What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

Have you ever wondered why some families are so close and some seem so distant? Why some seem so full of love and some are so full of anger? And why some seem so happy and some seem so sad?

All families are imperfect. In fact, all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. The degrees differ, but they all are!

So what makes for a healthy family? One that, even through life’s hard struggles, remains generally close, loving, and happy?

We can find the answer to this question from the Word of God, where we see principles we can practice for healthy relationships and close families. I want to look at two passages and pull a few principles from them that we can practice in order to have healthy families–

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

1. They are loving and kind. It is no secret that the Bible teaches us to be loving and kind. Many of us manage this outside of our homes but when we get home we throw off our good behavior and become who we really are inside–selfish and rude individuals who want our own way. But having a healthy family requires lots of love and kindness. And it starts with you and with me. We can’t expect our kids to be kind if we can’t manage it ourselves.

2 They are joyful. This word can haunt those of us who really struggle with being melancholy or with a flaring temper. But families overshadowed by sadness and anger make for kids who just want to leave and never come back. We cannot let the trials and struggles of life steal all of our joy. We will all have bad days–even bad months– but healthy families still find joy. And while laughter isn’t required, it is certainly good medicine for any family (Proverbs 17:22). Families that laugh together are happier. You have heard it said that families that “play together, stay together.” How important it is that we intentionally spend time together with our families, enjoying one another and practicing joy. We must ask ourselves: Do we bring joy to our family?

3. They are faithful. “Faithful” means loyal; reliable; steady in allegiance and affection; trusted; true to one’s word. As we read these adjectives, we can see how this would be invaluable to the health of a family. When we can’t trust each other, walls go up quickly. Let’s consider if we are true to our word? If we can be trusted to do what we said we are going to do? Whether it is making a promise to our spouse and then not doing it or threatening to discipline our kids and yet never following through, we must understand that this principle has a lot more facets than we would first think.

4. They are self-controlled. Ohhhhh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? This means that we practice self-control not only on the obvious things (such as our tempers) but also on the not-so-obvious–like our finances, our eating habits, and how we spend our time. Healthy families are balanced in how much they spend. They aren’t encumbered by debts they can’t pay and their houses aren’t full of things they can’t afford. Healthy families don’t drink soda and eat fried foods at every meal (or they will be unhealthy in more ways than one!).  And healthy families don’t spend all of their time in front of the TV or allow their kids to play video games or be on their phones without boundaries. Healthy families are self-controlled. Do we understand how important it is to set up boundaries for ourselves and for our kids that lead us to practice self-control?

5. They are patient and not easily angered. Oh, dear. Another really tough one. At least for me. But there it is in I Corinthians 13 (and many other places in scripture, as well!) Healthy families do not have members that are easily angered but instead practice patience with each other. Have you noticed how those members of the family that don’t practice this bring such strife to the family? This one can really add dissension to the family quickly–particularly if the other members of the family don’t practice principle #9!

6. They are gentle. What does gentle mean exactly? The dictionary tells us this–moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe. Does this describe you? This is easier for some of us than for others, isn’t it? Sometimes I will say something and my family will tell me I sounded harsh–and I didn’t even realize it! I just told my daughter the other day that I just can’t seem to gain victory over the tone of my voice. It can be rather discouraging for me–but I keep working at it! I don’t want to sound harsh or severe. When we do this, we tempt our family members to be defensive and angry. Think about the last time you were unhappy about something and then ask yourself: Did you express your concerns gently?

7. They rejoice with one another instead of envying each other. Oh, another really big one. How much grief and strife come from brothers and sisters envying one another? We only need to look at Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37) to see what comes of envy in a family. And this story has played itself out over and over and over again throughout the centuries. (Note to parents: Favoritism has no place in a healthy family! We parents have to take this so seriously, lest we destroy our families). When we are jealous instead of happy for family members that get a break or who succeed, this leads quickly to an unhealthy, unhappy family. Do you envy a sibling when they get something you wanted or are you able to rejoice with them? And another important question: Do you show favoritism with your own kids? (How would they answer that question?)

8. They value the truth. Families that are close communicate truth. There are few secrets between mom and dad (if any!). Communication is clear and truthful–not sarcastic and “beaten around the bush”. Healthy families talk about the important things and the big questions in life. Christian families use these discussions to grow their kids’ knowledge of the Word of God and the ultimate truth that is found there. Do you love truth? Do you share truth with your family?

9. They practice repentance and forgiveness. This one is talked about a lot and cannot be overestimated. Families that don’t keep forgiving, soon have walls so high, no one can break through. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness is a destructive root that weaves its tentacles through almost all parts of life, but particularly through a family’s well-being. Of course, forgiveness is much easier to give when the party who has offended practices true repentance over their sin. Oh, how important it is that we give genuine apologies that do not have any “buts” after them. You know what I mean–the ones that go something like this–“I shouldn’t have done that but you…” Those aren’t apologies, they are excuses. Do you give genuine apologies? Do you practice forgiveness “seventy times seven” in your own family?

10. They keep loving unconditionally–lots of grace and no grudges. All of these can be wrapped up with this final principle. Healthy families offer lots of grace to each other. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They keep on loving each other despite all of the imperfections and failures and sins. They don’t hold grudges when one member doesn’t live up to the expectations of another. Healthy families overlook small offenses. Do you give lots of grace? Or is your love conditional on your family members meeting your expectations?

And there you have it! Ten principles for a healthier and happier family. Of course, we live in a fallen world, so none of us can practice these perfectly. As I wrote, I was challenged on several of these that need much improvement in my own life.

I know that this list looks impossible to some of you. Some of you have a spouse or grown kids who aren’t practicing many –if any– of these. They may be selfish or angry or distant and they have no interest in changing or in working at building a healthier family. What to do?

I just want to encourage you to build a healthier family as best you can by incorporating these things into your own life. The tone of your family will change as you put these into practice. It won’t be easy and it won’t–most likely–be miraculous. But a few years from now you will look back and see how your obedience to the Word of God and the principles found there has changed your family. Just start with one principle today. Look at this list and determine which one of these you most need to work on.

While this list of ten principles is certainly not exhaustive, I do hope that I have encouraged you today to build a healthier and happier family! This is a never-ending endeavor and we can never be satisfied with status quo when it comes to our families, for we are investing for eternity!

 

{Please note: I am taking a break from Learn to Discern this week; more posts are coming.}

What Would You Do?

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Imagine you are at dinner with friends one evening. You have traveled to the city to see them and are enjoying a wonderful time together. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye you spot the husband of a dear friend of yours from back home sitting at a table nearby. You think you must be seeing things, so you turn away. But, wait, no, that must be him. You nudge your husband and ask him to look.

You both see him sitting there with another woman and they are holding hands across the table. There is obviously something going on that is more than friendship.

What would you do?

Seriously– what would you do?

Do you tell your friend? Or do you ignore it?

Most of us, if we are the woman’s true friend, will let her know that her husband is cheating on her. That is what true friends do. This is what true love does–it tells the truth, no matter how messy or hard–knowing that delaying it only makes it worse.

But there are some of us who wouldn’t do anything. Because it is just too hard and it makes us uncomfortable. And so the next time we see her we just act like everything is okay and figure she will figure it out sooner or later.

Which friend would you rather have? The one who cares enough about you to tell you the truth or the one who ignores what she saw and pretends like everything is okay and lets you live in ignorance?

Personally, I would want to know. Ignorance is bliss but only for a short time. Waiting only compounds the problem. But some of you would rather not know. You’d rather just live in your own world for as long as you can.

The truth can be hard. It demands action. And it can hurt. But, in the end, it is always better to know.

Some of us would hear our friend speak the truth and we would listen openly. Others of us would grow angry and defensive and it would destroy the friendship.

We have been conditioned to believe that anything negative is bad, but sometimes we need to hear the negative. True love turns us into not only a loving speaker of truth, but a willing listener, as well.

This same thing is true for Christian brothers and sisters. True love demands telling the truth and true love turns a defensive, unwilling heart into a listening heart.

I am amazed at how few Christians are willing to do either of these things– speak the truth or listen to the truth.

People are willing to speak up about a lot of things–politics, sports, their favorite passion or hobby–but they are not willing to defend the Word of God. They aren’t willing to say “According to God’s Word…” This is so evident on Facebook, where Christians will stand for so many things–except for God’s Word. They have been brainwashed into believing that this is the ultimate offense.

And, on the flip side of this, few Christians are willing to listen to someone who is pointing people back to the Word of God in the midst of all the heresy and apostasy taking place today.  They believe that anything negative is, by its very nature, unloving.

The unwillingness to do these things has literally transformed the church into an ineffective, unbiblical model that offers a watered-down false gospel. The unwillingness to do this has transformed individuals who claim the name of Christ into self-seeking, self-absorbed people who are unconcerned with scripture and doctrine. The unwillingness to do this has created a new generation that believes in a social gospel–that only serving matters.

I watched a video recently (if you have time, please watch this–it is incredibly insightful into what is going on in the modern day church) and I was distressed to see clips of two celebrity “pastors” implying that one can’t love and tell the truth at the same time.

The implication was that truth and discernment are mutually exclusive from love and service.

Is this true?

Of course not!

But you know what? Most of the church has bought into this. They believe that telling the truth is unloving–because of men like these who don’t care about doctrine and have brainwashed their congregations and then the Christian public at large into believing this.

If you are honest with yourself, you may even believe this–at least partly.

I don’t really think writing about this is going to make even a bit of difference. The die has been cast, the mold is set. It is not changing. The only thing I hope to do with this post is to encourage you–my reader–to recognize that truth and love are not mutually exclusive, but, in fact, are both necessary and work together beautifully in the true Christian’s life.

And I hope to encourage you to speak and listen to the truth according to God’s Word. In this upside down world, where celebrity pastors with ungodly church models rule the day, we can get a little tossed around and end up with the wrong beliefs, if we aren’t careful. Let’s remember that only in God’s Word can we find truth and that we are called to boldly proclaim it. And that only by listening to the truth with a submissive and obedient heart will we spiritually grow and change.

 

Check out these verses–

Proverbs 18:13; Proverbs 19:20; Luke 8:21; John 8:47; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Galatians 4:16; Ephesians 4:15; I Thessalonians 2:13

 

Learn to Discern: Living in the Light

 Learn to Discern (with blog name)

The other day I heard a popular Christian contemporary song. As I really paid attention to the familiar words for the first time, it dawned on me that one of the lines was clearly unbiblical. When I pointed it out to the friend who sat beside me, she laughed and remarked that I find something wrong with everything.

Hmmm…

Is that true?

Is that what I have become? Am I really someone who is looking for things to be heretical or false? Always looking for the worst? Honestly, I had to do a little soul-searching. This is certainly not what I want people to think about me. And yet…

When we learn to discern, we end up being caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. When we start understanding just how far away the culture and the mainstream church are moving away from biblical truth, the agenda behind it, and with what lightening speed it’s happening, it becomes so easy to see the heresies, the compromises, and the ungodly alliances. It becomes like second nature to spot it. This naturally leads to some questions and problems.

Yesterday we had a wonderful day of warm sunshine after several gloomy, damp days. The sunshine made the whole world look so much brighter. The grass looked greener and the birds sang louder. Sunshine changes everything. The thing is, when we start understanding what is going on in the world and particularly within the church, it can cast a very dark shadow on our whole lives. Just like the cloudy day dims our physical world, so, too, can discernment dim our spirit–if we allow it to.

So today, as we learn to discern, I want to deal with this question:

Since we are now living in marvelous light (I Peter 2:9), how do we keep what we are learning from casting a dark shadow on our friendships, our families, our churches, and on our own personal world?

Stated another way: How can we make sure that the light in us isn’t engulfed by the negativity of what is going on around us? It can affect so much if not handled correctly. Practically speaking, it can cause us to be depressed (if we don’t take our thoughts captive); it can cause rifts between friends and family (if we never stop talking about it); and it can develop a habit in us to start being critical about everything (even things that aren’t biblical).

I think we can all agree that no one wants to be around a depressed, critical person who constantly talks about how the world is ending. So how can we be effective discerners, deepening our understanding of what’s going on in the world, while keeping our eyes and hearts focused on the Lord? There is a balance that needs to be found and God’s Word can help us to find it. Let’s look at eight specific things we learn there.

1. Always seek Christ first.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Philippians 3:8 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.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in learning what is going on with the world’s system or Satan’s agenda that we neglect our Bible Study. In fact, we may even fool ourselves into thinking that since we are studying about the church, this will suffice as our Bible Study. My dear readers, this should never be! It is far better to be in the Word and know absolutely nothing about what’s going on in the world. For it is impossible to be godly and wise believers without the Word. It is impossible to even discern without the Word. We must seek God first. All studies–even studies of discernment–must come after this priority.

2. Remember that your citizenship is in heaven.

Philippians 3:23-24 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

It is hard to become depressed or overly distressed about something that doesn’t really affect your future one way or another. Imagine you are a temporary visitor to a foreign country that is experiencing some political upheaval. While you would naturally be somewhat interested in what’s going on (especially as it may affect you getting home), you wouldn’t grow too excited, because you know that you are leaving that country soon for your safe and secure home. And so, we, too, must remember that we are just temporarily passing through this world. We don’t belong here. When we can remember this, it helps us to find perspective and helps to keep the shadows from descending.

3. Remember that very few Christians care about discernment like you do.

I Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;

Sometimes we can get so caught up in what we are learning that it is all we think about. And then it may become all we talk about. But we must remember that most Christians simply do not care. They want to talk about other things. And while we must faithfully and gently warn and proclaim the truth as God gives us opportunities, we should never become so passionate about what we are learning that it becomes the only thing we talk about. May we always be kind and courteous and sensitive to the interest (or disinterest) of others as we learn to discern.

4. Our opinions must be based on scripture alone.

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

We must be so careful to make sure anything we say is based on God’s Word alone. Unless it is in God’s Word, it is not worth arguing over. We must pick our battles. Thankfully, by searching God’s Word daily to know Him, to understand truth, and to become better discerners, we naturally become less critical of things that have nothing to do with biblical truth because we are learning there to encourage, edify, and love one another, as well.

5. God is sovereign. He’s got this.

Job 38:4 a Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? (if you have time, read the whole chapter)

God is sovereign. The earth is not some green and blue ball hovering out in the universe without rhyme or reason. We are not a bunch of cells haphazardly thrown together. Everything and everyone has a part in God’s eternal plan. We can become a little panicky about the world and church’s situation when we forget that God is sovereign over all that’s going on.

6. Stop looking back.

Philippians 3:13-14 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Oh, how discontent and sorrowful we can become if we keep remembering what used to be. And isn’t this such a temptation? Especially for those of us who can remember better days. And, yet, God has us right where we are for such a time as this. Referring back to point #5, His will and ways are utterly and absolutely sovereign. His plan included you being right here right now. The past is past but we can make a difference for Him right now and in whatever time remains for us on this planet. So let’s stop turning around and start looking forward!

7. God Wins!

Revelation 19:6-8 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

As we see Satan wreaking havoc everyone around us, may we never forget that he is going to lose. We know from reading Revelation that no matter how much Satan schemes and confuses and deceives, he is going to lose. Isn’t that so encouraging? Our God reigns!

8. God is faithful.

Lamentations 4:22-24 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”

One of the things that can be a little scary as we learn to discern is the awareness of what it could possibly mean for our own well-being, and– of even more concern for most of us–the well-being of our children, grand-children, and even great-grandchildren. We can see dark, menacing storms on the horizon and can grow fearful. And yet, God will not fail us. Aren’t you so thankful for testimonies of faithful Christians who have endured through the worst of times? Or how about the accounts of martyrs who died singing? God is faithful to the end. He will not take us where He will not strengthen us to go. We are His. No one can snatch us out of His hand and no one can touch us without His permission. This is such a comforting thought as we learn just how evil this world is. As we learn to discern, may we remember that, while the world’s horizon darkens, we can still be full of marvelous light because we know the King of Kings personally and He has promised to take care of us (I Peter 5:7).

 

You know, “discerners” have a pretty bad reputation, don’t they? In fact, you just mention the word “discernment” these days and Christians start rolling their eyes. While some of this is born out of the human tendency to love the world and the things of the world, I believe it is also because those that discern can tend to be the things I mentioned above–negative, harsh and thoughtless in their dealings with people, focused on the wrong thing, and critical about things that aren’t even in the Bible.

May we not allow this in our own lives! May we not let what we are learning lead us to have a dark and mournful spirit. May we not be so passionate about discernment that we stop studying the scriptures. And may we be patient with believers who can’t see, praying for them and offering kind and truthful answers when they ask questions. Let’s be interested in all of life and not be consumed by an unhealthy desire to unearth all of the darkness in the world.

We Christians are to be the ones that are faithfully sharing our light for we have the only hope available to mankind in this dark, dark world. Let’s not get distracted. The blackness around us should make us shine brighter, not turn us into dim, flickering flames struggling to stay alight.

 

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Learn to Discern: Acknowledging the War

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

Have you ever heard someone deny that the holocaust occurred? It seems almost preposterous, but I have heard that theory go around more than once. But denying that it happened doesn’t change the truth, does it?

As we have been learning to discern, we have learned what true, biblical Christianity is; we have learned how biblical Christianity is being corrupted; we have learned the importance of using scripture to give us a biblical paradigm; and we have learned that we must never follow man over the Word of God.

Today we are going to focus on the importance of acknowledging that there is a spiritual war going on. Just like the holocaust existed whether someone chooses to believe it or chooses not to believe it, so, too, does a spiritual war. Denying or ignoring it doesn’t change the fact that there is one.

Years ago, we Christians would sing songs like Onward, Christian Soldiers

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
going on before!
Christ, the royal Master,
leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
see his banner go!

and Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high his royal banner,
It must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory
His army shall he lead,
Till every foe is vanquished,
And Christ is Lord indeed.

But as the church started to change, we stopped singing songs like these. There was no longer a desire to focus on anything negative or unhappy. Instead of being focused on all truth found in scripture, it became a religion that was focused on personal purpose and happiness. All negativity was pushed to the side, while the church changed its focus to bringing happiness and goodness to the world.

Now don’t get me wrong–there is nothing wrong with doing good things, particularly if we are also sharing the unadulterated Gospel or encouraging a fellow believer! But when we become focused only on this, we are ignoring much of of the Bible. Hell (Mark 9:43; Matthew 25:41), prophecy (all of Revelation; Matthew 24), self-denial (Matthew 16:24; Romans 12:1), separating from the world (Romans 12:2, James 1:27)–all of these have been, by and large, ignored. And so, too, has the reality that there is a spiritual war that we are fighting every day of our lives.

Against the world (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Against ourselves (Galatians 5:17).

And against Satan and his minions (Ephesians 6:10-20).

What does this have to do with discernment, you may ask? The answer to this is simple:

If we don’t recognize that there is a war going on, we will not see the need to discern.

And it is easy to ignore this spiritual war. Oh, so easy.

First, as I have already mentioned–most of us never hear anything about it. Out of sight, out of mind.

Second, we are too busy and distracted to be concerned. We fill our schedules with the mundane and declare ourselves too busy to be in the Word, which is the only place to get a full understanding of the war we are in. Yes, some of you are most definitely overwhelmed in an incredibly busy time of life. I’ve been there! But all of us have little pockets of time we find for what is important. Is scripture on your short list of priorities?

And, third, we just don’t want to think about it. Life is full of enough unpleasantries–things like stress at work, broken relationships, our own sinful habits–who needs to think about an over-arching spiritual war on top of all of these things? We want to be entertained. We want to think on happy things. We want to be comforted and coddled. We certainly don’t want to spend time thinking about a war we are fighting.

But, whether we think about it or not, it is there. In the spiritual realm. Every single minute of every single day.

Being aware of this war changes how we view almost everything, quite honestly.

If we recognize that the latest and greatest book may be a tool being used by Satan to harden our conscience or to change how we view God, we will do our research before just picking it up to read it.

If we know that the latest children’s movie may well be full of ungodly philosophies, we will keep our eyes open and discuss these things with our kids, using the scriptures (if we even allow them to watch it at all).

If we understand that Satan hates the true church and is doing everything in his power to infiltrate it in his goal to bring about a one-world religion, we will be much more apt to notice the red flags of human wisdom and mysticism that warn of its coming.

When we understand there is a deadly, spiritual war going on, all things will be carefully examined before we allow ourselves or those we love to just blindly ingest or indulge in them.

Many people don’t like those who discern. They think it is an unnecessary evil. But if we recognize the war, how can we help but to discern??

We don’t discern because we are unpleasant and unhappy people. It isn’t that we hate entertainment in and of itself. It isn’t that we desire to be negative. And it certainly isn’t that we hate the church and its dear people.

We discern because we understand there is a war going on. A deadly war that is taking many casualties. This war is keeping many from hearing the true Gospel and it is de-sensitizing true believers, rendering them completely ineffective for the cause of Christ.

And we are fighting in this war with the only weapon we have–the holy and perfect Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Dear readers, please be aware of this war. For it is only with this awareness, that we can be effective and godly discerners.

Please Note: If you are truly interested in knowing more about this war and who your enemy, Satan, really is, I highly, highly recommend this series on YouTube. This is, by far, the best resource I have ever found to explain how Satan has worked throughout history. It is made up of 77 short videos (4-7 minutes long). Don’t miss it!

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

The Best Christian You’ve Never Heard Of

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Yesterday, I watched this very amazing video. It was a man singing a very popular song, using 21 different character voices that he plays in Disney movies. As he would change singing voices, a little picture of the character would pop up to match the voice. It was so interesting and this guy is unbelievably talented!

And yet, while many of us are more than a little familiar with many of the movies he takes part in (especially if we have kids), most of us have never heard of this guy. We wouldn’t know him if he walked by us in the street. We would not even recognize his name.

It reminded me of something I heard in a question and answer session I just listened to online the other day. The speaker was Paul Washer and he was speaking to students of Master’s Seminary who hope to become missionaries someday. Unbeknownst to me, Paul Washer was a missionary before he ever became an evangelist. This session was really helpful for any Christian — whether you are going on the mission field or not.

One of the things he talked about was that many of the best preachers and missionaries will never have any fame or glory. We’ve never met them or even heard of them. They preach amazing sermons to six people in the jungle or give selflessly, at risk to themselves, when they see a need. He went on to talk about the brother (or brother-in-law) of Jim Elliot. I was completely unfamiliar with him or his ministry, which was exactly his point. This man had labored–had died to himself and his own desires–every day for sixty years on the mission field and no one had ever heard of him. But everyone has heard of Jim Elliot. His point was well-taken.

There are men and women all over the world in the Lord’s service who sacrifice their wants, their desires, and their health for the sake of the gospel every day. And yet, we don’t even know their names.

And, since few of us reading this are official missionaries, let’s bring this closer to home. This isn’t just about being a missionary on a foreign field. In this fame-fascinated world we live in, we can start believing that we can’t possibly be of true use if we are only ministering to a few. We start thinking that, unless we are pastoring a mega-church or writing to an audience of thousands, our work for the Lord is pointless. Bigger is better. Is this really true or have we been deceived?

God asks us in Romans 12:1-2 to be a living sacrifice for Him. There are no conditions on how many, who, or where in these verses.

Did you know that there are most likely amazing living sacrifices as part of your life in your world right where you are? Parents who bring unloved children into their homes, loving them like Christ commands, without any expectation of reward or thought of glory. Faithful Sunday School teachers who pour their hearts and souls into teaching children and adults the Word of God every week. Parents who follow God’s instructions on raising kids, by both loving and disciplining them faithfully. Nurses and doctors who selflessly give to the sick and the elderly,  taking every opportunity to share the hope that is within them because of Jesus. Men and women who bravely tell the truth to a world that loves lies. Men and women who faithfully minister to the sick and needy of their church families.

I guess the Christian life really isn’t about fame and glory, after all. It is about doing well the mundane work that has been set before us and responding to the needs that we see in the world around us. It’s about doing the right thing, no matter what the world thinks (John 15:19). It’s about knowing God by studying His Holy Word (Psalm 119:105-106). It’s obedience (I John 2: 3-6) and striving to live a holy and pure life (I Peter 1:15). It’s about whole-heartedly loving others (I Peter 1:22). It’s about ministering sacrificially for the sake of others (James 1:27) And It’s about sharing the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). This is sacrificial living.

And, while there are some really wonderful “famous” Christians, I am guessing that many of the most decorated crowns in heaven will be on the heads of those we have never even heard of.

 

 

Learn to Discern: Who Do You Follow?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

The last post in the Learn to Discern series asked the question: What is your paradigm? Today we need to ask: Who do you follow?

Once we have established our paradigm, it would seem that we would naturally know who to follow. But what I have discovered is that the loyalty to fallible men (and women) runs so deeply that eventually many find themselves saying with their mouths that they adhere to the Word of God as the ultimate source of truth while their actions actually negate their assertions.

Here are a few examples–

Take the books Jesus Calling and The Shack (I choose these particularly because they are two of the most dangerous and popular books on the “Christian” market today). These books are promoted by Christians, they are sold in Christian bookstores, and they are touted as wonderful Christian books. But when both of these books are carefully examined, we can see that they go completely against critical biblical doctrines. Not sort of. Not kind of. Completely.

And yet, thousands–maybe millions–of Christians who claim to love and honor the Word of God speak highly of these books! Why is this? It is because they have chosen to value a human author’s word more highly than God’s Word.

Another example would be the response of some people when I discuss or post something regarding the compromise of a beloved author or teacher. Instead of thoughtfully considering and comparing what is being taught by them to what the Bible teaches, they immediately grow angry and defensive of this person that they have come to count on for solid, biblical teaching. And, once again, we see that they have placed a man’s word before the Word of God.

A final example is found in churches across the world. Preachers start to twist and change important doctrines, but they are so beloved by most church members that there is a conscious choice to overlook the compromise rather than to remove themselves from false teaching. Loyalty to a man becomes more important than loyalty to God.

People are naturally loyal. They naturally want to trust teachers, authors, preachers. We even find this same dynamic in our business. Most customers are loyal. They choose to trust us. And this is a good thing for business. And, quite honestly, this type of loyalty can sometimes be good in the church, too. It is never wise to leave a church or to choose to stop listening to a preacher or reading the books of an author because of some minor difference of opinion that is not biblical. And even minor differences on secondary biblical doctrines are bound to occur and can be overlooked. The issue here is when major biblical doctrines are compromised. And I am so disheartened that this appears to be happening with popular “Christian” authors and teachers at such an exponential rate that it is almost impossible to comprehend.

I honestly believe that this dynamic of human loyalty is one of Satan’s sharpest tools in his toolbox of devices used to bring false doctrine into the church. Take, for example, something that happened at the church I attended years ago. The youth group started showing videos by Rob Bell. Even in those early years, Bell was saying some very troublesome things. And, yet, if anyone dared to say anything against these videos, they were immediately labeled. They were hyper-critical. They were negative. They were nit-picking. You know–all the labels that you get when you are discerning. Because there was some type of loyalty to Rob Bell and these engaging, very well-done videos.

And yet, only a few short years later, Rob Bell showed his true colors by denying several essential biblical doctrines. At this point, many quickly stopped following him. But the damage had already been done. Impressionable youth listened to him espouse on spiritual things and probably went on to follow him.

Following the wrong person is downright dangerous. It not only puts our own spiritual health at risk, but also those who trust our judgment. A few years ago, there was a link on this blog to a ministry that I believed to be a solid ministry. I found out a year or two later that, while they were teaching many good things, the ministry itself was steeped in mysticism. I removed the link immediately. This ministry was not trustworthy and, although I had grown to love this ministry, I quickly removed it from my website and chose to no longer listen to the sermons. My greatest fear is that I am responsible for leading any of my readers to that ministry and into mysticism.

Loyalty without biblical examination is never wise. And in both of the examples above–the Bell videos and the link on my blog–this didn’t happen. Loyalty came before proper examination and may very well have led some down the wrong path.

I know there are some of you who are inevitably going to ask: Why not just pick through the good stuff of a teacher or author and discard the heresies? I will tell you three important reasons why I choose not to do this and would encourage you to do the same–

1. I do not believe that I am so spiritually mature that I could discern all of the error if I listened to someone who isn’t teaching truth. I just don’t know the Bible that well. If they are blatantly teaching against scripture in one area, what will keep them from doing so in another? And if they are, do I know the Bible well enough to actually spot it?

2. There are so many good things out there, why waste my time on picking through half-truths? If you have the choice between a fresh corn on the cob where every kernel is sweet and delicious and a piece that has hard, chewy kernels dispersed throughout the entire cob, which one would you pick? Not a very hard choice, when you look at it like that, is it? It’s really common sense.

3. And, finally, we generally become like those we follow. It’s just how it is.

I don’t know how many of my favorite pastors, teachers, and authors are going to compromise going forward. It’s a little unnerving, quite frankly. (In fact, I have started to read men like Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, and  J.C. Ryle because they have already lived and can’t compromise.) But, whoever I choose to follow, my first and foremost loyalty must be to the Lord and His Word and never to a man.

And I encourage you to do the same. Please do this even with what I write here at Growing 4 Life. I have said it before but I will say it again: My opinions mean nothing. Please, please run all you read here through the grid of the Word. I am honored that you read my posts, but I never want you to value my word over the Word of God.

If we are going to discern properly, we need to stop blindly following those who would lead us over the spiritual cliff. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God and examine everything that comes our way for the red flags of compromise. Our spiritual health–and the spiritual health of those we disciple (including our own kids and grandkids!)–is dependent upon this.

 

A Flimsy Gospel

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I stared at my closet. I needed a shirt to go with a cardigan I had already picked out. As I searched, I finally found the perfect shirt. I pulled it out and slipped it over my head and then donned my sweater. I looked in the mirror. The two pieces looked pretty good together. I was just about to walk away from the mirror when my eye caught a little something. I turned my eyes away from the reflection and looked down at the actual shirt. No! Not again!

A couple of holes.

Right in the middle of the perfect shirt.

I took it off and started my search all over again.

As I searched, I thought about that shirt. It was made of that real thin material that is in style right now. It’s the kind of fabric that tends to get those tiny, inexplicable holes in after some wear. But I had only worn this shirt once. During that one time, I had not done anything arduous or taxing. There should not have been holes in that shirt.

This shirt reminds of a false gospel that is being pandered today. The one that says just follow Jesus and everything will be alright. The one that assures us that He will fulfill our dreams, keep us from getting sick, supply us with material wealth, and fill our lives with sunshine and happiness. In fact, we are told that He will be like our own personal genie, making all our wishes come true.

But this flimsy gospel just doesn’t hold up at all when the storms come. It quickly weakens beneath even the mildest of storms because one of its primary teachings is that we should never experience anything negative. And so when hard times come (and they always do!)–when jobs are lost, bankruptcy looms, divorce is imminent, a loved one dies, or dreams die a slow painful death– those who have followed this flimsy gospel become disillusioned and broken.

And, sadly, many of those who are disillusioned end up blaming themselves because they believe the chicanery that places the blame on them for all that is wrong in their lives. They are told that their faith isn’t strong enough. Or they didn’t pray the right way. Or they aren’t filled with enough of the Holy Spirit.

This is an empty, rickety gospel that is devoid of sound doctrine and biblical faith.

And, eventually, many will find a hole. A small one at first, but it grows larger and larger as the false, flimsy gospel becomes more glaringly irreconcilable with life experiences.

I sincerely hope that if you have been tempted to follow this flimsy gospel (otherwise known as the prosperity gospel) you will turn away from it today! And turn your heart instead to the Word of God, in its entirety and in all its fullness. Find a good solid church and start listening to godly men exposit the Word. If you don’t know where to start, visit Grace to You or Answers in Genesis.

A flimsy gospel is like my shirt. Both will eventually become useless bits of nothing in the hands of those who hold them.

 

Learn to Discern: What Is Your Paradigm?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

Paradigm is defined as a framework from which a person judges all of life around them. This seems like an appropriate base to lay before we biblically examine the specific worldviews, philosophies, and theologies that are being promoted within and without the church.

Every single one of us has a paradigm. We all have a belief system through which we judge all of life. We judge speakers, authors, and entertainers. We judge events, churches, and workplaces. We judge family, friends, and co-workers all through this framework. We may not like the word “judge” but we all do it.

Think with me for a moment about the far left who are touting tolerance and love. Do they judge? They most certainly do! From their paradigm, they view Bible believers as unintellectual, ridiculous, and even “nut jobs”. This is a judgment.

As believers, we should naturally have a very different paradigm than those who are not believers. Man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom are in opposition to one another. I Corinthians 2:13-16 makes this very clear–

These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy[d] Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?”[e] But we have the mind of Christ.

As does I Corinthians 3:18-20—

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; [a] 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.

And this passage in James 3:13-17—

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

Worldly wisdom and biblical wisdom, being in such contrast to one another, should never and, in fact, can never be joined to one another. They are intrinsically incompatible.

This makes for a very difficult problem for those who would call themselves Christian but desire to follow after the world’s wisdom, would it not?

(An important thing to insert here: I am not referring to the God-given knowledge that leads to inventions, medical breakthroughs, and the like. When I refer to “man’s wisdom”, I am referring to man’s philosophies and values; his answers to life’s biggest questions.)

If you think back to the post Pastor Dean wrote last week, you will remember that he talked about six ways the world has infiltrated the church. Each one of these is based on the world’s wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. This is because men declare themselves to be wiser than the Word of God.

But if we are serious and true believers, it is critical that we recognize that our only source for absolute truth is in God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures.

There are, in fact, only two ways to interpret the world–

There is the biblical paradigm, where one’s framework for life is drawn from the pages of scripture and everything is viewed and processed through this grid of God’s Word.

And there is the worldly paradigm, where one’s framework for life is based on human wisdom, and the wisdom of men and women who are designated scientists, philosophers, and spiritual leaders are considered to be of more value than the Word of God.

As I am certain you can imagine, your paradigm changes everything.

One of the most obvious places this is taking place is in the battle for the beginning. On one hand, you have a scientist who starts with the Bible’s historical account of creation. From this viewpoint, the past is then interpreted. He will provide solid and clear answers based on the Word of God for some of the past’s toughest questions and quandaries. On the other hand, you have a scientist who holds man’s word to be of higher value than God’s Word. He then bases his assumptions of the earth’s beginnings on the theories of men. From these assumptions are born calculations and models and principles that end up being passed on as facts (they aren’t facts, they are assumptions) by teachers, science journals, and museums. Can you see how each one’s paradigm leads to two completely different and opposing viewpoints of the world’s beginning? This is just one example of how our paradigm leads to completely different conclusions about the world around us.

Now why is this important regarding discernment?

Because if you do not have the proper paradigm, you will not be able to discern biblically. As believers, we know that the Word of God is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and that the faith has been delivered to us once for all (Jude 3). We also know that it is by the scriptures that we learn about Christ (Romans 16:26) and that God’s Word is perfect (Psalm 19:7) and God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

There is so much more that could be said about the Word of God. For it is only through the Word that we can know God, that we can understand salvation, and that we can learn proper doctrine. Not only is this our only resource, it is utterly sufficient to do all of this. We do not need any other resource or experience outside of the Word in order to know God.

But a new paradigm has crept into the church. It actually isn’t all that new but is, instead, the same old humanistic paradigm of old. In this framework the authority and inerrancy of scripture is being removed and oh-so-subtly being replaced with man’s wisdom. Subjective experiences and feelings are becoming the standard for truth, while biblical doctrine is downplayed or even eliminated altogether. This paradigm relies on interpreting the scriptures allegorically, out-of-context, and/or non-literally–if it even uses scripture at all. It holds man’s word to be of higher value than God’s Word. And it leads to a man-centered religion rather than a God-centered religion.

So before we go on in this series, it is critical for us to have a biblical paradigm. Do you believe that the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant, and inspired Word of God? Do you believe that all of life must be evaluated through the grid of the Bible? If you do, then we are ready to learn about discernment together.

If you don’t believe this about the Bible or you just aren’t sure, then I’d like to share these resources with you that may be of help—

Articles/Posts

Is the Bible True? (Answers in Genesis)

Seven Compelling Evidences to Confirm that the Bible is True (Answers in Genesis)

Is the Bible Reliable? (Grace to You)

Is the Bible Truly God’s Word? (Got Questions.org)

Sermons

Our Foundation (Dean Good)

The Bible is God’s Word (John MacArthur)

Is the Bible Just Another Book? (Steve Lawson)

Books

Why Believe the Bible (John MacArthur)

Reasons We Believe (Nathan Busenitz)

How Do We Know the Bible is True, Volumes 1 & 2 (Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge)

The Inerrant Word (John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul)

 

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

Who Has Your Loyalty?

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I have no idea when my husband decided that he is a GM guy. That is short for General Motors for any of you who are not familiar with car abbreviations. But somewhere along the way he decided that trucks made by General Motors were his favorite and, since then, almost every truck our company has owned over the past thirty years has been a GMC or Chevy. And believe me when I tell you that we have had a lot of trucks come and go over the years. I can remember one Ford that had a short-lived stay here and a couple of Dodges.

Some men are Ford guys or perhaps they are staunch Honda or Toyota fans. Some guys don’t really care. As long as they have a car, they are happy. But for those that care, they generally really care.

The other day I saw a beefed-up Ford diesel truck with an older guy behind the wheel. As I watched him take a right turn from across the intersection, I thought, “That guy really loves his truck.” Lots of men love their trucks. And they are extremely loyal to their brand of truck. When they need a new truck they will buy the same brand of truck again.

Men will often do the same thing with sports teams. It doesn’t matter how awful the season was or who was drafted, they will continue rooting for the same team. They are diehard fans.

This is called loyalty. Or allegiance.

And it made me wonder. Are we Christians as loyal to the Word of God as a man is loyal to his truck brand or his favorite sports team? I know this sounds shallow and ridiculous. But, seriously. A man will passionately talk about these things, praising them, discussing them, and spending many precious hours dedicated to them.

Do we show our loyalty to the Word of God in the same way?

Oh, we read it. We take it to church. And we say that we live by it. But how loyal are we, really?

I ask this because–

Over the recent years, I have noticed a disturbing trend. Something clearly unbiblical will come on the scene. Perhaps it is a book that is mostly biblical but contains flagrant and critical discrepancies when compared to the Word of God. At this, many people will flee their loyalty to the Word and, instead, be loyal to this human author. Or perhaps it is in the area of entertainment, where, suddenly we become loyal to our own selfish desires rather than the Word. We hear people say things like this–

“This book helped me. I know the author isn’t biblical in all areas, but it was really a blessing to me.”

or

“Wasn’t that post great? Sure, I know the author isn’t biblical in all areas and they aren’t solid, but I can just pull the good from the bad. Not a big deal.”

or

“I can go to see that movie or watch that TV show. Sure, it goes against everything God hates, but it’s just entertainment, so it doesn’t matter.”

These statements say that I am more loyal to myself or another human being than I am to the Word of God. That my allegiance is greater to my own desires and pleasures than it is to God.

My guess is that a few of you are probably growing a little irritated by now. You claim that you can read any author and just pull the good from their works. Or you can watch or listen to sinful stuff and not be affected. And while I could debate with you over your conclusions, I have one intrinsic question:

Why do you want to?

Seriously, are we really so prideful to think that we won’t be subtly swayed in an unbiblical direction by an author who gives us 95% truth but fills their book with 5% lies?

Do we love the world so much more than we love God and His Word that we would blatantly spend hours listening to and watching entertainment that is filled with the things the Bible clearly states God hates?

I confess I have been so confused over this for a very long time. People who claim to love God but fill their hearts and minds with materials and resources and entertainment that attack, ridicule, malign, and falsely define Him.

It is far more incongruous than a GM guy buying a Ford. And, believe me, even that would make me scratch my head.

When we decide that we are more loyal to authors, scientists, preachers, or entertainment than we are to the Word, we open ourselves up to being easily swayed by false teachers and worldly philosophies. While none of us will ever perfectly eliminate these things from our lives, it is important that our allegiance always be, first and foremost, to God and His Word. For the Bible is our foundation. And when we start chipping away at it, which is what we see going on in an unbelievable scale in both the world and the church, the Christian faith will become null and void.

May we–you and me–hold fast to the Word of God, no matter what goes on around us. Study it. Learn it. Memorize it. So that we may withstand the wiles of the devil. May our loyalty be always to the Word.

How firm a foundation you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?