The Ticking Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

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

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

We choose what bothers us. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Best Christian You’ve Never Heard Of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Flimsy Gospel

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

A couple of holes.

Right in the middle of the perfect shirt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Who Has Your Loyalty?

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

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

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

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

This is called loyalty. Or allegiance.

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

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

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

I ask this because–

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

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

or

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

or

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

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

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

Why do you want to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beyond the Clouds

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No matter what weather is going on down on earth, when a giant, silver-winged plane soars beyond the clouds, the sun soon appears. Have you noticed that, too, when you have had the opportunity to fly? Above all of the black clouds or fuzzy gray fog, we always–without fail–will find the sun.

I have often thought that there is a very similar spiritual parallel to this. As you may already know, I am a Bible Study leader. Currently, we are studying Philippians and I have been struck–as I usually am in this epistle–by Paul’s focus on joy. When you really think about all of the pain and suffering Paul endured (much of it because he was standing for truth), it seems almost incongruous, doesn’t it?

How in the world could Paul have been content and joyful through all of these hardships? And yet, we read in Philippians 4:11-12

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.

And he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 7:4

Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.

So just how did Paul learn to be content in all circumstances? What was the source of his joy?

It is generally agreed that the key word for Philippians is the word joy. And that is most definitely the main theme throughout the book.  The Greek noun or verb form of the word “joy” is found over a dozen times. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Paul mentions Christ 50 times in this short epistle. John MacArthur puts it this way in his introductory sermon on Philippians

The theme of these chapters is joy; Paul mentions it at least 16 times in these four chapters.  He also mentions Christ 50 times.  And that is because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

I think that last sentence is worth repeating–

Because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

Now think about this with me for a moment. Is your joy found in Christ? Because I can tell you right now that this is a huge struggle for me. Instead, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for happy circumstances and personal comfort and convenience. And when all is lined up just perfectly, then I claim to be joyful. But is this really joy? Or is it rather just a temporary state of well-being that I am calling “joy”?

You may be wondering by now what all this has to do with an airplane and clouds and the sun…

Well, I am glad you asked!

I wonder if we are so desperate for sunny skies and carefree living that we forget that Christ is always there–working through all of our circumstances–whether we can see Him clearly or not. And I wonder if our finite and temporal view of things makes us distracted and forgetful? Are we so focused on the here and now that we lose sight of the big picture?

If we can only see the clouds and forget what is beyond them, we can become embroiled in grief and depression and despair. Without proper perspective, we become unhappy, thankless, selfish people who live just like the rest of the world.

But if we, like Paul, can remember that our joy and, in fact, our very lives, are wrapped up in the Person of Christ, then we become a joyful and peaceful person that not only stands through the storms of life, but who can also boldly testify to the strength and power and faithfulness of Christ’s love through those storms.

For He is always there.

The winds may blow, the skies grow dark, and the rains pour down but Christ will not move. He is the constant that our whole world revolves around.  And He is always there, working in and through the shadows and storms for His glory and our good.

Paul says it best in Romans 8:28-29

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

I guess joy and contentment will always be a battle for most of us. It will be something that eludes us as we focus on ourselves and on our temporal situations. But when we turn our focus to the Lord Jesus, the temporal will fade a bit. Oh, it never fades completely, of course, but it fades a bit. And as we become more and more mature in the faith, we become more and more content. And contentment yields greater joy and peace. Isn’t this a most wonderful thought?

Seeing Clearly

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A few years ago, things started to get fuzzy. Books, menus, texts on my iPhone, nutrition information on the back of a food container–they all became difficult to read and I found myself squinting or holding the item way out in front of me so that I could decipher what it said. I finally gave in and bought the weakest reading glasses available. Suddenly, reading became an easy thing again.

I knew what that meant. My eyes were doing what most eyes do as they get older–namely, to lose their ability to see things close up. I remember going into the library with my young children years ago, seeing the shelf of “large print” books, and thinking just how old people must be if they need books with large print.  And here I was. Already. I didn’t even feel that old.

As the years went by, my eyes grew steadily worse and I would have to buy the next “number” on the reading glasses scale. Until, finally, the other day it dawned on me that, sadly, I can hardly make out even a word without them anymore. I may as well be blind when I hold a book or menu in front of me but–magically–things grow super clear as soon as I put those glasses in front of my eyes.

As I was thinking about this, I realized that the Word of God is rather like a pair of glasses that helps us to see truth and to view the world from God’s perspective. When we are saved, we suddenly walk into the marvelous light (I Peter 2:9), where we can finally see again! Life is never the same again and as we read the Word, God uses it to open our eyes and make clear what once was utterly inexplicable to us as an unbeliever.

For all of us were blinded before we were saved. We could not see because the god of this age had blinded us. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 puts it this way–

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

But when the gospel of the glory of Christ shined brightly on our lives, it changed us. And God’s Word went from being an old, irrelevant book to being the instrument God uses to change us, filling us with truth about who God is, building our faith, offering encouragement for us in our trials, and convicting us of our sin. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that–

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

How grateful I am for the Word of God that takes away my blindness! How wondrous it is to see things clearly. To walk in truth instead of stumbling in murky darkness. To rely on God’s wisdom instead of my own short-sighted and vain philosophies.

If we are saved, the Word helps us see! The Bible is the Book that God has given us to know Him. It is this Book that helps us to understand the purposes and plan of our enemy. And the Book that clears our vision so that we can see our sin in all its dark ugliness. But this Book also shares the Gospel story and is full of wonderfully encouraging, uplifting words for us in our trials and struggles. It is an amazing, incredible Book that God, in His infinite wisdom, gave to us.

And yet, many of us treat the Bible like any other book on our shelf. It sits side by side with our novels and our non-fiction self-help books and holds no dearer place in our lives than that of any other book. In a lot of ways how we live with our Bible is like me living the rest of my life without putting on my glasses–walking around not being able to read a thing simply because I am too proud, too lazy, or too apathetic to put on my glasses.

If you are younger (in years or in the Lord) you may be thinking right now that you don’t feel that way about the Word of God. You want to but you just don’t. Well, don’t be discouraged! The more you study the Word, the more you will see. Cast aside your feelings, your laziness, your too-busy schedule and just get in the Word and your love for it will deepen and grow. And you, too, will start to treasure the Word of God.

And to my young friends who can’t comprehend ever needing reading glasses…well, I just have to say it is coming sooner rather than later. Life goes by so fast and we dare not waste a day. Even though we all do! That’s just life, I guess.

Why Are We So Afraid?

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Have you ever wondered why we are so afraid of what people think of us? Many of us actually let this fear control what we will wear or what we will buy. We let it control what we will listen to, read, or watch because we are deathly afraid of being labeled uncool. We will let this control what we share on social media (after all, we don’t want to sound too religious) and what we will say to friends and co-workers about God and His Word, being oh-so careful never to be too controversial but to instead stick with very generic phrases like “I’ll pray for you” or “Isn’t God good?”

We have a Chocolate Lab named Macy. She is a fairly big dog whose deep bark can scare almost anybody. I feel much safer when she is around, as she will be quick to courageously face the unknown if she hears noises or sees something that is unfamiliar, always desiring to protect me.

And so it is quite funny to see this strong and powerful dog grow so scared when she sees a vacuum.

This strong and brave dog literally cowers when she sees the vacuum. It doesn’t matter if it’s our little stick vac or our large vacuum, as soon as I hit the “on” button she gets this look of desperation and fear in her eyes and leaves the area as soon as possible!

And yet the vacuum could never hurt her. While a spider or a beetle would have a reasonable fear of a vacuum, a dog would not. And yet she is scared to death of the thing.

I think we can be a lot like that as people. We are terrified of what people will think of us. Oftentimes, we allow this fear to shape our lives, quietly living for Jesus without ever mentioning a word. And yet…

What can they do to us?

Actually, they can do a lot. But they can never take away our assurance of salvation. They can never change the course of our eternal destiny. And they can never, ever take us out from under the loving and faithful care of our heavenly Father.

Of course, they can call us names, they can whisper behind our backs, they can make our lives miserable, they can ostracize us. This is what we face most often and it can be quite unpleasant.

But John the Baptist was actually beheaded for speaking the truth (Mark 6:14-29). Herodias became John’s great enemy simply because he spoke the truth. Eventually she figured out a way to make sure he died.

As believers, it is possible to develop great enemies in this world because we speak the truth. Hopefully, none of them will ever be so wicked and devious as Herodias.

I Peter 4 also makes it clear that we should expect trials for sharing the truth–

 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

Beloved, do not think it strange.

Do not think it strange.

Christians in this culture have been sold the lie that they must always rise up to unify– no matter what heresy is being preached. This is simply not true (Jude 3-4). We are called to speak the truth even if–especially if–it is in opposition to false (and very popular!) teachings. And we will most likely suffer because of it.

Perhaps this is why we are so scared of what others will think of us when we speak the truth of God’s Word. Like Macy, whose eyes fill with fear at the sight of the vacuum, so do our hearts and minds fill with fear when we sense even a little bit of disapproval from men. And yet there is no lasting, eternal damage that they can do to us (Matthew 10:28).

I guess there are some of you who are not affected by the approval of men. I would not be one of them. Blogging here continues to be a tremendous test for me, continually begging me to ask the question to myself: Do I care more about God and His Word or about what people think of me? This all-important question needs to be answered almost every time I post because I struggle so much with worrying about what people will think.

But many of you don’t blog. Perhaps you don’t even post a lot on social media. You may be one who hates confrontations and so you remain in the background. It is fairly easy to just quietly live out your Christian faith without ever speaking about it. But this brings us to another question: Can we please the Savior who died for us by living a good life and yet never mentioning a word about Him?

Let’s see what scripture has to say–

Psalm 96:2-4 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.

I Corinthians 9:16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!

Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

These verses make it pretty clear that we should be sharing the Gospel and declaring the glory of the Lord as we live our daily lives. When we become believers, we are transformed from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive! This, alone, should give us a desire to share our faith. What a wonderful and incredible thing! And, yet, so often, we are so frightened by the opinions of those around us that we keep quiet.

So I want to encourage you today to speak up! Don’t be afraid. And I want you to know that I face this battle on a daily basis, too! But we know from the verses in Peter (above) that suffering for Christ is a trial we should expect. It is a trial that should produce no shame for us as believers. This verse in Matthew sums it all up rather nicely–

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Let us live bravely and boldly, declaring the Word of the Lord as He gives us opportunities. Let us fear God and never men as we live in a culture that grows increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity. We need not fear, for the Lord is on our side.

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
Psalm 118:6

 

Learn to Discern: Introduction

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I have found myself wondering recently what my grandmother would think of the church if she would be here now. She died twenty-six years ago–two weeks before my first daughter was born. Like the proverbial frog in the pot, I don’t think we truly realize how much things in the mainstream church have changed in those years. But what if she could come back for just a day? How clear would the changes be to her?

I guess it is rather like when we haven’t seen a child for a few years. To those who are living with the child, the changes are so subtle and imperceptible that they are hardly noticed. But to someone who hasn’t been with the child, the changes are radical.

I believe that this is exactly what is happening now. The changes to the church have been profound and inconceivable and yet so many of us don’t see.

Why is this?

I believe it is for primarily four reasons–

1. We don’t know the Word of God. There is serious biblical illiteracy in America today. This is from Al Mohler’s post on the subject

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.

How can we discern if we don’t have any idea what we are comparing the false doctrine to?

2. We don’t care. What I mean by not caring is not a blatant and hostile disregard for the truth, but rather a distracted, apathetic disinterest towards truth. We are busy with other–seemingly more important–things. Things like jobs, education, the arts, sports, church, family, health and fitness, hobbies, vacations. These are all good things, but when we allow them to consume all of our passion, time, and enthusiasm then we are left too drained and exhausted to be concerned with God’s Word and what it says.

(How do we fix this? There is an easy solution! Time spent in God’s Word, diligently studying it, eliminates apathy towards the truth.)

3. We have been brainwashed to believe that truth is not absolute. Even those of us who call ourselves Christians will fall for this if we aren’t careful. I have heard Christians say things like this:

“That book was such a comfort to me, how could it possibly be wrong?” and “This book really helped me understand who God is”–even though the books in question were blatantly and clearly against what scripture teaches.

or

“How can you argue against so-and-so’s experience?” regarding someone’s account that was in direct opposition to the Word of God.

We have allowed truth to be defined by our subjective experiences instead of by the Word of God.

4. And, finally, we are afraid. I get this one. I truly do. It is no fun at all being the one who gets mocked because you point out that yet another book or movie or band is not biblical. And now it seems like there are far more that are not biblical than those that are. I agree that it is far easier to be ignorant of what’s going on in the church.

But are these excuses good enough? Will they stand up when we stand in front of our Holy God and give an account of our lives? Or will we one day deeply regret just how how deceived we were and, in being deceived, how we aided in the deception of other souls–both lost and saved–as well?

Sadly, the choice to discern can come with some heartache (see #3 below) and it will cost us in ways that hurt. And so we have to decide if we want to follow God or if we want to be popular; If we want to follow God or if we want to have our ears tickled; If we want to follow our perfect God or if we are going to follow imperfect man.

I have a great passion for the truth that was passed on to me by my father. He instilled this love for truth in the hearts of both my brother (Pastor Dean) and myself and, in many ways, the ministries that we both have are his legacy.

It is my hope that Growing 4 Life has helped you grow in your knowledge of the Word and in your love for truth. For this is why I write. It is with this in mind that I am going to start a series called “Learn to Discern”. What I hope to do through this series is to give you a broader understanding of what exactly is going on in the church (and the world) today, comparing it all to what scripture says.

So what is discernment? We hear this word, but perhaps you aren’t quite sure what it is. We find this definition on an excellent post titled Defining Discernment over at Grace to You–

In its simplest definition, discernment is nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.

And so it is my hope that this series will help you learn to run any new philosophies, trends, and methods through the grid of scripture. It is my hope that your loyalty to God and His Word will grow through this series and your loyalty to fallible man–whether they be preachers, authors, musicians, or friends– will be subjected to the Word of God, first and foremost.

The first two posts in this series will be written by my brother (Pastor Dean), who will first give us a definition of biblical Christianity according to the Word of God and, second, an overview of how this definition has been warped and twisted and perverted in what we call “Christianity” today. After those two posts, I will break it down by writing on topics that will {hopefully} give you greater insight. It is my hope and prayer that this series will be simple and understandable.

There are a few things to keep in mind as we begin this series–

1. We are all called to discern. Sometimes I will hear someone say something like this–“I don’t see that stuff. You just have the gift of discernment.” There might be some truth to that, but I would actually say that all of us–by diligently studying the Word and training our minds to compare all we hear and see with what the Word says–can (and should) become effective discerners. It reminds me a bit of evangelism–not having the gift of evangelism doesn’t mean we never have to do it. It may be a little easier for those who are gifted but it is something we all are called to do. The same principle applies to discernment (Hebrews 5:14; Philippians 1:9-11).

2. The only thing that matters is the Word of God. It matters not what I think at all. If you read this blog often, you will already know this but let me say it again– my opinion matters ZERO. Zilch. Not. At. All. I don’t want you to rely on me for truth. Or on Pastor Dean. Or even on your own pastor. While we are certainly able to learn and grow from the teachings of other men and women, our job is to search out what the scriptures say for ourselves, running everything anybody says through the grid of the Word of God (Acts 17:11). As believers, we must hold to the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of scripture. Each topic in this series will be studied in light of the Word as it has been traditionally interpreted since it was first written (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15).

3. Discernment is not popular. As you learn and your eyes are opened, you may be excited to share what you are learning. Please be aware that many people will roll their eyes, change the subject, call you things like harsh, unloving, or hyper-critical, and/or talk about you behind your back. Some will even grow angry with you. Walls will go up between you and friends whom you love. Just as trying to swim upstream feels impossible, so, too, does going against the flow of the mainstream church. Most people are very comfortable swimming downstream and the fact that you are swimming in the opposite direction–no matter if it is based clearly on scripture or not–makes most Christians extremely uncomfortable. Prepare yourself for this and make sure you are always loving, kind, and gentle as God gives you opportunity to discuss the things you are learning. And always remember that it is the Holy Spirit who opens eyes. Remembering this helps us to stay calm and to back away without rancor when someone just can’t see. None of this is worth a heated argument. It just isn’t. Walk away and pray. That’s the best thing we can do.

4. We can never judge someone’s relationship with God. As I give you examples of men and women who may have fallen for some of these false doctrines and philosophies, the inevitable, panicked questions will be —Do they know what they are doing? Does that mean they aren’t saved? I can tell you up front and right now that I don’t knowThere is really no way to know if they have been deceived or if they are purposely deceiving. Only God knows the heart of a man (Jeremiah 20:12). My goal is to show how these philosophies have infiltrated the ministries of those in mainstream Christianity, as well as even many of those that are associated with conservative Christianity. I am not judging hearts, motives, or eternal destinies. Please keep this in mind.

5. What you do with this information is up to you. Some of you will be uninterested and ignore the series. Some of you will read it and grab hold of it and determine to not read or listen to anything by anyone who you know has compromised. And others of you will try to walk the fine line of sorting through the good and the bad as you continue to do the Bible Studies or listen to the sermons of those who are teaching false doctrines. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I do. When I become aware that someone is teaching false doctrine, I eliminate them from having any input into my life. This has been my practice for a very long time. I do not have enough confidence in myself to believe that I would be incapable of being deceived. I never want to knowingly subject myself to anything that doesn’t agree with scripture. Just as I would never eat a brownie or a bowl of soup that contained even 1% poison, so I choose not to knowingly ingest anything into my mind that contains 1% poison.

It is my hope and prayer that this series will be a great blessing to those of you that really want to understand what is going on. And may I humbly ask you to pray for me as I work on this series? I feel the weight of such an important series in this current day and age. I don’t want to lead anyone astray but desire only to lift high God and His Word, while exposing the evil darkness that is cloaking itself as “wonderful” and “good” in the church today.

If you are still here and reading after this unusually long post, I thank you. Have a great day!

(p.s. This series will be presented on most Mondays over the course of the next few months, as my schedule allows. Thursdays will be reserved for normal Growing4Life posts.)

 

Being Molded to Look Like Christ

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Suffering. Something that happens to all of us. When we think of suffering, we often think of the obvious things that we can see. We know someone is suffering when they are fighting cancer or when a loved one dies. We know they are suffering if their child is arrested or when they lose their job. Physical disabilities, car accidents, a child with Down’s Syndrome, a house fire–these things fill us with deep compassion.

But there is so much suffering we never see–a family’s daily struggle to stay financially afloat; being married to a selfish, difficult spouse; a chronic disease or physical injury that isn’t outwardly visible; debilitating anxiety; persecution in all its various forms as we stand for God and His Word in an increasingly hostile world and apostate church; the betrayal of a trusted friend or family member; pornography, drug, and alcohol addictions; sexual or verbal abuse; a neighbor or co-worker who has made it their goal to make your life miserable for whatever reason; church issues; rebellious children…

This list could go on and on and on…and on. In fact, it is probably far longer than the list of troubles we can see in the lives of others.

This came to mind yesterday as I was reading in *Romans 5. Verses 3-5 tell us this–

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

So what is my point? I have two, actually.

First, I just wonder how much more grace we would have for others if we would remember that they may be struggling through something we can’t even see. We are so quick to judge and yet all of us, in one way or another, is struggling. And if we aren’t suffering now, it will come. So often we think we are so spiritually mature and yet none of us knows how we’d act if we were handed the same circumstances as that fellow Christian. This doesn’t mean we let a beloved Christian sister or brother wallow in sinful reactions and choices. But remembering this does fill us with so much more love and grace as we help them.

And, second, let’s remember that God uses all of our suffering–the visible trials and the secret torments– to grow us in endurance, character, and hope. But this can only happen when we are turning to the Lord on a daily basis. Trying to endure on our own strength is exhausting and pointless. It is like being on a hamster wheel–we end up using all of our energy to turn in circles.

And, I guess I do have one final thought on this subject of suffering. I have found in my own life that many times God uses the little irritations and frustrations of life to draw me to Himself and to grow me in endurance. A disobedient toddler or a challenging situation at work can be used to mold us into the image of Christ.

Our whole lives are made up of moments that give us a choice:

Will we grow? Or will we respond with our selfish, human nature?

As believers, God is using everything to shape us and to work things out for His glory. We are all familiar with Romans 8:28–

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

But we need to continue reading verse 29–

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

One of God’s purposes–perhaps His main purpose for us–is to conform us into the image of His Son. May we not forget this as we suffer through trials seen and unseen. May we keep the eternal purpose in mind as we face inconsequential frustrations and overwhelming tribulations.

And may we remember that, through it all, God will not give up on us! Paul let us know this in Philippians 1:6–

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

And so we must keep fighting our sinful flesh through the trials. We must submit to God’s sculpting hand as He molds us into the image of His Son. And as we do so may we rely on the help and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We can’t give up. Thankfully, God will be right by our side, never leaving or forsaking us. What a glorious encouragement!

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

(By the way, I feel slightly hypocritical even writing this, since many of you know I continue to work through all of the changes in my life over these past few years, but I guess at least you know that a) I am writing to myself as much as I am writing for you and b) I am not giving up!)

 

* I was reading Romans 5 for our 2017 Bible Challenge. If you haven’t started a Bible Reading plan yet for this year, it is not too late to join us! And if you are doing the Bible Challenge, please feel free to join the Growing4Life Facebook group especially dedicated to the challenge. There you will find encouragement and resources regarding our Bible Readings.

 

 

 

Velvet Soft

velvet softIt has been a long winter around here so far. My husband and I have been fighting colds on and off for about a month now. And so the other day I was out and about and found that I needed a tissue. I looked for the nearest box and found one with a label that said Velvet Soft. This makes one think of a luxuriously soft and plush fabric. My nose was expecting to feel something akin to velvet. What if felt was something that was more like sandpaper.

Oh, what a great example of false marketing! It happens everywhere. As if somehow a label on something will actually make it true. I see this especially happening with the label “Christian”. As if putting the word “Christian” on a book or a movie will mean that it is representing biblical Christianity. However, more and more, this label is bringing into the Church books, entertainment, and even sermons that are decidedly unbiblical in their approach to God and His Word.

Why is this?

To put it simply, I believe it is because the focus of Christianity has been removed from our perfect and holy God’s objective truth to sinful, fallible man’s subjective experiences. I like how David F. Wells puts this–

“…And many in the Church have now turned in upon themselves and substituted for the knowledge of God a search for the knowledge of self.”

And this–

“And are we not consumed with what is changing in cultural and personal circumstance rather than with what is unchanging about life, the great universal truths about God, the world, and human nature? Have we not substituted the relative for the absolute, the Many for the One, diversity for unity, the human for the divine, our own private religious experience for truth that was once also public and universal in its scope?”

He wrote this in 1994. What this tells me is that this battle for truth has been going on for many more years than most of us realize. Of course, it has been going on forever. But, within the church, we have had an especially vicious attack and it would appear that Satan has won. Most people who call themselves Christians are far more concerned with their own personal happiness and supernatural experiences than they are with who God is. They are more concerned with being fulfilled and satisfied than they are in taking up their cross and denying themselves. They are more interested in dialoguing than in studying the Word of God.

Where does this leave us true Bible believers? How should we respond? I have a few observations and suggestions–

1. First, we must be aware that not all things labeled velvet soft are actually velvety soft. In other words, just because something has a label that looks appealing or true doesn’t mean it is. We must be willing to discern. If we aren’t, false doctrine will steal in and change what we believe so subtly that we may be completely unaware. We must be on guard at all times. We cannot rest.

2. We have to stop thinking with our hearts. Unlike the “velvet soft” tissue, which revealed its deceit the moment it touched my nose, false doctrine and apostasy will actually feel pretty good. If we use our hearts to judge something to be right or wrong, we will most likely come up with the wrong answer.

Of course, we are being told to listen to our hearts. It’s everywhere–from Disney to Hallmark movies to church. What makes you happy? What works for you? These have become the two litmus tests for truth. But this should never be a believer’s test for truth. We, of all people, should know better. We have the very Word of God and we should know that this is where we discern truth.

Interestingly enough, the other day I heard a Christian song from the 90s that I had loved and listened to often. I guess I never listened to the words because right there in the song was the line–

Until I stop thinking with my head
And start listening to my heart
And there I find my assurance

Wait! What?!? This goes completely against the Word of God (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:9). This was a song by a popular Christian artist, although I don’t believe the actual song was ever that popular. The whole song is actually a ballad of mysticism and I had never, ever caught it–until yesterday. This is what we have been feeding ourselves for years without even thinking about it. No wonder so many of us are listening to our hearts. We have been told to from all directions we turn. But this is not how or where we find truth.

3. When we find out that something labeled “velvet soft” isn’t velvety soft, we must turn away from it and encourage others to turn away from it, as well. It isn’t enough to turn away and then pretend like it never happened. If we truly love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ we must advise others to turn away, as well. If we understand that a book (for example, The Shack or Jesus Calling) is doing great damage to the hearts and minds of fellow believers, it is our duty out of the love we feel for God and our fellow Christians to speak the truth.

But most of us don’t want to do this because it is downright difficult. In fact, we will often be called unloving and judgmental when we are doing the most loving thing possible. People will mock us and make jokes about us. They will talk about us behind our backs and decide they don’t like us. All this while we, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, are reaching out in love to them with the truth of God’s Word. Personal discernment is hard, but actually telling others about what you have learned can feel almost impossible in this current church culture.

(Of course, there are always those who are not loving when they share truth. Instead, they are prideful and arrogant. They have no social sense of when or when not to speak. This is unacceptable for discerning believers. We must be quite sure we are not one of these types! We can hold firmly to the truth without being unkind and annoying.)

If we are trying to lovingly tell someone the truth and it is not so lovingly received, we must remember to keep our focus on Christ. This is when it is critically important to remember that we must find our hope, peace,and joy in God alone. Of course, we want people to like us. We want them to think we are fun and cool. But it is not our calling to be liked by the world (In fact, Jesus tells us we won’t be liked by the world in John 15:18-19). We have one calling only: to know God and make Him known. This includes defending His Word amidst the mass apostasy going on in our churches.  I love how Jude puts this–

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God[b] and our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, as we find ourselves surrounded by things labeled velvet soft that are actually daggers poised to destroy our faith in God and His Word, may we be wisely discerning. May we look to God’s Word for truth instead of our own wicked hearts. And may we bravely and honorably contend for and defend the faith that was delivered to us once for all in God’s Word.