Consider the Blossoms

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Sometimes–with everything that’s going on in the world and within the church and, perhaps, even in our own lives– we can start to feel a little anxious, overwhelmed, or fearful. We lose sight of perspective and take our eyes off the Lord and turn them to earthly things. This is so easy to do, isn’t it? How quickly we forget that we serve an almighty God who will be the victor in this fierce battle for the world! I Chronicles 29:11 puts it this way–

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness,
The power and the glory,
The victory and the majesty;
For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours;
Yours is the kingdom, O Lord,
And You are exalted as head over all.

I thought it might be a welcome break to take our eyes off of the problems, battles, and sadness of this world and turn them to the wonder of God’s breathtaking creation this morning. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a nearby gardens with my camera yesterday. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite shots from that trip plus a few from my own backyard. God has clothed the flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow, and yet He has done it so marvelously! O, How much more He cares for us! What a wonderful reminder (Luke 12:27-28).

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Danger Zone

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I had an idea of what I wanted to buy for a graduation gift but time got away from me and the other day I realized that it was too late to order it. I groaned within, as I realized this meant I would have to buy it at my local Christian bookstore.

I have generally tried to avoid any bookstore labeled “Christian” over the last five or so years because I find them most disheartening to walk through. But that day I had little choice.

And so I headed off to the store to once again be dismayed and disgusted by the heresy and false teaching that is promoted and sold in “Christian” bookstores.

The first display I saw–just like the last time I was there and the time before that– featured Jesus Calling. You can read here why this book goes against scripture and why Christians should not be reading it. How long will that book be in the stores? I cannot believe it is still actually selling. It has had an incredibly long shelf-life compared to most books.

Then I headed to the Bible section. There I found both the good and the bad. One has to use great wisdom in picking out a Bible these days. We should always do our research before purchasing one. All Bible versions are not equal.

I headed next to the Bible Study section. There I was dismayed to find a whole section by Beth Moore. She has made some seriously wrong doctrinal turns in the recent years and, yet, it doesn’t seem to have affected her sales in any way. You can find good biblical articles refuting Beth Moore here and here.

As I continued to look around, I found many books by Henry Blackaby of Experiencing God fame. His books were everywhere, along with Bible Studies he authored under the title Encountering God. He is quite a prolific author but, unfortunately, he writes from a mystical, experiential point of view (which you might have been able to deduce from the title of his first book). You can find a solid reproof to his false teaching here (this link is Part 1 of a 3-part article). There is another good article here.

And then I turned a corner in the store and saw a large area of a bottom shelf taken up by Rick Warren’s Daniel Plan. There are few authors who have affected the church so negatively over these past fifteen years as this man. His book Purpose-Driven Life has changed the Gospel, watering it down and removing sin and repentance. His book Purpose-Driven Church has completely changed how we do church and it is certainly not in a good way. Seriously, this man has almost single-handedly changed the whole church culture. But the Daniel Plan–his plan for health and fitness–may be his most dangerous yet. For it is in this plan that he incorporates new age practices and ideas, partnering with doctors who don’t even claim to be Christians. Read more about this plan here and here, and run from it as fast as you can!

Sadly, I could present many more names of authors who have twisted and bent scripture to write supposedly “Christian” books that, while bringing a pleasant message to the readers, are doing great harm because they are not biblical.

And so my most recent trip just confirmed my opinion about Christian bookstores. And I was reminded of just how very few books (and music–I didn’t even get into the music) that we can trust there. Even books that may be written by solid, biblical, unfamiliar authors are suspect in this place where there is such a dearth of good, biblical resources.

SO why is this? Why has there been such compromise in this area of buying and selling things that are not biblical? From companies we should be able to trust? I have a few ideas about this.

First, we, as a society, have become obsessed with ourselves. Even we who claim to be Christians are often self-centered and self-absorbed. And so we want to read things that will help us solve our problems. We want to read things that will make us feel good about ourselves. And we want to read things that will lift us up and tell us how wonderful we are and how much God loves us. In response to this, companies will stock their shelves with these resources that sell. While Christian companies shouldn’t, in theory, compromise and sell unbiblical material, most do. They are in business to make money, after all. And, if you do some checking, you will see that many of these so-called Christian publishing companies are just branches of secular companies.

Second, most of us Christians do not know the Word of God and have very little discernment. When we spend time reading, we’d prefer it to be a light and easy reading not some heavy-duty study of the Word. Few of us do more than lightly read a few verses each day so that we can put a check-mark by “devotions” on our to-do list. No wonder we Christians have been hood-winked. We don’t know what the Bible teaches, so anyone pulling verses out of context or twisting a passage can fool us.

And third, the authors mentioned above and any other false teachers teach a lot of good things. If they didn’t, Christians would spot them in a heartbeat. Have you heard of Rob Bell? Recently, this “pastor” has joined up with Oprah, claiming there is no hell and a variety of other very heretical things. And with this out and out heresy, most mainstream Christians have rejected him. But, do you know, that only ten years ago, his videos played in biblical church youth groups all across America, including my own? And when anyone spoke against them, we were told what we are always told — you are exaggerating, you are worrying about nothing, this will help us reach the kids, you need to relax, you are too harsh and unloving.

That is because those videos were mostly true, with just a tiny bit of error. And so most churches let it slide. Even though scripture warns us of this very thing in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. If Satan and those who promote his kingdom of darkness only presented themselves as evil would we fall prey to their methods? Of course not. How much more effective to bring heresy and false doctrine into the church by being mostly biblical but not quite.

And I ask you: If you were given a bowl of soup that was 99% filled with the best cut of meat and the freshest produce around but was 1% arsenic, would you eat it? Of course not, because you know that arsenic would harm you.

Somehow we don’t apply this same principle to what we put in our brains.

All of this has left us in a very vulnerable place as a church. We are being groomed to join the one-world church. We can see this happening almost before our very eyes and a walk through the Christian bookstore only confirmed this once again for me.

I could say lots more about this area of books–like there are some people I read who I don’t agree 100% with on secondary issues but they have not changed the Gospel message and I feel safe reading them. And that there are some really great authors who left this earth long ago–men like Spurgeon and Ryle who are very readable and biblical and trustworthy. And, I guess, most importantly, that you wouldn’t even trust me without running everything I write here through the grid of scripture. I am not sinless and I certainly do not have some corner market on truth. Test what I write. Test anything you read, no matter who wrote it. We live in a very dangerous world, where even a store labeled “Christian” has become a dangerous place. Don’t let Satan fool you. Know the Word and be aware of the false doctrines around you, so that you won’t be deceived.

I Thessalonians 5:21– Test all things; hold fast what is good.

Acts 17:11– These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 

2 Thessalonians 2:15– Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

 

Born to Stand Out

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Yesterday, when I was going through some old things, I came across a little jar of buttons my mom had given me a long time ago. When I was a child, my grandmother had a big basket of buttons I used to love and this jar was a little sampling of them.

I hadn’t thought of that button basket in a very long time, but my mind went back to that basket yesterday. Its home was the shelf of a large hutch that sat in the back of the main room of my grandparents’ house. In front of the hutch was a little table. I remember sitting there, sorting and playing with those buttons on many occasions.

Many of the buttons were drab and nondescript, some were pretty colors but plain and round, and then there were the special ones– heart or flower-shaped and brightly-colored. These were my very favorite buttons. They were the ones that I would search for every single time.

As my mind wandered in the past, I suddenly realized that the world is really just like that button basket.

Most unbelievers, like those drab buttons that made up most of the basket, are living life and leaving no mark on eternity. They are self-absorbed and focused on pleasing themselves. And then there are the pretty-colored, plain ones–these represent the unbelievers who are doing many good things for the world before they leave it.  But it is we Christians who should be the heart and flower-shaped buttons. We should stand out among the world by our love, by our holiness, by our godly choices, and by our actions in an incomparable manner, because we have the Holy Spirit living within us.

Only most of us don’t really want to stand out. We find it easier and even more pleasant to just fit in.

Oh, most of us Christians don’t mind looking like those pretty buttons that do some good in the world. That’s okay because it’s very acceptable. But we don’t want to change our shape, because that means we can be spotted and teased and mocked and persecuted. And we don’t really want that.

Of course, if this is how we feel, then we must ask ourselves: Do I really understand salvation?

Having a bold witness, choosing holiness, and standing up for Jesus Christ are born out of the love we feel for God because of the great grace and mercy we have been shown by Him. Our transformed life is born out of the humility, sinfulness, and utter unworthiness that we bring to the cross as we kneel there, begging for forgiveness and new life in Christ. This new life is born out of the understanding that we owe everything to Christ and are no longer our own master.

When we truly understand salvation, standing out isn’t a decision. For, of course, we will. For what else could we choose?

My savior died for me and so I will live for Him.

The brand of Christian so prevalent today isn’t doing anything of the sort. I don’t know if that means they aren’t saved at all or if they just don’t truly understand salvation (it is probably some of both) but what I do know is that it is confusing the world around us as to what being a Christian really means. It is giving the impression that Jesus is here to give me a better life on earth and some fire insurance for the hereafter. This unbiblical teaching has seeped its way into even the most conservative churches and it is hurting the Gospel.

So what to do?

We choose to live out biblical Christianity in our own little world. We choose to be brave and courageous as others falter and try to hide. We live a holy life, making even the smallest choice with a mind to please God. We speak the truths of scripture but always with love, kindness, and humility– even when we passionately disagree with someone. And we exude the joy and peace of our God in the midst of these dark, troublesome days. In living out biblical Christianity right where God has placed us, we will stand out like one of those brightly-colored and beautifully-shaped buttons. It matters not that we are standing out alone, for this is what we are called to do.

It reminds me of a saying I once heard in a secular movie–

Why are you trying so hard to fit in, when you were born {or re-born} to stand out?

I leave you with these words from I Peter 1:13-25. I hope these words will instill you with the desire to please our heavenly Father and to do so with courage, no matter what other Christians are doing around us–

 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”[c]

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[d] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,[e] 24 because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man[f] as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”[g]

Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.

 

Becoming the Enemy

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Eight years ago–2008–dawned with an important election on the horizon. Perhaps even more important than the one coming up this year. At the time, my youngest girls were 11 and 8. As we discussed what the future of the country would be under the care of a President like Obama, one of the girls became frightened and had the unreasonable fear that this new President would steal her from our house. We all had a good laugh about that one.

But eight years later it isn’t as funny. He might not have personally stolen any children from their homes, but how he has changed this country in just eight short years is almost unimaginable. And somehow, in that time, biblical Christians have become the enemy. Oh, I am not talking about the ones that cave to the culture and ignore the Bible–those kind of “Christians” have never been any threat, have they?

But for those of us who still declare that abortion is wrong, that homosexuality is wrong, that adultery and fornication are wrong, and for those of us who declare that there is such a thing as sin and that Jesus Christ desires that we live a holy, godly life on this earth–well, we now have a big problem, don’t we? In just 8 short years we have become the enemy. It had been brewing for awhile, of course, but Obama set the course in motion at breakneck speed.

When I was a little girl–perhaps about five or six–we had a little mini dachshund named Daisy Mae. One day we went to visit my grandparents and, for whatever reason, we had taken her along. It was a nice summer day and we were out in the front yard talking. Suddenly, we saw a brown streak race across the yard, straight for our puppy. It was the neighbor’s German Shepherd and he was on a mission. He picked up our little puppy and started shaking it and shaking it, amidst the screams and shouts of the adults and children there. When he finally dropped her, it was too late.

She lay there, lifeless, in a brown little heap.

I don’t remember much past that. Did the neighbor come over and profusely apologize? I have no recollection. But what I do remember is the horror of it all. We were so helpless. Our tiny little dog was defenseless. There was nothing she could do.

Don’t you feel just a little like our tiny dog standing in the middle of the yard? As biblical Christians in America (and perhaps in all of the Western World), we have become a small minority group and there is this giant German Shepherd of the wicked world rushing towards us with the mission to kill us and be rid of any accountability to God, once and for all.

Of course, we know they will never be successful. In fact, we can look back over history and see that when the church is persecuted is when it actually grows the most. And, so, its light will never be extinguished. Never.

Which is encouraging in theory. But what does it mean for us personally?

None of us really knows. But the light of America’s Christianity is waning and it’s waning quickly. And we need to ask ourselves this question: What are we going to do?

Are we going to be brave enough to stand up for Christ amidst the hostility we are facing? Or are we going to melt into the background?

Are we going to have the courage to share the truth of the Bible with those we meet? Or are we going to ignore any opportunities God may give us in order to avoid being labeled as one of those Christians?

Straddling the fence will not be an option much longer. You realize that, don’t you? Many Christians have been riding the fence for far too long. One foot in the world and one foot in the church. That may be a viable option for those who aren’t truly saved, but that is no option for anyone who is a genuine Christian. Jesus Christ puts it this way in Matthew 10, verses 38-39:

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

If we are carrying a cross, we have no time or energy for worldly pursuits. If we are following Christ, our own wants and desires will eventually conform to God’s will and we will have no inclination or desire for the world.

These are not suggestions. This is how Christ describes His true followers.

I do not know what is ahead of us in the next eight years. But, unlike my dog who stood there defenseless, we have the God of the universe on our side. Nothing–absolutely nothing–happens outside of his sovereign care. His power and love are far deeper and greater than we could even imagine. I love how Romans 8:31-39 puts it–

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”[c]

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And so, yes, somehow in eight short years we have become the enemy. And, yes, we are living in a country that is becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity. We may soon face what so many of our Christians brothers and sisters faced under men like Nero and Stalin–and what many of them are facing even now under regimes like Isis or radical Hinduism. Satan is on a mission to eliminate Christianity. This has been his mission throughout history. As we move towards the last days, it would seem only natural that things would heat up for Christians. Biblical Christianity, by its very nature, stands in opposition to all that Satan is trying to accomplish.

But if we are on Jesus Christ’s side, we are going to win. May we never forget that– no matter if the enemy steals our reputations, our material goods, or even our very lives–we are going to win.

So pick a side, but be sure to choose with eternity in mind.

 

There is a Reason

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We have had a lot of rain here lately, but last week we had one bright, sunny afternoon. I decided it was the perfect afternoon to go for a walk. I ushered Macy, our Chocolate Lab, into the car, and off we went. Why the car? Because I now drive to where I can walk, because of two attack dogs that reside between me and my walking area. Just thinking about walking past the house where they reside fills with me fear. (You can read about this incident in my post Obstacles.)

I didn’t actually realize just how much fear until last week when I took that walk. I was enjoying the beautiful day when suddenly, from out of nowhere, I heard a dog bark menacingly as it rushed towards me. My heart started pounding, my hand gripped the leash tighter, and I could feel my whole body tense, as if preparing for an attack. I glanced towards where I heard the sound and saw that not only was it a rather smallish dog, but it was also enclosed in a fence, which meant that this little barking fiend was no threat to me or to my dog.

Now, I have never, ever been afraid of dogs before. Not like that. Sure, I never liked the mean, snarling ones (who does?) but I love dogs. It is frustrating to me that now I am filled with fear if I hear one on my walk.

My personal experience has led me to respond and react differently than I used to.

Personal experience has a way of doing that to us. I remember when this thought first hit me and changed how I viewed people.

It was Christmas Day many years ago and it was snowing. Unlike most of you, we never wanted white Christmases around here because that would mean Christmas without Daddy. We plow snow and people still want it to be removed, even if it is a holiday. It also meant a day of stress and frustration for me, as I have to take the phone calls.

I can still vividly remember one phone call from that day long ago. It was an elderly lady, recently widowed, who had no children. She was normally a very nice lady, but on this particular day she started screaming at me, asking why we hadn’t been to her house yet. I assured her that everyone was out working hard and that they just hadn’t gotten there yet, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. She obviously needed to yell at someone and that someone was going to be me. I was so hurt and angered by that unreasonable call. But after I hung up and gave it some thought, God impressed upon my heart just how lonely and miserable she must be–especially on Christmas. How would I be if I was spending my first Christmas alone without my best friend and didn’t even have any children or grandchildren to ease the pain? Would I be tempted to lash out at someone, too?

I knew the answer was probably yes.

While this is not one of my favorite Christmas memories, it changed forever how I view people. I realized that people always do what they do for a reason.

This doesn’t change how we view sin, but it should change how we feel about the sinner–

That prostitute on the street used to be a little girl that was neglected and abused by her mother.

The gay man who lives next door was once a bright and hopeful little boy who was sexually abused by a neighbor.

The grumpy old man has had a lifetime of broken dreams and disappointments.

The lady who was absolutely unreasonable on the phone a minute ago just found out yesterday that her daughter has cancer.

Thinking through why people might do what they do fills me with compassion. What if I had grown up neglected and abused? Wouldn’t it be just as possible that it could be me walking the street? What if my life was filled with broken dreams and disappointments and I didn’t have hope in Jesus Christ, couldn’t I just as easily be labeled the grumpy one?

But for the grace of God, go I.

Right?

God’s grace changes everything. It fixes the broken. It heals the heart. It fills us with peace and joy despite the most tragic of circumstances. But most of the world does not know this.

Understanding that people are much deeper than what we see externally should not only fill us with compassion but also drive us to share the Gospel. We should never let unfounded, sinful arrogance keep us from loving others. We should never let an unsavory profession or a little grumpiness deter us from telling someone about Jesus. These people, underneath all of that gruff and bravado, are broken and in need of a Savior.

Of course, some don’t want to hear it. And from those, we walk away (Matthew 7:6). If they are hard-hearted and rebellious, we shouldn’t waste our time. But, let’s be honest, most of us never even get that far. We don’t find out if they are lost and searching because we are too scared or too arrogant to talk to them.

Oh, may our hearts be filled with compassion towards the broken and unloving. There is a reason they are doing what they are doing. And it is quite likely, that given a similar life experience and without the light of Christ in your life, that you may be just like them. Thank the Lord for his loving-kindness in your life and reach out with the Good News that there is salvation available to all through Jesus Christ!

 

 

A Million Little Choices

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Each year on Mother’s Day, we have a Child Dedication Service at our church. This is very different than infant baptism, as it is not about the salvation of the child but, instead, to indicate the sober decision by the parents to raise this child up in a godly, Christian home. Yesterday, I had the great privilege of watching my daughter and son-in-law dedicate their son to the Lord, along with ten or so other families.

As I watched each family walk up, holding a precious baby in their arms or taking a small child by the hand, I thought back to the dedication services of our own children. We were in a smaller church at the time, so we would usually be doing the whole thing solo. In fact, my husband and I carefully picked an appropriate song for each child and even sang a duet together at each dedication (I am not really a gifted singer, so that will tell you a little something about how small the church was!)

But I realized something yesterday which I was rather oblivious to when we dedicated our own children–

Walking up to the front of the church and having the pastor pray over you and your child is the easy part. True dedication is made up of a million little choices.

Choices like–

Will I choose to scream over spilled milk or come along side and wipe up the milk and the tears lovingly?

Will I choose to hold my precious children and read Bible stories and other good books to them or will I set them in front of the TV after a long, hard day?

Will I choose to patiently work out the sibling quarrels or lay on the sofa yelling at the children?

Will I choose to learn and grow by reading and studying the Bible and other godly books or will I fill my free time with frivolous, temporal things?

Will I surrender my desire for perfection and choose to teach my children how to do chores around the home or will I just do it myself, because I can’t stand the way they do things?

Will I yield myself to the Lord and His will, or will I exhibit self-righteousness and discontentment and show my kids how not to walk with God?

Will I act differently at church than I do at home, or will my life be an example of holiness and godliness both at church and everywhere else?

Will I apologize when I’ve messed up, or will I arrogantly refuse to?

Will I spend time on my marriage and, by doing so, give the children the security of a strong and faithful home, or will I neglect it and keep them all wondering if there will be an eventual divorce?

Will I criticize and nitpick and punish in anger, or will I lovingly and gently discipline, correct, and guide?

Will I follow the world’s advice on child-rearing or will I follow God’s Word?

These, and many others, show our true heart in dedicating our children. Most of the church will never really know if this is the stuff that is happening at home. Most families show the best versions of their little group when they are at church. Only those we live with truly know the real us.

What would your kids say about you? Your spouse? Your grandkids?

Would words like godly, holy, kind, loving, supportive, and joyful be used? Or would words like angry, irritable, depressed, unhappy, selfish, and critical be used? How does your family view YOU?

It is a sobering question, is it not? And this question has everything to do with this business of dedicating our children to the Lord.

I can vividly remember an incident from when we were raising our first teenager. She wanted to do something that I didn’t want her to do. It was not a biblical issue and there was nothing wrong about what she was asking. I can remember my husband very patiently asking me “Why?”

Why didn’t I want her to do that?

And you know what? I didn’t have an answer! It was just my own selfish agenda, that’s what it was. It was one of those moments that hits you like a rock: I’d better give up my own selfish agenda or risk losing the heart of my child.

It was an easy decision and my daughter was able to do what she desired to do– which I can’t even remember what it was anymore (which goes to show you just how unimportant it really was). It was one of my million little choices. And I don’t regret one bit making the right one. I just wish I would have done that even more often.

We made so many mistakes, but, along the way, God kept teaching us both what it means to dedicate our children truly to the Lord. And we kept learning. In fact, in this new stage of parenting adults, we continue to keep learning. Life is one never-ending journey of learning. Just when you think you’ve nailed a stage down, you move on to the next one.

But, as we grow and change, may it be towards the Lord and may it be more like Jesus, so that God’s faithfulness spills over and down and through all the cracks of our weaknesses. May we never grow hard and calloused and bitter. And through a million little choices, may we show ourselves dedicated to not only raising godly children, but to being a godly example and a bright and shining light of hope in the dark world around us.

 

Our Most Treacherous Enemy

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There are few things that affect our love for God and our growth as a believer more than our love for self. For out of that many (if not all) sins are born. The world and even the church are telling us these days just how important it is that we love ourselves. We are told that we cannot experience success in any area of life unless we do.

And, yet, is this what the Bible teaches?

Of course not. In fact, if we are a true believer, we recognize that we are our own worst enemy, no matter what the world (and worldly preachers) tell us. But if we have been in the faith for awhile, we may begin to think that we are winning our battle against self-love. We compare ourselves to the world around us and, in comparison to that, we look pretty good. But therein is the issue, is it not? We are to compare ourselves to the Word of God, not to sinners around us.

If you prefer to continue believing that you are winning your battle against self, then I’d encourage you to stop reading now. The essay below, written by Richard Baxter, a puritan from the mid-1600s, will quench that thought in a heartbeat. I share it here to challenge and convict. To cause you to think and to grow. I was dismayed to realize just how very selfish I still am, but also encouraged to know that I am less selfish now than I was twenty years ago. And I guess that’s how life is, isn’t it? No perfection this side of glory, but slow and steady progress as we work our way there. I hope that you are challenged–but also encouraged–by this essay–

SELF-DENIAL

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23

You hear ministers tell you of the odiousness and danger and sad effects of sin; but of all the sins that you ever heard of, there is scarce any more odious and dangerous than selfishness; and yet most are never troubled at it, nor sensible of its malignity. My principal request therefore to you is, that as ever you would prove Christians indeed, and be saved from sin and the damnation which follows it—take heed of this deadly sin of selfishness, and be sure you are possessed with true self-denial; and if you have, see that you use and live upon it.

And for your help herein, I shall tell you how your self-denial must be tried. I shall only tell you in a few words, how the least measure of true self-denial may be known: wherever the interest of carnal self is stronger and more predominant habitually than the interest of God, of Christ, of everlasting life, there is no true self-denial or saving grace; but where God’s interest is strongest, there self-denial is sincere. If you further ask me how this may be known, briefly thus:

1. What is it that you live for? What is that good which your mind is principally set to obtain? And what is that end which you principally design and endeavor to obtain, and which you set your heart on, and lay out your hopes upon? Is it the pleasing and glorifying of God, and the everlasting fruition of Him? Or is it the pleasing of your fleshly mind in the fruition of any inferior thing? Know this, and you may know whether self or God has the greatest interest in you. For that is your God which you love most, and please best, and would do most for.

2. Which do you most prize—the means of your salvation and of the glory of God, or the means of providing for self and flesh? Do you more prize Christ and holiness, which are the way to God—or riches, honor, and pleasures, which gratify the flesh? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

3. If you are truly self-denying, you are ordinarily ruled by God, and His Word and Spirit, and not by the carnal self. Which is the rule and master of your lives? Whose word and will is it ordinarily that prevails? When God draws, and self draws—which do you follow in the tenor of your life? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

4. If you have true self-denial, the drift of your lives is carried on in a successful opposition to your carnal self, so that you not only refuse to be ruled by it, and love it as your god—but you fight against it, and tread it down as your enemy. So that you go armed against self in the course of your lives, and are striving against self in every duty. And as others think—it then goes best with them, when self is highest and pleased best; so you will know that then it goes best with you—when self is lowest, and most effectually subdued.

5. If you have true self-denial, there is nothing in this world so dear to you, but on deliberation you would leave it for God. He who has anything which he loves so well that he cannot spare it for God, is a selfish and unsanctified wretch. And therefore God has still put men to it, in the trial of their sincerity, to part with that which was dearest to the flesh. Abraham must be tried by parting with his only son. And Christ makes it His standing rule, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Yet it is true that flesh and blood may make much resistance in a gracious heart; and many a striving thought there may be, before with Abraham we part with a son, or before we can part with wealth or life; but yet on deliberation, self-denial will prevail. There is nothing so dear to a gracious soul, which he cannot spare at the will of God, and the hope of everlasting life. If with Peter we would flinch in a temptation—we should return with Peter in weeping bitterly, and give Christ those lives that in a temptation we denied Him.

6. In a word, true self-denial is procured by the knowledge and love of God, advancing Him in the soul—to debasing of self. The illuminated soul is so much taken with the glory and goodness of the Lord, that it carries him out of himself to God, and as it were estranges him from himself, that he may have communion with God. This makes him vile in his own eyes, and to abhor himself in dust and ashes. It is not a stoical resolution, but the love of God and the hopes of glory—which make him throw away the world, and look contemptuously on all below, so far as they are mere provision for flesh.

Search now, and try your hearts by these evidences, whether you are possessed of this necessary grace of self-denial. O make not light of the matter! For I must tell you that self is the most treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world! It will be within you when you are not aware of it and will conquer you when you perceive not yourselves much troubled with it. Of all other vices, selfishness is both the hardest to find out and the hardest to cure. Be sure therefore in the first place, that you have self-denial; and then be sure you use it and live in the practice of it.

Published by gracegems.org. If you have enjoyed this (and others like it that I have shared on the Growing4Life Facebook page), then I encourage you to get on their e-mail list.

2016 Hospitality Challenge: May

Invite some church friends for a BBQ (and an April Recap)

Hospitality Challenge

April is always a challenging month for our family (due to being in the landscaping business) and so when I sat down to plan for a pizza night with old friends–the challenge for April–I wasn’t quite sure what to do. And then I looked at the calendar and realized we already had dinner scheduled with old friends. They are dear friends of ours that we haven’t been with for quite some time. We had already planned to get together unrelated to this challenge.

We planned a date for April 22 and looked forward to reconnecting. However, on that morning we received a phone call that our daughter’s water had broken and they were on the way to the hospital! Needless to say, that weekend passed in a wonderful blur but without our anticipated reunion with our friends.

So, I did not participate in the April challenge, after all. Did anyone participate?

I am starting to feel like I am writing these posts about hospitality to the air. When I started the challenge at the beginning of this year, I had so many people express interest in joining the challenge. But it appears that only a couple of you are actually participating. If you are participating, you could really encourage me by just a short comment below (or by hitting “like” if you are reading it on Facebook).

Have a great day!

MAY CHALLENGE

The weather is finally warming up! Invite some church friends for a BBQ. Make it a very casual and easy affair. Ask your guests to bring along a side dish or dessert to make the evening even easier.

 

Just How Big is God?

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Do you know how many different rabbits there are nibbling at your garden? Could we possibly know how many leaves are on all of the trees in California? Or what is the exact number of plankton in the ocean? Just how many children are there in the world that do not have a safe and loving home? Or exactly how many people are going to get wonderful, life-changing news today?

Does anyone know the answer to these questions?

Yes!

What about questions from the past–like what caused Hitler and Stalin to grow up with such maniacal evil embedded in their hearts? Or what exactly was going through the mind of missionaries such as Gladys Aylward and David Livingstone as they traveled to mission fields that were completely heathen and utterly unknown? Or what about our questions about our own personal pasts–such as questions about abusers and favoritism and broken relationships. Or the solutions to the puzzles and mysteries that surround the people we love that remain unanswered.

Does anyone know the answer to these questions and mysteries?

Yes!

What about the burning questions of the future many of us are considering right now– What is going to happen to our country? How bad is it going to get? What kind of world will our children and grandchildren grow up in? Will Christ come and rapture us anytime soon?

Does anyone know the answer to these questions?

Yes!

GOD KNOWS.

Now before we dismiss this gigantic thought, let’s let it sink into our brains just a bit. God knows everything. He is not limited by time or space. He is not limited by equations or natural laws. He knows all things at all times. He has known all things from the beginning of time and knows what is to come for eternity. He knows every insignificant detail about everything. He knows what every molecule in the universe is doing at this very moment. Everything.

God has been teaching me this over the past month or so. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending Pastor Dean’s Bible Study (my brother). I only wish I lived close enough to go every week. He is currently doing a study on the Doctrine of God. In just a short hour, I realized that although I already had a big view of God, it really wasn’t big enough.

And then, a week or two later, as I was reading from the Gospel of Matthew (my pastor has given the congregation a 2016 Read through the Gospels schedule and I am enjoying it immensely!), I came across these verses in Matthew 10, which confirmed what I was already beginning to realize–

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Now think about this. Really think about this. Not one sparrow falls that God doesn’t know about. It doesn’t say not one in this city or not one in this country but not one.

This is just how big our God is.

What He writes in His word is true. What He does is perfect. His plan is best.

So often we try to create a God that makes sense to us. We want Him to see things like we do and to respond and react like we would. Our impression of how God handles things is based on our human and flawed sense of fairness.

When something doesn’t seem fair to us or we come to something like the doctrine of election and free will, we become very frustrated that we can’t understand. Some throw their hands in the air and walk away, saying God mustn’t exist. Or this isn’t the kind of God I want to serve.

I’d like to share with you an example given by Pastor Dean that really helped me to find a little perspective in this.

Let’s say we try to teach our 3 year old child (or grandchild) about Calculus. However, they are just not mature enough yet to grasp such a complex subject. Now will that three year old look at you with disgust and say, “If I don’t understand this, then it just can’t be true!” No, he won’t do this because he trusts you–the person in his life who cares for him. He will trust that you know what you are talking about even if he is incapable of understanding it.

Doesn’t this give added insight to these verses–

and {Jesus} said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)

To truly understand salvation means casting aside our arrogance and belief that we can know everything that God knows. That we can understand everything God understands. It means trusting in our Heavenly Father even when we can’t understand. Especially when we can’t understand.

Somehow as we grow into adults many of us believe we should be able to understand everything about God. And yet the gulf between a child’s brain and adult’s brain is microscopic compared to the gulf between God’s understanding and our understanding.

If we can truly begin to grasp this, then how we look at all of life changes. It changes how we approach the Word of God. It changes how we pray. It changes how we view sin. And how we view salvation.

God is more than we could ever think. Bigger than we could ever imagine. More powerful than we could dream. This shouldn’t only make us feel safe and secure, but should drive us to humble ourselves before His throne, declaring ourselves to be unworthy of His grace and mercy.

Our perception of God truly changes everything.

 

 

On Being a Mom to a Mom

Five Generations

Last weekend, our world changed forever. Our first grandchild came into the world and our lives will never be the same. Many people had told us just how wonderful this moment would be, but, just as becoming a parent truly defies description, so, too, does becoming a grandparent.

As I held this miniature human being in my arms, I couldn’t stop staring in absolute awe at the miracle of this new life (evolution is categorically impossible on just this one point alone). Staring at the tiny, perfect features of my first grandson, I felt blessed far more than I deserve.

When people would talk to us about becoming grandparents, most of the talk centered on the grandchildren (of course!) but one thing I didn’t really think about until this week is how this new life changes the relationship with my daughter.

We have been gently discovering this since her wedding a couple of years ago and have been learning to pass the baton on to the next generation. But with the birth of their child, it feels more official somehow. And I recognized that my husband and I are stepping off of center stage and are now moving into a support role.

It is a strange feeling and will take some adjusting for me and yet the time is so right. It is my turn to be for her what my mom has been (and continues to be) for me. She provided unwavering and consistent support as I took on one of the hardest jobs in existence: Motherhood. She provided godly counseling and sometimes just let me cry as she listened to my heartaches. And she rejoiced with me, almost as excited as we were when a baby started to walk or a child lost a first tooth. Oh, how I desire to do the same for my daughters and daughter-in-law as they take their turn at being a mother.

The picture above was taken over 70 years ago. The only person alive today is my aunt, who is the young girl in the photo. My grandmother is the beautiful lady standing on the left. At the time, she probably had two children. She went on to have two more, my mother being her fourth. When this photo was taken, she was experiencing the sleepless nights, the strong wills, the sibling rivalry, and the endless cleaning and cooking that comes with raising a family. It was her turn to face the challenges of motherhood. But time passed, the years went by, and it became my mom’s turn. And then it was my turn. And now, all these years later, it is my daughter’s turn.

As our roles are changing now, I have been giving a great deal of thought to how important it is for us grandmothers to find a balance between interfering bossiness and cold indifference. Somewhere between those two is the loving balance of being there when they need us and yet giving them lots of space to grow together as a family without our “two cents.”

I am starting to understand why some families have so much trouble. Some mothers are just not ready to step off of center stage and take their support role. This can cause a lot of stress in families where there is great effort in trying to keep “Mom happy.”

As I have been thinking on how to take on this new role, the little phrase I used to say to my kids comes to mind: Be a blessing, not a burden.

I want to not only love my grandchildren deeply and fully, but I want to do the same for my kids and their spouses. I desire to encourage with my words, rather than be the constant critic. I want to build up and offer support as they take on this new role of parenting, rather than fill them with self-doubt and frustration.

I recognize that our actions and reactions as grandparents can make all the difference in the world in our family dynamics. I want to make sure grudges and bitterness find no place in my heart. And that I love my in-laws with the same love with which I love my own kids, instead of making them feel like outsiders.

I won’t do any of this perfectly, of course. But this who I want to be. Who I want to become. 

And so time marches on and I am now in the grandmother’s spot in that photo above. I still have to shake my head a bit as I ponder it all. It feels just a bit surreal. But I am quite confident that I am going to like being the mom of a mom. Sure, it will take a little getting used to, but I am thrilled to watch my daughter and her husband with their little guy, knowing that he is in the hands of two people who love the Lord and love each other. I am deeply grateful in knowing that these new parents desire nothing more than that this child they have been entrusted with grows up to love and serve Jesus.

Really, how blessed can you get?