The Pitfalls of Living by Feeling

The following is written by Erwin Lutzer. If you are struggling with loving someone, forgiving someone, or a bad habit you just can’t seem to kick, this is well-worth your time–

Before I suggest how you can cope with your emotions, I want you to consider what happens when you live by the dictates of your own hunches and whims. A life based on desires is an invitation to the sin of disobedience. Often our feelings run counter to what God requires. In fact, most sinful habits are developed by simply following the path of least resistance, by doing whatever we feel like doing. Many of our struggles can be traced to sensuality, and by that I mean being controlled by our physical senses. This spawns defeat, self-absorption, and unbelief. Many people who think they cannot obey God’s commandments simply don’t feel like obeying. Occasionally they have days when they wake up wanting to do what God requires— but not often. Our fallen human nature never feels like obeying God; usually it wants to do its own thing. This attitude comes from Satan as he suggests to us— as he did to Eve— that God has asked us to obey commands that we cannot or need not keep. If we think we can’t obey God until we feel like it, we will never get off the ground in our spiritual lives.

Let’s be specific. In his book on overcoming difficulties in marriage, Jay Adams writes of a particular counseling situation in which all love had been drained from the marriage and the partners had already agreed to a divorce. Neither one had committed a serious sin against the marriage. They just didn’t feel in love anymore. They went to the counselor hoping he would confirm their decision that since there was no feeling left, they should divorce. The couple was shocked to find the counselor saying, “If you don’t love each other, there is only one thing to do: You will have to learn to love one another.” The couple was incredulous. “How can you learn to love someone? You can’t produce feelings out of thin air!” The counselor explained that in the Bible, God commands us to love one another. When the husband was told that he should love his wife as Christ loved the church, he gasped. He could never do that. But the counselor persisted. He explained that the husband should begin on a lesser level. The Bible also commands us to love our neighbor, and since his wife is his closest neighbor, he should love her. But even so, the husband rejected the idea that he could love his wife that way. Then the counselor explained that he was still not off the hook, for God had commanded us to love even our enemies! This couple had made a common error; they had equated love with feelings. In the Bible, love is not a feeling. We can learn to love, even though we begin with little or no emotional impetus. In other words, we can choose to love. And God gives us the grace to do so.

Love is not an emotion; neither is forgiveness. The Bible commands us to put away all bitterness (Eph. 4: 31); we are to forgive others whether they solicit our forgiveness or not (v. 32). Yet many Christians believe that they can’t forgive until they feel like it! They think that if they forgive when they don’t feel like it, they are hypocritical. However, if forgiveness were an emotion, God would be commanding us to do the impossible. We cannot switch our emotions on and off. We cannot develop the right feelings on our own. But God is not mocking us when He tells us to forgive; we can choose to do so, whether we feel like it or not. Never try to skirt God’s commands under the pretense that you don’t feel like obeying Him. A second danger of living by feelings is that you may tend to derive your doctrine from feelings. If you believe God is with you just because “He feels so close,” you will also believe there are days when He forsakes you because “He feels so far away.” The assurance of God’s presence does not come by feelings, but by faith (Heb. 13: 5). Fortunately, you don’t always have to feel God’s presence to be in fellowship with Him and to make spiritual progress.

Lutzer, Erwin W. (2010-01-01). Getting to No: How to Break a Stubborn Habit (p. 104). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Dealing with Difficult People: Part 2

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Difficult people. We all have them in our lives. How do we wrestle with impossible, unpleasant situations over which we have no control? How do we work through the anger and the frustration and the hopelessness when someone keeps hurting us–over and over again. I have really been thinking about this a lot lately.

If you are a regular reader, you may remember Part 1. You can read it here. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. What I wrote there truly revolutionized how I view difficult people in my life. It was written a  few months ago and it was never intended to have a Part 2. However, God has led me to think further about this topic that is so painful and affects so many people. This is my first paragraph from Part 1–

Have you ever had to deal with someone you just couldn’t make happy? Or perhaps it is someone who lies constantly, is consistently unkind, or very angry? Or maybe they just absolutely exhaust you by telling you all of their woes? Sometimes, if they are friends, we can gently extricate ourselves from these relationships. But, many times, we can’t. We may go to church together. Or we may work together. More often than not, our difficult relationships are within our own families.

If you can relate to this, then I think you will find this post helpful. I would like to share some specific steps we can take to work through a never-ending and seemingly hopeless situation. Notice I did not say “easy” steps. But we need to remember that oftentimes the hardest steps yield the greatest rewards. And if you can take these steps–one slow step at a time– I promise that the bitterness that is welling inside you will dissipate and you will grow stronger spiritually. I can promise you this because these steps are straight from scripture.

1. Submit to God’s sovereignty in your life. This is the first step we need to take in any difficult and troubled situation. It is how we need to view any frustrating and annoying person we come across. We can never change someone else, so we need to instead turn our eyes to God and recognize that He has allowed this person or situation in our life for a reason. It is probably to help us grow more like Christ. We can shake our fist at God and rail that it isn’t fair or we can submit humbly and ask God what He wants to teach us through this. Both attitudes have consequences. If we choose to be angry, then we will grow hard and bitter. If we choose to submit, we will be filled with the peace that passeth understanding. It is our choice. Of course, Romans 8:28-30 is perfect for this idea of God’s Sovereignty but also check out Philippians 1:6 and Romans 5:1-5.

2. Love and forgive the other person(s). So, I know this one is a whole lot easier to write than it is to do. But I didn’t come up with this one on my own. This comes straight from the pages of scripture. Check out Matthew 5:44-48 and Luke 6:27. And then turn to Matthew 6:14-15 and Ephesians 4:31-32. There are many more. I just picked a couple. It would seem that loving our enemies and forgiving them are a pretty big part of a genuine Christian faith. We don’t have a choice here.

So how do we do this? I am going to share something that has helped me tremendously. When I am at the end of myself and have no love to offer or forgiveness to extend, I ask the Lord to fill me with His love and forgiveness for that person. And He answers that prayer! You see, sometimes we are humanly incapable of giving that love and forgiveness. But God is all-powerful and He has provided the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us. He will help us. Keep in mind that this is not a once and done thing. It is often a prayer that we need to pray for weeks, months, or even years. But don’t stop asking. And He won’t stop answering.

3. Surround yourself with godly people who will build you up. When we are struggling and suffering, it’s important we don’t fall prey to the very human temptation to hang out with those who will help us point a finger of blame, talk unkindly about the other person, and excuse our sinful attitudes. Instead, surround yourself with friends who will encourage you to respond correctly and biblically. Look up Proverbs 27:5-6 and Proverbs 13:20.

Again, not easy. I know when I am really upset, the last thing I want is someone telling me what the Bible says. And, look, I’m not talking about one of those friends who annoyingly always seems to have the answer and is quite arrogant in the way they give it to you. With friends like that who needs enemies?? No, I am talking about a true and wise friend who will listen and empathize, pray with you and for you, and will lovingly challenge your sinful attitudes.

4. Don’t allow Satan to get a foothold in your life because of this situation. This is best done by controlling our thought life! When we feel our thoughts spiraling out of control, we need to consciously choose to think about something else. We need to carefully refuse to let our thoughts take us down to that dark pit where we feel hopeless and full of despair. We need to very purposefully turn away from the angry and bitter thoughts that can so easily consume us. Honestly, this takes work and a lot of prayer but it does get easier! Check out Ephesians 4:26-27 and 2 Timothy 2:22-26.

5. Be thankful. This can be tough. These situations can utterly and completely take over our lives. So grab yourself an empty notebook and start a thankful journal. You will be shocked at how much you have for which to be truly thankful. God has blessed all of us in a myriad of ways. Start writing it down and see how this little exercise in gratitude helps to move your focus from your woes to your blessings. I Thessalonians 5:18 and Ephesians 5:20 are just two of many verses in scripture about gratitude.

I hope these steps help you. It won’t be instant and it won’t be easy, but if you can follow them, I truly believe God will work in your heart and your life to grow you tremendously through this trial. An added bonus will be the ability to become that friend who can help others when you get to the other side of this trial. You will really be able to understand the challenges faced by someone going through a similar situation and will be able to be used by God in a mighty way– if you choose to submit instead of shaking your fist. If you choose to be thankful instead of bitter. If you choose to grow instead of staying stuck in the mud.

Victory can be yours! This is not a hopeless situation! But, as always, the choice lies with you. No one else can make it for you. No, you can’t change the other person, but you can take steps to work on your own heart. If we choose to submit and obey, blessing will surely follow!

 

 

Would You Be Convicted?

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Have you ever had one of those conversations with a fellow believer about someone else’s salvation?

“Are they a Christian?” we ask.

And then we will say things like “Well, he goes to church” or “She said a prayer when she was a young girl.”

And then it will be followed by a “But he has never really shown any fruit” or “Her life has never really changed at all.

Can I just say: I never want to be that person. I never want people to wonder whether or not I am a true believer. I never want anyone to say they never saw any fruit in my life. I will never be perfect this side of heaven–a sad, but altogether true, fact–but I want to be moving the right direction and I want it to be obvious to all people I meet– and perhaps even more obvious to the people I live with (that know me best)– that I am, first and foremost, a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who told me about an exercise a special speaker had with a group of Christian youth. This speaker had brought up one of their teachers and asked the students to present evidence that would indicate that this teacher was godly. The students, and even some adults,  were able to present lots of fruit that showed that this teacher was following Jesus whole-heartedly.

And so we have to ask ourselves–does the fruit that is evident in my life show people that I am saved? Or does it cause people to wonder if I am saved?

And, look, let’s get beyond the basics that so many of us Christians are so good at– going to church faithfully and owning a Bible or two. Let’s dig deeper.

Using Galatians 5:19-23 as our guide, here are a couple of questions to determine how much fruit is on our life’s tree–

~How often do you get angry–really angry?

~Are you completely honest on your tax return or with your boss at work?

~Do you regularly fill your mind with thoughts of fornication, adultery, violence, and bad language through the TV shows and movies you watch, the music you listen to, and the games you play, even though God expressly forbids these things and calls them sin?

~Do you relish talking about others?

~Are you depressed or sad all the time?

~Is self-control evident in how you deal with finances, eating, and how you spend your time?

~Do you enjoy a good party and see no harm in getting drunk once in awhile?

~Do you think a little witchcraft never hurt anyone and have no problem bringing something that deals with the supernatural into your home– considering it all just good fun?

~Are you faithful to your spouse, not only in the typical sense, but also in what you say about him or her to others?

~Are you so focused on your own ambitions that people know they’d better stay out of your way? Whether it’s as small as picking a restaurant or as big as choosing a career– does your family feel like you always have to win? Do you ever concede your own personal preference just for the sake of others?

~Do you worry about the future so much that it steals joy from the present moment? Do you struggle with anxiety?

These are all really difficult questions, aren’t they? And, quite naturally, our first inclination is to think about someone else who seems to have no fruit instead of taking a long, hard look at ourselves. But let’s stop looking around for just a moment and bring it back to ourselves. This post is not about judging the salvation of somebody else. We can never know that. That is for God alone to judge.

And let’s remember: We will never be perfect. So let’s just clear that up once and for all. So if any of these things are struggles in your life it doesn’t mean that you aren’t saved. We all have struggles with sin. Not one of us is exempt.

This is about looking honestly at ourselves.

Let’s think for just a moment about our own life. What is the overall pattern of our life? If we were to go on trial for Christianity, would we be convicted? Would others be able to present enough evidence to show that we are a true believer in Jesus Christ? Would our own family be willing to give testimony for this?

Remember, it’s not about perfection. It’s about direction.*

What is your direction this morning? Does anything need to change? Recognizing that you are headed the wrong direction is the first step to change. And, as my friend, Trent, testified in his testimony (read it here)–if there no fruit whatsoever, it means there is probably no salvation, either.

And, once again, we go back to the Word of God, don’t we? Studying it, knowing it, and using it as our guide for life. If we are just hearing it and not doing it, we are going to miss out on a lot of blessings (James 1:23-25). And people are going to wonder: Is that person even saved?

Let’s make sure that is never a question that people ask about us! Let’s be so loaded down with good fruit that it is clear to everyone around us that we are living our lives wholly for Jesus!

 

*I think this may be my all-time favorite quote by John MacArthur. I need to give credit where credit is due!

If you have been challenged or helped by this post would you consider sharing it? Thank you!

 

 

 

Life is Like a Bunch of Hangers

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This morning I was getting ready to do laundry, which required grabbing some of the empty hangers from my closet. And no matter how much I try to keep them organized, some always get twisted impossibly together. It’s so annoying. Seriously.

And so I have to sit there and patiently disconnect them one at a time.

Yeah, I know it’s Saturday. It’s not a normal posting day. And this is not going to be a long post.

But I couldn’t help but think about my life being like a bunch of hangers all twisted and intertwined together and sometimes it feels impossible to make it go smoothly. Just when you think that it is, another hanger is lodged someplace that takes time to disentangle.

And I realized that it is only through much prayer and patience that we can truly heal from hurt or change sin patterns. Nothing is instant.

Oh, how I wish it were.

And every hurt and every sin affects others. Hangers don’t get caught up on nothing. They get caught up in other hangers. None of us can sin without sowing consequences for others, as well as ourselves.

So next time you have a bunch of hangers and they are all getting caught on one another, think about how this relates to your life. And then slow down and patiently pull them apart. Because they will come apart. It just takes time.

 

How Do I Know?

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I sat in the audience, not quite believing my ears. As I looked around me, I could see women, eyes focused intently, soaking in every word the woman was speaking. Ann Voskamp, a well-known and much-beloved author and speaker, was speaking truth and lies so subtly and tightly intertwined together that I had a really difficult time nailing down just exactly what was wrong with what she was saying. Listening to her and trying to discern truth from error was like trying to wrap your fingers around jello. In other words, almost impossible.

But I knew something was seriously wrong.

Afterwards, I went home and did some research. What exactly was wrong came to light and I knew from that point on that she was not going to be an author I read. Ever. See here and here for more information.

Now, if you are an Ann Voskamp fan, I apologize. This post is not about her and I am certainly not going to judge her heart or her motive. And I know that she has lots of good things to say. But as my dad has often said: Are you going to eat a delicious brownie that contains 1% poison? I definitely choose not to, especially when it comes to the spiritual food I ingest.

So how do I know what is true and what is false? When one of my friends asked me this week how I personally discern between true and false authors, I thought that perhaps the steps I take to discern may be beneficial for some of you, as well, so I thought I’d share them this morning. Here are the tests I run for teachers that help me determine if they are someone I should be spending my God-given time and resources on reading or listening to–

1. Most importantly, by far, is their message. Does what they are saying go with the Bible 100% of the time? Especially concerning what God tells us in His Word about sin, repentance, Jesus, salvation, sanctification, and the place of the Jews in His plan. If they something new and different that hasn’t been taught for thousands of years, I stop to pause. God didn’t suddenly give personal insight to an author or speaker that differs from His Word.

He also doesn’t change His Word to match the culture, which is what as so many preachers are claiming these days. God’s Word has stood the test of time and if anyone is preaching differently, I consider them a false teacher.

As you look for reviews on questionable teachers, be sure they are reviews that are biblically based and not personal vendettas aimed at the person. There should always be a clear, scriptural reason why they are considered a false teacher.

2. Do they claim to have personal revelation from God? This is almost always a red flag. I am not saying that the Holy Spirit doesn’t press upon us and guide us, but what I am saying is if an author claims that he or she has had a personal message from Jesus (such as Sarah Evans does in Jesus Calling) I will not read them. This is a classic occultic practice and if you do any research at all, you will find that almost all occultic and new age books have been written with the help of a “spirit guide”. This is no different.

Jesus is not giving special messages to certain persons. We have The Bible and that is all we need for a faithful walk with Him.

3. Who does the person cite and admire? This one is a little trickier. Sometimes well-meaning men and women will err in this area. But if I read that Catholic mystics or other blatantly false teachers and doctrines have shaped their ministry (such as is the case with Tony Campolo), my ears are immediately perked. We are changed by what we read. It is so important.

I remember the time a year or two ago when a pastor was checking out my blog. He told me the first page he went to was my Favorite Books page. He did a wise thing because you can tell an awful lot about a person by the books they read. And the authors they cite. And the preachers and speakers they promote.

4. Is the person and their message popular with the world? Most teachers of truth are not well-beloved by the world, because the message they bring is one of self-sacrifice and total submission to the Savior. It is not a message that the world wants to hear. I am always wary if their book has reached the best seller list.

And, more recently, I even look to see if the person or their message is popular in the church. Because of the post-modern state the church is in, this, too, is also often a big red flag.

5. If I am still unsure after items 1-4, I will see what I can find out about their personal lives. With a little research online, I can often find out some information about their lifestyle and life choices. I want to know if they are living what they are preaching. You have to do this very carefully, because any warped person can give a scathing “testimony” on some unknown blog. Check for legitimate sources and for multiple, matching accounts of problems.

Now, many of these things I have listed here are only possible by first and foremost, knowing God’s Word and understanding who God is, as defined in scripture. We cannot properly discern if we spend no time in the Word. In fact, we are studying 2 Peter right now in Bible Study and chapter 2 describes false teachers. We are learning what to look for and how to discern through this study. I highly recommend Kay Arthur’s inductive study of this book to get you started if you are serious about wanting to learn to discern.

I also believe that a good knowledge of general history and church history is also extremely helpful in discerning in these current times. For example, if you realize that many men and women were martyred at the hands of the Catholics during the reformation, you will understand why there is such a big problem trying to unify with this false system today. It helps to know what has happened in the past to discern the current times.

I also believe that a natural skepticism is necessary in this dangerous age we live in. The Christian bookstore is like a spiritual minefield these days and we need to shop for Christian books with that in mind. It is hard to get past the security and safety we used to feel in a Christian place (not only bookstores, but libraries of our churches and institutes of higher learning, as well) but, unfortunately, it has changed and we need to recognize this and be on guard even in places that are called “Christian”.

It is not my wish to upset you this morning. I rarely name names on this blog but the bottom line is this: We are being fed a steady diet of unbiblical doctrine and it is slowly– but surely– changing the church. It is slowly–but surely– changing you and me.

It is so important that we stand up for what is right and true, according to God’s Word and stop trying to make everybody happy — because it isn’t going to happen. We have a responsibility for ourselves, and for our families, to know the difference between the true and the false. We live in perilous times, my friend, and it is critical that we learn to discern using God’s Word (I John 4:1; Matthew 24:24; Matthew 10:16; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3).

 If you have been challenged or helped by this post would you consider sharing it? Thank you!

Running Through the Airport

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All families have stories that crop up around the holiday table or family campfire once in awhile. One of ours is about the time when I flew with my 6 year old and my parents to California to see my brother. We were loaded down with luggage and my dad, being the only man, carried the bulk of it. This was before there was luggage with wheels. Imagine it, if you will–two women, a little girl, and a Grandpa loaded down with luggage. I am sure we were a rather funny sight to behold as we walked to the ticket counter.

It was my first visit to California and we all had a great time seeing the sights and enjoying family time together. A week or so later we headed to LAX for our return flight. Upon arriving, we found out that our flight home was quite delayed. This was a concern because we had a connecting flight in Cincinnati without a whole lot of time to catch it. Of course, it was completely outside our control so we settled in to wait.

When we finally landed in Cincinnati a few hours later we were dismayed to see our connecting flight taking off in front of our eyes. My heart sank. I had left my husband and babies at home and was quite anxious to see them. I was not thrilled about spending the night somewhere other than my own bed. We trudged to the closest agent to find out our options. To our delighted surprise, we were told that we could catch another flight home today! But it came with a condition — we would only be able to take it if we could get to the gate on time. It was across the airport and it was leaving shortly.

Oh, my. Now we really looked ridiculous, I’m sure. My dad took off running, my daughter keeping up with him. My mom and I did our best, but we are not runners. On each of our shoulders were big carry-ons and bags because – remember– luggage with wheels either didn’t exist or was too expensive to own at this point. I wouldn’t really classify myself (or my mom) as athletic, so  I am guessing–although I didn’t personally witness it– that we were the butt of a few jokes after that run through the airport.

The good news is that we made it to our connecting flight. The bad news is that my mom and I have never lived down that run through the airport, because my dad and my daughter are sure to remind us how silly we looked as we made that run. We aren’t offended because we know it was true. We still just laugh when we think about that unexpected–and quite stressful– moment.

But, you know

That run would have been totally different if we had prepared for it by running or at least exercising on a regular basis. It would have been totally different if we wouldn’t have had to carry any bags on our shoulders. These two things slowed our journey across the airport considerably.

Yeah, you know where I am headed with this by now, I’m sure.

Why are we so out of shape spiritually? And why do we insist on carrying so much baggage with us on our spiritual journey?

We say that we want to live fulfilled lives that please our Savior and yet we are never in the Word, we have no idea what it says, and many of us attend churches where the preacher never even opens the Bible. We rely on shallow feelings and emotions to take us to some kind of “deeper” walk with God, and yet never search the scriptures for the Truth. We have thrown out doctrine and absolute truth and then we wonder why we are never satisfied spiritually. We are never fulfilled because we have been hoodwinked by false teachers. Oh, be so wary of what you believe. It will slow you down considerably. Only by faithful studying of the Word will we be prepared for our spiritual journey through life.

And then, along with not studying God’s Word, we insist on carrying heavy loads with us. It’s like we have backpacks full of rocks– each with a different label. One rock says Terrible Parents. Another may say Wayward Child. Or Deadbeat Husband. Or Complaining Wife. They may say Sexual Abuse or Rejection or Betrayal. Many of us carry rocks that say Unforgiveness, Anger, and Bitterness. We hang on to these rocks and let them weigh us down. Some of us are so weighed down by our past — and even our present circumstances– that we can’t ever seem to make any headway in our spiritual journey at all. But this is never what the Lord intended for us. In fact, the Bible says just the opposite–

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LordAnd He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.

Matthew 11:28-29 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

We are to cast our burdens on the Lord.

But here’s the thing. Removing these rocks and baggage are decisions we have to make very deliberately. It will never  just happen. It takes some serious effort. And, really, it never ends. I know that for me, personally, I have to give some of my heaviest burdens to the Lord every single day. Thankfully, as we get into the practice of doing this, the burdens do feel lighter. Which is exactly what God promised.

And, thankfully, removing those rocks is a lot easier if we are exercising. Because when we are in the Word and learning about who God is and what He promises for those who love Him, we are better able to hand our burdens to the Lord. We learn to trust Him in a much deeper way and rely on His Word. We submit to His Sovereignty because we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that He loves us and will work all things together for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

But by not being in the Word and carrying the heavy rocks of burden, we slow our pace down and then wonder why we never grow.

Think about removing some of those rocks today. And start by digging into God’s Word. Go. Do it now. It’s so much more important than this blog or the news or Facebook. Seriously. You don’t need a devotional or a special book. Just go get your Bible and start reading through one of the Gospels.

And I hope you will think about joining me for our Chronological reading through the Bible this coming year, starting January 1. We can hold each other accountable as we grow stronger in our faith together!

Have a great Monday!

 

Would you consider sharing this post if it has encouraged you? Thank you.

 

Sometimes.

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Sometimes I feel like I’m writing to myself.

Sometimes I feel like bearing my soul here on the blog makes me too vulnerable to pointing fingers.

Sometimes I worry that I am too narrow or too broad or too vague in what I write.

Sometimes I wonder if people think I am arrogant or ridiculous or unrealistic or harsh.

Sometimes I worry that I annoy people because I am forever posting the blog posts to my social media accounts.

And, many times, I wonder if I am making any difference at all.

We all know that the number of blogs out there are countless. I often feel like the tiniest bit of plankton in the giant ocean of the internet. But I keep writing, anyway. Because I honestly believe it is what God wants me to be doing– at least for right now. How do I know this?

I know this because of so many of you, my faithful readers. Let me explain.

On Monday, my post was about speaking the good to others and I gave you an assignment to try to say at least one nice thing to or about someone each day. It got me thinking about how so many of you have said such kind things to me regarding my writing. It might be in passing, when I see you out of the blue, letting me know you read the blog and thanking me for writing. Or it might be through a short e-mail expressing your appreciation of a particular post. Or you may be one who provides me with constant encouragement, always there when I need a few words to keep me going, reminding me of why I am writing in the first place. And many of you have encouraged me by clicking on the “like” and “share” buttons, letting me know you believe that what I write is actually worth sharing.

Whoever you are, if you have  encouraged me regarding Growing4Life, I want you to know that it has been wonderfully uplifting. And, honestly, I believe your kind words are what has kept me writing the last four and a half years. Whenever I am ready to quit because I feel like no one cares, God will move one of you to encourage me to keep writing because He is using me to help you grow.

I am so humbled by this. Honestly, I am. I have such a long way to go and most of what I write on here are just lessons that I am learning myself. I don’t have it altogether. Which is why I find it even more amazing that God is using me– if even in just a very small way. While I may appear confident and together on the outside, inside I am still insecure, too worried about what people think when I lose sight of my true reason for writing.

And so I want to offer my deepest gratitude to those of you who have helped me stay the course when I have wanted to quit. Your kind words have made such a difference and they have not gone unnoticed.

Offer those kind words of encouragement to someone today in your sphere. This is Day 4 of the Word Power assignment. If you are taking part in the assignment, I hope that you will continue it today.

Because encouraging words do make a difference and this blog is genuine proof of that.

 

Say the Good Stuff

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We all do it at one time or other. Some of us more than others.

We open our mouths and out pour words that hurt, malign, or tear down. Sometimes we are being sarcastic and mean, other times we just talk without thinking. Very occasionally, we are telling a hurtful hard truth and it needs to be said. But negative words to others or about others often spew from our mouths like water from a spring.

But have you ever noticed that, while we are so free to speak about the stuff we don’t like to someone or about others, we rarely speak what we do like? Have you ever been somewhere and had thoughts like this, “Oh, I really like her new haircut,” or, “He looks like he is losing weight”? Or have you ever been to a soccer game and thought, “Wow, my friend’s son has really improved his game”?  Or maybe you’ve been in church and really enjoyed a special piece by the vocalist or the preacher’s message. Do you take the time to tell them?

Really, you should try it. It’s a great ice breaker and conversation starter. It’s also a wonderful way to encourage and build up others.

Speaking positively about others is also a great way to be an incredible testimony. Have you noticed that when the gang is around the water cooler at work, they are rarely saying nice things about others? Usually they are boss-bashing or gossiping about co-workers. You can stop the whole gossip train by inserting kind words– “The boss isn’t usually like that, maybe something’s wrong,” or “Didn’t she help you with that report last week, Jim?” By refusing to participate in the negative talk that surrounds you, you show almost instantly that there is something very different about you.

Words have such power to build up or break down. It is our natural human tendency (or perhaps I should say sinful nature) to use this power negatively. Even many Christians seem to see this as something less than sin and freely give their hurtful opinions at all times and in all moments. They complain about their husbands and children to others. They make sarcastic remarks to their families. They always feel like it is their personal duty to tell you how you are doing things the wrong way. Many times, they are part of the gossip huddle in the office or at church. You know the ones.

But, as Christians, we should be known for building up with our words. Sure, sometimes –on a very rare occasion– we do need to confront (with truth and much grace)– but most of our negative words just don’t need to be said.

So I have an assignment for you this week–

Say something nice to someone or say something nice about someone to someone else. Do this every day for a whole week.

Perhaps this will help all of us to start developing the habit of speaking kindly to and about one another and move us out of that natural bent towards the negative. Will anyone join me in this assignment?

If you do join the assignment, would you consider coming back here to share your experience by commenting? Or join us at Growing4Life on Facebook to share your stories and thoughts! I will try to share my own experience there each day of this week. Your participation and comments would be very encouraging to me! Thanks so much!

Simplifying Religion

true-false

I heard something several months ago that has really stuck with me. It has helped me navigate these treacherous religious waters we find ourselves in. That vast, religious ocean where “anything goes” and all are headed to Heaven. To imply that someone isn’t going has become the ultimate sin.

It has helped me answer questions like these–

How do I know if someone is involved in a false religion?

How do I know if Mormons (or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Catholics) are all part of true Christianity?

How do I know what unites true believers?

So are you curious yet? Here is what I heard: There are really only two religions.

There is the false religion and there is the true religion. What sets the world’s false religious system apart from true Christianity is always the same–whether it be called Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventist or, yes, it is even sometimes called Christianity, even thought it is not actually true Christianity.

Here is the bottom line–

False religion teaches that your eternal destiny lies in your hands in one way or another. It will teach that you need to do something in order to be saved. Oh, they all vary in what that something is and they might even throw in as part of their doctrine something about Jesus saving you from your sins, but false religion will always require something other than faith alone.

True religion is in Christ alone, by Christ alone, and by faith alone. It requires nothing from you or of you.

I can almost hear some of you cringing. Wait. Nothing??

No, there is no requirement, but before you get too excited, there is a BUT — and this is a very big BUT– a true believer will always be transformed by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. This work starts immediately upon our salvation and never ends while we are on this earth. By its very definition salvation changes us. And this is why we, as Christians, live holy, separate lives. It isn’t because we have to. It’s because we are new creatures, with a new heart and new desires. It has nothing to do with man-made rules.

If you are in a church that tells you that you will only go to heaven if you accept Jesus and also do x, y, and z (get baptized, don’t go to movies, pray to Mary, etc.) you are in a church that is teaching false doctrine.

Doesn’t this help clear things up considerably? It doesn’t mean there aren’t some Christians scattered in among these churches. Be sure you don’t hear me saying that. It does help weed out which systems are true and which are false. Remember, the true way is narrow and difficult. The path to destruction is wide and easy and many are they that travel it (Matthew 7:13-14).

I know this makes us squirm. It has become an increasingly unpopular topic for discussion, even among true believers. But following Jesus has never been– and will never be– about comfort (Matthew 16:24-26).

But, while on one hand it is an extremely offensive and uncomfortable thing to talk about, it is wonderfully comforting to ponder as a true believer! Simplifying religion into these two categories helps us to understand that if we have been saved by God’s grace through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, we are part of the true religion.

Religion is not a bad word, by the way. It has become a very hated word by Christians but it very simply means: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

If you are a Christian, you are religious. The difference is we serve a personal God, who made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, not through our own merit but through His great gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).

And so, today as we go to work or play group or the gym, as we seek to tell others about Jesus, may we remember that some who claim to know Him are still relying on their good works to seal their personal destiny. And this is always part of the false religion.

Please NOTE: If you aren’t sure if you are really part of God’s family–the only true religion– please e-mail me at leslie@growing4life.net or visit NeedGod. Please don’t delay.

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Sovereign Over Us

Sunburst in natural Forest - Autumn

If you follow my blog, you will be aware of the fact that I haven’t had a Wednesday Wisdom post on here for a very long time. I decided to focus on a few other areas of writing instead. But a friend who is going through some very deep waters sent me the following lyrics. I had actually heard the second half of this song recently and had wanted to look them up and, lo and behold, this morning my friend sent them to me in an e-mail.

I am sharing them with you today, with the awareness that someone else out there in the “blogosphere” may need to read this today.

SOVEREIGN OVER US

There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

You are wisdom unimagined
Who could understand Your ways
Reigning high above the Heavens
Reaching down in endless grace
You’re the lifter of the lowly
Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me
And Your promises are my delight

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us
[x2]

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory
Even in the valley, You are faithful
You’re working for our good
You’re working for our good and for Your glory
[x2]

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us
[x2]

You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

 

Written by Aaron Keyes, Jack Mooring, Bryan Brown

Performed by Michael W. Smith