good works? We have gotten a little confused in this world of politically correct “social justice”. Feeding the poor and digging wells are worthy causes (as long as the Gospel is being shared) but so, too, is visiting your elderly neighbor or babysitting for your friend who is a single parent. Cooking a meal for a hurting family or regular visits with a lonely widow are good works. We can do good works for God by being a godly example to those younger than us, by training and nurturing our children, teaching children about Jesus in Sunday School, praying for a missionary, or by writing notes of gratitude and encouragement. How important it is that we don’t narrow our definition of good works down to what is politically correct in the church in this particular era.

I am sure there are many more lessons we can learn from these passages. These are just four that really struck me as I studied. Studying the Word of God starts to open our eyes to the reality that much of what is being preached in the name of Christ today is really not true Christianity. It is heart-breaking to even write that sentence, but, nonetheless, it is true. When we compare scripture to what is popular today, we can easily see that somewhere–sometime–biblical Christianity and popular evangelical Christianity started to part company. Let us not forget what the Bible teaches us about the saved and the unsaved. This is the only reliable resource for answers. No book, no article, no preacher, no author overrides the Bible. Ever.

 

Here are the full passages. Notice their similarities and differences–

Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.