Interconnected Strands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Technology Is Like a Razor Blade

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Razor Blades work great to remove paint from glass. They have other very helpful applications. But they are also dangerous and must be handled extremely carefully.

It sounds like technology.

The other evening I watched a group of teen-aged girls come in from the frigid cold to the warm indoors. The first thing each one of them did–without exception–was to stand for a few minutes at their phones, posting photos from their adventure outside. And then their phones were put away and they started talking.

But this incident reminded me of just how much technology has changed our lives.

That group of girls can’t remember a world without texting and social media. They can’t remember a time you couldn’t FaceTime or Skype someone who lives far away or follow your favorite movie star’s personal life.

But I remember. And the changes are staggering if you really stop and think about it.

But just like that razor blade, the changes are not all bad. There are amazing things that make our lives so much better. I have two daughters that live in a different state than me. Technology makes this so much more bearable. They can send me photos, text me at any time, and we can FaceTime. It makes them feel so much closer. When I lived away from my parents they got an occasional letter and a weekly {very expensive} phone call. This was all we had. There are so many other good things. We can listen to podcasts of godly preachers at the push of a button. We can find free or almost free copies of Christian classics written by godly men long ago. We can use social media to talk about our faith and to point people to God’s Word. And so, of course, we must be grateful for the good things.

But just like that razor blade, technology has an edge. And it will bite. It must be handled very carefully or it can be very dangerous. What are some of the biggest dangers that we must watch out for? Here are a few that I think are worthy of your consideration for yourself or your children–

1. It drives us to be consumed with ourselves. Social Media is designed to glorify self. Look at me! See what I’ve done…see my amazing family…see how I have succeeded…see how cool I am. We twitter our important opinions and expect people to take note. It tends to be a big promoter of SELF. Now don’t hear me saying that posting photos and opinions is sinful. It isn’t. These things can be wonderful tools for family far away to stay in touch with us or a way in which we can point people to Christ. It is our attitude that determines if it is sinful not the act itself.

2. It divides families. When I was growing up, we had one TV. We had to watch the same thing or not watch TV. Now everyone can go their separate ways. Parents are in the family room watching one TV, while their teenager is on their tablet in another room binge-watching a Netflix show, another one is playing video games online, and a daughter is snap-chatting with her friends. They are never together. And the TV is rarely off.

3. It is the greatest thief of family bonding time. Parents have grabbed onto technology as the escape they need from their children. And so, instead of communicating with them and talking about important, eternal things during the hours they have with them in the car, in restaurants, and even at home, they hand them an iPad so that they will shut up and let them alone. This may be the greatest tragedy of all because these kids grow up without having any solid relationship with their parents. In a world of over-worked parents, the iPad has become the tool that is killing their family bit by bit. Of course, giving a child an iPad at a restaurant occasionally or on the a long car ride to Grandma’s isn’t sinful. But if it is habitual, it will harm your family.

4. It promotes gossip. We know far too much about everybody and we like to talk about it. Did you see what so-and-so posted? Did you hear about this person? Or what that person said? Social Media turns us all into busy-bodies if we aren’t extremely careful. While it can be a valuable tool to keep us informed on the people we love, we must be vigilant in taking our thoughts captive in how we think about that information.

5. It has altered our attention spans. In a world driven by photos and two-minute videos, we find it harder and harder to concentrate.  Watching and looking require much less thinking than reading or listening. As we spend less and less time reading and concentrating it becomes harder and harder to do so. It is only with great intention that we can change this. It has become an almost natural thing for young people to hate reading. And this is a grave tragedy. A grave tragedy indeed.

 

These are just a few dangers. There are so many more. The Christian life can never be one of status quo. We are not called to just let life happen while we apathetically stand by. We are called to make intentional choices that move us towards holy living and becoming more like Christ. We do this by examining every single thing through the grid of God’s Word. We do this by scrutinizing the fruit of every thing that comes along. And in doing this, it not only helps us to avoid sin, but it also helps us to keep ourselves from experiencing the worst fruits of those things that can bring such good to our lives but also have potential to cause unbelievable damage.

We cannot sit idly by as our kids are gobbled up by their smart phones. We cannot allow the TV to bring its messages into our homes 24/7. We must be proactive in controlling technology or it will control us.

So how do we change this? What are some practical ways?

A few things I would suggest are this–

1. Don’t turn the TV on at dinnertime. Whether you live by yourself, there are just the two of you, or you have a houseful of kids, let mealtime be a time of discussion or reflection.

2. As a rule, keep iPads, DVD playeres, and headphones out of the car. Exceptions can be made for long trips but, other than that, intentionally use this time to talk about the things of the Lord, to listen to uplifting music together (try some hymns!), or to just play games and have fun together!

3. Put boundaries around the use of phones, video games, TV use, etc. that are doable (and not extreme). Whether it’s for your kids or yourself, going about change in this manner will make it doable and bring small positive changes instead of making it feel impossible.

4. Live intentionally. We must stop letting life happen to us and be more intentional about where we want to go. Year after year passes by without any change at all, if we don’t intentionally work at it. My pastor often quotes something his mom used to say to him: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Yes! This is so true!

5. Live balanced. When my kids were teenagers they had a friend who wasn’t allowed to have any junk food. When she came to my house, she would eat and eat and eat any sugar she could find here. I’ve watched the same thing happen with a couple of girls who weren’t allowed to ever watch TV. They would come to our house and just stare at the TV, unmoving. This is a good lesson that teaches us that removing something that isn’t sinful in and of itself can cause our kids to become obsessed with it. It is often wiser to teach our kids how to use it beneficially and balanced than just eliminating it. This goes for us without kids, as well. We must live balanced lives. We can spend time on social media, but we shouldn’t live there. We can check our smartphones, but we shouldn’t be obsessed with them. It sounds silly to write but I have seen quite a few older people obsessively scrolling through their phones. This is not just a younger generation thing.

 

I hope this helps. I hope it helps us recognize the dangers of technology and also gives us some ideas on how to go about making positive changes in our lives as well as in the lives of our families. Mostly, I hope it reminds us all that this wonderful thing called “technology” is sharp as a razor blade and it will cut us if we aren’t careful.

 

This Little Light of Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are children of light.

So what does this mean, practically speaking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will close with this from John MacArthur–

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

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

 

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

 

Christmas Wreaths (9)

PLEASE NOTE:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

What No One Wants to Talk About

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On Sunday, as we left east Texas to start our long journey home, just a few hours away the unthinkable was happening: An unsuspecting country church congregation in a small Texas town gathered for worship and were gunned down by a madman with a vendetta.

Last night, when I was finally able to catch a bit of news coverage, I heard a reporter say this to a local man she was interviewing–

“There are those on the far left who say the blood of these people is on the hands of the Republicans because they haven’t changed the gun laws.”

His answer was perfect. He assured her that had we had stricter gun laws, the man would have probably gone on to kill more people. Gun laws won’t keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists and madmen, they will keep them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens who desire to protect themselves. And yet, this is always the cry in the wake of something like this–

Gun control! Gun control! Gun control!

But is this really going to solve anything? Or is it far deeper than simply keeping a weapon out of their hands?

Proverbs 4:23 tells us this–

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.

Should we be at least considering if there is a connection between violent, occultic entertainment and evil actions?

The other day, as my husband pulled up next to a car at a local gas station, loud screamo music reverberated throughout the parking lot from its sound system. Evil, mind-numbing music. When he got home he expressed how that music must have some affect on its listeners, as it made his spirit feel angry just to listen to a few seconds of it.

And, all across this nation, people are filling their minds with this kind of music. Music that is filled with lyrics encouraging them to kill, to commit suicide, to shoot, and to commit all other types of evil.

And no one says a word.

Meanwhile, playing on TVs and in movie theaters across this nation are such evil things we could never have imagined. Dark, demonic pictures fill the minds of the masses.

And no one says a word.

Video games rated “M” (as if somehow that will keep impressionable children from playing them) are played–where the whole goal of the game is to shoot, to kill, to maim.

And no one says a word.

Even those who claim to be Christians enjoy these things. And if you dare to say a word, you are branded as the evil one.

I confess that I find myself perplexed beyond measure.

But please tell me this: If we can’t eat a steady diet of junk food and come away unscathed, why do we think we can fill our minds with horror, violence, and the occult and come away unscathed?

And why isn’t anyone talking about the dark, evil entertainment that fills the minds of so many of these shooters? Why isn’t anyone looking for that link?

It’s easy to answer that question, of course. It is called political correctness.

The other day, one of my daughters sent me Taylor Swift’s latest video because she was so appalled. In this dark, evil video, Swift–the innocent sweet 15 year old that hit the music scene not that long ago–appears to be singing about killing someone as she prances about, filling the minds of her audience with all kinds of disturbing images. But no matter how dark, how evil she has become, she is still praised, featured, and promoted by the media. (Perhaps that was the plan all along–to drag more naive, unthinking teens down a dark path while their parents do nothing to stop it.)

Things are so dreadfully wrong with the entertainment industry it is hard to comprehend.

And no one says a word.

Look– I am not implying that this is the only factor in any shooting. Nor am I even implying that it is a factor at all. What I am asking is why isn’t this ever considered? I am not implying that most people will crack under the mountain of evil entertainment they feed their minds. But is it worth considering that some minds will not withstand the pressure?

But no one will ask the questions. And so we are simply left with a hurting, mourning nation, one half crying for more gun control and the other half asking only to be able to defend ourselves in the onslaught of evil attacks that is starting to reign in this nation.

I know that this post will change nothing. It was really just a few thoughts about what is going on. But I do hope that if it changes anything, it will encourage you–as Christian parents and grandparents–to know what your teens are listening to and watching. That you will be proactive and intentional in what goes in their minds, instead of naively believing it won’t affect them. May we lead our families on a path that moves closer to Christ in these dark days. May we not ignore the power that worldly entertainment has in the lives of our own dear families. And may we be brave enough to stand alone in this fight, because–trust me–no one wants to fight this battle. This is one area where you will often stand alone. As Satan targets our kids and grandkids in this area, most will sit idly by. And if you dare to speak up, you become most unfavored and unpopular. So be prepared for this.

Oh, what an upside down world we live in. We can’t change what’s outside our own walls, but may we be tenacious in protecting and caring for those who are under our care and in our circles of influence.

 

Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself

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Somewhere in the second half of the last century, psychologists started declaring that many of the ills and woes we experience are simply because we just do not love ourselves enough. Somewhere in the late 70’s or early 80’s the church jumped on this same bandwagon and started promoting self-esteem as a biblical concept (it isn’t).

While, of course, we read in scripture that we are created and loved by God, scripture also makes it clear that self-esteem is not our issue. Several places we find that self-love is an attribute we all have and the command is to love people as we already love ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Philippians 2:3-4).

Part of our sin nature is to be in love with ourselves so much that we end up hurting others around us. As the culture and the church has encouraged us to love ourselves more we haven’t seen it solve problems but instead create them. We have seen a rise in family breakdowns, church splits, shootings, racial tension–to name just a few. I think it is safe to say that self-esteem is not the answer to the world’s or the church’s problems.

But the damage has been done and even we Christians have soaked up a bit of this by just living in this culture. As I thought about my own life over the weekend, I can see how my love for myself can be so damaging to my relationships. And I thought of these five ways that demonstrate that we are really just far too in love with ourselves. Think about these things in light of how you relate to your family and your friends. At church, at work, even as a spectator at your child’s sports activities. Think about these in relation to yourself instead of someone else who might come to mind. It is my hope that my own personal examination will encourage you to do your own personal examination–

1.  We are easily offended. Our offense is based on the fact that we have been hurt personally. Whether the offense is actual or just perceived doesn’t matter. This will often lead to holding a grudge and being bitter. This is a sure sign that love for self is dominating our actions.

2. We are difficult and grumpy when things don’t go our way. We all get a little frustrated when our plans go awry. This is certainly natural. But when we love ourselves too much we take our internal frustration and let it affect us externally, making life miserable for all around us if things aren’t going the way we think they should.

3. We grow defensive if anyone dares to confront us. Instead of humbly listening and carefully evaluating, we immediately lash out and close our ears. This is a sure sign that we care more about our own personal feelings than we do about growing in Christ.

4. We only want to talk about things that interest us. Have you been in one of those conversations where someone is animatedly talking about themselves but as soon as you mention something about your own life, their eyes glaze over and they walk away? That is the extreme form of this but many are the one-sided conversations that exist in this self-centered age. If we only talk and never listen, it is a good sign that we are too in love with ourselves.

5. And, last but certainly not least, we arrange all of life for our own comfort and convenience. We won’t serve because it’s inconvenient. We won’t stand up for truth because we don’t want the pain of being mocked. We don’t attend church because we are tired. We will sacrifice God’s scriptural principles on the altar of our own selfish desires.

Now, look, these five things should prove to us that we are too in love with ourselves. We all are. It is probably the biggest battle we Christians face as we struggle to grow in our faith and in obedience. Sure, a few of you may have won this battle, but I know I certainly haven’t and I am guessing most of you haven’t, either.

But we must fight this battle because so much is at stake. If we lose this battle, we lose so much. We lose the respect of those watching us (and people are watching–family members, co-workers, church and school families). We lose close and warm relationships, because people are afraid to tell us the truth. Our relationship with God suffers because we are not living in obedience to the scriptures. And we lose our power of living as an example for others to follow, as we are the people that no one wants to be like.

I feel like this is a battle I have struggled with all my life and I still remain in the trenches fighting against myself. In Luke 9:23 Jesus makes it clear that this is what the Christian life is all about–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

We can see from this that–no matter what pop psychology and philosophies are saying–that the only way to serve Jesus well and faithfully is to deny ourselves. This is in direct opposition to what we hear in most churches and is unpopular in the extreme. But it is what we read in scripture–not only in Luke but in others places as well, such as Luke 14:25-27, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, and Ephesians 5:1-2.

The Christian life has us swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream in a raging river. It is no easy task and we have the opportunity to clearly show that we have chosen to swim the opposite direction of the world (and most of the church) in how we respond and react to the circumstances around us as we face the daily trials of sickness, financial woes, relationship difficulties, and disappointment. This is an often neglected and ignored light that all of us can shine in this dark world obsessed with “self”.

 

What You Can’t See

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Last week was spent at the beach with family. It was a wonderful, relaxing time, but now it is time to get back to reality. After being gone for over a week, I am ready to get back to my own space and routine.

The week was full of beautiful summer-like weather and so one evening a few of us headed to the beach. We had visions of sitting on the quiet, empty beach during the evening hours, watching the baby play in the sand and taking in the view. As you can see in the photo above, the view was fantastic. Isn’t it beautiful?

But there are some things you can’t see on the photo. Actually it was more like five million things: Tiny “no-see-ums”–minuscule sand flies that suck blood from their hosts. Right around dusk, these things came out in mass. They were crawling through the baby’s hair, biting our arms and legs, flying around our heads. It didn’t take us very long to pick up our stuff and leave. As we walked across the sand, we carried the heavy beach chair (why did we pick this one??), and a growing baby. And the sand toys kept falling out of the bucket! Our idyllic evening ended up not being very idyllic at all.

But you would never know it from the photo.

Oh, how true this is for any photo you see. It is one of the reasons I don’t really care for photo-driven social media. There is so much you don’t know from a photo. We now make judgments about people based on their photos. Confident selfies, and photos of beautiful homes, happy families, and lots of material “stuff” give us impressions of people. But are they the right impressions?

The photos we see are just like that beach photo. They are lovely but they are not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

Behind a selfie you might find a confident person having a good time. But you may also find insecurity, a longing to be loved, or a desperate need for attention. Behind beautiful photos of homes and families, you don’t see the cereal on the floor, the toddler’s messy hands on the kitchen cabinets, or the muddy footprints brought in after the rain. You don’t see the screaming, the yelling, the crying, the frustration, the irritation, and you can’t see the love, the fun, the joy, the peace. You can’t see anything but a photo. It tells us nothing. Not really.

And, in this day and age, you don’t even know if a photo is telling the truth. With the likes of photo editing software, anyone can make a photo “say” anything. Photos just can’t be trusted as our main source for truth.

So the next time you are tempted to judge someone you know by a photo, think again. It doesn’t tell the whole story about them. It is just a tiny fraction of the whole. If social media causes you to envy and covet and to think about “what if’s”, then perhaps you should consider getting off. Besides it being a sin (I Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:26; Ephesians 5:3), life is just too short to constantly be wishing for a different life while yours passes you by.

Last night, as we traveled home from the beach we passed a 55+ community. I looked at my husband and said, “we are almost old enough to live there! How did we get here?”

“We just kept living,” was his astute response.

We just kept living. We all have been blessed with the gift of a certain amount of time. None of us knows exactly how much it will be, but let’s not waste a second of it wishing for someone else’s life.

 

(By the way, we did find a different beach where we spent two incredibly lovely evenings that were all that the photos imply. Sometimes photos do tell the truth. But sometimes they don’t. We really have no way of knowing when they are or when they aren’t, so we may as well just enjoy them at face value and then move on with life.)

 

Parenting 101

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Parenting is quite the adventure! Each stage offers its own challenges and rewards. Just when you are getting used to the stage you are in, it is replaced by the next one. Before you can blink, you have been through all of the stages and find yourself in the final stage of having adult kids. Grandchildren make this long and final stage of our parenting years extra sweet.

Several years ago I did a series on parenting. Since this was before many of you subscribed, I thought it may be time to dust it off and share it again. Some things are worth bringing back out of the archives and I believe this series is one of them.

The series addressed all the stages we go through as parents, written from my own experience as well as from the examples of Christian families that have a good track record of raising adult kids who are living for the Lord.

And so I am going to put all the links for this series below. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Parenting 101: The Basics

This post deals with some of the basics we must understand, no matter what stage we are at in our parenting years.

Parenting 101: What Does My Marriage Have To Do With It?

This shows how a healthy marriage can really give us a great jumpstart in raising healthy kids.

Parenting 101: Who’s the Boss?

This post addresses some of the challenges in raising toddlers and preschoolers.

Parenting 101: When They Grow Out of the Cute Stage

This post continues the series by offering some tips on how we can start preparing our elementary-aged children for adulthood.

Parenting 101: I Need a Reason

This post addresses the specific concerns we have when we are parenting teens.

Parenting 101: What’s My Role

Eventually our kids become adults. This post offers some thoughts on our changing role as the parent of an adult.

Parenting 101: On Being a “Great” Grandparent

This post was based solely on watching grandparents around me, as I was not even a grandparent when I wrote this. More specifically, we have been blessed to watch my parents and my husband’s parents love and support our children. Their wonderful example was the basis for this post.

 

 

Raising Courageous Kids

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When you think of the word courage what comes to mind? Is it a fireman racing into a burning building to save someone? Perhaps a soldier marching into war or someone bravely facing a battle with cancer? Or does your mind bring up pictures of sky divers or some other extreme sport?

According to dictionary.com, courage is defined as–the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.

And so all of the things listed above do require courage. But it also takes courage to speak truth amidst lies; to go one way when the rest of the world is going another; and to choose to live according to God’s Word, despite the ridicule and persecution one may have to endure.

This is the kind of courage we need to teach our kids. And this is the kind we see less and less.

As I have watched young parents train their children, I am beginning to understand why. I believe there is a direct correlation between Christian parents not letting their children experience anything hard or difficult and the lack of bravery we see in our Christian young people. Think about it with me for a moment, if you will. Many Christian moms and dads–parents who truly want to do what is right–have removed all of the pain and difficulty that they can from their kids’ lives. And it is tough not to. Culture has pretty much dictated that this is how “good parents raise their kids”. While nothing could be further from the truth, it takes courage to raise kids in a biblical way these days.

Because we don’t want our kids to experience pain and we believe that this is what a “good parent” is supposed to do, we rush in to fix every school issue, every teacher problem, and every friend situation. We begin to allow the things of the world into our home so that our kids won’t be ridiculed but can look like everyone else. We allow our girls to dress a certain way because, after all, “everybody is doing it”. We allow music groups, tv shows, movies, and video games that do not reflect our Christian values because we don’t want our kids to face the pain of being different from their friends. We want them to be liked and to have a positive experience.

This is understandable.

But is it in their best {eternal} interest?

Kids that feel no pain or do not face any difficulty as they grow up will, most likely, become driven by their own selfish desires as adults. They are the ones who will make every choice based around how it affects them personally rather than whether something is right or wrong. They will do everything they can to avoid discomfort, difficulty, and inconvenience. This type of person is often the kind we see show up at job interviews for our company now. And, honestly, I expect it from the world. They have been taught that nothing matters but them. To do what’s right for them, no matter the cost. But what I didn’t expect was to see the same things from those claiming to be believers. And yet this is what we see more and more.

So how do we raise kids that are courageous? Kids that will go against the flow in a world gone mad? Kids that will bravely face the ridicule and the mockery?

1. First and foremost, be an example they can follow of courage and bravery. Be willing to go against the flow yourself in order to follow hard after God. Be willing to turn away from popular entertainment in order to grow spiritually. Be willing to speak up at work or on the soccer sidelines if God gives you the opportunity. Be a godly example of someone who is sold out for God, no matter the cost.

2. Pray for your kids to have courage. Pray that your kids will have courage to stand up for what’s right. One of my prayers for my kids when they were little was that they would become bolder and stronger Christians than my husband and me. I wanted (and continue to want) them to shine brightly for God in such a dark world. I cannot begin to express to you the wonderful joy I feel as I begin to see the answer to that prayer happening in their lives. They are so much further along spiritually than I was at their age and I know God is answering my prayer. He is just so faithful! I wish I would have prayed even more than I did for them. It was hard amidst the business and craziness of life. I fear that prayer may be a much under-used blessing for many as they raise their kids.

3. Teach your kids to measure their decisions by the Word of God instead of by what makes them feel good. Sometimes obeying God is not fun. But if we can teach our kids that life is about so much more than our feelings, we will be giving them a huge headstart in developing the courage they will need for the future. When God’s Word is our guide instead of our own selfish agenda, we naturally become braver and bolder because we have a correct view on what matters.

4. Allow them to feel the pain of being different. I have seen so many parents cave on their own personal values because they didn’t want their kids to experience pain or difficulty. From what we allow our girls to wear to what video games we allow our sons to play, facing the pain of being different will build their character. I think I mentioned this before, but we have never regretted the things we didn’t let our kids do, but we do have a few regrets regarding the things we caved on because of this very thing. So stay strong and live according to the Word. You will be so glad you did.

5. Teach your kids to fight for the right things. Over and over again I see strife and problems in work places and churches and families because of someone fighting for the wrong things. Selfishness–my will, my rights, my agenda, my desires–becomes what we fight for and this yields to so much pain and anguish. We need to teach our kids to stand and fight for the Truth of God’s Word. To hold ground for the things that are eternal. If it is never mentioned in the Bible and it doesn’t matter to God, then it isn’t a hill to die on. But usually we see the opposite–people who are willing to cause all types of anguish for their own agendas but completely unwilling to stand up for God and His Word. I guess it’s our human nature. But we must teach our kids to fight this tendency and to be wise in what they fight for. It takes no courage to stand up for yourself. But it takes great courage to stand up for God in a world that hates Him.

So there are five ways to help your kids become courageous in a world full of spiritual cowards. It is a hard time to raise kids. I feel for you in this culture. So many things assail from all directions. You have to constantly be on your guard. But, at the end of the day, it is the Word of God that will be your anchor. Hold fast to that and parent according to it and you will find that God will fill in your weaknesses and failures. He is just so faithful!

**I do need to mention one thing for those of you with teens. Please do not judge your kids’ courage based on their teen years. Each one has a different personality and the teen years are so hard. Some will stand bravely, with no care for what people think of them, while others–fighting that urge to be like everyone else–will struggle. Just keep praying and having those discussions that go back to the Bible and what it teaches. And then, hopefully, you can–like us–look back someday and see God’s hand in the lives of your teens as He orchestrated His plan in their lives in a way you never dreamed possible.

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

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Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us 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.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

People Do Change

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The other day, someone said something to me that indicated that they thought they were far too sinful to be saved. They couldn’t imagine how God would ever save them. They said it in passing, in a public place, where we couldn’t talk. I told them the beauty of salvation is that none of us deserves to be saved but I have been wondering what I would have–should have–said, had we had more time? I got some help with this question yesterday as I was listening to my father-in-law tell us about Paul during our campfire “church” service (which is what we do for worship time when we go camping).

He shared about some of Paul’s background and just where he had come from. This was perfect because, as any of my readers who are participating in the 2017 Growing 4Life Bible Reading Challenge already know, we are reading Paul’s epistles this year. It was interesting to find out more about the author God chose to write these books of the Bible.

As he spoke about Paul’s education and family, he told us how he was part of the group of Jewish leaders who persecuted the church. I was familiar with most of the information but it was great to have a refresher course on this man that God used to write a good portion of the New Testament. Paul was even present at Stephen’s death, the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith. Here is what we read about Paul (at that time he was called Saul) in Acts 8:1–

Now Saul was consenting to his {Stephen’s} death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And then this in verse 3 of the same chapter–

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

From these verses we see that not only did he consent to Stephen’s death but that he was part of the great persecution that rose up against the church. He personally entered homes and would drag men and women off to prison! He did everything he possibly could to stop the church of Jesus Christ from spreading.

As we discussed this, we wondered why God took someone so evil and called on him, of all men, to write the epistles? Why did God decide on Paul?

We can’t really know the answer to this, but one of the things I did think about was how encouraging and wonderful it is that God did use Paul. The fact that He did shows us, once again, that God can change the heart of a wicked, sinful man and use him to fulfill His purposes! No one is beyond His grace.

No one!

This should comfort us. Not only for ourselves, but it should also bring hope to our hearts for the ones we love who are caught up in unimaginable sins, imprisoned by Satan’s lies, with no conviction and no change on the horizon.

No one is beyond God’s grace.

God can change any man or woman–even one who has attacked His church. He can use any person for His purposes and His glory. Let us not grow weary in our prayers for those we love who are walking on the broad road of the world, far away from God.

When we read in the next chapter that Saul is converted, we find Ananias very concerned when the Lord tells him to seek out Saul and help him–

 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”  (Acts 9:13)

Saul’s reputation was well-known. We can imagine that the dramatic change in Saul would have been the topic of conversation in town squares during the following days and months. Was Saul really changed? Or was this just temporary? One group was wondering if he could be truly be trusted and another group was probably mourning the loss of one of their most zealous members, hoping he’d return. Of course, we know now that Paul was saved by God and changed forever.

Sometimes, we can grow skeptical about people truly changing. We have watched people say a prayer for salvation and then sprout up and seemingly and quickly grow, only to wilt and fall away when the tough times came along. Just like the seed we read about in the Parable of the Sower, the seed can’t take the scorching sun (Matthew 13:1-9). These things can make us start doubting that people ever change. In fact, sometimes you will hear this line: “People never change.”

But Paul is a dramatic real-life example to us that this is not true! People do change and Paul is one of our greatest proofs! Of course, the longer we live as a believer, the more examples we see of the Holy Spirit working change in the lives of those around us. I have seen Him change lost sinners into saved saints and even in my own life and the lives of other Christians, I see Him molding and shaping us to grow more like Christ. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago. Or five years ago. Or last year. I hope you can say the same thing.

So let us persevere in prayer for our lost loved ones and even for victory in our own personal struggles, knowing that God’s grace covers even the worst of sins and confident that true and lasting change is possible!