The Christmas Letter

Christmas Card

 

Dear Friends and Family,

This year was great! Jack was valedictorian and is headed to the best university in the country with a full scholarship. Little Suzy was the top gymnast in her league and has hopes to reach the Olympics. We all went on a missions trip that was absolutely wonderful! At least a hundred people came to know the Lord while we were there. John received a promotion. Susan is the head of the PTA. Our dog is perfect, as is our home, our car, and everything about our family. See the lovely pictures and please envy our lives. Because we have it all together.  And you don’t.

Love,

John and Susan

 

Okay, so I am being a little facetious, here. Obviously. But I think this challenge of sharing good news can sometimes come across like this letter. And it brings to mind a few things–

First — as a writer– it is pretty important that we don’t act like life is perfect. Because we all know it’s not. One of my biggest concerns with writing a Christmas letter or even posting pictures on Facebook is that people would believe this about me. My husband and I argue, just like any other couple. There are many times my kids don’t get along. And there are occasions where I would be downright embarrassed if you walked into my house. We struggle with being down and grumpy. We live out the consequences of sinful choices.

BUT, that being said, it is exciting to share the good news of our lives! So much of life is filled with hurt and difficulties and pain that we naturally want to celebrate the good! And so we should! As long as we can do so without giving the impression that we are somehow better than our neighbors or friends.

So let’s write and post and share the wonderful blessings of our lives with grace and kindness, doing our best to avoid giving the impression that somehow we have it all together.

And second– as a reader– let’s love our friends and family by being happy for them! Sometimes we can get a little resentful. Especially if we are going through a difficult season of our lives. We can’t understand why that person has so many blessings when we have been hit by trial after trial. And it all seems so unfair. But Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

If we can keep a proper view of God’s Sovereignty, we can follow this command so much more easily. You see, it is easy to grow jealous if we perceive our lives to be tougher than somebody else’s, but if we know that our lives, as well as the life of the person we envy, are under God’s Sovereignty and His holy plan, then it makes it not only possible but delightful to rejoice with them!

I add here, as well, that no matter what it looks like, you can be guaranteed that no life is perfect on this earth and trials and struggles abound in all lives — even the ones that look perfect.

This post is specifically about Christmas but is really applicable year round. I hope that you can truly enjoy the wonderful blessings and victories of your family members and friends because this is what leads to true fellowship.

 

 

 

What If I Don’t “Get” The Bible?

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Since I have been talking about the 2015 Bible Challenge, I have heard a few people share their hesitation in taking something like this on because they find the Bible so hard to understand.

Let me say first–I get what you are saying. Sometimes I wonder if you think that I am somehow different than you. I, too, have struggled to understand and have really felt guilty about not loving God’s Word as I ought to as a believer. My lack of love for God’s Word was a big shadow over my Christian life for many years.  And so I started praying about it–asking specifically that God would give me a love for His Word.

And He answered that prayer.

It wasn’t instant and sometimes I still struggle, but He truly has instilled in me a love for scripture. It is just one of the many ways God has proven Himself faithful to me. I am not special. If you ask Him, He will do the same thing for you. There are a few things we can do to prepare our hearts, though, to be receptive to the Word.

We first (and most importantly) need to recognize our sinfulness and be sure to have a humble and submissive spirit when we read. This can take some work in this world of “rights”, with the great focus always on “me”. It’s not how we have been trained to think. I have also found in my own life that it is a purposeful choice that I have to make almost daily. I have not found humility something that I master and then can move on. Pride and selfishness sneak their way in so subtly.

We also need to bring a spirit of obedience– being ready to obey even the things that make us uncomfortable or that may require sacrifice. This can be very difficult and I can truly understand why so many people struggle with this and may even stop reading. Stepping out of our comfort zone and giving up the things we love is never easy– for any reason. But if you are willing to do this, you will not walk away at the end of 2015 unchanged if you participate in the Bible Challenge.

I would also like to add here– and this is really important– I did not understand every passage I read in the Bible this past year. There were many moments where I was scratching my head, really puzzled over what a particular passage was saying.

I know at this point, skeptics and scoffers would call me naive and perhaps even ridiculous to keep reading. But here’s the thing–I am okay if I don’t understand everything about God. In fact, if I did understand everything, I would really be bringing Him down to my level– putting Him inside a box of my own finite and limited understanding. The fact that I can’t understand everything is okay with me because I understand enough. And, quite frankly, I have to agree with Mark Twain, who said–

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts I do understand.”

I agree. I think many times we are so disconcerted and uncomfortable about what we can understand, that we often use the excuse we can’t understand it as a reason to just give up.

And I will state right here– that is the easier choice. Yes, it is. It is easier to just say we can’t understand it and put it aside. At least it is easier if you are looking only at right now. This present moment. What I just wish I could help you understand is the great peace and joy and comfort that comes with submitting your life to Christ in all ways, first and foremost by spending time getting to know Him in the Word. I cannot even begin to tell you how God has used His Word in my life this year. Again, let me just confirm once more — I am not anything special. I am just a middle-aged mom from Small-town, America. Let me also make sure you understand that I still fight sin and my selfish desires every single day. This is not about me but about what God is doing in me. He can do the same thing for you. I know He can. If you will submit and obey Him. And the first start to that is by getting into His Word.

If you are still with me at this point in this post, then it means you are drawn to joining the challenge. But perhaps something is holding you back. If that’s the case, then I want you to know that I am praying for you specifically. I am going to pray that you are given the faith and the courage to pick up your Bible and read it in 2015. Really read it.

I don’t care if you use my challenge. That’s just there as an encouragement and help for those who desire it. But if that seems overwhelming, then try a 2-year plan. Or an inductive study of a single book. But do something. I can promise you that you will not be sorry.

And, as always, if I can pray for you specifically or answer any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Find more information on the Growing4Life 2015 Bible Challenge here.

Knowing When to Disengage

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Christmas is a wonderful time for holiday parties and family reunions. But many of us dread these get-togethers because of the inevitable disagreements and heated discussions that are sure to take place. For some of us, it takes a lot of joy out of the holiday season. I think all of us have had disagreements at one time or other with people. The sin nature we are born with makes it impossible for us all to get along 24/7. Even Christians. Perhaps it is even harder for us because we know that we should get along!

So what happens when you just can’t see eye to eye with someone?  I am still growing in this area but I have learned a few things.

First, it is best to ask a few questions–

Does this really matter? Will I care in 50 years? 10 years? Tomorrow?

If I don’t get my own way in this, what will happen?

If I do get my own way, what will it cost me?

If it really doesn’t matter, then it may be time to back down. I am still working on this, but the Lord has really been teaching me. Why argue over something that happened 20 years ago? My memory is terrible and I’ve learned that I am wrong at least 90% of the time.

It is also good to consider the ramifications of winning and losing an argument. We may “win”, but in the process lose respect. And we may lose and find that it doesn’t matter at all.

We can answer these questions quickly and easily in our head to see if we should disengage. Think about all the little stuff that starts arguments and end up turning into grudges that often last a lifetime. Seriously. Families, churches, and work cultures are destroyed over the silliest things.

Does it really matter? Asking this question has really helped me with the inane, unimportant disagreements.

But what about the topics that really do matter? How do we handle debates and discussions we have regarding religion, politics, entertainment, how to raise kids, or treat elderly parents? These conversations encompass abortion, homosexuality, gun control, education, and racism. And we haven’t even mentioned the long-standing disagreements over various biblical doctrines and theology. Let’s face it–there are a lot of things that truly do matter in life. And many of us have very strong opinions about these really important issues. Now what?

We need to consider two things as we take part in these deeper, more philosophical, discussions–

1. How am I presenting myself in this disagreement? What tone am I using? Am I growing frustrated? If you find that your words have become arrogant and rude and the discussion is growing heated, then it is time to step back and disengage yourself from the conversation. We can quickly ruin our Christian testimony by how we handle these situations.

2. Will I change this person’s mind? If the person is adamantly arguing against creation or the right to life or against some other clear principle from God’s Word and you see no softening of the heart and absolutely no interest in your point of view, then it’s time to disengage and pray instead. Never discount prayer. Even the hardest heart can be changed. But it won’t be by you or me. Only God can change a heart. Start praying and always be ready for opportunities that may open for a good, healthy discussion in the future. You just never know when one will be dropped in your lap!

I do offer one word of caution. It is so critical that we look to God’s Word and see what He has to say on these issues. Of course, not all things are crystal clear in scripture, but our opinions should always be drawn first and foremost from the principles within God’s Word or they can do great, long-term damage. Consider Karl Marx or Charles Darwin for just a moment. The strong opinions of these men, drawn from wrong premises, have affected the lives of millions and millions of people in a very negative way. It is so very important that our opinions are based on the Word of God and not drawn from our own human experiences or emotions.

And one final–but extremely important–thought. If we find ourselves in one of these heated discussions, let’s try to assume that the other person may not truly understand just how hurtful their tone sounded or how angry their words were and extend grace. I try to offer this grace to the other person because I know that sometimes I am misunderstood, too, and I hope that people will extend the same grace towards me.

So this holiday season, let’s try to anticipate our family reunions and work parties with great joy, remembering that they do not need to be dominated by unpleasant conversations and heated debates. Let’s disengage ourselves before we sin and instead be a bearer of peace and selflessness this holiday season. And, by all means, let us offer grace and mercy to those who offend us. For that is exactly what the Christ Child did for us, after all.

 

 I Corinthians 13:4-7 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Waiting for “Just Right”

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I could feel the socks sinking further down into my boots with each step. About five minutes into my walk, my socks were big lumps underneath my feet. Great. I looked up and saw a bench in the distance and decided I would sit down and try to pull them up as tightly as you can pull ankle socks up, all the while reminding myself that this is exactly why you don’t wear ankle socks with boots.

I got them back to their original positions and tentatively took a few steps. I thought I should be good for a few minutes, but I quickly realized that I was wrong. They were back in their undesired position before I could walk even a half minute down the path.

At this point I had a decision to make. I had three options. I could–

A) Remove the sock.

B) Let them remain uncomfortably wadded at the bottom of my boots.

C) Just stay where I was for the remainder of my days.

Obviously, “C” was not a viable option– although many of us take this option in real-life scenarios, which I’ll explain if you’ll just stay with me a few more minutes here. But back to my options–  I was left with A or B. The ground was wet and muddy, with nowhere to sit or lean in sight, making option A a bit perilous, so I settled for option B.

Interestingly enough, by the time I was approaching my house, I realized that I had totally forgotten about the discomfort. My thoughts had taken me elsewhere and I could enjoy the walk even with lumps in my boots.

And I realized that it’s ok. It is ok to walk and not have everything be “just right”.

I have brought this thought process with me to many challenges in my life. It has to be just right for me to work at losing weight, to write a book, to have my quiet time. We all do it. We won’t leave a miserable job until we are forced to, go to church until our spouse joins us, or stick to a budget until it feels like we have enough money. We are waiting for that person to apologize before we forgive, we are waiting for our families to be perfect, before we will change our own attitudes, and we are waiting for our kids to like us, before we will put discipline into place. The interesting thing is that the thing we are waiting to do is often something that would improve our life tremendously.

And I wonder. Is “just right” a trap to keep us from pleasing our heavenly father and living the best life possible while here on earth? Does it keep us stymied in a place of discontent and dissatisfaction, while we wait for our circumstances to come to a point where the thing we want to do will be easy?

How stuck we get in wrong thinking.

This is the time when many of us are starting to think of New Year’s Resolutions and beginning over again. If we are young we enthusiastically set new goals. If middle-age has set in we are, most likely, remembering the days when we used to do that and have caved in to the futility of goal-setting.

But perhaps this is the year. This could be the year that you lose the weight, develop a regular quiet time or read through the Bible (I can help with that here!) or change jobs. Perhaps this is the year that you will create a budget and stick to it. Or organize your photos. Or start cooking for your family. Or forgive.

I don’t know what you are waiting to do. But what I do know is that if you wait for “just right” it will never come. I know this because I’ve been waiting for it for a long time and just when one thing improves another thing rears its ugly head, demanding attention. That is the way of life. We cannot allow it to keep us from growing as a Christian or as a person. We cannot choose Option C, remaining where we are forever. We’d like to choose that because it is comfortable there. The other options take work and we don’t want to work. But Option C isn’t really an option, is it? Because there is no standing still in life. If we aren’t moving forward, then we are sliding backwards.

Perhaps Paul says it best–

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.

Here Paul is talking about moving forward in maturing in Christ Jesus. But many of our goals will help us do that, won’t they? Controlling our appetites, teaching our children to obey, forgiving, being organized or sticking to a budget (which shows that we are a good steward of our material possessions and time) are all good steps to take as we strive to grow as believers.

I think my walk helped me realize that I can still move forward with a goal, even if everything isn’t lined up just the way I think it should be. Sure, my goal or the change I want to make may require a little more creativity, but that’s okay! In fact, it may even be more rewarding that way. Let’s not give up trying to change. Let’s not swallow the lie that things will never change. With some perseverance, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can change. So get busy making a few goals. Go. Do it now.

 

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The Light

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Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss, isn’t it?

My eye caught the particles of dust that hung in the air in the streaming sunlight. I was taken aback. I actually breathe all of that in? That’s disgusting.

The same thing has happened when the sunlight has hit my floor off of the kitchen. It makes what I think is a pretty clean floor show all of the dog hair, dirt, and debris that tends to get lost in a darker setting.

The light tends to do that. And many times we’d just rather not know.

But what if the light is really a blessing?

What if the light is the only way we know the truth? My floor is dirty and my air is dusty, whether I can see them or not.

In my journey through the New Testament the past couple of months, I have felt like much of it is a bright, shining light into the dark crevices of my life. And, while this is a painful and humbling process, it is also a freeing and hopeful process. There is so much I have to change, but it is not hopeless!

This is really one of the reasons why I am hoping more of you will join me in the Bible Reading Challenge. If you have the right heart when you start in January, you will not go away unchanged.

By right heart, I mean this–

I was talking with a friend the other day and she, too, is reading faithfully from God’s Word each day and is experiencing the life-changing truths held within its pages. But she mentioned something that I think is worth mentioning here–

We will not be changed by God’s Word if we do not have a submissive and obedient heart–a heart filled with love for our heavenly Father that truly desires to please God above self.

I finished the Old Testament a few months ago and those were the three words that kept coming up over and over and over again– humility, love, and obedience. It is so clear. It is the most important thing I learned in reading through the Old Testament. These qualities are not optional but are absolutely necessary in the Christian life.

So, honestly, I can’t promise you that your read-through will be life-changing. Many, many people read God’s Word whose lives are never changed. Only God (and perhaps they) know why. I am not the judge.

And I want you to know that I understand that this might not be the right time for you to join the challenge. And that’s ok. You may have commitments that are too overwhelming right now or another Bible Study that you are involved in. Many of you I don’t know, but many of you I do. You all need to know that I am not offended or judging you in any way if you don’t join the challenge.

However, if God can use me to encourage even a few of you to develop a deeper and fuller love for His Word, I believe it is worth it. And so I truly hope that if you are even thinking about it, that you will join me. It doesn’t cost anything. You can print out the schedule and at least start, right?

And– just to be clear– I am receiving no compensation or payment for this challenge in any way. This is about God placing within me a burning passion to get people back into His Word. I truly believe that the American church and Christian families would not be in the state they are in, if we had not allowed ourselves to become so biblically illiterate. I want to do whatever I can from my little blog corner of the world to change that.

I truly hope you will consider joining me. Click here for the details. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (find the box in the upper right-hand of this page) to receive a special newsletter that will be bring encouragement, worksheets, and commentary for the challenge each month.

 

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Eight Ways to Make This the Best Christmas Ever

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Thanksgiving is over. Guess what that means?

It means that Christmas season has officially begun for even the most reluctant merrymakers! Personally, I’ve been playing Christmas music for awhile now. I think it is terribly sad to relegate all that great music to four or five short weeks out of the whole year.

This year we only have four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything done that needs to be done. If you are like me, visions of Christmas cards and cookies and candy dance in your head. The tree is up but some decorations are still sitting in boxes waiting for their time to shine. A few gifts are already hidden and a Christmas list organizing all of the gifts you need to buy is partially put together. There may be school and church programs and office parties and family get-togethers. Amidst all of that activity is the normal stuff–basketball games, cleaning, laundry, paying bills. And it’s all squished into these four short weeks.

So how do we keep our sanity? And how do we build stronger relationships (instead of tear them down) in this stressful season? And how do we keep our eyes focused on the real meaning of Christmas? I have a few suggestions–

1. Look at your list and eliminate a few things, if necessary. This seems so simple but for some of us we feel terribly guilty for even contemplating it. I know that the first year I didn’t have a big Christmas cookie baking day, I was almost wracked with guilt. But I eventually realized that Christmas could be enjoyed whether I baked or not. I still bake a few of our very favorite kinds, but I spread it out a little and don’t relegate an entire day. I can see cookie-baking day being re-instated as my kids grow up and want to start new traditions. Which leads me to number two–

2. Be flexible. While it is quite special and beneficial to have some traditions, we can’t be too over the top on carrying out every last tradition that we become annoying and frustrating to be around during the holidays. Maybe we need to go to a different tree farm–or no tree farm at all. Maybe our family get-together can’t be on Christmas Eve anymore. Life keeps changing and that means our holiday seasons keep changing, too. We can’t get too wrapped up in traditions that we grow sulky and depressed when they discontinue or change. You may not find this particular suggestion quite as necessary until you have older kids.

3. Spend a few minutes enjoying the tree lights. I know this sounds simple. But, seriously, try it. Take the occasional evening — with your spouse or your kids or by yourself– turn all of the lights off and just spend a few minutes relaxing in the quietness of the twinkling lights. It’s a great place for conversation, contemplating, and praying. Make sure the TV is off.

4. Do something really nice for someone. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways and many of us do this already, I know. But maybe this year we can step it up a bit. We can have the kids make cards for shut-ins or perhaps even visit someone from our church that is lonely. We can visit a local soup kitchen or mission and help however we can. We can come up with really fun and creative random acts of kindness. The key here is to focus on others. It is not about stuffing money into the salvation army box or writing a check to a needy family– these are great things, don’t get me wrong– but this is about giving some of our precious time to someone else who can really use it. It’s about getting out of our little, comfortable worlds and stretching ourselves. If you do this, I can promise that you will not be sorry.

5. Develop a tradition or two just for your family. I am sure many of you already have these in place. But if you are looking for ideas, here are a few– have a gingerbread house building night (we buy kits cheap after the holidays), read an Advent story each night in December (check here for one of our favorites!), have a camp-out by the Christmas tree, bake together, have an ornament-making day, watch a classic Christmas movie (most Hallmark movies do not count here– I am thinking It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The House Without a Christmas Tree–if you haven’t seen these you are really missing out!). The key to family traditions is that you don’t feel the need to do all of these, but you develop a few that are fun for your whole family.

6. Don’t stop your normal habits of quiet time, exercise, and eating right. Oh, this one is so key. We are not our best selves when we aren’t walking with the Lord. If we aren’t in His Word we aren’t being convicted and challenged to keep growing. When we aren’t eating right and exercising, we do not feel well and don’t have as much energy. But the catch-22 to is that it is just so hard to fit these things in during this busy season. And so we may need to change things up a bit– maybe we need to pray before we get out of bed in the morning or can only get in a few verses instead of a whole passage during this time. Perhaps we can only exercise three times a week or 20 minutes at a time. It’s still better than nothing. And we need to give ourselves a little grace to enjoy some holiday fare without becoming holidays “pigs”. There is a happy medium. Sometimes it is hard to find it.

7. Keep the TV to a minimum and read some old-fashioned Christmas stories. TV can consume hours of our time very quickly if we are not careful. Hours much better spent doing some other things. This is always a challenge for me during this season because there are so many Christmas movies that I enjoy. But there are so many wonderful Christmas stories to read. Don’t miss them! Joe Wheeler’s Christmas in My Heart series  (I think he has like 17 books of compiled Christmas stories), The Bird’s Christmas Carol, Finding Noel, and The Unfinished Gift are just a few of my favorites. Truly, you will not be sorry to turn that box off and pick up one of these wonderful stories. The Bird’s Christmas Carol and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol our two of our favorite read-alouds from the past.

8. And, most importantly, let’s keep the focus on the true reason of Christmas. Let’s minimize the Santa movies–notice that I’m not saying don’t watch them, as that is something for each of us to determine on our own. But let’s keep the focus off of Santa and his magical, “god-like” qualities and keep the focus on what we are really celebrating if we are believers. Let’s read the account of His birth in the Gospels and spend some of our time around the tree discussing this with our family. Let’s talk about why He came and the wonder and amazement of it all. If we don’t talk about it, our kids will not know. They won’t understand the depth of love we have for Jesus Christ. Christmas is a great time to focus on the gospel. For it is at this time that we celebrate God’s great plan of salvation, which began in a stable in a small town in Bethlehem. O, how easy it is to lose focus if we aren’t careful. It is also a wonderful time to share our faith. People tend to be kinder and more open at this time of the year. Let’s not be so embarrassed and ashamed to talk about our Lord with others but instead be bold and courageous!
I hope that you find these tips encouraging and inspiring! I hope that it gets you thinking about how to have the best holiday season with your family. Do you have some other suggestions? I would love to hear your ideas, so be sure to comment below! Now let’s all go have a wonderful holiday season! Starting. Right. Now!

 

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Understanding Our Riches

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I don’t know how old you have to be to remember the show “Beverly Hillbillies.” It is a silly show, tilled with innocent humor and pointless plots, telling the tale of a hillbilly family that struck it rich.

The first verse of the theme song goes like this–

Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shootin at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubblin crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.Jed and his family were actually very rich for a very long time before he even realized it, because there was oil underneath the ground where he and his family lived.  His ignorance did not make his wealth any less valid or true.

I was reading in Ephesians this morning (Oh, how I love that little epistle!) and came across these verses– For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,[c] 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  (Ephesians 3:14-21)

And I was just struck by the knowledge that we have so much in Christ. And yet we live like we have so little. So often we are just like Jed, living as a spiritual pauper. We work our way through the swampy mess of our lives, relying on our own resources and strength. When that runs out we turn to worldly philosophies and counselors. And then when that doesn’t work, we often build walls and hide behind them. But these verses tell us that our strength and riches come from Jesus Christ. And that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think! This isn’t talking about selfish requests focused on material goods and a comfortable, pleasant life. Earlier in Ephesians Paul tells us–

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

When we are saved we are filled with the desire to please God. This isn’t a requirement, it’s just a fact. What doesn’t change is our fleshly desire to please ourselves. And so with salvation comes a huge battle and many of us are not prepared to fight it. We either cave to the temptation of our lusts or we fight it with earthly tactics and humanistic techniques.

And yet God tells us in Ephesians that God can accomplish greater things than we can ever imagine through His power in us. We can have victory! Oh, most times it doesn’t come easy and we have to work hard. While God miraculously changes sinful desires in some people, most times it is tiny step by tiny step forward.

But I think the thing I found encouraging is that if we are walking with the Lord in obedience, we can expect victory! Paul goes on in Ephesians to clearly explain what a truly saved and transformed life does and does not look like. If our lives are filled with the things that are of the flesh, we should not expect victory. We can’t live willfully in sin and expect God to work great things in us. That is why so many of us flounder as spiritual paupers, when, in truth, we are quite rich!

Today is a good day to examine your heart. I know that I had much confession to do this morning, as I read Ephesians and realized how I have been allowing some things to take a hold in my heart that shouldn’t be there. I don’t want to live as a spiritual pauper. I want to live as the spiritually rich and very loved person I am in Christ! If you are His, I am sure you want the same. May we all continue to fight the flesh that wars within us by the power of Christ in us! We are on the winning side. Victory is ours through Christ Jesus. Let’s not forget it!

 

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The Right Glue

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Yesterday was a lazy day around here. No plans. Nothing that absolutely had to be done. I love days like that. Around 3pm, my youngest daughter decided she was going to build a gingerbread house. We talked a bit about it and the decision was made that if she would wait a few hours, all of us (at least all of us who were around that night) would build one with her later on that evening. We hadn’t had an annual gingerbread-house making day for a few years and it seemed like it would be a fun activity for a winter evening.

We have this habit of buying gingerbread-house kits after the season is over for almost nothing and then stocking them up for the next year.  Of course, if you go a couple of years without an annual gingerbread-house making day, we are left with with a problem–the supplies get very old. This leads to some pretty serious consequences. As you will see.

Later on that evening, we all sat down at the table to get started. As I gently pulled my pre-made pieces from the box, I was disappointed to see that one of my gables has broken and the other one was in pieces. It was pretty clear that one end of my house would have a nice, large air vent.

As we started pulling out the packets of pre-made icing, we were quickly disappointed. Some were as hard as a rock, others were stiff and hard to work with. We put the stiff ones in warm water with high hopes. As we continued some of us had better luck than others with our creations. Personally I found the whole thing very frustrating. The stiff, uncooperative icing was making it so much work to add candy to the house that photo 1revit wasn’t even all that fun. And, so, when the roof slid off just as I had finished decorating it, I decided to just go play with my new “grand-puppy.” She was getting into a little trouble, anyway, and needed someone to watch her.

I played with her for a few minutes and then wandered back to my house to try one more time. I was less than enthusiastic this time around, but seeing the rest of my family persevering at their houses made me feel a little guilty (except for my son-in-law who had gladly taken up puppy duty and was feeling about the same as me about decorating these houses!)

photo 2I tried to put the roof back on and let it rest for a moment. I then carefully put a little frosting on a piece of candy cane and stuck it to the side of the house. The candy cane fell off. I tried again and this time the whole house fell completely apart! As it lay there in pieces, I decided that now was a great time to quit and left the table.

Quitting was an option with a gingerbread house. Who really cares, anyway? But quitting is not an option with our own homes. And sometimes we do feel like quitting, don’t we?

In my gingerbread house, the glue that held my house together was of very inferior quality. And so I was running into some pretty serious problems.

The same can be said of our own lives and homes. The glue with which we hold our lives together has to be the right stuff.

If we build our homes with unbiblical presuppositions and expectations, we will start to see certain areas crumble. If we use the glue of guilt, pride, or unrelenting stubbornness, our house will become weak. If we allow worldly attitudes and philosophies to give us the recipe for our glue, our homes will most likely fall apart. It will, at best, be a thrown-together shack with the potential to fall in on itself at any moment.

The glue to keeping our homes together is clear in scripture. It consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The glue that works has a good portion of humility (Colossians 3:2) and biblical love (I Corinthians 13). I use the adjective “biblical” because the world’s definition of love is very different than God’s.

The other day I was feeling really frustrated about something that wasn’t getting done around the house. I told my husband my frustration and let’s just say that my words were not filled with kindness and humility. A few minutes later, I sat down to read my daily portion of God’s Word. In my read-through of the Bible that day, I “just happened” to be in I Corinthians 13. I was quite aware of the irony of it all. When my husband came back in the house a few minutes later, I humbly apologized.

You see, God uses His Word to act as a mirror for us. It clearly shows us our weaknesses. But it doesn’t end there. It also gives instruction and help. We aren’t stuck in the mire of our pride and anger. We can get beyond our penchant for bad language or sulkiness. We can change. Our marriages can change. Our families can change.

There is a lot of hopelessness that abounds today, with little talk of victory in Christ. But what kind of God do we serve, anyway? If He can part the seas, can’t He work in our own hearts? If He can create the world, can’t He fix a marriage? Yes, we will always fight sin. Yes, we will always be tempted. But if we start using the right kind of glue, by the help of the Holy Spirit, things can get so much better.

Life is just tough, isn’t it? Relationships are sticky, tenuous things. So many families are dysfunctional and so broken. And we retreat into our shells and build walls. But perhaps it is time to start digging into God’s Word for some answers.

If you are ready to begin to discover God’s Word for yourself, I invite you to join me in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge coming up in 2015. You can click here for more information. But you don’t have to join me to get into the Word. Just do it. Just go get started. If you are humble and ready to obey, you will find it life-changing.

 

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Can You Just Be a Little Nice?

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Have you ever talked to one of those arrogant, condescending types? The kind that get your defenses up in world-record time? The type that you just want to ask– Can you just be a little nice? I don’t want to stretch you too much here, but some kindness would go a long way.

I’m sure you know the kind.

I had the opportunity of talking with a guy like that the other day. I had to make a business call. I just wanted to have a pleasant discussion. Instead I ended up with–well, let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant.

People like this make my blood boil. I mean you can just tell me what you have to say in a kind way. You don’t have to make me feel like an idiot.

I have had these conversations with vendors and customers. In fact, the customer ones always make me laugh. So let me make sure I understand–you are upset with me because I am asking you for money that you have owed for months? Okay then. If you are in any customer service or job where you deal with people, I am pretty sure you will be able to relate.

But we can have these conversations with co-workers, other parents on the sidelines of the soccer field or basketball court, friends, family, and, sadly enough, in the hallways and conference rooms of our churches. They are certainly not relegated to the Business World only.

I replayed that conversation over in my mind to determine two things–

What could he have done to help the situation? I ask this so that I keep this in mind when dealing with others.

and

How could I have responded better? I ask this so I can keep my Christian testimony with these particularly infuriating kind of people.

So, first, as I thought about the whole conversation, I realized that he immediately set me on edge with his tone. His tone was arrogant, condescending, and rude. He acted like he knew everything and I knew nothing. He also made me feel quite helpless with his lack of flexibility and unwillingness to compromise. Instead of working together to solve a problem, he made it very clear that he wasn’t interested and was not going to join me in solving anything. And, finally, he wounded with this words. Instead of using words to heal and solve problems, he used them to belittle and build walls.

I am not sure why this guy was so unpleasant. I had never had any contact with him before. He doesn’t own the company I called, so he isn’t vested personally. I came to the conclusion that he’s just unpleasant. And I hung up very thankful that I am not married to a guy like that one. Wow.

But the question is: Do I ever act–even slightly– like this guy? When I am cornered or upset or “sure I’m right”, am I arrogant or condescending? Unwilling to yield or compromise? Keep in mind I am not talking about biblical issues and principles here. Of course, we never yield or compromise truth. But I am talking about the interpersonal stuff of life that has no consequence. The stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run. What kind of attitude do I bring to these issues?

It’s a question to consider.

And then I had to look at how I responded. Did I emanate Jesus Christ and His love for this man? I knew the answer was no. This has been one of the main challenges for me in running a business with my husband for the past 27 years– responding to critical and unkind people. Since we have two admin assistants now, I rarely answer the phone or deal directly with people anymore (for which I am so incredibly grateful!) so I was very pleased to realize that I responded much better than I would have 20 years ago. God’s done a work in me. No question about that. Of course, there are miles and miles to go. And I still could have done better.

I realized that I did not have an eternal perspective as I talked to this guy. Instead I immediately got defensive, which put an unkind edge into my voice. Instead of thinking about the fact that this guy may not know Jesus, I immediately became consumed with my wounded pride and focused on how I was feeling at that moment. Instead of using my words to encourage and heal, I used them to defend myself and fight back. I could’ve done so much better.

You know, this is the nitty gritty stuff of life. This is where our Christianity shines brightly or shows itself to be tarnished and unlovely. How we treat others and how we respond to others is one of the most basic ways we give our testimony each and every day.

 

 

No Personality Transplant Required (for women only)

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I usually try to write for any Christian. But today’s post is just for women. Of course, men can certainly read it, but I don’t think they will really get it. I heard something yesterday in church and felt like I just had to write about it, because I am thinking that it may not just be me that struggles with this particular concern.

We Christian women have been hearing the phrase “gentle and quiet spirit” forever. For years and years, I have felt so incredibly guilty because I am just. not.

Really, it has been one of the most discouraging things ever for me. I naturally tend to take charge (even when I’m not asked) and I can talk too much, if I’m not very careful. I am not gentle. Or quiet. And I struggle with being submissive, too. There. I said it. (You can click here for my post on submission. I won’t write much about that today).

I used to watch Christian women who were “gentle and quiet” — at least in how they portrayed themselves in public– and get a little jealous. Why couldn’t I be more like them? Dignified. Quiet. Even shy.

As I have gotten older, I have gained a much deeper understanding into this. I have seen “godly” women–quiet, shy ones– who years later are not exhibiting much fruit. Their kids have walked away from the Lord. They aren’t really ministering in any area of their lives. Or I have found out that they are pernicious gossips behind the scenes. Of course, there are many quiet, shy women who are truly lovely women of God. And that’s really the whole point. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

So let’s go back to what I heard yesterday in church. We watched a video in our ladies’ Sunday School class that really brought this all together in my mind.  At one point, Nancy Leigh DeMoss said something like she believed for a long time that she would need a personality transplant in order to be godly woman. She just knew she didn’t have a quiet and gentle spirit. I had never heard the struggle put that exact way before, but as soon as she said it, I could totally and completely relate. It struck something deep inside me.

In many ways, I have felt like I have left my Savior down, my family down, and my church down just by being me. I have felt like it is impossible to be a godly woman.

But here’s the thing–

Perhaps we haven’t defined the words correctly. I remember that when I wrote the Sermon on the Mount in a Nutshell  post that I was surprised by the actual meaning of those verses in Matthew 5. All my life I had defined certain terms in that passage completely wrong–words like “mourn” and “meek.”. Perhaps the same thing has been true of these words “gentle” and “quiet”.

And logic would dictate that if we start with the wrong definition, we end up with the wrong conclusion.

So let’s define these words, using the specific Greek terms (keep in mind that I am no Greek scholar by any means)–

πραέως (praus): This difficult-to-translate root (pra-) means more than “meek.” Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising God’s strength under His control – i.e. demonstrating power without undue harshness; humble.

[The English term “meek” often lacks this blend – i.e. of gentleness (reserve) and strength.]

ἡσυχίου (hescuchios): (an adjective derived from hēsyxos, “quiet, stillness”) – properly, quiet (still), i.e. steady (settled) due to a divinely-inspired inner calmness; (“calmly quiet”) describes being “appropriately tranquil” by not misusing (or overusing) words that would stir up needless friction (destructive commotion).

As we read these definitions, we begin to understand that being gentle and quiet has absolutely nothing to do with our personality and everything to do with surrendering our will to God’s and living obediently, according to His Word.

You see, this verse is for all of us. As we mature, we should be cloaked in “divinely-inspired inner calmness”– whether we are an introvert or an extrovert. As we grow up in the Lord, we should be demonstrating humility.

And let’s keep in mind that being an extrovert does not mean one is filled with pride, just as being an introvert does not mean one is filled with humility. A quiet person can easily be more prideful than a talkative one. Sometimes we get a little confused on this.

NOW– all that being said– there are some things we need to face.

No matter what personality we have been given by God (Psalm 139:13), it can be used for God’s glory or for our own. Challenges abound for us, no matter what our natural bents are. The key is to recognize the area in which we struggle and, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to work at changing it.

For example, a strong personality may struggle with speaking words at the appropriate time while an introvert may struggle with developing the courage to speak words at all. One woman may struggle with responding with love and compassion, while another may struggle with enabling people in their struggles.

We need to recognize that God has uniquely designed (and blessed) us with the gifts, talents, and quirks that we have. And, along with that, we need to realize that each and every one of us– no matter what our personality is– has struggles and victories and needs and blessings.

No matter what personality we have been given, we have the glorious opportunity of using it to honor and glorify Christ. So let’s make sure that we grab that opportunity and, by God’s great grace and mercy, use it to the best of our ability.

If you have found this post helpful, I would sure appreciate if you would share it. Thank you!