Why Does It Matter What I Believe About Creation?

mountains

I have not really addressed the topic of creation on this blog before. Or at least I don’t remember having done so. But as I have been reading through Jeremiah I have been struck by a few of the statements this prophet makes that absolutely discount evolution. I wonder– if you are still with me in our G4L Bible Reading Challenge— if you caught them, too?

Jeremiah 10:12  It is He who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

Jeremiah 27:5  It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.

When I read these verses, I am reminded once again that scripture unapologetically confirms that God is the powerful Creator– creating all that is in the world from absolutely nothing and doing so completely in six 24-hour days. For my theist evolutionist friends, I ask you: What power is shown by an outstretched arm that creates a tiny cell? That statement seems completely incongruous, does it not?

There are many passages in scripture that would also confirm a six-day creation–

Deuteronomy 4:32  For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.

Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Psalm 148:3-6

Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
    he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

These are just a few of the verses that confirm God’s creation of the world. You can choose to believe it or you can choose to not believe it. But melting two totally opposing world views together is just not a logical possibility.

But why does our viewpoint on creation even matter? What is really the big deal?

I learned a really key point several years ago from Ken Ham, whom I was privileged to hear at a conference for homeschoolers. Many people haven’t given this a lot of thought but it is critical to this argument of theistic creation. And that is the subject of death. If the world was only started by God and then left to develop on its own, as many Christians proclaim, then death would have entered the world before sin. Do you see how this changes everything? Millions of creatures would have had to die before Adam and Eve came upon the scene. And yet, we are taught all through scripture that death is the result of sin. If death came before sin, then what exactly is the punishment for sin? And if the gospel doesn’t save us from death, then what does it save us from? I turn your attention to the following verses–

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

James 1:15  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—

 I Corinthians 15:21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.

 

These are verses from the New Testament confirming that death is a result of sin–that death came by man. Can you see how believing in any form of evolution systematically destroys the inerrancy of the Word of God? If death isn’t the result of sin and the world’s theory of evolution is correct, then not only do we need to conclude that the Genesis account is allegorical, but we also are forced to believe that the New Testament authors lied, therefore concluding that we can’t trust any of  the Bible. Believing in theistic evolution doesn’t only destroy Genesis, it destroys the whole Word of God!

I find it more than a little interesting that we Christians find ourselves caving so easily to the brainwashing of society. If you do any studying at all, you will realize that there is no possible way that such a vast and wonderful creation could have ever happened by chance. There is NO scientific evidence for an intricately designed organ developing from a simple cell. Not even one shred. And, in fact, do a quick google search of intelligent design and you will find that even many non-Christian scientists are coming to the conclusion that there must be a designer–although they will certainly not admit to God as Creator. In fact, some of them even suggest that aliens on another planet created the world here before they will admit that there is a God. (Romans 1:22)

Did you know that even Darwin himself admitted the implausibility of his theory? John MacArthur puts it this way–

“It was a hard sell.  Even Darwin had a hard time with it.  If you read anything of Darwin’s you find he’s continually filling all his writings with tremendous doubts.  For example, he says in the sixth chapter of his Origin of Species, “Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader.  Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered.”  In his chapter on instinct he conceded, “Such simple instincts as bees making a beehive could be sufficient to overthrow my whole theory.”  And to think, he said, that the eye could evolve “by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.”  In his chapter on imperfections in the geological record he complained that the complete lack of fossil intermediates in all geological records was perhaps, quote, “the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.”  In other words, he was at least honest enough to admit that the thing didn’t make any sense.”**

So why this elaborate theory to remove God from the picture? A look at Darwin’s life may help us gain at least a bit of understanding. Charles Darwin lost his precious daughter, Anne, to illness when she was only ten. She was the light of his life and he was absolutely crushed when she died.

Wikipedia says this about Anne Darwin

According to biographers, she was a delightful child who brought much happiness to her parents. Eminent Darwin scholar E. Janet Browne writes of her:

Anne was… the apple of her proud father’s eye, his favourite child, he confessed to” [his friend and cousin William Darwin] Fox. “More than any of the other children she treated him with a spontaneous affection that touched him deeply; she liked to smooth his hair and pat his clothes into shape, and was by nature self-absorbedly neat and tidy, cutting out delicate bits of paper to put away in her workbox, threading ribbons, and sewing small things for her dolls and make-believe worlds.”[1]

In 1849, Anne caught scarlet fever along with her two sisters,[2] and her health thereafter declined; some authorities believe that she suffered from tuberculosis. In vain pursuit of help from Gully‘s water cure, Charles Darwin took his daughter to the Worcestershirespa town, Great Malvern. She died in Montreal House on the Worcester Road, aged ten, and was buried in the Great Malvern Priory churchyard.

Annie’s death was a terrible blow for her parents.[3] Charles wrote in a personal memoir “We have lost the joy of the household, and the solace of our old age…. Oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & and shall ever love her dear joyous face.”[4]

 

Here was a man greatly distressed at the hand he had been dealt in life. Instead of shaking his fist at the Heavens and cursing God, he chose to write Him completely out of history. Perhaps that was an easier explanation for the tragic events of his life than believing in a God who would allow such a thing? I don’t really know this, of course, having never met the man nor studied him at great length, but grief is a very powerful thing. And so it does make one consider the possibility.

I wonder if Darwin had any inkling that the ridiculous and illogical theory he concocted would become a giant, hard ball of snow, hurtling down the hill that is the world, destroying all in its path?

Even if the majority of the scientific community changed their viewpoint to intelligent design right now at this moment, the damage of Darwin’s theory has been done. There is no going back. We have an entire country– or perhaps a whole world–who believe they are nothing more than a bunch of cells and that there are no moral absolutes. Ah, yes, enormous damage has been done. The God of the Bible has been effectively removed from the picture and man feels free to do whatever he wants without fear of consequences. The world will never be the same.

As believers, we need to continue to stand strong and firm on the Word of God. I leave you with this statement by John MacArthur–

And there are only two options when it comes to origins.  The two options are: there is a Creator God, or there is not. Those are the only two options. There either is a Creator God or there is not. If there is not, then everything is an impossible, implausible, irrational result of chance. And the equation that I gave you last week is “nobody times nothing equals everything.” If on the other hand there is a creative intelligence, if there is a Creator God, then creation is understandable. It is possible, it is plausible, it is rational. And even the scientists who have left their mark on the scientific world, those who think honestly and make honest confessions about origins, will tell you that there must be a creative intelligence. Even Einstein said that.**

Be strong and courageous, my friends! Keep the Bible as the fixed and solid ground beneath your feet and you will stand firm. Let the scientific world sway you and you will become like the wind, shifting and lurching with every new “theory” that comes along.

 

**John MacArthur quotes are from his excellent series “The Battle for the Beginning”, which I highly recommend and is available for download, free of charge.

 

The Problem With Christian Conservatives

download

Have you ever walked into a conservative church and felt overwhelmed by all the love?

Most likely not.

While some conservative churches are friendly, this would generally not be what we are known for.

I was listening to Todd Friel over at Wretched Radio the other day and he asked this question: What is our weakness, as conservatives? He suggested that one weakness is that most of us can be a tad bit rigid and aloof. Okay, so those were not his exact words but that was the idea.

As it is always good to examine ourselves, I have given his question and answer a good deal of thought. Do conservative churches and people tend to be more unfriendly than liberal or charismatic ones?

A little while ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit what we would call a conservative church. It wasn’t a typical conservative church but was quite large. They put on a well-executed service without a hitch. However, we walked into the church, sat through the whole service, and walked out of the church without one person saying hello. In fact, we weren’t even acknowledged. Okay, to be fair, one friendly lady did talk to us in the parking lot going into the service. But she provided the only spark of friendliness in our whole experience that morning.

We love our own church but were out of town that Sunday, so we were not church-shopping. But had we been, I doubt we would have given this one a second chance.

People want to be loved. When they walk into a church, they want to feel welcome. It is one of the reasons we are at the church we are at today. Of course, it wasn’t our top priority, but it was important to us. And so, when we walked into the church doors of our current church, the fact that we were welcomed by the people there definitely was a deciding factor to visit a second time.

On a brief side note, unbelievers visiting our churches really don’t care how we are dressed. The only reason three-piece suits and Sunday dresses have gotten such a bad rap is because of the judgmental attitudes that usually accompany them. Our clothing does not speak louder than our body language. Visitors feel welcomed by our bright smiles and warm friendliness. They couldn’t care less about what we are wearing.

And so, while it’s certainly not true that all conservative churches are unfriendly, I do think there may be some merit to considering this weakness. It does exist and it may be good to consider why it exists and then do our part to change it.

I have thought of seven reasons why we may not reach out to visitors in our churches and then follow each reason with a suggestion on how to change it–

1. We are self-absorbed. We become very wrapped up in our own little worlds and so when a visitor comes we don’t even see them. We aren’t trying to be unfriendly, but our kids need to be in Sunday School and then we have to find this committee member or that pastor to talk about something and we don’t even see visitors, much less stop and talk to them. Or some of us think we have enough friends. We don’t need anyone else in our lives so why bother making small talk? We are caught up in living for just ourselves and may not even realize it.

Solution: The solution here couldn’t be simpler. We need to lift our heads up and be aware of those around us. We need to step outside of our own world and look at the faces we see at church–not just the visitors but all of our church family. This Sunday, let’s offer at least one word of encouragement to someone who may look discouraged or reach our hand out to one person we have never met before.

2. We are prideful. We have become proud of the “wonderful, obedient Christian” we have become and lose sight of the fact that we were–and still are–great sinners. We turn our noses up at those who do not look like us or may not have reached our “level” of Christianity and, instead of radiating Christ’s love, we give cold stares and and haughty smiles.

Solution: We need to always remember that but for the grace of God, go I.  Anything we are, anything we have become, any good we have accomplished is only because of God working through us for His glory. We need to stop thinking we are God’s gift to humanity and put on some humility. Pride is listed in the seven deadly sins (Proverbs 6:16-19) and yet this sin, in particular, seems to be an approved Christian sin. And, while it may be accepted by our church families, it is certainly not accepted by God.

3. We are afraid that we are going to be asked questions we can’t answer. Starting a conversation with a church visitor may mean we are asked questions about the Bible or where we stand on certain doctrines. While many of us have been taught the principles of scripture from a church pew for most of our lives, we have never delved into it ourselves. Or perhaps we have been studying the Bible but we aren’t having conversations with others about it because we are quite sure we would mess everything up if someone asked us a question about doctrine.

Solution: We need to start studying the Bible, if we aren’t already, and then practice having conversations about what we are learning. Let’s have conversations about God and His Word with our kids. And let’s discuss doctrine at the dinner table. The more familiar we become with the terms, the less frightening it becomes to discuss. Sincere Christians need to be studying the Word of God, so that we can be ready to give a defense or an explanation of the hope that is within us (I Peter 3:15).

4. We are afraid they will tell us they have been there before. This can be quite humiliating. It happened to me when I was just starting to attend the church I am at now. I saw a “new family” sitting in front of me and so I reached out in friendliness, only to be informed that they had been attending there for years. (I’ve since learned that there are many people who claim to have attended for years, but rarely show up– and so they really are visitors and need to be dealt with as such). But this scenario can be embarrassing and people do get a bit offended sometimes. We don’t like to risk it and so we say nothing.

Solution: Who cares? Does it really matter? Let’s just come up with some excuse– such as “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m fairly new here myself,” or “I am so bad at remembering faces,” or whatever but don’t let this fear keep you from reaching your hand out in a good solid handshake of greeting.

5. The patterns of our family or childhood denomination are rooted deep within us. If we grew up in a staid, uncommunicative family, it is probably almost painful to try to be friendly. There are also several denominations known for their lack of friendliness. If this is the culture we grew up in, it is quite hard to work our way past our discomfort in reaching out to a stranger.

Solution: The first step in this is recognizing that it is a problem. If this is our natural tendency, it can be hard to understand just how unfriendly we appear to others. A good first step in changing this is to very purposely offer smiles to others as we walk into the church doors. Perhaps we could talk to someone we know but don’t know well to grow a little more comfortable at making small talk. As with most anything else, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

6. We are over fifty. I have noticed something about the older crowds in church. Since I am just shy of this crowd by mere months, I believe I have the right to say this: We believe we have the right to stop serving in our churches. We have paid our dues, done our duties, and now would like to just coast in to the finish line, thank you very much. What this means is that we come to church faithfully, but do not really engage with others or reach out to make others feel welcome.

Solution: If this describes us and we have decided to rest on our laurels, then it is high-time to realize that our work for God is never done. I know of no Bible verse that says that we can just stop serving God when we are older. Of course, some seniors do have a really valid reason for backing away from church ministry. Our bodies slow down and some of us have serious physical illnesses and limitations and so we can’t look around at others and judge them. But if we can walk into the church doors, then we can offer a warm smile and friendly hello to a visitor.

7. We equate warmth and overflowing love with the charismatic movement. Just as the charismatic movement made us afraid of the active work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, I believe it also made us afraid to love one another without reservation, because we equate it with this movement and –if we are honest–that scares us just a bit.

Solution: We need to remember that Jesus Christ showed great love to others. It is our responsibility and our great privilege to love like Jesus loved. In fact, Paul tells us that we will accomplish nothing without love (I Corinthians 13).

 

I am aware that you may not agree with everything I’ve written here. And that’s okay. I just hope that I gave you some food for thought today. Remember– we can never be satisfied with status quo because we want to be growing for our entire lives!

Middle-Aged Marriage: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Adrienne-ShaneWedding-493

If anyone would have told me how hard this time of my life would be I don’t think I would have believed them. I was not prepared for the changes and the emotions that would encompass this time. Kids leave our homes to start their own adventures, our bodies do crazy things to us, and life is filled with doubts, regrets, and disappointment as we reflect on past choices or wonder about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”. Life-changing events during middle-age– college, ill or elderly parents, weddings, grandchildren, kids moving away–often come at us quickly and unrelentingly, bringing ever-constant change. All of this can be very hard on a marriage. And it can be pretty ugly.

My husband and I used to wonder how couples could stay together for 25 or 30 years and then divorce when the kids left the house. But now that we are here, it makes a lot more sense. There are a lot of emotions surrounding this time of life for both husband and wife. If you go into it without a solid base of devotion to God and friendship with each other, it will prove extra challenging and sometimes impossible. Some marriages survive it and some don’t.

Today my husband, Eric, and I celebrate 27 years of marriage. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that we said our vows and drove off in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (anyone remember those?) but, in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I’d like to tell you that with age, marriage has grown easy and that we are coasting in to the finish line. But that would be a lie.We both married sinners and so we continue to strive to work together. Some times are easier and some times are harder. These past couple of years would probably fit under “harder” for us.

This is why I am so thankful that I married a guy who has continued to be my best friend through all of the ups and downs. Let me assure you–our story is no fairytale. There have been serious struggles. But through it all, God has shown Himself so faithful.

Since it is our anniversary, I can’t help but reflect on why my husband and I are still such good friends even in the midst of this all. I think one of the main reasons is that he isn’t too proud to say he is sorry. I also love that he is willing to work at our marriage and will plan romantic things or read books just for me, even though his heart isn’t in them. I am glad he hates discord and won’t let more than an hour go by without talking if we are in a disagreement. And I am thankful for a husband who desires to please God with his life and who desires to obey His Word.

I am not sure why God led me to this man, but I am certainly glad He did. And I’m glad that God has walked with us every step of the way–through the dark times and through the good times.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. There are many times that we are so frustrated with each other we could scream. My husband isn’t even close to perfect, so don’t go comparing your husband to mine. No, instead, think right now of the good things your husband brings to your marriage. Unless you are married to a complete loser, you know there are some. The same thing goes for you men– remember the good things about your wives. Oh, how important it is at any stage of marriage to always remember why we fell in love!

And just a brief side note here: If you are a mom still in the middle of laundry and soccer games and homework and diapers, I want to encourage you to keep working at your marriage. Don’t let the kids steal your heart. Always remember that you have a man who still needs you. Because some day, all too soon, you will find yourself with only him. Make sure he is not a stranger.

Some of you have been reading this blog for a while now and you have been walking with me through this new stage of life. Many of you have been there and have offered encouragement. Or you are there and can relate to what I write. Thank you for that.

The good news is that I think I am starting to see some of the benefits to this upcoming stage of  marriage. We are able to go out for dinner without finding a babysitter. We can sit and talk uninterrupted. There is a whole lot less chaos and stress in our home. And, of course, we have a little more extra money with only one teenager in our house instead of four! And, so, I think once things settle down here, we will become used to our new normal and we will find ourselves even more deeply in love.

Until then, I would just like to say Happy 27th Anniversary to my wonderful husband. He reads this blog faithfully to support me (another thing I appreciate!) so I know he will see this. I love you, Eric, and if I could choose, I’d marry you all over again.

 

Keeping Secrets

lights

I guess we all try to hide things once in awhile. Even me.

Now it is pretty rare that I try to hide anything from my husband. But a little while ago I did just that. I should have known better. I am the kind of person that if I do try to hide something, it will be found out. I really shouldn’t even try. But maybe that is a blessing in disguise.

Let me start from the beginning–

We were leaving for Texas the following day. My agenda was packed as I tried to think of all the things that needed to be done before an extended time away from home. My daughter had just gotten married and we were going to Texas to help them get settled into their new home. Understandably, my mind was going a million different directions. To top it off, it was a gorgeous day. Since my college days, days like that have always been perfect for loud, fun music. And so, as I ran errands, my radio was blaring (good music, of course!) and I was singing at the top of my lungs. I was bopping to the beat and speeding through a road in town when I happened to see flashing lights in my rear view mirror.

Those lights were for me. I knew it as soon as I saw them.

I pulled over immediately and, quickly assessing that I was probably considerably over the 25 mile speed limit, knew without a doubt that he was going to give me a ticket. (Now, I’d like to add here that I wasn’t intentionally going over the speed limit. I just got so distracted that I forgot the speed limit on that road. Oh, how I hate when that happens!)

Fifteen minutes later, I was pulling away with an expensive ticket and a couple of points. I will add here that the policeman who pulled me over was a very nice guy and for that I was very thankful. But, nevertheless, I got the ticket that I certainly did deserve and went on my merry way.

On my way home, as I pressed very lightly on the gas pedal, I started thinking about my ticket. If I didn’t tell anyone, there wasn’t really any other way that anyone would find out about my ticket. No one was in the car with me and there were no familiar faces in the few cars that had passed me while I sat on the side of the road. Perhaps I could keep it under my hat –at least for a few days. Maybe after we got back I would mention it.

I went home, paid the ticket, and kept the whole thing to myself.

During our trip, I had a couple of very good opportunities to mention it but decided I didn’t want to ruin our vacation with that kind of bad news, so just kept quiet. This is actually not typical behavior for me and I am not sure why I kept so silent. It’s not like my husband would scream and throw things at me. He’s actually a pretty reasonable guy. I guess I just wanted to avoid the teasing and scolding that was certain to come when I did spill the beans.

As we pulled into our driveway a week later, we were not in the best of moods. It had been a very long day of travel and it had not started out well (another story for another day!). It was also not ending well. We both grumpily pulled our uncooperative, stiff bodies out of the truck and started unloading. Our youngest daughter quickly unloaded her stuff and then wisely disappeared.

As I made a trip into the house, I noticed the answering machine flashing at me. I ignored it for awhile, but after I had done a bit of unpacking, I decided to push the button. Unfortunately, my husband was in the room at the time.

“Yes, this message is for Leslie in regards to the speeding citation she received…”

My heart sank. So much for keeping a secret around here. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eric’s ears perk up as he started listening intently.

Apparently, the police officer had not assessed the correct amount and I owed more than what the ticket said.

Doesn’t it just figure?

The timing really couldn’t have been worse and upon hearing that message, my husband gave me a pretty hard time (remember –we were both a bit on the irritable side).

So why do I share this here? Why embarrass myself further?

I guess it’s because I learned a little something about keeping secrets.

I should have just told my husband what happened right away. Honestly, I am still really not sure why I didn’t. But once a few days had passed, it was just easier to not say anything. And it got easier and easier. Now a speeding ticket is no big deal in the scope of life.

We laugh about it now and, of course, there was little time lost in making sure the whole family knew about Mom’s speeding ticket, but, even so, I am glad that I don’t have the burden of a secret even that small hanging over my head. There is such great freedom in truthfulness.

I would guess that some of us are keeping much bigger secrets than speeding tickets today. There are many secrets that are keeping us from living our best Christian lives–

Affairs/Infidelity

Crippling Debt

Alcoholism

Prescription Drug Addictions

Eating Disorders

Gambling Addictions

Abuse of All Kinds

And so many more…

But here’s the thing—while that horrible, dark secret lies within you, you are locked in a prison so tight it may as well have iron bars. You feel hopeless as Satan whispers insidious lies in your ears; telling you that you will be in this place forever, that change is impossible.

Secrets have caused so much torturous pain through the years. They have caused broken marriages, suicides, and hopeless families, all held imprisoned by the unutterable secret. Bitterness bubbles in the soul and the darkness overwhelms those who hold on to awful secrets.

But with confession comes light and wonderful freedom! First, we should pour our hearts out to God and tell Him everything. He is waiting for us. In fact, He already knows every bit of our secret. All of it. Nothing is hidden from Him.

And then we should consider telling someone else. Now, I don’t suggest that we announce our secret to the world on Facebook. But if we can find someone that we trust– a family member or a dear friend–and can share the secret, I think we will find the strength and the courage to work through our dark, lonely, terrible place. God has designed us to need each other and to encourage one another. Somehow, it helps when just one other person knows our secret and can encourage us to take the next step.

But choose your confidant wisely. Be sure it is someone who is a godly example and lives according to God’s Word consistently.

Life is hard enough without being imprisoned by a dreadful secret.

And there is so much hope! No situation is too big for God. Oftentimes telling a trusted Christian brother or sister will help us sort through the thing that looks insurmountable, giving us the courage to take the next step and unlocking the bars of hopelessness that have kept us imprisoned.

If you are someone who needs to share a long-kept secret, I want you to know that I am praying specifically for you today. I am praying that God will give you the courage you need to share your heart with just one other person. Freedom is often just one conversation away.

 

The Peach Tree

586950_30850052

The man studied the tree. It had been the last to get leaves this spring. Now the sparse fruit hanging off the tree was misshapen and bumpy. The leaves were small and yellow. Something must be terribly wrong. He started to investigate and his search led him to understand that the tree was fatally diseased with a deadly virus. The disease that had started in the heart of the tree had worked its way out and was now affecting the leaves and the fruit of the tree. There was no saving this tree and he knew that if he didn’t remove it immediately it would spread to the rest of his orchard. And so the headed to the barn for his axe. He chopped that tree down and it became firewood.

This little story reminds me of a specific passage from scripture. While there are several passages about trees that do not bear fruit, my favorite is in John 15, where Jesus tells us that in order to bear fruit we have to abide in Him.

You see, the orchard owner did not realize anything was wrong with that tree until it was too late. The tree was bearing fruit and seemed fine, until one day the disease had worked its way up to the leaves and fruit.

People are a little like that. They look like good, healthy trees. They are attending church and seem to be doing all of the right things. But it has never reached way down inside to their heart. They are full of the head knowledge of Christianity, but they have never been born again. Sometimes, we find out that it was all a show. And other times, that person dies thinking they have been a good person, when all along their motivations have been self-seeking. Only God truly knows the heart of any man or woman.

In John 15, Christ tells us we can do no good apart from Him.  And if we do not abide in Him, then we are cut off and cast away.

So how do we know?

How do we know if we are abiding in Him? I have noticed two things all believers that I admire have in common.

First, I see a never-ending thirst for God’s Word, which is the main source of comfort and strength and guidance for them. And, second, I see a desire to know and please God, no matter the cost to their own personal lives. It is not about being sinless– they are human and they sin, but they desire to live pure and holy lives and follow Christ sacrificially. It is always about direction and not perfection. 

Growing Christians love God’s Word and desire to obey at any cost.

Are we Christians like this? Or is it in name only that we profess Christ? Let’s truthfully examine ourselves today so that we will know without a shadow of a doubt that we are abiding in Christ.

 

John 15: 1-8: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;[a] and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will[b] ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

The Always Unhappy Cat

IMG_3378rev

It all started with a phone message from my daughter that I listened to one evening while I was away from the house.

“Hey, Mom, this cat showed up at my boyfriend’s house. Can I bring it home? Call me back.”

I called and said a very emphatic “Nooo!” but, unfortunately, I was too late with my response because by the time I got home the cat was already there. Apparently, if you can’t get a hold of your parents, your older brother is the next authority in line and he had told her to bring the cat on home!

Now I am not a cat-hater, per se. But I have had my fill of stray cats and feel no need to bring any extras home, as plenty show up here on a regular basis already. Lest you think I am being harsh, I would like to inform you that, over the years, many stray cats have ended up finding a comfortable home in our shop and a few have even made it to our garage. But, just to be clear, I am definitely a dog person.

At any rate, I came home to find this gray cat with very penetrating eyes staring at me. With my son promising to care for him and naming him Champ, the cat proceeded to make a very comfortable home in our garage attic. But he was always hanging by our door, seeming to want inside our house. We concluded that he must have been an inside cat before being dumped into a farmer’s field.

And, while it did make me very sad that any cat-owner would do such a thing and that any animal would be treated in such a heartless and cruel way, I still didn’t want a cat in my house. He did make it in on a few occasions when it was really cold or one of the kids brought him in, but then he was always returned to our garage.

During this time, my son and his fiancee were making plans to take him to their house to live when they got married. There with them, Champ would finally be the indoor cat he longed to be. I was happy for Champ and I was happy for me! No more cats in the garage!

After returning from their honeymoon, my son and his new wife came to pick up Champ. They took him to their house and told stories and showed us pictures to prove just how much he was loving his new cushy life.

But then a strange thing happened.

He became frustrated at being locked inside the house all the time. He knew what it meant to explore the outdoors and he wanted that life back. And so he started standing by their door, meowing almost constantly.

Finally, they left him out. After a few times of being left out, he disappeared and showed up at our garage a couple of days later.

Our son came and picked him up and took him back home. Champ is now back in their house again, driving them just a little crazy. The cat is not satisfied under any circumstances. If he is outside, he wants in. If he is in, he wants out. You can’t make him happy. What to do?

I’m not sure what is going to end up happening with him, but I had to think of that cat this morning when I was sitting on my porch swing with absolutely no one around to interrupt my quiet time.

I remember when I was homeschooling just how attractive the quiet life with no kids around looked to me. I longed for those days.

But now that they are here, I remember those busy homeschooling days with sweet nostalgia, wishing for a little more noise around here sometimes.

In the midst of it all, I am starting to recognize just how important contentment is, throughout all the stages, valleys, and changes of life. There is something to be said for finding contentment right where we are. Let me give a few important reasons–

1. It is what we are called to do as believers. Paul tells us 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:  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. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

One of the things that should set us believers apart is our contentment in the circumstances that have befallen us. We can really stand out and be a light if we demonstrate contentment.

2. We are a joy to be around when we are content. No one wants to be around someone who isn’t happy with who they are or where they find themselves, for those people tend to complain, criticize, are easily angered, or are sulky. These things do not demonstrate Christ’s love through us to others, but instead leads to self-absorbed observations and a lack of grace towards others.

3. A lack of contentment demonstrates the insidious selfishness within all of us. Selfishness is rarely talked about anymore, but this sin is what is at the heart of so many other sins. And when we aren’t content we show just how very selfish we are. We feel like we deserve something different, or that we should be at a better place, or that we are helpless to change. All of these feelings are directed inward, focusing on ourselves and our comfort, esteem, and success as the main object of our lives. This focus is everything that goes against Christianity as described in the scriptures (Matthew 16:24). Instead of trusting in God’s plan, we are unhappy because things aren’t going according to our plans.

It has become a pretty accepted sin to be unhappy and discontent with the hand we have been dealt. No one is going to really challenge us if we complain a lot or if we are grumpy or angry about where we find ourselves. But that doesn’t make it any less of a sin.

Contentment is a choice. We must consciously choose to accept where we are right now as under the hand of a Sovereign God and then ask ourselves two important questions–

1. How can I glorify God through this (situation/time in my life/set of circumstances)?

2. What can I learn from this (situation/time in my life/set of circumstances)?

Sure, it will be hard sometimes. And sure, it may be painful. But it’s certainly better than the pit that self-pity has you winding up in should you follow it to its end. And let’s not forget that we are all blessed with times of great joy, as well. We tend to forget about those in the valleys.

So let’s find contentment where we are right now–no matter what our circumstances. Let no one ever say of us that we are the Always Unhappy Christian.

 

 

It’s Never Too Late

download24

We hear the testimonies of wretched sinners who have received salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ. And we praise God and then we sit back to watch and see if they were serious. If we aren’t careful, we can grow a little skeptical. This may be because, in our culture, Jesus is often used a little like a rope thrown to a person hanging over the cliff—useful for a moment or two and then cast aside when the person reaches safety.

But when someone becomes genuinely saved, change is non-negotiable. It just happens. We see this very thing in the life of Manasseh.

I feel like, as the summer has moved along, I have lost quite a few Bible Challenge readers. If you are still reading, I would love to hear about it (just to remind me that there are still people plugging through these Old Testament prophets along with me!)

But, this is a great reminder for everyone– whether you have given up on the reading or not. The lessons that I learned from chapter 33 of 2 Chronicles can be summarized into two main points that I found quite helpful in the current culture we find ourselves in–

1. No one is beyond God’s grace.

Every day we hear horrible stories of great and heinous sin. We can’t imagine how man could do such evil things. And yet, even the worst of sinners is free to accept God’s great gift of salvation.

Manasseh did horrible things. In fact, he even gave his son as a human sacrifice! It is hard to imagine something worse than this. Think through how awful that is for just a moment. This is the description of Manasseh’s sinful acts–

But he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he raised up altars for the Baals, and made wooden images; and he worshiped all the host of heaven[a] and served them. He also built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem shall My name be forever.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.

Manasseh’s sins were grave and numerous. And the Lord speaks to him and the people about this (vs 10) but they choose not to listen. An undetermined amount of time later, Manasseh is carried away to Babylon in bronze fetters (vs. 11). There, in great affliction, he humbly repents.

And how does the Lord respond? Does He tell him I told you so? Does He let him there to wallow in the consequences of his sinful choices?

No.

Instead, our merciful God extends grace. Here’s what we read–

Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

After such great evil, God would have been justified (at least according to our human sense of fairness) to just leave Manasseh to die in Babylon, a broken and contrite man. Instead, He reached out and restored him.

What great and marvelous grace and mercy! And it is still there for us today! God is the same–yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No sinner is beyond His grace, including you! If you don’t know Him, I encourage you to reach out and be restored.

2. True conversion is followed by true life change.

Manasseh does not go back to live the same life he always lived. He grabs the rope of rescue God extends and then makes changes that give the evidence that his repentance was quite genuine. We read–

He took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem; and he cast them out of the city. 16 He also repaired the altar of the Lord, sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it, and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.

True repentance always brings about change. It isn’t legalism. It just is. It is never our place to judge anyone’s salvation, but if someone claims Christ and then has gone back to their old, sinful life and stays there without a battle, without any efforts to extricate themselves, it is evidence that they may have just grabbed the convenient life rope thrown their way but weren’t serious in their repentance.

 

Many of the stories in the Old Testament are wild and beyond anything that is familiar to us. We can’t imagine sacrificing our children or worshiping formed idols. And yet, people are people, and within us is the same capability for horrible sin. Oh, we may not worship a golden calf, but if we aren’t worshiping the one, true God, we are worshiping something. But the good news is that, no matter where we find ourselves today, none of us is beyond God’s grace. And if we reach out and receive that grace with genuine repentance, then our lives will be transformed in a marvelous and unbelievable way. It is never too late to grab on to the rope of rescue!

 

Ironing for Jesus

ironing-403074_1280

The other day, as we prepared for yet another wedding, I watched my brother and sister-in-law. They efficiently and diligently did every task asked of them without complaint or attitude. I have seen them do this before. Since they never complain and no job is too small or “beneath” them, they are wonderful to have around! While we have had so many helpful relatives and friends give us a hand these past few weeks, on this particular day there were just a few of us and I watched my brother and his wife closely. As they quietly worked, much got done and there was no drama. They willingly and gladly did anything necessary to help. By the end of the day, I was convicted.

On the way home that day, I asked the Lord to help me be more like them. I told him that I wanted to stop complaining when a task is boring or hard. Or when I’d rather be doing something else.

Little did I know that God would present me with a situation that would test my earnest prayer the very next day.

We had tablecloths to iron. Lots of tablecloths to iron. Somehow I ended up at an iron (probably because no one else wanted to do it!) But these weren’t just any tablecloths. These things were so difficult to iron. There was no feeling of accomplishment even when I’d spend 15 minutes on one tablecloth. I am convinced that many of the wrinkles in these rented cloths were permanently in place.

This made for a pretty discouraging task. For a variety of reasons–

It was hot.

It was boring.

And there was no possible way to do it well.

As I watched everyone having all the fun of decorating the venue, I stood at the ironing board, dutifully doing my “mom” thing but not with a very good attitude. I was bummed and started complaining inside my head. And then the complaints started spilling out of my mouth.

And that’s when the Holy Spirit challenged me.

Did you really mean what you prayed yesterday? Because this is a test.

No, I didn’t hear the words. But I was convicted.

I made a choice to stop complaining in that instant. What did it matter? Why not spare someone else from having to do this awful job and let others have the fun? The only reason I even cared was because I was thinking only of me. If this was my job, then I would do it cheerfully. I went to work and, instead of being resentful about missing out on all of the fun, I put on some uplifting music and chose to enjoy watching all of the activity.

Thankfully, God was so kind to me and provided my mom to help me with the ironing a little later on. But not before I learned a good lesson. Sometimes we don’t get to do the fun job or the job we think we should. Instead we are asked to do the job that we don’t want to do. The one that perhaps we think we are too good for. And that’s when our true character shows, isn’t it? That’s when we see who we really are inside. Because anyone can be pleasant and diligent when they are doing what they want to do.

Thankfully, the Lord hasn’t given up on me yet and so, while this could have ended up as one of my many spiritual failures, in this particular instance I made a choice, through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, to respond correctly and started ironing for Jesus.

One of my favorite verse came to mind while I did so–

Colossians 3:23-24  And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Are you doing your mundane or hated tasks with a joyful heart and pleasant attitude? If not, I encourage you to, this day, think through your attitude. For it is here that Satan can so easily ensnare us. We Christians don’t always view our bad attitudes as sinful, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are sinful.

Let’s improve our characters by making the conscientious choice to smile in the boring tasks. To praise God through the difficult demands. And to be humble when asked to do something we think is beneath us. For in doing so, the light of our Lord and Savior will shine ever so brightly through us!

 

Picking Your Path

download21

Weddings and funerals often make us think, don’t they? They tend to take our focus off of the temporal for a brief time and move our thoughts to the eternal. One thing I have really been thinking about with all of the weddings this past year is the fact that we all need to deliberately make a choice about what our lives are going to look like. When we grow up and leave home permanently we purposefully step towards the unknown and move away from the familiar.

If you are blessed with a wonderful family, leaving home can be hard. And yet you know that the bright future of your dreams isn’t possible without stepping out into the unknown and choosing the path, in this case, of marriage.

When we choose to get married, we are purposely choosing to leave our family homes (or our bachelor apartments) and live with someone else. Yes, there are risks and it is scary but we leave completely and start a new life.

If we would get married but still live in our childhood home, while our spouse lived elsewhere, it would raise many questions, wouldn’t it? Even when we, as adults, are forced to go back to our childhood homes for a brief period of time, we usually view it as a temporary setback. It is not viewed as our final destiny, but instead as a safe place to land during a difficult time.

As we wind up our reading of the kings of Israel in the Old Testament, I find myself thinking about the allegiance of these kings. If you have been keeping track –in your head or on paper– of which kings were evil and which were good, you will see that the majority were evil. No surprise there, as most men do choose the path of wickedness. You will also have noticed that some of the kings were sort of good, but chose not to serve God completely. And then you will notice that there are just a handful that served God whole-heartedly, removing the high places and re-establishing the temple practices.

When we look over all that was written about these kings, in particular, we can see that their works and success were directly correlated to their allegiance. If they served God, they were blessed. If they didn’t, they weren’t.

So back to my example of leaving home…

When we choose to get married, we must leave home. We can’t choose both paths. We cannot stay on our old path and get on the new path. It is physically impossible.

Why then, do we think we can choose the path of Christ, and yet stay on the path of the world?

This has been such a puzzle for me–these Christians that try to put one foot on the path towards Christ, while leaving most of their bodies on the path to destruction. The problem with this is that these paths are diametrically opposed and move further and further apart. Eventually, you can’t do the split that this requires and you have to pick a side.

If you are a believer, have you turned your back on the world? Have you denied yourself and decided to follow Jesus whole-heartedly?

We can see the destruction that occurred with the kings when they tried to live a life of compromise. And living a life of compromise at home would cause great problems, as well. Can you imagine your spouse telling you that they are headed to their parents each week for a sleep-over? Of course not. When we leave our homes to get married, we leave. To not do so is not normal.

So, why then, do we think we can live a life of compromise as believers? It goes against all that is not only written in the Bible but even against all that is logical. And yet many men of intellect inform us that we can– and some even tell us that we should–live a life of worldliness. They tell us we can be on both paths at the same time. That worldliness and holiness are not mutually exclusive.

But who are you going to listen to? Men who pretend to know what they are talking about or the Bible, which is very clear on this subject?

I can certainly understand the temptation to listen to the voice that is telling us what we want to hear. It is what so often gets us into trouble. One of the best things we can do is to hear the hard stuff from the Bible and then act on it in obedience.

I have absolutely no idea, as you read this, if you claim to be a believer. I do not know if you are straddling the fence right now or not. I have no way of knowing if you have pledged your allegiance to Christ but are living a life of great compromise, living for yourself instead of for the One who died for you.

What I do know is that to compromise is easy. To not compromise is hard. The only way to avoid it is to be consistently and purposefully living each day to serve God. This is why we are told to examine our lives regularly–

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5

Now for the really good news!

Sometimes, when we first trust Christ, we look back on our old lives with real longing. We think we are missing out on all of the fun and we long for the world. But this doesn’t last! The truth of the matter is that as we move towards holiness, we became much less enamored with the world. Just keep putting one step in front of the other towards the light and soon you won’t even miss the world.

 

 

 

Finding Normal

IMG_0908rev

It’s Monday morning and I find myself surrounded by wedding stuff that was thrown in boxes and stuffed in baskets after the big event, waiting to be sorted and organized. The last couple of years have flown by as we were always preparing for the next big event. Three weddings in thirteen months. And now all of them are over. Our three oldest kids have kissed us good-bye and traveled into their futures, holding the hands of the ones that we have prayed for since they were children. We are so thankful for each of the young people joining our family and feel so blessed.

But with these wonderful additions to our family comes change. Lots of change.

Ever since my oldest daughter got engaged, I knew that my upcoming couple of years were going to be a real roller coaster ride of change. I was watching my oldest kids and realized that there was likely more than just one wedding in the near future and started pondering the months ahead. Over the course of the following year and a half, we had our oldest daughter get married, our son get married, and then this past Saturday, we had the wedding of our middle daughter. We had a gorgeous day, with just a slight breeze keeping us all comfortable on a hot July day and her chosen theme of sunflowers seemed to fit perfectly with the beautiful rural setting. Our family and friends have been so gracious to come to so many weddings, two of them being only six weeks apart. We are so grateful for their presence at these precious celebrations and appreciate their efforts to be there.

As I lived through the past couple of years, I had an urgency to prepare for the future, knowing that going from having four kids living in my house to only one would be a big change. But the weddings and all that goes with them were almost all-consuming. Along with the weddings came quite a few other dynamics that we could have never foreseen. They all worked together to make for a very challenging time for my husband and me. It’s certainly been stretching us and growing us, that’s for sure. And that means little effort has been given to preparing for our new normal. And, honestly, how do you emotionally prepare for a drastically reduced “nest”, anyway?

I know that this empty nest thing doesn’t affect most of you. But this is a good lesson for all of us, no matter what stage we are in. I think we want to– we try to-– find our normal. There is something so comfortable about routine and the familiar. But sometimes we are simply in limbo and it’s just not possible. Sometimes there is no normal to find because life just keeps changing and throwing us curve balls. We have to learn to flex and bend and yield our will to God’s.

For me, it has been the steady stream of kids leaving our home that is teaching me to yield my will to God’s. It is teaching me about myself. And it’s teaching me about God. But for you it may be chronic health issues or a shaky job situation. We are all in limbo at one time or another and any normal we ever find ourselves in is always tentative at best.

With this being the case, it is probably best to hold on very lightly to our “normals”. No one is more surprised than me at just how tightly I was clinging to my normal. I never had any idea that my purpose, my worth, and my very soul were so wrapped up in my kids. I thought I was a good Christian mom who loved her kids and tried to raise them to honor the Lord. I never realized just how much I relied on my role as Mom. Thankfully, I still have my youngest daughter at home, helping to make this transition a little easier, but it has certainly been a real eye-opener for me and has forced me turn to God for comfort and guidance. (His faithfulness through this time has been incredible. I will write about that some time soon).

Perhaps this is one of the main reasons are we are shaken out of our “normals”. Because when we are comfortably ensconced in normal we often don’t rely on God. It takes a good shake out of our comfort zones to remind us where our true worth and purpose lies. It also reminds us of just how weak we are and how desperately in need of a Savior.

And so I wait patiently for my new normal. I have no idea what that will look like. I do know it will be so much quieter and peaceful. It will be cleaner and neater. But those things aren’t as good as they are cracked up to be. (Are you listening to me, you moms who are surrounded by little ones?)

I do hope that in my new normal I grow closer to God, finally having the time to dig into the Word more. I look forward to getting to know my youngest daughter in a deeper way, now that she is stuck with just Mom and Dad at home. I hope that I can minister to and bless others, as my parenting and housewife duties have decreased substantially. And I guess I am most looking forward to loving the grandchildren that will hopefully join our family in the future.

But I know one thing– I don’t want to get stuck in status quo, growing lazy and satisfied with the unimportant and trivial. I want to use this time for God’s glory! Any normal we find should always have this first and foremost in mind.

And as life naturally brings the changes of new babies, graduations, marriages, adoptions, illnesses, financial difficulties, job pressures, relationship troubles, and death, our normals are constantly changing. And, yes, it can be very painful. But if we are humble and teachable, it will never be worthless.  For after it is all over, we can see how God used it to grow us and change us and make us more like Jesus.