What Fills You With Passion?

american-flag

Thank goodness this election is just about over. I am just so tired of the TV ads, the automated phone calls, and a Facebook wall inundated with politics. Let’s just get this over with!

As Eric and I were talking about this last night, I was sharing with him how interesting it was that people who rarely post anything on Facebook have posted about this election. Some people are posting about it constantly.

I’m not criticizing them for that. Facebook is a great way to get a message out. I think what continues to puzzle me is how few Christians use it to share the Gospel or to point people to the Word of God.

This election really showed me not only how powerful social media is, but it also showed that people are willing to risk their reputation for something they are passionate about. The posts about political candidates –no matter which one –are a risk. People think certain things about someone when they post for or against a candidate. And, honestly, how refreshing to finally see people actually removed of their apathy and willing to stand up for something.

I just wish that some of that passion was poured into getting the Gospel out using this incredible media. I just wish that some of this passion would instead be used to point people to the Word of God for life and light. I just wish that Christians would stop worrying about what people are going to think of them.

After all, this election is soon over. One of these pathetic, unfit candidates is actually going to win the presidency tomorrow. (But I will vote and– in case you are interested– my vote will be a vote against the one who promises to bring everything to this country that God hates.) And then it will be over.

It will all be over and we will have to adjust to whatever is next.

But the beauty of it is, for us Christians, nothing really changes. The Kingdom of God marches on. It has absolutely nothing to do with earthly kingdoms and governments. God can build His Kingdom in a country shrouded in Communism or Socialism, just as much as He can build His Kingdom in a Capitalistic society. He is not limited by a type of government. In fact, perhaps the church is even purified under certain systems of government. God may think it is time shake up the wayward, shallow Church in America. We can’t know that but we should not despair, no matter what happens tomorrow.

So where does our passion lie? Is it in making “America great again”? There is nothing wrong with that but, as believers, our main passion should always be to share the Gospel and to give God glory.

May we not get distracted by side issues. May we not be afraid to shine a light in this dark, dark time. May we be willing to risk our reputations and good name in order that even one may come to saving faith through Jesus Christ alone. And may we be filled with a love and passion for our Savior that is so transforming and pervasive, it can’t help but spill out onto our social media outlets.

 

The Forgotten Guidelines

Many years ago, a skinny kid with a pickup truck and a riding lawn mower started a lawncare business. (Yes, that is him in the photo above!) A year later he got married (to me) and started a family. All the while, the company was quickly growing and the demands on his time increased exponentially. Summer droughts came and money was tight. But this kid, who soon grew into a man, was committed to two guidelines from scripture that aren’t very popular–

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10%.

We rarely hear anything about either of these anymore. Oh, every once in awhile we hear about giving–especially if there is building project in the works– but we rarely, if ever, hear about keeping the Lord’s Day.

Are these things something we have to do? Of course not. There is nothing we have to do to be saved. Some cults would teach that if you don’t keep the Sabbath, you aren’t saved. And some groups would imply that giving to their ministry is the paramount command of God. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! If that is what you are hearing, then you are in a false system.

But I do believe there are reasons to seriously consider making these two things a part of our lives. Here’s why–

Let’s look first at the Sabbath Day. When God created the world, He set a pattern to work six days and to rest on the seventh. The week, set up by God in Genesis 1, comes directly from the Bible. The author of Hebrews also references this week set up by God in Hebrews 4, carrying the idea of this rest over into the New Testament. When God specified the seventh day for rest, we know it wasn’t because He needed it. He doesn’t need to sleep or slumber. So why did He do this? I believe He did this not only for His own glory but because He knew that man would need a pattern of rest. Carm.org puts it this way–

On the seventh day, which is the Sabbath day, the day of rest, Christians cease from their work, just as God did. But where we need to be replenished, God does not.

So let’s go back to that kid for a moment. When Eric started our company, he could have easily worked 24/7. The work was there and plentiful and he was full of energy. But he had been taught that Sunday is a day of rest and chose to abide by this even as a young man going into business. As we look back now, we see how this not only provided him with the rest he so desperately needed, but perhaps even saved our marriage and family during those tough years of building the business.

The other day we were talking to a young man who has ventured out on his own to start the same type of business. As he shared about his summer, he talked about how he was working seven days a week– long days with rarely a break. We encouraged him to consider making Sundays a day of rest. For himself and for his family. Owning a company is demanding. Customers want things and they want them now. Establishing that your trucks will not leave the property on Sundays is a simple–and I believe God-given–way to take a much-needed break after a long week.

Of course, some people have jobs in which this is not possible. I do get that. But if we can do this, perhaps it is time to give this some reconsideration. How kind of God to provide this pattern in Genesis 1 that His people can follow,  providing us one day of rest from the work of the week.

So let’s move on to tithing. This one is so different from what it used to be. Or at least from what I remember it being. Growing up, I was taught that you tithe 10% to your church. Period. Oh, sure, there were some parachurch organizations that you gave to but that wasn’t where your main giving went to. It was your church. Since then, there has been an explosion of parachurch organizations. Many of these ministries are good ones and in need of funds. There is nothing wrong with giving to these. But our churches still need our 10% to function. Our pastors need their salaries, our churches have electric and oil bills and need to buy office supplies and pay their secretarial and janitorial staff. This can’t be done unless its committed members are tithing.

I heard someone once say this– “Give to your church first and then give to other organizations.” This is good advice. I remember hearing it and thinking Yes! That makes a lot of sense! I only wish I could remember who to give the credit to for this statement. Of course, this is not a biblical mandate, by any means, so this is a very personal decision that each person needs to work out on their own.

As an aside, I will add here that in the recent years we have made the choice to give only to charities that are committed to spreading the Gospel. Oh, I can’t say we don’t give $10 or $20 here and there to other charities, but we want the bulk of what we give to go towards spreading the true and unadulterated Gospel. Even many charities labeled “Christian” are not spreading the Gospel but, instead, are focused only on fixing temporal situations. Of course, there is nothing wrong with digging wells and providing medical care, but if we aren’t sharing the Gospel, then all of that work has no eternal value. It is critical to care first and foremost for their souls. We really try to make sure that this is the case for the charities we support.

But some of you are probably thinking something like this: I can’t even give 10%, much less anything over and above that.

I get that. I truly do. When we got married, we started life out with (my) college debt. We lived very meagerly in a small apartment. Every dollar counted. We didn’t have much and giving 10% of what we did have meant real sacrifice. It was difficult to place that check in the offering plate each week, but we had been taught by our parents that you give, no matter what.

And, now, looking back over all of those years, we wouldn’t change a thing. God was so faithful! He always provided for us. Always. We had some lean years but we were always able to pay our employees. We always had enough to eat. We could always pay our bills. Not always on time–but they always got paid!

So why do we tithe? We know that God doesn’t need our money. So what’s the deal? I love how Dave Ramsey puts this

So why does He ask us to give 10% to Him? Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, employees and employers.

Once again, we see that this is a guideline that blesses us. That it was given for our good and our benefit. What a kind God we serve. Something that would seemingly cost us a great deal actually ends up blessing us!

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10% require something from us, don’t they? They require sacrifice and discipline. But the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. We have seen this in our own lives and in the lives of others. Don’t despair if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. You can do this. I believe when we choose to honor God and the patterns He has set before us in scripture, He enables us to follow them. He will walk with us each step of the way.

 

 

The One Thing Needful

Seven Ways to Grow in the Busy Seasons of Life

typorama

In preparing a Bible Study on Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) recently, I was convicted once again how important it is to do the “one thing needful”: Hear the words of the Lord. Today we do this by filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word.

As I studied, I was reminded just how difficult it was for me to have my quiet time when I was a young mom. Life is really hectic then and it seems like as soon as you sit down to spend some time with the Lord, the baby starts crying or the children start fighting. With the unpredictability of days with kids and the overwhelming amount of cleaning, cooking, and laundry, it felt almost impossible for awhile.

Or you may be a caretaker for an elderly parent or be raising your grandchildren and feel exhausted all the time. Work may be demanding and you see no way to change your schedule right now. Whatever you situation, circumstances may be crowding out the hours you used to spend with the Lord.

Life will change and before you know it, you will have the time you so desire now, but until then, I thought you might appreciate a few ideas. In the list below, you will find some creative ways to make time for the Lord in the busy seasons of life. Some of the ideas are ones I have used and others are things that could have helped me if I had thought of them. I hope that they may help some of you incorporate worship and spiritual growth into your life, whatever stage you find yourself in!

1. Commit to reading just one chapter from the Bible each day and writing a summary sentence of the chapter in a notebook.

2. Listen to sermons of godly, trustworthy men. Some examples: John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Justin Peters, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Adrian Rogers, J. Vernon McGee, James Boice, Steve Lawson. Search for these men in these apps and websites: iCatcher, OnePlace, SermonAudio

3. Commit to replacing some of your recreational reading or TV and Internet time with Christian classics, missionary biographies, and other books that will grow you as a Christian. Use discernment because the wrong book can change your theology! Some books to get you started: Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George; The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink; Soul Heights and Soul Depths by Octavius Winslow; Discipline: The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot; George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer; Gladys Aylward by Sam Wellman

4. Use the snippets of time in your life. Time spent in the car, in the shower, waiting in the doctor’s office or at soccer practices, and doing household chores can be used to memorize verses, listen to sermons, or pray.

5. Instead of automatically turning on that country or pop station, play Christian music. In fact, consider finding a CD or creating a playlist of hymns. You will be surprised at how these will   bless your heart if you pay attention to the lyrics. Consider teaching these to your children.

6. Hold a Bible Study in your home or at your workplace for one or two other women during nap time or break time. This will function as an accountability for you because you will have to dig into the Word and be prepared! God will use this in your life and in the life of others if you are committed to teaching the literal Word of God, use biblical resources, and are humble enough to admit that you don’t have all the answers.

7. Memorize Bible verses and passages, using bits and pieces of time that would be otherwise wasted by scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or whatever is your choice of wasting time. You can even do this with your kids, teaching them to hide God’s Word in their heart at the same time you are hiding it in yours!

Do you have other ideas? I would love to hear how you have incorporated worship and devotional times into your busy seasons of life.

 

Why Are We Praying What We Are Praying?

prayer

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.

Christian, You Will Still Be Saved After the Election

img_5280-1

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.

 

Every Promise Kept

foggy-woods

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.

Standing Out in a Sea of Black and White

IMG_3873

On our recent visit to an aquarium, we saw this featherless penguin (see photo above). We all noticed him. The poor guy. He looked awkward sitting there among the beautiful black and white penguins. Instead of a sleek black and white coat, he was covered in a brownish-gray fuzz. He looked quite pathetic.

I spoke with the Aquarium representative and he shared that this particular penguin has an issue with molting. Instead of his feathers coming in every season, they only come in every other year. They had made a special wet suit to help this little guy get through the harsh Connecticut winters.

I think we Christians are a little like this featherless penguin.

In some ways, before we come to Christ, our good deeds function as our feathers. They comfort us and make us believe that we are right with God. Wearing them, we fit in with all of the other Christians and non-Christians, as we strive to be kind, do what’s right, and follow man-made rules. It isn’t until we stand before God without any of our righteous deeds covering us that we can fully understand God’s plan of salvation. The truth of the matter is that we can never be saved when we are counting on our righteous deeds to save us.

This means, simply, that there are really only two world religions –God has provided a way of salvation through His Son Jesus alone (True Christianity) OR Man is trying to reach God through self-righteousness and rules (All other world religions–including some that are labeled “Christianity”).

If we are part of the first religion, we stand out in a crowd, don’t we? When we came upon the penguins, they all melted together in an array of black and white life–all except for that brown fuzzy one. He stood out among them.

I guess this is what I really want to focus on. If we are a true believer in Jesus Christ, we have been given a wetsuit that can only be provided by God. Yes, we look funny. And, yes, we will stand out. And maybe the other “penguins” won’t like us and will pick on us. This is how it is when we step away from the crowd.

This has, historically, been part of what makes it so tough to be a believer. We hate to look different. We don’t want to stand out. And, yet, this is part of being a true Christian.

Paul writes about this in Ephesians 5:8– For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

If we are a light in the darkness, we are definitely going to stand out! Unless we try really hard not to. Which we do in a myriad of ways, don’t we?–

–We join our friends in their gossip, complaining, and crude jesting.

–We go along to that ungodly movie that our group of friends or our family wants to see.

–We ignore the horrible lyrics on the radio because we want to be the “cool” mom.

–We (and our daughters) wear the same thing to the beach as everyone else. (A little side note here– this is definitely a way to stand out. People think you are absolutely ODD if you are a young woman who doesn’t wear a bikini. I still shake my head over how it became appropriate for Christian women to be almost naked in public. How did Christians come to accept this as okay? How do dads– who I know love their precious daughters deeply –allow them to dress like this when they know how mens’ minds work? This will forever be a puzzle to me. I will step down off my soapbox now…)

Bottom line: Many people who call themselves Christians are just like the world. They wear the same things, they curse, they have sex before they are married, they watch the same entertainment, they look just like the world. 

With the onset of the Olympics this week, many people have been posting an article about Micheal Phelps becoming saved in 2014. I was disturbed to find out that he is living with his fiancee and that they had a son together five months ago. Surely, even a baby Christian would understand that living out of wedlock is a sin? But not in this sick world we are in. I have no idea if this young man is truly saved but what I do know is that he certainly shouldn’t be held up as some kind of Christian role model.

We are to stand out! We are to be obedient to the words of scripture. We are not to join the world in all its lusts and sinful activities. And, yet, somehow this has all become fully acceptable with nary a word. I just don’t get it.

We are to be that penguin that looks different among all of the black and white. That is part of the cost to being a Christian. Yes, the plan of salvation is simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Following Christ means taking up our cross and denying self (Matthew 16:24). It is not a self-centered decision –filling us with purpose, giving us happiness, etc.

When we fall humbly before God confessing our sin and asking Him to save us, it is a God-centered decision, making us right with the One, True God so that we can stand righteous before Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the only way to be reconciled to God.

When we surrender our wills and lives to God, our happiness, our purpose, our health and wealth are irrelevant. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Are you standing out? Are you focused on your own personal happiness and fulfillment or on surrendering your will to God’s? This is a constant battle. For me, too. But we know that God’s Word teaches that true salvation yields transformation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). Truly saved people stand out like featherless penguins in a sea of black and white. Truly saved people rely on Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Any good works are done because of the deep love they have for their Savior–not because of some drive to save themselves. Sure, we all grow spiritually at different rates and we give grace to those who are young in the Lord (Philippians 1:6). But this cannot keep us from speaking these important truths.

It is critically important that this is the Gospel we not only preach but that we also live! Eternal destinies are at stake.

 

 

 

Are You Planting Seeds or Building Walls?

pexels-photo-112640

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.

 

Learning From Those Who Have Gone On Before

books-1131589_1920

As you may have already guessed, I love to read. I have been reading books since I learned my alphabet. The first series I remember reading is the Boxcar Children. I loved solving mysteries with them! Next I went on to Nancy Drew and then onto Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr (same author, different pennames; don’t really recommend overall). Are you seeing a pattern here? Mystery was my genre of choice. I remember, as a teenager, staying up late one night to finish Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The rest of the night I went in and out of a terrible nightmare, sure I was the next one to be murdered. I think I only ever read one Agatha Christie novel after that and that was just a few years ago! I was not anxious to repeat that experience!

As I got older, my tastes leaned towards Christian romance novels. I read Francine Rivers, Lori Wick, Lawana Blackwell, Karen Kingsbury, and Janette Oke–to name a few. I enjoyed them and they were easy to read, usually complete with happy endings. I still enjoy reading some of these once in awhile. They are easy and entertaining.

When I started homeschooling, I developed a love for the classics and I started reading books I never had an interest in before. In that phase, I read most of Jane Austen’s books, Jane Eyre, Count of Monte Cristo, Robison Crusoe, Oliver Twist, and Ivanhoe. I loved every single one of them. There is a reason they are called classics, and I really would like to read more from this category during my lifetime.

And then one year, I read the story of Gladys Aylward to the kids and I was hooked! I have been reading missionary biographies ever since. About that same time, I picked up a Christian Classic called Humility by Andrew Murray. These two genres strengthened my faith by leaps and bounds.  So, while I still do read some fiction and classics, I read mostly biographies and Christian classics now.

Have you ever thought how incredible the written language is? Dave Ramsey puts it this way: “We will be the same person in five years that we are today, except for the books we read and the people we meet.”

Books change us. So it is not only important that we actually read full-length books–something fewer and fewer of us are even doing–but it is critically important what we read. If we are satisfied with always reading junk food or–worse yet–the heretical stuff of modern times that leaves scripture out or twists it into something it is not (such as The Shack, Jesus Calling, Love Wins), then we may be changed but it certainly won’t be in a biblical way.

Romans 8:29 says this: For whom He {God} did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

These verses show that God has planned for us to grow more like Jesus every day. This should be the underlying passion that drives us if we are believers.

Ask yourself this question: Did any of the last three books I read teach me to look more like Jesus? Keep in mind that I am most certainly not talking about the world’s “Jesus”–the one that has been created to pacify their dull consciences. No, that isn’t Jesus. They just call their false god the same name as my Savior. I am referring to the One who is kind, compassionate, just, prayerful, loving, truthful. The One who denies Himself for the will of the Father. Who takes up His cross. The biblical Jesus that we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

If not, why not?

I have thought of a few reasons why reading the words of those who have gone on to glory before me have helped me to grow in my faith. I am hoping that these reasons may compel you, too, to pick up a classic or a biography and get started. As I’ve already said, books change us. Because this is true, it is critically important that we read books that are in line with scripture.

Here is my short list of why you, too, should develop the habit of reading old books–

1.   They encourage us. Some of these people have gone through the worst circumstances possible and, yet, they faithfully continued to walk with Jesus.

2.  They teach us to turn to God and His Word in trials. If we listen to the world–and even the modern day church– around us, we will soon be convinced that God’s Word is irrelevant in this day and age. We need medications and doctors and therapists if there is ever going to be true change. But this just isn’t true.

3.  They teach us that our “Happy Ending” will be in eternity. We have this expectation as Westerners that we deserve a good life. And, yet, I am amazed at how few people really do have a good life. They are women born in middle-eastern cultures or children sold into the sex slavery trade by their own parents. Even more amazing yet are those that choose a hard life. Missionaries that give more than they can afford for little–if any–reward. Men and women who purposefully choose to live without any modern-day conveniences in order to reach the lost. Men and women who stand up for Truth, even if it means persecution and death. All because they aren’t constantly grasping and reaching for happiness and fulfillment here on this sin-splattered planet like the rest of us tend to do.

4. They teach us how to walk with God. I love God’s Word and this should be our first and foremost place to go for learning and studying. But God has gifted certain men and women with insight to exposit and explain scripture. Their works are wonderful companions to what we are learning in God’s Word. Currently, I am reading through the Gospels, following the schedule my pastor gave us at the beginning of the year. My study has been so enhanced by reading Expository Thoughts on the Gospels by J.C. Ryle and Why Four Gospels? by A.W. Pink. These books really are helping me to understand the scriptures better. I have gained such insight from these great men of God.

5. They show us that God controls the things that are outside our control. Oh, the peace and comfort that I have drawn from reading about the miraculous ways of God in seemingly impossible circumstances. Even now, as we face an impossible election with two of the worst candidates imaginable and the future looks increasingly bleak, I know that my God is in control. God’s Word says this and I have seen the truth of these words in the lives of those who have gone on before us. He will make a way for us to go through the upcoming deep waters. “He will make a way when there seems to be no way.” (Anyone else remember those lyrics from the 80s worship chorus??)

6.  And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, these books give us perspective. Oh, precious perspective. We can become so myopic and self-focused. These books teach us to look outward and upward. They remind us of the many lives that have been lived well before us. They remind us of what matters. And why it matters.

I am currently reading Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards. I think the thing that has struck me most is how similar his battles are to ours. He, too, was persecuted for standing up for truth. He, too, was battling against experience-based religion that took hold of his culture. And yet, he kept on serving the Lord by preaching and writing. And here we are–hundreds of years later–still reading his words and benefiting from his insight because he remained faithful in the midst of the fire.

I want to do the same. And these books encourage me to do that!

Practically speaking, I know that these books are not the enjoyable fodder we want to read on the beach or during our summer vacations. We like light stuff this time of the year, and I, too, usually pick a novel to read. But I truly do hope you will consider picking up a serious book or two to read along with your novels. I will list a few of my favorite authors below. Many of these authors’ books are public domain, which means they are free or very inexpensive for Kindle.

Here are a few of my favorite Christian Classic authors with some titles–

J.C. Ryle (Holiness; Practical Religion)

A.W. Pink (The Attributes of God; The Sovereignty of God)

Charles Spurgeon (Lectures to My Students; Twelve Sermons on Humility)

Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment; A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness)

R.A. Torrey (How to Study the Bible)

Elisabeth Elliot (The Liberty of Obedience; Discipline: The Glad Surrender)

While I have read (or am reading) most of these books, I have not read all of them. A few of them are on my Kindle awaiting their turn. However, the specific biographies below I have read and have been changed by reading them. I highly, highly recommend–

Anything by Iain Murray. He writes biographies of great Christian men; anything by him will be of great benefit to you. As I mentioned, I am currently reading his biography on Jonathan Edwards.

Isobel Kuhn has written several autobiographies and biographies. They are excellent! By Searching is a good place to start.

George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer

Gladys Aylward by Sam Wellman

Under His Wings by Stephen Lehmann

The Story of John G Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals by John G Paton

 

I hope these will give you some ideas of a place to get started. I promise you–I PROMISE YOU–you will not be sorry if you purposefully develop the habit to read books like those listed above. You will grow in ways you never thought possible. Your faith in God will deepen and you will be changed. Let’s purpose to fill our minds with biblical books that deepen and enhance our understanding of the Bible rather than those that relegate the Bible to the background or eliminate it altogether.

Happy Reading!

 

The Birthday Party (or Self-Obsession: Part 2)

birthday-947438_1920

After I published my last post, a couple of my friends contacted me to make sure they hadn’t been the ones to offend me with their words. I am so glad they did! First, so I could tell them they certainly had not and that my post had nothing to do with them, but also because they made me realize that I had neglected to say something when I wrote my post yesterday. (First, let me add here that I am fairly certain that the people I referred to in that post never read Growing4Life. If I thought they did, I would not have written it.)

But this is what I forgot to mention yesterday: No one owes me an apology. Anything I perceived to be hurtful is just that: my self-absorbed perception. I truly know that neither of those people meant to hurt me.

Have you ever caught yourself being driven by your perceptions of events rather than actual facts? Or perhaps of taking an off-handed comment and allowing it to take you into a downward spiral, far from the path of truthful thoughts? If you have, then you know what I mean.

So often we allow ourselves to hear something and by the time we are finished thinking about it, we have determined that the person who said it hates us with a deep, abiding passion (or some other similar, depressing, false thought).

If we continue to follow this line of thought, our spirit cries out for our “rights” to be approved and loved (as if they are rights somehow!) and our pride demands confrontation. But this is not usually the best way to deal with something like this.

It reminds me of an incident that happened to me long ago. One of my daughters spent a great deal of time with a group of girls. One day one of the girls handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party. The only problem was that my daughter did not receive an invitation. Oh, how hurt she was! How hurt I was for her! My gut reaction was to be offended and upset over this. Actually, I was very offended over this. Why does it always hurt us moms at least 20 times more when our kids are hurt than when we are hurt ourselves??

When I shared the incident with a friend, she suggested I “confront” this mother about this in Matthew 18 fashion. But, for whatever reason, I recognized that my offense wasn’t based on biblical doctrine, but instead on my own personal feelings. Young as I was, God gave me the wisdom to not follow that advice and I am so very thankful for that.

That little girl had every right to invite who she wanted to that party. It was none of my business. It also taught my daughter (and me!) a lesson in handling disappointment.

Do you realize that perhaps 80-90% of the things we are offended over are due to our own wrong perceptions, pride, and selfishness? Confronting someone about something that is based on these things is the makings for serious turmoil in our relationships.

I know this because I haven’t always so wisely refrained from confrontation. But I am learning. Slowly learning. And now, I confront less and less. Unless it is a sin issue that can be backed up with scripture, I try to stay quiet. Although, I have to admit here that this is much harder to practice at home than anywhere else! I am also learning that sometimes it is best to offer grace, even when it is a sin issue. Sure, sometimes people say purposeful, mean things or do unkind things to us which are certainly harder to forgive. But, unless it is a regular occurrence by the same person, I am learning to choose grace: To process and forgive and love without making a scene and without holding a grudge, giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to show much grace. This is so much easier to do when I remember just how much grace I need myself–from God, first and foremost, but also from those who know me.

God is so good. He meets us in our desire to forgive the small (and large) offenses that come our way and I can honestly say that He has helped me to forgive both actual and perceived hurts. He can and will do the same for you. If you struggle with this, He will help you. We serve a great God who not only has saved our souls, but who strengthens and sanctifies us in our everyday walk with Him, as well. He has given us His Word for our anchor and guide while we live here on earth and there is much there that is said on this subject of forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 is a good place to start.

Well, I promise not to flood your inbox every day, but I did want to do this quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I hope that it has clarified some things and that it has encouraged your heart. Have a great day!