Changed Lives: Dennis

Changed Lives (final)

Homosexuality. This word brings up strong feelings in almost all of us. It is most certainly not a neutral word. And, with all of the changes over the past twenty or so years, this word–this subject–now affects almost all of us in one way or another.

Years ago, I had a youth group leader named Dennis. He was a wonderful, super-talented guy that everybody loved. Little did I know of his secret struggle with homosexuality. A few months ago, I found out not only about this struggle but about his victory over it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I listened to his testimony, I was compelled to ask him if I could share his story here and he kindly said yes! I believe this is the perfect time to share it. What better way is there to contemplate the Lord’s sacrifice and victory over death than to hear the victorious story of what God has done, through the cross and resurrection, in a man who had little hope for ever experiencing victory? Because of God’s gift of salvation, Denny has experienced victory over sin in an incredible and powerful way. I am so thankful that he is willing to share his story at a time when it is increasingly unpopular to do so. Please pray for Denny as he strives to bring hope to others caught up in this sin.

Here is his story–

It’s one of the more familiar scenes in scripture. A crowd gathered around a tomb as Jesus calls out –

LAZARUS COME OUT! You can almost feel the crowd holding their breath watching. Some are excited.  Some are fearful. Many are skeptical. Many of the religious leaders were frankly angry. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, so the last thing they needed was a major miracle. Jesus’s words echo off the stone.

We don’t know how long they waited in silence, but you can bet that when Lazarus appeared from the darkness of his tomb, there was noise. First a collective gasp. Screams of shock turning to cries of joy.  This was one major party. There was such a commotion that Jesus had to remind them to unwrap the man. Let him loose! Unwrap the grave cloths. Jesus had given Lazarus new life….but the remnants of death were making it difficult for him to move. He needed help.

Hang on to that image of Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb wrapped in grave cloths, and jump ahead to the Church in Corinth where there was a major problem. There were lots of walking dead folk. Lawsuits, incest, gossip, you name it. Things were a mess.

So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:8-10–

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

There were LOTS of problems with the Church in Corinth.  And smack in the middle of Paul’s letter of warning is the word: Homosexuals. (Okay, there I’ve said THE WORD, let’s all take a deep breath!)

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without getting bombarded with that particular word?

Let me continue reading from First Corinthians 6:9-11 because I didn’t finish Paul’s thought.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

I love that past tense: WERE.

My journey begins mid-way through the last Century. My parents were extremely young when I was born, the first of six kids. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home that included Sunday school, church, and mid-week prayer meetings. At the feet of my grandmother, I heard stories about my great-Uncle’s missionary work in China. She’d also tell me about her prayers for me. She firmly believed that God had a ministry for me. In high school, my friends were all part of Youth for Christ. I worshipped frequently at my girlfriend’s church as well as my own. Following graduation from high school, I attended the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. The course of my life was set. Nice Christian family. Check. High school diploma. Check. College degree–then marry my high school sweetheart—then have two kids– and a dog.

Let’s back up. That’s only part of the story. While I may have been called to new life in Christ, I was still wearing grave cloths.

During my early formative years with Dad away at work, I was primarily raised by my grandma, my mom, and my female aunts. I don’t remember EVER having a male friend prior to entering first grade. Simple fact, there were no boys my age living nearby. (Hey, this was the 1950’s where, for entertainment, my cousins and I used to spend summer evenings counting cars going back and forth from Lititz to Lancaster! True story. We are talking way rural.)

But, as a young boy, my battle with homosexuality began. As I grew into a young teenager, things worsened as I discovered gay porn magazines and from there it went downhill. At one point I went to a youth pastor and told him about my sexuality. (I think it is safe to say that most Bible colleges weren’t teaching students how to counsel homosexuals at that time.) He blanched, blushed, and suggested prayer. I went to the Billy Graham exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965 and talked to a counselor. His advice? That I take a nice girl to the prom and all would work itself out!

My sexual encounters continued even in the heart of the Bible Belt, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college. Indeed, they escalated.

The winter of my senior year I left Bob Jones – disillusioned–and returned to Lancaster. I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do next. The little game plan that I thought I had was clearly not happening.

If you grew up in this era (late 60s and 70s), you probably weren’t aware that any of this was going on. Did you know that in the 1970s homosexuals were persecuted just for being homosexuals? They were called names, attacked on the streets, and even arrested just by having this label. But in 1969, that all started to change with the riot of homosexual men and women against the NYC police at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Times were changing and I realized that I was not the only disillusioned young man in America.

This movement eventually made its way to Lancaster county and made me more comfortable with my label of “homosexual”. Fueled by alcohol and any number of drugs, anonymous sex became routine.  I was running around with Lancaster’s movers and shakers.

By the time I was 21, I was totally disenchanted with anything that had to do with the Church. I was designing interiors and window displays for Watt & Shand and other major department stores. I was running around with the theater crowd from a local college. If you were part of the cool straight crowd, you had to have token black and/or gay friends. For nearly seven years, my life was one long party waking up next to nameless people, sometimes wondering how I’d even gotten there.

One night one of my best friends asked me: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget the things we were taught from the Bible when we were kids?” His family were pioneers at Calvary Church and I can tell you point blank, that even then–while high on drugs and alcohol — I KNEW without a doubt that God was still there. I can also tell you that I knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me regularly – even if they didn’t know the depths to which I had fallen.

One Memorial Day after a day of drinking and drugs, I fell apart–mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Late that night I called my Dad. It’s the first time in my life I ever remember asking him for help. He told me that he was coming to get me. He picked me up at my apartment on West King Street, but instead of taking me home, I discovered that he was taking me to the hospital. When we got to the parking lot, I got out of the car and started running. My dad took after me. Grabbed me, knocking me to the ground.  I remember his words as vividly as if he were standing here now:  “YOU ARE MY SON, AND I’M NOT LETTING GO.”

He wasn’t the only FATHER not letting me go.

During my few weeks in the psych ward, I met Jerry Young, a young pastor who had just started a church in Lititz. He gave me an invitation to visit his church and left. Nothing came of it until two years later, the last Sunday evening, October 1974, while I was on my way to work. I had been serving drinks part-time at a mixed gay/straight private club and I simply pulled my car to the side of the road.

“Jesus, I am so tired of this. You know my life is a mess. Please change my life.”

If repent means to turn around, in this case, it was quite literal. I turned my car around and went to that little church in Lititz.

If this were Bethany, the crowd would start roaring because Foreman was stumbling out of the grave much like Lazarus! Stumbling being the key word. There were years and years of addictive grave clothes in the way.

Slowly I began to see God at work in my life. Through the ministry of that church I began to grow. God also provided a way for me to return to college and get my degree. Thank you, Grace College!

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I received some of the worst counsel I’ve ever had. A trusted leader told me: “Do NOT share your same-sex struggles with anyone in the church because they won’t understand.” (And, you should know that when word got out that I was starting to share my life story at various churches, I’ve had similar counsel!) Week after week I would hear testimonies from men healed from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I’d hear about a marriage that was healed after major infidelity. I heard testimonies from men who had spent time in prison. All the while white-knuckling my temptations and usually failing, all the while hearing the prevailing message of the time: ONCE GAY, ALWAYS GAY. Gay is different. It is abhorrent to God. It’s the end of the downward spiral. You cannot change.

This is important: Jesus had breathed NEW life into me, but I was deeply entangled in grave clothes, and I didn’t know how to extricate myself. I wanted freedom to dance. I believed God’s Word–I just wasn’t sure of how to get free from my addictive lifestyle! And – remember – I had been told I shouldn’t ask anyone for help.

I finally decided to try a Christian counselor. After 6 months, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about homosexuality. What?!!! It took 6 months to figure that out?! I went to another Christian counselor and after several months realized that he was hitting on me!!!!

How do you handle that?

You know, it’s fairly easy for someone to say, “Just stop what you are doing!” But when we think about other struggles and addictions—whether they be food, gossip, or shopping; alcohol, cigarettes, or prescription drugs—we know it just isn’t that simple.

Here was the dilemma: I had asked Jesus to save me. And He had! But I still had very strong sexual urges and I didn’t know what to do with them. Plus, I’d been told not to discuss my sexuality with anyone in the Church. And So I opted to live two very distinct lifestyles. One in complete secrecy.

So take a deep breath, everyone….here we go….

In my mid-30’s I began working at a local church and became a licensed pastor. In 1993, I received a Youth Sponsor of the Year Award. At the same time, I was living completely in sin in my secret life. In August 1999, I was one of two individuals nominated for National Youth Pastor of the Year by my denomination. I am NOT saying this to brag, but because, less than 4 months later, on December 9 of the same year, I was arrested in a sting operation for trying to pick up an undercover policeman.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

I came face to face with the fact that what I had sowed, I was now reaping.

In a moment, I lost everything. My career. My friends. My church family. My NAME. My integrity.

Breathing was difficult. I didn’t want to live. One evening while driving home, I began to see each telephone pole as a target. I wanted to die and yet something—the Holy Spirit?–urged me to pull the car over. Storm clouds were gathering as I pulled into a parking lot along the road. Slowly as I got out of my car, I saw a rainbow and God’s Word wrapped around my heart, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

Call it what you will– you are entitled to be skeptical– but I don’t think I’d be here were it not for that experience.

Under Church Discipline and given oversight by a three-man ‘restoration’ team, I was reminded from Hebrews 12:5 and 6–

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

I went into hiding mode.

It took one little girl from my former youth group named Ashley to help me begin again. She placed a tape of Christian music in my mailbox. “Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is Your Name…bearing my sin, my cross, my shame…Jesus, YOU are my all in all.” I played that tape written by Dennis Jernigan constantly as I drove to the only job I could find– working the 3-11 shift at a local mini-market. For nearly two years, I just existed.

Earlier I stated that on December 9, I lost everything. Not true. I discovered just how incredibly much God loves me. Even though I was a hot mess of raw nerves, God’s Spirit was there. Jesus was so near, He was palpable. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t trade that dark time for anything because I was beginning to understand how deeply God loves His fallen children.

Another job opened at a bank about a thirty minute drive from my home. One Sunday afternoon, one of the clients stopped by and said, “Denny, I don’t know you other than from banking here, but I just sense that you need prayer. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” Yeah. Right in the middle of a grocery store! Candid Camera time?! It wasn’t too much longer before he began to disciple/mentor me. Jesus was beginning to use people I barely knew to start unwrapping the grave clothes.

Steve admitted that he never struggled with homosexuality, but he pointed me to a counseling ministry, DaySeven, in Lancaster. Through that organization, I was encouraged to attend a conference for men and women coming out of the gay lifestyle. I went kicking and screaming to that conference.

The very first night, the worship leader opened with “Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name….bearing my sin…”  Would you believe it? Dennis Jernigan, the writer of many of the most popular worship songs of the time, had come out of the gay lifestyle! (His testimony is available online and I highly recommend it!)

Jesus said I AM the resurrection and life. It is one thing to trust God for our salvation. I’d done that, but I was still struggling with this huge addictive sin nature.

About five years ago, I realized that it was essential that I become part of a church family again. I’d stayed at my former church thinking that it was important for those from my former youth group to witness God’s restoration. But after a while it became quite clear that if I stayed I would be a spectator.  And so I began to search for a new church. God faithfully led me to a church where I can serve Him.

So, here I am: One who identified as being gay for most of my life. There is something ironic about the fact that I ‘came out’ as a gay man at a time when you could get beat up, arrested, or killed if anyone thought you were a homosexual and at a time when you didn’t mention homosexuality in churches.  Now here I am ‘coming out as EX-gay’ at a time when the tide has turned. It is now politically incorrect to even hint that the gay lifestyle is wrong. Counselors who teach that homosexuality is a sin and point to the way out can lose their credentials. Church after church is using terms like “affirming” when discussing same-sex relationships. The gay community has flexed its muscle and they would not be happy to see me here. Within the past month, I was the target of a Facebook/Twitter hate campaign because of my stance. Some would say that my testimony can be equated with hate crimes.

But guess what? The religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t just want to see Jesus dead, they also wanted Lazarus silenced. In John 12:9 we read—

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Two years ago, I was asked by a young pastor (one of the men from my former youth group) to come speak at his church. At that time, I stated:

“I’m not here this morning to get into the politics of gay marriage. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Little did any of us realize how quickly the Supreme Court would move to legalize same sex weddings.

And so I am here to offer HOPE to anyone here who is struggling with same-sex feelings. To offer hope to men or women who may be involved in same-sex relationships or to those of you who have friends or family members caught up in the lifestyle. And it is a lifestyle. It is a community.”

So, now you know my story. Dead in sin, and when finally recognizing Jesus voice calling, “FOREMAN, COME OUT of that tomb,” struggling with the remnants of the grave, entangled in grave cloths and told to be silent. BUT here I stand, not the FACE of Gay men…but the face of ONE sinner saved by God’s Grace and still in the process of untangling.

So what have I learned in the journey that has led to sharing my story in churches? I have one simple premise:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUE.

The Bible is a love story.

A loving Father God creates man and woman in his image according to Genesis 1. A loving Father God creates man and woman uniquely designed to complement each other and form a perfect union.

You know the story. A perfect garden and a horrific fall. SIN enters the picture and we are left with the heart-wrenching picture of Father God calling out: “Where are you, Adam?!”

The proponents of Homosexual Rights would like ME to believe I was born gay. Okay, I’ll go this far. I was born into a fallen world. Hey, gang, I have some news for you: We are ALL born with sin NATURES.  David reminds us in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

How many of you had to teach your kids how to be disobedient? After learning the words Mama and DaDa, isn’t one of their first words NO? Their disobedience usually followed by the word “MINE,” as they discover the sin of being self-centered!

So, yeah, we are all born with sin-natures. We are also born with the need to be LOVED.  Andy Comisky writes:  “Our longings for love become sinful when we take them into our own hands and say, ‘this is how I’m going to meet my own needs; they are mine and I am going to meet them any way that I can and want.”

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that stated: “Silence is Golden.” But I beg to differ! Silence is a prison that can cripple. The church that is appalled over what is happening with the Gay Movement was completely silent about it when it mattered and, because of this, I—and many like me—were led to believe we were hopeless and beyond redemption.

We need to re-look at ROMANS 1:16a

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

I needed to know that I could be saved, too! That my sins had not taken me beyond salvation! The irony in all of this is that many of these same churches were using the Book of Romans or the Romans Road in reaching the lost. Hey, I was one of the LOST! I needed to hear the rest of that book. Romans is priceless because it offers HOPE! I needed to hear that God’s kindness leads to repentance!

I want to share two important things to consider if this subject is one you, a family member, or a friend are battling–

1. The Bible is God’s Word. It is TRUTH. I grew up believing that. I still believe that. That belief, that FAITH – sometimes buried in the darkness of my tomb-like existence – was still there. I couldn’t shake it.

Listen carefully, because I believe this is absolutely necessary for healing from ANY sin: God’s Word is True. When I hear gay activists say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that loving relationships between two men or two women is a sin,” I get very nervous. It sounds remarkably similar to the line the serpent gave to Eve when he was tempting her to eat the fruit: “Did God really say you can’t eat…”  Does God really say that homosexuality is a sin? YES. So, for me, the first step toward healing was that I BELIEVED WHAT GOD SAYS. For the sake of the souls of men and women bound by the sin of homosexuality, we dare not let go of the truth of God’s Word.

2. Coming Out is a BIG deal for gays. For those of you who don’t know what that term means, Coming Out means that I’m basically announcing to the world and my family that I am a homosexual. Every gay organization encourages men and women to come out. The feeling is that when people recognize their brothers, sisters, and friends are gay and NORMAL, it will open up other doors. And if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention during the past 50 years. Good grief, if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention the past Two YEARS! I have lived long enough to see a world where homosexuality wasn’t discussed in polite society, to a world where you can rarely see a newspaper or TV show where gay issues are not presented on a regular basis. On a recent Today show, the cast of Will and Grace were interviewed and they stated bluntly that they were proud that they had introduced gay men to American households, making homosexuality acceptable to millions. And even within the past year those that believe that homosexuality is a sin are not only in the minority but are ostracized and called names.

You are witnessing a continuation of my healing. There was a time when being OUT was important to me. As a Believer, I’m NOT going back in the closet, I AM COMING OUT of the bondage of homosexuality. And being separate. I am coming out of sin and living in the Light of Truth. I can no longer be silent! Returning to the Book of Romans I’m learning the importance of speaking out! Scripture says—

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. IT IS WITH YOUR MOUTH THAT YOU CONFESS AND ARE SAVED!

As I started to heal, I also came face to face with the truth that my sin had affected others. My sins – and your sins – are never without impact upon the greater body around us. No sin is only personal.

I have been forgiven by a loving, merciful Heavenly Father, but the fact remains that when my homosexuality was exposed in a very public way in 1999, my sin was no longer personal. It had a HUGE negative effect on a congregation.

From that moment, it was absolutely clear to me that my repentance and restoration had to be played out in full view of that congregation, particularly the kids in my youth group. I had to take responsibility for the God-designed boundaries I had broken. It is one of the reasons I am eager to share my story whenever I can.

CS Lewis makes a strong statement when he says: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sins. Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters, we desperately need each other. James reminds us—

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

And now I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ of my healing.

I’ve always loved the stories of the Exodus and God’s dealing with the Nation of Israel. I remember reading and scratching my head, baffled by the way Israel would see God do monumentally amazing things–like parting the Red Sea, for example, and then watch as the people built a golden calf to worship! What?! Id’ read that God would provide manna, and then, after a few days, the people would complain, “It was better in Egypt. At least there we had onions and garlic.”  And time after time, there was the issue of IDOLATRY.

It’s a term we rarely use today. We don’t use it, because for most of us, when we say ‘IDOL’ we immediately think of statues made of stone or wood. Objects. But the reality is that IDOLATRY is divinizing what is not God. And here is where I must return to Romans 1:25—

…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

And as a result: perversion and death–the due penalty for our idolatry.

In I Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.”

When I identified myself as gay, my life was devoted to sensuality. It had become my idol.

Let me re-read that I Samuel passage: Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and ARROGANCE like the evil of idolatry.

I was worshipping the wrong thing. While at the same time growing more and more frustrated with God because He didn’t seem to be healing me. And then one day it dawned on me! The greatest idol in my life wasn’t sensuality or homosexuality—it was ME!

I had spent so much time focusing on the sin of homosexuality, that it had become the end all be all.  Subconsciously I had started to believe that if I could stop being a homosexual, I would be perfect. Did you get that? I was so focused on homosexuality, I truly thought that if that were gone, everything else would be resolved. Saying that out loud only underscores how ludicrous that is!

In essence, I was saying, if it weren’t for the homosexuality and pornography, I wouldn’t need God. I had forgotten other areas of my life like negativity, gossip, over-eating and not taking care of my physical body, lying, cheating, coveting the latest car, driving through an upscale local development and wishing one of those homes would be mine, and the list goes on.

In other words, without homosexuality in my life, I thought I didn’t need JESUS.

And that leads me to my conclusion and my salvation. JESUS.

Don’t be deceived by all the hype out there. We ALL need Jesus.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

 But I was washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

There is love that came for us, humbled to a sinner’s cross.
You broke my shame and sinfulness.  You rose again victorious
Faithfulness none can deny!
Through the storm and through the fire,
there is truth that sets me free: Jesus Christ who lives in me!
Jesus, You are stronger, You are stronger. 
Sin is broken, You have saved me. 
It is written, Christ is risen! 
Jesus You are Lord of all
No beginning and no end – You are my hope and my defense.
You came to seek and save the lost. 
You paid it all upon the cross
You are stronger, You are stronger,
Sin is broken! You have saved me!!
So let Your name be lifted higher, JESUS, YOU are Lord of all!

 

DForemanDennis L. Foreman (chaplain, teacher) is available to share his story.

 

 

 

 

 

What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

Have you ever wondered why some families are so close and some seem so distant? Why some seem so full of love and some are so full of anger? And why some seem so happy and some seem so sad?

All families are imperfect. In fact, all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. The degrees differ, but they all are!

So what makes for a healthy family? One that, even through life’s hard struggles, remains generally close, loving, and happy?

We can find the answer to this question from the Word of God, where we see principles we can practice for healthy relationships and close families. I want to look at two passages and pull a few principles from them that we can practice in order to have healthy families–

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

1. They are loving and kind. It is no secret that the Bible teaches us to be loving and kind. Many of us manage this outside of our homes but when we get home we throw off our good behavior and become who we really are inside–selfish and rude individuals who want our own way. But having a healthy family requires lots of love and kindness. And it starts with you and with me. We can’t expect our kids to be kind if we can’t manage it ourselves.

2 They are joyful. This word can haunt those of us who really struggle with being melancholy or with a flaring temper. But families overshadowed by sadness and anger make for kids who just want to leave and never come back. We cannot let the trials and struggles of life steal all of our joy. We will all have bad days–even bad months– but healthy families still find joy. And while laughter isn’t required, it is certainly good medicine for any family (Proverbs 17:22). Families that laugh together are happier. You have heard it said that families that “play together, stay together.” How important it is that we intentionally spend time together with our families, enjoying one another and practicing joy. We must ask ourselves: Do we bring joy to our family?

3. They are faithful. “Faithful” means loyal; reliable; steady in allegiance and affection; trusted; true to one’s word. As we read these adjectives, we can see how this would be invaluable to the health of a family. When we can’t trust each other, walls go up quickly. Let’s consider if we are true to our word? If we can be trusted to do what we said we are going to do? Whether it is making a promise to our spouse and then not doing it or threatening to discipline our kids and yet never following through, we must understand that this principle has a lot more facets than we would first think.

4. They are self-controlled. Ohhhhh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? This means that we practice self-control not only on the obvious things (such as our tempers) but also on the not-so-obvious–like our finances, our eating habits, and how we spend our time. Healthy families are balanced in how much they spend. They aren’t encumbered by debts they can’t pay and their houses aren’t full of things they can’t afford. Healthy families don’t drink soda and eat fried foods at every meal (or they will be unhealthy in more ways than one!).  And healthy families don’t spend all of their time in front of the TV or allow their kids to play video games or be on their phones without boundaries. Healthy families are self-controlled. Do we understand how important it is to set up boundaries for ourselves and for our kids that lead us to practice self-control?

5. They are patient and not easily angered. Oh, dear. Another really tough one. At least for me. But there it is in I Corinthians 13 (and many other places in scripture, as well!) Healthy families do not have members that are easily angered but instead practice patience with each other. Have you noticed how those members of the family that don’t practice this bring such strife to the family? This one can really add dissension to the family quickly–particularly if the other members of the family don’t practice principle #9!

6. They are gentle. What does gentle mean exactly? The dictionary tells us this–moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe. Does this describe you? This is easier for some of us than for others, isn’t it? Sometimes I will say something and my family will tell me I sounded harsh–and I didn’t even realize it! I just told my daughter the other day that I just can’t seem to gain victory over the tone of my voice. It can be rather discouraging for me–but I keep working at it! I don’t want to sound harsh or severe. When we do this, we tempt our family members to be defensive and angry. Think about the last time you were unhappy about something and then ask yourself: Did you express your concerns gently?

7. They rejoice with one another instead of envying each other. Oh, another really big one. How much grief and strife come from brothers and sisters envying one another? We only need to look at Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37) to see what comes of envy in a family. And this story has played itself out over and over and over again throughout the centuries. (Note to parents: Favoritism has no place in a healthy family! We parents have to take this so seriously, lest we destroy our families). When we are jealous instead of happy for family members that get a break or who succeed, this leads quickly to an unhealthy, unhappy family. Do you envy a sibling when they get something you wanted or are you able to rejoice with them? And another important question: Do you show favoritism with your own kids? (How would they answer that question?)

8. They value the truth. Families that are close communicate truth. There are few secrets between mom and dad (if any!). Communication is clear and truthful–not sarcastic and “beaten around the bush”. Healthy families talk about the important things and the big questions in life. Christian families use these discussions to grow their kids’ knowledge of the Word of God and the ultimate truth that is found there. Do you love truth? Do you share truth with your family?

9. They practice repentance and forgiveness. This one is talked about a lot and cannot be overestimated. Families that don’t keep forgiving, soon have walls so high, no one can break through. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness is a destructive root that weaves its tentacles through almost all parts of life, but particularly through a family’s well-being. Of course, forgiveness is much easier to give when the party who has offended practices true repentance over their sin. Oh, how important it is that we give genuine apologies that do not have any “buts” after them. You know what I mean–the ones that go something like this–“I shouldn’t have done that but you…” Those aren’t apologies, they are excuses. Do you give genuine apologies? Do you practice forgiveness “seventy times seven” in your own family?

10. They keep loving unconditionally–lots of grace and no grudges. All of these can be wrapped up with this final principle. Healthy families offer lots of grace to each other. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They keep on loving each other despite all of the imperfections and failures and sins. They don’t hold grudges when one member doesn’t live up to the expectations of another. Healthy families overlook small offenses. Do you give lots of grace? Or is your love conditional on your family members meeting your expectations?

And there you have it! Ten principles for a healthier and happier family. Of course, we live in a fallen world, so none of us can practice these perfectly. As I wrote, I was challenged on several of these that need much improvement in my own life.

I know that this list looks impossible to some of you. Some of you have a spouse or grown kids who aren’t practicing many –if any– of these. They may be selfish or angry or distant and they have no interest in changing or in working at building a healthier family. What to do?

I just want to encourage you to build a healthier family as best you can by incorporating these things into your own life. The tone of your family will change as you put these into practice. It won’t be easy and it won’t–most likely–be miraculous. But a few years from now you will look back and see how your obedience to the Word of God and the principles found there has changed your family. Just start with one principle today. Look at this list and determine which one of these you most need to work on.

While this list of ten principles is certainly not exhaustive, I do hope that I have encouraged you today to build a healthier and happier family! This is a never-ending endeavor and we can never be satisfied with status quo when it comes to our families, for we are investing for eternity!

 

{Please note: I am taking a break from Learn to Discern this week; more posts are coming.}

Being Molded to Look Like Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we need to continue reading verse 29–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Hallmark’s Reason for the Season

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The other night I was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. Yes, I know they are super predictable and, generally, have the same theme every single time. But don’t judge me. They are clean and, overall, fairly innocent. At least that is what most of us believe.

But is this true? Are they as innocent as we may think?

Does something become good for us to watch simply because it doesn’t have bad language, sexual content, or violence?

While I am not saying that we should never watch Hallmark movies, I do think there is some value in evaluating the messages of their movies and to contemplate how this production company is secularizing Christmas.

So let’s go back to the other night, when I was watching that movie. At one point, there is a conversation about the meaning of Christmas. What is the meaning of Christmas?

Do we hear something about Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men? Do we hear of the Christ child and the glorious hope for man to be reconciled with God? No, instead, we hear some ambiguous message about the “love we all feel in our hearts towards each other”.

Look, I am not saying that we don’t feel those things around the holidays. And I am not saying that is not a good thing. But things have really changed.

Years ago, even the secular movies would have made some reference to baby Jesus. Some movies would even mix baby Jesus and Santa all together. But at least there was a reference to the religious message of the season.

It wasn’t until the other night that I realized just how secular our nation has become. Hollywood rarely even mentions the name of Christ during Christmas. City scenes never have a manger scene and Luke 2 is never read. God is seldom mentioned and if He is, it usually has to do with a very unbiblical portrayal of angels.

Instead, in many ways, this culture has gone back to the pagan roots of the holiday and Christmas has become a godless holiday centered on the glory of man and materialistic consumerism.

So what does this mean for us? I think it means two things–

First, we each need to decide just how much we are going to fill our minds with entertainment that promotes a very secular worldview during this holiday season. I am not saying it is a sin to watch the occasional Hallmark movie. But let’s be very aware of what each movie is saying (or not saying) about Christmas. Let’s not mindlessly consume the entertainment of the age, even if it is morally okay. We need to always give thought to the philosophies that are being taught in anything we watch and that includes Christmas movies.

(and perhaps we should think about watching less entertainment during this time of year and filling our evenings with things that have nothing to do with the television…)

Second, we have a special way we can now stand apart from the world over the holiday season. As we talk about Christmas with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends, let’s be sure to mention the Bible’s reason to celebrate the season. Let’s consider the Gospel and how we can share it with those we love as we give gifts. And let’s keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs for our children, our grandchildren, and for our extended families as much as we possibly can. Let’s not get caught up in the shallow, secularized version of Christmas that is now celebrated by most of the world.

Every now and again I realize just how very different America is compared to when I was a kid (and, honestly, it wasn’t all that great then). But it wasn’t until the other night as I was watching that movie that I realized just how far we have come from our Christian roots. Many would laud that as a wonderful thing–they have been working towards that for years. But they are short-sighted and blissfully unaware of where relativism and immorality lead any culture. It is a sad, sad thing to watch.

Thankfully, through it all, we have the opportunity to shine brightly for Christ. We have a wonderful message of hope to share. Let’s share it freely and often. And there is no better time to shine than during the Christmas season!

 

 

So What Now?

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You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Christians across America as we watched the election results on Tuesday night. What we thought was impossible actually became possible as we watched states start to turn red. I am still shaking my head that–

A. Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States.

and

B. That I actually voted for and am glad that Donald Trump is President.

I feel like I have fallen into some alternate universe or something. What a crazy year. And what an upset. And here we are– with a guy who has few morals– and even less experience– about to run this country.

While I consider this a huge victory and answer to prayer, it certainly isn’t because of who became President but strictly because of who didn’t become President. Hopefully, we will now witness a halt or at least a slowing down of the aggressive liberal and socialistic agenda that has been the passion of our current President.

Before this election, many Christian pastors and bloggers reminded us that our hope is in the Lord. We felt hopeless, we felt powerless. We Christians needed to be reminded of where we should find our hope.

But with what happened this week, we may be tempted to start hoping again in the wrong things. Let us be careful we do not place our hope in a man. On Tuesday night we watched  as reporters almost stuttered in their shock and amazement over what was taking place on that map. Even staunch Republican insiders saw no hope for a win. But, while this is most certainly a wonderful surprise, we need to continue to pray! God is still our only hope. He is still the one who raises up and removes kings. Only He controls the nations. We must be careful not to place our trust in a man or in a government.

Trump is historically liberal in where he stands morally. While he may not be as aggressive in pushing immorality, it is unlikely that he will make sweeping changes to the morality of this nation. This was not a victory for Christian principles in this country.

In my opinion, this wasn’t really a win for Christians as much as it was a win for those who desire a return to sanity. Progressives are deeply mourning what they believe to be a move backwards for this nation. One has to wonder how well they know the histories of civilizations. When a country starts to break down in a way ours has been, complete destruction is never far behind. And so I believe we are simply backing away from the edge of the cliff for a few years. And, in so doing, may we continue to pray. Not only for the direction of this country but also that there would be opportunities to reach the lost. This respite will hopefully give us four years free of the persecution that we saw looming ahead of us. It may give us four more years of free speech. May we redeem this time and use it to proclaim the Gospel!

 

Every Promise Kept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is our purpose? What are we here for?

To have our every whim and desire fulfilled? No.

To live worry-free, without cares? No.

To have everything go just as we want? No.

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

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

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

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

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

Diving Into Change

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

And that’s just how it is.

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

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

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

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

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

I remember to find perspective

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

Choosing gratitude

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

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

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

We remember the One who never changes.

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

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

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

Set proper priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Change is in the Wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Consider the Blossoms

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Sometimes–with everything that’s going on in the world and within the church and, perhaps, even in our own lives– we can start to feel a little anxious, overwhelmed, or fearful. We lose sight of perspective and take our eyes off the Lord and turn them to earthly things. This is so easy to do, isn’t it? How quickly we forget that we serve an almighty God who will be the victor in this fierce battle for the world! I Chronicles 29:11 puts it this way–

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness,
The power and the glory,
The victory and the majesty;
For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours;
Yours is the kingdom, O Lord,
And You are exalted as head over all.

I thought it might be a welcome break to take our eyes off of the problems, battles, and sadness of this world and turn them to the wonder of God’s breathtaking creation this morning. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a nearby gardens with my camera yesterday. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite shots from that trip plus a few from my own backyard. God has clothed the flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow, and yet He has done it so marvelously! O, How much more He cares for us! What a wonderful reminder (Luke 12:27-28).

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Seeing Ourselves As We Really Are

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Would you know what you look like if you didn’t have access to a mirror? We can hardly even imagine not having a mirror available anywhere. But just think on this with me for the next few minutes, if you will–

The era is around World War II–late 30s or early 40s. The town is London. The girl is born with a club foot. Her cruel mother hates her and thinks the girl is cursed by the devil. Because of this, the mother tries desperately to hide the girl from the world and refuses to let her leave their drab, one-room apartment. In that room she has lived her whole, short life and she sits at the tiny, lone window all day, watching the world go by below her.

One day she decides to try to teach herself to walk. It is very painful and such a struggle, but she does it! She can walk across the room. And it’s a good thing, too, because finally, one day she and her little brother are given an opportunity to escape. They board a train bound for the country and head towards freedom.

On the way there, the train stops and the kids get off the train to use the bathroom. As she limps to the sink in the unfamiliar room, there seems to be another girl washing her hands in another sink right in front of her. She is shocked at just how ugly the girl is. She is by far the nastiest, dirtiest girl she has ever seen. Her hair is knotted and unkempt. Her clothing is filthy and ripped. And then she notices the girl imitating her and she gasps. That isn’t just another girl from the train. It is her! She is looking in a mirror and the ugly girl is herself.

She has come face to face with how she truly looks and it isn’t a pretty sight.

This story is not from a Christian book and there is no indication that the author is a believer, but this part of her book helped me understand this passage from James in a whole new light–

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:22-24).

When we read the Bible, we are just like that girl looking in the mirror for the first time. We, too, get a glimpse of our true self–the sinful, dark, ugly side we’d prefer to ignore. And yet, James indicates that many of us look in that mirror and then just walk away. Why is this? I think there are two reasons, which really end up being the same thing in slightly different packages–

1. We are prideful and self-righteousness.

Pride, in essence, keeps the mirror hazy. Have you ever seen a window when the sun shines on it? What looked clean in the darkness looks positively filthy in the sunlight. Pride is that darkness that keeps us from seeing the filth. When we read the Word, some of us honestly believe we are good people and that we are making a pretty good go of this thing called “life”. We don’t really need a Savior because we don’t believe we are really that big of a sinner.

2. We love our sin.

In order for us to be changed by the Word, we need to be willing to obey the Word. This is a very tall order because it affects every aspect of our lives. We can’t approach the Word with a willing heart, because we are not willing to put what God wants ahead of what we want. Looking in that mirror will require some very painful and sacrificial change. And we don’t want it. It hurts too much. So we go on in with our devotions and Bible reading but it really never changes us because we love our sin too much and are not willing to part with it.

Both of these can be boiled down into one concept: Self-Love. We love ourselves far too much to be too fazed by the mirror of the Word.

And so many who read the Bible never change. They are the same person from year to year. And this is who James talks about–the ones who are hearing but never doing. The ones who are reading but never changing.

And this is why we need to check our hearts before we come to the Word. True and lasting change is only possible if we approach the Word of God with a heart of submission and a willingness to obey. An unyielding, prideful heart will reap no fruit from time spent in the Word.

It has been a challenge for me to think about how I approach the Word. Am I willing to see the real me? And am I willing to do whatever it takes to give up the sins that I love–whether they be how I entertain myself, how I eat, what I wear, or how I react to people when I don’t get my way?

If I can answer yes! to these two questions, then the wonderful hope in God’s Word is that we are not alone in our battle against sin. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us. Romans 1:9-11 puts it this way–

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Life is not filled with hopeless battles that we can never win. Victory can be ours but only if we are willing to look at ourselves honestly. Victory can be ours but only if we are willing to cast aside the sins that we love.

If we do can do these two things by the grace and mercy of God, then– and only then– will we become doers of the Word, and not hearers only.