Interconnected Strands

strands

Yesterday morning I was awakened by a familiar buzz. I didn’t know who would be texting me that early but I reached over and, fumbling to put on my reading glasses so I could actually read the text, I picked up my phone.

I squinted my eyes to take in the unfamiliar number and opened the text. It was from Discover card, asking me if I had made a purchase at Sunoco in the amount of $4.98. Somehow they had gotten my cell phone number (I do not remember giving it to them) and decided to start texting me about purchases. While most early mornings, neither my husband or I would ever be at a Sunoco gas station, this particular morning was one where my husband was busy doing snow removal. I knew he often stopped there to grab a snack and drink. I was sure the charge was legitimate.

I decided to get out of bed since I was awake and as I did so, I pondered the interconnectedness of everything in our lives. Even a credit card charge by my husband comes to my cell phone. Everything is connected. Here’s another example: Have you ever looked at something on Amazon and then went over to Facebook, only to see ads for what you were just looking at? Personally, I find that rather creepy. And now there are apps out there that track your kids’ phones so you know where they are at all times; security systems, lights, and furnaces that can be turned on and off by your smart phone; and fitness devices that track every step you take and every place you go and then provide that information to any device you desire. In this world of technology, everything is connected.

While I could (and perhaps should) write on the privacy we are giving up willingly in this world that is interconnected in so many different ways, I am actually going to go a different direction.

These strands of life interconnecting and forming one whole is exactly how we should be living as believers. All strands interconnect and wind around one another, each affecting the other.

Sometimes we like to pretend that a certain strand can remain separate from the rest of our spiritual life, but that is a naive thought. For example, we like to believe that our “entertainment” strand isn’t part of the whole. Way over there with that strand we can fill up our minds with ungodly movies, music, and books and oddly believe this will not affect the whole. Or we do it with our “family” strand, acting like a completely different person at home than who we portray out in public, somehow believing that we can freely express our anger and selfishness there in that safe space, all the while keeping that “family” strand far away from the whole of who we really are. One final example would be our “online” strand. So often we think who we are online is separate from who we are in real life. We seem to believe that our “online” strand, and the angry rants and selfish posts that go with it, are there own separate strand far away from the rest of who we are.

But it just doesn’t work like that. Everything we are and everything we do is a reflection of who we are in Christ. We can’t separate any strand of life from the whole. I admit it would be nice if we could. But here is what God’s Word has to say about this–

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’[a] This is the first commandment.

Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

James 4:4-5  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

We can see by these verses (and there are so many more, as well) that following Jesus means giving our whole ball of interwoven strands to Him. We can’t separate out the parts we don’t desire to surrender to Him. To try to do so only leads to one thing: hypocrisy.

It is hypocrisy to say we love Jesus and then to continue in any sin. Whether it be yelling at our spouse; tuning in to a radio station that plays songs filled with lyrics about sex outside of marriage, drug use, and violence; or its being unkind and self-absorbed online. While we are certainly going to sin sometimes (as humans, we can’t reach perfection here on this earth), the Holy Spirit will fill the hearts of believers who are in the Word with conviction and repentance. The more I am in the Word, the more often this happens.

And, contrary to what you might think, this life of surrender and obedience is a much more joyful and peaceful place to be. Sure, it’s no fun facing our sin. But there is something so comforting and amazing in knowing that the Almighty, Omnipotent Creator actually cares enough about me to show me my sin and to grow me to be more like Christ. Life is so much better when we stop rebelling.

Total obedience yields a life of true joy and peace. I am convinced of this more and more each year. But we must remember that this isn’t some solitary decision. As life ebbs and flows and changes, some days it is easier to surrender to the Lord than others. There is no magic pill that makes this lifestyle easy. But we must keep trying.

If you have a strand that you have tried to keep separate from the whole, I encourage you to surrender that strand to the Lord. It’s part of the whole, anyway, whether you realize it or not. Give it all to God. He will not disappoint.

 

Do I Need a Special Experience in Order to Know God?

Experience

There is an atmosphere of mystery within the church these days. As if we must somehow reach a higher spiritual plane through a special experience in order to reach God in a deeper way and receive His special blessing. This is taught in Charismatic circles, where they teach that one must speak in tongues and receive a separate baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to be truly spiritual. It’s taught in the New Apostolic Reformation, where they teach that apostles are God’s especially “anointed”. And it’s taught in Keswick theology and ministries such as Eric Ludy’s program at Ellerslie*, where mystical means are used to move us towards a sinless life here on earth (according to them). This is also the main premise of the contemplative prayer movement and the monastic teachings such as the “silence”, lecto divina, and the labyrinth. All of these things supposedly take us to a place where we will truly experience God.

So this begs the question: Do I need some kind of special experience in order to know God?

Of course, we must go to scripture to answer this question. One of the best places to answer this is I John 2, verses 18-20–

Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the[c] Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.[d] 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

According to this passage, we are assured of four very important things–

First, that there are going to be many antichrists before the actual Antichrist comes on the scene. Just because someone mentions the name of Jesus does not mean they are talking about the same Jesus you are. We Christians have gotten into a very lazy habit of assuming that any mention of God or Jesus or prayer means that someone is a genuine believer in Christianity but this just isn’t the case. Paul tells us clearly that Satan will masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). We must remember this and test the spirits (I John 4:1).

Second, we have all been anointed by the Holy One. Under the New Covenant, all believers are anointed by the Holy Spirit. There is nothing in scripture that would lead us to believe that we need a second, special anointing.

Third, as believers, we know all things. There is no secret knowledge that we must somehow obtain by using contemplative prayer, listening for special messages from God, or receiving some special, extra dose of God’s presence. In contrast, scripture says here that we already know all things. All we need to know is in God’s Word. If it’s not in His Word, then it we don’t need to know it.

And, fourth, we know the truth. We know the truth by studying the Word. John 17:17 confirms this–

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

To understand the timelessness of this book, we need to look back at just why John was writing this epistle to an unknown group of people. John MacArthur writes this in his introduction of I John

These false teachers advocated new ideas which eventually became known as “Gnosticism” (from the Gr. word “knowledge”). After the Pauline battle for freedom from the law, Gnosticism was the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first 3 centuries. Most likely, John was combating the beginnings of this virulent heresy that threatened to destroy the fundamentals of the faith and the churches.

Gnosticism, influenced by such philosophers as Plato, advocated a dualism asserting that matter was inherently evil and spirit was good. As a result of this presupposition, these false teachers, although attributing some form of deity to Christ, denied his true humanity to preserve Him from evil. It also claimed elevated knowledge, a higher truth known only to those in on the deep things. Only the initiated had the mystical knowledge of truth that was higher even than the Scripture.

What does this sound like? Sarah Young with her messages from God that are outside of scripture? Beth Moore’s visions that yield special knowledge? Countless others claim to have special knowledge that comes from God to them personally. Secret knowledge that yields a special relationship.

If we go back to the garden, we can see that Satan used a similar ploy–

 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4)

“Listen to me and I will give you special knowledge,” he whispers. The only difference between then and now is that he wasn’t masquerading as God back then. But it is the same message.

Gnosticism is dangerous because it takes the focus off of Christ’s finished work on the cross and the Bible–which is our only trustworthy source for knowing the full story of God, who He is, and what He has done for us. And, instead, subjective experiences, feelings, and emotions become the focus.

From what John wrote in his epistle, we can see that this has been going on for ages. It ebbs and flows but it has always been a danger to Christianity. But perhaps never so much as in these last days when we can see it all working towards a one-world religion that must bypass Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

At some point, we must move our eyes from our own personal experience, even as Bible-believing Christians, and get a glimpse of the bigger picture. History has so much to teach us.

John combated Gnosticism, just as we are combating it. There is nothing new under the sun. Let’s heed the words of scripture and realize that God has given us all we need. There is no special knowledge out there that we need to somehow attain. No special experience that is going to make us closer to God. The cross did the work! Praise the Lord, it was finished there!

When we are saved, our response to this is simple. Jesus makes it clear: If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15).

Of course, simple isn’t always pleasant and sometimes Jesus’s commandments are burdensome to a heart that loves the world and wants to be loved by the world. So as those who claim Christ find following His commandments distasteful, a vacuum of desire for closeness without self-denial opens wide its mouth. And guess what enters in? Special experiences that deceive us into believing we can be close to God without submission and without obedience.

Look, we can’t change the direction this is going. It’s just not possible. But we can be informed, so that we can be on the look-out for ourselves, our families, and for those that God has placed in our path who genuinely want to know the truth. My prayer is that this post will lead a few of you to search for the truth as we read it in scripture. This view is certainly not popular (how’s that for an understatement?!) but it is biblical. And that’s why I write.

If this has disturbed you or you don’t agree, may I encourage you to do your own digging? Do so with a humble spirit, open mind, and a heart that honestly desires to know the truth and is willing to obey that truth. Pray and ask God to show you His truth about these matters and He will. I have seen God answer this prayer on many occasions. He is so faithful. Our God is faithful. Praise His name!

Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
Deuteronomy 7:9

 

*Eric Ludy and Ellerslie carefully conceal their mystical leanings and rather bizarre teachings quite well. You will not find them in their marketing materials or on their website. My daughter experienced this firsthand and, after sitting under their teaching for just a few short weeks, made the choice to leave. This happened almost ten years ago now, so perhaps they have changed. If you are interested in his ministry, please do your homework. Here is a post that echoes our concerns with this place.

Technology Is Like a Razor Blade

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Razor Blades work great to remove paint from glass. They have other very helpful applications. But they are also dangerous and must be handled extremely carefully.

It sounds like technology.

The other evening I watched a group of teen-aged girls come in from the frigid cold to the warm indoors. The first thing each one of them did–without exception–was to stand for a few minutes at their phones, posting photos from their adventure outside. And then their phones were put away and they started talking.

But this incident reminded me of just how much technology has changed our lives.

That group of girls can’t remember a world without texting and social media. They can’t remember a time you couldn’t FaceTime or Skype someone who lives far away or follow your favorite movie star’s personal life.

But I remember. And the changes are staggering if you really stop and think about it.

But just like that razor blade, the changes are not all bad. There are amazing things that make our lives so much better. I have two daughters that live in a different state than me. Technology makes this so much more bearable. They can send me photos, text me at any time, and we can FaceTime. It makes them feel so much closer. When I lived away from my parents they got an occasional letter and a weekly {very expensive} phone call. This was all we had. There are so many other good things. We can listen to podcasts of godly preachers at the push of a button. We can find free or almost free copies of Christian classics written by godly men long ago. We can use social media to talk about our faith and to point people to God’s Word. And so, of course, we must be grateful for the good things.

But just like that razor blade, technology has an edge. And it will bite. It must be handled very carefully or it can be very dangerous. What are some of the biggest dangers that we must watch out for? Here are a few that I think are worthy of your consideration for yourself or your children–

1. It drives us to be consumed with ourselves. Social Media is designed to glorify self. Look at me! See what I’ve done…see my amazing family…see how I have succeeded…see how cool I am. We twitter our important opinions and expect people to take note. It tends to be a big promoter of SELF. Now don’t hear me saying that posting photos and opinions is sinful. It isn’t. These things can be wonderful tools for family far away to stay in touch with us or a way in which we can point people to Christ. It is our attitude that determines if it is sinful not the act itself.

2. It divides families. When I was growing up, we had one TV. We had to watch the same thing or not watch TV. Now everyone can go their separate ways. Parents are in the family room watching one TV, while their teenager is on their tablet in another room binge-watching a Netflix show, another one is playing video games online, and a daughter is snap-chatting with her friends. They are never together. And the TV is rarely off.

3. It is the greatest thief of family bonding time. Parents have grabbed onto technology as the escape they need from their children. And so, instead of communicating with them and talking about important, eternal things during the hours they have with them in the car, in restaurants, and even at home, they hand them an iPad so that they will shut up and let them alone. This may be the greatest tragedy of all because these kids grow up without having any solid relationship with their parents. In a world of over-worked parents, the iPad has become the tool that is killing their family bit by bit. Of course, giving a child an iPad at a restaurant occasionally or on the a long car ride to Grandma’s isn’t sinful. But if it is habitual, it will harm your family.

4. It promotes gossip. We know far too much about everybody and we like to talk about it. Did you see what so-and-so posted? Did you hear about this person? Or what that person said? Social Media turns us all into busy-bodies if we aren’t extremely careful. While it can be a valuable tool to keep us informed on the people we love, we must be vigilant in taking our thoughts captive in how we think about that information.

5. It has altered our attention spans. In a world driven by photos and two-minute videos, we find it harder and harder to concentrate.  Watching and looking require much less thinking than reading or listening. As we spend less and less time reading and concentrating it becomes harder and harder to do so. It is only with great intention that we can change this. It has become an almost natural thing for young people to hate reading. And this is a grave tragedy. A grave tragedy indeed.

 

These are just a few dangers. There are so many more. The Christian life can never be one of status quo. We are not called to just let life happen while we apathetically stand by. We are called to make intentional choices that move us towards holy living and becoming more like Christ. We do this by examining every single thing through the grid of God’s Word. We do this by scrutinizing the fruit of every thing that comes along. And in doing this, it not only helps us to avoid sin, but it also helps us to keep ourselves from experiencing the worst fruits of those things that can bring such good to our lives but also have potential to cause unbelievable damage.

We cannot sit idly by as our kids are gobbled up by their smart phones. We cannot allow the TV to bring its messages into our homes 24/7. We must be proactive in controlling technology or it will control us.

So how do we change this? What are some practical ways?

A few things I would suggest are this–

1. Don’t turn the TV on at dinnertime. Whether you live by yourself, there are just the two of you, or you have a houseful of kids, let mealtime be a time of discussion or reflection.

2. As a rule, keep iPads, DVD playeres, and headphones out of the car. Exceptions can be made for long trips but, other than that, intentionally use this time to talk about the things of the Lord, to listen to uplifting music together (try some hymns!), or to just play games and have fun together!

3. Put boundaries around the use of phones, video games, TV use, etc. that are doable (and not extreme). Whether it’s for your kids or yourself, going about change in this manner will make it doable and bring small positive changes instead of making it feel impossible.

4. Live intentionally. We must stop letting life happen to us and be more intentional about where we want to go. Year after year passes by without any change at all, if we don’t intentionally work at it. My pastor often quotes something his mom used to say to him: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Yes! This is so true!

5. Live balanced. When my kids were teenagers they had a friend who wasn’t allowed to have any junk food. When she came to my house, she would eat and eat and eat any sugar she could find here. I’ve watched the same thing happen with a couple of girls who weren’t allowed to ever watch TV. They would come to our house and just stare at the TV, unmoving. This is a good lesson that teaches us that removing something that isn’t sinful in and of itself can cause our kids to become obsessed with it. It is often wiser to teach our kids how to use it beneficially and balanced than just eliminating it. This goes for us without kids, as well. We must live balanced lives. We can spend time on social media, but we shouldn’t live there. We can check our smartphones, but we shouldn’t be obsessed with them. It sounds silly to write but I have seen quite a few older people obsessively scrolling through their phones. This is not just a younger generation thing.

 

I hope this helps. I hope it helps us recognize the dangers of technology and also gives us some ideas on how to go about making positive changes in our lives as well as in the lives of our families. Mostly, I hope it reminds us all that this wonderful thing called “technology” is sharp as a razor blade and it will cut us if we aren’t careful.

 

Flip-Flopped Unity

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Sometimes the word “unity” scares us Bible-believing Christians just a bit. We know that we are to have unity with other believers but there is also a form of unity that is both heretical and unbiblical which is growing at a mind-boggling rate and this alarms us–and rightly so.

So what does unity mean from a biblical perspective?

My husband taught on this in Sunday School yesterday and as we discussed the biblical perspective it made me realize just how backwards we are when it comes to this thing called “unity” (but more about that later).

Philippians 2:1-4 gives us good insight into what unity looks like in the church–

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

From these verses we can see that believers can and should be unified because we are like-minded–having the same purpose of loving and serving Christ. Unity does not mean we all have the same personalities and opinions. And this is where humility comes in. Humility serves as the oil that keeps the engine of the church humming smoothly. When it works, it is amazing.

But so often selfish agendas interfere. And suddenly the gears are clicking and grinding. The oils of humility and selflessness are missing and without it, unity can never work.

And this is where we are so backwards.

We get all uptight about things that are not biblical but affect us personally. And we are completely apathetic about heresy entering the church that {we think} doesn’t affect us personally. Therefore we will be quick to compromise on big, spiritual issues that compromise biblical doctrine but we are not so passionate about unity when it is messing with our own agendas–our agenda for money, for relationships, for paint colors, restaurant choices. Have you ever thought about the ridiculous things we get upset about?

And yet so many of us don’t even care if God’s Word is being compromised. Interesting since this is the one time we should choose not to unify (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Peter 3:17-18; I John 4:1-6; Matthew 7:15-20; Titus 1:9)

Let’s bring this down to a practical level. Think about the last time you were upset or angry. Was it about you? Or was it about God or His Word?

I know what the answer is for me. And I am not proud of it.

You see, true unity is being like-minded in our purpose to live out our Christian faith according to the Word of God with submission and obedience. When this happens, the things of life that don’t matter fall away. Suddenly, the insignificant things of life aren’t worth arguing about.

All of this is greatly helped by taking time to study our Bible. For it is through this that we will find that the things we must divide over and stand for–no matter the cost–show themselves ever more clearly as we, simultaneously, begin to understand that we must allow the unimportant things to fall away.

Unity is important in our homes and our churches, where we work out our faith and learn to be selfless and to back down from our strongly held but insignificant opinions. Unity is important in our work places where we can shine as bright lights of unselfish and thoughtful individuals–a stark contrast to the “stand up for my rights” and “no one is going to push me around” crowd that mostly exists at work.

True strength lies in not pushing our opinions on others and in doing so, we naturally become part of unifying any group around us. And then when we do find the need to stand for a biblical truth, people will be much more likely to listen to us because they have come to respect and like us. Now there are exceptions to this (some people are uninterested and even hostile towards biblical truth no matter who shares it) and it doesn’t always work like this, but it certainly does help.

Unity is a tough thing to work through in our current age. While, on one hand, we are being told to cave on all doctrinal issues, we find that, on the other hand, we are being told to look out for number one. This leads people–including us Christians–to capitulate on all types of important doctrines but to stand for the ridiculous things that won’t matter one bit in eternity.

I propose that we flip-flop this and that we begin defending the doctrines that dare not be compromised and we start capitulating to our own personal agendas. If we all would actually put this into practice, I do believe we would see an incredible change in our churches. Of course, it won’t happen, but it is nice to dream… And, while we can’t change everyone, we can change ourselves. Let this change begin with us.

 

 

The Rogue Fire Alarm

And what it can teach us about discernment

I Don't Wanna Hear

Last night we went to bed, as usual. Around 1am we were abruptly awakened from sleep by our household fire alarm. Beep! Beep! Beep! The whole house rang with the sound. This may be one of the scariest sounds in existence, quite honestly. We jumped out of bed to figure out what was going on. We explored the whole house from top to bottom but couldn’t find any smoke anywhere. Within a minute or two it stopped.

We lay back down but sleep seemed almost impossible. “Should we be worried?” I asked my husband. He assured me that we didn’t need to be and said the system must have malfunctioned. We tried to go back to sleep. No easy task with such a rude awakening.

Five minutes later it happened again. Only this time it stayed on. By this time, I am starting to wonder if we are missing something. After all, it seemed strange that it would go off again on its own. So once more we did a swift search, both of us running about checking every nook and cranny in the house. But, again, we found nothing. Meanwhile, the alarm continued its incessant beeping.

Deducting that it must be malfunctioning, my husband headed downstairs to turn off its power. Unfortunately, none of the switches worked. It just kept beeping. And beeping. And beeping.

By this time our college-aged daughter sleepily descended the steps wrapped in a blanket, “What’s going on? Why can’t you turn it off if everything is ok?” She was rather frustrated at being awakened. I didn’t blame her one bit. So was I. Although I did remind her that at least we weren’t out in that dreadful winter wind watching our house burn down.

Meanwhile, Eric had decided to detach every single unit. He started with the basement. The crazy beep softened as he removed that one. Next was the downstairs hallway. He disconnected it from the electric wires and pulled the unit down from the ceiling. And that’s when it stopped. They all stopped. Oh, what blessed relief!

We were soon tucked back in our beds, listening to the wind whipping around our house, immensely thankful that we weren’t outside, standing in it.

Within a few minutes, I heard a fire alarm go off again. But this time it was just one unit, a bit distant.

It was the hallway unit. It was giving one last-ditch effort at keeping us from sleep. Eric took one final trip downstairs for the night and removed the batteries. When he was back in bed, he expressed his relief in knowing for sure that this was the unit that was malfunctioning. I agreed!

And then we tried to go back to sleep. Which took a very long time. It was during that time of trying to get back to sleep that this post came to me. There are some lessons to be learned from this rogue fire alarm. And I think we would all do well to heed them.

The fire alarm is a valuable tool set in place to warn people of a fire. When a fire alarm goes off, we have a few different options on how we can respond. We can–

1. Ignore it.

2. Get angry and throw things at it to try to get it to stop.

3. Complain about it.

4. Investigate.

Of course, all sane people will investigate. It would be foolish not to, since our very life could be at stake.

Don’t you think it is curious then, that we don’t handle those who sound spiritual alarms in a similar fashion? I confess I am incredibly puzzled by the response of Christians to those who would practice discernment and sound warnings. Since most view these warnings as unnecessary and unpleasant alarms, they choose to ignore them. Or throw harsh, angry words at them. Or complain about them. So few actually investigate what they are saying against what the Bible has to say.

Why is this? Why aren’t people willing to investigate a warning? Or to even practice discernment themselves? So many are literally committing spiritual suicide in this era of rampant apostasy. They are sleeping in a burning house. It is insanity!

So what if a discerner brings attention to a beloved teacher and you find out that the discerner was wrong in their conclusions? What will you have lost but a little time? Isn’t it at least worth an investigation?

We base all on the Word of God. We can remove the power of a discerner’s false alarm by showing them the truth from scripture. But we can’t do that if we aren’t even willing to investigate.

I am appalled by the attitude of the general population of Christians towards discernment. I honestly cannot believe how Satan has deceived so many into thinking it doesn’t matter. I hope that if you haven’t recognized the importance of listening to spiritual fire alarms, that you will start today. Unfortunately, most of the fire alarms we hear today are not rogue, but are true alarms sounding a warning that should be heeded. There are so few that remain on the straight and narrow path of solid, biblical teaching.

So that’s what I was thinking about at 2:30am last night. If this helps even one of you think about discernment a little differently, I will consider my interrupted night’s sleep well worth it!

 

 

Why Should I Read the Bible in 2018?

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As a believer, we know that we should read the Bible. We feel guilty when we don’t read the Bible. And we vaguely know that there are some benefits to reading it. And so we often start out strong in the new year in our Bible reading. This will be the year, we say with hesitant confidence. It is my hope that this post will encourage you to make sure this really will be the year that you stick with it. That you make Bible reading/study as much a part of your day as eating.

Why? Well, I am glad you asked!

So why should we read the Bible in 2018? Or anytime, for that matter? Here are six reasons (seven if you count the most important one at the end of this post!)–

1. The Bible is God’s Word divinely given to us. Experiences and feelings can lie to us. They are utterly unreliable. But the Bible–God’s inerrant, inspired Word never lies.We can count on it being the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know that what the Word teaches us about God is true. And we have no doubt when we read the Word that it is God speaking to us. Since we know that Satan comes as an angel of light, counterfeiting God whenever he can (2 Corinthians 11:14), there is really no way to know who is really speaking any “message from God” that is claimed outside of scripture. Only the Bible is trustworthy.

2. The Word will change us and make us more like Christ. Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to talk with my brother (Pastor Dean) at length about the new paradigm of Christians discarding scripture and replacing it with personal experience. There is a tendency to always believe any supernatural experience is from God (when in all actuality there is no way to truly know that it is from God) and so these become much more exciting than the hard work of growing as a believer. Experiences are easier and make us feel better. There is no conviction or rebuke in an experience, is there? But if we genuinely want to become more like Christ and mature as a believer, we must be reading and studying our Bibles. There is just no other way. No experience is going to grow us in the fruits of the Spirit. While our personal experiences can encourage us to change, it is the Bible that leads us into true, selfless, and lasting change that honors God and makes us useful for His Kingdom.

3. Immersing ourselves in God’s Word helps us to discern and to do so with a proper attitude. Discernment is important, whether it be our entertainment, the signs of the times, or regarding what is going on inside of our church. We will be able to discern so much better by being in the Word and understanding God’s heart about these matters. But studying scripture will also keep our attitude in check. We will be kind and loving with people who don’t have the same convictions. We will show humility and gentleness. We are called to discern, but so many claim to have the gift of discernment and yet are full of pride and without love. Staying in scripture will ensure that we discern well and that we do it with the right heart.

4. Being in the Word improves our relationships by revealing our selfishness. Sometimes we are discouraged because we are struggling in our relationships. Our natural tendency is to blame others. But when we start reading the Bible, we begin to understand that so many of the problems begin with us. Scripture is like a mirror that magnifies our selfish hearts. And when we can see just how selfish we are, we can work with the Lord to start eliminating it. This will naturally improve all of our relationships. It can’t help but improve them. Selfishness destroys relationships and sacrificial love and self-denial builds them.

5. Studying the Bible helps to give us the answers we need for our kids, for those we are witnessing to, and for other believers who have questions. Oftentimes, fear will keep us from having the hard conversations. We are afraid we won’t have the answers and will look foolish in front of our kids, co-workers, or others. And so we don’t witness and we don’t talk about doctrine. But there is a remedy to this fear! When we start to seriously study the Word, we start to understand the themes and doctrines within its pages. Sharing them becomes a natural thing instead of a fearful thing.

6. The Bible is a trustworthy, immutable, and pertinent guidebook for life. It gives us perspective and clarity regarding our priorities, moving to the background the temporal things that so overwhelm us and bringing the eternal things to the forefront. It lights our way when darkness threatens to undue us.

So there are six reasons to read your Bible in 2018! But do you know the greatest reason of all? We are to read the Word out of obedience and our great love for God. He gave us the Bible and we are to read it with a submissive, humble, and obedient heart–even when we don’t feel like it. We can make time for so many other things. We can find time to watch TV, to work on our favorite hobby, to go to the gym, or to read other books. Let’s make 2018 the year we find time to read our Bibles!

 

The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11

P.S. If you don’t have a Bible Reading Plan in place yet this year, it’s not too late to join the G4L Challenge. Find more information here.

The G4L 2018 Bible Reading Challenge

And some thoughts about the purpose of this blog

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The challenge for 2018 is up on the blog! You can find all the details here at this page.  I have shared this page on Facebook already but am uncertain if that published page made its way to my subscribers. This is why I thought I’d write a specific (and short) post about it this morning.

I started blogging in 2010. It’s hard to believe that this coming year will mean I have been writing posts twice a week for eight years! Time goes so fast. As the years have gone by, the purpose for this blog has gradually become more defined.

Over the past twenty years or so, the Bible has taken a beating. So much so, that most people who call themselves Christians today are not only completely biblically illiterate, but they are actually completely content in being so. This has happened in a number of ways. First, they are distracted. Distracted by commitments, careers, over-scheduled kids, etc. Second, they are not being taught the Word in their churches. Expository preaching has been replaced by stories, worldly entertainment, and worship music that have no basis in the Word. And, third, they have turned to personal experience to verify and confirm their closeness to God. The Word has become superfluous in a church culture that believes you need to hear from God personally to be a really spiritual Christian.

I will write more about this later, but have no doubt that this is exactly what Satan wants. When he can turn our hearts and minds off of the Word, he has effectively captured us. He can deceive, trick, warp…and we will have no idea. Because we don’t even know the Bible.

And, so, over the past few years, this has become my purpose–to turn my readers back to the Word as the authority for their Christian life. To encourage my readers to study the Word with a submissive and obedient heart that leads to real and lasting change.

I have seen the Word transform people. This is how we know God. Knowing the Bible is what makes us stable and sound spiritually. Scripture is sufficient and I am here to shout that out! We don’t need special messages, visions, and dreams in order to be close to God. I hope to write more about that later this year, but I want to encourage you to dig deeply into scripture this year.

It is with this in mind, that I am once again offering the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge. If you don’t have any other plan in place to study scripture this year, I hope that you will consider joining this challenge. It is an easy way to get started (only two chapters per day). We read the same chapters five times, so we really become familiar with them. It is a wonderful and quite doable way to begin scripture study. I hope you will join me!

Happy New Year!

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

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Yes, this is a totally unscheduled post. But I thought there might be a few of you out there who might be encouraged by this. Once in a great while I get inspired to write a little poetry. I certainly don’t claim to be a poet, but sometimes these things will just come to me and need to be written down. This year a song about Christmas Past stirred my heart. As you know, this has been quite a year of transition for me. I feel things deeply and so change comes hard for me. But as I have been processing my feelings about my new kind of Christmas (so quiet with just one college student who likes to sleep in on Christmas morning) I have realized that if we aren’t careful we can allow our thoughts about Christmas Past to cast a shadow on Christmas Present. And so this poem is for any of you who have had this same struggle with change–any type of change. While this is based on my own experience, I hope that it will turn your thoughts to your own Christmas Present and all that is good there. That it will encourage you to be present in Christmas Present with its joys and blessings. Because, all too soon, this Christmas Present will be Christmas Past.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I hear the sounds of Christmas past
A giggle, a laugh, pure glee
And in my mind’s eye, I see them
The children around the tree

How can it be that time has flown
So quickly by for me
Sadness fills my heart sometimes
When the past is all I see

The Ghost of Christmas Past has come
And heartache comes with it
The children are all grown now
And life has changed quite a bit

But then a little voice I hear
And the past begins to blur
The present calls to me
And wakes me with a stir

I see him, this little grandchild
He is my Christmas Present
He calls me from my doldrums
Reminding me of all that’s pleasant

This little man will soon be grown
Christmas Future calls to him
But right now, here today
Our joy it will not dim

So I will enjoy Christmas Present by being present
In the here and now
Loving and rejoicing with those around me
Joy and peace upon my brow

 

Meeting Ella (Part 5)

An Unexpected Family

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This is the final part of this year’s Christmas story. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it! I have included some author notes below, so hopefully you will take time to read them, as well. Merry Christmas!

PART 5

      The next morning, I was awakened by the little patter of feet. I lifted my head and saw Ella enter my room, carrying the Christmas storybook. Charlie lifted his head and wagged his tail against the comforter. (Against my better judgment, he had ended up on my bed last night. I just couldn’t resist those big brown eyes!)
      I had slept so much better than the night before but I wasn’t quite ready to get out of bed so I patted the spot beside me and told her to climb up next to me. She was soon snuggled in between Charlie and me, paging quietly through the book. I tried to close my eyes again, but the strangeness of having a little girl beside me kept me from sleep. In only a moment, I opened my eyes and sat up.
      “Are you hungry?” I asked.
      “Yes! Can you make pancakes?” She hopped out of bed with enthusiasm and started out the door, Charlie following close on her heels.
      I followed after her, trying to reconcile this bright, talkative girl with the somber, quiet one from last night. She obviously had started to feel comfortable around me.
      Suddenly, I realized that it was Christmas Eve. With everything going on, I had completely lost track of the days. I tried to think of a course of action for Ella. The first thing I knew I had to do was to find out if her mother was still alive, no matter what day it was.
      I made some pancakes and we ate them amidst her happy chatter. After breakfast, I sent Ella up to get dressed. Meanwhile, I pulled out my laptop and tried to locate Melanie. Ella had told me that her last name was Erikson. Putting “Melanie Erikson” into the Google search box, I found a home address as well as a short article about a charity project she was part of at a Baptist church in her town. I called the church, not really expecting an answer because of the holiday but was pleasantly surprised when the pastor picked up with a warm greeting. As I explained to him what had happened, he listened quietly and then told me that Melanie was in a local hospice facility and didn’t have very long to live. And then he said sadly that when he had stopped by to visit Melanie yesterday, she was in terrible sorrow over not knowing if Ella was ok. She was heartbroken over not being able to say one final good-bye. He was amazed that I was calling so shortly after he had had this conversation with her, as he had been praying just this morning about finding Ella for Melanie.
      I knew what I had to do. I thanked him for the information and turned to Ella, who was now dressed and quietly playing on the floor with Charlie.
      The living room, with the twinkling tree lights and the cozy fire, set a nice atmosphere for us to talk about her mom. Ella, her arm around Charlie, listened intently as I explained that her mother was growing sicker every day but that she had changed her mind and really longed to say good-bye to her. Could she be brave and strong?
      Ella’s face grew pale but she sat up a little straighter and her eyes brightened at the prospect of seeing her mother, “When do we go? And what happens after that? Can I stay here with you?”
      I knew that question was going to come and I had thought of little else since I had found Ella the evening before. I had decided that if Ella wanted to stay with me and if her mother was in agreement, I would offer her a home with me here at the farm house. This was a big part of my reason for finding Melanie. I knew that Ella would be thrown into the state foster system if I couldn’t get some kind of signed, legal document from her mother.
      “Ella, would you like to stay here and live with me at the farm house?”
      “Oh, yes! Please!” Only three little words, but the passion in her little heart glistened through her amazing blue eyes.
      “Okay, then. I would love to have you here with me. Let’s see if we can make that happen,” I smiled at her as the ramifications of what I had just said filled my head. Instant motherhood. Was I really ready for this? But I knew I had to take care of this dear little cousin of mine. She had no one else in the world. And then it dawned on me—neither did I. We were perfectly suited for one another.
      I put Charlie in his crate and we started out. Ella was mostly quiet on the drive, probably thinking about her mother. In a little over an hour, we were pulling into the parking lot that stood in front of a pretty stone building with wreaths in the windows.
      A kind lady directed us to Melanie’s room and we were soon at her door. I took a deep breath and knocked.
      “Melanie? Are you up for visitors?” I hesitantly pushed the door open.
      I am not sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t this shell of a woman who looked like she weighed less than 90 pounds.
      I could see the question in her eyes and then she saw Ella. Her eyes, dull and lifeless a second before, suddenly lit up the whole room.
      “Ella? Is that my baby? Am I dreaming?”
      Ella walked over to her mom and leaned over to gently kiss her.
      “No, Melanie, you aren’t dreaming. Ella is here to say good-bye.”
      “Oh, my baby, my baby,” Melanie moaned, “I can’t believe you are here. I didn’t want you to see me like this, but I am so glad you are here.”
      I quietly moved back to a dark corner of the room to let them have a few moments alone.
      They talked in low tones for a while and then I heard Melanie, with a desperate note in her voice, ask, “Ella, are you okay?”
      “Yes, mom, I am fine. Libby is taking good care of me.” I was so glad that she didn’t expand on all she had been through.
      “Who is Libby? Where is your grandmother?” The question was expected and I stepped up to explain.
      “Melanie, I am Libby,” I introduced myself and then continued, “I am Ella’s cousin. Gus was my mom’s brother and my uncle. Our grandmother died a few months ago and, of course, you didn’t know that. But no need to worry, I can care for Ella. Would that be okay?”
      I recognized even as I spoke what a vulnerable place Melanie was in. She didn’t know me at all. She didn’t know if I was telling the truth. She was literally putting her daughter in the hands of a stranger. And she didn’t have the strength or the resources to even check my story. With this in mind, I gently held Melanie’s hand and looked her in the eye.
      “Melanie, I promise to love Ella as my own. I know you don’t know me but I want to assure you that you can trust me. I will care for her.”
      I saw two tears make a path down Melanie’s cheek and then she breathed out words I wasn’t expecting.
      “I have regretted my decision to drop off Ella every minute since I left her. I knew her grandmother would take care of her–I had no doubts about that—but I should have stayed. I should have asked. I wasn’t thinking. I was scared. I couldn’t think beyond the pain and desperation.”
      “It’s okay. You don’t have to explain,” I could see how difficult this was for her, both physically and emotionally. Every word seemed laborious. But she continued.
      “No, let me finish. Now, as I approach the end, I mostly sleep. But any moment I am awake, I have prayed, begging the Lord to assure me that my baby will be okay. You are the answer to that prayer. I am sure of it. I know that God has sent you here with Ella as an answer to my prayer. And I am so grateful.”
      Right at that moment, I was in awe over God’s sovereign plan for all of us. I knew God would work out every detail somehow. But I also knew that I had something that had to be done.
      “Melanie, do you feel well enough to sign a letter that would give me custody of Ella?”
      “Yes, yes, of course, it must be done,” she struggled to sit up.
      “No, no, not yet. I am going to go call a friend of mine. Ella will stay here with you and visit. I’ll be back.”
      I went out to the nurses station and asked for paper and a pen and then lost no time in calling Kate.       Mrs. Miller had only said that Kate was in grad school, but Kate told me yesterday that she was actually in law school. She had laughingly said her Grandma could never remember that. I knew she could help me.
      Soon I had a letter drafted that would hopefully hold up in court. Melanie gladly signed it and, with tears streaming down her face, said her final good-bye to Ella. I offered to bring Ella back for another visit but she lifted a weak hand in protest and said, “I won’t be here much longer now. I’m going home soon.”
      As we prepared to leave, she reached for my hand and said the words I will never forget, “Thank you, Libby, for taking care of my little girl. Please teach her to love Jesus with all of her heart.” And then she dropped her hand, exhausted, and closed her eyes. I could see she was spent. We probably had stayed too long. We were all crying but Ella was sobbing almost uncontrollably. I put my arm around her as we slowly walked away. I am not sure I have ever done anything so hard as leave that room.
      I asked a nurse to check on Melanie as we left, letting them know that she may be upset. The nurse smiled and told us that we were the best medicine she could have ever had. Apparently the nursing staff knew her story and had been praying, as well, for a miracle. One nurse had even started a search for Ella and had planned a trip to our town tomorrow in order to find her.
      It was pretty amazing to be part of a miracle.

      A few hours later, Ella and I were sitting alongside the Millers in a church pew. I think we both were overwhelmed at the changes in our lives over the past few days. There was so much to take in. Both mourning and joy were part of what we were feeling. All that we had lost was competing with the newfound joy of having found each other. What a Christmas! As the congregation started to sing “Joy to the World”, I grabbed Ella’s hand and squeezed it. She looked at me with a bright smile and I knew we would both be okay. We had both found a family this Christmas. An unexpected little family that we both had needed so desperately. God had taken such special care of both of us and I knew He would continue to do so. I moved my thoughts back to the service and joined the singing with gusto. Joy to the world, the Lord is Come!

 

______________________________________________________

 

Author Notes:  I started this story without knowing the ending. I spent what felt like hours trying to come up with a plausible plot. Finally, one day, I shared my dilemma with my mom and she helped me sort through it all. I want to publicly thank my mom for her help!

Also, I want to talk a bit about the spiritual lessons of this story. In some ways, I struggled because I know that in real life, the knots and bumps of our own stories don’t always work out so neatly. Sometimes–ofttimes–there is no happy ending. But, on the other hand, sometimes we watch God work things out in ways that are far beyond anything we could have ever dreamed. It was my hope to remind you that we serve a big God and He does sometimes work things out in amazing ways. But, more importantly, I wanted to remind you of two things–

1. We were lost and alone, without hope, and God made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. Like Libby giving Ella a home, God took in the poor orphan (me!) and gave me a home–a citizenship in heaven. I found safety, security, and rest in Him. If you aren’t saved, I hope that this story may be used to encourage you to read the Bible and find out more about the God who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you so that you, too, might know that you are eternally safe and secure in God’s sovereign hands.

2. And I hope that this story encourages you to open your heart to whomever God puts in your path. There are so many lost and lonely people in this world. Let’s be encouragers! Sometimes that means giving them a home for a few months and sometimes that just means giving them a warm smile. But let’s open our eyes and intentionally reach out to the lost and lonely this year. They are everywhere, waiting to be noticed.

Thank you so much for reading this story. I hope that it was a joy to you this Christmas. Enjoy the holidays!

p.s. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments about this year’s story! Comment below or email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net.

This Little Light of Mine

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Do you remember singing “This Little Light of Mine” as a child? Perhaps you still sing it with your own kids or grandkids. I love watching toddlers sing this song. Seeing them hold their chubby little finger up and blow on it during the verse “Don’t let Satan blow it out” is a delightful thing to watch.

But have you ever thought just how profound the words are in this children’s song?

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m going to let it shine

Don’t let Satan blow it out
I’m going to let it shine

Shine it all over {your town}
I’m going to let it shine

Let it shine ’til Jesus comes
I’m going to let it shine

Even though this song is simple, it shares a message that we should all heed, no matter how old we are.  John MacArthur says this–

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says God who first ordered the light to shine in the darkness has flooded our hearts with His light. We can now enlighten men by giving them the knowledge of God’s glory that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are lights. We are children of light. *

There are several scripture passages that refer to believers as light. We see that Jesus tells us we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and that Paul and Barnabas were called to be a light for the Gentiles (Acts 13:47). In Romans 13:14 we read that we are to put on our armor of light. Paul tells us to walk as children of light in Ephesians 5:8. There are more.

We are children of light.

So what does this mean, practically speaking?

If we look at the song verses individually, we can gain some insight–

1. This little light of mine. First we must recognize that we are just a little light. In actuality, we are just a reflection of God’s much greater light. We must stay humble and remember that God doesn’t need me or you to accomplish His purposes. We are not the origin of the light. We can do nothing without Him.

2. Hide it under a bushel? No! A hidden light is a useless light. If we aren’t willing to stand for Jesus Christ and His Word, we become ineffective as a witness for God. When we hide our lights, we meld in with the world and make no eternal difference at all in the lives of others.

3. Don’t let Satan blow it out. Satan would like nothing better than to render you ineffective for God’s Kingdom. Once saved, we are eternally saved. But He can–and does–do things that keep us tied up and fruitless. Some of the things that come to mind are distracting us with worldly things, deceiving us with false doctrine, convincing us that busyness is the same as holiness, encouraging us to be fearful and anxious… and so many more. Satan has many different tactics he uses to keep a Christian from furthering God’s Kingdom.

4. Shine it everywhere. There is no where that the light of Jesus can’t go. His light–the light that we are reflecting–shines even brighter in the darkness. As believers, we are called to shine that light in every and all situations and places. No exceptions.

5. Let it shine ’til Jesus comes. Our lights are to shine for Jesus forever. We take no breaks from being a light. Until we are called home or Jesus returns to take us home, we are to shine.

Being light should encompass every area of our life. Think about this in light of your upcoming week. Most of us will meet with family and friends over the holidays. It is important to ask ourselves if we are shining our light or hiding our light. To ask if we are encouraging people to walk more closely with Christ or to move away from Christ.  F.B. Meyer puts this better than I ever could–

These thoughts press on one’s heart that one can never speak a word, never transact a piece of business that one’s face is never seen lighted up with the radiance of God or clouded and despondent without it being made harder or easier for other men to live a good life.  Every one of us every day resembles Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made other men sin, or we are lifting other men into the light and the peace and the joy of God.  No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself, but the life of everyone is telling upon an increasing number of mankind what a solemn responsibility it is to live.

So as we enjoy (or dread, depending upon your circumstances) our upcoming festivities may we remember that we must shine our little light. May we shine with gusto, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. May we have courage to speak truth with great love. May we be the peacemakers and the joy-bringers. Bringing the light of God anywhere we go so that we are encouraging and inspiring those around us to be transformed by God’s power.

I will close with this from John MacArthur–

You are light. You have been called to light the dark world. And the quality of your life is the platform of your personal testimony. You have to understand that. By the kind of life you live, you build a platform on which what you say is made believable. If you have no platform because of your life, your message isn’t believable. And a murmuring discontent, grumbling, griping, complaining Christian is never going to have a positive influence on others. You can’t be talking about the gospel, forgiveness, joy, peace, gladness, comfort, and be moaning and grumbling and complaining all the time. People are not going to believe the gospel will do what you’re trying to say it will do. That’s why the philosopher Heine in Germany said, “Show me your redeemed lives and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”

Amen! Jesus came as a baby to bring light to the world. We are a reflection of that light! May we shine brightly everywhere we go!

 

*Both of these quotes are from the sermon Stop Complaining, Part 2. I highly recommend both parts!

 

Christmas Wreaths (9)

PLEASE NOTE:

Tomorrow I will present the final part of this year’s Christmas story, “Meeting Ella”. And then next week I will present the 2018 Bible Reading Challenge. I will go back to regular posts on January 4th. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year! Thank you for being a reader this past year. It means more than you know.