Filtering the Gray

Life can be challenging. And one of the greatest challenges for many of us who are sincere believers can be filtering the gray issues. As we weigh out what is the best course of action, we can get a little muddled sorting through the things in the Bible that don’t fall under the categories of “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not”.

Yesterday, my pastor presented seven World View Filters that will help us make these decisions. (I will include a link to the sermon below). I found them incredibly helpful and I think you will, too.

But before I give the list, I want to share a few thoughts. First, in this sermon, my pastor clarified the difference between justification and sanctification. If you don’t know, I will give you a brief description here but listen to the sermon for further elaboration. Justification means that we are right with God based on Christ and Christ alone. What Christ did on the cross covered our sins and put us in right standing before God. Jesus covers us with His righteousness because we can never be righteous enough on our own. But it doesn’t end there. And that’s what so many people think. Scripture clearly teaches that we are to also be sanctified. Sanctification is the process whereby we follow the commands found in scripture and grow more like Jesus. We give our efforts to be as righteous as possible–not to be saved or to gain favor with God. No, most certainly not! We do this because we are saved and want to please God. It is the natural response of a soul saved by grace (2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 1:9-10; and so many more).

I share this because there is a lie that so many who claim Christ believe, which is that they can have “fire insurance” from hell and live no differently because God will just continue to forgive them as they purposefully continue on in sin. The Bible teaches not only that this can’t be– but that it won’t be. A man or woman that is truly saved doesn’t want to continue on in their sinful life. In fact, they abhor it! While we believers all continue to struggle with sin after our new birth, it grieves us because we recognize that it grieves God.

Now, changing the subject a bit, I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that we often will use filters like these listed below in regards to the areas we perceive to be gray–such as entertainment and worldly activities. However, I would like to suggest we also use them in regards to the areas we don’t consider gray but, instead, have accepted as just part of our human existence (rather than viewing them as the sins they really are). So I would like to challenge you to view your fear and anxiety; your anger and pride; how you talk about others; how you respond when someone confronts you; your selfishness and your self-absorption through these filters, as well. If any of you are like me, you will be stunned to find out just how much you do that has ungodly roots.

Okay! On to the filters. These are directly from my sermon notes yesterday–

1. The Biblical Filter(James 1:22; Matthew 7:24)

What are the biblical instructions, standards, and principles that apply to this decision or activity?

2. The Kingdom Filter(Matthew 6:33)

Does my decision clearly reflect that Jesus Christ is on the throne of my life?

3. The Faith Filter(Romans 14:23)

Is the choice you are about to make a clear reflection and result of your faith in Jesus Christ?

4. The Approval Filter(Galatians 1:10)

Is the decision you are making a result of pressure from others or is it rooted in seeking the approval of God?

5. The Influence Filter(Romans 14:21; Mark 9:42)

Can you in good conscience say to all who might be watching: “Do what I am doing and it will lead you closer to Christ.”

6. The Impact Filter(I Corinthians 10:23-33; 2 Timothy 2:15-26)

How will your choice reflect on the reputation of the Christian faith?

7. The Ultimate Filter(I Corinthians 10:31)

Does your decision and behavior bring glory to God?

As pastor Chan worked his way through these filters, I recognized that there is so little gray, after all. When we run our choices, thoughts, and words through these filters it becomes so much more obvious, doesn’t it? We like to say there is gray because it lets us keep one foot in the world, while still claiming Christ. It lets us live in our flesh, while enjoying all the benefits of heaven. But if we cast aside our fleshly, selfish, and worldly desires and honestly run all we do through these filters, much of the gray falls away and we are left looking at a picture that is black and white. It’s not what the worldly church wants to hear, but it is the truth.

I hope these will help you filter the gray in your life as it has helped me. Thankfully, we are not alone in this process. If we are a believer, then God has given us His Word for just this purpose and He has also given us the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us as we look to His Word for living the Christian life victoriously.

(By the way, sometimes we can get so mired in the mud of worldliness or anxiety or busyness or any number of things and, suddenly, we find that we have let the gray seep into our lives. And so that’s when we must get out of the mud, take a shower, and begin again. That’s where I find myself this morning and I hope that a few of you will join me. I am so grateful for a God that keeps forgiving. Aren’t you? Today is the perfect day for a new start!)

Please note: You can listen to Pastor Chan’s sermon here.

A Race Well Skied

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There is much to be frustrated by in this year’s Olympics. They just aren’t the same as they used to be. Many of us remember elegant figure skaters that glided across the ice with such beauty and grace, completing routines to beautiful music and moderated by men that look normal. We recall interviews with athletes that didn’t bring up accusations of sexual harassment but focused on the situation at hand–a gold medal well-won. We remember innocently dreaming of the Olympic Village as a special kind of place to spend a few weeks but now we know it’s…well, it’s just not.

So I just don’t find myself nearly as interested this year as in past years. But there is one race that I watched that is worth writing about. On Sunday afternoon, my husband came downstairs and asked me to turn on the TV. He had been watching the Olympic Skiathlon upstairs and came down to watch the end with me. I am so glad he did. What we saw was pretty amazing. We watched Simen Hegstad Krueger, a young Norwegian, pull ahead of his competitors as he raced to the finish line. But as we did so, NBC took a moment and showed us the beginning of Krueger’s race. What I saw was unbelievable. Close to the beginning, he had fallen in the middle of the pack. He was literally down on the ground and had to wrestle himself back up among other fallen skiers and then ski over to the side to receive a new pole.

Precious seconds had been wasted. He figured his chances of winning were gone. But he didn’t give up.

As the race continued, Krueger skied through the group of skiers, slowly but surely gaining on the front runner. After a while, he had overtaken the leader and pulled ahead and away! And, soon after, he had won the gold by several seconds! It was an unbelievable finish after a very discouraging beginning. But Krueger had not let his fall mess with his mind or keep him from running his best race. He got back up and continued skiing with a mind to win. He did not allow himself to be defeated.

Now, this is a great example of the “you can do anything” message the world so loves, isn’t it? But I’d rather turn our attention to something Paul says in I Corinthians 9:24–

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

Krueger ran that race in such a way to obtain the prize. Are we running our spiritual race in such a way to obtain a prize? Or have we fallen down and given up? Got distracted and moved over to the side?

Many years ago, I knew a man who got “burnt” at church and so he just stopped going. For the rest of his life he would not go to church. He’s not alone. Many Christians, hurt deeply or devastated by circumstances beyond their control, just stop running their spiritual race. They pull to the side. Or they slow down to a crawl. In other words, they just give up.

And, honestly, I’ve been tempted to do that myself sometimes. And, if I am truthful, I have done that for a few weeks or months at a time. Sometimes we are hit with something very hurtful or painful and we need to take a breather. Even the most diligent runner needs a water break.

But we must get ourselves back up and keep running. We must run in such a way to obtain the prize. Life is hard. Our skis will come out from under us sometimes. We will break a pole or run into another racer. But we must keep going.

Paul goes on to say in verses 25-27 of that same chapter–

And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

We must remember that we aren’t running to win some temporary gold medal. We are racing for an imperishable crown. We can run with certainty. And we must run with discipline.

There is no room for giving up. No room for distraction. No time for taking long breaks. Thank you, Mr. Krueger, for this reminder. No matter what life throws at us, we must get up and keep going.

 

What Should I Look for in a Biblical Counselor?

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Let’s face it. Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way we planned and we need a little help. Whether it is a struggling marriage, a wayward child, or some type of past issue that needs to be dealt with, sometimes we just need a bit of support to help us get our feet back on the right path again.

Unfortunately, while there is no dearth of counselors (we also call them therapists), good biblical counselors can be hard to find. Even those who claim to be Christian counselors can be wrapped up in man’s wisdom and philosophies.

When I went to college as a young adult I started out majoring in psychology. It’s all a bit hazy now, but about halfway through that major I recognized that it was not the career for me. It was–and still is– a quagmire of philosophies that are in opposition to biblical wisdom. Christian psychology is generally a mixing of earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom that becomes impossible to separate.

James 3:15-17 says this–

 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 

We can see from these verses that earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom not only shouldn’t be unified, but they really can’t be. They are in complete opposition of one another.  And yet this is exactly what Christian psychology tries to do. It is very similar to the idea of theistic evolution. It is an impossible and absurd attempt to unify man’s wisdom with God’s wisdom. And it changes the Gospel in the process. No part of evolution can be true if the Gospel as presented in scripture is true. They are mutually exclusive. According to scripture, death was the result of sin. And this is impossible with the theory of evolution.

So is the case with human psychology and biblical counseling. In human psychology, self is the center of everything. The temporal healing of man and a better life is the ultimate goal. But the Bible teaches that God is the source of true healing. Reconciliation with God and right living before God is the ultimate goal. While it may not seem so, they truly are mutually exclusive. We cannot have both God and self at the center of our lives. We cannot be driven both by God and by self. We must choose one.

(And here’s a curious tidbit for those of you who would like to know more– did you know that much of the psychological theories and presuppositions were developed with the help of spirit guides, which, in other words, means they come straight from demons? I didn’t either. Until I wrote this article. I didn’t learn that in my classes at college. You can read more about that here and and there are more resources here.)

Martin and Deidre Bobgan have this to say about the transition from faith in God’s Word to faith in man’s theories–

During the last sixty years much has happened to undermine the faith of those who once believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for those issues of life that are now being addressed by psychological counseling (psychotherapy). Previous to the influx of psychological theories and therapies, Christians turned to the Scriptures to understand themselves and to live accordingly. They turned to the Bible regarding attitudes and actions. They sought God regarding personal feelings and relationships. They found solid solace, strength, and guidance during difficult circumstances. Moreover, they learned the difference between walking according to the old ways of the world and walking according to the new life they had received through Christ’s death, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit. Much of this has been lost as Christians have been adding the ways of the world to the way of the cross.We have witnessed this grievous transition from faith in God and His Word to faith in the psychological systems of men for nonorganic issues of life.*

I couldn’t agree more.

And if we are searching in the wrong place for help and if we are listening to earthly wisdom from below, then the verses from James above assure us that it will lead us into chaos and confusion.

So what should we look for in a biblical counselor when we do need a little help? How can we assure that we are receiving wisdom from above and not from human philosophies? Here are eight questions we can ask–

1. Does the counselor teach that we can only have peace and reconciliation with God through repentance and faith? (Mark 1:15)

2. Does the counselor call sin sin? Or does he/she cover sin up by calling it a disorder or disease? (Galatians 5:19-21)

3. Does the counselor use the Bible? (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)

4. Does the counselor recognize and point out “acceptable sins” such as selfishness, pride, anger, resentment, unforgiveness? (James 4:6; Philippians 4:6; many others)

5. Does the counselor give assignments for Bible Study, resulting in a closer relationship with God? (Psalm 119)

6. Does the counselor acknowledge God’s sovereignty and the scripture’s sufficiency in all they say and do? (Job 42:2; Psalm 19; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

7. Does the counselor focus on bringing glory to God through the situation at hand? (I Corinthians 10:31)

8. Does the counselor focus on the eternal ramifications of sinful behavior, along with the temporal consequences? (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27)

A godly counselor will talk about these eight things with so much love and grace. While being unafraid to speak the truth, they will do so in a way that is loving and kind. One of the finest examples of this is Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus Christ always spoke truth with love to those whose hearts really wanted to know the truth. There was no hard edge or frustration. He is the one and only perfect example.

But He did speak the truth. Which is what we can and should expect a godly counselor to do if we truly long for permanent change.

Today, we have God’s Word to show us how to live. It is there that we find help for permanent and powerful change. A true biblical counselor recognizes this. I leave you with one final quote from the Bobgans–

The Bible is not meant to work independently from God Himself. The Bible is sufficient because the Lord Himself works through His Word. If a person tries to use the Bible apart from Christ ruling in His heart, he may claim that the Bible lacks practical answers for life’s difficulties. However, it is through the Bible that God reveals Himself and works His divine power in Christians. The Bible is more than words on a page. Every word is backed by God’s mighty power, His perfect righteousness, His love, His grace, and His wisdom. Thus God not only gives precious promises and instructions for living; He enables a believer to obey His Word. That is why the Bible is sufficient for life and conduct. Paul declared that he would not depend upon the wisdom of men, but on the power and wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1.) Not only is human wisdom foolishness in comparison with God’s wisdom; human words lack the divine power necessary to transform a person into the likeness of Christ and to enable him to live the Christian life according to God’s will. God uses the wisdom and power of the Scriptures to enable believers to please Him and bear fruit. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-8.) No psychological doctrine can even come close to that claim, nor can it add power for godly change.*

Amen.

 

*From PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Martin and Deidre Bobgan (free PDF is available by clicking on this link)

A Lesson from Football

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This past Sunday was the Super Bowl. For me, it was unlike normal Super Bowls because the Eagles were there for the first time since 2004. Of course, if you follow football at all, you are aware of the falling ratings of this sport due to the disrespect displayed towards America by a handful of players at the beginning of this past season. Patriotic people (which includes many football fans) found this highly offensive and, in fact, the Super Bowl audience was at an all-time low this past Sunday. Of course, this didn’t stop Eagles’ fans from watching.

I am sure that many of you are not interested in football. And with all that went on, you may have written it off forever. Honestly, there was talk that football in this country might have been dying a slow death as we watched the mess the NFL was in just a few short months ago.

But then along came the Philadelphia Eagles. If you haven’t already heard, the Eagles are an extraordinary team that seem to have a very special bond. But what has been extra-special for me to watch is that the men who claim to be believers seem to be the real deal. I have watched interviews and I have read articles that would give evidence to this fact. In a world made up of celebrity Christians that “talk it” but don’t “walk it”, this has been incredibly refreshing. In fact, some of them meet together to study the Word (when’s the last time you heard a celebrity Christian talk about the importance of the Bible??) and they let nary an opportunity escape where they do not direct attention to Jesus Christ and give Him the glory.

It’s been an amazing thing to watch. And, being a diehard Eagles fan since I was a child, it’s been especially exciting. But, of course, while we should be thankful for the platform they have been given, they are still just human men in a really tough world. If anything, we should pray for them to stay true to God and His Word in the tempting world that is professional sports.

However, believe it or not, this isn’t why I am writing about football today. I just thought you might be interested in that little tidbit about the Eagles–if you didn’t know it already.

Actually, I heard a couple of back-stories on Sunday about the lives of the two head coaches. It’s worth writing about.

Doug Pederson, head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Bill Belichick, head coach for the New England Patriots, have something in common. Would you believe that both of these men were viewed as “bad hires”? This happened to Belichick back in 2000 and to Pederson more recently (I’ll include links about this below). Thankfully, the owners of both of these teams decided to go against the tide of public opinion and hire them anyway.

And what do you know? Football history has been made by these decisions. With Bill Belichick as their coach, the Patriots have had an amazing run over the last eighteen years with multiple Super Bowl wins. And the Eagles, within two years of hiring Doug Pederson, not only made it to the Super Bowl, but actually managed to win the Super Bowl with several of their key players on the injured list, including their main quarterback! These are two amazing coaches!

So why did popular opinion roll against these two guys?

I actually have no idea. I am not really that into football. But I do think there is much to learn from their stories and the courage displayed by the owners of these two teams. You see, so often we so desperately want to be liked by everyone that we aren’t willing to go against popular opinion. And yet if you really think about it, there isn’t one person that has really made a difference in this world by siding with popular opinion. Whether we are talking football, medical break-throughs, modern-day inventions, or standing up for biblical Truth, the people who make a real difference are the ones who are brave enough to turn away from what the crowd thinks and walk in a different direction. They are the ones that will swim upstream amidst the ridicule of others.

This takes courage and confidence. It takes believing in a person or a possibility. It takes someone willing to sacrifice their short-term comfort, ease, and glory for something greater. And, as a Christian who stands up for the truth of the Bible, it takes faith and trust in God and His Word.

So the next time we are tempted to stand with the crowd, let’s stop and think. Is this actually the best thing? Even more importantly–is this what the Bible teaches? Or is this just what is popular and trendy right now? And then let’s be brave enough to stand up for the truth! If we can do this, we will make a difference–not in a temporal game on a football field–but in God’s Kingdom for eternity.

 

Doug Pederson: Read articles here and here.

Bill Belichick: Read articles here and here.

Is Diversity a Bad Thing?

A Lesson from an Orchid Show

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One thing I have noticed in recent years is that Satan takes biblical truths and warps and distorts them so badly that it soon becomes a two-edged sword. By this I mean it does double damage to the family of God. First, by drawing away and deceiving believers and, second, by scaring true believers from truly studying or practicing what scripture teaches. We can see this with the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and prayer. And we can also see this in the areas of unity and diversity.

The other day as I was walking through a local orchid show, I was stunned at just how diverse and amazing the different types of orchids were. I will post a few photos I took below and perhaps add a photo album of all of them to the Growing4Life Facebook page for those interested. There were all colors–red, yellow, pink, orange, purple, white, brown, green. I think the only color of the rainbow missing was true blue. The other thing I noticed was that they were all sizes, from hard-to-spot tiny ones to can’t-miss-them giant ones. (I can’t imagine how anyone can look at the diversity of those orchids and honestly believe there is no Creator, but I digress!)

As I studied the orchids, it dawned on me that God has created people in much the same way. We are all different sizes and colors. And being human, we are different in other ways, too. We all have different personalities and gifts. We prefer different things, we appreciate beauty differently, and we are talented in different ways. Some of us are poor, some are rich. Some live in cities, others live in the country or somewhere in-between. These differences change how we view the people, happenings, and situations around us.

But here’s the thing: We were made to love one another, no matter our differences.

God designed it that way.

While Satan is busy scaring so many believers as he tries to unify the world without God–pushing diversity, ecumenism, and destroying nationalism– we must remember and acknowledge that true Christian unity is a beautiful thing.

There are many verses that come to mind, but I’ll just give a few–

Galatians 3:28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.I Corinthians 12:4-6There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

Colossians 3:10-11and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

Do you see what the unifying element is of biblical unity? It is so clear, isn’t it? It is Jesus Christ. The biblical Jesus Christ. The One we learn to know and love through what the Bible teaches, as opposed to the popular “Jesus” of today (same name, but utterly unlike the one in the Bible) that is created in man’s own mind out of the depths of his evil heart.

And so I believe from these verses that we can and should not only appreciate the diversity with which God created the world, but we should appreciate the diversity with which He created mankind. Quite frankly, I have never understood the hatred of other races and colors. Perhaps this has to do with an opportunity God blessed me with as a young child. I lived in an area where I was only one of three white kids in my first grade class. Perhaps I learned the lesson that skin color just doesn’t matter during this time.

Recently, I have watched some movies that have shown me just how downtrodden and abused African-American citizens were in this country in much of the twentieth century. It was a world that most of us who are under fifty-five or so are completely unfamiliar with. But it was real and it was a part of life–particularly in the south. And this even among Bible-believing churches! As I have reflected on this, I almost cry. What are we thinking, as believers? We–0f all people–should be able to see past skin color and into the heart of the man. A man should be judged on who he is and never on what he looks like. The same holds true for those who are physically disabled or are different in any other way that is beyond their control to change.

This actually sounds almost “politically correct”, doesn’t it? (Of course, with the exception that we, as believers, know homosexuality and other licentious and sinful behaviors are not accepted behaviors nor do they fall into this category of discrimination). And this is why it is critical that we measure each thing that comes our way against the Word of God. Our true Christian brothers and sisters–the ones that are truly living it (and not simply claiming it and have no fruit to back up their claim)–are one body, unified through Christ, no matter what their skin color, their gifts, their nationality, their talents, their disabilities, their families. It just doesn’t matter. Or at least it shouldn’t.

But we live in an imperfect world. And so, unfortunately, we will struggle with the unity of the body until we reach our eternal home. Perhaps this helps us to keep looking UP with anxious anticipation for the return of Christ. And, hopefully, the strife also keeps us on our knees, begging the Lord to help us live out Romans 12:18-21–

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”a]”>[a] says the Lord. 20 Therefore“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;If he is thirsty, give him a drink;For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And also I Corinthians 13:4-7–

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

So let’s love each other, dear readers, and let’s do all that is in our power to unify the body of Christ, casting away our “right” to hold a grudge or to avenge ourselves. Let’s appreciate the differences in each other, recognizing that God has created and gifted each individual in just the way He designed (Psalm 139:13-16).

This is what we are called to do as a member of the Body of Christ. Let’s not let all the talk of unbiblical and worldly unity, ecumenism, racism, discrimination, and diversity keep us from seeing what the Bible teaches about these things.

I only had my iPhone so the photos aren’t great, but hopefully you can appreciate the beauty of these incredible orchids from these photos. See more here in the photo section of the Growing4Life Facebook page.orchid1orchid2orchid3orchid4

A Personal Note

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The other day we heard an awful rumor that is being circulated about us. There wasn’t even a bit of truth to it, but it hurt nonetheless. Where do people come up with this stuff?

This reminded me of a time, many years ago now, when something had happened to me and, while tempted to respond in the wrong way, I had been rather proud of myself for handling it in a way that I thought truly honored God. I remember this specifically because I didn’t (and still don’t!) always respond this way. A month or so later, I found out that the person whom I thought I had treated so kindly and respectfully had utterly misrepresented–and even lied–about my response to his co-workers. I can’t even imagine what would cause someone to do that. But it happens to all of us at one time or another.

And the thing is we all judge each other on these things. We talk about how we shouldn’t judge each other and yet we all are tempted to do it. We will hear someone talk about someone else and we will make a judgment on that person, even though we may have never met them. Or, even more hurtful, we will hear something about someone we know and, instead of talking with them about what we have heard, we will simply start avoiding them. In essence, we end the relationship over something we don’t even know to be true. This may be one of the saddest things that happens to any relationship.

This is really the same thing that happens here with this blog. People who don’t know me–and some who do–judge me because they don’t like the things I write. And so I am labeled things like “harsh” or “negative”. I do know this and I am slowly learning to be okay with this. Every now and again I hear something that is being said behind my back and so it is a constant struggle but I do understand that it is impossible to have a blog that tackles popular opinion–especially popular “Christian” opinion– and not expect kickback. But I also know that there are those of you that appreciate what I write and I am so thankful that many of you let me know that. But, every now and again, I like to clear up some things with those who don’t appreciate what I write (but read the blog, anyway) and also to touch base with those of you who are my loyal readers. I think sometimes it is important to share some of my heart and to give a glimpse of who I really am apart from my posts.

And so today I will depart from my normal type of post and be a bit transparent.

First, I want you to know that I am not one of those bloggers who takes great joy in writing things that people don’t like. I don’t relish conflict and I don’t like to debate. But, for whatever reason, this is where God has me. And every single time I begin to think it is time to stop writing here, one of you sends an email thanking me or walks up to me and says how much you appreciate the blog. And so this is where I am for now–doing my little bit to further God’s Kingdom and to point people to God’s Word here in this corner of the internet called Growing4Life.

I also want you to know that I have no illusions that I am somehow loftier than anyone else. God has given me a gift to write. That’s it. I am not better than anyone else in any way. Have you ever wondered if I live out all of these things I write 100% of the time? There is an easy answer to this. NO. No, I do not. I wish I did. I wish I could. And have you ever wondered if my family has struggles like yours? Relationship problems, selfish wills, anger issues? Why, yes. Yes, we do. I am no different than any other sinner saved by grace and we are no different than any other Christian family anywhere else. I am not even close to perfect (the more I grow spiritually, the more clearly I realize how far I still have to go) and neither is my family.

I also don’t know the Word as well as I wish I did. I am working on this and it is much easier now that I have some time on my hands that wasn’t available to me when I was raising kids. But knowing the Bible takes time and I am thankful for godly people in my life whom I trust and can call upon when I stumble upon something I don’t understand or receive a question from one of my readers that I need help with.

I write all of this because sometimes it is hard to point people to God’s Word and what it says when it is so clear that I am so far from perfect. But if we only learned from perfect people, well, then, we’d never learn at all, would we? God–thankfully–uses weak and imperfect people to reach, help, and grow others. Aren’t you glad? This means that He can use any of us.

For some reason I still don’t really understand, God has given me this small platform here at Growing4Life. I need you to know that I have only one desire and that is that He uses this for His glory. It is my prayer that I can shine the bright light of God’s Word amidst the overwhelming darkness in this world–but particularly in the deepening twilight that is the mainstream church. Unbelievably, the church is growing darker at an astonishing pace while still claiming to be the light. The truth of God’s Word has always been unpopular, but perhaps never so unpopular as right now.

While I do hope that I am drawing my readers to God and His Word, God has also been using this blog to teach me some things. Two, in particular, come to mind, and I’d like to share them with you.

1.  I can’t change your mind. When I think of the arguments and debates I used to have with people, it saddens me. What a waste of time. I have lost all taste for that as God has graciously taught me that He is the one that must work in the heart. He uses people like you and me for His purposes and to help people along, but I can’t change a heart. This is a hard lesson to learn for someone who has a love for the truth and who wants everyone else to have that same love. But I realize now that I can talk non-stop to someone for two years and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference unless God is at work (John 6:44; I Corinthians 10:10-16; Ephesians 1). I think I finally understand this. And that leads to my second lesson…

2.  My opinion is irrelevant. As I wrote the paragraph above I could almost hear some of you thinking, “Well, what gives you the right to determine what is true?” So I want you to understand that God has taught me that my opinion means nothing. I do my best to share principles and lessons from God’s Word because I realize that this is truly the only thing that matters. Yes, people have different interpretations of the Bible but there is only one right interpretation. As John MacArthur says, “We can both be wrong, or you can be right and I can be wrong, or I can be right and you can be wrong, but we can’t both be right.” It is my greatest desire to share God’s Word in the right way. But I encourage you–even beg you–to dig in and study for yourself. Biblical illiteracy is perhaps the greatest reason the church is in such a terrible state. But we can change that–at least for ourselves and for our families. I hope that this blog is an encouragement to you but it is not a replacement for thorough study of the Word. Several months ago, someone who is very dear to me asked the question, “why did God make this issue of tongues so confusing?” And then, a few weeks ago, after really digging into the Word, she told me this: “I realize that it isn’t so confusing, after all. If you study your Bible it really becomes clear.” And so do your own digging. God is so faithful and He will lead you to the truth if you are searching for it. I know this from my own personal experience and from those of you who have shared with me how God led you out of the NAR and charismatic movements through His Word.

And so that’s what I wanted to share today. It’s very different than my usual post. But I hope that it has given you a bit of insight into me and why I write what I write. I have been so blessed by so many of you. Some of you have shared your heart with me through emails or comments on Facebook and those little notes are such encouraging treasures to me. But my greatest prayer is that God is using me to further His Kingdom, for it is His approval that matters most to me.

I was watching an old movie yesterday and there was a line in there that really hit home–

“If you stand up for the truth you are going to ruffle some feathers and you are going to experience some pain from those who don’t want the truth.”

Yes, I have found this to be oh, so true. But it is what all believers are called to do. I hope that through my posts and how I live my life, I am encouraging others to stand for the truth.

 

 

The Decoys

The other day as I drove back a long farm lane, I spotted a gaggle of snow geese in the field to my left (gaggle is truly the word for a group of geese–I looked it up to be sure!) Oddly enough, there were a few Canadian geese hanging out with them. As I got closer, I realized that these weren’t geese at all but were actually carefully crafted decoys. To the one side of all the fake geese sat a large rectangular mound of something which was where the hunters could hide while waiting for the innocent snow goose to be drawn in by the decoys.

Afterwards, my husband informed me that there are very few “realistic-looking” geese decoys. But these–at least from far away–did a pretty decent job. If I was a goose flying in the sky, I think they’d look real. At what point does a goose flying towards a field of fake geese recognize that he has made a deadly mistake? Does he even recognize it? Does any animal have the ability to reason cognitively? I don’t think they actually do. Animals are trained and conditioned (ever hear of Pavlov’s dog?) but they don’t reason.

We know from the Bible that God designed humanity in a different way (contrary to what atheists and evolutionists would say). He designed us to be able to think and to communicate and to reason and… to spot decoys.

We have no excuse not to notice false teaching or heresies. We have the cognitive ability to spot them. If we can read, we can discern. We do not need to have the “gift of discernment” in order to spot decoys.

The idea of a decoy is to look real. If they don’t look real they will not attract anything. The same holds true for false teachers and heretical doctrines. They have to contain truth if they are to going to attract any believers at all. They must look real. It is only after careful examination and testing of the spirits, comparing them to what the Bible says (which takes work) that we can spot decoys. Thankfully, we are not left in the dark as to what to look for.

Jesus gives this description of Satan’s decoys in Matthew 7, verses 15-19–

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

Paul (2 Corinthians 11:12-14; I Timothy 6:3-5); Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3); John (I John 4:1-6); and Jude (Jude 1:3-4) give us further descriptions and details about false teachers. And guess what? This list isn’t exhaustive. There are more verses. More writers. False teachers and errant doctrine must have posed a great danger to the church if God has given us so many warnings in His Word. And, according to Jesus in Matthew 24, this threat is not going to diminish but will, instead, increase dramatically as we approach the last days.

And yet, there continues to be people–godly Christians–who would tell us not to worry about the decoys. To focus only on love and on the positive. This goes against scripture and the examples set for us by Jesus, by Paul, and by others in the scriptures. So why is it considered so evil to mention or even talk about anything negative or false in the church? I confess I have no idea and I am utterly puzzled.

If I was a snow goose and I saw one of my friends flying towards a decoy and to their peril, I would shout out a warning. Wouldn’t you? What kind of friend would we be if we didn’t? Of course, no snow goose has the capability of doing such a thing so it’s a silly thing to write.

But, of course, I am sure you can see where I am going with this: We do have that capability as reasoning and thinking human beings. However, when a believer sees a decoy and offers a warning, they are generally crushed, ignored, and/or ostracized. It’s an interesting and puzzling scenario, to say the least. To compare this to my earlier example, our snow goose friend just keeps flying towards the decoys while making fun of their friend for warning them of the fakes. This is what is happening in abundance within the true church.

As I mentioned above, we know for sure from scripture that decoys (i.e. false teachers) will abound in the last days. This should not surprise us. We can’t make others see the danger but we can carefully protect our own minds, as well as the minds of our children. And we can study and know the Bible and be aware of what is going on so that if someone does have a question about a certain teacher, we can help them by pointing them to the Word.

This is not the time to bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich and be blissfully unaware.

While that would be so much easier, we will do so much more for God’s Kingdom when we pull our heads out of the sand, shake them off, and look around.

There are many, many Christians who have been taken in by false teachers. Most don’t want to know the truth, but there are some that do. There are some who are searching. Are you able to help them? Are you able to point them in the right direction? Most don’t want to take this on. It is a very unpopular and rather difficult job. But it is so necessary as we approach these last days. Someone needs to point out the decoys. God will use soldiers like this for His glory and to further His Kingdom. Soldiers who are willing to stand up for what is biblical and right, bravely facing the firing squad of popular opinion. Will you be one of them?

 

 

You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

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Have you ever noticed that almost everyone loves Chick-Fil-A? The other day we went to one for a mid-week lunch and it was lined up almost to the door. In a world where fast food has lost much of its popularity and is considered quite unfashionable, Chick-Fil-As are still always busy. Why is this?

I believe it is because when you go there you will find their restaurants clean and organized and the employees respectful and helpful. Of course this isn’t true across the board, but there is a much greater chance of finding a Chick-Fil-A like this than any other fast food restaurant.

How does the owner of Chick-Fil-A accomplish this? This article states that Truett Cathy screens his franchise owners. They must exhibit Christian values and be involved in their communities. It’s a Huffington Post article that puts a negative spin on it (of course!). But, actually, what Cathy is doing is completely lawful. He’s protecting the reputation of Chick-Fil-A, which he owns. (Funny how you never see Huffington Post talk about the unfairness of progressives forcing business owners to bake wedding cakes…)

So why does having Christian values make a difference?

The Bible teaches us many things about life and human relationships. And it is clear that when we put them into practice, life is generally better. We avoid so much heartache and pain and generally experience so much more peace and joy when we don’t lie, steal, cheat, or hate. We have a much more restful home when we love, forgive, discipline our children, treat one another with respect and kindness, and live out the roles God has established for Dads, Moms, and kids. And we run much better restaurants and companies when we are honest, fair, train our employees to treat others with respect and kindness, and operate with integrity.

Christian principles make for a better restaurant, family, church, workplace, and LIFE.

Psalm 1 puts it this way–

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

The ironic thing is that even unbelievers love what results from living this way, don’t they? Chick-Fil-As are filled with customers who are unbelievers. It is because they love the outcome of this unappealing way of life, they just don’t want to do the work or make the sacrifices to have that same outcome in their own personal lives.

This goes the same for parenting. The world (and even other Christians who are following the world when it comes to disciplining their children) longingly watch parents who are actually enjoying their well-behaved and respectful children. But these godly parents are diligently following scriptural principles and making sacrifices to experience God’s wonderful promise that children are a reward (Psalm 127:3). It doesn’t just happen. Other parents watching them–whose children are unruly and unmanageable and make life so difficult– long to have the same results as their friends. But they are completely unwilling to follow the biblical principles in order to do so.

Well, you just can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

You can’t have the positive effects of living life based on Christians principles without…actually living life based on Christian principles. And that does take work and sacrifice and usually comes with its own share of mocking and ridicule, no matter where you live.

Interestingly enough, one can actually live a life based on the principles of the Bible without actually being a Christian and fare pretty well from a temporal perspective. I have seen this many times. Couples that live out and have instilled these Judeo-Christian values in their kids and who are living a life of harmony and success because of it. (In fact, these actually can be some of the hardest people to reach because they don’t see their need for a Savior.)

Perhaps this, too, is why America was so wonderful for so long. Perhaps this is why she attracted so many from countries all around the world. Being based on those same Christian principles created her reputation of being fair and free and safe and full of opportunities.

Of course, that’s all changing rapidly now.

We can’t change the world. But we can, like Truett Cathy, change our corner of the world. We can change our families by following God’s ordained roles for men and women and by training our children according to biblical principles. We can change our place of employment by doing our jobs with integrity, honesty, and diligence. We can change our churches by teaching the Bible, treating others with grace and mercy, and by calling out sin. Living life according to biblical principles not only makes our lives better but it also makes life better for those who live with and around us.

God wrote the Bible for us. He wrote every word for a reason. Our job is to study it and to live it out. Psalm 1 is not a promise but a principle. Some Christians have really hard lives and hardly seem to prosper at all. But you can never judge a book by its cover. The poorest Christian may be much more prosperous in eternal treasure than the richest one.

One thing we do know for sure: The way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

 

What Does Your Love for Self Cause You to Do (or Not Do)?

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The last week or so, I have been really reflecting on how much we all do because we are concerned about our own selfish good. This has come about through a couple of conversations, through a sermon of by Pastor Dean (found here), and through our Sunday School study of Philippians. As I mulled these things over during the past few days, I recognized the two things they all pointed to: A Savior that never did anything–not even one tiny thing–out of selfishness. And, second, the weakness of believers–those that the Savior has saved–that can hardly do anything without at least a tinge of selfishness.

Selfishness gets almost all of us in one way or another, doesn’t it? Sometimes we are obvious in how we go about it–we demand our way, our rights, our desires. We are very noticeably selfish. But, for others of us, we are viewed as the nicest, most unselfish people in the world, even while we are being selfish. We agree with everyone, we don’t confront, we don’t have the hard conversations–all because we hate conflict and we don’t want to rock the boat. We will selfishly do anything to avoid even a hint of controversy.

For others of us self takes on a whole life of its own, as we grasp for praise and glory, growing comfortable in a life of boasting so that we can make sure others see how great we are. Pride grows out of self-absorption and we start to believe we know everything and, along with this, comes the insatiable desire to win every argument and always be “right”.  Even when it doesn’t matter at all.

And then for others, we like our comfort and our relationships and our churches and we just aren’t willing to sacrifice them to stand up for what’s right. Again, love of self rears its ugly head. When it comes right down to it, we’d rather have a friend go to hell and still have them as a friend, than to risk that friendship to share the Gospel.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I am not saying that we should always speak up. There is great wisdom in knowing when not to speak. I tend to be one of those that speaks up too much and I have spent a lifetime working on timing and, most often, not speaking at all and praying instead.

But sometimes we do need to speak up–especially when it concerns the Gospel and other biblical matters. Knowing how to do that gently and with love is important. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my greatest concerns in the area of discernment is how unloving these “discerners” can be–treating it as if they are on a treasure hunt and it is some great competition. Some even seem to gloat with glee when they discover something. Pride is often rearing its ugly head in these scenarios. (Okay, that was a bit of a rabbit trail, but I just had to say it!)

Our struggles with selfishness show themselves in our homes as parents and spouses (As we fervently avoid battles, insist on being right, are lazy in nurturing and disciplining our kids, and as we lack a servant’s heart–home always tells the true tale); in our churches (as we insist on certain ways to do insignificant things and as we are unwilling to call out sin); and in our work places (as we demand our desires or stay quiet at the water cooler.) This is the nitty gritty of Christian living for all of us. If you will allow me to use a cliche: This is where the rubber meets the road.

The key is this: We always have to ask ourselves–why are we speaking up? Why are we not speaking up? Why are we doing a certain action? Or not doing a certain action? Why are we thinking what we are thinking? And then we must run it all through the grid of the Word, making sure that our own desires aren’t getting in the way of speaking, doing, and thinking what’s right.

Truthfully, I don’t know most of you at all. I don’t know how SELF worms its way into your thinking. I don’t know if you are one who demands your own way or if you are someone who sits back and says nothing to avoid conflict. I don’t know if you are someone who is always pushing your own agenda and opinions on others or if you are someone who timidly won’t say anything so as to not rock any boats.

But what I do know is that all of us–in one way or another–fight a battle with our greatest enemy of SELF. Today would be a good day for all of us to take a good look in our hearts and see how we are doing in that battle. Are we winning? Or losing?

Philippians 2:5-8 encourages us to have the mind of Christ. If we read verses 3 and 4 right before this section, we can understand that an important part of having the mind of Christ is diminishing our view of self.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Do we really understand exactly what Christ did by coming to earth?? This is probably worthy of its own post, but, I will just say this: As we begin to grasp and gain a deeper understanding of exactly what Christ did so that we could be saved from eternal damnation, our battle with self takes on a new importance and we gain a deeper desire to win that battle! Our enemy of self must be beaten if we are to be like Christ and if we are going to live effectively for Christ. There is no other way. Selfish people are useless in–and even detrimental to– God’s Kingdom.

As my pastor said the other Sunday in this challenging sermon: There is only one throne in our hearts. Who is on yours?

I leave you with these wise words of John Newton, the former slave trader, who was amazingly saved by grace (and who actually went on to write our beloved hymn Amazing Grace)–

Beware of SELF! This is the worst enemy we have to deal with!
 
Self-will,
self-wisdom,
self-righteousness,
self-seeking,
self-dependence,
and self-boasting.
 
It is a large family–and I cannot count up all the branches! They are all nearly related to Satan–and they are all a sworn enemy to our peace.
 
If we lie low–then the Lord will raise us up.
But if we will be something–then His arm will surely pull us down.

That monster SELF has as many heads as a Hydra, and as many lives as a cat! It is more than twenty-five years since I hoped it was fast nailed to the Cross! But alas, it is alive–and still mixing with and spoiling everything I do!

 

And to that I say a rousing AMEN!!!

 

 

(Note: The Hydra was a serpentine mythological water monster with many heads.
For every head chopped off–the Hydra would re-grow a couple of new heads.)

 

Interconnected Strands

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Yesterday morning I was awakened by a familiar buzz. I didn’t know who would be texting me that early but I reached over and, fumbling to put on my reading glasses so I could actually read the text, I picked up my phone.

I squinted my eyes to take in the unfamiliar number and opened the text. It was from Discover card, asking me if I had made a purchase at Sunoco in the amount of $4.98. Somehow they had gotten my cell phone number (I do not remember giving it to them) and decided to start texting me about purchases. While most early mornings, neither my husband or I would ever be at a Sunoco gas station, this particular morning was one where my husband was busy doing snow removal. I knew he often stopped there to grab a snack and drink. I was sure the charge was legitimate.

I decided to get out of bed since I was awake and as I did so, I pondered the interconnectedness of everything in our lives. Even a credit card charge by my husband comes to my cell phone. Everything is connected. Here’s another example: Have you ever looked at something on Amazon and then went over to Facebook, only to see ads for what you were just looking at? Personally, I find that rather creepy. And now there are apps out there that track your kids’ phones so you know where they are at all times; security systems, lights, and furnaces that can be turned on and off by your smart phone; and fitness devices that track every step you take and every place you go and then provide that information to any device you desire. In this world of technology, everything is connected.

While I could (and perhaps should) write on the privacy we are giving up willingly in this world that is interconnected in so many different ways, I am actually going to go a different direction.

These strands of life interconnecting and forming one whole is exactly how we should be living as believers. All strands interconnect and wind around one another, each affecting the other.

Sometimes we like to pretend that a certain strand can remain separate from the rest of our spiritual life, but that is a naive thought. For example, we like to believe that our “entertainment” strand isn’t part of the whole. Way over there with that strand we can fill up our minds with ungodly movies, music, and books and oddly believe this will not affect the whole. Or we do it with our “family” strand, acting like a completely different person at home than who we portray out in public, somehow believing that we can freely express our anger and selfishness there in that safe space, all the while keeping that “family” strand far away from the whole of who we really are. One final example would be our “online” strand. So often we think who we are online is separate from who we are in real life. We seem to believe that our “online” strand, and the angry rants and selfish posts that go with it, are there own separate strand far away from the rest of who we are.

But it just doesn’t work like that. Everything we are and everything we do is a reflection of who we are in Christ. We can’t separate any strand of life from the whole. I admit it would be nice if we could. But here is what God’s Word has to say about this–

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’[a] This is the first commandment.

Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

James 4:4-5  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

We can see by these verses (and there are so many more, as well) that following Jesus means giving our whole ball of interwoven strands to Him. We can’t separate out the parts we don’t desire to surrender to Him. To try to do so only leads to one thing: hypocrisy.

It is hypocrisy to say we love Jesus and then to continue in any sin. Whether it be yelling at our spouse; tuning in to a radio station that plays songs filled with lyrics about sex outside of marriage, drug use, and violence; or its being unkind and self-absorbed online. While we are certainly going to sin sometimes (as humans, we can’t reach perfection here on this earth), the Holy Spirit will fill the hearts of believers who are in the Word with conviction and repentance. The more I am in the Word, the more often this happens.

And, contrary to what you might think, this life of surrender and obedience is a much more joyful and peaceful place to be. Sure, it’s no fun facing our sin. But there is something so comforting and amazing in knowing that the Almighty, Omnipotent Creator actually cares enough about me to show me my sin and to grow me to be more like Christ. Life is so much better when we stop rebelling.

Total obedience yields a life of true joy and peace. I am convinced of this more and more each year. But we must remember that this isn’t some solitary decision. As life ebbs and flows and changes, some days it is easier to surrender to the Lord than others. There is no magic pill that makes this lifestyle easy. But we must keep trying.

If you have a strand that you have tried to keep separate from the whole, I encourage you to surrender that strand to the Lord. It’s part of the whole, anyway, whether you realize it or not. Give it all to God. He will not disappoint.