Why Are We Praying What We Are Praying?

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There has been a rousing call to prayer for this country by Christians everywhere. This election, perhaps more than any other in history, has burdened our hearts for the future of this nation. But as I sat in prayer this morning, I was convicted by something.

What if I am praying that God would take America back to its Christian roots for my own benefit? For my own comfort and convenience and safety?

Because, if I am honest, that is what I am most afraid of losing.

But what if–what if–God’s purposes include bringing this nation to its knees? What if His glory can best be served by letting this nation continue to spiral downward? What if His kingdom here in America can expand best by the true church being persecuted? What then?

Do I lose faith because I am no longer comfortable? Do I stop trusting God because I am being persecuted? Do I cry out in despair because my prayers weren’t answered the way I want?

I am in no way suggesting that we stop praying for this nation, but instead that we make sure we are praying with an attitude of “Thy Will Be Done, Lord”. We don’t know His purposes, but only see a small pinpoint of activity on the timeline of history. Let’s pray for this nation! But let’s not grow discouraged if we don’t see the answer we want to see. God is using all that happens for His glory and purposes and we need not fret. Let’s be ready to yield our wills and desires to the King of Kings. Because we know that–

And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 2:21

I guess this really could apply to all that we pray, couldn’t it? How many of our prayers are prayed out of selfish motivation? It is quite sobering to consider. May we always pray that God’s Will be done, first and foremost, and be ready to yield our will to His, no matter what the request. This is short and sweet today but it was on my heart. Let’s keep praying for this nation but with a heart and mind submitted to God’s Will, no matter what lies in store.

The Curious Thing About Chick-Fil-A

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Have you been to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant anytime recently? We don’t frequent fast food restaurants on a regular basis but if we choose to go to one, this is the one we choose.

Why?

It goes far beyond their delicious chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, and fresh-brewed iced tea (and no I am not getting paid to advertise for them!) The reason people love Chick-Fil-A is about the experience you have when you are there.

Respectful young people stand up straight and look you in the eye. They look clean cut and they act like they care about your experience there. They say things like “Can I help you?” and “My pleasure”.

While not all Chick-Fil-A restaurants offer a wonderful experience and certainly not all employees are Christians, we have had mostly positive experiences in any we have visited.

Why is Chick-Fil-A so different than other restaurants? Could it be because it is run with Christian principles and biblical morality?

The Bible teaches us about sin and God’s wrath and God’s justice. But it also teaches us about things like kindness, unselfishness, thinking of others before yourself, loving others, being honest, having personal integrity, caring about others, having compassion, and being joyful.

People that exhibit these behaviors are pleasant to be around, aren’t they? And restaurants who train their employees to behave in such a way make for a much more enjoyable experience.

As the code of morality changes in this culture, places like Chick-Fil-A stand out like a beacon of light. And what I find most interesting is that the world loves Chick-Fil-A as much as we Christians! All of us, no matter what our religious preference, enjoy being around kind, respectful people.

I can’t help but think of a stark contrast I experienced the other day. As I was out and about, I heard an acquaintance (who didn’t know I was nearby and also one who would never, ever read this blog–so no worries for any of you who know me!) speak very unkindly to an employee. As the employee referred this person to another employee, they sarcastically said under their breath, “Have fun with this one.”  What I know (that these two employees didn’t know) is that this person claims to be a Christian. My heart sank at this bad testimony.

And this begs each of us to answer this very personal question: Am I more like a Chick-Fil-A or am I more like this acquaintance with the bad testimony?

We Christians are to share God’s light with a very dark world. We are to preach the Truth in a sea of relativism. And we are to courageously defend God’s Word among those who are more interested in pleasing man than in pleasing God. And we are to do these things with a gracious and kind spirit.

Chick-Fil-A trains its employees to be kind to all who enter their restaurant. Just as customers will enter Chick-Fil-A who are unpleasant and selfish, so we, too, will face those who want nothing to do with Jesus. But should that change us and our message? Should we back down, shout back, or get angry?

Of course not.

We need to continue to be pleasant and kind, while preaching the truth of God’s Word, no matter what the response is. The world may hate us. They may strive to shut us up. They may exert great pressure on us to stop our message, trying to obliterate the true Gospel, as written in scripture.

But may they never say that we were unkind and unloving.

May they never accuse us of being self-absorbed.

May they never call us arrogant.

May they never say we were rude or called them names or attacked them with our words.

Because there is never, ever an excuse for these things.

This reminds me of Proverbs 15:1–

A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Let’s stand for the truth, but let’s do so in a humble and gracious way, striving to do so with kindness and love, avoiding harsh and angry words. For this is the best way to make a real difference for the cause of Jesus Christ. May we shine like a beacon of light in a world that has forgotten its manners.

 

 

Christian, You Will Still Be Saved After the Election

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Have you noticed the air of panic that surrounds Christians these days? Everyone is handling it in their own way. Some are rallying around a questionable man with a checkered past and calling on him to return the country to what it was. They truly believe he is the guy to save us. Others are wringing their hands in despair and declare that they aren’t going to vote. Some say they will vote but they won’t like it. Theirs will be a vote against rather than for because they know what is coming with the opposition and want no part of it.

Whatever our stance is in this upcoming election, it is easy to slide into a state of panic at the state of affairs in America. The tide has turned against Christians and we are desperately trying to turn it back.

But what if it never turns back? Will we be okay?

I had to think through this a bit.

Christianity in our American culture has been a remarkable aberration from historical Christianity and also from current Christianity across the world. There have been few times that Christians and Christian thought were so well-received than in 20th-century America. We have grown used to the praises of men and the comfort of a nation that abides by Christian principles. That is all changing very quickly now and it is filling many of us with fear. And I believe that Satan wants us in a state of fear and panic for this renders us useless and ineffective for the cause of Christ. So perhaps we should look at what we are so afraid of? I can think of a few things. See if you relate.

First, we are afraid of losing the approval of man. This affects so many of us right where we are–ridicule from family, friends, and co-workers is hard to face. We want to be courageous but we feel so weak. In fact the derision of man is so powerful that many who call themselves Christians are either not standing for the truth of God’s Word or they have suddenly “changed their mind” about what they believe to be truth so that it matches the world’s (or mainstream church’s).

Second, we are afraid of losing our conveniences and comforts. If we read about other countries steeped in socialism, we are well aware of what it means for our future. Doctors we could make timely appointments with suddenly become impossible to see. Store shelves that were once full are empty. We know that socialism brings with it many troubles.

Third, we are afraid of persecution. Even today, laws are going into effect that make standing for God’s Word equal to a hate crime. This is frightening, isn’t it? It could mean arrests, large fines, and even prison for those who align themselves with the Word of God. This is scary stuff.

So we do have a reason to be frightened. However, given the past Christian nature of the American culture, I wonder if we haven’t become too hopeful in a candidate to save us. As if somehow a man will be able to turn back the clock and bring us the old America back.

Personally, I don’t believe it will happen. But we serve a great God who is all-powerful and I could be wrong. No matter what the future holds for this country, my concern is that we Christians are putting our faith and trust in a man instead of God. That we are looking for a man to save us instead of God.

Dear Christian, we will still be praising God for our salvation after this election. We will still have our hope fully intact after November 2016 because our hope is not in a human being but rests in the Lord. Everything is going according to God’s perfect timing and we need not fear. May God give us an eternal perspective so that we do not succumb to a spirit of panic but instead are filled with peace and joy as we rest in His plan for this country.

I Peter 1:3-9 reminds us of our living hope–

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

So follow your convictions in this upcoming election. Do what you believe the Lord wants you to do. But be careful not to place your hope in any man. For it is only God who saves and if He has saved you then you will never be lost, no matter what happens to this country.

 

The Question of Authority

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I remember the moment vividly. I had made an off-handed comment about something unbiblical I had noticed about a very popular pastor. Suddenly, the atmosphere around me grew icy cold. Unbeknownst to me, those I were with highly esteemed this pastor and I had offended them greatly.

The temptation for all of us, of course, is to follow a person. We can see them, hear them, and touch them. And so when someone who appears to be following Jesus comes along, we are very tempted to latch on and follow them religiously.

I believe God knows this tendency of human beings, as Paul encourages his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). In Philippians 3:17 we read more about this, where Paul says to his readers–

 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.

It is interesting to note that earlier in that chapter, Paul makes it very clear that he has not arrived or is in any way a sinless man–

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 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.

And so we know that Paul is humble and presenting himself as an imperfect servant of Christ who desires to set an example for Christians who are following him. (By the way, humility is probably one of the greatest things to look for in anyone we choose to follow!)

This all works great when the person is like Paul (and like so many other faithful servants to the Word of God that we know and love). However, we run into serious problems when the person we follow starts drawing us away from the Word and towards worldly philosophies and false doctrines.

As I sit here writing, I can think of several very popular pastors, authors, and teachers who are–even at this very moment–drawing sincere followers of Christ into false teaching. How does this happen?

I believe it is because we honor the word of man more than we honor the Word of God. I believe it is because we trust a fallible human being more than we trust the Word of God.

When we do this, we give the person we are following great power to wield deception and confusion in our spiritual lives, while we remain blissfully and ignorantly unaware that we have left the straight and narrow path and have joined the throng on the wide road.

Thankfully, if we are child of God’s that is sincerely searching for truth, God will open our eyes to the false teachings of the one we are following. But this can only happen if we know the Word of God and hold it as the authority of our lives, rather than handing that authority over to a fallible man.

This holds true for any man or woman you follow. This holds true for anything you listen to and anything you read–including this blog. One of my gravest concerns is that I lead no one astray from the truths of scripture. My opinions are irrelevant. I desire only to help you understand the Word of God and to draw you there as your authority. I hope that I am setting a godly example, however, since I am a fallible and sinful person, I will not do this perfectly. The same holds true for any person we follow. It is best we always keep this in mind and not idolize any human being.

It is important to remember that some of the people we follow are just off completely and we should stop following them. Others are leading people away from the Gospel as portrayed in scripture subtly and quickly and it is best to stop following them, as well. But, in many instances, the preachers or teachers we follow are off on just one or two trivial points, perhaps being deceived themselves, while being so on target in many other areas. Do we continue to follow them?

I think we can –but only if they are not key doctrinal issues and only if we know the Word and trust the Word over the man.

God has given us an innate desire to follow and believe in someone. We so often turn that passion towards fallible human beings rather than to the one and true God, as revealed to us in scripture. I encourage you today to let no man take the place that only God should hold. And how do we know God? He has given us His Word. This is the only one and true way to know God. Don’t be fooled!

Get in the Word. Study it. Learn it. So that if someone you follow starts leaving the straight and narrow path, you know it!

 

If I Eat, Let Me Eat What is Good

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The last time you were at the grocery store, I imagine you saw the words “organic” and “natural” more often than not. Recently, people have become very passionate about having food that is free from pesticides and poisons. Food that is in its purest form and hasn’t been processed or changed.

Somewhere around the middle of last century, food changed. As we turned from an agricultural-based society where we all grew our own vegetables and baked our own bread to a more industrial society, we became a society eating things like wonder bread and boxed mac and cheese. As shelves at the stores filled with processed, genetically modified, and prepackaged foods we became unhealthier as a nation. As we filled ourselves at fast food chains, we grew fatter and wider.

However, in the recent years there has been a real push to stop feeding people food like this. Some of the biggest industries have been taken on and challenged to change things. Big name restaurants and corporations are doing their best to offer healthier options, while still making a hefty profit. The two don’t generally go hand in hand, so I am sure this has been a bit of a struggle for them.

When my kids were little and I was homeschooling, I remember that we could all eat lunch at McDonald’s for $6. This would be a treat for an especially trying day or on the way home from a field trip. Now many of us won’t touch McDonald’s. If we do, it is with a huge sense of guilt and we don’t do it often. When we go to the store, many of us examine ingredient lists closely as we look for the healthiest options possible. And we try to feed our kids the most organic, pure versions of food available. Even baby food has become suspect and many moms make their own at home. It is amazing how the world has changed in just 15 short years in regards to this. For me, personally, I have become much more conscientious about the food I feed to myself and my family. We have always gardened and we never ate a lot of processed foods, but we eat even less now and, except for an occasional trip to Chick-Fil-A, we rarely go to fast food restaurants anymore.

So why am I talking about food on a blog about spiritual growth?

Because I believe that our passion to feed our bodies and our children pure food should be matched–or even surpassed–by a passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure spiritual food.

We are all worked up about making sure we don’t poison and contaminate our bodies–something that is temporal and is going to end up old and shriveled eventually, no matter what we eat. And yet so many of us don’t worry even a second about what we are feeding our souls. We don’t give any thought to if we are poisoning and contaminating our minds.

And, wow, let me tell you–there is so much available that will contaminate and poison our minds and to move us far from a biblical viewpoint. It is unbelievable how unraveled Christianity has become as we have moved far from the Word of God and have turned instead to mysticism and psychology.

I receive an email each day with “Christian” books that are on sale for Kindle at Amazon. I normally will glance through it, looking for classics and authors I trust. I would say that on any given day about 10% of the books in that email are written by authors I trust. Another 40% look like they could be okay, judging by the title, forward, or author’s name but I couldn’t recommend them without reading them first. But at least 50% are pure rubbish. Books that have nothing to do with scripture and everything to do with twisting and mangling the Gospel and biblical truth. In fact, the telltale sign for most of them are their titles. You can also tell a lot by who writes the forward or recommends the book.

Books and music are very powerful. Just like food changes the composition of your body, so, too does Christian literature and music change your composition spiritually. We need to do all we can to keep our minds pure from poisons.

You may be thinking that you don’t know how to discern. If that’s the case, please read this post, where I give five steps to help you get started in this area of discernment.

Of course, being dedicated to purity in Christian resources is not met with such accolades as being dedicated to purity in our food sources. While people understand why we want to feed our bodies and our children pure and organic foods, they do not understand our passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure and organic spiritual food. And, so, this move towards purity does not come without its challenges.

Prepare to be called narrow-minded and harsh and judgmental. Prepare to lose some friends and to be ostracized. Just by commenting to a group of friends that you are not reading a certain book because it isn’t biblical or that you don’t allow your child to listen to a certain music group because they aren’t biblical will leave you open to ridicule and criticism. Eating organic food is not cheap, is it? Neither is eating pure spiritual food. While it won’t cost you in dollars and cents, it may cost you in reputation and friendships. We are not in a Christian culture that values discernment.

But what do you get in return? You get a healthy spiritual heart and mind. You get kids who know that scripture is their final authority and go to the Word to discern. This isn’t a guarantee, of course, but God does honor your desires to keep your family pure from worldly and vain philosophies and false teaching. And God fills in the gaps and meets your needs, making anything you may have to sacrifice worth the sacrifice as you step out in dedication to God’s Word and to run everything through its grid of Truth.

We tend to believe this is a new issue for this day and age, but it isn’t. Satan has always been busy trying to get Christians to read and listen to things that are either subtly twisted or in complete opposition to the Gospel. Of course, Spurgeon can say this so much better than I can, so I will conclude with this portion from one of his sermons called The Soul’s Best Food–

Now, dear Friends, I am sure that the topic on which I have been speaking is a very important one, yet it is a very neglected one. A great many young Christians and, I am afraid, some old Christian people, especially women, read no end of tales and novels. That is not eating that which is good—it is doing that which is worse than useless! There is no spiritual nutriment and little if any mental food in most of the stories that come out nowadays. We used to keep our tales for our children—our babies—but, now, the stories are written for grown-up people—and newspapers and magazines sell best if they contain pretty stories for the great babies of the present day. Nothing will suit them but stories. “Eat what is good.” But they eat ashes! They feed upon the wind—that is their spiritual meat. Sometimes we complain of present-day Christians that they have no backbone, no stamina, no strength compared with the Christians of past ages. I should think so—they do not eat the food out of which spiritual manhood can grow. They eat what would not nourish a mouse and then hope that they may be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”

 

And, then, how common is the neglect of reading the Word of God itself! A great many persons take all their religion secondhand. They never go to the good old Book themselves. Years ago it was a very difficult thing to get milk—it was not milk that was called by that name. The only way to be sure of having milk was to keep a cow—and I recommend everybody to ensure getting the unadulterated milk of the Word of God by keeping his own cow, that is, by reading the Bible for himself. If you want to get pure water, go to the fountainhead. I was once going over the mountains in Northern Italy and I wanted to drink from a little stream, but my guide would not allow me to taste of it. I did not understand why, but he went on some considerable distance and then he allowed me to drink as much as I liked. And I noticed that I was drinking at a spring just where the water flowed out, but, the time before the stream had been running down the mountainside and was full of all sorts of impurities and, besides, it had lost its freshness and sweetness by travelling over the earth in the warm sun. The guide wanted me to have water that was worth drinking—to drink that which was good. And so I would advise you, my Friends, to take no notice of anything I say that is not according to the Word of God!

 

Put it away among the lumber,  for it is good for nothing—and whoever it is that preaches and whatever book you read—if it is not according to this Book, say to yourself, “Well, I have not any time to try experiments. If I do eat, I want to eat that which is good. And if I do delight myself, I want to delight myself in what God calls fatness.” There is plenty of carrion about—plenty of religious carrion, I mean—tainted through and through with false doctrine. And unhappy is that man who has a taste for it—it looks as if he were no true child of God.

 

Every Promise Kept

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I woke up on Saturday morning to some really bad news. It had nothing to do with me or even anyone close to me, but, instead was about a family that is related to a friend of mine. My heart cried out, “WHY GOD? WHY? I don’t understand. This doesn’t make sense.” Honestly, it rocked my world a bit. How can such terrible, terrible things happen to people that love the Lord? Why do they happen?

This is an age old question, isn’t it? We know sin exists. We know that we all will die. We see bad stuff happening around us everyday. Every. Day. The stories are heart-breaking and overwhelming sometimes. They are especially heart-rending when they happen to fellow believers.

Wouldn’t you know–this past Sunday’s sermon happened to be just about this very thing. We had a former missionary by the name of Larry Gray visiting our church and his message for us was centered around the fact that God always keeps His promises. He then gave us three different ways in which He does so. I’d like to pass along his outline and examples, elaborated with a few of my own thoughts and a few extra examples from scripture between points.

He started off with a quote by our church’s retired pastor, Pastor James Ober–

A disappointed heart is one of the most fertile places for Satan to do his work.

What a succinct way to say such a profound truth. Disappointment is often what yields bitterness, an unforgiving heart, depression, a downcast spirit, a lack of joy. If Satan can get us to focus on our disappointment we become like super-fertilized soil for many bad things.

As I was listening to the sermon, my mind wandered for a second. What causes us to be so disappointed, anyway? Why are we so disappointed when things don’t go our way? Is it because we have been taught to expect a perfect, carefree life? Or perhaps because we believe that God isn’t working unless He is working out things the way we want them to work out? Hold that thought. We will get back to it.

The speaker went on to describe three ways in which God keeps His promises to His people–

1. Intervention. This is when God intervenes by changing our circumstances or removing us from the circumstances. This is the way we like the best, isn’t it? It is, by far, the easiest from our human vantage point.

Two examples he mentioned from scripture were the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14) and the blind man who was healed by Jesus (John 9). But there are so many more, aren’t there? How about Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6) and the perfectly timed earthquake that opened the jail cells of Paul and Silas at Philippi (Acts 16:25-34)?

If we have followed Jesus Christ for any amount of time at all, we have had some of this intervention in our own lives, as well. “Coincidental” meetings, miraculous timing, disappearing tumors, a much needed check in the mailbox or a bag of groceries on the doorstep. Just the right thing at exactly the right time. God is still working in this way. And, of course, we love it when He does!

2. Interaction. This is where we work, God works, and, together, we accomplish God’s purposes and plan. This requires a bit more from us than the first way, doesn’t it? We actually have to do something. We may have to sacrifice our time as well as our selfish will and desires. We will probably have to work very hard in order to experience victory.

The speaker gave the example of Elijah outrunning the chariot (I Kings 18:45-46). I also thought of Moses having to hold his arms up to win the battle (Exodus 17:11) and Esther putting her own life in peril to approach the King in order to save the Jews (Esther 4:11). The Great Commission is also a proof that this is sometimes how God works (Matthew 28:19-20). These passages show us that oftentimes God uses man (He doesn’t need us but chooses to use us) to accomplish His purposes.

This is often the way in which we experience victory over things like obesity, debt, and addictions. We step up and give our best efforts and God is there strengthening, supporting, and guiding us all the way.

3. Inner Action. This is where nothing changes but our hearts. This is the one that we probably find the most difficult. We want things to change. We want relief! And we want it now! But sometimes God says Wait. And sometimes He says No. But in the process of it all– if we don’t let disappointment and disillusionment grab hold of our heart–spiritual fruit grows. We develop a deeper walk that eventually spills out over on to the lives of others, encouraging them, blessing them, perhaps even leading them to the precious Savior.

The speaker gave the example of Paul’s thorn in the flesh for this point (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). I would also add John the Baptist–beheaded by the orders of a vengeful, evil woman (Matthew 14:1-12) and Jeremiah, the prophet who was hated, mocked, and abused for declaring the Word of the Lord, with little relief (Jeremiah 11:21; 12:6; 20:1-2 –to name a few!)

He also gave the modern-day example of Joni Eareckson Tada. Most of you are probably familiar with this woman, now in her mid 60s, that was in a diving accident as a 17 year old, leaving her a quadriplegic. If you haven’t ever read her story, you have missed one of the best biographies of these modern times (If you’d like to read it, you can find it here). The speaker went on to talk about just how much Joni has done for the Lord in her wheelchair.

Think about that for a moment. If God would have answered the desperate appeals and cries for healing for this young woman, would she have been able to be used by God in the same way she is used today? Would she have been able to have the same incredible impact among the disabled that she has had today without healing? She has had an incredible ministry with the disabled because she is disabled. She is a wonderful example of not giving in to the disappointment of unanswered prayer, isn’t she? By the way, her reach goes far beyond the disabled. She has written many wonderful books, draws and paints beautiful works with her mouth, and has also quite a speaking career. God took her pain and turned it into something magnificent for His glory! Isn’t it amazing what a heart that yields to God’s will–instead of caving in to disappointment– can accomplish for the Lord?

So that’s the sermon in a nutshell. Isn’t that profound? But before I conclude, let’s go back to our expectations for a moment. One of the statements our speaker made was this–

If this {intervention} is your only expectation, you will have a disappointed, damaged faith.

This is so true! I had never thought about it quite like that before. You see, we so badly want to be removed from our circumstances. We don’t want to do any work at all. We certainly don’t want to stay in our bad circumstances. And, so, we basically tell God “answer my prayers the way I want them answered or else.” Instead of submitting and yielding to our Most High God, we want Him to bow to us and our desires. Instead of desiring to serve an Almighty, Holy God, we want Him to serve us! Think about that for a moment! This is a big deal.

What is our purpose? What are we here for?

To have our every whim and desire fulfilled? No.

To live worry-free, without cares? No.

To have everything go just as we want? No.

To never experience pain, death, or persecution? No.

To bring God glory and to make Him known? YES! A thousand times YES!

If we remember this, it completely changes our paradigm for life. Instead of trying to manipulate circumstances and fixing situations, we rest quietly and wait on the Lord. Instead of always wanting to get our own way, we think of others first. Instead of living in a state of panic, fear, and disappointment, we trust in the Lord, knowing that He loves us deeply, fully, and forever.

Living in a fallen, sinful world is hard. It is painful. Oftentimes it is downright unpleasant. But if we know God and trust in Him He will uphold us. If He is the rock we build our life upon (Matthew 7:24-29), no disappointment or trial will destroy us. Instead, they will make us stronger.

I hope this has helped you as much as it helped me. I hope that you will continue to trust the Lord today, no matter what trial or deep disappointment you are facing. God has not deserted you. Instead, He is fulfilling His purposes in you. Don’t turn away from Him during this time–turn towards Him.

Small Mercies

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Where to begin. It’s been a rough few weeks around here. On many different levels and in many different ways. I have felt completely uninspired and, honestly, pretty hypocritical as I wrote posts here. Most of you seemed to agree with me, if the response (or lack thereof) to recent posts was any indication.

At this point, I am saying to myself–What am I doing? Who do I think I am? I have no right to be writing. No right to be telling people how to live godly lives. Not while I still struggle so much myself.

It all started with a prayer. We were talking in our home about how so many people have blind spots. Areas of their life where they just can’t see the truth about themselves. This was bothering me. And so I asked the Lord to show me any blind spots I have. He has been busy doing so ever since.

I didn’t really realize it until, at one of my lowest points, it hit me. God was answering my prayer. And it wasn’t pretty. And it was so painful. But my eyes were opened. And I saw myself as I really am.

Through all of this, God has been extending small–but infinitely encouraging–mercies to me. A kind word about the blog passed along through a mutual friend. A scripture passage that almost seems like it was written just for me. An excerpt from a book I am reading that challenges and encourages me just where I am at. A friend who is praying for me during this spiritually dry time.

And I am being reminded that even when we are chastised or going through trials, that God is there. He doesn’t leave us to wallow in our pit of despair, but, oh so gently, meets us there and walks with us. He picks us up and gives us His strength.

Paul puts it this way–

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

While I can’t really say I have gotten to the point of taking pleasure in these things, I can see the benefit of them. I can see how they mold me and shape me and sanctify me. I am starting to see how they force me to rely on Christ’s strength instead of my own. And, most importantly, they humble me and fill me with awareness of just how weak and sinful I am. God’s amazing grace and endless mercy become even more precious to me with each infirmity. With each reproach. With each need and persecution and distress.

And so it is so important to me that you realize I am just a person. I am not some perfect role model. I have so many areas which I still need to grow. In fact, the further along I get the more I realize this. I never want to appear arrogant or judgmental in any post. I only desire to point people to God and His Word. I want to glorify Him and Him alone. I want to point people to the Savior–Jesus–the only way we can be reconciled to God. I want to show that the Word of God is the only anchor we truly have in the storms of life. And I want to encourage Christians to shake the status quo Christianity that has become acceptable–and even expected– in the church today.

I do this as a weak and lowly sinner. As an imperfect vessel. And I do thank God for showing me my weaknesses so that His strength can shine through. So that I, too, can say “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

If you are still reading Growing 4 Life posts, I thank you. I hope that you are encouraged to grow and to encourage those around you to shake the status quo Christianity. If you are struggling today, if God is showing you your weaknesses, I hope that you, too, will experience His small mercies and unending love.

(Now go and have a wonderful Labor Day weekend! :) Can you believe summer is over already?)

 

Diving Into Change

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

And that’s just how it is.

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

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

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

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

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

I remember to find perspective

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

Choosing gratitude

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

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

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

We remember the One who never changes.

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

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

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

Set proper priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Change is in the Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Are You Planting Seeds or Building Walls?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was I unkind and brusque?

Did I need to prove I was right?

Did I raise my voice?

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

 

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

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

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