Grateful or Greedy?

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Have you ever been around anyone who talks about Jesus like He is their own personal genie? Instead of a grateful heart, they have a greedy heart. Instead of wanting to serve Jesus, they want to get from Jesus. Instead of denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24), they want sunshine and roses and happy times and, believing this is what they deserve, they fully expect Jesus to fulfill their every wish and desire.

I finished out last year with reading Luke. When I came to verse 8 in chapter 23, it caught my eye. This is what it says–

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.

As we read on, we can see that Herod had no interest in being saved from his sin, he was just glad to see Jesus because he had heard so much about him and he wanted to see a miracle done by him.

Oh, how often we can be like Herod!

So many of us only want to accept good gifts from Jesus. We come to Him selfishly, fully expecting Him to fix everything in our lives and to give us a happy, satisfying life here on earth. We want Him to fix our broken marriages, our rebellious children, and our dysfunctional families. We want Him to change someone or to give us financial stability or to whisper sweet nothings in our ear.

But this is not how the Bible describes Jesus. Jesus is our Savior from sin. When we are saved from sin and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, nothing is ever the same again. Life becomes not about what we can get from Jesus but about what we can give to Jesus.

Instead of grasping for peace and joy and material wealth and supernatural answers to prayer, we should rest in God’s Sovereignty. Instead of using unbiblical methods and supernatural experiences to “know God” (I would argue that these do not lead us to knowledge of the only True God but are instead leading us to our deadliest enemy), we should read His word with a submissive heart that is ready to obey–no matter what the cost.

(Truly–I am astounded just how many believers are caught up in experiencing the supernatural. They want to hear Jesus speak to them or they want to feel God’s presence. But these teachings are not found in God’s Word but are, instead, based on principles of ancient Catholic mysticism. And, honestly, it is our human nature to be attracted to this type of thing because it makes us feel good and seems to be a much easier way to be “close to God” than what the Bible teaches.)

But there are few short cuts in this world and certainly none when it comes to knowing God. Knowing God means digging into His Word. Knowing God will mean denying ourselves. Knowing God will cost us.

This is not what most of us signed up for when we said a prayer one Sunday morning or at camp as a teenager. We came to Jesus because we expected Him to solve all of our problems and to make us happy and fulfilled. Like Herod, we were anxious to watch Him work miracles–hopefully in our own lives.

And yet this view of Jesus is so incomplete. Yes, He will help us. Yes, He will sometimes work in ways that astound us. But, mostly, following Jesus will be a hard and narrow path, full of rocks and twists and turns (Matthew 7:13-14). It means we will be hated by the world and even sometimes by those who call themselves Christians (John 15:19). It means we will give up our own personal dreams and purposes and happiness, in order to bring glory to our heavenly Father and to further His kingdom (Matthew 6:19-21). It means we submit to being pruned and shaped as the Father wills (John 15:1-2).

This is not a popular viewpoint, is it? And yet, this is what we read in scripture.

As we grow in Christ, let’s be sure to keep a biblical view on what this really means. Let’s be in the Word, reading it in context to understand who Jesus really is. And let’s turn our backs on the vain philosophies of men and the deceitful workings of false teachers that are in abundance around us, wooing us with promises of short cuts to God through mystical experiences. Instead of being greedy and only caring about what Jesus will give us, let’s have a grateful heart and be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Instead of being like Herod, let’s be like Paul–

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

 

 

Resolutions and Goals

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This time of year abounds with New Year’s resolutions regarding weight loss, exercise, and better eating habits. Articles, commercials, and Pinterest pins about these things really rev up as the new year approaches because this is often when people determine they are going to change their habits. In fact, I know a young man who said he plans to skip the gym the first couple weeks of the year. Two weeks is about the amount of time it takes for all of those gym newbies to lose interest and settle back into their old way of life.

I’d love to tell you how you keep from losing interest but A) that isn’t what this post is about and B) I truly have no idea. If I figure it out I will let you know!

But as I thought about a new year and new beginnings, one thing occurred to me. How many of our resolutions or thoughts about beginning anew have to do with our spiritual health? Oh, I know lots of us don’t even make resolutions or set goals at all. But for those of us that do–how many are spiritual? How much effort do we give to growing us a believer? Or are we content to just be?

Physical health is good. We should desire to be the healthiest we can be because healthy people are able to serve God better. But Paul says this in I Timothy 4:8–

For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

This tells us that–while physical health is good–godliness is better!

So if this is the time of year you often spend some time thinking about where your life is going and setting some goals for yourself, I hope that you will consider setting a goal that has to do with getting into the Word of God. For this is the only way true and lasting growth will occur. Start the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or some other Bible reading plan. Commit to doing a book of the Bible study (using a solid, biblical study method). Or pick a passage to memorize.

Whatever you decide, I know that it will yield great dividends in your walk with God. Studying the Word takes work, but it is richly rewarding.

Remember–there is nothing wrong with goals to be healthy or more organized or to set a budget and stick to it. This can be a wonderful way to serve the Lord better, for sure! But sometimes we can get so caught up in the temporal things of this life that we neglect the eternal things. So, along with other goals you are setting, how about setting a goal that gets you in the Word of God for 2017?

 

 

Conditions for Profitable Bible Study

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One of the saddest things I see going on today by professing believers is how little they are actually studying the Bible. We instead fill our hearts and minds with books about the Bible or with short blog posts, videos, or soundbites of devotional thoughts. We do this and feel pretty good about ourselves, believing we have accomplished our “devotions” for the day.

This kind of thinking leads to biblical illiteracy, which we see in vast numbers today within the church. This is the year that I want to really point people back to the Word of God for life and strength. I hope to show that it is through the Bible that we know our heavenly Father and experience spiritual transformation. I want to encourage people to read and study the Word of God with a submissive spirit and a heart ready to obey.

I also want to encourage people to ask the question: “What does this mean?” Instead of the dangerous question: “What does this mean for me?” These two questions are in direct contrast to one another. The first leads to an objective and literal study of God’s Word, while the second leads to a subjective and mystical study. We will talk more about this as the year progresses, but this is a basic thought to keep in mind as you prepare to dig into the Word this coming year.

As I was talking to Pastor Dean about this recently, he highly recommended the book How to Study the Bible by R.A. Torrey. Thankfully, I had a copy of this laying around that had never been read and so I picked it up. It is worth buying for the first chapter alone and I highly recommend doing so. (I have linked the book title to Amazon for your convenience; I get no proceeds from this).

But I would like to share a skeletal version of Chapter One for you here, entitled Conditions for Profitable Bible Study. I think you will find this most helpful as you start any study of the scriptures–whether it be the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or a different one that is completely unrelated to the challenge here at Growing 4 Life.

And so here we go–some thoughts on preparing yourself to study the Word of God. Torrey starts out by writing this:

The secret lies in meeting certain fundamental conditions before you begin to study the Word of God. If you meet these conditions, you will get more out of the Bible, while pursuing the poorest methods, than the one who does not meet them while he pursues the best methods. What you will need is far deeper than a new and better technique.

Here are the conditions–

  1. You must be born again. Little is to be gained from study of scripture if your spiritual eyes have not been opened.
  2. You must have a love for the Word of God and an appetite for spiritual food. Perhaps you are concerned about this one. Let me assure you that when you start to study in earnest, this will be developed. The more you study, the stronger your appetite will grow.
  3. You must have a willingness to work hard. Few things are gained without work and Bible Study is no exception. You will get out of it what you put into it.  Torry puts it this way: “The reason many people get so little out of their Bible reading is simply because they are not willing to think. Intellectual laziness lies at the bottom of a large percent of fruitless Bible reading.”
  4. You must have a will that is wholly surrendered to God. The old hymn “I Surrender All” takes on a whole new meaning when we actually think about living the words we sing. This is a tough one but it is key if we are to truly get anything out of our Bible Study. We must say–like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42)–“not my will, but Thy will be done.”
  5. You must be willing to obey all commands in scripture as soon as you become aware of them. This is related to #4, but it is a bit different in that it requires action. There are many sins we commit each and every day that we may not even think about until we get in the Word and it shows us –like a mirror–the truth about our souls. James puts it like this– But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25). We will get the most out of our study by bringing a heart and mind that is willing to obey.
  6. The sixth condition is a childlike mind. What this really means is bringing to your study a humble and teachable heart. I just love how Torrey puts this: “How can we be babes if God is to reveal His truth to us, and we are to understand His Word? A child is not full of his own wisdom. He recognizes his own ignorance and is willing to be taught. He does not oppose his own notions and ideas to those of his teachers.” Oh, how very important this condition is! This alone may be why so many who claim to be in the Word show no apparent growth or transformation. Whenever we impose our ideas and thoughts on the Word, viewing the Bible through our own already preconceived worldview, we are hindering greatly the work of the Holy Spirit to give us insight into the Word. A teachable spirit cannot be over-emphasized enough in this study of the Word of God!
  7. The seventh condition Torrey gives is that we believe the Bible is the very Word of God! This involves four things– 1) We bring an unquestioning acceptance to all that we find within its pages, even if it seems unreasonable or impossible. 2) We have absolute reliance in all its promises in all their breadth and length. 3) We give prompt obedience to its every precept. 4) We study as if we are in God’s presence–as if hearing the living God speaking the words of scripture to us. This is because the Bible truly is His very words to us and we are always in God’s presence. Torrey puts it like this: “We can have God’s glorious companionship any moment we please by simply opening His Word and letting the living and ever-present God speak to us through it.”
  8. The last condition for profitable study is prayerfulness. Bend over each passage of scripture in prayer. Prayer for a clean and pure heart. Prayer for a submissive and obedient heart. Prayer for insight into what you are going to read in the Word. David puts it this way in Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see, Wondrous things from Your law.

I hope that you have found this a helpful post to get you started in the greatest adventure anyone can undertake–a study of the very Word of God! Whether you have studied your Bible for years or this is your first attempt, I pray the greatest blessing on you as you begin a new year of studying the Bible. I know full well–if the above conditions are met–you will not come away unchanged from your time in the Word.

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

A Response to “12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church”

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A young friend of mine sent me an article yesterday and asked me what I thought about it. She sensed its unbiblical tone and wanted confirmation. Since I have seen it on my Facebook wall since then, I am assuming that it must be making its rounds on the internet. I felt it deserves a response.

The article is by a millennial who is sick of church. To their credit, they recognize that there is a real problem with keeping their age group in the church. I couldn’t agree more. Where we do not agree is what to do about it.

First, let me state that I am not a millennial and haven’t been for quite some time. However, I am a parent to four of them, from the ages of 17-26. Three of them are out of our home and married. All three couples attend and serve at a local church regularly. I tell you this so you know this dissatisfaction is not inevitable. Some millennials still love church!

So back to this article. The beginning of the article states their dissatisfaction and then we move into what they believe to be the reasons that millennials have abandoned church. I’d like to respond to each one.

1. “Nobody’s Listening to Us.” My response to this is–of course they aren’t. When I was twenty-something no one listened to me, either. That’s because I didn’t know anything. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I started to grasp the fact that I didn’t know anything and started being teachable. I began to respect those who had gained wisdom from life experience and desired to learn from them. I find, nowadays, that this has turned on its head and no one is listening to those who are more mature in the Lord.

In fact, if anyone is not being listened to, it is generally those who are older, whose desires for a more traditional simple service with hymns and expositing God’s Word have been thrown out completely. And this was so millennials would come to church. But you claim we aren’t listening to you. Hmmm.

2. “We are sick of hearing about values and mission statements.” The author goes on to give their {very incomplete} definition of the Gospel. It is clear that the author does not consider the Word of God to be authoritative, as we most certainly must teach and preach about values–for it’s in the Bible. Which is why church exists–to preach the Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:2; Romans 10:14)

3. “Helping the poor isn’t a priority.” Yep, that’s true. Because it isn’t supposed to be a priority. But I bet that church this author is talking about is doing a great job ministering to the sick and needy within its own congregation, which is exactly what the church is supposed to be doing. Social Justice–the buzz word that many connect to the church–is not from the Bible. It’s from communism. Read your Bible and you will find out that there is no mention of social justice anywhere. The church’s job is to feed the sheep spiritual food (Acts 2:42). Now, lest I be misunderstood, I am not against helping the poor. But we can see when we read the New Testament that this should never be the first priority of any solid, biblical church.

4. “We’re tired of you blaming the culture.” The author goes on to say that the church is blaming the culture for all that is bad in the church. I can see some validity to this. While I don’t think we blame the culture, I do think we talk about it too much sometimes. The world has changed so fast that those of us who didn’t grow up in this culture–well, our heads are spinning. We are quite dismayed and sometimes we may talk about that too much. Interestingly enough, the author’s solution to this is: Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. But my question would be this– how do we do that without teaching you values from scripture?? (see #2)

5. “You ‘can’t sit with us’ effect” This has to do with how we treat those who walk into the church doors. While I agree that this can be a huge problem, I also understand that there are two sides of this story. Getting plugged in to a new church can be difficult and if we aren’t careful we can really put the burden on the people to make us feel like we belong. But–from my own personal experience–I have learned that I won’t feel like I belong until I roll my sleeves up and start working side by side with those serving there. So many people only show up for an hour on a Sunday morning and then wonder why they always feel on the outside. I know because I have been there.

6. “Distrust and Misallocation of Resources” I agree with this author that there should be transparency in a church budget. The church’s members should know the breakdown of everything and secrecy isn’t good.

But the author goes on to say this–“Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?”

While I am certainly not in favor of unnecessary building projects, I believe that once again this author has a grave misunderstanding of ecclesiology (the study of the church) according to the Bible. The church’s purpose is not to take care of the poor. It is to grow believers.

I also find it interesting that there is zero mention of the Gospel by this author. They seemed to only be concerned with meeting temporal, material needs of the poor. And yet, we know that without Christ, any material need met is only helping for a moment.

7. “We want to be mentored not preached at” I am not sure when life became about what we want instead of what we need, but the Bible tells us clearly that preaching is to be part of a Christian’s life (I Timothy 4:13; I Corinthians 15:1). It is the godly pastor who will feed and encourage us in our walk. There is no precedence set for dialogue that I can see. What this author wants to see completely changes the definition of “church” and turns it into some kind of group conversation. Interestingly enough, I see this happening in churches all across America, where preaching has taken a back seat and dialogue and subjectivism is reigning supreme. If this is a prerequisite for a church for this author, I am sure they could find one in their neighborhood somewhere.

8. “We want to feel valued” I agree with this author that it is nice to receive a thank you. But sometimes you don’t get one. All church people of all ages feel under-valued sometimes. Life is very much about perspective and when we focus on whether or not we are valued, we will always come up short. Part of growing up (something we can learn from our elders) is doing what needs to be done just because it is the right thing to do and stop worrying about if anyone appreciates us or not.

9. “We want you to talk to us about controversial issues.” Now, from my own personal perspective, I would love to talk to anyone about these issues. Let’s talk about sex, homosexuality, entertainment. But can we do so without all of the relativism? Can we show you the answers from the Bible? Because–again–how do we have these important discussions without teaching values (#2)?? (Hebrews 4:12)

10. “The public perception” This author seems to think we need to change the public’s perception about church. But I heartily disagree because the church doesn’t exist for the community, it exists for believers. And the bottom line is that if we choose to have a biblical church in the way scripture commands, the world will find us distasteful (I Corinthians 1:23; John 15:18-19). We need to be more concerned about growing strong and courageous believers than we are about how the public perceives us.

11. “Stop talking about us (unless you are going to do something)” The fact is that many people are trying to do something about this, they just don’t like what is being done. They don’t want to be told that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. They don’t want to be taught there are absolute values. Their focus is on their experiences and their feelings rather than on the Word of God and what is absolute truth.

I would like to add here that our church has a wonderful group of millennials who are nothing like this author. They are plugged in and serve with joy. They are teachable and ask questions about how they can grow as a Christian. This article is not representative of all millennials by a long shot.

12. “You’re failing to adapt” The author uses three quotes for this point–all from secular sources. To me, this is very telling. This author–I have no idea if they are saved or not–is focusing only on worldly values. They used one Bible verse in the whole article. Is the church supposed to “adapt”? And, honestly, I am shocked that this is an accusation, because from my perspective the church most certainly is adapting. In fact, I would say the church has become mostly ineffective at sharing the true gospel because it has become so effective at adapting. But the true church should never adapt. Oh, we can use technology or change a few things here and there, but we never change our message. And we never change our mission.

So do we listen to what this author has to say? I would say, overall, the answer to that is a resounding NO. There is no biblical basis for any of it. And, yet, I see churches all across this country–perhaps across the world–scrambling to make these changes to appeal to this generation. Let’s stop. Just stop. And let’s get back to preaching the Word of God without apology. Let’s feed good, solid spiritual food to the parents and the grandparents of the next generation so we don’t repeat what just happened. And let’s stop thinking that we need to do something to draw people to church and start praying that God would do a mighty work in the hearts of this generation. For only God can change the heart.

 

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.

The Candle in the Window (Part 2)

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Each Friday this Christmas season I am unfolding part of a Christmas story I wrote. Today is Part 2. (You can find Part 1 here, if you missed it.)

     Jessa stared at her tanned skin and thick, curly hair in the mirror. It was a strange thing—this being part black and part white. Which world did she belong to? Even as a 50-year-old, she still didn’t really know. She washed her face and brushed her teeth as she pondered this question that had resided somewhere in the back of her mind for her whole life.
     A few moments later found her staring at the contents of her closet. What does one wear to their mother’s funeral? She found her favorite black sweater and looked it over. This? She dropped the sleeve of the sweater and lifted the hanger of a black and gray print shirt. Or this?
     Finally settling on a pair of flattering black trousers and the print shirt, she started to put on her favorite heels. And then she remembered that this day would mean being on her feet for many hours, at which point she put on her black flats instead.
     “Logan? Lacey? You ready to go?” She called her 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter as she walked out of her room.
     Mark, her husband, met her downstairs and gave her a warm embrace, “I’m so sorry, honey. I know how hard this is.”
     Jessa felt her eyes start to burn at his kind words. She quickly swiped at her eyes. She couldn’t start crying already. The funeral hadn’t even begun.

**********************************

     Ten long hours later, they came home exhausted after a long day of talking to people who had loved Bernadette Williams, lovingly called Grandma Nettie by almost all who knew her.
     As they sat down in the family room, Logan and Lacey started talking about Aunt Althea’s crushing hugs. Althea, Grandma Nettie’s youngest sister, was a large, matronly woman who loved on others by wrapping them in her arms and squeezing them tight. The family started laughing, which was a welcome relief from the many tears that had been shed that day. Nettie had had a very short battle with cancer and her family was still in shock over her quick departure from this earth. However, her vibrant relationship with her Heavenly Father and her faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation gave them calm assurance that they would most certainly see her again.
     They continued to talk about memories of Grandma Nettie when, out of the blue, Lacey turned to her mother with an unexpected question.
     “Mom, whatever happened to your dad?”
     Jessa was rather surprised that Lacey hadn’t asked this question before. She remembered having a conversation about this with Logan when he was around the same age and she answered her the same way she had answered Logan, “He died before I was born.”
     “Oh.”
     Jessa figured that was the end of it. But Lacey had another question.
     “Have you ever tried to find his family? Wouldn’t it be so cool to meet them and see what they look like?” Lacey’s eyes lit up as she pondered the excitement of solving a lifelong mystery. This was so typical of Lacey. Always dreaming about possibilities and ever passionate about solving mysteries.
     It wasn’t like Jessa had never considered it before. Once, when she was seventeen, she and her mother had had a long talk about it. Nettie had given her blessing for Jessa to search for her dad’s family but something had held her back. Perhaps it was the knowledge that her father had left his family under bad terms. Whatever it was, she had decided at that time to just be content with her life the way it was.
     Until today. Until Lacey’s question.
     Perhaps it was because Jess was now truly an orphan—both her mother and father were gone. It made her feel empty. Honestly, this whole day was making her feel a little unsettled inside. She gave a deep sigh. Funny how a question from a 13-year-old can change everything.

 

Why Are You So Offended?

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The other day I was shopping for groceries right around lunchtime. Spotting the beautiful salad bar in the store, I decided to buy a salad for lunch. Choosing one of the containers that has three different sections, I filled it up and then carefully set it in my cart. There it lay, with salad ingredients in one half and some beautiful fruit in the corner. Perfectly separated.

I managed to get it to the check out counter without mixing the items all together and there I lifted it out of the cart, holding it in such a way that the salad would not get mixed with the fruit, and rested it behind the rest of my items on the conveyor belt.

But all that care ended up being in naught as I watched the store clerk lift up the salad and recklessly turn it to and fro looking for a bar to scan. Finally, she sighed and asked the clerk beside her how to check out a salad.

Upon receiving the necessary information, she checked out my now thoroughly mixed salad and put it in a bag.

Now, in my earlier life I may have grown a bit frustrated over this all. Yes, it’s just a salad but she had undone everything I had so carefully tried to avoid in just a few seconds. Literally. She had carelessly lifted it up and mixed it all together, with no thought given to how I might feel about that.

But here’s the thing– she had no idea whatsoever that she was frustrating me. None at all. Her only thought was that here was something she didn’t know how to check out and she knew she had to figure out how to check it out and she had to do that quickly.

So often we get so offended with people who have no idea they are even offending us. They are just living their life from their perspective without a care for anybody else’s and their agenda collides with ours. In this case, my agenda was to keep the container flat so that my food wouldn’t get all mixed together. The clerk’s agenda was to find a price for that salad. When these agendas clashed, I knew a moment of irritation.

So why in the world am I talking about something so unimportant? Because– let’s face it– a salad that gets all mixed together is about the most minuscule thing in life you can imagine.  I share this because I think there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

Well, two lessons, actually.

First, we get offended about the wrong things. I mean who cares about a salad? Or the car that cut in front of us on the highway? Why do we care so much about the co-worker who got the credit we deserved or when our spouse shares something that they would like us to change? We care because we care so very much about ourselves.

In contrast, think about the last time you got offended when you heard God’s name taken in vain or heard someone take a Bible passage out of context or make some heretical statement. Did this offend you? Did it fill you with the same irritation that it would have if they had taken your words out of context or used your name as a swear word?

My guess is no. And this is a great test about who we love most, isn’t it? Just when I think I am making some headway, God will show me that I still love me most. It’s a discouraging, disheartening thought. Until I remember how far I’ve come. I am still struggling, but I love God now in a much deeper and fuller way than I even dreamed possible when I was a teenager. Filling my mind with His Word is how this came about. There is no shortcut full of special experiences and feelings (but that’s a really, really long bunny trail and a post for another day).

So are we getting offended about the right things? This is a question we must ask ourselves.

The second lesson to be learned from the salad incident is that, whether we are personally offended or offended for the sake of God and His Word, how we react says a lot about us. Do we grow angry and defensive? Do we speak unkind words or give someone the silent treatment? This says we love ourselves so much more than we love God.

But if we overlook small, inconsequential offenses we show a desire to be like Christ. If we address worthwhile offenses with love and kindness, using God’s Word as our guide, we show that our love for that person is far greater than our desire to “be right”. If we practice patience and joy when someone is frustrating us, we show that we have eternal perspective.

Now let’s think about this practically for a moment. What would these reactions show to a world overflowing with self-absorbed, easily-offended people? It would be a welcome and wonderful change for store and hotel clerks, for co-workers, and for churches, too. It may even give us an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. At the very least, it will be evidence of the light of Christ that is within us.

We are never going to change anybody else. But we can change ourselves. We can choose to overlook a slight offense. We can show love and grace when confrontation is necessary. And we can choose to challenge people on the stuff that really matters–the things that offend our loving, heavenly Father. And, in doing these things, we are shining witnesses for Jesus Christ and also help to make the world a gentler, kinder place.

It begins with us.

 

 

So What Now?

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You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Christians across America as we watched the election results on Tuesday night. What we thought was impossible actually became possible as we watched states start to turn red. I am still shaking my head that–

A. Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States.

and

B. That I actually voted for and am glad that Donald Trump is President.

I feel like I have fallen into some alternate universe or something. What a crazy year. And what an upset. And here we are– with a guy who has few morals– and even less experience– about to run this country.

While I consider this a huge victory and answer to prayer, it certainly isn’t because of who became President but strictly because of who didn’t become President. Hopefully, we will now witness a halt or at least a slowing down of the aggressive liberal and socialistic agenda that has been the passion of our current President.

Before this election, many Christian pastors and bloggers reminded us that our hope is in the Lord. We felt hopeless, we felt powerless. We Christians needed to be reminded of where we should find our hope.

But with what happened this week, we may be tempted to start hoping again in the wrong things. Let us be careful we do not place our hope in a man. On Tuesday night we watched  as reporters almost stuttered in their shock and amazement over what was taking place on that map. Even staunch Republican insiders saw no hope for a win. But, while this is most certainly a wonderful surprise, we need to continue to pray! God is still our only hope. He is still the one who raises up and removes kings. Only He controls the nations. We must be careful not to place our trust in a man or in a government.

Trump is historically liberal in where he stands morally. While he may not be as aggressive in pushing immorality, it is unlikely that he will make sweeping changes to the morality of this nation. This was not a victory for Christian principles in this country.

In my opinion, this wasn’t really a win for Christians as much as it was a win for those who desire a return to sanity. Progressives are deeply mourning what they believe to be a move backwards for this nation. One has to wonder how well they know the histories of civilizations. When a country starts to break down in a way ours has been, complete destruction is never far behind. And so I believe we are simply backing away from the edge of the cliff for a few years. And, in so doing, may we continue to pray. Not only for the direction of this country but also that there would be opportunities to reach the lost. This respite will hopefully give us four years free of the persecution that we saw looming ahead of us. It may give us four more years of free speech. May we redeem this time and use it to proclaim the Gospel!

 

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

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People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!