Some Lessons for All of Us

some lessons

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

So, first, how I have really been doing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Shopping for Furniture

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She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

The Little Things

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American Idol premiered in 2002. That show single-handedly launched the careers of dozens of obscure, wannabe rock stars, country singers, and crooners during its 14-year-run. I think it also helped to shape and solidify the way we Americans think about change. Instead of viewing change as something that is brought about by consistent and diligent hard work (the way it had been viewed forever), we now longed for that magic day when we would win a contest and life would change forever!

You may have no desire for fame, but I do wonder if this show, along with dozens of other shows, magazines, and radio talk shows haven’t left us believing that that magical, happy time of having our dreams fulfilled will come if we will just be patient and hang on long enough. Meanwhile, we kind of sit back and just wait for it.

This is true in the work world, where there is an expectation for promotions and raises to be given without corresponding work and effort. And it is true on the sports fields and on the dance stage, where there is this longing to be the star of the show–the one that stands out and is picked for that college scholarship or that special award that will jumpstart a career. We are just waiting for that magic moment when people will recognize our gifts and talents.

But, for most, that moment never comes.

The statistics will show that few people reach success, fame, or fortune without a lot of hard work and discipline.

As believers, our ultimate goal has little to do with success, fame, or fortune, but is, instead, centered on living holy, godly lives and growing to look more like Jesus. But, even in this area, we can be conditioned to believe that this happens by a special anointing of the Spirit or by receiving a special message from “Jesus”. We are being conditioned to believe that it is some magical experience that will take us to the next level of spiritual growth.

You can see how Christians are so susceptible to this type of thinking since–

Magic moments are IN and consistent hard work is OUT.

The other day, I had a knock on my door. When I opened it I saw a man standing there that I didn’t recognize. He reached his hand out kindly to me and told me his name. Here he was an employee of ours from over 20 years ago! What a fun time to chat with him and to see how he had grown and changed. I called my in-laws down (they live next door to us), for they had known him, as well, and we all stood in the front lawn for several minutes talking and reminiscing. At one point, the man looked at my father-in-law and said that he had given him a book about being a godly man that had really impacted him. He still had it and planned to have his sons read it.

As I listened to that exchange, I was again reminded that this is how change and growth usually occur. It is the gift of a book. Or a seemingly insignificant phone conversation. Or a heartfelt text. It’s in the conversations in the break rooms and the church hallways. Or the words of a hymn or song. But, most importantly, it is through the Word of God. Like the Grand Canyon carved by a stream of water, so we, too, are changed by the little things.

Perhaps we need to relinquish this insatiable desire for sensational, supernatural experiences in our lives. While this can and does happen to some of us (as we read in Larry’s Changed Life testimony) it does not happen to most of us. But if we keep consistently growing and changing through lots of prayer, through the Word of God, and through a humble and teachable spirit. If we realize this and put it into practice then, whether or not that “magical moment” of change we are longing for ever transpires, we will confidently know we are going the right direction instead of sitting around waiting for a miracle to propel us to change.

I would also like to add one more important note here. It is regarding this obsession that is currently sweeping through Christendom for personal messages from God and encouraging whispers from Jesus. I won’t go too deeply into it here today, but the need for sensational experiences in order to grow spiritually not only isn’t scriptural, it leads to arrogance and pride and to chaotic confusion. It has created a Christian culture that is basing its maturity on experiences rather than on the Word of God. If you would like to know more about this, I suggest you read the book Is That You, Lord? by Gary Gilley. This gives an extremely helpful, biblical perspective on this new phenomenon of “hearing from the Lord”. I know it will be immensely beneficial to any of you who are wondering about this. (Notice I am using adverbs like “extremely” and “immensely” because I am trying to get across the idea of just how much this book has helped me!!)

Real life change happens through prayer and through the Word of God–where we not only find encouragement for our thirsty souls, but we find the commands and principles for living that bring true peace and joy when we choose to submit and obey. The Bible is the power for the Christian life. And true change generally happens by reading, studying, and putting it into practice–tiresome day after tiresome day. True and lasting change takes consistent work.

But it IS possible! Sometimes we will be tempted to think that no one ever changes. And yet, we know that through the power of God and His Word, true change is not only possible but should be expected. Hopefully, your own life is a testimony to how God can change a life.

So don’t give up! It is most often the little things that bring about the changes we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

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.

 

 

The Beautiful Moments

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The other day I had the very pleasant opportunity (yes, that was sarcasm) of spending over five long hours in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. I was between flights and– with already having a several hour layover and then a delayed flight on top of that– I was stuck there. For a very long time.

Now normally–which will come to no surprise to those who know me–I will while away at least some of those hours by finding someone to talk to. But that particular day I wasn’t really in a talking mood. Last week was a rough one and, honestly, I just didn’t feel like talking. And so I sat in the airport, watching people when I wasn’t being entertained by my iPad.

During the time I was there, two honor flights came in. As the elderly men–veterans of World War II or the Korean War– were wheeled into the airport, almost all of those near me stood to their feet out of respect and started clapping, until all around me the sound of applause rang out for these men who had faithfully served their country.

It was a beautiful moment.

You know, we still are privileged to enjoy a lot of beautiful moments, aren’t we? Sure, the world is headed a wrong direction and the church is going along right with it but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy life!

While this isn’t really a post that is part of the Learn to Discern series, in some ways I feel it should be. You see, when we learn to discern we can develop a really negative outlook on life if we aren’t careful. We can become those people who always see the glass half-empty and who steal the enjoyment from the lives of others with our constant negative commentary about the state of the world.

But there are still so many beautiful moments. In airports. In our homes with our families. On the ball fields. In stores. On the highway. In our churches.

Moments where we still see people sacrificing their own desires for the sake of someone else. Honoring someone. Loving someone. Serving someone.

We can find these moments almost anywhere we are, if we just keep our eyes open to look for them!

Let’s not grow so frustrated or saddened by the state of the world and church that we allow it to rob us of our joy. Life is still so good. God is so faithful. He loves us and He still gives us so many beautiful moments. Let’s not lose sight of this as we learn to discern.

 

Beyond the Clouds

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

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

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

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

And he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 7:4

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

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

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

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

I think that last sentence is worth repeating–

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

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

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

Well, I am glad you asked!

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

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

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

For He is always there.

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

Paul says it best in Romans 8:28-29

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

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

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.

 

One Thing We All Know For Sure

hourglass

A 48 year old man is on his way to a job when suddenly, with no warning at all, a car, driven by a teen-aged girl, crosses over into his lane. They are both killed.

A curious young boy steps too close to rushing flood waters and is swept away. He is one of 24 who are killed from flash floods in West Virginia.

A young family is playing on the lake beach of a famous resort. Suddenly, an alligator grabs their two year old and he is drowned.

The room is loud, the crowd is dancing and drinking, with no thoughts of eternity on their minds. Suddenly, shots fire. Over fifty are dead within minutes.

A man isn’t feeling well. He goes to the doctor and discovers that his body is riddled with cancer. Within months he is dead.

A 55 year old woman is on the beach on a windy day, celebrating her birthday with friends. Suddenly, a beach umbrella comes flying at her without warning, its point embedding itself in her heart. She is dead within minutes.

These are just six stories of death among the thousands that play themselves across the world every single day. Recent stories that you may have heard about. We don’t like to focus too much on death, but for just this one day, I want to talk about it.

There are a lot of opinions about a lot of things in this world. And with our new post-modern culture, we find that most people accept all opinions as true and valid. If you share anything about the Gospel with someone, you will most like hear something like this: well, that is true for you but it is not true for me. (As if 2+2 can equal 4 for me but equals 6 for them. The argument is so illogical I can’t stand it!)

But there is something we all can agree on–something that no one will argue over. There is one thing we all know for sure. And that is that we are all going to die. And, disconcertingly, few of us have absolutely any idea of when. This is not something we really want to think about, is it?

But perhaps we should think about it a little more often, because it would help us do a re-focus of a few things–

1. First and foremost, pondering death should make us think about our eternal destiny. Do I know where I am going to spend eternity? Am I confident in this? If you aren’t sure or are perhaps confused about the gospel, please read this post. If you think you are going to heaven because you said a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart, then I would ask you: does your life give evidence of your belief? Do you read and study God’s Word? Would your family and friends testify to the working of God in your life? While it is true that we only need believe in order to be saved, it is also true that true belief yields a changed life. (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 25:41-46) Is your life a living testimony of the work of Christ? If not, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

2. If we are confident we are saved, then we also have some soul-searching to do. Death should push us to share the gospel. Many have never heard the Truth from God’s Word. Oh, they may have heard parts of it or they may have heard mangled, twisted bits and pieces taken out of context. But many people still think they are working their way to heaven. What are we going to do about it? Our days are limited and we have no guarantees. Has anyone heard the Gospel from us? Have we planted some seeds along the way? Could we plant more? These are the questions that arise when we think of death.

3. If I knew I was going to die in 5 years, what would I do differently? Would I be kinder? Would I work more? Or less? Would I really try to fix my anger issue? Or climb out of debt so my family isn’t stuck with a mess? Would I make sure my relationship with my kids, my spouse, my parents was healed? We humans like to operate on “someday” time. Someday I’ll talk to that person. Someday I’ll work on this or fix that. But, for most of us, someday never comes. We focus on the everyday cares of life and rarely give attention to changing and growing, choosing instead to live very comfortably at status quo.

4. Death is a great reminder of God’s Sovereignty. He holds our days in His hands. God has even numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He knows everything–past, present, future. A day is as a thousand days to Him (2 Peter 3:8) God operates outside of time. We can rest securely in the care of our heavenly Father, knowing that we (and anyone we love) will not be removed from this earth before their time (which, by the way, is a concept that is SO much easier to write a sentence about than to actually live out).

5. Pondering death changes how we view our trials. We can become quickly overwhelmed with life and allow this to steal our joy, if we aren’t careful. Whether it be a houseful of children keeping us crazy busy or a bothersome physical trial, life can get us down. Whether it be a job that demands much from us or some relatives that suck the life out of us, life can move from joyful to draining in a short time. So much depends on our attitude. I feel a bit hypocritical even writing about this. I am very guilty of letting my circumstances control my mood. This is a constant struggle for me, but I am guessing that I am not totally alone in this (am I??). It is so easy to let external circumstances be the driving force of our lives. But we know that we should be controlled by the internal joy that we receive from the Lord and the peace that is available to us when we submit to His will. This is the secret to true and lasting contentment. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: With acceptance comes peace. Somehow when we think of death it gives us a different perspective on the trials that are plaguing us, doesn’t it? It brings them into proper focus.

6. When we think on death, it reminds us of just how blessed our ordinary days are. We move from one day to the next and complain a little if nothing exciting is happening. And, yet, ordinary can be swept away in an instant. Let’s appreciate it now–before it’s too late. Life changes. Sometimes it is very gradual and sometimes it is in a moment. How important that we appreciate each day and each stage of life. My daughter actually just wrote post on this. Maybe you want to check it out.

As you go about this week, I hope that you will think a bit on this. Who are the lost that you rub shoulders with every day? Do you have a passion to share the Gospel with them? What needs changed in your life to make you look more like Christ? What work does the Lord have for you before you leave the earth? Do you spend a lot of time complaining? Is it time to start working on a heart of gratitude and a spirit of contentment?

Life is short. And none of us has any guarantees. The time to shine our light is now. The time to change is now.

Because only the Lord knows what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

 

Rescued

rescued

Imagine you are on the ocean a thousand miles from land. You are literally dying from thirst. Your lips are parched and your skin blistered from the scorching sun. The only thing keeping you from drowning in the unfathomable depths of the endless ocean is a flimsy yellow raft. The days are ticking by and death seems close at hand.

Or imagine you are in the belly of the earth, deep inside a cave. You have lost your source of light and you have lost your way. You don’t know where to turn and the darkness is so thick you can touch it. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face for there is not a hint of light anywhere. You recognize that you are never going to be able to find your way out and you start facing the fact that you are going die a slow, torturous death in this place, leaving behind a pile of bones that someone may stumble onto some day in the distant future.

In both scenarios, all hope is gone. Your life on earth is over and you know it. You have faced the facts and are simply waiting to die.

Now, suppose that–against all odds– someone rescues you. Not only does he rescue you, but he gives his life to save you. He knew that your rescue depended upon the sacrifice of his life but he chose to save you, anyway.

How would you feel about this person?

What kind of passion would you express when you tell the story of your dramatic rescue? What kind of words would you use when describing the person who gave his life to save you?

Most people would tell the story of their rescue in great detail, infusing their words with zeal and fervor. They would try to convey –as much as words would allow– the deep, abiding love and tremendous awe and respect they have for the stranger who saved them.

And this passion is given for a temporary escape from something that’s still going to happen eventually. Our rescue hasn’t cheated death permanently–it’s just given us a bit more time here on earth.

Why do we feel such great passion about a temporary physical rescue and yet feel little or no passion regarding our spiritual rescue?

We were sinners completely without righteousness (Romans 3:23). We were headed for eternal separation from God. Eternal separation (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Our final destination was going to be hell–a place of torture and fire (Luke 16:24).

Unending punishment was certain.

We were without hope.

And then came the day long ago that God put His plan of salvation into motion. He sent His only Son to the earth as a baby. That baby would grow into a man who would die on a cross for the sins of man. He took our sins on Himself and covered us with His blood and righteousness so that we could be reconciled to the One, True God!

And then He rose again, victorious over death!

O, Death where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55)

We haven’t been given temporary respite from death–we have had an eternal rescue!

And yet, most of us Christians talk about our rescue like we talk about what we are having for dinner. There is no passion, no fervor. We don’t tell our neighbors and we don’t tell our friends. In fact, some of us do all we can to avoid bringing up the subject, nervous and afraid to speak the name of Jesus.

But how can we keep from praising His name? How can we keep from singing?

Salvation is far more than an intellectual acknowledgement. Even the demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). Salvation is a change of heart.

If our hearts have been changed, then praise should spill forth without effort because we have been rescued! We have left the roiling sea of sin and have found the solid anchor that holds! We have left the inky, black darkness that has blinded us and have walked into marvelous light!

How can we keep from praising Him? How can we keep from singing?

I know this type of  passion and fervor in “Christianity” isn’t always acceptable. We don’t want to get too excited because we don’t want to look strange. But have you been to a sports event lately? Or a concert? Passion and zeal abide there for literally no reason. And we can’t bring some excitement to our dramatic, eternal rescue from sin and hell?

As we focus this week on the death and resurrection of Christ, let us consider what Jesus did for us and the passion we have towards what happened. Let’s ponder our wretched sinfulness and reflect on how He reconciled us to God, gave us eternal life, and saved us from eternal damnation. If we are truly saved, we will find that we can’t keep from praising His name and singing out!

 

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. (Psalm 18:49)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)

Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. (Isaiah 42:10)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

What Your Tips Tell the World

Restaurant

On several occasions now, I have had my daughters share with me just how awful Christians are at tipping. Their experiences range from Christian conferences in town for the weekend to waiting on folks who pray before their meals or talk freely about their faith. Just recently, this was brought to mind again, as one of my daughters reminded me just how much she and her co-workers hate when a Christian conference comes to town.

What is wrong with this picture?

Now keep in mind I have had two daughters who work in this industry in several different restaurants and this is what I keep hearing. The wait staff at restaurants do not expect Christians to tip well. And, actually, they find Christians are often rude and unkind, as well. Those Christians that are the opposite are a welcome exception.

The thing that makes them laugh the most is when there will be a tract laying beside a dollar bill. If we aren’t going to be generous in our tipping, it would be better to leave the tract tucked away in our purse or pocket, as it simply serves to give the gospel a bad name.

Sometimes, wait staff will try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they honestly don’t know that waiters only make around $2 an hour and heavily rely on tips to survive?

You may be thinking that you will never make a difference in the life of that waiter or waitress, anyway. You will never see them again. And that may be true. But we do have the opportunity to either open or close that heart to the message of Christ. If someone later on does have an opportunity to share the gospel with that waiter or waitress, will our experience with them hinder or help that process?

It would seem to me that of all peoples, we should be the kindest and the most generous. Not only are we to be filled with the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as we interact with people, but Jesus commands us to treat others as we want to be treated (Luke 6:31).

So let’s expand this further than simply restaurants. As we evaluate our interaction with those who serve us, whether they be store clerks, customer service reps, repairmen, bank tellers, or wait staff, how do we treat them? Do we treat them like we would want to be treated or do we give a little grunt of hello and then proceed to ignore them, or–even worse yet–to be rude and nasty?

This can be especially difficult if the person serving us is not the nicest to us.

This happened to me a few months ago. Something went wrong behind the scenes and Growing 4 Life was taken off-line. When I called the number given me in the email for an explanation, I ended up getting a rude, unhelpful guy that made my temper awfully hard to hang on to. Talking to him was like talking to a brick wall. I ended up calling a different number and getting it solved, but after it was all over, my mom asked me how I had treated the rude guy, given the message of my blog. As I was talking to this man about Growing 4 Life there was a good chance he would land there after we were done talking, if only to check on it. Thankfully, I had remembered this during my conversation and had not completely blown it– although, admittedly, I could have done much better than I did!

But just as this blog gives a message about me and I have a responsibility to behave in alliance with that message, so our lives, too, if we are Christians, give a message about us–a message that comes with a responsibility.

Many patches of ground have remained unsown because of some thoughtless Christian who destroyed the witness of Christ by their thoughtless, rude, and stingy behavior. Let us be the exception! May we instead help prepare the soil for the gospel message by our kindness and generosity, so that hearts may be open to the good news of Christ.