Interconnected Strands

strands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Should I Read the Bible in 2018?

BibleStudy

As a believer, we know that we should read the Bible. We feel guilty when we don’t read the Bible. And we vaguely know that there are some benefits to reading it. And so we often start out strong in the new year in our Bible reading. This will be the year, we say with hesitant confidence. It is my hope that this post will encourage you to make sure this really will be the year that you stick with it. That you make Bible reading/study as much a part of your day as eating.

Why? Well, I am glad you asked!

So why should we read the Bible in 2018? Or anytime, for that matter? Here are six reasons (seven if you count the most important one at the end of this post!)–

1. The Bible is God’s Word divinely given to us. Experiences and feelings can lie to us. They are utterly unreliable. But the Bible–God’s inerrant, inspired Word never lies.We can count on it being the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know that what the Word teaches us about God is true. And we have no doubt when we read the Word that it is God speaking to us. Since we know that Satan comes as an angel of light, counterfeiting God whenever he can (2 Corinthians 11:14), there is really no way to know who is really speaking any “message from God” that is claimed outside of scripture. Only the Bible is trustworthy.

2. The Word will change us and make us more like Christ. Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to talk with my brother (Pastor Dean) at length about the new paradigm of Christians discarding scripture and replacing it with personal experience. There is a tendency to always believe any supernatural experience is from God (when in all actuality there is no way to truly know that it is from God) and so these become much more exciting than the hard work of growing as a believer. Experiences are easier and make us feel better. There is no conviction or rebuke in an experience, is there? But if we genuinely want to become more like Christ and mature as a believer, we must be reading and studying our Bibles. There is just no other way. No experience is going to grow us in the fruits of the Spirit. While our personal experiences can encourage us to change, it is the Bible that leads us into true, selfless, and lasting change that honors God and makes us useful for His Kingdom.

3. Immersing ourselves in God’s Word helps us to discern and to do so with a proper attitude. Discernment is important, whether it be our entertainment, the signs of the times, or regarding what is going on inside of our church. We will be able to discern so much better by being in the Word and understanding God’s heart about these matters. But studying scripture will also keep our attitude in check. We will be kind and loving with people who don’t have the same convictions. We will show humility and gentleness. We are called to discern, but so many claim to have the gift of discernment and yet are full of pride and without love. Staying in scripture will ensure that we discern well and that we do it with the right heart.

4. Being in the Word improves our relationships by revealing our selfishness. Sometimes we are discouraged because we are struggling in our relationships. Our natural tendency is to blame others. But when we start reading the Bible, we begin to understand that so many of the problems begin with us. Scripture is like a mirror that magnifies our selfish hearts. And when we can see just how selfish we are, we can work with the Lord to start eliminating it. This will naturally improve all of our relationships. It can’t help but improve them. Selfishness destroys relationships and sacrificial love and self-denial builds them.

5. Studying the Bible helps to give us the answers we need for our kids, for those we are witnessing to, and for other believers who have questions. Oftentimes, fear will keep us from having the hard conversations. We are afraid we won’t have the answers and will look foolish in front of our kids, co-workers, or others. And so we don’t witness and we don’t talk about doctrine. But there is a remedy to this fear! When we start to seriously study the Word, we start to understand the themes and doctrines within its pages. Sharing them becomes a natural thing instead of a fearful thing.

6. The Bible is a trustworthy, immutable, and pertinent guidebook for life. It gives us perspective and clarity regarding our priorities, moving to the background the temporal things that so overwhelm us and bringing the eternal things to the forefront. It lights our way when darkness threatens to undue us.

So there are six reasons to read your Bible in 2018! But do you know the greatest reason of all? We are to read the Word out of obedience and our great love for God. He gave us the Bible and we are to read it with a submissive, humble, and obedient heart–even when we don’t feel like it. We can make time for so many other things. We can find time to watch TV, to work on our favorite hobby, to go to the gym, or to read other books. Let’s make 2018 the year we find time to read our Bibles!

 

The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11

P.S. If you don’t have a Bible Reading Plan in place yet this year, it’s not too late to join the G4L Challenge. Find more information here.

The G4L 2018 Bible Reading Challenge

And some thoughts about the purpose of this blog

join

The challenge for 2018 is up on the blog! You can find all the details here at this page.  I have shared this page on Facebook already but am uncertain if that published page made its way to my subscribers. This is why I thought I’d write a specific (and short) post about it this morning.

I started blogging in 2010. It’s hard to believe that this coming year will mean I have been writing posts twice a week for eight years! Time goes so fast. As the years have gone by, the purpose for this blog has gradually become more defined.

Over the past twenty years or so, the Bible has taken a beating. So much so, that most people who call themselves Christians today are not only completely biblically illiterate, but they are actually completely content in being so. This has happened in a number of ways. First, they are distracted. Distracted by commitments, careers, over-scheduled kids, etc. Second, they are not being taught the Word in their churches. Expository preaching has been replaced by stories, worldly entertainment, and worship music that have no basis in the Word. And, third, they have turned to personal experience to verify and confirm their closeness to God. The Word has become superfluous in a church culture that believes you need to hear from God personally to be a really spiritual Christian.

I will write more about this later, but have no doubt that this is exactly what Satan wants. When he can turn our hearts and minds off of the Word, he has effectively captured us. He can deceive, trick, warp…and we will have no idea. Because we don’t even know the Bible.

And, so, over the past few years, this has become my purpose–to turn my readers back to the Word as the authority for their Christian life. To encourage my readers to study the Word with a submissive and obedient heart that leads to real and lasting change.

I have seen the Word transform people. This is how we know God. Knowing the Bible is what makes us stable and sound spiritually. Scripture is sufficient and I am here to shout that out! We don’t need special messages, visions, and dreams in order to be close to God. I hope to write more about that later this year, but I want to encourage you to dig deeply into scripture this year.

It is with this in mind, that I am once again offering the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge. If you don’t have any other plan in place to study scripture this year, I hope that you will consider joining this challenge. It is an easy way to get started (only two chapters per day). We read the same chapters five times, so we really become familiar with them. It is a wonderful and quite doable way to begin scripture study. I hope you will join me!

Happy New Year!

 

This Little Light of Mine

lantern-2938027_1920

Do you remember singing “This Little Light of Mine” as a child? Perhaps you still sing it with your own kids or grandkids. I love watching toddlers sing this song. Seeing them hold their chubby little finger up and blow on it during the verse “Don’t let Satan blow it out” is a delightful thing to watch.

But have you ever thought just how profound the words are in this children’s song?

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m going to let it shine

Don’t let Satan blow it out
I’m going to let it shine

Shine it all over {your town}
I’m going to let it shine

Let it shine ’til Jesus comes
I’m going to let it shine

Even though this song is simple, it shares a message that we should all heed, no matter how old we are.  John MacArthur says this–

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says God who first ordered the light to shine in the darkness has flooded our hearts with His light. We can now enlighten men by giving them the knowledge of God’s glory that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are lights. We are children of light. *

There are several scripture passages that refer to believers as light. We see that Jesus tells us we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and that Paul and Barnabas were called to be a light for the Gentiles (Acts 13:47). In Romans 13:14 we read that we are to put on our armor of light. Paul tells us to walk as children of light in Ephesians 5:8. There are more.

We are children of light.

So what does this mean, practically speaking?

If we look at the song verses individually, we can gain some insight–

1. This little light of mine. First we must recognize that we are just a little light. In actuality, we are just a reflection of God’s much greater light. We must stay humble and remember that God doesn’t need me or you to accomplish His purposes. We are not the origin of the light. We can do nothing without Him.

2. Hide it under a bushel? No! A hidden light is a useless light. If we aren’t willing to stand for Jesus Christ and His Word, we become ineffective as a witness for God. When we hide our lights, we meld in with the world and make no eternal difference at all in the lives of others.

3. Don’t let Satan blow it out. Satan would like nothing better than to render you ineffective for God’s Kingdom. Once saved, we are eternally saved. But He can–and does–do things that keep us tied up and fruitless. Some of the things that come to mind are distracting us with worldly things, deceiving us with false doctrine, convincing us that busyness is the same as holiness, encouraging us to be fearful and anxious… and so many more. Satan has many different tactics he uses to keep a Christian from furthering God’s Kingdom.

4. Shine it everywhere. There is no where that the light of Jesus can’t go. His light–the light that we are reflecting–shines even brighter in the darkness. As believers, we are called to shine that light in every and all situations and places. No exceptions.

5. Let it shine ’til Jesus comes. Our lights are to shine for Jesus forever. We take no breaks from being a light. Until we are called home or Jesus returns to take us home, we are to shine.

Being light should encompass every area of our life. Think about this in light of your upcoming week. Most of us will meet with family and friends over the holidays. It is important to ask ourselves if we are shining our light or hiding our light. To ask if we are encouraging people to walk more closely with Christ or to move away from Christ.  F.B. Meyer puts this better than I ever could–

These thoughts press on one’s heart that one can never speak a word, never transact a piece of business that one’s face is never seen lighted up with the radiance of God or clouded and despondent without it being made harder or easier for other men to live a good life.  Every one of us every day resembles Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made other men sin, or we are lifting other men into the light and the peace and the joy of God.  No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself, but the life of everyone is telling upon an increasing number of mankind what a solemn responsibility it is to live.

So as we enjoy (or dread, depending upon your circumstances) our upcoming festivities may we remember that we must shine our little light. May we shine with gusto, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. May we have courage to speak truth with great love. May we be the peacemakers and the joy-bringers. Bringing the light of God anywhere we go so that we are encouraging and inspiring those around us to be transformed by God’s power.

I will close with this from John MacArthur–

You are light. You have been called to light the dark world. And the quality of your life is the platform of your personal testimony. You have to understand that. By the kind of life you live, you build a platform on which what you say is made believable. If you have no platform because of your life, your message isn’t believable. And a murmuring discontent, grumbling, griping, complaining Christian is never going to have a positive influence on others. You can’t be talking about the gospel, forgiveness, joy, peace, gladness, comfort, and be moaning and grumbling and complaining all the time. People are not going to believe the gospel will do what you’re trying to say it will do. That’s why the philosopher Heine in Germany said, “Show me your redeemed lives and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”

Amen! Jesus came as a baby to bring light to the world. We are a reflection of that light! May we shine brightly everywhere we go!

 

*Both of these quotes are from the sermon Stop Complaining, Part 2. I highly recommend both parts!

 

Christmas Wreaths (9)

PLEASE NOTE:

Tomorrow I will present the final part of this year’s Christmas story, “Meeting Ella”. And then next week I will present the 2018 Bible Reading Challenge. I will go back to regular posts on January 4th. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year! Thank you for being a reader this past year. It means more than you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying the Ride

16067224582_d443cd1985_b

The other night we decided we would spend the evening looking at some Christmas lights. After paying $15 to drive through a display that was considerably short of impressive, we decided to drive across the county to check out another one that came highly recommended.

The thing I haven’t told you is that there were seven of us so in order for us to all drive together in the same car, two people would have to sit in the rarely used backseat. I really thought we’d have more fun if we went together so I offered to sit there. After all, my car was made to “seat 7”. My son-in-law offered to sit there, as well, and so we both climbed into the back. This was our first clue that it was going to be tight.

We weren’t back there more than 30 seconds before we realized that the backseat was definitely not meant for adults. With the two of us sitting a bit sideways and with our knees to our chests, we all set off on our adventure.

The first part of the evening wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes we stopped for dinner. And then another 15 minutes after that we drove through the first display. But the last ride–the one across the county– ended up taking over 30 minutes (maybe closer to 45). This is when it started to stretch my patience just a bit. We were going on a back country road and I started to feel a bit carsick. And then the other dynamic was that no one listened to us. We’d try to join the conversation but we were back so far, we were generally ignored because it was so hard to hear us.

About halfway through that drive I was starting to get annoyed. My bad knee was starting to hurt, I was extremely uncomfortable, and the carsickness was really starting to get to me. And it was around that time that it hit me: I can choose to focus on the negative or I can enjoy the ride. After all, here I was, with two of our kids and their families, having a good time together. What a blessing! I recognized that I had so much to be thankful for, even if I was temporarily squished into a seat that was meant for children. And, thankfully, our son-in-law has a good sense of humor and made the ride in the back much more enjoyable than if I would have been back there alone.

Ironically, when we finally arrived, we found out to our dismay that the display was in front of us. As we parked the car in preparation for the light show, we realized that we wouldn’t even have a good view to watch. We just had to laugh.

And that was my Friday night.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this in relation to all of life (of course!)

So often we are on a ride we don’t enjoy and we can’t get off. We can’t change it, we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it. We just have to ride through it. But the one thing we can choose is what attitude we are going to have as we take our undesired ride. We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to complain. We can choose to rely and lean on the Lord or we can choose to focus on our own feelings and despair. Keep in mind that we are going to have to take the ride either way. It’s non-negotiable. Having a negative attitude isn’t going to change anything or make anything better (in fact, it will make it worse), while having a joyful attitude not only makes us more pleasant to be around, it is also a dramatic testimony of God’s grace, mercy, and love that is provided to His children during the tough times.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. I feel like I am writing to myself here, quite honestly. I struggle so with this. We have come to have certain expectations in life. We want life to be convenient and comfortable and easy. And so when the road turns a little bumpy and we are stuck in the backseat, we can tend to grow a little discontent and grumpy. But that isn’t going to help anyone–especially ourselves. And, most importantly, it reveals that we don’t really trust God’s plan for our lives. It truly is an affront to God’s Sovereignty, if you think about it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can be reminded of on a ride through the country?

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Isaiah 45:9

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Daniel 4:34-35

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Every Life

father-1633655_1920

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to see our daughter’s college soccer team play for a National title. They won the first game easily and as we sat watching the warm-ups for the championship game, my husband leaned over and made his prediction of the outcome. He thought our girls could easily beat this other team. They weren’t as skilled and their bench wasn’t as deep. But there were two things that he didn’t see–first, this team really wanted to win and second, he didn’t realize the skill and tenacity of #7. As the game started we could see a fight was on. As the final minutes of regular game time wore down, the score remained 0-0.

As we headed into the first ten minute overtime, the play continued to go back and forth and remain scoreless. It was now sudden death. The first team to score was going to win this championship. With only 1:40 to go, there was a foul and we were given a direct kick. We held our breath as one of our seniors stepped up to take it. She kicked the ball and we watched it sail over the heads of the defenders and then over the head of the goalie to land perfectly in the corner of the goal. (It was actually a very dramatic and pretty awesome way to win such an important game!) The crowd roared and the team ran together and cheered and jumped and hugged. The game was over and we had won because of one kick. What a night for this senior! I am sure she will never forget it.

Don’t you just love when you have moments like this? The perfect kick or hit or shot. The musical piece or dramatic act that is played just right. The phone calls offering the perfect job or the accepted bid for your perfect house or even better yet– the good results of a health test; the rare moments when the whole family is together, having fun, and getting along. The moments of everything working out perfectly. These are beautiful, awesome moments that fill us with joy and inspire us to keep going.

And then there are the other moments…

That same day, after the game, kind ladies prepared a meal for the soccer families. The setup was in a class room, so it wasn’t ideal. But they worked with what they had and did it well. We went through the line and then sat down to eat. Suddenly, we heard a loud crash. We saw one of the hard-working ladies grab some paper towels and bend over to the floor.  As we left the room, we realized that she had knocked down the five gallon container of punch that had sat a bit insecurely on its makeshift surface. My heart went out to her as she and several other ladies mopped up the mess as best they could with school paper towels. I felt bad for her because I’ve been there. Often.

These are the moments we don’t love as much. Embarrassing moments; sad moments; angry moments. The moments we knock something over, or break something; the moments we find out a diagnosis we didn’t expect; or get the call to the boss’s office or the notice from the bank. Spouses walk away from marriages, kids make bad choices, and death comes knocking at the most unexpected times. These are the moments that make us feel insecure, unloved, unhappy, and, sometimes, hopeless.

You may think it naive of me to lump all of the bad moments together. Some are so much worse than others. But my point is this: they are all bad on some level. We don’t have any interest in living them over. Ever.

And every life is made up of ordinary moments interspersed with extra-special, wonderful moments and the frustrating or dreadful bad moments. And this is just how it is. There isn’t anything we can do about it. It just IS.

But so often there seems to be this goal to only live in the wonderful. Doesn’t it seem as if so many of us are constantly searching to live on the happy plane of the extra-special moments? And this is such an unrealistic expectation. I am not sure if it came from movies or romance novels or preachers that don’t preach from the Word, but many of us seem to have an expectation that our lives should be filled with special moments all the time. That to live just an ordinary life is somehow not enough. Some even go a step further and say that to experience bad moments means we are disobedient in how we are living our Christian lives. Of course, we know there is zero biblical basis for this belief and yet some people actually believe this.

But life–thankfully–is made up mostly of the ordinary for most of us. Our ordinaries change often, but somehow we adjust and grow comfortable with our new normals.

Every life experiences the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the wonderful days and the really hard days and a whole lot of ordinary days. We love the wonderful days. They are pretty awesome. But they can never be sustained. Sometimes they are far and few between. And we really don’t like the hard days. They are long and dark and can go on for weeks. But ordinary–that place where there are no big woes or worries; the place where we often find ourselves discontent–that place is truly an often unnoticed but remarkable blessing.

And so as we reflect on our year and think about Thanksgiving this week, it may be good to be intentional about not setting our expectations so high that we find ourselves in a constant state of discontent. But, instead, may we find ourselves grateful for the excitement and beauty of the good moments; may we acknowledge God’s Sovereignty and be looking to learn and grow from the bad moments; and may we enjoy and be grateful for the peace and beauty of the ordinary days that make up most of our lives.

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

freezing

The other evening, as my family discussed the recent terrible church shooting, my father-in-law shook his head.

“Can you imagine discussing something like this twenty years ago??” he asked incredulously.

No, we can’t. Because we wouldn’t have. Oh, bad things happened and there have always been evil men and women. But this. This is just beyond anything we could have imagined.

And then someone else mentioned how frequent these things are becoming. The shock is almost wearing off because these types of events are becoming monthly–sometimes weekly.

And this can breed fear in some of us, making us wonder–when will it be us? Or someone close to us?

Or it could be something else that makes us fearful; some other anxiety that is stealing our peace and joy. There are innumerable causes for fear in our lives.

For some of us, this fear can turn into a life full of anxiety and worry, turning our happy smiles into frowns of concern. Fear is a mighty master, controlling our lives with an iron fist.

Of course, much of this comes from not taking Matthew 6:35-34 very seriously. As I have battled my own fears about a variety of things, these verses keep coming to mind–

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But how do we freeze out the fear that threatens to undo us? What can we do to help eradicate the sins of worry and anxiety from our lives?

I believe one of the most underrated things we can do to help us overcome fear is to cultivate a heart of gratitude. We learn this from Philippians 4:6-7–

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

How often do we practice this as we face our fears and anxieties? Do we come to God with a thankful heart or is gratitude crowded out by the fear that threatens to overwhelm us?

Because you can’t really have both. You can’t be fearful and thankful at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

Have you ever thought about that before?

And so this week of Thanksgiving, I want to encourage you (and me, too!) to give our hearts and minds to developing a spirit of gratitude. To truly live out Philippians 4 and to be be anxious for nothing, but instead making our requests be known to God with a spirit of thanksgiving. And that is when fear will be frozen out and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.

 

 

Balanced is Beautiful

Balanced

Have you ever met someone who has a pet topic? Whether it is their kids, their job, a particular sport– they just seem obsessed with this one thing and can hardly keep from talking about it.

We Christians can be like this, too. We should be passionate about Jesus Christ and His Word–that goes without saying, really–but sometimes we can become so passionate about a certain spiritual (and worthy) thing to the point where we are indifferent about all other topics. This can lead us to be very unbalanced as believers.

This is something I have noticed in others and also fight regularly myself. We become passionate about a certain topic (such as discernment, orphans, mission work, the unity of the church, etc…) to the point where we become very one dimensional as believers.

Of course, God uses our different passions to accomplish much for His kingdom. It is not wrong to be passionate about a particular subject. I am thankful for those who are passionate about discernment for they help us to stay on the straight and narrow and spot the falsehood abundant in the church today. I am thankful for those passionate about orphans and missions for they keep us aware of what’s going on and encourage us to make a difference with our prayers, our money, and even our time.

But my caution here is that we don’t become so enamored with one particular topic that we neglect all others completely. We can be wonderfully passionate about finding homes for orphans and still practice discernment. We can practice discernment and still show concern for missions. These things are not mutually exclusive. And yet so often we act like they are.

Of course, the biggest problem facing the church today is probably not even this, is it? As I am thinking about this, I recognize that the thing many people are most fascinated and passionate about is…themselves. I struggle with this, as well. We lose our balance because we are only concerned with our own affairs. We rarely think outside of ourselves and our own needs and when we do, we give ourselves a huge pat on the back and then go on our merry way.

And, yet, the Christian life is clearly to be full of personal growth in obedience and holiness (I Peter 3:10-16), concern for others (Philippians 2:3-4), concern for widows and orphans (James 1:27), separation from the world (James 1:27), a desire to discern truth (Hebrews 5:14), sharing the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), and unifying together as the body of Christ (Colossians 3:12-15)–to name just a few.

And that’s my point, exactly.

We must give efforts to all of these things. To all of these and to the rest of what scripture teaches. We never want to become spiritually unbalanced, only giving our attention to that which comes easiest or is the most appealing.

Not having the “gift of discernment” doesn’t give us the right to not practice discernment; not being comfortable with evangelizing doesn’t give us the right to not do it; being busy with our families doesn’t give us the right to be unconcerned with widows and orphans.

Being balanced is the key. Not letting ourselves get so caught up with one issue (or with ourselves) that we neglect the whole of scripture. Balanced is truly beautiful and is what we are called to be as believers–paying attention to all that scripture contains and not just our favorite topics and passages. It is in this way that we become well-rounded believers that bring honor to Christ and shine His marvelous light into the dark world.

 

Living in the Last Days (Part 2)

last days

Last time we took a look at I Timothy 3 and it’s timely counsel for us as we live in a culture that is speeding towards the last days. Today we are going to continue by looking at I Timothy 4. As Paul prepares for the end of his ministry, he is, in effect, passing the baton on to Timothy. What he tells Timothy applies to all of us, as well. Let’s take a look–

1.  We are to preach the Word. (v.2)

The mandate is to preach the Word. It is not to feed the poor or to meet felt needs or to help dig wells. While nothing is innately wrong with these things, our main priority must be to preach the Word. If this is lost, all is lost.

2.  We are to preach in season and out of season. (v.2)

MacArthur Study Bible has this to say about in season and out of season: “The faithful preacher must proclaim the Word when it is popular and/or convenient, and when it is not; when it seems suitable to do so, and when it seems not. The dictates of popular culture, tradition, reputations, acceptance, or esteem in the community (or the church) must never alter the true preacher’s commitment to proclaim God’s Word.”

I believe this applies to all of us laypeople, as well. We should be filled with a desire to share the Gospel and point people to the Word, being willing to sacrifice our comfort, convenience, and reputation. A difficult calling, to be sure. But when we remember what Jesus did for us, I am not sure how we can do any less.

3. God’s preacher or teacher is to use the Word to convince, rebuke, and exhort. This is to be done with great patience. (v. 2)

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at[a] His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

4. For the time will come that people will not endure sound doctrine. (v. 3)

Paul says not only will they not endure sound doctrine, but because of their own selfish desires, they will actually turn towards false teachers and fables and turn away from the truth. These two verses are playing out before our very eyes today! All across the world, people are falling prey to the bewitching of false doctrine, because of their own desires. They desire a religion that will provide abundant material blessings, make their dreams come true, heal their physical bodies, and make life easy. And there is no dearth of teachers to feed those itching ears.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

5. Be watchful in all things. (v.5)

Many Christians today would have you believe it is intolerant and unkind to be watchful. And yet, we know that we must be. Satan seeks to devour us! We must be watchful!

6. Endure afflictions.  (v.5)

Afflictions are going to come. We are to endure through all of the normal storms of life, as well as through the persecution that will come (which is promised to all who desire to live a godly life in I Timothy 3:12).

7. Do the work of an evangelist. (v.5)

The word “evangelist” is used only two other times in the NT and it always refers to preaching the gospel to non-Christians. Witnessing should be an integral part of the fabric of our lives.

8. Fulfill your ministry. (v.5)

We are to fulfill whatever ministry God has given us.

But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

9. Like Paul, may we say at the end of our lives that we have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. (v. 7)

If we take a moment and think about our lives, are we actually fighting the good fight? Or running a race? Sometimes we Christians get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget there is a spiritual battle raging around us. We forget that we are running a race and must intentionally work to keep the faith. These things don’t just happen. They must be done intentionally or we fall into a lazy, apathetic place from which it is hard to recover.

10. There is reward coming for those who loved the Lord and have served Him faithfully. (v.8)

Our reward is eternal. A good thing to remember when we feel battered by life’s storms and the world’s persecution.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

11. There is no sin in naming names. (v.10-16)

Some Christians will try to convince you that it is sinful to name the names of false teachers or even those who are straying from the faith, and yet, here, below, we see that Paul does just that. He avoids slander and gossip, but simply states the facts: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” and “Alexander the Coppersmith did me much harm…beware of him”

We can see from Paul’s example that it is not wrong to name names, but that we must do so carefully and without added unnecessary criticisms, personal attacks, and drama.

12. Paul had enemies, and we should expect no less. (v.10-16)

I think it is easy for us to raise Paul on a pedestal and think that he was so beloved that he never faced the heartbreak of betrayal, rejection, or abandonment. And, yet, in just a few short verses, we have a window into Paul’s experiences with others. Just as we all do, he had those who supported his ministry and those who desired to destroy it. He had those who were his friends and those who deserted the faith because of a love for the world. Doesn’t this sound so familiar? His experiences show us that this has been going on all through the ages and encourage us to keep our focus on the Lord, as we continue serving Him in a hostile world.

Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. 15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.

13. Our strength comes from the Lord and He will preserve and protect us until He calls us home (v.17-18)

When we think about the enemies we face in both the world and in the spiritual realm, it can be a bit daunting. Are there any more comforting verses to consider than these? Here we know that God will stand with us, strengthen us, deliver us, and preserve us, as we seek to glorify Him and share the Gospel. We are not alone!

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!

14. God uses many people for His purposes and most of them are not famous.

Paul finishes this epistle with greetings and tidbits about other servants of Christ. Many of these we know nothing about. The early church was made up of thousands of people who daily served the Lord in their villages and homes. May we follow the same example as the men and women listed below–faithful servants that Paul would greet in a letter if he was still on the earth today.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick.21 Do your utmost to come before winter.Eubulus greets you, as well as Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brethren. Farewell

22 The Lord Jesus Christ[b] be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen

I hope that you have enjoyed these thoughts on 2 Timothy. There was just so much to reflect on as I read those two chapters that I just felt compelled to share it here with you. I hope that this has encouraged and challenged you–not only to ponder on what I wrote but also to dig deep into the Word for yourself.

As we approach these last days, it is our only anchor in this crazy world. I don’t know if Jesus will return today or if it will be another one hundred years. But what I do know is that we are hurling at top speed towards one-world religion, one-world government, and one-world economy. The end is coming. And these two chapters in 2 Timothy help us to know how to live in this unprecedented time.

 

Living in the Last Days (Part 1)

last days

So we might be living in the last days. Or we might not. There is no way to truly know. What I do feel safe in saying is that, if we aren’t experiencing the end times already, we are most certainly moving closer towards them each day. Some day soon I would like to write about how so many aspects of the last times foretold in the Bible are converging. It is really incredible and so confirming of scripture. But today is not that day.

A week or two ago, when we started reading our Bible Challenge passage for the week, chapters 3 & 4 of 2 Timothy, a friend texted me and said it sounds just like Paul was writing about our times right now. I couldn’t agree more! And so as we approach the last days, there is much gold to mine from the treasure of the Word, particularly in these two chapters. It helps us know what to expect and how to respond. There are some nuggets there to show us how to personally face our own last days, as well.

Paul wrote the letter of 2 Timothy as he pondered the nearness of his own death. He knew he wouldn’t be around much longer and so he wrote encouraging and challenging words for Timothy that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t read these chapters recently, I would encourage you to go do so now or after this post. They are pretty incredible.

I’d like to share some of what I have learned from chapter three of 2 Timothy today and then finish up with chapter four on Thursday. Please keep in mind that these are simply observations. I am no Bible scholar but I do believe that I am proof that you do not have to be a Bible scholar to read, study, learn about and benefit from the Bible. So here we go–

1. The last days will be perilous. (v.1)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:

Perilous: full of danger and risk.

i.e. Not fun. Not full of chasing our dreams. Not wealth, health, and happiness. But danger. And risk.

2. Paul describes men and women in the last days and it reminds us so much of right now. (v. 2-5)

For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 

This sounds pretty familiar. But, of course, things could get a lot worse.

3. People will call themselves godly but they won’t really be godly. (v.5)

4. In contrast to the popular message of our day, Paul tells us that we are not to unify with people like this. (v.5)

having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

5. Women are and always will be especially gullible to false teaching. (v.6)

For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,

Okay, I know women do not want to hear this, but, in many ways, we do tend to be more sensitive to spiritual things and this often puts us at a greater risk to be deceived. We must be so very careful. By the way, this is not a criticism of women. God purposefully designed us this way.

6. Many people learn about God, but they never study His Word with a submissive and obedient heart and this keeps them from the knowledge of the truth. (v.7)

always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

7. Time and truth walk hand-in-hand (v.8-9)

Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

Eventually false teachers are found out. They can pretend to be biblical teachers for awhile, but time eventually sells them out. Paul uses the example of Jannes and Jambres resisting Moses to make his point. We can see this same dynamic with the likes of guys like Rob Bell and William Paul Young. They pretended to be Christians, but eventually time showed everyone that they were preaching a very different Gospel.

8. Paul’s lifestyle was in direct contrast to a worldly lifestyle. He praised Timothy for following his example. We, too, should follow his example. (v. 10-11)

9. Paul endured much persecution but also experienced the Lord’s deliverance in mighty ways! We serve a mighty God who can do mighty things! (v. 11)

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.

10. If we desire to live a godly life we will suffer persecution. (v. 12)

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Not “might”; not “if”; not “could”, but WILL. We WILL suffer persecution. We may as well just expect it. In fact, if we know it’s coming, it should help us prepare to accept it with a spirit of grace, love, and forgiveness.

11. Evil men and imposters of the faith are going to get so much worse. The deception is not going to improve. (v. 13)

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Again–we see this so clearly in these days, don’t we? False doctrine abounds more than ever before. The authority of God’s Word has been cast aside for the sake of experiences, false unity, and social justice. It is so incredibly tragic but it’s going to keep getting worse until the appearing of our Savior. Again, we need to expect it.

12. Our only source for truth is the Holy Scriptures. We must continue to study the Bible and hide it in our heart, for this is what will keep us strong in these last days!

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

13. Scripture is all we need to know God and to live a holy life that is pleasing to Him.

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

Through the years, Satan has tried to eradicate, hide, bury, twist, destroy, mangle, convolute, minimize, and change the Word of God. He gets how powerful it is. He understands that the power for the Christian life is there. He knows that it is God’s very Word to the human race.

Unfortunately, humans–even many believers–don’t get this. They don’t understand that the Holy Scriptures are the only way to know God. They are what make us complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. They are an amazing treasure!

 

There is much to learn in all of scripture, but I believe that 2 Timothy 3 & 4 is especially encouraging, challenging, and convicting for this time on earth. It is from this passage that we understand the world isn’t going to get better. We can see that it isn’t our job to bring God’s Kingdom to earth (a very popular message these days) but that we are to hold on to scripture tightly, while we preach the Word (ch. 4 will talk about that) in the midst of such dreadful wickedness and apostasy. We learn that we are to expect persecution– not material health, wealth, and fulfilled dreams.

These two chapters offer encouragement and challenges for us in this age–whether Jesus returns tomorrow or one hundred years from now. Keep looking up!