Diving Into Change

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Today is my youngest daughter’s first day of her senior year in high school. That means that next year at this time, the school start date will mean nothing to me. I won’t receive any papers that need a parent’s signature or be putting school soccer games on my calendar. I won’t be receiving e-mails from the school office and my car will rarely travel to the town where the Christian school is located.

And that’s just how it is.

Many of us are experiencing lasts around this time of the year. The last time we take a child to college. The last child to enter kindergarten. The last time our kids will begin their year at the elementary school or the middle school.

But many of you are experiencing exciting firsts, too. It may that this year you are trying homeschooling or have decided to send your children to Christian school. Perhaps you decided to send your kids to public school. Yep, this time of year has a lot of exciting firsts and lasts. And, in some ways, we can prepare for them.

Life is full of firsts and lasts. It is full of changes and some of us handle change better than others. I am probably not one of the best at molding to change in my life. Which is strange, considering I have had quite a bit. As we all do, I guess. When I think I am getting better at this thing called “change”, a new change comes along to challenge my assessment of how I handle change.

Inevitably when I write a post like this one, some of you who have been through this time want to assure me that I will be okay. That I will love my new “empty nest” life. So allow me to assure you that I do know this. At least my head knows this. And I am not worried that I won’t find my new normal. I know I will. But getting there has been a tough journey for me. I still find myself on many occasions just having the thought that I want my old life back. Oh, there are some things in the here and now that I love. Changes that have been good changes and I would never go back to the old way. But as for how my day-to-day life has changed; the quiet house; not taking care of the needs of a large family…well, that is taking some getting used to. (However, I definitely don’t miss the extra laundry and cleaning. Just wanted to clear that up!)

As I have been processing all of this in the last few years, I have learned some lessons. I thought I may share some of this with you here today–

I remember to find perspective

When I think about those in the Middle East who have been forced to leave their homes or those in Venezuela who don’t even have the basic necessities for life, I am ashamed. I am easily brought out of my self-centered sadness when I remember how good I have it. Sometimes my thoughts will go to those Jewish families, ripped from their homes, separated, and placed on cattle cars in Nazi Germany. I have had none of that happen in my life. There are child sex slaves, thousands of them, operating even as we speak. Mothers across the world who are struggling to feed their babies and have no time or resources to play games or to homeschool their children. When I think about all of this, I am ashamed. How can I be sad in the face of all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had? Of all I have now? This thought pattern starts me on the path to–

Choosing gratitude

We can’t find proper perspective without being filled with gratitude. A thankful heart changes everything. And when we recognize our many blessings we naturally develop a thankful heart. Now, you may be thinking at this time that you don’t have the warm and happy memories. You may be dwelling on your memories of abuse and neglect or pondering your unhappy marriage. You may be staring at a change that has cast you into absolute shock. And it is in this place that you are wondering: How do I find perspective and choose gratitude here?? I am not where you are, so I want to be careful what I say. But I think it has something to do with remembering who we were as sinners and the vast grace and love that God has shown us. We can be saved from our sins and reconciled to God only because of His amazing grace and unending mercy. This is something for which to be thankful, no matter what is going on in our lives. Paul puts it like this in I Timothy 1:12-17–

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen.

If we are saved, we have a reason to be thankful. Which leads us to the next, very obvious step. As Christians, we know the One to whom we direct our most heartfelt thanks and–

We remember the One who never changes.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about this very thing, so I won’t elaborate much on this here, for fear of repeating myself. But, suffice it to say, we know that God never changes. And we know that the one Who never changes guides and directs all things, working all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28) Through all of this we also know that we are loved with a deep and abiding love. There is nothing that can separate us from His love, no matter what our earthly experiences are–

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

And so this One who never changes deserves the praises spilling forth from our grateful hearts. And a heart that is praising and thanking God is a joyful heart. Sadness has dissipated by the time I get to this step. This helps me to have right heart and mind to–

Set proper priorities

When I am sad and self-focused, I lose sight of what is important. I am filled with self-pity. I believe the lies that pour into my ears about my uselessness and irrelevance. And this is what makes me unusable for God’s Kingdom. Did you catch that? We are rendered useless for the Kingdom only if we choose to stay self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with our age. It has nothing to do with our physical limitations or our intellectual capabilities.

The only thing that can render a servant of God useless is their attitude.

Humility, contentment, submission: This is what will lead to a fruitful life, no matter what change comes our way. These attitudes or godly attributes are what will keep us setting proper priorities. They are the attitudes that will determine if we will be used by God throughout our entire lives or if we will become a useless lump of self-pity and self-absorption and a burden on those we love.

This is serious stuff. Where we turn when changes comes is a big deal. I heard a quote in a movie the other day. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend the movie as I turned it off after a few minutes (I don’t know why I keep holding out hope that I will find a good movie without filth made in the last five years, as it is just so rare anymore!) but, anyway, this quote is worth repeating–

Change is like a wave. We can resist it and die. Or we can dive into it and survive.

Yes, yes, yes! We need to dive into change. We need to submit to it and to roll with it. Resistance will kill all of the potential good for God’s Kingdom. It will rot any spiritual fruit. It will stymie our growth and render us useless. And so we must dive! Our future and our work for God’s Kingdom depends upon it!

And one final thought–I have found that it generally is not choosing one or the other for most of us. As we stand in the unrelenting sea of change, we have our days of resistance and we have our days of diving. But the key is to keep working towards the right choice until our sea settles quietly into a new normal. At least for a little while.

I know that this post will not be relevant for all of you, but it is my prayer that– for those of you who, like me, are struggling through a life change right now–this post will give you some hope and some direction.

 

From the Fringes and Into the Church

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I didn’t think it was any accident that the Saturday evening before my husband was to teach Sunday School on the sin of selfishness, we had the (insert sarcasm here) “wonderful” privilege of watching an Olympic athlete try to defend his indefensible actions.

A swimmer by the name of Ryan Lochte gave Eric a very current and obvious example of this sin that is a constant struggle for most of us. A sin that, without Christ, will eat some alive. Lochte seems to be one of its victims, if his interview was any indication.

This post is not about Lochte. But I have to say just one more thing about this “kid” who was “just out having fun”.

My daughter brought to my attention that Lochte is 32 years old. THIRTY-TWO! In the world that used to be, 32-year-olds were working hard and raising families. They certainly would have never been referred to as a kid. And they certainly wouldn’t have deemed getting drunk and trashing a bathroom with a bunch of buddies entertainment for an evening. And if any 32-year-old would have done such a thing, he would have been ostracized by the public and viewed with disgust.

But not in this world.

In this world, anything goes. Well, anything that doesn’t call for absolute values or hard work. Values have completely flipped.

And perhaps we should expect that in this world. 2 Timothy tells us this in Chapter 3–

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I truly believe we are in those perilous times. Of course, there have always been men and women who love themselves, who boast, who despise good, and have no self-control. But I believe there are two main ways this day and age is different. And it’s pretty important that we be aware of these differences–

First, these things are no longer on the fringes of most societies but rather have been accepted as mainstream. One only has to take a look around to see this. In fact, some of these are not only accepted, they are even encouraged.  Entertainment and media have changed our entire values system. They have changed how we view sin and what we deem as important. Meanwhile, many of us sat on our sofas with a bag of chips in our hands, our eyes on a screen, and allowed it all to happen, with not even a raised, questioning eyebrow. Shame on us.

Second, these things are creeping into the church. Instead of being a church that is repentant and broken over our sin and finding our victory in Jesus and then working together, unified, to spread the Gospel and grow believers, we have become a church filled with individuals obsessed with finding our personal purposes and getting our own way. We have become obsessed with “experiencing” worship and meeting our carnal needs. It is a church that is much more concerned about personal glory than about God’s glory.

We have a form of godliness but deny its power. Isn’t that such an apt description of the church today?

As true believers–those that are part of the remnant that is left of the true church–we have a grave responsibility in a culture like this one.

It can be overwhelming at times and it is generally no fun. But Christ has prepared us for this in His Word. Matthew 6:24 puts it very succinctly: 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.

Deny himself. As opposed to finding personal purpose.

Take up his cross. As opposed to amassing riches, loving pleasure, and fulfilling dreams.

Follow Christ. As opposed to following self.

There is a most beautiful, unspoken conclusion to this verse. If we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, we find exactly what we were so desperately longing for. We find our purpose, we find peace, and we find true and lasting joy.

But if we are obsessed with our own lusts, dreams, and purposes, we end up discouraged, depressed, broken, and reaping heaps of horrible consequences on ourselves and those we love. And if we are so unfortunate–we even become the poster child for an entire nation as to what selfishness looks like.

How important that we live the Christian life as Jesus Christ has commanded us. How important that we live pure, holy, and unselfish lives in a culture that is obsessed with self. There is no time to waste and no room for a Christian to focus on self.

Let us battle selfishness tenaciously.

Never giving up and never giving in.

 

Some Thoughts on Love and Hate

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Would it surprise you to know that some of my favorite people in the whole world don’t agree with me on everything?

I am not sure when the rules changed and agreement on everything became a prerequisite for friendship. In fact, it has gone far beyond that now, where we are told that if we do not agree with someone it means we hate them. This seems to be the “politically correct” assumption that rules the day.

Does anyone else see how ridiculously illogical this is??

Seriously.

Yes, I believe the Bible is true. And yes, I believe that homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). But, NO, I don’t hate anyone who is practicing it. I love them!

Yes, I believe that the Bible is true. And yes, I believe that you cannot go to heaven without trusting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (John 14:6). But, NO, I don’t hate those who aren’t believers in Jesus Christ. I love them!

Now, I do recognize that there is a lot of hatred and condescension coming from people who call themselves Christians. They have done great damage through the years, arrogantly sitting on their porches passing condemnation on all who walk by and yet never getting in the trenches to share the Gospel. They have done great damage through protests and violence while saying and doing things that no true Christian would ever do. They have caused irreparable damage with their wagging tongues and fierce arguments.

This is a burden we true believers need to bear. Many have tainted and continue to taint the name of our precious Savior with their ungodly, worldly, and decidedly unchristian behavior.

But we are not them. And we are not filled with hate. We are filled with love. Of course, our closest, dearest friends are believers. They build us up and keep us accountable in our desire to grow more like Christ. Christian fellowship is a wonderful blessing in our lives. But this doesn’t mean we are filled with disgust for people who don’t agree with us or live like we do. We recognize that where they are now is where we came from. We know that we, too, are wicked sinners who were desperately in need of a Savior. Jesus is the only difference between us and them and we know it.

We are filled with a desire to tell them about Jesus, yes. We are filled with concern, yes. We are filled with a grateful heart for our opened eyes, yes. But not with hatred. Never with hatred.

Of course, the biblical message of sin and repentance isn’t popular. No one wants to be told they are accountable to God. No one wants to be told that their lifestyle is sinful.

But speaking truth is not equal to hatred. And speaking lies is not equal to love. And, in fact, it is quite the opposite, isn’t it? Funny how that works.

If someone is telling us what we want to hear instead of telling us the truth it means they care more about themselves than they do about us. And if they are telling us a truth we don’t want to hear at the risk of their own reputation or friendships, it is obvious they care more about us than they do about themselves.

Somehow the truth of this has been swallowed up by the mucky mire of relativism.

But we know the truth and we are not going to be swallowed up by relativism. We know that sharing truth means we love our fellow man, not that we hate them. So let us speak the truth of God’s Word with courage, even at the risk of our own well-being. Let us rise up and react to the hatred of a world gone mad with truth and grace and love.

 

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
Luke 6:35-36

Change is in the Wind

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My daughter walked out the front door, ready for her first day of soccer practice. It all seemed quite normal, except for one thing that kept running through my head: It’s her last first day.

After having three weddings within 13 months, I was quite ready to settle into normal again. Of course, it was a drastically changed normal, but it was a normal. And somehow over the past year, I have gotten used to having only one kid around. Things are quieter and so much more laid back. There is much less laundry and I spend a lot less money on food and clothing. The kids come to visit and it’s fun and loud and crazy and then they go home and we are left with just the three of us once again. It took me a while to get used to this new normal. But I realized the other day that I think I am okay.

And then I watched my last child head off in her car to soccer practice. It is her senior year of high school and I can smell change in the wind again. My heart sinks a little to think of it. What will life be like with just my husband and me? Will my baby be okay in her new life? What will I do all day? Questions assail me if I let my mind dwell there.

Reminds us just a bit of this upcoming election, doesn’t it? Change is in the air. We can feel it. No matter who wins, this is a historical, unprecedented election. Neither candidate comes with a stellar reputation. Neither seems to have the qualifications or integrity necessary to lead a nation. And questions assail us. What is going to happen? How is this nation going to survive? And what does it mean for us personally?? Will our normal continue or will it be forever changed?

Clips of the unrest and starvation going on right now in Venezuela haunt those of us who understand what socialism really does. We hear about pastors being arrested in Canada for speaking out against homosexuality and can feel that change making its way south. Isis threatens the innocent and unsuspecting across the globe. Natural disasters like floods, wildfires, and tornadoes have uprooted thousands of lives here and throughout the world.

And we are going to have WHO leading this country??

But here we are. And it is what it is.

Now may be a good time to remember that we are just aliens passing through. If we are saved, our citizenship isn’t here.

Now may be a good time to remember that we have had it SO GOOD. So much better than any Christians in any other place or any other time on this earth. We must be thankful for what we’ve had and prepare as best we can for the changes that are coming.

Now may be a good time to thank God for the freedom we have right now on this day. Let’s be sharing the Gospel with that friend or neighbor–while we still have the freedom to do so.

Now may be a good time to stop complaining. As of right now, we can still go to the store and buy almost anything we want to. We can still stop for ice cream. And we can still gather together for worship on Sunday mornings. Life is still mostly good for those of us in western countries and we dare not forget that amidst the fear and doubts that threaten to overtake us.

And now may be a great time to turn our eyes to the One who never changes. He never rests. He is our strength in times of trouble and our refuge amidst the storm. He not only knows what is going to happen, but He controls what will happen. We are safe in His arms.

Life may change but our God never changes. Of this we can be 100% certain–no matter what chaos and craziness swirls about us.

 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Malachi 3:6

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:19

Standing Out in a Sea of Black and White

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On our recent visit to an aquarium, we saw this featherless penguin (see photo above). We all noticed him. The poor guy. He looked awkward sitting there among the beautiful black and white penguins. Instead of a sleek black and white coat, he was covered in a brownish-gray fuzz. He looked quite pathetic.

I spoke with the Aquarium representative and he shared that this particular penguin has an issue with molting. Instead of his feathers coming in every season, they only come in every other year. They had made a special wet suit to help this little guy get through the harsh Connecticut winters.

I think we Christians are a little like this featherless penguin.

In some ways, before we come to Christ, our good deeds function as our feathers. They comfort us and make us believe that we are right with God. Wearing them, we fit in with all of the other Christians and non-Christians, as we strive to be kind, do what’s right, and follow man-made rules. It isn’t until we stand before God without any of our righteous deeds covering us that we can fully understand God’s plan of salvation. The truth of the matter is that we can never be saved when we are counting on our righteous deeds to save us.

This means, simply, that there are really only two world religions –God has provided a way of salvation through His Son Jesus alone (True Christianity) OR Man is trying to reach God through self-righteousness and rules (All other world religions–including some that are labeled “Christianity”).

If we are part of the first religion, we stand out in a crowd, don’t we? When we came upon the penguins, they all melted together in an array of black and white life–all except for that brown fuzzy one. He stood out among them.

I guess this is what I really want to focus on. If we are a true believer in Jesus Christ, we have been given a wetsuit that can only be provided by God. Yes, we look funny. And, yes, we will stand out. And maybe the other “penguins” won’t like us and will pick on us. This is how it is when we step away from the crowd.

This has, historically, been part of what makes it so tough to be a believer. We hate to look different. We don’t want to stand out. And, yet, this is part of being a true Christian.

Paul writes about this in Ephesians 5:8– For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

If we are a light in the darkness, we are definitely going to stand out! Unless we try really hard not to. Which we do in a myriad of ways, don’t we?–

–We join our friends in their gossip, complaining, and crude jesting.

–We go along to that ungodly movie that our group of friends or our family wants to see.

–We ignore the horrible lyrics on the radio because we want to be the “cool” mom.

–We (and our daughters) wear the same thing to the beach as everyone else. (A little side note here– this is definitely a way to stand out. People think you are absolutely ODD if you are a young woman who doesn’t wear a bikini. I still shake my head over how it became appropriate for Christian women to be almost naked in public. How did Christians come to accept this as okay? How do dads– who I know love their precious daughters deeply –allow them to dress like this when they know how mens’ minds work? This will forever be a puzzle to me. I will step down off my soapbox now…)

Bottom line: Many people who call themselves Christians are just like the world. They wear the same things, they curse, they have sex before they are married, they watch the same entertainment, they look just like the world. 

With the onset of the Olympics this week, many people have been posting an article about Micheal Phelps becoming saved in 2014. I was disturbed to find out that he is living with his fiancee and that they had a son together five months ago. Surely, even a baby Christian would understand that living out of wedlock is a sin? But not in this sick world we are in. I have no idea if this young man is truly saved but what I do know is that he certainly shouldn’t be held up as some kind of Christian role model.

We are to stand out! We are to be obedient to the words of scripture. We are not to join the world in all its lusts and sinful activities. And, yet, somehow this has all become fully acceptable with nary a word. I just don’t get it.

We are to be that penguin that looks different among all of the black and white. That is part of the cost to being a Christian. Yes, the plan of salvation is simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Following Christ means taking up our cross and denying self (Matthew 16:24). It is not a self-centered decision –filling us with purpose, giving us happiness, etc.

When we fall humbly before God confessing our sin and asking Him to save us, it is a God-centered decision, making us right with the One, True God so that we can stand righteous before Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the only way to be reconciled to God.

When we surrender our wills and lives to God, our happiness, our purpose, our health and wealth are irrelevant. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Are you standing out? Are you focused on your own personal happiness and fulfillment or on surrendering your will to God’s? This is a constant battle. For me, too. But we know that God’s Word teaches that true salvation yields transformation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). Truly saved people stand out like featherless penguins in a sea of black and white. Truly saved people rely on Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Any good works are done because of the deep love they have for their Savior–not because of some drive to save themselves. Sure, we all grow spiritually at different rates and we give grace to those who are young in the Lord (Philippians 1:6). But this cannot keep us from speaking these important truths.

It is critically important that this is the Gospel we not only preach but that we also live! Eternal destinies are at stake.

 

 

 

Are You Planting Seeds or Building Walls?

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So often those of us who are passionate about the truth can be abrasive. We don’t mean to be. We don’t want to be. But we are just so thrilled to know the truth, we are sure the person we are talking to will be thrilled, too! When they aren’t thrilled–or worse yet, take the opposing viewpoint– we can grow frustrated, angry, and defensive. I hope to show you why this is never a good idea as we look at four different types of people with whom we may have the opportunity to share the truth of God’s Word.

But before we talk about that, this may be a good time to share that I have learned, after so many long years, just how important it is to not get so worked up about things that aren’t biblical issues. Oh, how I wish I would have learned this sooner!! (I could add a few more exclamation points here!) Those of you who knew me in my teens and twenties will attest to this. I used to argue over so many stupid things. My pride demanded that I prove I was right. How many bridges did I burn? How many walls did I build? My cheeks grow warm thinking about this. Thankfully, life has proved to me over and over again how often I get things wrong. Humbled, I have also learned that grace, love, and kindness are far more important than being right when it comes to issues that are not of biblical importance.

And the beauty of this is that if we are kind and loving and uncritical in our disagreements over inconsequential things, we will be given much more credence when we have something to say regarding God’s Word. Instead of having been branded as an unreasonable, harsh, and difficult person who builds walls, we have a reputation of one who is reasonable, humble, and kind, thereby opening the door to plant seeds.

Okay, so back to the list. As believers, we will have the opportunity to share God’s Truth with four types of people at one time or another. Here are a few thoughts on how a defensive, angry spirit will affect not only our relationship with them, but quite possibly their relationship with the Lord–

1. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of these will agree with us, but many won’t. It is important to never let side issues become major issues. Molehills often become mountains in these discussions. And this is how walls are built between people and churches are split. Now, it takes wisdom to discern if an issue is a molehill or a mountain, does it not? And this is where it can get a bit tricky. There are definitely many issues that qualify as mountains in the church these days. But how do we know what they are? The only way to do this wisely is to be reading and studying the inspired, inerrant Word of God and to be in sincere and biblical prayer, humbly asking God for insight. So many of us are still relying on childhood knowledge of God, spending very little time in the Word, and spouting off opinions and ideas that are ours–not God’s. This is a surefire recipe for division and disaster. And if we have determined that the issue is a mountain, let us remember in our attempts to speak truth that even this does not give us license for an unkind, angry spirit.

2. Baby Christians who are immature in spiritual things. Frustration or irritation in a conversation with a baby Christian can really yield some bad fruit. Many of them have not reached a place of humility nor have yet developed an interest in the deep things of God. If we come across as prideful and arrogant, we can quickly turn into their enemy instead of an encouragement. Instead of being an example of someone they should want to be like as they mature in Christ, we become an example of someone they don’t want to be like! This is not rare–and all because we leave love and grace out of our conversations so often.

3. People who are just starting to think seriously about God. He is drawing them and beginning a work in their hearts (John 6:44). Displaying a defensive and angry spirit is never a good thing but it can wield a deathblow to the heart that is questioning and has just started to open up towards God and the truth of His Word.

4. The unsaved who are antagonistic. These are perhaps the most frustrating for us. They think they know all the answers and have no interest in listening to our viewpoint. But a wrong response in these situations can mean the difference between light and darkness for a soul. This is for two reasons: First, I remember hearing a man give his testimony of how he came to Christ and he shared that this is just how he acted when he had a discussion with a despised Christian. So, the bottom line is that we don’t know who will or who will not come to Christ. We should never write someone off! And, second, is because people are always watching us. If we claim to be a Christian, they are watching to see if we actually act like one. When we get upset and defensive in the office or on the soccer sidelines as we discuss an issue with someone, they say “Aha! I knew it! I knew he (or she) was one of those legalistic, holier-than-thou types!” And a door closes. Maybe forever.

With each of these four groups of people we have the opportunity to plant seeds or build walls. We can say something with loving grace and kindness or we can say it with a harsh spirit. We can open doors or we can close doors. We must never compromise truth, but oh, how important that our resistance to compromise be accompanied by a warm and loving spirit!

God is the One who moves and works in hearts. The Holy Spirit opens eyes and God’s Word is powerful! We only need present the Truth. It is not our job to prove anything. We can walk away from a disagreement still as friends with the person with whom we disagree, confident that God is the One who works!

So I guess this is the question: Are we planting seeds with our words and attitudes or are we building walls? It has to be one or the other, as there is no in-between. Think about the last argument or disagreement you had with someone and ask yourselves these questions:

Was I unkind and brusque?

Did I need to prove I was right?

Did I raise my voice?

If the answers to these questions is yes, get on your knees and ask God to help you. He is faithful and it is never too late to change.

 

I Corinthians 13:1-8 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.

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.

Colossians 3:12-15 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

 

The Thing About Wolves

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There are many things that make me shake my head in this world. One of them is movie stars who play parts in ungodly movies (that no Christian should watch much less be a part of) and then point to Jesus when they win an award. Another is athletes who point to God after a good play, when their lifestyle of bedding women, gambling, and other sinful activity is well-known. Musicians do this, too–singing about God with one breath and then singing about adultery or hatred or drinking with the next.

But what really makes me shake my head are the Christians who make these claims: “Oh, so-and-so is a Christian! Did you see them point to Jesus? Did you hear them sing that song about God?”

We do realize, don’t we, that people do things for a variety of reasons? They may be pointing to God to please their grandmother. Or perhaps they have a Christian fan base that will help them achieve their purposes. They could possibly be a tiny baby Christian that has a lot of growing to do. But, either way, they shouldn’t be idolized as someone to follow and be like with their worldly ways and sinful lifestyles.

One thing these famous people do is make it pretty easy to discern if they are a godly role model. With Facebook and Instagram it isn’t hard to see if famous people are living for the Lord or living for themselves. I am not on Instagram much at all, so it was my daughter who told me she goes there to see what kind of life a person lives if they call themselves a Christian. It is very, very telling.

But far more difficult to discern are the wolves. As you already know, I am reading through the Gospels. Something in Matthew 26 and John 13 caught my eye. It’s also recorded in Luke 22 and Mark 14. All four gospels record this incident. Jesus is in the upper room. He is soon going to sacrifice His life for the sins of mankind. And He knows that He will be betrayed by one of the men in that room. And He knows which one. Here is how it is recorded in John 13:21-22 —

When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” 22 Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.

The disciples didn’t know which one of them it was!

They. Didn’t. Know.

Think about that for a moment. Judas had walked all over Israel with them. He had served and ministered alongside them for three years. He had cast out demons and healed the sick in the name of Christ (Matthew 10:1). The whole time he had put on one amazing act and no one suspected that he may be a wolf.

Wolves are like that.

So what are we to learn from this? That we should never trust anyone?

No, of course not! But we can and should learn that not everyone who says they are a Christian is one. And not everyone who acts like they are a Christian is one. We should never idolize anyone. We should never allow a fallible person to be the foundation of our spiritual growth. Our foundation should be in Jesus. Only in perfect, holy Jesus.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

The other thing I think we can learn from this is to keep our eyes wide open, discerning at all times. Deception is rampant and we can’t afford to rest. 2 Corinthians 11 shows us why–

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 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.

Wolves look like Angels of Light! How important that we remember this!

So what do we do? How do we know?

God’s Word is the answer. It is there that we find the insight and wisdom we need in this age. 2 Timothy 3:13-17 puts it this way–

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If Judas could fool the men he worked with every day, how easy it must be for those in Christian ministry to fool us today. The only way we can discern–whether it be a famous preacher’s sermon, a popular book written by a famous author, or our own Sunday School teacher’s lesson– is if we read and study the Word of God and know it. And know it well.

Biblical illiteracy is probably the main reason the Church finds herself in such a state of apostasy today. Somewhere along the line our focus changed from the Bible to programs and entertainment. Oh, the tragedy!

But you and I can make sure we keep the focus on the Word. We can’t change the Church but we can make a difference in our own lives and the lives of our families. And by doing this, we may go on to make a positive difference in our local churches and communities.

I don’t know if there will a huge revival before my time on earth is done but I do know that we can make an eternal difference. And that difference starts with the Word of God.

Wolves may abound but they are no match for true disciples of Christ!

 

 

 

Learning From Those Who Have Gone On Before

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As you may have already guessed, I love to read. I have been reading books since I learned my alphabet. The first series I remember reading is the Boxcar Children. I loved solving mysteries with them! Next I went on to Nancy Drew and then onto Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr (same author, different pennames; don’t really recommend overall). Are you seeing a pattern here? Mystery was my genre of choice. I remember, as a teenager, staying up late one night to finish Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The rest of the night I went in and out of a terrible nightmare, sure I was the next one to be murdered. I think I only ever read one Agatha Christie novel after that and that was just a few years ago! I was not anxious to repeat that experience!

As I got older, my tastes leaned towards Christian romance novels. I read Francine Rivers, Lori Wick, Lawana Blackwell, Karen Kingsbury, and Janette Oke–to name a few. I enjoyed them and they were easy to read, usually complete with happy endings. I still enjoy reading some of these once in awhile. They are easy and entertaining.

When I started homeschooling, I developed a love for the classics and I started reading books I never had an interest in before. In that phase, I read most of Jane Austen’s books, Jane Eyre, Count of Monte Cristo, Robison Crusoe, Oliver Twist, and Ivanhoe. I loved every single one of them. There is a reason they are called classics, and I really would like to read more from this category during my lifetime.

And then one year, I read the story of Gladys Aylward to the kids and I was hooked! I have been reading missionary biographies ever since. About that same time, I picked up a Christian Classic called Humility by Andrew Murray. These two genres strengthened my faith by leaps and bounds.  So, while I still do read some fiction and classics, I read mostly biographies and Christian classics now.

Have you ever thought how incredible the written language is? Dave Ramsey puts it this way: “We will be the same person in five years that we are today, except for the books we read and the people we meet.”

Books change us. So it is not only important that we actually read full-length books–something fewer and fewer of us are even doing–but it is critically important what we read. If we are satisfied with always reading junk food or–worse yet–the heretical stuff of modern times that leaves scripture out or twists it into something it is not (such as The Shack, Jesus Calling, Love Wins), then we may be changed but it certainly won’t be in a biblical way.

Romans 8:29 says this: For whom He {God} did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

These verses show that God has planned for us to grow more like Jesus every day. This should be the underlying passion that drives us if we are believers.

Ask yourself this question: Did any of the last three books I read teach me to look more like Jesus? Keep in mind that I am most certainly not talking about the world’s “Jesus”–the one that has been created to pacify their dull consciences. No, that isn’t Jesus. They just call their false god the same name as my Savior. I am referring to the One who is kind, compassionate, just, prayerful, loving, truthful. The One who denies Himself for the will of the Father. Who takes up His cross. The biblical Jesus that we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

If not, why not?

I have thought of a few reasons why reading the words of those who have gone on to glory before me have helped me to grow in my faith. I am hoping that these reasons may compel you, too, to pick up a classic or a biography and get started. As I’ve already said, books change us. Because this is true, it is critically important that we read books that are in line with scripture.

Here is my short list of why you, too, should develop the habit of reading old books–

1.   They encourage us. Some of these people have gone through the worst circumstances possible and, yet, they faithfully continued to walk with Jesus.

2.  They teach us to turn to God and His Word in trials. If we listen to the world–and even the modern day church– around us, we will soon be convinced that God’s Word is irrelevant in this day and age. We need medications and doctors and therapists if there is ever going to be true change. But this just isn’t true.

3.  They teach us that our “Happy Ending” will be in eternity. We have this expectation as Westerners that we deserve a good life. And, yet, I am amazed at how few people really do have a good life. They are women born in middle-eastern cultures or children sold into the sex slavery trade by their own parents. Even more amazing yet are those that choose a hard life. Missionaries that give more than they can afford for little–if any–reward. Men and women who purposefully choose to live without any modern-day conveniences in order to reach the lost. Men and women who stand up for Truth, even if it means persecution and death. All because they aren’t constantly grasping and reaching for happiness and fulfillment here on this sin-splattered planet like the rest of us tend to do.

4. They teach us how to walk with God. I love God’s Word and this should be our first and foremost place to go for learning and studying. But God has gifted certain men and women with insight to exposit and explain scripture. Their works are wonderful companions to what we are learning in God’s Word. Currently, I am reading through the Gospels, following the schedule my pastor gave us at the beginning of the year. My study has been so enhanced by reading Expository Thoughts on the Gospels by J.C. Ryle and Why Four Gospels? by A.W. Pink. These books really are helping me to understand the scriptures better. I have gained such insight from these great men of God.

5. They show us that God controls the things that are outside our control. Oh, the peace and comfort that I have drawn from reading about the miraculous ways of God in seemingly impossible circumstances. Even now, as we face an impossible election with two of the worst candidates imaginable and the future looks increasingly bleak, I know that my God is in control. God’s Word says this and I have seen the truth of these words in the lives of those who have gone on before us. He will make a way for us to go through the upcoming deep waters. “He will make a way when there seems to be no way.” (Anyone else remember those lyrics from the 80s worship chorus??)

6.  And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, these books give us perspective. Oh, precious perspective. We can become so myopic and self-focused. These books teach us to look outward and upward. They remind us of the many lives that have been lived well before us. They remind us of what matters. And why it matters.

I am currently reading Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards. I think the thing that has struck me most is how similar his battles are to ours. He, too, was persecuted for standing up for truth. He, too, was battling against experience-based religion that took hold of his culture. And yet, he kept on serving the Lord by preaching and writing. And here we are–hundreds of years later–still reading his words and benefiting from his insight because he remained faithful in the midst of the fire.

I want to do the same. And these books encourage me to do that!

Practically speaking, I know that these books are not the enjoyable fodder we want to read on the beach or during our summer vacations. We like light stuff this time of the year, and I, too, usually pick a novel to read. But I truly do hope you will consider picking up a serious book or two to read along with your novels. I will list a few of my favorite authors below. Many of these authors’ books are public domain, which means they are free or very inexpensive for Kindle.

Here are a few of my favorite Christian Classic authors with some titles–

J.C. Ryle (Holiness; Practical Religion)

A.W. Pink (The Attributes of God; The Sovereignty of God)

Charles Spurgeon (Lectures to My Students; Twelve Sermons on Humility)

Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment; A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness)

R.A. Torrey (How to Study the Bible)

Elisabeth Elliot (The Liberty of Obedience; Discipline: The Glad Surrender)

While I have read (or am reading) most of these books, I have not read all of them. A few of them are on my Kindle awaiting their turn. However, the specific biographies below I have read and have been changed by reading them. I highly, highly recommend–

Anything by Iain Murray. He writes biographies of great Christian men; anything by him will be of great benefit to you. As I mentioned, I am currently reading his biography on Jonathan Edwards.

Isobel Kuhn has written several autobiographies and biographies. They are excellent! By Searching is a good place to start.

George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer

Gladys Aylward by Sam Wellman

Under His Wings by Stephen Lehmann

The Story of John G Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals by John G Paton

 

I hope these will give you some ideas of a place to get started. I promise you–I PROMISE YOU–you will not be sorry if you purposefully develop the habit to read books like those listed above. You will grow in ways you never thought possible. Your faith in God will deepen and you will be changed. Let’s purpose to fill our minds with biblical books that deepen and enhance our understanding of the Bible rather than those that relegate the Bible to the background or eliminate it altogether.

Happy Reading!

 

Changed Lives: Melanie

Changed Lives (final)

A few months ago, I received an email from one of my readers. As we emailed back and forth, we realized that we had a lot in common and a friendship grew. As we got to know one another better, she shared with me a little bit about the years she spent searching for God’s presence through subjective experiences and how God opened her eyes to the truth in His Word.

As I listened to her, I realized that her testimony would be a valuable one here on Growing4Life. If you or someone you love is caught up in the IHOP, NAR, or any other subjective, experiential movement, you will definitely want to read this. If you or someone you love is valuing personal experience over God’s Word, this testimony will show the danger that is involved when we do this.

A few things have stood out in my conversations with Melanie. First, the demonic things she was experiencing looked right and good on many occasions. Satan masquerades as an Angel of Light, and her testimony shows this very clearly. Second, the Bible was irrelevant and unnecessary when she was caught up in this movement. It was only when she started filling her mind with God’s Word that He showed her the truth. Third, true joy and peace came to her when she surrendered her need for an experience and gave her life to loving God, denying self, and doing God’s Will. And she clarified that this movement is all about the raising of self–the antithesis of what we find in scripture.

Melanie’s testimony shows us clearly that God will give answers to those who are truly searching for the Truth. It gives hope and clarity to those of us with loved ones caught up in these movements. And it gives us insight into what is really going on in this movement. Recently, very popular evangelicals that we have counted on to remain true to God’s Word have been pairing with the likes of Mike Bickle and others. This testimony shows us why these men and women are actually partnering with false teachers.

And so, with that introduction, I offer to you Melanie’s testimony–

From the beginning…
Jesus called me as His own daughter (John 15:16) at Hume Lake Christian Camp one summer during my Junior High years. I have been following Him ever since. I still remember that special moment going from darkness to light and the joy of that experience– just as sweet and precious as though it were yesterday.

Walking the path of those young years alone was not an easy one, as my parents were not Christians at the time. I remember coming down from the mountain top shortly upon returning home and my parents quickly informing me that they were happy for me but my “religious thing” was not for them. Yet, in spite of my parents not being Christians, how wonderful God’s ways truly were!

As God would have it, I happened to live directly across the street from a Presbyterian church! The youth leaders of that very same church happened to take an interest in me and they were the ones who invited me to Hume Lake. This became my new home and church family through my high school years. I still remember the liturgy, the robes, and even the boring hymns. In that day, religion seemed so boring, but Jesus was a whole different story. He was exciting! This is really where my foundation of God and Christianity was laid. Etched in my memory was the difference I saw between the Jesus I learned about at camp, a Savior who is personal and alive, and the form of Christ that was portrayed on Sundays in my church. The “church Jesus” seemed more distant, boring, and untouchable. Thereby, the two seemed miles apart and very different. And yet, I thirsted to know Jesus, the One who gave His life for me.

So how does one get to know this Jesus personally? How can one really connect with Him?

Early years…
As a young wife and mother of three small children, I had a strong desire to connect with other women on a deeper level. I decided to begin a women’s prayer group in my home. We prayed for our husbands, our children, our church and church leaders, and our individual walks with Jesus. At this time, my husband went to church on Sundays but I knew where his heart was the rest of the week. All of us ladies had one thing in common—a desire to connect with Jesus on a much deeper level. If there was a way to explore the depths of this relationship and really connect spiritually, then we were going to find that doorway and walk right through it.

The problem began when I decided to lead the group in “practice listening” and “experiencing God” exercises.

These were harmless and innocent –or so I believed. This would certainly grow our faith and we all agreed in the group that we wanted to know God better and, of course, more deeply. Please understand that no one showed me these things but, instead, I simply learned them on my own as I leaped out in what I believed to be faith.

·       What could possibly be wrong with wanting to know Jesus on a greater level?

·       Was it not God’s desire that we know Him well?

·       Who doesn’t want to sense or feel God’s Abiding Presence?

Growing in these “gifts” and rather quickly, I also seemed to be very good at them. Without going into detail, I will say here that I recognize now that I had some experiences as a child with the demonic world that played right into the hands of Satan and this “new” way to be drawn to “God”.

Growing steadily in what I believed to be “gifts” (as this is what I was told) through “words of knowledge” and dreams, I developed the ability to see in the spirit realm–a place I had no business to be! My own church leaders even took note (I was attending a Dutch Reformed church at that time). They would send sisters my way when they did not know what to do or have answers for them. If those sisters seemed oppressed or could not move forward in their walk with Christ, they were directed to call me.

Perfecting my craft…
As I daily worked on my “craft” with determination, I also desired to gain understanding. Hungry and eager, I read every book I could find that would help me grow in this area. Many of these were found in Christian bookstores. Sadly, lining many of our Christian bookshelves today are literally hundreds of these books by so many different authors. This might lead one to think that these teachings are perfectly normal and acceptable under the Christian umbrella. Don’t be fooled!

It grieves me to say that I led twelve precious women astray for almost ten years. I lead them right into the heavy experiential/contemplative movement and what I know today are false teachings and false doctrines. Today, these dear sisters believe I jumped ship and have gone off the deep end of legalism. In fact, only one of these will have even very limited contact with me.

Seeking the experience…
Three of us from the prayer ministry excelled and bonded which made us a pretty tight team.  Because I seemed to be most “gifted” in this area of hearing I became the natural leader. Now you must know there was no accountability. I had no one to whom I was accountable to in any way (big mistake).

As word spread, women who needed inner healing would come to me, seeking an appointment. I would tell them I did not want to know anything regarding their situation because I wanted them to have an “experience with the Lord” which would solidify their faith in Him. (I recognize now just how dangerous and wicked this was!) I would then go into prayer on their behalf and write what I heard from the spirit realm. 99% of what I wrote was accurate (just like a medium)! I would then share with them and expose things only the Holy Spirit could possibly know! Or so I believed. Now I know that I was dabbling in the demonic world.

I would also write a love letter for them from the Lord, which would only increase their belief in Him as this also was very personal and highly experiential. (What does this remind you of? Perhaps Sarah Young of Jesus Calling fame? She, too, claims to use automatic writing in order to share “God’s messages”).

As I write this, I’m reminded of one clear day, early on, which sticks out in my memory. I heard, in the quietness of my heart–not an audible voice, mind you, but more like an impression on my heart– “Is this something the Lord would approve of?” But instead of tuning my heart towards the Lord and His Word, I continued on in a dangerous direction.

I also remember thinking at that time that anything the devil had meant for evil, God had surely redeemed, restored, and thereby deemed it all good. Therefore I believed that even automatic writing could be a good thing. This led me to believe that this could be useful and benefit the body of Christ. Tragically, this is what was taught in some of the Christian circles I floated in and out of and it was even approved of by my own church. (This is an absolute lie, of course!) And so I had been clearly warned and yet I ignored the subtle warning and dismissed it as from the devil! I was so young, and, oh, so very foolish.

Sadly, I was also very naïve to anything the scriptures had to say against witchcraft. The lie was really on me, as I believed I had been given a great level of discernment by the Lord! I recognize this now as nothing but pride!

This same lie sadly circulates today in many Christian circles. Just look at yoga, for instance. “God has redeemed it, and if I don’t use it for evil, then it isn’t evil.” We’ve (His church, His beloved bride) gone even so far as to deem that which is blatant and purely evil worship of another god by calling yoga holy. What an oxymoron!

Beautiful witchcraft…
More than once, I was given information from the spirit world about different pastors, leaders, and churches regarding their immorality and sin. Sometimes I would have dreams the night before a scheduled meeting. And so when I went into the meeting I knew things and was able to reveal the darkness and discern the lies going on between the leadership. Now this part was based always in repenting and confessing. I honestly believed that I was doing right by God as I “ministered” in this way. And while some of my theology was correct, partial truth of knowledge is dangerous. The devil also has a partial truth of knowledge but not the whole truth.

Knowing ALL of God’s Truth Matters!

Like so many today in the body of Christ—dare I say most– I simply did not know the Word of God accurately.

I spent many years leading many believers and even a few pastors through “deep inner healing”. This was done mostly by visualization which I believed was being led by the Holy Spirit. It appeared to be so beautiful. How could this not be of God? Especially, if the outcome was good and what we did was all in the precious name of Jesus…

In these inner healings and visualizations, I was able to see and walk people through what was presented in the spirit realm. This led to a high point when they “encountered Jesus” for themselves. This would, naturally, make Jesus more real to them because the experience itself was very real and usually highly emotive.

I remember one pastor who was moving on from his current church and struggling with what direction to go. He was having a difficult time choosing between the churches he had been offered and was looking for confirmation. I told him what I believed to be the place of choice, and with just that word of confirmation, he lives today in that very location. I can see now that this was simply “divination” and certainly not a special message from the One, True God.

I have learned now that we must always look to God and His Word for our answers. We must always put our trust in Him and never in man or in our subjective experiences (Psalms 146:3).

Beware of Christian cults…
As I became more immersed in this new “Christianity”, I was very naturally led to Mike Bickle of Kansas City IHOP (International House of Prayer). Maybe you have heard of him? My group of ladies hailed him as a super–mega Christian leader who was truly connected to the Holy Spirit. I actually flew out to Kansas City to participate in this cult movement.

Sadly, our prayer group followed many who were just so far off from the truth of God’s Word as to be truly dangerous. I shall list a few as pure warnings:

·       Graham Cooke (Third wave theology)
·       NAR (New Apostle Reformation, another name for Dominionism) and the many self- proclaimed prophets (too many to count)
·       Cindy Jacobs (Generals International)
·       Jack Deere (Third wave theology) Deceased
·       Rick Joyner (Morning Star Ministries)
·       Che Ahn (Harvest International Ministries, Pasadena)
·       Mike Bickle (IHOP) and Lou Engle (Joel’s Army)
·       Heidi Baker (Iris Global Ministries)
·       Bill Johnson (Bethel, Redding CA)
·       Jill Austin (The Masters Potter) Deceased
·       Patricia King (XP Ministries)
·       Peter C. Wagner (leader to the NAR and many of those listed here)

Sadly, you can see this was my “circle of influence” for many years. And WHAT an influence they had on my life! They were leading me far away from the path of godly, biblical living with their crooked theology. Reading as many books from these authors as I could get my hands on, I devoured their sweet sugar, this false gospel, and passed on their heretical teachings to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot tell you how sick and grieved my heart is over what I’ve done in the name of Jesus.

Please take a moment and carefully examine your own circle of influence–

·       What gospel is being preached and proclaimed?

·       Does it elevate Jesus as reigning Lord and Savior instead of man and his works of wonder?

You see these men and women draw others unto themselves, instead of to the true majesty of God who forever reigns from His throne–the One who is high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6).

My friend, a true encounter with the living God would make one shudder and want to hide in awesome fear! We would never be able to stand one minute under the weight of His Holy presence in our sinful condition. Fear and dread like a dead man would come upon us. No one could handle the “true” magnificent glory cloud of God. We see this in scripture over and over again. It is in complete opposition to the fake experiences that these false prophets provide, conjuring up glory clouds from the spirit world to make you believe you are having an encounter with God himself.

Going from one circus tent to another, (I can’t call them Christian seminars or retreats because they simply were not!) I gleaned much from these well-known self-proclaimed prophets and apostles. Often times in Christian circles we are led to believe these “apostles” have something which appears to be “extremely special” and of “great value”. We are led to believe we must have what they are selling. If you wanted more of God’s anointing, you need to give to their ministry, be blessed by their “special prayers of release”, or perhaps buy their newest book of the month.

These special elitists were supposedly also so special in God’s eyes they were given heaven’s keys, with the ability to tap right into heaven itself, thereby always receiving new revelations. This may sound strange to some but, when you are in this movement, this can be rather addicting. I therefore began to seek my own special revelations and God’s Word no longer seemed sufficient. In fact, I remember telling people: “God is not bound or even confined to His Word as He lives outside of time and space and therefore can do what He pleases.” Obviously, I was confused and certainly didn’t know my Bible.

My passion in going to these events was often driven by this thought: “Maybe they will have a personal word for me today.” I (and people caught up in this movement) are often so desperate to hear from God, that we believe that these men and women have direct connections to God Himself! And yet, now I realize that God has given us His very Word, which is perfect, trustworthy, completely inerrant, and sufficient for all our needs today. There is nothing more deep and satisfying than God’s Word. Just look at Psalms 119! But I am jumping ahead of myself here.

Birds of the same kind…
Please understand, “birds of a feather flock together.” And flock together we did! Circling around these teachers and going to those hosted events, we sought deeper and more vivid spiritual experiences. We were never satisfied by these conferences alone. We were continually commanding, demanding, decreeing, and always releasing a fresh “anointing”.

For years, people would prophesy very confirming things to me at these events such as: “You’re a prophet to the nations” and “you are going to give birth” (not happened yet! And I am 51 years old!) This same “special word” happened everywhere I went in these experiential circles, almost as if others were drawn to me. This became common place as I floated in and out of this movement for over 20 years. Satan really wanted me to think I was something great in the kingdom and pride was always lurking in the shadows! Sadly, because I also walked in the “supernatural” it was easy for me to walk up to strangers and give them direct prophesies or words of knowledge during these conferences. So often at these events the air itself was electrified with the super-natural. There was no doubt, as we could sense it—even almost feel it. However, I eventually learned that these experiences were counterfeit experiences, with the Great Deceiver working his charm on the deceived believer.

My dear friends, the reason for the “knowing” and the supernatural “experiences” is this:

We are simply tapping into “familiar spirits”!

May I also note that at these special events someone always mentioned the endless miracles or gold dust floating through the air! We continually chased the next spiritual high. Commanding, releasing, decreeing as if we were equal to God somehow and had supernatural power. It was really all based on pride and our desire to be “like” God. (It really reminds me of the serpent in the garden when he spoke to Eve and put the thought in her head that she could be wise, like God). A broken and contrite spirit God will not despise as it says in Psalms 51:17. A mature believer demands nothing from his Father but seeks only to do His will. We don’t need nor demand the prayers and blessings of false prophets and apostles or supernatural experiences.

I practiced many forms of what I called beautiful witchcraft and did not even know it! How blind I was– just so very blind.

Spending hours in prayer and visualizing Jesus meeting with me in a beautiful field, my heart was soaked in idolatry. I actually believed that He was leading, guiding me, and giving me many messages. The ladies in my prayer group were always amazed how quickly I was able to find this special place just about anytime and anywhere. (Let me tell you I believed I was tapped in, never realizing that what I was involved in was actually dangerous demonic activity!) I’m sure it made me appear to be very spiritual!

The missing piece…
Please remember I met with these ladies in my prayer group regularly, weekly for 10 years to have “Jesus experiences”. To my shame I could share so many years’ worth of stories with you.

Once you dabble in this camp, coming out and away from it is often times very difficult. Having been so blinded by our own “experiences” which we now believe to be true on every account, it has sadly solidified what we believe, even if it doesn’t match what is actually the truth from scripture. I was in grave error, as I was relying on myself and my experiences to teach me about God rather than on God’s Word. When we do this Satan will deceive us every time! Scripture tells us we are to walk by faith and not by sight! 2 Corn. 5:7

The missing component in my life was the soundness and the accuracy of God’s Word. You see, something that I would have never have told anyone is that I read my Bible as little as possible. I could justify reading other books which had scripture in them. They seemed much more alive and “tingly” to me. I had absolutely no way to weigh these teachings/books against scripture because I simply did not know God’s Word very well. The Bible was a dead book in my heart. I would read it but only to mark it off my list of duties and obligations.

I began– over time– to realize others were coming to Christ as new babes and were years ahead of me in their knowledge in the scriptures. This became a conflict in my heart. Oftentimes they would quote scriptures from the Bible with such passion. Watching with perplexity I realized they didn’t just know their Bible but they loved God’s very word! This Book seemed very much alive to them. Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Sadly, I knew I did not know and love God’s Word like this. It remained a mystery to me–ancient, old, and more dead than alive. Fear began to settle into the depths of my heart. Bethel Redding, Bill Johnson’s church, was next on my to-do list. The odd thing was that from early on in my walk with Christ, I truly did have a keen sense for wanting holiness in my life. I really loved the Lord and my desire–as twisted as it was– really was to please Him. And so God—in His righteousness and grace, being such a good Father — intervened! By God’s pure, direct hand in my life, and His grace which had been poured out over me, I was kept from my trip to Bethel Redding! I thank God, as this was a very good thing indeed!

Mother’s Day, roughly 11-12 years ago, I went to my mom and dad’s church up in the high desert and a couple were up on the stage sharing about their mission trip to the Philippines. Why were my hands sweating? Why was my heart racing?

They presented a slide show and asked if anyone would like to go along on their next mission trip to the Philippines. I remember telling God, “no way, don’t even ask me to go because I can’t fly in an airplane.” Remember now, I was living in the experiential and so speaking and listening for His voice was normal. While I didn’t hear any voices, I did feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, challenging my comfortable life and pushing me out of my comfort zone to serve Christ in The Philippines. Long story short, I did go. I went in faith, terrified to fly, but putting it all in God’s hands.

The very moment the plane took off so did my dreaded terror of flying! I was free! What an on-time God we serve.

A shaking must take place…
However, around this time some of the women in my prayer group were prophesying to me, saying “it wasn’t God’s time for you to go to the mission field.”  They believed they confirmed this by special messages from God. Because I did not listen to them, the prayer group started to crumble, as a shaking was inevitably going to take place. God’s plan and design was to bring this out-of-control, unstable ministry down to rubble and dust. Obviously, this prayer ministry had never been grounded in the Word of God.

This led to the beginning of a new life of living in faith! A tiny seed had been planted. Two weeks prior to my trip I pleaded earnestly and begged God to give me a deep love for His Word. Upon returning home from my trip, I opened my Bible and my love for the Word was instant, like a veil had been rent from my eyes! (2 Corinthians 4:3) The Old Testament was like a new story! For the first time, God’s Word was truly alive!

I simply could not get enough of scripture to satisfy my thirst for my Savior. That next year I read as much as possible and simply could not put this precious Book down. I took it everywhere, never wanting a substitute. I only craved God’s precious, undiluted, pure Word.  Meanwhile, on the homestead, cracks and fissures were bubbling. Discord was in the prayer ministry and jealousy was brewing underneath the surface.

Waking up…
After coming home from a few days in Kansas City under Mike Bickle’s IHOP, I had purchased a few books and it happened that I left one on the dining room table. My husband, in passing, just happened to notice this book and picked it up. To his shock and horror, he could not believe what I had been reading and how far off I had gone from the truth of God’s Word! He had been absent spiritually for many years. This was the day of him coming out of his slumber and waking up to the reality of what can happen when a husband does not assume the spiritual role as head of the home that has been ordained by Christ himself. (Eph. 5:22)

My husband and I had experienced great patience by the Holy Spirit. We had both been in a deep spiritual slumber and this would not be easy to undo in one moment. I had bought– not one– but many lies over the years and my husband had been uninterested. However all of this changed that day. My husband began to notice who I flocked to for spiritual guidance and he would search the internet to find truth regards to their standing, weighing each of them against scripture. He would then leave the articles around the house for me to find and read. Maybe a day or two later he would ask me casually if I had found the time to read the article that he had found. He knew I really wanted biblical truth in my inmost being as I loved God dearly. At this time, my love for God’s Word was continuing to grow. As I began to read these articles and discover the depth of deception in these ministries, anger would fill my heart! Thus began the beginning of my husband and I exposing false teachers and digging deeper to find out exactly what was going on in the lives of those who are in leadership positions in these movements on a national level. Exposing toxic teachings and false teachers which do not line up with the Word of God and sound doctrine is not a popular endeavor!

Not everyone wants the truth…
As I began to find huge contradictions and false teachings within IHOP and its famous leader, Mike Bickle, it was now time to share my discovery with my most trusted, beloved sisters in the Lord. After ten years of ministry together, they were like sisters to me. One lady and I were especially close. Our bond was a very special one, one for which I shall always be grateful. No one knew me quite like her. When it came to prayer with her by my side, on behalf of others it was like a synchronized dance. We were always in perfect step together, synced up in perfect harmony. I knew this news would come as a shock and horror to her as it did me.

However, to my disbelief, she was not so eager to hear or believe. After giving her the evidence of what I had discovered, her answer after a few weeks, was simply, “God did not tell me to read this.” (yep, we were that far in) From here the fractures and splinters were now severe and un-mendable in the prayer group. The Lord, in His mercy, swiftly brought down this unsanctified, messy, unbiblical nightmare.

Into the desert…
Now left without friends, confused, stripped of pride, I found myself not just deserted, but also beginning a long journey into the desert. Stripped of everything familiar, I found myself in the desert to be crushed, molded, and reshaped. Isa 64:8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Thankfully, even in the desert, pools of refreshment bubbled up. Finding springs of living water (God’s Word) quenched my thirst, as I longed to be forgiven and made whole. I was completely broken and yet, ironically, I was complete in Him. Desperate and depressed and riddled with shame, His word was restoring! God’s Word was a life line, a true help, and never more alive and living as it was in that desert. I spent nearly 2 ½ years in the desert but it was the greatest place of growth for me. I realized I was finally getting to know my Lord in the right and only way possible–through the reading and applying of His Word. Trusting that He was enough, I realized that I did not need to “feel” His presence in order to be holy and spiritual. God’s Word tells me He will never leave me nor forsake me (Duet. 31:6), no matter what I feel. Where I go, by faith, God is already there. Today I now live by faith and not by sight!

A light unto my path…
His word did not just soothe me, but also restored all the brokenness of what I had done. His Word had become a light unto my path (Psalms 119:105). As the magnitude of my sin weighed heavily upon me, I found myself daily confessing and repenting. Sometimes the unbearable anguish of my heart would try to swallow me up. A season of mourning could not be avoided as I was the cause of so much pain to my sisters, church, and to my dear Savior. Times of true darkness tried to engulf me. Still, to this day, I grieve over what I have done. I had never in a million years believed I could be swayed to believe another gospel– a false gospel– or that I would be responsible for leading others away from the one true gospel of our Lord and Savior. Now daily trusting my Savior, leaning on His Word, I live to obey it. As His daughter it is my utmost desire to live to His glory. With this comes my responsibility to carefully check everything against scripture. Like the Bereans, we are to test:

·       Teachers
·       Leaders
·       Books
·       Teachings and Sermons (theology/doctrine)

Laying it all down…
After laying everything down, I had firmly decided that I was never going to do any ministry again. I wanted nothing to do with being in charge of others, never wanting to hurt another with wrong doctrine and bad teaching ever again. The weight of responsibility was much too great and so I made the decision to never again lead others in any form of ministry. Ministry was obviously not for me and far too risky. I had found that it was far too easy to be led astray and thereby to lead others astray. It was so much easier than most would even dare to believe. In fact, there is a good chance you have bought into some wrong doctrine and do not even know it! Sadly, within the body of Christ today many do not really set their hearts and minds to really study the Word of God. Without knowing God’s Word, you are a sitting duck! You are open to the hundreds of false teachings and bad doctrines which come your way via friends, internet, YouTube, and, yes, even preached and passed on right from the pulpit.

I came out of the desert with a real sense of the majesty and awe of this God in whom I serve. I now have a healthy fear of God. I never want to bring shame to His name again. I promised God I would be content to be a good wife, mother, and homemaker. I let all go for His glory!

Fully Surrendered, yielded vessel…
When we abide in the one true vine as we read in John 15 and allow the Master Gardener to cut away and carefully prune anything which does not bear fruit, the result is a cultivated heart that will produce an abundance of fruit. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. John 15:8

My desire here is to give God all glory and credit for the work in which He has done in my life. As God has restored not just myself but my husband, also, He graciously entrusted a very tiny ministry into the care of my husband and myself. Something we do not take lightly.

·       We have the privilege of leading teams into prison to give a once a month full church service. I am a volunteer chaplain to the women prisoners, leading weekly Bible studies and one-on-ones with female inmates.

·       This past year the Lord, with the assistance and guidance of His precious Holy Spirit, helped me to write and teach a curriculum based on His Word. This is something I would have never believed I was capable of doing, let alone ever desire to do! It is completely out of my comfort zone as I am much too timid for any of this.

·       I hate public speaking (it is the worst!) yet God has me speaking and putting on conferences!

The days are long gone of me seeking or needing to be filled with a “presence”. In the past, I had to have some kind of a “spiritual connection” in order to go about my day but today I simply live by faith and strive to obey God’s Word! I always give God my entire day as in Psalms 37:4-6. I have set my heart in doing the necessary work which needs to get done. My Father’s business is now my concern. This is in stark contrast to making my own needs and desires my main concern in the past. We are actually called to work as His children and it is a privilege to serve Him. Such joy comes from obedience! Luke 10:2 says,” He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Photo1It’s not the end of the road…
People perish apart from Christ everyday because they do not know him. We should want that no man would perish apart from Christ! If we won’t go into the fields, if we won’t share our faith, then who will? We have been given a charge by Christ Himself in Matthew 28 in The Great Commission. Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father and was having a last conversation with His disciples in this key passage. He tells them to go and make disciples of all nations.

God can’t use a vessel (certainly not very well) which is not completely void of self. Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

This is a very hard saying and many are not willing to “deny self” for the sake of Christ.

It is impossible to be done in your own effort so don’t even try to do it on your own merit.  Christ can change your heart and give you His desires! Only ask of Him from a pure heart and He shall hear your prayers. I pray as God has changed my heart and given me a love and understanding for His word that God will do the same in you. My dear friends, this is certainly not the end of the road but the beginning! As we strive to do things His way, in the way which pleases Him, you will find true life and such abundant joy in the serving of our precious Lord and Savior.

John 4:14 “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” So come to the well of living water, drink and thirst no longer! To God be the glory!

 

The Birthday Party (or Self-Obsession: Part 2)

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After I published my last post, a couple of my friends contacted me to make sure they hadn’t been the ones to offend me with their words. I am so glad they did! First, so I could tell them they certainly had not and that my post had nothing to do with them, but also because they made me realize that I had neglected to say something when I wrote my post yesterday. (First, let me add here that I am fairly certain that the people I referred to in that post never read Growing4Life. If I thought they did, I would not have written it.)

But this is what I forgot to mention yesterday: No one owes me an apology. Anything I perceived to be hurtful is just that: my self-absorbed perception. I truly know that neither of those people meant to hurt me.

Have you ever caught yourself being driven by your perceptions of events rather than actual facts? Or perhaps of taking an off-handed comment and allowing it to take you into a downward spiral, far from the path of truthful thoughts? If you have, then you know what I mean.

So often we allow ourselves to hear something and by the time we are finished thinking about it, we have determined that the person who said it hates us with a deep, abiding passion (or some other similar, depressing, false thought).

If we continue to follow this line of thought, our spirit cries out for our “rights” to be approved and loved (as if they are rights somehow!) and our pride demands confrontation. But this is not usually the best way to deal with something like this.

It reminds me of an incident that happened to me long ago. One of my daughters spent a great deal of time with a group of girls. One day one of the girls handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party. The only problem was that my daughter did not receive an invitation. Oh, how hurt she was! How hurt I was for her! My gut reaction was to be offended and upset over this. Actually, I was very offended over this. Why does it always hurt us moms at least 20 times more when our kids are hurt than when we are hurt ourselves??

When I shared the incident with a friend, she suggested I “confront” this mother about this in Matthew 18 fashion. But, for whatever reason, I recognized that my offense wasn’t based on biblical doctrine, but instead on my own personal feelings. Young as I was, God gave me the wisdom to not follow that advice and I am so very thankful for that.

That little girl had every right to invite who she wanted to that party. It was none of my business. It also taught my daughter (and me!) a lesson in handling disappointment.

Do you realize that perhaps 80-90% of the things we are offended over are due to our own wrong perceptions, pride, and selfishness? Confronting someone about something that is based on these things is the makings for serious turmoil in our relationships.

I know this because I haven’t always so wisely refrained from confrontation. But I am learning. Slowly learning. And now, I confront less and less. Unless it is a sin issue that can be backed up with scripture, I try to stay quiet. Although, I have to admit here that this is much harder to practice at home than anywhere else! I am also learning that sometimes it is best to offer grace, even when it is a sin issue. Sure, sometimes people say purposeful, mean things or do unkind things to us which are certainly harder to forgive. But, unless it is a regular occurrence by the same person, I am learning to choose grace: To process and forgive and love without making a scene and without holding a grudge, giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to show much grace. This is so much easier to do when I remember just how much grace I need myself–from God, first and foremost, but also from those who know me.

God is so good. He meets us in our desire to forgive the small (and large) offenses that come our way and I can honestly say that He has helped me to forgive both actual and perceived hurts. He can and will do the same for you. If you struggle with this, He will help you. We serve a great God who not only has saved our souls, but who strengthens and sanctifies us in our everyday walk with Him, as well. He has given us His Word for our anchor and guide while we live here on earth and there is much there that is said on this subject of forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 is a good place to start.

Well, I promise not to flood your inbox every day, but I did want to do this quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I hope that it has clarified some things and that it has encouraged your heart. Have a great day!