What You Can’t See

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Last week was spent at the beach with family. It was a wonderful, relaxing time, but now it is time to get back to reality. After being gone for over a week, I am ready to get back to my own space and routine.

The week was full of beautiful summer-like weather and so one evening a few of us headed to the beach. We had visions of sitting on the quiet, empty beach during the evening hours, watching the baby play in the sand and taking in the view. As you can see in the photo above, the view was fantastic. Isn’t it beautiful?

But there are some things you can’t see on the photo. Actually it was more like five million things: Tiny “no-see-ums”–minuscule sand flies that suck blood from their hosts. Right around dusk, these things came out in mass. They were crawling through the baby’s hair, biting our arms and legs, flying around our heads. It didn’t take us very long to pick up our stuff and leave. As we walked across the sand, we carried the heavy beach chair (why did we pick this one??), and a growing baby. And the sand toys kept falling out of the bucket! Our idyllic evening ended up not being very idyllic at all.

But you would never know it from the photo.

Oh, how true this is for any photo you see. It is one of the reasons I don’t really care for photo-driven social media. There is so much you don’t know from a photo. We now make judgments about people based on their photos. Confident selfies, and photos of beautiful homes, happy families, and lots of material “stuff” give us impressions of people. But are they the right impressions?

The photos we see are just like that beach photo. They are lovely but they are not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

Behind a selfie you might find a confident person having a good time. But you may also find insecurity, a longing to be loved, or a desperate need for attention. Behind beautiful photos of homes and families, you don’t see the cereal on the floor, the toddler’s messy hands on the kitchen cabinets, or the muddy footprints brought in after the rain. You don’t see the screaming, the yelling, the crying, the frustration, the irritation, and you can’t see the love, the fun, the joy, the peace. You can’t see anything but a photo. It tells us nothing. Not really.

And, in this day and age, you don’t even know if a photo is telling the truth. With the likes of photo editing software, anyone can make a photo “say” anything. Photos just can’t be trusted as our main source for truth.

So the next time you are tempted to judge someone you know by a photo, think again. It doesn’t tell the whole story about them. It is just a tiny fraction of the whole. If social media causes you to envy and covet and to think about “what if’s”, then perhaps you should consider getting off. Besides it being a sin (I Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:26; Ephesians 5:3), life is just too short to constantly be wishing for a different life while yours passes you by.

Last night, as we traveled home from the beach we passed a 55+ community. I looked at my husband and said, “we are almost old enough to live there! How did we get here?”

“We just kept living,” was his astute response.

We just kept living. We all have been blessed with the gift of a certain amount of time. None of us knows exactly how much it will be, but let’s not waste a second of it wishing for someone else’s life.

 

(By the way, we did find a different beach where we spent two incredibly lovely evenings that were all that the photos imply. Sometimes photos do tell the truth. But sometimes they don’t. We really have no way of knowing when they are or when they aren’t, so we may as well just enjoy them at face value and then move on with life.)

 

Beautifully and Naturally Changed

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We were about halfway to church when I realized it. I sighed and looked in my car mirror, just to be sure. Yep. It was true: I had totally forgotten to put on my make-up. Distracted during my morning routine, I remembered that I had never gone back to the bathroom mirror to finish getting ready.

I don’t actually wear that much make-up but it still felt strange going to church without it. I looked at my husband.

“I forgot to put on my makeup. Can you tell?”

“Nahhh. It’s summer. You are tan. It’s not a big deal.”

Not that it mattered. We weren’t turning around for such an insignificant reason, anyway. We drove on to church and worshiped, as usual.

In the winter, our skin is lighter but in the summer it tans to a nice golden brown if we spend time in the sun. Since there wasn’t any sunscreen for thousands of years, we can only imagine that God designed our skin this way. And when we are tan we look healthier for some reason. (Even though the latest craze from the medical world is to encourage us to wear sunscreen 24/7 and not let a bit of sun stain our skin.)

So what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I was thinking about how not wearing my makeup was so much less noticeable in the summer than it would have been in the winter and I realized that this is very similar to a dynamic that goes on in many churches, in that–

Good works is the “make-up” that those claiming to know Christ will use when they haven’t actually been transformed by Christ.

Let me explain–

We have all heard of the “good Christian man” who is caught with a prostitute or declares bankruptcy due to a gambling addiction. We have heard of the woman that up and leaves her family out of the blue or gives evidence that she is an alcoholic after hiding it for many years. Et cetera, et cetera. So many of these cases, so many different details, but all the same thing: Someone whom we thought was godly was actually not godly at all, as evidenced by their following after sin and never turning back from it with a repentant heart.

These types of people have worn the make-up of good works–some for many, many years. But what was missing was the golden tan of a heart transformed by the love of the Savior. You see, we can look pretty good to the church if we will simply step up and do the right thing–serve in the kitchen or on the coffee committee, serve as a church leader, teach Sunday School, work in the sound booth, greet people on a Sunday, or minister to children (to name just a few). These things make us look holy–even though we might not be. They give us the “make-up” we need to look presentable at church.

Many people put on a good show, while in the privacy of their own homes or offices, they are not really all that sold out for God as they live a life that is consumed with selfish desires. Some are living a life that is in complete opposition to the one they are portraying at church.

This is a great reminder that we should always be sure to confirm that our own good works are originating from a changed heart and not from some outward putting on of “righteous works” in order to make us look good to others.

Jesus points out a clear example of this in the lives of the Pharisees, who on the outside looked holy and pure but on the inside were wicked and unchanged by God. He puts it like this in Luke 11:39-40–

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

So let’s be sure that our outward behavior is a reflection of a changed heart and never the means we use to look “holy” to our church family on Sundays while living to please ourselves the rest of the week.

A beautifully changed heart will always yield a life that is also beautifully–and naturally–changed on the outside.

 

Parenting 101

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Parenting is quite the adventure! Each stage offers its own challenges and rewards. Just when you are getting used to the stage you are in, it is replaced by the next one. Before you can blink, you have been through all of the stages and find yourself in the final stage of having adult kids. Grandchildren make this long and final stage of our parenting years extra sweet.

Several years ago I did a series on parenting. Since this was before many of you subscribed, I thought it may be time to dust it off and share it again. Some things are worth bringing back out of the archives and I believe this series is one of them.

The series addressed all the stages we go through as parents, written from my own experience as well as from the examples of Christian families that have a good track record of raising adult kids who are living for the Lord.

And so I am going to put all the links for this series below. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Parenting 101: The Basics

This post deals with some of the basics we must understand, no matter what stage we are at in our parenting years.

Parenting 101: What Does My Marriage Have To Do With It?

This shows how a healthy marriage can really give us a great jumpstart in raising healthy kids.

Parenting 101: Who’s the Boss?

This post addresses some of the challenges in raising toddlers and preschoolers.

Parenting 101: When They Grow Out of the Cute Stage

This post continues the series by offering some tips on how we can start preparing our elementary-aged children for adulthood.

Parenting 101: I Need a Reason

This post addresses the specific concerns we have when we are parenting teens.

Parenting 101: What’s My Role

Eventually our kids become adults. This post offers some thoughts on our changing role as the parent of an adult.

Parenting 101: On Being a “Great” Grandparent

This post was based solely on watching grandparents around me, as I was not even a grandparent when I wrote this. More specifically, we have been blessed to watch my parents and my husband’s parents love and support our children. Their wonderful example was the basis for this post.

 

 

On Sharing the Gospel

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When I was a kid and even into my young adult years, evangelism was a pretty big deal in the circles I traveled. In fact, I can remember going door-to-door taking surveys on a summer ministry team with the express purpose that this would give us the opportunity to share the Gospel. This type of witnessing ended up being mostly replaced by “Friendship Evangelism”, which is the idea that we witness to our friends by being a good friend and behaving like a “Christian”, with the assumption that this will then lead them to ask us questions about God. Eventually, this, too, went out of style, and witnessing became extraneous in our church culture.

This is probably for two main reasons. First, our churches changed their formats and methods to appeal to the unsaved, which made it far easier to just invite a lost friend to church and helped us to avoid the hard task of doing the witnessing ourselves. And, second, it is probably because it just became so “politically incorrect” to imply that someone may be wrong in their belief. This, particularly, led most of us to just back away and stop sharing anything that might imply that someone will spend eternity in hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. Saying something like this has become the main offense in a world of relative values and most of us are just not brave enough to share such an unpopular message. And so many of us grew quiet, offering the occasional invitation to church but rarely going further than that.

Don’t get me wrong–I know there are still people sharing the Gospel. And that is so awesome. But, by and large, evangelism is simply not important to the church anymore.

For those of us that are committed to sharing the Gospel we have a grave responsibility to share the whole Gospel and not just a watered down “Jesus will make your life better” kind of Gospel. The Gospel is not about making life better. It is about Jesus Christ dying to save us from our sins. A Gospel that doesn’t mention sin or repentance isn’t the true Gospel. The Gospel reconciles us with our just and holy God. The positive changes that happen in our lives when we become saved are added blessings and never the reason for our salvation.

As always, we need to go to scripture and see what it says about witnessing. There we will see that part of the Christian life is sharing the Gospel with others (Matthew 9:37-38, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8, Romans 10:14-15). And so–if this is the case–what is the scriptural way to go about doing so?

As I was reading in I Thessalonians 2 a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find a clear example set out by Paul for us regarding evangelism. This is something we are all called to do and Paul has, by his example, given us some really helpful guidelines in verses 1-12 of this chapter.

(You will find I Thessalonians 2:1-12 at the end of this post).

1. Be bold to declare the Gospel–even in the midst of much conflict. (v2)

This would seem to imply that we cannot worry about ourselves. We shouldn’t worry about our comfort, our convenience, or our reputation. We are to continue to share the Gospel, even if it causes conflict and personal suffering.

2. We must strive to have our appeals for the Gospel spring from a pure and true heart, without impurities, error, or deception. (v3)

You may say, “Well, of course!” –but remember that many are those who share the Gospel and yet they are doing it for their own gain. And then there are those who would twist it and remove anything offensive so as to make it more favorable in the eyes of men. I am sure you can think of men and women doing that right now. Paul lays out a clear example, showing us that we must avoid any impurity, error, or deception as we share the Gospel.

3. Seek to please God and not man. (v4)

This verse really struck me–

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.

Oh, how we love to please man. It is as natural as breathing to most of us. But our desire to please man must never take priority over pleasing God. You see, the Gospel is offensive and foolish to most people (I Corinthians 1:18) and they are not going to like what you have to say. But if we can remember that it is God who tests our hearts and that it is God whom we want to please, then we can stay the course, even when we grow weary and discouraged.

4. Avoid flattery and greed. (v5)

Paul puts it like this:  For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.

As we share the Gospel, may it be done from a mouth that despises flattery and a heart that is not prone to greed.

5. Do not seek glory from people. (v6)

Oh, this one is such a challenge for us, isn’t it? Oh, how we want the glory. It makes us feel good if people notice us and appreciate us. But Paul says he purposefully did not seek glory from others. Can you say the same? I know I can’t. At least not always.

6. Be gentle. (v7)

This is an interesting one to throw in there, isn’t it? Paul says they were gentle with them–just as a nursing mother is with her children. When you imagine a mother with her children, we get a deeper understanding of what his gentleness looked like. Do we have that same spirit of gentleness with the lost? Or do we grow frustrated when they are quarrelsome or apathetic when they don’t respond like we think they should?

7. Be willing to share your very self. (v8)

Sharing the Gospel is not made up of just one moment. Coming alongside a new believer and helping them, discipling them, studying the Bible with them takes a lot of time. Paul shows us that not only is this what he did but he did it out of his great affection for the people. He loved them dearly and was happy to give himself to them.


8. Don’t be a burden on those you witness to. (v9)

It would seem as if Paul wanted there to be no question regarding his motives in witnessing to the church there. He didn’t want to be a burden on the group and so he took care of his own needs. This is in complete contrast to many of the false teachers of that day (and of the current day) that are caught up in their requests for money.

9. Be holy, righteous, and blameless in your conduct. (v10)

One of the greatest lies being taught today is that God does not care about our behavior. Of course, you don’t have to read very far in scripture to know that He cares a great deal about our behavior. When we are saved, He transforms us from the inside out, changing our desires so that our behavior changes on the outside, as well. Paul shows us that this is something we must consider as we share Christ with others. A holy, righteous, and blameless reputation validates our witness like nothing else can.

10. After someone is saved, continue to exhort and encourage them to walk in a manner that is worthy of God. (v12)

Here again we see that sharing Christ with someone was not a one-time event for Paul. Paul uses the analogy in this verse of a father with his children, growing them to be like Jesus, teaching them to walk worthy of God. This takes work and lots of time but we cannot underestimate the importance of coming alongside baby Christians and teaching them to grow in the faith.

 

I found this chapter such an education as I strive to share the Gospel when I have the opportunity. I hope it has encouraged you, too. May we put these ten things into practice as we go out and share the true Gospel with a lost and dying world.

 

 

I Thessalonians 2:1-12

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even[a] after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged[b] every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

Raising Courageous Kids

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When you think of the word courage what comes to mind? Is it a fireman racing into a burning building to save someone? Perhaps a soldier marching into war or someone bravely facing a battle with cancer? Or does your mind bring up pictures of sky divers or some other extreme sport?

According to dictionary.com, courage is defined as–the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.

And so all of the things listed above do require courage. But it also takes courage to speak truth amidst lies; to go one way when the rest of the world is going another; and to choose to live according to God’s Word, despite the ridicule and persecution one may have to endure.

This is the kind of courage we need to teach our kids. And this is the kind we see less and less.

As I have watched young parents train their children, I am beginning to understand why. I believe there is a direct correlation between Christian parents not letting their children experience anything hard or difficult and the lack of bravery we see in our Christian young people. Think about it with me for a moment, if you will. Many Christian moms and dads–parents who truly want to do what is right–have removed all of the pain and difficulty that they can from their kids’ lives. And it is tough not to. Culture has pretty much dictated that this is how “good parents raise their kids”. While nothing could be further from the truth, it takes courage to raise kids in a biblical way these days.

Because we don’t want our kids to experience pain and we believe that this is what a “good parent” is supposed to do, we rush in to fix every school issue, every teacher problem, and every friend situation. We begin to allow the things of the world into our home so that our kids won’t be ridiculed but can look like everyone else. We allow our girls to dress a certain way because, after all, “everybody is doing it”. We allow music groups, tv shows, movies, and video games that do not reflect our Christian values because we don’t want our kids to face the pain of being different from their friends. We want them to be liked and to have a positive experience.

This is understandable.

But is it in their best {eternal} interest?

Kids that feel no pain or do not face any difficulty as they grow up will, most likely, become driven by their own selfish desires as adults. They are the ones who will make every choice based around how it affects them personally rather than whether something is right or wrong. They will do everything they can to avoid discomfort, difficulty, and inconvenience. This type of person is often the kind we see show up at job interviews for our company now. And, honestly, I expect it from the world. They have been taught that nothing matters but them. To do what’s right for them, no matter the cost. But what I didn’t expect was to see the same things from those claiming to be believers. And yet this is what we see more and more.

So how do we raise kids that are courageous? Kids that will go against the flow in a world gone mad? Kids that will bravely face the ridicule and the mockery?

1. First and foremost, be an example they can follow of courage and bravery. Be willing to go against the flow yourself in order to follow hard after God. Be willing to turn away from popular entertainment in order to grow spiritually. Be willing to speak up at work or on the soccer sidelines if God gives you the opportunity. Be a godly example of someone who is sold out for God, no matter the cost.

2. Pray for your kids to have courage. Pray that your kids will have courage to stand up for what’s right. One of my prayers for my kids when they were little was that they would become bolder and stronger Christians than my husband and me. I wanted (and continue to want) them to shine brightly for God in such a dark world. I cannot begin to express to you the wonderful joy I feel as I begin to see the answer to that prayer happening in their lives. They are so much further along spiritually than I was at their age and I know God is answering my prayer. He is just so faithful! I wish I would have prayed even more than I did for them. It was hard amidst the business and craziness of life. I fear that prayer may be a much under-used blessing for many as they raise their kids.

3. Teach your kids to measure their decisions by the Word of God instead of by what makes them feel good. Sometimes obeying God is not fun. But if we can teach our kids that life is about so much more than our feelings, we will be giving them a huge headstart in developing the courage they will need for the future. When God’s Word is our guide instead of our own selfish agenda, we naturally become braver and bolder because we have a correct view on what matters.

4. Allow them to feel the pain of being different. I have seen so many parents cave on their own personal values because they didn’t want their kids to experience pain or difficulty. From what we allow our girls to wear to what video games we allow our sons to play, facing the pain of being different will build their character. I think I mentioned this before, but we have never regretted the things we didn’t let our kids do, but we do have a few regrets regarding the things we caved on because of this very thing. So stay strong and live according to the Word. You will be so glad you did.

5. Teach your kids to fight for the right things. Over and over again I see strife and problems in work places and churches and families because of someone fighting for the wrong things. Selfishness–my will, my rights, my agenda, my desires–becomes what we fight for and this yields to so much pain and anguish. We need to teach our kids to stand and fight for the Truth of God’s Word. To hold ground for the things that are eternal. If it is never mentioned in the Bible and it doesn’t matter to God, then it isn’t a hill to die on. But usually we see the opposite–people who are willing to cause all types of anguish for their own agendas but completely unwilling to stand up for God and His Word. I guess it’s our human nature. But we must teach our kids to fight this tendency and to be wise in what they fight for. It takes no courage to stand up for yourself. But it takes great courage to stand up for God in a world that hates Him.

So there are five ways to help your kids become courageous in a world full of spiritual cowards. It is a hard time to raise kids. I feel for you in this culture. So many things assail from all directions. You have to constantly be on your guard. But, at the end of the day, it is the Word of God that will be your anchor. Hold fast to that and parent according to it and you will find that God will fill in your weaknesses and failures. He is just so faithful!

**I do need to mention one thing for those of you with teens. Please do not judge your kids’ courage based on their teen years. Each one has a different personality and the teen years are so hard. Some will stand bravely, with no care for what people think of them, while others–fighting that urge to be like everyone else–will struggle. Just keep praying and having those discussions that go back to the Bible and what it teaches. And then, hopefully, you can–like us–look back someday and see God’s hand in the lives of your teens as He orchestrated His plan in their lives in a way you never dreamed possible.

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

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Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

Some Thoughts On Hurricane Harvey

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During this past week we watched as a historical hurricane named Harvey released its fury on Texas. In its wake, it left thousands of lives uprooted and topsy-turvy, destroying both homes and businesses with its winds and water. A few precious lives were even lost in this terrible storm. It will take a lot of time and an enormous amount of money as the area works on drying out and rebuilding.

While I am always generally interested in the weather (maybe it’s because I am married to a landscaper?), this particular storm captivated my attention because I have a daughter and son-in-law living in the Houston area. I found myself watching the weather channel to keep track of this storm and then watching Fox News as they started to cover it, as well. Here are a few of my (scattered) thoughts about this past week.

1. I noticed that race didn’t seem to matter at all during these past few days. Whether you were Hispanic, white, or black didn’t matter even a tiny bit as rescues took place and shelters were opened. No one cared. Perhaps this indicates that prejudice is not as big of a deal as the press would like us to believe. Do most people really feel a deep-seated prejudice towards other races? Oh, sure we may not understand each other like we should but do we really feel prejudiced? I just don’t believe that most do. Is it even possible that the press is fomenting racism with their constant coverage that aims to divide?

2. Tragedy brings out the best in people. There is nothing like a historical hurricane to remind you that America is a great place to live. As volunteers and resources pour into Houston, we can see that many Americans still care about their fellow man. It is an encouraging reminder for all of us.

3. I remembered why I don’t watch the news. I stopped watching several years ago now, after I realized that it affected my mood and also that the coverage was so biased and incomplete. I do watch a weekly 15 minute recap of world news by a YouTuber who puts clips together. This gives me a great overview of what has happened in the world over the past week. What I have found is that American news channels tend to be extremely myopic and selective in what they cover and there is so much we never even hear about that is going on in the rest of the world.

The other thing I noticed is that they thrive on debate. I just want to hear the news. I was disheartened to see Fox give coverage in the middle of all of this to a fireman who claimed that “Houston just wasn’t prepared for this like they should have been” and then ask a busy official his response to this fireman’s statement. Really? You would do this in the midst of all that’s going on? This was one of several times I saw something like this. It is my opinion that Fox News is just like every other news channel. They feed off debates and arguments and care far more about ratings than they care about the people they are covering. Sadly, this is what the news has become, no matter which way they “lean”.

4. And, finally, on a more personal note, it was quite challenging to be so far away from someone I love during such a time. As my daughter sent me photos and information about what was going on, I felt so helpless. Moments like these are so completely out of our control and they cause us to run straight into God’s sovereignty. I knew that I had to make a conscious decision to trust God for the safety of my kids and choose not to worry–not an easy task for someone prone to worry. And so I grew a bit in trusting God during this past week. And I was reminded that He loves them far more than I ever could. I once heard someone say something like this– “My kids are much safer in the Lord’s will far away from me than they are if they live close and are outside of His will.” So. True.

So there are just a few unrelated tidbits of thoughts I had about this past week. Let’s continue to pray for Texas (and the other states affected, as well) and offer to help however we can. They all have a very long road ahead of them.

 

People Do Change

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The other day, someone said something to me that indicated that they thought they were far too sinful to be saved. They couldn’t imagine how God would ever save them. They said it in passing, in a public place, where we couldn’t talk. I told them the beauty of salvation is that none of us deserves to be saved but I have been wondering what I would have–should have–said, had we had more time? I got some help with this question yesterday as I was listening to my father-in-law tell us about Paul during our campfire “church” service (which is what we do for worship time when we go camping).

He shared about some of Paul’s background and just where he had come from. This was perfect because, as any of my readers who are participating in the 2017 Growing 4Life Bible Reading Challenge already know, we are reading Paul’s epistles this year. It was interesting to find out more about the author God chose to write these books of the Bible.

As he spoke about Paul’s education and family, he told us how he was part of the group of Jewish leaders who persecuted the church. I was familiar with most of the information but it was great to have a refresher course on this man that God used to write a good portion of the New Testament. Paul was even present at Stephen’s death, the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith. Here is what we read about Paul (at that time he was called Saul) in Acts 8:1–

Now Saul was consenting to his {Stephen’s} death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And then this in verse 3 of the same chapter–

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

From these verses we see that not only did he consent to Stephen’s death but that he was part of the great persecution that rose up against the church. He personally entered homes and would drag men and women off to prison! He did everything he possibly could to stop the church of Jesus Christ from spreading.

As we discussed this, we wondered why God took someone so evil and called on him, of all men, to write the epistles? Why did God decide on Paul?

We can’t really know the answer to this, but one of the things I did think about was how encouraging and wonderful it is that God did use Paul. The fact that He did shows us, once again, that God can change the heart of a wicked, sinful man and use him to fulfill His purposes! No one is beyond His grace.

No one!

This should comfort us. Not only for ourselves, but it should also bring hope to our hearts for the ones we love who are caught up in unimaginable sins, imprisoned by Satan’s lies, with no conviction and no change on the horizon.

No one is beyond God’s grace.

God can change any man or woman–even one who has attacked His church. He can use any person for His purposes and His glory. Let us not grow weary in our prayers for those we love who are walking on the broad road of the world, far away from God.

When we read in the next chapter that Saul is converted, we find Ananias very concerned when the Lord tells him to seek out Saul and help him–

 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”  (Acts 9:13)

Saul’s reputation was well-known. We can imagine that the dramatic change in Saul would have been the topic of conversation in town squares during the following days and months. Was Saul really changed? Or was this just temporary? One group was wondering if he could be truly be trusted and another group was probably mourning the loss of one of their most zealous members, hoping he’d return. Of course, we know now that Paul was saved by God and changed forever.

Sometimes, we can grow skeptical about people truly changing. We have watched people say a prayer for salvation and then sprout up and seemingly and quickly grow, only to wilt and fall away when the tough times came along. Just like the seed we read about in the Parable of the Sower, the seed can’t take the scorching sun (Matthew 13:1-9). These things can make us start doubting that people ever change. In fact, sometimes you will hear this line: “People never change.”

But Paul is a dramatic real-life example to us that this is not true! People do change and Paul is one of our greatest proofs! Of course, the longer we live as a believer, the more examples we see of the Holy Spirit working change in the lives of those around us. I have seen Him change lost sinners into saved saints and even in my own life and the lives of other Christians, I see Him molding and shaping us to grow more like Christ. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago. Or five years ago. Or last year. I hope you can say the same thing.

So let us persevere in prayer for our lost loved ones and even for victory in our own personal struggles, knowing that God’s grace covers even the worst of sins and confident that true and lasting change is possible!

 

Learn to Discern: Knowing When to Speak Up

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I was mindlessly moving a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. My mind was on other things and I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing. Without thinking, I grabbed a dime that was laying near the dryer’s lint trap and tossed it in the trash.

Oops!

I looked at the trash and I pondered the worth of the dime. And then I turned back to my task. I simply did not find the dime to be valuable enough to warrant digging through the trashcan. This made me wonder about what amount of money I would consider worth digging in the trash? A quarter? A dollar? At what point would I deem the amount valuable enough that it would propel me to work to get it back?

I think we need to consider this same principle when we are looking at discernment. Recently, there was a huge “to-do” in the discernment world (if you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, I am not going to fill you in. I have no desire to give it any more attention than it has already received). But what I saw happening there was someone who was making a huge deal over a “dime”. While I did agree with this person’s point of view on the subject matter at hand, I did not see that it was worth a fight. A few other Christian leaders had the same opinion as me and ended up being maligned by this other man who thought everyone else should be making as big a deal over this “dime” as he was!

One of the hardest things we must learn to do as we grow in discernment is know when something is worth a confrontation. Romans 12:18 teaches us that we are to be at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. This is an important verse, giving us a framework in which we are to live all of life. Unfortunately, this is not going to always be possible. We know from scripture that we are going to be hated by the world and that there will be many false teachers. This naturally means that we will have some run-ins, as we try to stand for the truth.

So, how exactly do we know if something is important enough to speak up about in our families, churches, or anywhere else?

Here are a few guidelines to follow–

1. The situation at hand is about God, His Word, and His reputation. This is by far the most important key to discerning when something is important enough to stand up for. It should never be about our pride, our reputation, our importance, our need to prove ourselves. Something that is worth standing up for will always be about God’s glory and about protecting the truth of God’s Word.

It is never about ME. 

But this is oh, so tempting, isn’t it? Sometimes it is hard to discern if we are standing for God or for our own pride. We have this need to prove ourselves or to be “right” and we can get all entangled in our own selfish agenda–sometimes even when are standing up for the true and right thing! We must have humble hearts that are on the constant look-out for sins like pride, selfishness, and anger. And let’s regularly ask the Lord for a right heart and attitude and that He will fill us with His love and grace as we fight the good fight.

2. It is morally wrong. There are an abundance of verses expounding on the things that are an offense to our Holy God. We know that sexual sins, lying, sorcery, anger, pride etc. are always wrong and therefore should be something that those who claim to be Christians should avoid. (Check out these passages for more clarity and detail on the sins that God hates: Exodus 20:1-17; Colossians 3:5-6; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:1-7.)

If we know God hates these things, then this should be our guideline of things we want to avoid in all aspects of our lives. This would include our entertainment, which is something that believers mostly ignore now and, for some reason, practice a strange “disconnect”–as if somehow this is irrelevant from the rest of their spiritual health.

We should–we must–stand for pure and holy living. God’s Word clearly teaches that, as regenerated souls, we are to live pure and holy lives that are clearly different and separated from the world (I Peter 1:15-16; Jude 1:20; Philippians 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:22; Romans 12:1-2; I Peter 2:9; Romans 13:13-14; Colossians 3:10).

This is not a wildly popular thing to stand for. In fact, it is not even marginally popular. But we need to speak up because God’s glory and reputation are damaged by those who live worldly, sinful lives while claiming to belong to Him.

3. Scripture is misinterpreted and twisted. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 tells us this: So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Since scripture was written there has been an accepted interpretation. Oh, there have been councils and meetings to discuss things, but God has miraculously protected the integrity of scripture throughout the years. However, Satan is always trying to mess with it just enough that he will mislead people. He has done this through the ages, but I highly doubt it has ever been so much as right now.

When someone gives some wild, out-of-context interpretation of scripture it is time to stand up! When someone tries to rationalize worldliness, homosexuality, evolution, or any other ungodly sin or philosophy, it is time to stand for the truth of God’s Word. We cannot let our enemy win this battle –for this is the battle’s core. Is scripture 100% true, inerrant, and inspired, or isn’t it? Because we know it is, we must speak up when it’s maligned.

Of course, the problem with this is that most of us do not have enough biblical knowledge to really provide a biblical defense. This is really why I write. I want to encourage you to know the Word so that you can live godly lives and contend for the faith.

Josh Buice writes this: The absolute best method of testing a theology or a popular catch phrase is by Scripture. If any teaching will stand the intense scrutiny of Scripture, it proves itself to be a trustworthy doctrine. This is true on all matters of theology—from bumper stickers to historic creeds and confessions. The question that we must be asking ourselves as we build our positions is, “What does the Bible say?”

Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly right. You see, the Bible isn’t all that hard to understand. If we accept the Bible as it is written, literally, it all makes so much sense. And, even more amazing, the facts presented in science (I am talking about facts and not theories) and the historical record supports it all! You will find it incredible and even miraculous when you give yourself to serious study of this amazing book. But we don’t know because we don’t study. And– if I may be so bold–we don’t study because we don’t care. Oh, if this blog accomplishes one things –I hope it is that you would start to care about growing in your knowledge of the Word of God!

4. Christ’s role is diminished. Oh, how many false teachers diminish the role of Christ. If you are deciding whether something is worth the fight, ask yourself this: How do they treat Christ? Do they turn His sacrifice on the cross into a mere event? Do they teach that Christ is one of many ways to be reconciled to God? Do they teach that man is basically good and that Jesus is just a good example to follow? Do they teach that Christ is there to do one’s bidding? Do they teach that Christ is simply a good teacher? You will be surprised how even the most mainstream teachers and authors are teaching error in regards to Christ. And this is worth the fight! While Jesus Christ is the theme of the whole Bible (yes, even the Old Testament!), you can start by reading the Gospels. This is a great place to get started in knowing your Savior and will help you to defend Him!

5. Primary Christian Doctrines are compromised. As believers, we do need to know doctrine (contrary to what you have probably been told). Being unfamiliar with words like justification, sanctification, and glorification leaves you vulnerable to false teachers. Having at least a basic understanding of what the Bible teaches about (to name a few) the Trinity, God’s Sovereignty, salvation, God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and about the Church strengthen and prepare you for the vicious and unrelenting attacks that Satan wages against these doctrines. (Understanding what the Bible teaches us about the the last days and about Israel are secondary issues but are still beneficial–and interesting!– to study.) Find a good resource, such as Biblical Doctrine by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue and start increasing your knowledge. If you’d rather have something a little less intimidating and not quite as deep, try Fundamentals of the Faith by MacArthur, which is a 13-week guided study of basic Christian doctrines.

6. Be socially wise. Now, with the final two items on this list, we are moving from biblical compromise to having social discernment. If someone you barely knows starts sharing about how much they love The Shack or Jesus Calling, don’t start off on a long monologue on why they are not doctrinally sound books. Go ahead and say something casually and if they express interest, then, by all means, have a conversation. But don’t confront acquaintances and strangers. They have absolutely no reason to listen to you. Gauge their interest and be wise. And, most importantly, pray for them.

7. Consider the spirit of the person you are confronting.  We must evaluate the person we are speaking to and ask ourselves: Is this person humble or proud? You see, if you are dealing with someone who thinks they know everything, who won’t bend, who doesn’t listen, then feel free to bring up your concern, but don’t argue or debate with them. Only the Holy Spirit can remove that blind pride. You could talk for forever and not move them an inch. So allow the Lord to use you to plant His seeds and to challenge them with some thoughts but do not become a thorn in their side that pricks at every opportunity. This is not how we practice discernment.

 

This is not an exhaustive list. Practicing biblical discernment is no picnic and I can honestly tell you that there is little personal reward for speaking up. I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again–most people do not want to hear. And because they do not want to hear, they will view you as (and call you) all kinds of negative things. But don’t let this stop you because we know that the truth of the Bible has the power to save! We know that the souls of those who are deceived and lost are going to hell! We know how this all ends! We know what is coming in the future! Let’s keep our eyes focused on what is important and not get embroiled in our hurt feelings and relational skirmishes here on earth. Study the Word and don’t be afraid to speak up when you must!

 

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

Shopping for Furniture

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She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)