Seeing Clearly

glasses-1149982_1280

A few years ago, things started to get fuzzy. Books, menus, texts on my iPhone, nutrition information on the back of a food container–they all became difficult to read and I found myself squinting or holding the item way out in front of me so that I could decipher what it said. I finally gave in and bought the weakest reading glasses available. Suddenly, reading became an easy thing again.

I knew what that meant. My eyes were doing what most eyes do as they get older–namely, to lose their ability to see things close up. I remember going into the library with my young children years ago, seeing the shelf of “large print” books, and thinking just how old people must be if they need books with large print.  And here I was. Already. I didn’t even feel that old.

As the years went by, my eyes grew steadily worse and I would have to buy the next “number” on the reading glasses scale. Until, finally, the other day it dawned on me that, sadly, I can hardly make out even a word without them anymore. I may as well be blind when I hold a book or menu in front of me but–magically–things grow super clear as soon as I put those glasses in front of my eyes.

As I was thinking about this, I realized that the Word of God is rather like a pair of glasses that helps us to see truth and to view the world from God’s perspective. When we are saved, we suddenly walk into the marvelous light (I Peter 2:9), where we can finally see again! Life is never the same again and as we read the Word, God uses it to open our eyes and make clear what once was utterly inexplicable to us as an unbeliever.

For all of us were blinded before we were saved. We could not see because the god of this age had blinded us. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 puts it this way–

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

But when the gospel of the glory of Christ shined brightly on our lives, it changed us. And God’s Word went from being an old, irrelevant book to being the instrument God uses to change us, filling us with truth about who God is, building our faith, offering encouragement for us in our trials, and convicting us of our sin. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that–

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

How grateful I am for the Word of God that takes away my blindness! How wondrous it is to see things clearly. To walk in truth instead of stumbling in murky darkness. To rely on God’s wisdom instead of my own short-sighted and vain philosophies.

If we are saved, the Word helps us see! The Bible is the Book that God has given us to know Him. It is this Book that helps us to understand the purposes and plan of our enemy. And the Book that clears our vision so that we can see our sin in all its dark ugliness. But this Book also shares the Gospel story and is full of wonderfully encouraging, uplifting words for us in our trials and struggles. It is an amazing, incredible Book that God, in His infinite wisdom, gave to us.

And yet, many of us treat the Bible like any other book on our shelf. It sits side by side with our novels and our non-fiction self-help books and holds no dearer place in our lives than that of any other book. In a lot of ways how we live with our Bible is like me living the rest of my life without putting on my glasses–walking around not being able to read a thing simply because I am too proud, too lazy, or too apathetic to put on my glasses.

If you are younger (in years or in the Lord) you may be thinking right now that you don’t feel that way about the Word of God. You want to but you just don’t. Well, don’t be discouraged! The more you study the Word, the more you will see. Cast aside your feelings, your laziness, your too-busy schedule and just get in the Word and your love for it will deepen and grow. And you, too, will start to treasure the Word of God.

And to my young friends who can’t comprehend ever needing reading glasses…well, I just have to say it is coming sooner rather than later. Life goes by so fast and we dare not waste a day. Even though we all do! That’s just life, I guess.

Learn to Discern: What Is Biblical Christianity?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

We really cannot learn to discern before we have a biblical definition of Christianity. There are so many warped, perverted, and bizarre religions out there taking on the name of Christ that it is almost unimaginable. But which is the true religion? As believers, we know that the Bible teaches that there is only one way for us to be reconciled to God (John 14:6). And we know that the Bible–from Genesis to Revelation–tells us the beautiful story of God’s redemption of man and that it gives us all we need to live a righteous and godly life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So what does God’s Word have to say about believers? How does Christ define a true Christian?

Please, please keep in mind as you read the essay below that these are the things true Christians desire. They will never be perfected on this side of heaven, but growth will take place and be evident in believers as we mature in Christ. As John MacArthur says–it is about direction and not perfection.

This essay is in direct opposition to much of the popular religion called “Christianity” today. I am well aware of that. But, as usual, while I hate to make people upset or angry, I am loyal to the Word of God, first and foremost. And this is what the Word of God teaches about Christianity.

This post is written by my brother, Pastor Dean. I will write a bit more about him after the essay, for those that are interested. Now here is his guest post–

 

TRUE CHRISTIANITY

Who is a Christian? A quick Google search will tell us that the leading world religion is Christianity, numbering 2.1 billion people. Since the world population is 7.5 billion, almost one in three is classified as a Christian. But I am reminded of the words of Jesus who said many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord . . . and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:22-23). The important point here is that self-classification is not the determining factor in answering the question who is a Christian? So perhaps we should ask who is a true Christian? Or rather, who does Christ classify as a Christian? That is the determining factor. Jesus said two things in the above quotation about false professors: (1) I never knew you; and (2) you work iniquity. No ungodly person unacquainted with the new birth will ever enter heaven. But let us consider positively what defines, according to Christ, a true christian.

(1) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HEARS THE WORD OF CHRIST – Jesus said: Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice (John 18:37); My sheep hear my voice (John 10:27); He that is of God, hears God’s words (John 8:47). This is the most basic attribute of a true Christian. He receives, believes, trusts, obeys, and delights in God’s Word, namely the Scriptures (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119; Matt. 7:24-27; John 8:31-32; 17:8; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:13; James 1:21). This is called faith. The person who is apathetic, defiant, or careless toward Scripture is not a Christian according to Christ.

(2) A TRUE CHRISTIAN BELIEVES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent (John 6:29); He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life (John 6:47-48). In view of the context of these verses, to believe on Christ is to believe at least two things about Christ. First, it is to believe that he is the Son of God, sent from the Father, and second, that he is the one who laid down his life, as the spotless Lamb of God, as an atonement for our sins. A Christian is one who has trusted in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins. He has been justified (declared righteous) by grace, through faith in the blood of Christ. He has been reconciled to God and, as a result, is at peace with God (Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 3:10-26; 5:1; Col. 1:20-23). Anyone who has not called upon the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins, through the blood of Christ, is not a Christian.

(3) A TRUE CHRISTIAN FOLLOWS CHRIST – Jesus said:  My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me (John 10:27). In another place he said:  If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 16:24-25). Jesus said these words immediately after rebuking Peter for denying that he (i.e. Christ) must suffer and die. It is as if Jesus said, Not only must I go to the cross, but so must you. These words of Jesus are not a call to asceticism or martyrdom, but rather a call to regeneration. In order to live, you must die –to yourself, to sin, to your own desires. This saying of Jesus is closely related to Paul’s words in Gal. 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. You cannot be a Christian without dying to yourself.  When we were born again, we died with Christ and arose with Christ (Rom. 6:2-4), therefore we are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of God (Rom. 6:22). We now live to please God in everything we do, say, and think. A Christian does not do this perfectly, but it is his desire. The person who is fundamentally living for himself, following his own dreams, pursuing his own pleasure is not a Christian, according to Christ.

(4) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HAS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – Jesus said:  I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you (Jn. 14:16-17). Paul wrote:  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Rom. 8:9). A  true Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit and where the Holy Spirit dwells there will be evidences. The Spirit produces holiness in the life. By holiness I do not mean merely morality. Many unbelievers are at some level moral. Holiness is an inward delight in God, his Word, his will, his plan, and his people. This holiness can further be described as the fruit of the Spirit: love,  joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23).  Of course a true Christian is by no means perfect in regard to these qualities and in fact he daily struggles with sin in his own heart. But where this holy character is fundamentally lacking we can be certain the Holy Spirit is not present. Such a person, according to Christ, is not a Christian.

(5) A TRUE CHRISTIAN LOVES THE BODY OF CHRIST – Jesus said: By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another (Jn. 13:35). Jesus was not merely speaking of a general love for people. He was referring to love within the body of Christ. A  defining mark of a Christian is love for fellow-believers. John wrote: We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren (1 Jn. 3:14). A true Christian serves the church of Jesus Christ. He bears the burdens of fellow-believers. He attends upon the preaching of the Word and the Christ-ordained ordinances in the context of the local church. A person who does not delight in God’s people and forsakes the gathering of the saints, is not a Christian by Biblical standards.

 (6)  A TRUE CHRISTIAN PERSEVERES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed (John 8:31). There are many who seem to follow Christ for a time. This was true in Christ’s day (John 2:23-25; 6:66), it was true in the Apostle John’s experience (1 John 2:19), and it is true today. There are many who ostensibly receive the Word with much joy, but then wither at the first sign of persecution, or become, over time, utterly choked out by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:18-22). Such are not true Christians. They make take the name, but they are not classified as Christians by Christ. A true Christian perseveres through trials, difficulties, failures, temptations, and struggles. He may fall down a thousand times, but by the grace of God, he keeps following Christ.

Jesus said that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven we must enter by the narrow gate and walk by the narrow way (Matt. 7:13-14). We are told that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Jesus said that many will seek to enter the kingdom but will not be able (Luke 13:24). These are sobering words. Yet his promises are as sure as they have ever been. He has given us everything we need in his Word for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Let us be prayerful, humble, diligent, trembling, faithful, believing, obedient,  life-long students of the Word of God, for this is the means by which God keeps his children (Proverbs 2:1-22). This is how we look to Christ.

Finally, a Christian is one who loves Christ. We love him because we know that whatever good is in us is the result of his work. If left to myself, I would be lost. But Jesus saved me. This is a true Christian.

 

Dean Good is pastor of a congregation in Ohio, where he lives with his wife and teen-aged daughter. I have known Pastor Dean his whole life, being his older sister (by just 17 months!) Aside from a few rough junior high years, he has been one of my best friends for my whole life. But the thing that sets Pastor Dean aside from almost anyone I know is his love for the Word of God. Even as a boy, he demonstrated a love and loyalty to the Word that was remarkable. Since that time, his knowledge and love have only grown greater. He is not perfect–he would be the first to tell you so–but he is very dedicated to the preaching of the Word. I am so thankful for his willingness to help with this series. If you would like to listen to any of his sermons you can find them here.

 

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

Why Are We So Afraid?

Macy

Have you ever wondered why we are so afraid of what people think of us? Many of us actually let this fear control what we will wear or what we will buy. We let it control what we will listen to, read, or watch because we are deathly afraid of being labeled uncool. We will let this control what we share on social media (after all, we don’t want to sound too religious) and what we will say to friends and co-workers about God and His Word, being oh-so careful never to be too controversial but to instead stick with very generic phrases like “I’ll pray for you” or “Isn’t God good?”

We have a Chocolate Lab named Macy. She is a fairly big dog whose deep bark can scare almost anybody. I feel much safer when she is around, as she will be quick to courageously face the unknown if she hears noises or sees something that is unfamiliar, always desiring to protect me.

And so it is quite funny to see this strong and powerful dog grow so scared when she sees a vacuum.

This strong and brave dog literally cowers when she sees the vacuum. It doesn’t matter if it’s our little stick vac or our large vacuum, as soon as I hit the “on” button she gets this look of desperation and fear in her eyes and leaves the area as soon as possible!

And yet the vacuum could never hurt her. While a spider or a beetle would have a reasonable fear of a vacuum, a dog would not. And yet she is scared to death of the thing.

I think we can be a lot like that as people. We are terrified of what people will think of us. Oftentimes, we allow this fear to shape our lives, quietly living for Jesus without ever mentioning a word. And yet…

What can they do to us?

Actually, they can do a lot. But they can never take away our assurance of salvation. They can never change the course of our eternal destiny. And they can never, ever take us out from under the loving and faithful care of our heavenly Father.

Of course, they can call us names, they can whisper behind our backs, they can make our lives miserable, they can ostracize us. This is what we face most often and it can be quite unpleasant.

But John the Baptist was actually beheaded for speaking the truth (Mark 6:14-29). Herodias became John’s great enemy simply because he spoke the truth. Eventually she figured out a way to make sure he died.

As believers, it is possible to develop great enemies in this world because we speak the truth. Hopefully, none of them will ever be so wicked and devious as Herodias.

I Peter 4 also makes it clear that we should expect trials for sharing the truth–

 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

Beloved, do not think it strange.

Do not think it strange.

Christians in this culture have been sold the lie that they must always rise up to unify– no matter what heresy is being preached. This is simply not true (Jude 3-4). We are called to speak the truth even if–especially if–it is in opposition to false (and very popular!) teachings. And we will most likely suffer because of it.

Perhaps this is why we are so scared of what others will think of us when we speak the truth of God’s Word. Like Macy, whose eyes fill with fear at the sight of the vacuum, so do our hearts and minds fill with fear when we sense even a little bit of disapproval from men. And yet there is no lasting, eternal damage that they can do to us (Matthew 10:28).

I guess there are some of you who are not affected by the approval of men. I would not be one of them. Blogging here continues to be a tremendous test for me, continually begging me to ask the question to myself: Do I care more about God and His Word or about what people think of me? This all-important question needs to be answered almost every time I post because I struggle so much with worrying about what people will think.

But many of you don’t blog. Perhaps you don’t even post a lot on social media. You may be one who hates confrontations and so you remain in the background. It is fairly easy to just quietly live out your Christian faith without ever speaking about it. But this brings us to another question: Can we please the Savior who died for us by living a good life and yet never mentioning a word about Him?

Let’s see what scripture has to say–

Psalm 96:2-4 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

I Corinthians 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!

Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

These verses make it pretty clear that we should be sharing the Gospel and declaring the glory of the Lord as we live our daily lives. When we become believers, we are transformed from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive! This, alone, should give us a desire to share our faith. What a wonderful and incredible thing! And, yet, so often, we are so frightened by the opinions of those around us that we keep quiet.

So I want to encourage you today to speak up! Don’t be afraid. And I want you to know that I face this battle on a daily basis, too! But we know from the verses in Peter (above) that suffering for Christ is a trial we should expect. It is a trial that should produce no shame for us as believers. This verse in Matthew sums it all up rather nicely–

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Let us live bravely and boldly, declaring the Word of the Lord as He gives us opportunities. Let us fear God and never men as we live in a culture that grows increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity. We need not fear, for the Lord is on our side.

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

 

Learn to Discern: Introduction

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I have found myself wondering recently what my grandmother would think of the church if she would be here now. She died twenty-six years ago–two weeks before my first daughter was born. Like the proverbial frog in the pot, I don’t think we truly realize how much things in the mainstream church have changed in those years. But what if she could come back for just a day? How clear would the changes be to her?

I guess it is rather like when we haven’t seen a child for a few years. To those who are living with the child, the changes are so subtle and imperceptible that they are hardly noticed. But to someone who hasn’t been with the child, the changes are radical.

I believe that this is exactly what is happening now. The changes to the church have been profound and inconceivable and yet so many of us don’t see.

Why is this?

I believe it is for primarily four reasons–

1. We don’t know the Word of God. There is serious biblical illiteracy in America today. This is from Al Mohler’s post on the subject

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.

How can we discern if we don’t have any idea what we are comparing the false doctrine to?

2. We don’t care. What I mean by not caring is not a blatant and hostile disregard for the truth, but rather a distracted, apathetic disinterest towards truth. We are busy with other–seemingly more important–things. Things like jobs, education, the arts, sports, church, family, health and fitness, hobbies, vacations. These are all good things, but when we allow them to consume all of our passion, time, and enthusiasm then we are left too drained and exhausted to be concerned with God’s Word and what it says.

(How do we fix this? There is an easy solution! Time spent in God’s Word, diligently studying it, eliminates apathy towards the truth.)

3. We have been brainwashed to believe that truth is not absolute. Even those of us who call ourselves Christians will fall for this if we aren’t careful. I have heard Christians say things like this:

“That book was such a comfort to me, how could it possibly be wrong?” and “This book really helped me understand who God is”–even though the books in question were blatantly and clearly against what scripture teaches.

or

“How can you argue against so-and-so’s experience?” regarding someone’s account that was in direct opposition to the Word of God.

We have allowed truth to be defined by our subjective experiences instead of by the Word of God.

4. And, finally, we are afraid. I get this one. I truly do. It is no fun at all being the one who gets mocked because you point out that yet another book or movie or band is not biblical. And now it seems like there are far more that are not biblical than those that are. I agree that it is far easier to be ignorant of what’s going on in the church.

But are these excuses good enough? Will they stand up when we stand in front of our Holy God and give an account of our lives? Or will we one day deeply regret just how how deceived we were and, in being deceived, how we aided in the deception of other souls–both lost and saved–as well?

Sadly, the choice to discern can come with some heartache (see #3 below) and it will cost us in ways that hurt. And so we have to decide if we want to follow God or if we want to be popular; If we want to follow God or if we want to have our ears tickled; If we want to follow our perfect God or if we are going to follow imperfect man.

I have a great passion for the truth that was passed on to me by my father. He instilled this love for truth in the hearts of both my brother (Pastor Dean) and myself and, in many ways, the ministries that we both have are his legacy.

It is my hope that Growing 4 Life has helped you grow in your knowledge of the Word and in your love for truth. For this is why I write. It is with this in mind that I am going to start a series called “Learn to Discern”. What I hope to do through this series is to give you a broader understanding of what exactly is going on in the church (and the world) today, comparing it all to what scripture says.

So what is discernment? We hear this word, but perhaps you aren’t quite sure what it is. We find this definition on an excellent post titled Defining Discernment over at Grace to You–

In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.

And so it is my hope that this series will help you learn to run any new philosophies, trends, and methods through the grid of scripture. It is my hope that your loyalty to God and His Word will grow through this series and your loyalty to fallible man–whether they be preachers, authors, musicians, or friends– will be subjected to the Word of God, first and foremost.

The first two posts in this series will be written by my brother (Pastor Dean), who will first give us a definition of biblical Christianity according to the Word of God and, second, an overview of how this definition has been warped and twisted and perverted in what we call “Christianity” today. After those two posts, I will break it down by writing on topics that will {hopefully} give you greater insight. It is my hope and prayer that this series will be simple and understandable.

There are a few things to keep in mind as we begin this series–

1. We are all called to discern. Sometimes I will hear someone say something like this–“I don’t see that stuff. You just have the gift of discernment.” There might be some truth to that, but I would actually say that all of us–by diligently studying the Word and training our minds to compare all we hear and see with what the Word says–can (and should) become effective discerners. It reminds me a bit of evangelism–not having the gift of evangelism doesn’t mean we never have to do it. It may be a little easier for those who are gifted but it is something we all are called to do. The same principle applies to discernment (Hebrews 5:14; Philippians 1:9-11).

2. The only thing that matters is the Word of God. It matters not what I think at all. If you read this blog often, you will already know this but let me say it again– my opinion matters ZERO. Zilch. Not. At. All. I don’t want you to rely on me for truth. Or on Pastor Dean. Or even on your own pastor. While we are certainly able to learn and grow from the teachings of other men and women, our job is to search out what the scriptures say for ourselves, running everything anybody says through the grid of the Word of God (Acts 17:11). As believers, we must hold to the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of scripture. Each topic in this series will be studied in light of the Word as it has been traditionally interpreted since it was first written (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15).

3. Discernment is not popular. As you learn and your eyes are opened, you may be excited to share what you are learning. Please be aware that many people will roll their eyes, change the subject, call you things like harsh, unloving, or hyper-critical, and/or talk about you behind your back. Some will even grow angry with you. Walls will go up between you and friends whom you love. Just as trying to swim upstream feels impossible, so, too, does going against the flow of the mainstream church. Most people are very comfortable swimming downstream and the fact that you are swimming in the opposite direction–no matter if it is based clearly on scripture or not–makes most Christians extremely uncomfortable. Prepare yourself for this and make sure you are always loving, kind, and gentle as God gives you opportunity to discuss the things you are learning. And always remember that it is the Holy Spirit who opens eyes. Remembering this helps us to stay calm and to back away without rancor when someone just can’t see. None of this is worth a heated argument. It just isn’t. Walk away and pray. That’s the best thing we can do.

4. We can never judge someone’s relationship with God. As I give you examples of men and women who may have fallen for some of these false doctrines and philosophies, the inevitable, panicked questions will be —Do they know what they are doing? Does that mean they aren’t saved? I can tell you up front and right now that I don’t knowThere is really no way to know if they have been deceived or if they are purposely deceiving. Only God knows the heart of a man (Jeremiah 20:12). My goal is to show how these philosophies have infiltrated the ministries of those in mainstream Christianity, as well as even many of those that are associated with conservative Christianity. I am not judging hearts, motives, or eternal destinies. Please keep this in mind.

5. What you do with this information is up to you. Some of you will be uninterested and ignore the series. Some of you will read it and grab hold of it and determine to not read or listen to anything by anyone who you know has compromised. And others of you will try to walk the fine line of sorting through the good and the bad as you continue to do the Bible Studies or listen to the sermons of those who are teaching false doctrines. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I do. When I become aware that someone is teaching false doctrine, I eliminate them from having any input into my life. This has been my practice for a very long time. I do not have enough confidence in myself to believe that I would be incapable of being deceived. I never want to knowingly subject myself to anything that doesn’t agree with scripture. Just as I would never eat a brownie or a bowl of soup that contained even 1% poison, so I choose not to knowingly ingest anything into my mind that contains 1% poison.

It is my hope and prayer that this series will be a great blessing to those of you that really want to understand what is going on. And may I humbly ask you to pray for me as I work on this series? I feel the weight of such an important series in this current day and age. I don’t want to lead anyone astray but desire only to lift high God and His Word, while exposing the evil darkness that is cloaking itself as “wonderful” and “good” in the church today.

If you are still here and reading after this unusually long post, I thank you. Have a great day!

(p.s. This series will be presented on most Mondays over the course of the next few months, as my schedule allows. Thursdays will be reserved for normal Growing4Life posts.)

 

Killing Sin

killing sin

Is victory over sin possible in the life of a believer? We are constantly hearing about how broken we are. But is that all there is? There is so much talk about how we are all sinners but so little talk about overcoming sin.

And, of course, it’s true–we will fight our flesh and its sinful desires until the day we die. But that does not mean that we won’t be victorious over sin. It simply means that we will go from one victory right on into another battle. Life here on earth is one battle after the other for those of us who truly desire holiness. No sooner do we fight an intense battle with one sin and win the victory but then the Holy Spirit convicts us of a different sin. It is a lifetime of battles but there are victories. We are not destined to flounder in the same sins all of our lives without hope of rescue. There is growth and change and victory in the Christian life!

This week we found ourselves traveling home from a trip on Sunday and so we were unable to go to church. Since my husband and I are both reading our pastor’s Bible Reading Challenge (which also happens to be the 2017 Growing 4 Life Bible Reading Challenge), we decided to turn on a sermon that had to do with the passage we are currently reading, which is Romans 8. We found it on the Grace to You app, where they have all the sermons broken down by scriptures and topics. We chose a sermon based on Romans 8:12-13 called A Key to Spiritual Victory.

As we drove along listening to John MacArthur expound the Word, we were challenged. One section I found particularly helpful and I started writing notes. As I wrote, I thought of you. I realized that you–my reader–may find this helpful, as well.

He was talking about victory–the power, the people, the pattern, and the passion. When he got to the pattern of victory, he gave five things we can do to “kill sin” in our lives. While this does not mean we won’t ever sin, these steps will help us live a more victorious Christian life.

(The steps are from the sermon, the commentary includes some things from the sermon, as well as some of my own thoughts.)

–HOW TO KILL SIN–

1. Recognize the sin within yourself.  Pastor MacArthur talked about how much we like to place the blame for our sin on others or things around us–we blame the world, or other people, or Satan. Have you ever heard one of your kids blame a sibling for their sinful choice to hit or kick? And, honestly, they learn this from us, don’t they? We lose control of our tempers and then blame our spouses or kids for frustrating us. But we will never be able to kill sin until we are willing to take the blame for our sin. This is a crucial first step.

2. Have a heart fixed on God. This sounds so easy, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s so hard. I find that my heart is so often fixed on me. If I am struggling with sin it is because my heart is fixed on myself. Pastor MacArthur went on to say how this is an important function of church. Church should bring us back to the Word, taking our minds off of the temporal and putting them back on the eternal. It is one of the reasons why we fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters–to sharpen each other spiritually (Proverbs 27:17) and to encourage each other (Acts 11:23).

3. Meditate on the Word of God. Notice that he doesn’t just say “meditate” but specifies that we meditate on the Word of God. Meditation is a word that has been completely hijacked. Most of what you read or hear about meditation today is taken from mysticism and is the opposite of biblical meditation. (check out my post A Vast and Irreconcilable Difference, where biblical meditation is compared to new age/mystical meditation.) When we meditate on the Word of God, we fill our minds with the commands, promises, and knowledge of God. One of my daughters has been doing quite a bit of memory work and she was telling me how doing this has really deepened her walk with God. It is because she is meditating as she memorizes. She is thinking about what the Word says while she is hiding it in her heart. By the way, memorizing scripture is a good way to meditate on it.

4. Be diligent in prayer. Not only should we praying for victory over sin, but we need to be daily confessing our sin and repenting of wrong deeds. We need to ask the Lord to help us hate sin and to love righteousness. John Owen puts it like this: He who pleads with God for remission of sin also pleads for his own heart to detest it.

5. Cultivate obedience to the Word. We need to make it our goal to obey scripture. This sounds so simple but it is a very difficult thing to actually do. Some of the things this includes is forgiving when all we want is revenge; loving when we don’t feel like loving; and turning away from the world’s entertainment when all those around us are filling their minds with it (and mock us when we choose not to). As we study God’s Word, we need to apply what we learn, instead of constantly looking for loopholes that will help us rationalize our sin and our desire to keep feeding our flesh.

 

So those are the five steps. I found it a very helpful exercise to take a hard and honest look at my own life to see how (or if) I have been incorporating these steps. It is my hope that sharing this with you today will be a blessing to you as you evaluate your own battles against sin.

 

Love Trumps Hate?

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Last night my daughter showed me this picture she drew. It was her expression of feeling regarding the hypocrisy of what has gone on over the past few days. I have been trying to process it, as well. For a campaign that talks so very much about love and freedom, it would seem that love is only for those who are on their side and freedom is not for everyone.

Now, first, let me state that, just as I don’t want to be lumped along in with every person using the name of Christ, I don’t want to lump all Democrats together. I am sure there are many who are appalled at what people are doing in the name of their party.

But they are doing it nonetheless. Making threats. Spewing forth malicious venom. All while getting lots of coverage from the liberal media. I think we always knew that Hollywood leaned far left but this election has most certainly given us a whole new understanding of that, hasn’t it?

Even Trump’s ten-year-old son hasn’t escaped the vitriol of a world gone mad with hatred.

What kind of person picks up a mic and speaks such malevolent words? What kind of person tweets such hateful, ugly things about a child?

It is a person full of hate and wickedness. It is someone like…you and me.

It is who we could be without Christ. Who we were before Christ. Every single one of us has the same propensity to act in such a wicked way.

It is who Paul was before his conversion, as we read in Galatians 1:13-16a —

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,

God saved Paul and he took on Christ’s righteousness, having his sin covered by the blood of Christ. He then went on to be used by God in tremendous ways.

In many ways, these people who are so full of hatred who we have watched these past few days are no different than Paul was or than any other person who has singled out a person or a group of people and persecuted them. Many times even unto death.

So the question that begs to be asked is what should be our response?

I have to confess as the new stories of such hatred have clogged up my Facebook feed, filled the airwaves, and covered our TV screens, I have not been filled with Christ’s love. My natural inclination is to feel hatred back. To reciprocate. To build the hatred between two very different groups of people with two very different dreams for this great country.

And yet–

I remember Jesus, on the cross, in pain and agony and hated by the masses–

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:33-34)

Father, forgive them. Such love. Such incredible love.

And I remember this, too–God forgave me. Wicked, sinful me. He reached out in love and washed me with his blood. I love how Paul puts this in I Corinthians 6:9-11–

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

And so it is best not to forget who we were before Christ. Who we could be without Christ.

So does love trump hate? Yes, it most certainly does. But it is not the kind of love that hates when it doesn’t get its own way. It is not the kind that feels it can say or do whatever it wants to advance its agenda.

The love that trumps hate is the kind that speaks truth. It is love that will sacrifice personal glory and reputation so that even one man can be saved from eternal damnation. It is the kind that responds kindly when attacked by the enemy. It is love that only Jesus Christ can give.

My daughter reminded me last night, as we talked about the hopelessness we feel in this world gone mad, how the one encouraging thing about this is how brightly we shine as believers in such darkness. She’s right, you know. Even a small light shines in the darkness with an intensity that would dissipate in the company of brighter lights.

And so this is our opportunity to shine with the true love of Christ. May we embrace the challenge instead of joining the hating, throbbing malicious mass on either side of the fence. Let’s stand firmly on the Word of God, loving with a love that doesn’t make sense to the world and speaking the truth of God’s Word without apology. And may we never forget who we were–who we could be– without Christ.

 

 

Being Molded to Look Like Christ

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Suffering. Something that happens to all of us. When we think of suffering, we often think of the obvious things that we can see. We know someone is suffering when they are fighting cancer or when a loved one dies. We know they are suffering if their child is arrested or when they lose their job. Physical disabilities, car accidents, a child with Down’s Syndrome, a house fire–these things fill us with deep compassion.

But there is so much suffering we never see–a family’s daily struggle to stay financially afloat; being married to a selfish, difficult spouse; a chronic disease or physical injury that isn’t outwardly visible; debilitating anxiety; persecution in all its various forms as we stand for God and His Word in an increasingly hostile world and apostate church; the betrayal of a trusted friend or family member; pornography, drug, and alcohol addictions; sexual or verbal abuse; a neighbor or co-worker who has made it their goal to make your life miserable for whatever reason; church issues; rebellious children…

This list could go on and on and on…and on. In fact, it is probably far longer than the list of troubles we can see in the lives of others.

This came to mind yesterday as I was reading in *Romans 5. Verses 3-5 tell us this–

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

So what is my point? I have two, actually.

First, I just wonder how much more grace we would have for others if we would remember that they may be struggling through something we can’t even see. We are so quick to judge and yet all of us, in one way or another, is struggling. And if we aren’t suffering now, it will come. So often we think we are so spiritually mature and yet none of us knows how we’d act if we were handed the same circumstances as that fellow Christian. This doesn’t mean we let a beloved Christian sister or brother wallow in sinful reactions and choices. But remembering this does fill us with so much more love and grace as we help them.

And, second, let’s remember that God uses all of our suffering–the visible trials and the secret torments– to grow us in endurance, character, and hope. But this can only happen when we are turning to the Lord on a daily basis. Trying to endure on our own strength is exhausting and pointless. It is like being on a hamster wheel–we end up using all of our energy to turn in circles.

And, I guess I do have one final thought on this subject of suffering. I have found in my own life that many times God uses the little irritations and frustrations of life to draw me to Himself and to grow me in endurance. A disobedient toddler or a challenging situation at work can be used to mold us into the image of Christ.

Our whole lives are made up of moments that give us a choice:

Will we grow? Or will we respond with our selfish, human nature?

As believers, God is using everything to shape us and to work things out for His glory. We are all familiar with Romans 8:28–

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

But we need to continue reading verse 29–

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

One of God’s purposes–perhaps His main purpose for us–is to conform us into the image of His Son. May we not forget this as we suffer through trials seen and unseen. May we keep the eternal purpose in mind as we face inconsequential frustrations and overwhelming tribulations.

And may we remember that, through it all, God will not give up on us! Paul let us know this in Philippians 1:6–

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

And so we must keep fighting our sinful flesh through the trials. We must submit to God’s sculpting hand as He molds us into the image of His Son. And as we do so may we rely on the help and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We can’t give up. Thankfully, God will be right by our side, never leaving or forsaking us. What a glorious encouragement!

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

(By the way, I feel slightly hypocritical even writing this, since many of you know I continue to work through all of the changes in my life over these past few years, but I guess at least you know that a) I am writing to myself as much as I am writing for you and b) I am not giving up!)

 

* I was reading Romans 5 for our 2017 Bible Challenge. If you haven’t started a Bible Reading plan yet for this year, it is not too late to join us! And if you are doing the Bible Challenge, please feel free to join the Growing4Life Facebook group especially dedicated to the challenge. There you will find encouragement and resources regarding our Bible Readings.

 

 

 

Velvet Soft

velvet softIt has been a long winter around here so far. My husband and I have been fighting colds on and off for about a month now. And so the other day I was out and about and found that I needed a tissue. I looked for the nearest box and found one with a label that said Velvet Soft. This makes one think of a luxuriously soft and plush fabric. My nose was expecting to feel something akin to velvet. What if felt was something that was more like sandpaper.

Oh, what a great example of false marketing! It happens everywhere. As if somehow a label on something will actually make it true. I see this especially happening with the label “Christian”. As if putting the word “Christian” on a book or a movie will mean that it is representing biblical Christianity. However, more and more, this label is bringing into the Church books, entertainment, and even sermons that are decidedly unbiblical in their approach to God and His Word.

Why is this?

To put it simply, I believe it is because the focus of Christianity has been removed from our perfect and holy God’s objective truth to sinful, fallible man’s subjective experiences. I like how David F. Wells puts this–

“…And many in the Church have now turned in upon themselves and substituted for the knowledge of God a search for the knowledge of self.”

And this–

“And are we not consumed with what is changing in cultural and personal circumstance rather than with what is unchanging about life, the great universal truths about God, the world, and human nature? Have we not substituted the relative for the absolute, the Many for the One, diversity for unity, the human for the divine, our own private religious experience for truth that was once also public and universal in its scope?”

He wrote this in 1994. What this tells me is that this battle for truth has been going on for many more years than most of us realize. Of course, it has been going on forever. But, within the church, we have had an especially vicious attack and it would appear that Satan has won. Most people who call themselves Christians are far more concerned with their own personal happiness and supernatural experiences than they are with who God is. They are more concerned with being fulfilled and satisfied than they are in taking up their cross and denying themselves. They are more interested in dialoguing than in studying the Word of God.

Where does this leave us true Bible believers? How should we respond? I have a few observations and suggestions–

1. First, we must be aware that not all things labeled velvet soft are actually velvety soft. In other words, just because something has a label that looks appealing or true doesn’t mean it is. We must be willing to discern. If we aren’t, false doctrine will steal in and change what we believe so subtly that we may be completely unaware. We must be on guard at all times. We cannot rest.

2. We have to stop thinking with our hearts. Unlike the “velvet soft” tissue, which revealed its deceit the moment it touched my nose, false doctrine and apostasy will actually feel pretty good. If we use our hearts to judge something to be right or wrong, we will most likely come up with the wrong answer.

Of course, we are being told to listen to our hearts. It’s everywhere–from Disney to Hallmark movies to church. What makes you happy? What works for you? These have become the two litmus tests for truth. But this should never be a believer’s test for truth. We, of all people, should know better. We have the very Word of God and we should know that this is where we discern truth.

Interestingly enough, the other day I heard a Christian song from the 90s that I had loved and listened to often. I guess I never listened to the words because right there in the song was the line–

Until I stop thinking with my head
And start listening to my heart
And there I find my assurance

Wait! What?!? This goes completely against the Word of God (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:9). This was a song by a popular Christian artist, although I don’t believe the actual song was ever that popular. The whole song is actually a ballad of mysticism and I had never, ever caught it–until yesterday. This is what we have been feeding ourselves for years without even thinking about it. No wonder so many of us are listening to our hearts. We have been told to from all directions we turn. But this is not how or where we find truth.

3. When we find out that something labeled “velvet soft” isn’t velvety soft, we must turn away from it and encourage others to turn away from it, as well. It isn’t enough to turn away and then pretend like it never happened. If we truly love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ we must advise others to turn away, as well. If we understand that a book (for example, The Shack or Jesus Calling) is doing great damage to the hearts and minds of fellow believers, it is our duty out of the love we feel for God and our fellow Christians to speak the truth.

But most of us don’t want to do this because it is downright difficult. In fact, we will often be called unloving and judgmental when we are doing the most loving thing possible. People will mock us and make jokes about us. They will talk about us behind our backs and decide they don’t like us. All this while we, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, are reaching out in love to them with the truth of God’s Word. Personal discernment is hard, but actually telling others about what you have learned can feel almost impossible in this current church culture.

(Of course, there are always those who are not loving when they share truth. Instead, they are prideful and arrogant. They have no social sense of when or when not to speak. This is unacceptable for discerning believers. We must be quite sure we are not one of these types! We can hold firmly to the truth without being unkind and annoying.)

If we are trying to lovingly tell someone the truth and it is not so lovingly received, we must remember to keep our focus on Christ. This is when it is critically important to remember that we must find our hope, peace,and joy in God alone. Of course, we want people to like us. We want them to think we are fun and cool. But it is not our calling to be liked by the world (In fact, Jesus tells us we won’t be liked by the world in John 15:18-19). We have one calling only: to know God and make Him known. This includes defending His Word amidst the mass apostasy going on in our churches.  I love how Jude puts this–

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God[b] and our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, as we find ourselves surrounded by things labeled velvet soft that are actually daggers poised to destroy our faith in God and His Word, may we be wisely discerning. May we look to God’s Word for truth instead of our own wicked hearts. And may we bravely and honorably contend for and defend the faith that was delivered to us once for all in God’s Word.

 

Changed Lives: Jan

Changed Lives (final)

Last year I started a series called Changed Lives. The goal of this series is to show how Jesus Christ is changing lives one life at a time. He is radically saving us and then transforming us into His likeness and using our trials for His glory and to further His kingdom. It is my greatest hope that this series will remind you that Jesus is still changing people! Several months have gone by since I brought you the last testimony but today I finally have another one to share. This one is by my dear friend, Jan. This story is a bit different than the others, as you will see. You may want to grab a tissue.

I met Jan around ten years ago when her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter were on a travel soccer team together. We quickly connected due to our like-minded faith in Christ. A year or so later, they started coming to our church and we became friends with the whole family. A few years ago, the unthinkable happened to this family. I have watched Jan face this unforeseen and unexpected hardship with strength and fortitude that could only come from God. I remember having a conversation with her sometime in the middle of all of this. She told me how she was continuing to listen to John MacArthur sermons on rides to and from work. She kept feeding herself good spiritual food through it all. This made an impact on me. So often our human tendency is to withdraw from solid spiritual food when bad things happen.

Even though, in many ways, Jan continues to travel in dark, unknown territory, I see her continue to trust God through it all. Please pray for Jan and her daughters as they continue their journey of getting used to a new normal. I believe her story will not only inspire you but will also challenge your faith. I know it is her greatest desire that God use this for His glory and I believe that He will do so.

Here is Jan’s story–

July 2016

The morning sky is a beautiful blue and the air is crisp and refreshing. It is a joy to experience such a day in the middle of July. We look up from where we are standing to see a peaceful field, swaying trees in the horizon, and orange lilies in full bloom. But the tears blur our vision and as we stand there with our arms around each other, we wonder if we will ever heal. I recall Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in the tears, and You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear…You’re teaching us to trust”.  I wonder if Lydia, 17, and Naomi, 13, are trusting more. Or do they, like me, only feel the pain? I’m not sure. There is only a grave marker there; the tombstone is not in yet. Some things are just not that important and I figure it can wait.

November 2011

Family Photo from 2013

Walt Disney World. The “vacation of a lifetime” so we have been told. My husband, Doug, and I had never experienced Disney but, for some reason, we wanted to make sure our family would experience it at least one time. We were in a transition period in our lives and it felt like a vacation to Disney would complete one item we had on our bucket list.

I had worked at The Hershey Company for 20 years and had resigned just nine months earlier.  Doug had completed his training and certification in Massage Therapy and was starting a business with another massage therapist while also working for a Chiropractor. Since Lydia, our oldest, was born Doug had been the stay-at-home dad and I was the working mom. (Maybe a better explanation is that I was the bread-winner, since all moms work). It was a good plan for us as Doug was a wonderful dad. He was a typical Type B personality and nothing seemed to bother him. He enjoyed his time with the girls at home, even home-schooling both girls (which was my preference, not his). We had an easy marriage, always supporting each other’s goals and dreams.

Our transition period was the plan for me to stay at home with the girls in their junior high and senior high school years while Doug went back into the workforce. We were all set for that change. Hershey had eliminated my position so I took advantage of a severance package. I felt like God had given me the gift of an extra and early year at home! Honestly, this was a huge step of faith for me as Doug had not yet graduated from massage school at that time. But I truly believed that this was what God was calling me to do. “Do you trust me?” seemed to be what He was asking. There were three specific happenings that led us to make the confident decision that it was time to come home. I would even classify them as “miracles”.

Miracle #1 At a 48th birthday dinner for Doug he announced that he knows what he wants to do in life. I am stunned. After being together for a little over 30 years, Doug finally knows what he wants to do? To give you a little more insight into this, you should know that we started dating when I was in 10th grade and Doug was a senior. He never went to school beyond 12th grade because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. The topic came up no less than 50 times in our years together but the answer was always the same: “I don’t know.” So this truly was a miracle.

Miracle #2 As we explored several schools for him to attend, it didn’t occur to me until later that Doug had not been in school for 30 years. He would need to take an entrance exam to get into the school. Since he was a quarterback and point guard and not an academic scholar, this would prove to be a challenge. He took the test and came close to passing, but, unfortunately, he didn’t pass. But since the economy was tight, admissions were low, and he was studying to be a massage therapist, they told us that they would “wave the entrance exam and see how he does”.  Miracle #2 complete.

Miracle #3 If this is not a miracle then I will classify it as a strong sign from God that this was the direction we were to take. After working for Hershey for almost 20 years, there was only one position that I had interviewed for. Every other move, promotion, or change was a tap on the shoulder. If they asked me to do something, I said yes. That included a move half-way across the country to Arkansas for 3 years. And then another yes when they wanted me to head up a project in the home office and another move 1,200 miles back. I always said yes and there was always a position ahead. But this time was different. As I walked into my boss’s office the human resources person was present. He began to tell me that the position I was in was being eliminated but that they created another job that I could apply for. Actually, the job description was what I was already doing. It was a simple choice, really: Just interview for the other job and continue with my Hershey career. Or was it a gift from God to trust where He was leading me? After all, I was planning to resign in one year, anyway, when Doug was done with school and had started his business.

Again, God seemed to be asking me: “Do you trust Me?”  I responded to this by resigning with a one-year severance package, trusting that Doug would graduate and begin his career. For just a short while, life was perfect. We were both so excited! Doug was thrilled about pursuing his newfound passion in life and I was thrilled to finally be home with our girls. We couldn’t wait to get started with this new plan for our lives.

Shortly after our Disney vacation I received a phone call from Doug’s sister. Doug had recently been in his hometown for a wedding and had stayed with his sister. While there, he had confided in her that something wasn’t right but he didn’t know how to explain it. I also was starting to feel uneasy about our situation but I brushed it off to a newness for all of us. Me being home and Doug being out in the working world was a really big change for us.

Doug’s sister insisted that I set up a doctor’s appointment just to make sure things were okay with him. I immediately agreed and we went in to see the doctor right before Christmas. The doctor explained that his slowness or sluggishness was probably caused by depression. But this didn’t explain another puzzling symptom: He was not able to write his name. He couldn’t connect the cursive letters together. Printing was fine.

We were in the midst of one of the most exciting times in our lives and the doctor was diagnosing Doug with depression? Neither of us believed him and so we proceeded with blood work and a follow-up appointment. Over the holidays I received a call from the doctor and he genuinely seemed giddy. He said he had found out what was making Doug feel different: His thyroid levels were very high and the appropriate medication should ease the symptoms. Of course, that was the answer! Since I had quit work we were in the process of switching insurances and had neglected to get his thyroid medication filled. It was as simple as that.

But three months later, Doug was still not better and his thyroid tested fine. This was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. No jobs, no idea what was happening with Doug’s health, and the girls were being home-schooled. What would we do with them? What did this mean for my dream to be at home? My plan to stay home with the girls was disappearing. I felt sick to my stomach.

At the time, I was teaching an evening class at a local college as an adjunct professor. I began to realize that I needed to find another job very quickly. Just the thought of having to do this was tearing me up inside. “But God”, I cried, “I trusted you!”  My dream of staying home with the girls was being taken away while, at the same time, my husband of 26 years was so different. At this point I would have described him as mentally retarded. He was acting so odd. For example, he’d walk through a door and let it close on us. Or he’d lean over the girls in church to shake someone’s hand and make them almost fall without even reacting. It was definitely a strange place to be.

I was able to get a better-paying job with benefits in April of that year. But it meant a commute of 45 minutes to work (compared to the 5 minutes that I had previously) and I was making $40k less and also had fewer holidays and vacation days than my original job at Hershey. And this new job gave me even less time with my girls. Around this time, my trust in God was wavering. I questioned Him many times; I really did not understand.

Through the rest of that summer and fall, Doug progressively got worse and we still didn’t have any diagnosis from doctors. The girls started at a Christian school and I kept working. It just didn’t make sense to me. I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was giving up my career to allow my husband to be the one bringing home the paycheck. I thought God was clearing the way for me to homeschool and enjoy my girls. I had trusted that this was what God was calling me to do. Nothing made sense to me. But I had no choice but to keep working and taking care of my husband and the girls. It wasn’t easy. Did I trust God? I said I did. Again, I didn’t understand. God had provided a job for me that allowed us to send the girls to a Christian school and, for that, I was grateful.

In early winter we got a diagnosis of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I had to research it since I had no idea what it was. We found out that it was a terminal disease with a life expectancy of anywhere from two to twenty years. I didn’t find that helpful. What would I do with a 49-year- old husband who has two to twenty years left to live? How do two young girls walk that journey along with me? I didn’t know how to navigate it myself, much less help them.

Of course, with this diagnosis it meant that we had some financial decisions to make. Again, the unknowns made this so difficult to make decisions and the experts in the industries were not really “expert” regarding our specific situation. I felt so very alone. I cried out to God to direct my decisions – it was only me making these huge decisions as Doug wasn’t able to really help me by this time. I needed to trust that God was guiding my decisions and looking over us.

As the disease progressed, life became more of “just getting through each day”. There was no time to really consider what this meant to our family or to consider what we would have done differently once he was gone. Would there be any regrets? Who knew? God had me in a place that was very unfamiliar. Caring for a husband who could no longer communicate, the majority of my time was spent cleaning up pee from accidents, waiting on him, arranging rides for the girls, trying to make their lives as normal as possible while the unthinkable was happening to our family, working full time, all the time trying to pretend that nothing was going on. Who was I kidding? Life for us would never be normal again – at least it wouldn’t be what we had once considered normal.

About this time, Doug started to take a huge decline every three months. We would adjust to the current condition and then he would make a huge decline again. We were never ready for each step downward. After he suffered a stroke on his 50th birthday, his needs increased dramatically.  He needed help to get dressed, to eat meals, to go to the bathroom, and checked on multiple times during the day.

The next decline scared me more than the first. The disease was characterized by a backward fall. One day when I was home with him I watched him get out of a chair, take one step forward, and then four backwards before falling. He was bruised more than I would like to admit from all the falls he had sustained over the prior months. I had a new goal: No more bruises. He needed someone to walk him everywhere, since he could no longer navigate on his own. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How were we possibly going to do that?  I had to arrange for someone to walk him everywhere, help him in the bathroom, and feed him while I was working and the girls were in school.

While we were dealing with all of this, we had another hurdle around that time. Doug had a condition that made him go to the bathroom every 1-2 hours, including the night time hours. I told my oldest daughter that between us, we could alternate nights staying up with him. She was off school for the summer, and for me, I figured how much different could this possibly be than having a newborn? I could do this. I took the first night and didn’t sleep at all. My daughter had the next night. I told her she could sleep as long as she wanted the next day, after his caretaker came at 7 am. I took the next night, and again, didn’t sleep at all. I obviously would not be able to do this and work full time. I was exhausted. After we talked, she agreed to take the night shift every night. What a blessing she was during that time. There was no way that I could do this by myself.

My oldest daughter went to two different week-long camps that summer. This meant that I had to care for Doug during the nights. I remember being at work on a Thursday during one of those weeks. I was sitting in a meeting when it hit me– I hadn’t slept since Saturday. How was I surviving this? God must have been sustaining me. We were continuing to trust Him in everything. We certainly didn’t know why He was allowing this, but we chose to trust in Him and what He was doing.

When the girls started back to school in late August, I was forced to get help. I hired a college student to take the night shift. Free room and board and a wage, too – seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I remember the day she moved in. I went for a walk and felt like I was walking on air. Just the thought of having another adult to take on some of the load and responsibility was freeing to me! This turned out to be only somewhat helpful. She often needed help with him during the night and I’d hear her quietly tiptoe into my room to wake me. We had given Doug a bell to ring when he need help but, unfortunately, once we passed the 3am time frame she wouldn’t even hear it go off. I would hear it, get up to help him, and let her sleep.

The next milestone came in October of 2013. I was getting him ready on a Saturday morning and could no longer get him up the steps. We were in the middle of the stairway when he fell backwards onto me. I’m not even sure how I got out of that dilemma. I do remember getting him upstairs and crying out to God for help. I truly did not know what to do at that moment. I came face to face with the fact that I could no longer take care of him in our home the way it was. I needed two people to assist him at all times and it was difficult enough getting one person. There weren’t any care facilities that would take him because of his age. I was not sure what the next steps would be and found myself completely and totally at God’s will. There was nothing I could do on my own. I was lost and saw no way out.

I cannot recall how we navigated those two desperate weeks. But what I do remember is God putting a name in my mind near the end of those weeks: A neighbor who worked for hospice.  I had no idea what her role was at hospice or if Doug would qualify for hospice or even if the insurance would cover it. In fact, I really had no idea what hospice was. But I had nowhere else to turn. At the end of my rope, I called Amy.

I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sister when I called Amy. Within three hours, I had a hospital bed, a lift for Doug, other equipment, and a hospice nurse coming in five days a week. I was overwhelmed. I went from one of the deepest pits of despair to having a solution in place in three hours. God had answered my prayers. I also clearly remember a return phone call I received from Amy an hour later. She said that they had a bed at their hospice facility in Harrisburg and that I qualified for a week of respite care for Doug. They would come and get him in an ambulance, transport him to the facility, and take care of him for a week. I was overwhelmed with relief, grief, and confusion. I said no, thinking how could I send him away?  It didn’t seem right. I hung up from Amy and looked at my sister. She had been there for several days, if not weeks, trying to help me. I was sobbing when I looked at her. My next thought was I need to do this not only for me, but for her. I had so many thoughts going through my head.  Amy called back. “Yes”, I said, “that would be a blessing”. I desperately needed some respite and my sister needed to go home.

I talked to Doug about this. As much as I could understand him, he seemed ok with the idea. I would follow the ambulance to the facility, make sure everything was fine, and then go home without him. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday, the girls and I headed to the hospice home to see him after church. I wanted them to know that he was being taken care of – probably better than we could care for him here. We went to lunch afterwards and tears once again stained our cheeks.

Doug came home a week later and he was confined to his bed. Hospice would come every day and give him a bed-bath and his daytime caregiver would prepare meals and feed him. It was easier to care for him at this point. No more getting up in the middle of the night to help him to the bathroom. He was bedbound and would be until he went to be with his Savior.

He had a palliative care doctor who came to the house every month. She was a blessing to us. In October, she said that Doug probably had until ‘summer’. Another month she said the beginning of the summer, and at another point she said the end of the summer. I know it was a guess but that put a timeline on his remaining time with us. This was a difficult discussion with the girls.  When it was ‘two to twenty’ years or six months, it doesn’t seem as final. It’s almost like the ‘tomorrow’ statement – tomorrow never comes. But the summer of 2014 does come, and it was painful to hear. At that point, we knew that Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2013 would most likely be his last. We also realized that his birthday in February would also probably be his last.  But what should we do differently? I didn’t know.

When my youngest turned 11 that January, it was extremely difficult for me. Instead of rejoicing with her for turning 11, my mind only went to one thought: For the rest of her life, when she talks about her dad or about her life, she will say that she was 11 when her dad died. That’s all I could think about. I knew this because my mother’s father died when she was 12 and I remember her many stories over the years– “I was 12 when…”

We continued to watch Doug deteriorate. He was getting thinner and thinner. It was very difficult to watch the changes. Bed sores didn’t come until near the end. He didn’t have many as we cared for him as best we could. He was also becoming very stiff and his hands and feet were starting to look like they had severe arthritis. The hands that had so gently massaged other people’s muscles were now deformed and motionless. What he loved most were the foot and hand massages that many of his caretakers would give him.

It was on May 19 that the hospice worker recognized that fluids and food were going into his lungs. He was now unable to swallow correctly. We had known to expect this as it was a symptom of the disease. So it was on this day that the decision was made to stop all fluids and food, since he would asphyxiate which, I was told, would be worse than starving to death. And those were our choices at this point. We “celebrated” our 28th wedding anniversary on May 17th. I knew it would be our last.

For anyone who has watched a loved one slowly pass on my heart goes out to you. Difficult does not describe what that is like. Morphine becomes a gift. Each day you think is the last and then it turns into tomorrow. There is no quality time– only waiting and tears. But God sustains and helps you get from one day to the next. And as you kiss your loved one on the gurney as he is being taken out of your home for the last time, you know you will miss him, but that you also know that –if they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have the hope that someday you will see him again in Heaven.

December 2016

As I look back and reflect on the past five years, I can see God in every decision. I know that He was with me. He didn’t take away the pain, but He let me know He was always there. On May 30, 2014 I said good-bye to my husband of 28 years. At this point, two and a half years later, I still have no idea what God wants me to do with this. But I still trust in His leading. He has never left me.

“The worldly things have become a little dimmer, and the things of Heaven have become a little brighter”.  I heard that from a pastor’s wife who lost her husband in a terrible car accident after church one Sunday as they were traveling back to their home. She did not seem bitter but, instead, said it with a sweetness that could only come from God. I now know what she meant.

John 14:2

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

As James 4:14 says

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

God has been faithful to us throughout the past five years. Although we don’t understand, we trust that He knows what is best for us. The girls and I prayed faithfully that God be glorified through our trial. Whatever happened, we wanted God’s glory to shine through us. This was our verse:

I Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

One of Doug’s care-takers responded to a gift and note that I left for her one morning:

Jan:

For some reason I just now turned the page in Doug’s book. I opened your card and tears just poured from my eyes. Not out of sorrow or pain but because I am so thankful for everything I had to go thru that has led me to be with you and your family.

 I learned the true Grace of God thru you. Though I love Doug as though he were my child it is your actions that I saw day to day that renewed my faith in God. To love someone is to love someone like Jesus loved us. Sick, poor, meek ….

 I know you are grateful for my care of Doug without you ever saying a word. God brought you and your family to me so I could see. It is I who is most grateful. I have recently had an experience with God that is indescribable. It has made me committed to do His will and taught me that without him I have no life. You and Doug and your family contributed greatly to my salvation. I love you and I love Doug.

 Thank you for the birthday present. But mostly thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

 When I asked her if I could use this text at his memorial service, this was her response: “Oh I would love that….I am going to be glorifying God for sending him and your family into my life…  For I came into a home where my Father was the center so that I would come to see the Light of Christ Jesus, My savior, family-fall-2016-v2through a family that witnessed the love my Lord has for all His children without uttering a single word. Doug was sent to me as a silent messenger and a righteous man. At my baptism you will all be mentioned for the selfless love you have shown me as Jesus asked you to do. Words aren’t enough”.

If all of this was for one soul to spend eternity in Heaven, it was worth it.

 


 

The Secret to True Peace

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Some of you are old enough to remember the hippies of the sixties and their use of the word “peace”. It was kind of a buzz word of that era. I think this was probably in reaction to the Vietnam War. I was just a baby during that time so my personal memories are very limited.

I have been thinking a bit about this word peace for a few weeks now. Mostly because I have not really had it. These past few years have brought so many changes so fast–and there are more to come–that I have had a hard time settling into a normal. I have a hard time being at peace when things are not normal. I like routine. I didn’t realize how important routine was to me. But now that life is changing so much so quickly, I can see how I have relied on my circumstances remaining pretty status quo. Most of my change is just normal life change. It’s just–for me–it is all happening at once instead of gradually. My head feels like it is spinning.

I have handled all of this in a variety of ways–crying, denial, just pushing through, fighting back, being irritable with others–but through it all I have not felt peaceful.

And then the other day I heard a sermon by the husband of a dear friend of mine. He had lots of good things to say in that sermon, but the one thing that really resonated with me was the part about peace. You see, I think most of us believe peace is a calm and carefree life without trials. It means a world without war and disease. In fact, many people in the world are working feverishly to bring peace to the world.

But the Bible makes it clear that we will never experience peace in this world until Jesus returns. Even Jesus Himself assured us that He did not come to bring peace–

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34).

This means we shouldn’t expect earthly peace. And it is also clear in God’s Word that we should not expect peace in our circumstances since we read this in John–

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will[a] have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In fact, in James we read that we are to actually count it all joy when we have trials–

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

And in Romans we read–

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

So from these verses we can see that our peace is not dependent upon a carefree life or a world without war.

So how do we have peace? John 16:33 tells us that our peace will come from our relationship with Christ. Our peace will be inward because we are reconciled to God through Christ. It is not about external circumstances.

In Isaiah 26:3 we find instructions on how to be in perfect peace–

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

We must keep our mind stayed on God. We must be willing to put our trust in Him that He will work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

I don’t know about you but, personally, I can find this quite a challenge. Not only in my personal life but in all of the craziness going on in the world. We read of terrorist attacks and shooting sprees and we come face to face with our mortality. At any time in any place we could breathe our last. If we don’t keep our mind stayed in the right place, we will become anxious and nervous. If we don’t keep our mind on God and His glory and purposes, we will become frustrated and disillusioned when things don’t work out in our lives the way we thought they should.

This is no easy task, mind you. It is our natural human tendency to worry and fret and to long for peace in our external world. While we know from the scriptures that true external peace will not happen on this earth, we are promised internal peace through our saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And this is the kind of peace that truly matters.

Not only should we not expect external peace, but we learn from the Bible that God uses trials and tribulations to help us grow. We read in the Romans passage from above that trials produce perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope. God is using our trials to make us more like Christ!

And so I have been challenged recently to be sure that anything in my life that I am unhappy about will be used by God to draw me to Him and to grow me as a believer. Instead of being a discontented and unhappy person, I want to learn perseverance and to be a light to those around me. And God is teaching me that the only way this can happen–the secret to true peace–is to keep my mind stayed on Him instead of on my circumstances.  He is teaching me that true peace come through my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and is not dependent on being free from trials and tribulations (or life changes happening all at once!)

I have let you see a little bit into my own personal struggles this morning. I don’t know if there is someone else out there who has these same struggles, but I thought I would share what the Lord has been teaching me. It is my hope that any who are struggling will be encouraged to look to the Lord for internal peace rather than grasping for illusive, impossible external peace. I hope that, together, we can grow more like Christ through all of life’s changes and trials.