Beautifully and Naturally Changed

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We were about halfway to church when I realized it. I sighed and looked in my car mirror, just to be sure. Yep. It was true: I had totally forgotten to put on my make-up. Distracted during my morning routine, I remembered that I had never gone back to the bathroom mirror to finish getting ready.

I don’t actually wear that much make-up but it still felt strange going to church without it. I looked at my husband.

“I forgot to put on my makeup. Can you tell?”

“Nahhh. It’s summer. You are tan. It’s not a big deal.”

Not that it mattered. We weren’t turning around for such an insignificant reason, anyway. We drove on to church and worshiped, as usual.

In the winter, our skin is lighter but in the summer it tans to a nice golden brown if we spend time in the sun. Since there wasn’t any sunscreen for thousands of years, we can only imagine that God designed our skin this way. And when we are tan we look healthier for some reason. (Even though the latest craze from the medical world is to encourage us to wear sunscreen 24/7 and not let a bit of sun stain our skin.)

So what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I was thinking about how not wearing my makeup was so much less noticeable in the summer than it would have been in the winter and I realized that this is very similar to a dynamic that goes on in many churches, in that–

Good works is the “make-up” that those claiming to know Christ will use when they haven’t actually been transformed by Christ.

Let me explain–

We have all heard of the “good Christian man” who is caught with a prostitute or declares bankruptcy due to a gambling addiction. We have heard of the woman that up and leaves her family out of the blue or gives evidence that she is an alcoholic after hiding it for many years. Et cetera, et cetera. So many of these cases, so many different details, but all the same thing: Someone whom we thought was godly was actually not godly at all, as evidenced by their following after sin and never turning back from it with a repentant heart.

These types of people have worn the make-up of good works–some for many, many years. But what was missing was the golden tan of a heart transformed by the love of the Savior. You see, we can look pretty good to the church if we will simply step up and do the right thing–serve in the kitchen or on the coffee committee, serve as a church leader, teach Sunday School, work in the sound booth, greet people on a Sunday, or minister to children (to name just a few). These things make us look holy–even though we might not be. They give us the “make-up” we need to look presentable at church.

Many people put on a good show, while in the privacy of their own homes or offices, they are not really all that sold out for God as they live a life that is consumed with selfish desires. Some are living a life that is in complete opposition to the one they are portraying at church.

This is a great reminder that we should always be sure to confirm that our own good works are originating from a changed heart and not from some outward putting on of “righteous works” in order to make us look good to others.

Jesus points out a clear example of this in the lives of the Pharisees, who on the outside looked holy and pure but on the inside were wicked and unchanged by God. He puts it like this in Luke 11:39-40–

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

So let’s be sure that our outward behavior is a reflection of a changed heart and never the means we use to look “holy” to our church family on Sundays while living to please ourselves the rest of the week.

A beautifully changed heart will always yield a life that is also beautifully–and naturally–changed on the outside.

 

Learn to Discern: Knowing When to Speak Up

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I was mindlessly moving a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. My mind was on other things and I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing. Without thinking, I grabbed a dime that was laying near the dryer’s lint trap and tossed it in the trash.

Oops!

I looked at the trash and I pondered the worth of the dime. And then I turned back to my task. I simply did not find the dime to be valuable enough to warrant digging through the trashcan. This made me wonder about what amount of money I would consider worth digging in the trash? A quarter? A dollar? At what point would I deem the amount valuable enough that it would propel me to work to get it back?

I think we need to consider this same principle when we are looking at discernment. Recently, there was a huge “to-do” in the discernment world (if you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, I am not going to fill you in. I have no desire to give it any more attention than it has already received). But what I saw happening there was someone who was making a huge deal over a “dime”. While I did agree with this person’s point of view on the subject matter at hand, I did not see that it was worth a fight. A few other Christian leaders had the same opinion as me and ended up being maligned by this other man who thought everyone else should be making as big a deal over this “dime” as he was!

One of the hardest things we must learn to do as we grow in discernment is know when something is worth a confrontation. Romans 12:18 teaches us that we are to be at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. This is an important verse, giving us a framework in which we are to live all of life. Unfortunately, this is not going to always be possible. We know from scripture that we are going to be hated by the world and that there will be many false teachers. This naturally means that we will have some run-ins, as we try to stand for the truth.

So, how exactly do we know if something is important enough to speak up about in our families, churches, or anywhere else?

Here are a few guidelines to follow–

1. The situation at hand is about God, His Word, and His reputation. This is by far the most important key to discerning when something is important enough to stand up for. It should never be about our pride, our reputation, our importance, our need to prove ourselves. Something that is worth standing up for will always be about God’s glory and about protecting the truth of God’s Word.

It is never about ME. 

But this is oh, so tempting, isn’t it? Sometimes it is hard to discern if we are standing for God or for our own pride. We have this need to prove ourselves or to be “right” and we can get all entangled in our own selfish agenda–sometimes even when are standing up for the true and right thing! We must have humble hearts that are on the constant look-out for sins like pride, selfishness, and anger. And let’s regularly ask the Lord for a right heart and attitude and that He will fill us with His love and grace as we fight the good fight.

2. It is morally wrong. There are an abundance of verses expounding on the things that are an offense to our Holy God. We know that sexual sins, lying, sorcery, anger, pride etc. are always wrong and therefore should be something that those who claim to be Christians should avoid. (Check out these passages for more clarity and detail on the sins that God hates: Exodus 20:1-17; Colossians 3:5-6; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:1-7.)

If we know God hates these things, then this should be our guideline of things we want to avoid in all aspects of our lives. This would include our entertainment, which is something that believers mostly ignore now and, for some reason, practice a strange “disconnect”–as if somehow this is irrelevant from the rest of their spiritual health.

We should–we must–stand for pure and holy living. God’s Word clearly teaches that, as regenerated souls, we are to live pure and holy lives that are clearly different and separated from the world (I Peter 1:15-16; Jude 1:20; Philippians 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:22; Romans 12:1-2; I Peter 2:9; Romans 13:13-14; Colossians 3:10).

This is not a wildly popular thing to stand for. In fact, it is not even marginally popular. But we need to speak up because God’s glory and reputation are damaged by those who live worldly, sinful lives while claiming to belong to Him.

3. Scripture is misinterpreted and twisted. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 tells us this: So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Since scripture was written there has been an accepted interpretation. Oh, there have been councils and meetings to discuss things, but God has miraculously protected the integrity of scripture throughout the years. However, Satan is always trying to mess with it just enough that he will mislead people. He has done this through the ages, but I highly doubt it has ever been so much as right now.

When someone gives some wild, out-of-context interpretation of scripture it is time to stand up! When someone tries to rationalize worldliness, homosexuality, evolution, or any other ungodly sin or philosophy, it is time to stand for the truth of God’s Word. We cannot let our enemy win this battle –for this is the battle’s core. Is scripture 100% true, inerrant, and inspired, or isn’t it? Because we know it is, we must speak up when it’s maligned.

Of course, the problem with this is that most of us do not have enough biblical knowledge to really provide a biblical defense. This is really why I write. I want to encourage you to know the Word so that you can live godly lives and contend for the faith.

Josh Buice writes this: The absolute best method of testing a theology or a popular catch phrase is by Scripture. If any teaching will stand the intense scrutiny of Scripture, it proves itself to be a trustworthy doctrine. This is true on all matters of theology—from bumper stickers to historic creeds and confessions. The question that we must be asking ourselves as we build our positions is, “What does the Bible say?”

Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly right. You see, the Bible isn’t all that hard to understand. If we accept the Bible as it is written, literally, it all makes so much sense. And, even more amazing, the facts presented in science (I am talking about facts and not theories) and the historical record supports it all! You will find it incredible and even miraculous when you give yourself to serious study of this amazing book. But we don’t know because we don’t study. And– if I may be so bold–we don’t study because we don’t care. Oh, if this blog accomplishes one things –I hope it is that you would start to care about growing in your knowledge of the Word of God!

4. Christ’s role is diminished. Oh, how many false teachers diminish the role of Christ. If you are deciding whether something is worth the fight, ask yourself this: How do they treat Christ? Do they turn His sacrifice on the cross into a mere event? Do they teach that Christ is one of many ways to be reconciled to God? Do they teach that man is basically good and that Jesus is just a good example to follow? Do they teach that Christ is there to do one’s bidding? Do they teach that Christ is simply a good teacher? You will be surprised how even the most mainstream teachers and authors are teaching error in regards to Christ. And this is worth the fight! While Jesus Christ is the theme of the whole Bible (yes, even the Old Testament!), you can start by reading the Gospels. This is a great place to get started in knowing your Savior and will help you to defend Him!

5. Primary Christian Doctrines are compromised. As believers, we do need to know doctrine (contrary to what you have probably been told). Being unfamiliar with words like justification, sanctification, and glorification leaves you vulnerable to false teachers. Having at least a basic understanding of what the Bible teaches about (to name a few) the Trinity, God’s Sovereignty, salvation, God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and about the Church strengthen and prepare you for the vicious and unrelenting attacks that Satan wages against these doctrines. (Understanding what the Bible teaches us about the the last days and about Israel are secondary issues but are still beneficial–and interesting!– to study.) Find a good resource, such as Biblical Doctrine by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue and start increasing your knowledge. If you’d rather have something a little less intimidating and not quite as deep, try Fundamentals of the Faith by MacArthur, which is a 13-week guided study of basic Christian doctrines.

6. Be socially wise. Now, with the final two items on this list, we are moving from biblical compromise to having social discernment. If someone you barely knows starts sharing about how much they love The Shack or Jesus Calling, don’t start off on a long monologue on why they are not doctrinally sound books. Go ahead and say something casually and if they express interest, then, by all means, have a conversation. But don’t confront acquaintances and strangers. They have absolutely no reason to listen to you. Gauge their interest and be wise. And, most importantly, pray for them.

7. Consider the spirit of the person you are confronting.  We must evaluate the person we are speaking to and ask ourselves: Is this person humble or proud? You see, if you are dealing with someone who thinks they know everything, who won’t bend, who doesn’t listen, then feel free to bring up your concern, but don’t argue or debate with them. Only the Holy Spirit can remove that blind pride. You could talk for forever and not move them an inch. So allow the Lord to use you to plant His seeds and to challenge them with some thoughts but do not become a thorn in their side that pricks at every opportunity. This is not how we practice discernment.

 

This is not an exhaustive list. Practicing biblical discernment is no picnic and I can honestly tell you that there is little personal reward for speaking up. I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again–most people do not want to hear. And because they do not want to hear, they will view you as (and call you) all kinds of negative things. But don’t let this stop you because we know that the truth of the Bible has the power to save! We know that the souls of those who are deceived and lost are going to hell! We know how this all ends! We know what is coming in the future! Let’s keep our eyes focused on what is important and not get embroiled in our hurt feelings and relational skirmishes here on earth. Study the Word and don’t be afraid to speak up when you must!

 

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

The Only Time It Is Okay to Be a Hypocrite

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Hypocrisy is such an ugly word, isn’t it? It is defined as: Behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. (from Merriam-Webster.com)

All of us, at one time or another, have probably played the part of a hypocrite. We have claimed to believe one thing when we are with one group of friends but our actions contradict our claims when we are with another group of friends. Some are worse at this than others.

And the basic consensus of all human beings since the beginning of time is that hypocrisy is bad. And it is! It is never good to pretend you are something you are not. Or to say you believe something with your mouth but then deny that belief with your actions.

But there is one time that being a hypocrite is not only good but also very helpful.

Curious, yet?

I have struggled my whole life with being a slave to my feelings. If I didn’t feel like reading the Bible, I didn’t. If I felt like eating a sugary snack, I ate it. Thankfully, I have grown and continue to grow in this area, but it continues to be a struggle, particularly when change happens in my life. This is always the time that my feelings rise up and scream to be heard–and when I am most tempted to listen.

But the other day, I heard someone say this: Be a hypocrite to your feelings.

Yes!

A million times yes!!

So often we hear people say things like this–

I can’t act like I love my husband if I don’t feel like I love him. That would be hypocritical.

I don’t want to read the Bible if I don’t feel like reading the Bible. That would seem hypocritical.

But feelings are the one thing we can and should play the hypocrite to. In fact, we must act differently than our feelings on most occasions. While feelings can help us process and determine certain things about ourselves, they should most certainly never dictate our behavior.

As I have watched our world go from objective, absolute truth to subjective, you-decide-what’s-true-for-you truth, I have seen the dictatorship of feelings take over the souls of many people–even Christians. It is often the reason for sporadic church attendance. It is the reason for family quarrels and fights. It is the reason for the dearth of Christians who pray and study their Bibles. Feelings are dictating behavior.

The interesting and wonderful thing about feelings is that they are very…convertible. Strange word to use, I know, but I couldn’t think of a better one. When we do the right thing– in spite of our feelings– our feelings pretty quickly get with the program and usually convert into the proper ones we should be having.

For example, when I feel irritated with my husband but I choose to treat him in a kind and loving way, I will start feeling like I love him again.

Or when I feel lazy and I don’t want to read my Bible and pray but I do it, anyway, I will often feel motivated afterwards.

Of course, this is not some magic solution and sometimes our feelings are sluggish to follow. And perhaps for some they never change. It doesn’t matter. We do what is right because it is right. We should never let feelings be our guide.

And this leads us to one other thing closely related to this: The frequent statements Christians often make regarding God’s input in their feelings. How often have you heard someone say something like this–“I feel like God…” or “God impressed upon me…”? I even catch myself sometimes saying things like “Well, I feel like God is wanting me to do this or that”. But if our feelings are so unreliable, how could we know if it is God or just some whim of our own? Oh, how much better off we are with a rational faith based solely on the Word of God than on our own ambiguous and fluctuating feelings!

So be a hypocrite to your feelings! Tell yourself that no matter what you feel, you are going to ignore it and do what is right anyway. And be thankful for the times your feelings do match your actions. They are marvelous times of blessing that motivate us to continue on the path of godliness.

 

 

For So We Once Walked

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We once walked as the world walks. We were foolish, slaves to our passions and pleasures, and living an ungodly, worldly lifestyle. We were unrighteous, sexually immoral, and idolators. We passed our days in malice and envy and hate. This is how Paul describes those who are not in Christ (see passages below).

But then we were saved through God’s great mercy and loving-kindness! And everything changed! Everything!

You may say “Wait a minute. My neighbor isn’t saved but he is a really nice guy. He doesn’t sound anything like what Paul describes.” But we must remember that even our thought lives and secret sins are known to God. He knows why we do what we do. He knows where our thoughts turn when we are tempted. He knows if our kindness or peace-making are motivated by selfishness.

We are all wicked. There is no exception. No, not one. (Romans 3:11 & 23)

One of the things I have noticed as I have started to study scripture in a more in-depth way is its miraculous cohesiveness and consistency. How often I will read something in one book and then see the same thing reiterated in another. Sometimes by the same human author, but not always. Over and over, we see the same principles repeated.

These past few weeks as I have studied Titus 3, the phrase “But such were some of you” kept coming to mind but I just couldn’t remember where it was from. When I finally did some research, I found it in I Corinthians 6, where Paul lists those who will not inherit eternal life but then goes on to add “But such were some of you.Titus 3 says something similar where Paul puts it like this–“For we ourselves were once…” And then yesterday in church, our pastor read Ephesians 2 and, lo and behold, here was another passage emphasizing what we were and what we are now. Here we read, “…in which you once walked” .

Each of these passages has a similar theme. Paul first describes unbelievers and then goes on to say how we–you and me (and all who are saved)–once walked the same way. But now we no longer walk in this way. We are changed. We are transformed.

How has it happened?

I Corinthians 6 says it this way– “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Titus 3 puts it this way–“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

And Paul writes it in Ephesians 2 like this–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Each of these start with the word “but”. We were once lost in sin, but God! God reached out and saved us. It had nothing to do with our own righteousness or good works, but is solely because of God’s rich mercy, great love, grace, loving-kindness, and goodness.

These passages, as we study them together, hold four important lessons for us–

1. First, these passages teach us to truly appreciate our salvation. We so easily forget just how wicked we were before salvation. We start to think we were pretty good and it makes salvation seem like no big deal–particularly if we were saved as children or always lived a fairly moral lifestyle externally. But these passages remind us of what we really were in our core–wicked; selfish; dead in our sins. And this realization then fills our hearts with gratitude and joy that God loved us so much that He provided a way of salvation and eternal life. Oh, how much more we appreciate salvation when we remember the chains of sin that held us so tightly in hopeless despair!

2. Second, these passages teach and emphasize the significant differences between the lives of the unsaved and the saved. These three passages (and many others) consistently remind us that a life saved by Christ is a life lived in direct contrast to a life not saved by Christ. It is incredibly clear that salvation changes us. I understand that reflecting on this can be frightening when we think of some we know who claim to be a Christian while living in sin without conviction or repentance. But this is what the Bible teaches. Life before Christ looks nothing like life after Christ. While it is not our job to judge any individual’s salvation, it is certainly our job to teach this principle of a changed life when we talk to people about the Gospel. Clearly, throughout scripture, we find that true belief yields true change.

3. As we consider the first two lessons, we also learn (or perhaps are reminded) that the lost are not our enemies! As I read these passages, I was filled with real sorrow and tremendous grace for their terrible state. Dead in their sin, slaves to their flesh, and hopeless that anything will change. This was us! We were there. Can you remember that hopelessness? That feeling of being enslaved? Even though I was a child when I was saved, I have started to comprehend as an adult who I was without Christ–who I would be now without Him. This should fill us with such loving-kindness towards the lost. I am so saddened when I see people who call themselves Christians treat the unsaved with arrogance and judgment. This is never the proper response of any believer– in fact, it is exactly opposite of what Christ would do. We must follow God’s example of kindness, grace, and mercy as we share the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps this is one of our highest callings.

4. And, finally, these passages remind us that a saved soul is one prepared to do good works. We do not do good works to be saved, but instead do them because we are saved. This is what we are called to as believers (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8) So exactly what are good works? We have gotten a little confused in this world of politically correct “social justice”. Feeding the poor and digging wells are worthy causes (as long as the Gospel is being shared) but so, too, is visiting your elderly neighbor or babysitting for your friend who is a single parent. Cooking a meal for a hurting family or regular visits with a lonely widow are good works. We can do good works for God by being a godly example to those younger than us, by training and nurturing our children, teaching children about Jesus in Sunday School, praying for a missionary, or by writing notes of gratitude and encouragement. How important it is that we don’t narrow our definition of good works down to what is politically correct in the church in this particular era.

I am sure there are many more lessons we can learn from these passages. These are just four that really struck me as I studied. Studying the Word of God starts to open our eyes to the reality that much of what is being preached in the name of Christ today is really not true Christianity. It is heart-breaking to even write that sentence, but, nonetheless, it is true. When we compare scripture to what is popular today, we can easily see that somewhere–sometime–biblical Christianity and popular evangelical Christianity started to part company. Let us not forget what the Bible teaches us about the saved and the unsaved. This is the only reliable resource for answers. No book, no article, no preacher, no author overrides the Bible. Ever.

 

Here are the full passages. Notice their similarities and differences–

Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 

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.

 

 

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.

From the Fringes and Into the Church

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I didn’t think it was any accident that the Saturday evening before my husband was to teach Sunday School on the sin of selfishness, we had the (insert sarcasm here) “wonderful” privilege of watching an Olympic athlete try to defend his indefensible actions.

A swimmer by the name of Ryan Lochte gave Eric a very current and obvious example of this sin that is a constant struggle for most of us. A sin that, without Christ, will eat some alive. Lochte seems to be one of its victims, if his interview was any indication.

This post is not about Lochte. But I have to say just one more thing about this “kid” who was “just out having fun”.

My daughter brought to my attention that Lochte is 32 years old. THIRTY-TWO! In the world that used to be, 32-year-olds were working hard and raising families. They certainly would have never been referred to as a kid. And they certainly wouldn’t have deemed getting drunk and trashing a bathroom with a bunch of buddies entertainment for an evening. And if any 32-year-old would have done such a thing, he would have been ostracized by the public and viewed with disgust.

But not in this world.

In this world, anything goes. Well, anything that doesn’t call for absolute values or hard work. Values have completely flipped.

And perhaps we should expect that in this world. 2 Timothy tells us this in Chapter 3–

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I truly believe we are in those perilous times. Of course, there have always been men and women who love themselves, who boast, who despise good, and have no self-control. But I believe there are two main ways this day and age is different. And it’s pretty important that we be aware of these differences–

First, these things are no longer on the fringes of most societies but rather have been accepted as mainstream. One only has to take a look around to see this. In fact, some of these are not only accepted, they are even encouraged.  Entertainment and media have changed our entire values system. They have changed how we view sin and what we deem as important. Meanwhile, many of us sat on our sofas with a bag of chips in our hands, our eyes on a screen, and allowed it all to happen, with not even a raised, questioning eyebrow. Shame on us.

Second, these things are creeping into the church. Instead of being a church that is repentant and broken over our sin and finding our victory in Jesus and then working together, unified, to spread the Gospel and grow believers, we have become a church filled with individuals obsessed with finding our personal purposes and getting our own way. We have become obsessed with “experiencing” worship and meeting our carnal needs. It is a church that is much more concerned about personal glory than about God’s glory.

We have a form of godliness but deny its power. Isn’t that such an apt description of the church today?

As true believers–those that are part of the remnant that is left of the true church–we have a grave responsibility in a culture like this one.

It can be overwhelming at times and it is generally no fun. But Christ has prepared us for this in His Word. Matthew 6:24 puts it very succinctly: 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.

Deny himself. As opposed to finding personal purpose.

Take up his cross. As opposed to amassing riches, loving pleasure, and fulfilling dreams.

Follow Christ. As opposed to following self.

There is a most beautiful, unspoken conclusion to this verse. If we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, we find exactly what we were so desperately longing for. We find our purpose, we find peace, and we find true and lasting joy.

But if we are obsessed with our own lusts, dreams, and purposes, we end up discouraged, depressed, broken, and reaping heaps of horrible consequences on ourselves and those we love. And if we are so unfortunate–we even become the poster child for an entire nation as to what selfishness looks like.

How important that we live the Christian life as Jesus Christ has commanded us. How important that we live pure, holy, and unselfish lives in a culture that is obsessed with self. There is no time to waste and no room for a Christian to focus on self.

Let us battle selfishness tenaciously.

Never giving up and never giving in.

 

Standing Out in a Sea of Black and White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Self-Obsession

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Sometimes I am still so amazed with how obsessed I am with myself. Seriously. How can this be? I think I have grown in this area of loving God more than loving myself and then I am criticized or minimized and I am back to realizing just how much I love me.

In the past few weeks, two specific things happened. In one instance, a ministry I have given my heart and soul to was completely–and quite unintentionally–minimized. In another, a project I was working on was criticized behind my back and that criticism found its way to my ears. In both instances, my first thought was: Why do I even bother? 

I have found in my life that these two things– criticizing or minimizing –are the two surest ways to knock the wind out of my sails. I get hurt, I get angry, I get frustrated.

But why? Why do these things bother me so much?

As I thought about this a lot over the past few days, I realize that it is because I love myself more than I love God. I get more angry and offended if someone hurts me than I do if they commit an offense against God.

I am quite ashamed to admit this, but it is just the truth.

When I can find my way back to biblical sanity–a place that is easier to find when I am walking with the Lord–I recognize that I can learn from comments that criticize or minimize–but only if I am willing to look at them honestly and humbly. When I can look at them honestly, there is potential to learn from them. When I am humble and stop thinking so highly of myself, the temptation to walk away from a fruitful ministry because of a comment seems silly.

And so my job is to examine whether or not the comment has truth or not and then to make changes if it does and to forgive and ignore if it doesn’t. That’s it. That’s what I am supposed to do.

I have to be honest with you– I did not want to share this today. It feels far too personal. But I believe that God wanted me to share this. So much so that I had nothing else to write today. Nothing. I was a complete blank– except for this.

And I recognize that self-love is a grave temptation for all of us. When we think we have it conquered, it rears its ugly head and reminds us that we certainly do not. It keeps us depending on and trusting in our heavenly Father for grace and strength. It reminds us why we so desperately need a Savior.

I also believe this dynamic–this self-obsession–is what keeps the body of the church from being unified on many occasions. It is what causes grudges to be held, forgiveness to be withheld, and ministries to fail. It is what causes rifts in families and great divides in churches.

All because of our great idol: self. 

And so God has continued to humble me. And while I don’t enjoy it, I am thankful for it. It is always good to be reminded that I am just a pinpoint–less than a pinpoint– on the timeline of life. God can accomplish His plan and His purposes without me–and without you, too. We are here to glorify Him and to make Him known, but He doesn’t need us. However, we do need Him. I think sometimes we get that a little mixed up and view ourselves as more important than we are.

Life is challenging. All of us face criticism or being minimized at one time or another. We face hurtful remarks and slander and gossip that swirls around about us. How we handle it is crucial and very telling of how much we worship self.

The next time this happens to me, I hope my journey to humility and honesty is just a little shorter. I hope that I will be less in love with myself and more in love with God. But I also recognize that this love of self is all-pervasive and ready to rear its ugly head at all times. We have to fight this sin very intentionally. And we can never rest because the path of self-obsession leads to a very dark and lonely place.

 

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31