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 now, 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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

10 Reasons Why We Avoid the Altar

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Sometimes I just don’t really want to be a Christian.

That’s just the honest truth.

Oh, I am not talking about the kind of Christian that is so popular these days–the kind who call themselves Christians and then go on to live however they want and do anything they want and still believe they have fire insurance from hell because they said a prayer. I’m not the judge, but God’s Word itself tells us about these kind of people—

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:1-5

No, I am talking about the real kind. The kind that Paul describes in the New Testament. The kind Jesus says He is preparing a place for in heaven.

Being this kind of Christian is so hard some days. In fact, if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit living inside of us true believers, drawing us to the Word and transforming our lives, it would be impossible.

I happened upon the lyrics of “Trust and Obey” the other day. It was the fourth, little-sung verse that really made me think–

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

There is such truth in this verse–supernatural peace and lasting joy and God’s favor are just part of our reward when we sacrifice our life for Christ. But, oh, how much our human flesh hates that altar! We sing songs that say we surrender all or lay all at the feet of Jesus, but do we? Really?

It costs us so much. And so many of us don’t want to pay the price. I thought of ten reasons why we are so tempted to avoid the altar–

1. We have to give up our independence. Our life is no longer our own and we hate that. We want to make our own decisions and choices without anyone–even God– looking over our shoulders, telling us what to do.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

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

2. We have to hand over our dreams, our hopes, and our expectations to God. We are told every day by some author or TV personality to follow our dreams. But is this, truly, what scripture teaches? No, it is not.  And this can be extremely difficult–especially if we don’t know our heavenly Father well enough to trust Him. (The absolute beauty of this sacrifice is that God changes and molds our dreams to reflect His will and, so, when it is all said and done, we are more far more fulfilled than if we would have had our own paltry dreams, anyway!)

 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 6:24-25

3. We have to stand alone sometimes. This takes a tremendous amount of courage, as it means we can no longer follow the crowd. Peer pressure can be so strong. If we are a follower, this can be so difficult. We want to be liked. We want to be cool or hip or trendy. It’s hard to be the one that’s different. The one that people are talking about behind their hands on the sidelines of the soccer game or around the water cooler at work.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19

4. We have to swim upstream in a downstream world. It is exhausting. Sometimes my husband and I just wanted to tell our kids to go to that movie, get that video game, or whatever, because we were just so tired of swimming upstream. It is downright hard work to be the one moving one direction, when the rest of the world is moving a different direction.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Matthew 7:13-14

5. We have to give up the things of this world. We walk away from the world and towards Jesus. But the ramifications are much broader than you’d first think when you read the verse below. Setting our eyes on Jesus and eternity means we purposefully change how we handle money, what radio station we listen to in the car, what movie we go to see, how we spend our time, what books we read, and how we celebrate holidays. We stop acting and looking like the world and purposefully, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, grow to look more like Jesus.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. I John 2:15-17

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-20

6. We lose the glory. This one can be really hard in this age of self-glory. We live in a world of “selfies” and mega-stars. But, as believers, should self-glory be our goal? As we grow in Christ, we realize the depth of our sin and that it is God who works in us to do any good thing. This can be hard to believe if we are full of pride and desire the glory for ourselves.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

7. I must decrease. Every choice, decision, and thought should be based on the Word. Salvation costs us nothing and yet it costs us everything. We are all at different points on our journey with God, traveling at different speeds and jumping different hurdles. But, as a rule, we believers are decreasing in our own eyes, while Jesus is increasing.

He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30

8. We must turn away from human wisdom. Instead of believing what the scientists say, we look to the Bible. Instead of believing the psychologists, we turn first to the scriptures.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. I Corinthians 1:25

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; I Corinthians 3:19

9. We lose our rights— While we all have basic human rights that are set up in the first few books of the Bible, when we lay our lives on the altar, we give up our right to indulge, our right to follow our flesh, our right for revenge, our right to never forgive; our rights to do what we want, to say what we want, to live how we want, to watch what we want; to read what we want. We submit to the will of the Father in all things. We find out His will by reading His Word.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body[c] and in your spirit, which are God’s. I Corinthians 6:19-20

10. We have to admit that there isn’t anything we can do to save ourselves from our sinful state. This may be the hardest thing of all for some of us. In our human pride, we like to insist that we have something good to bring. Did you ever think about the fact that Christianity is the only religion that doesn’t require something from man to be right with God? It doesn’t require good works or a human sacrifice. It doesn’t require prayer five times a day or a pilgrimage to some distant land. It is truly the gift of God to mankind. But, even when we accept Christ’s gift to us, we can sometimes forget that it has nothing to do with us and go back to thinking that our good works are helping us get to heaven. But this is not what the Bible tells us.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

 

But let’s not end this post in this place where all looks to be sacrifice with no reward. There are so many reasons why the price of laying our lives on the altar is so very worth it. Besides the fact that it is the least we can do to honor and love the Savior who died for us, we reap so very many rewards. Here are just a few verses to get you started. It may be something to study for yourself–

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. I Corinthians 15:56-58

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 2 Corinthians 2:14

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. I Timothy 6:6-7

 

We have one to life. One. And God has graciously given us a choice. We can choose Christ or we can choose self. But we can’t choose both. That is one of the fundamental truths of the New Testament. You will hear so many pastors and teachers and authors and song-writers telling you otherwise these days. But I encourage you to study the Word for yourself and read what it says. Laying our lives on the altar is just what we believers do. It is part of the wonderful transformation that takes place when we are saved.

Oh, we all grow at different rates and find ourselves at different parts of the journey, so I wouldn’t recommend looking around at how much your Christian neighbor has surrendered. That’s between him and the Lord. But have you laid your life on the altar? For, me, personally, I find it a daily struggle. I can see I am much further along than I was 20 years ago and that gives me hope. But each day I find myself struggling with my flesh in one area or another, but I continue the battle, never giving up. I hope you feel the same way. I leave you with these words of Paul–

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. I Timothy 4:6-8

May we, too, be able to say this same thing when we have reached the end of our lives.

 

How Do You Say Good-Bye?

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This year brought so many changes into my life. It was an exciting, exhausting, and emotional year. With two weddings and the announcement that we are going to be grandparents, life took a turn that I knew was coming but, for some reason, was not really prepared for. I guess it’s a little like when you get married or become a parent–you can try to prepare for what you know is coming, but there is no way to really understand until you are in the midst of the new situation, taking one day at a time.

Another big change we had this year was that one of our daughter’s and her husband moved across country after their wedding. The two of them made plans to come home for the holidays and so only three weeks ago we were waiting for them with great anticipation. We have had a wonderful time with them the past couple of weeks.

But, eventually, our final moments together approached.

We are all familiar with them. Those last few hours of time together. Wanting to make the most of it. But not really quite sure how. Talking about weather and places and people. Trying to ignore the fact that, all too soon, we will have to say good-bye for another few months or longer.

Every hello means an eventual good-bye. For some of us we are the visitors, packing up our families to stay with parents or siblings over the holidays. For others of us, we are the parents and siblings the rest come to see. Whatever we do over the holidays, most of us experience sweet hellos and sad good-byes during this time.

We get together, spending an unusual amount of time together. We try to get along, knowing that we won’t see each other again for who knows how long. It can be a challenge for so many people to live together in one house, but, for so many of us, this time spent with family is just such a wonderful blessing.

It is a strange emotion–this dread to say good-bye to our loved ones but this yearning to go back to the routine of life that we are so familiar with. And we wonder why we can’t have our routine and the people we love in our lives at the same time. But that’s just not how it is. And, for many of us, will never be how it is. It’s just life in this day and age of careers, callings, and desires drawing people to live in places all over the country. And all over the world.

And so we have joyful holiday reunions and tearful good-byes. And we thank the Lord for bringing us together again and ask Him if He would bless us with another visit again next year.

And then things settle back down to our normal routine again and we have to be satisfied with e-mails, texting, and Skype. It’s just how it is.

No spiritual lesson here today. Just a mother’s heart that was sad to say good-bye. Again. Do we ever get used to this?

 

One of our attempts at a family photo over the holidays…

p.s. Did you make it through the 2015 Bible Challenge? If so, visit my growing4life Facebook page and let me know!

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Two Types of People

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I was listening to Gateway to Joy the other day and heard Elisabeth Elliot say something like this: “there are only two kinds of people: the kind who complain and the thankful kind.”

And I had to ask myself:

Which kind am I?

I guess none of us are either kind all the time, but which kind am I most of the time?

The really great thing about this question is that we get to choose what kind of person we will be. It isn’t like the question are you short or tall? While we can’t change our height, we can change if we are a complainer or if we are thankful.

I would say that I am overall a pretty happy person, but these last couple of years have challenged that a bit. I have been thrown out of my norm, forced to develop a new normal, and I have rebelled a bit against that. I have had many moments– even months– that I have not been thankful. I have blamed it on my circumstances.

But God, I don’t want this in my life.

Slowly but surely, God is teaching me that my joy is not dependent on my circumstances. My grateful heart is not dependent on what’s going on in my life. Instead it comes from a heart surrendered to the will of the Father, trusting in Him and knowing that whatever is going on in my life is for His glory and my best.

This is a very hard lesson to learn, no matter what change in life we face. Or what circumstances. We all have them, don’t we? We traverse on this troubled and fallen earth where trials abound. We can all think of plenty of reasons to complain. But when we choose thanksgiving, we are like a lighthouse on this dark earth.

Let me give you an example.

I know two older women who have now lived out most of their lives. They have married, raised a family, and watched grandchildren grow up. They have health issues and life has changed considerably for both of them over the past ten or so years, giving them much to complain about.

But these two women are like night and day in how they face their circumstances and the contrast is remarkable.

The one complains frequently about her circumstances. The other one chooses to be thankful despite her circumstances. The complainer talks negatively about everyone around her. The other one does not. The complainer rarely has a positive thing to say. The other one is inspiring and full of joy. The complainer is lonely and has few friends. The other one is loved dearly by many. One is showing me what not to be like when I am old and one is creating a beautiful legacy.

One of these women is joining the roiling, heaving mass of discontented humanity and the other one is standing out like a lighthouse on the shore, offering hope despite life’s hard times.

This contrast has given me cause for great thought. I want to be creating a beautiful legacy of joy and thanksgiving. But how do I get there?

Perhaps the change starts in our minds, where we first get our initial thought of complaint. Most of us are wallowing in sinful, negative thoughts before ever speaking. And if we want to change, we need to recognize this. 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands us to take every thought captive. Captive. Instead of  letting our thoughts take control of us, we are to take control of them. This is where I fail so often.

I have that thought of sadness or irritation and I will feed it. Instead of taking it captive, I will set it out to pasture to gobble up all of my peace. And yet, life is so much better when I take those thoughts captive as instructed in scripture.

And so I am learning to choose joy and thanksgiving. In my Bible Challenge reading this week, I read that wonderful passage in I Thessalonians 5, including verse 18 about giving thanks always. God’s Word speaks to so many of our problems and struggles. But changing is no easy process and needs to be done very intentionally through the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the rest of our Christian lives. Intentional submission to God’s sovereignty, intentional scripture study and prayer time, intentional choices that lead to pure, holy, and thankful lives. Until one day God calls us into His presence to live with Him forever. The Hope of Heaven–now that is something for which to be truly thankful!

 

A Romp Through the Thicket

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Last Sunday night was a beautiful autumn evening. We hadn’t changed the clocks yet and so the sun sat low on the horizon as we stared at the breath-taking fall sky. We decided we had enough light remaining to take a short walk along the path we have behind our house. Our two dogs danced excitedly at our feet as it dawned on them what we had decided to do.

I have never seen a dog smile, but when we take our dogs for a walk I sometimes think I almost see them smiling. They are never happier than when they are exploring the pathway ahead of us. We think nothing of it and let them wander to their heart’s content, while we walk and talk.

Surrounding the path are corn fields,woods, and brush, with lots of places for our small dog, Belle, to explore that our Lab could never reach. And this particular evening Belle decided to follow her nose into the deepest parts of the thicket.

She is a dog, so she has no capacity to stop and think: Is this wise?

Which is too bad, for dangers abound in the thicket.

Hours later, while we were watching football, my daughter had Belle on her lap. Suddenly she cried out in dismay, “There’s a tick! And another one! And another one!”

My husband and I walked over to take a look. Sure enough, there were several small black things with legs that looked suspiciously like the dreaded disease-carriers.

Ugh. I hate those things.

How thankful I am for a husband who will do the honors of removing ticks (and splinters!) and so I found him a tweezers and he started removing the ticks.

Within a few moments, he had removed eleven of them!

Along with the ticks, he found several harmless burrs clinging tightly to her chin that were making it hard for her to open her mouth.

This romp through the thicket had been more costly than most.

The next day I gave her a bath and found one more tick lodged at her eye. I gathered my courage (is that what it’s called when you do something you absolutely don’t want to do?) and removed it myself. A dozen ticks in all.

At first, we thought they were deer ticks because they were so much smaller than the normal ticks we normally find around here. But after doing some googling and then later talking to the vet, we came to the conclusion that it must have been a nest full of just-hatched dog ticks.

As I bathed her, I thought of the possibilities of lyme or another tick-born disease. She seems fine, but now we will be watching her to make sure. But it seems unlikely (thankfully!), as they were not deer ticks and they are the ones that usually carry the disease.

So why I am telling you about my dog’s romp in the thicket?

Because we so often do the same thing!

We Christians will be traversing the straight and narrow and doing pretty well, too. But then something distracts us to our right or left. Or sometimes behind us. And we stray off the path.

We do have the capacity to ask ourselves: Is this wise? But, normally, that is not the question we are asking ourselves. No, our question often centers more around our selfish desires and whims and looks more like this: Do I want this?

Since we have a whole culture encouraging us to do what makes us happy, we consider that the blessing of man and move off the path into sin.

But how rarely we come away unscathed.

Some of us will get away with a few harmless burrs. Others will find a tick or two clinging to them. An unfortunate few will give their lives for their whims and come down with some terminal disease. At the very least, our clean, snow-white garments will become stained, torn, and dirty and the name of Jesus disgraced.

While sin looks like a blast, it rarely is. And the ironic thing is that while we chase after our happiness, leaving the path of righteousness to chase after things of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21 below), we really are eroding our only opportunity of true joy and happiness, which is to follow God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Psalm 16:11 puts it this way–You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Following our own path does not lead us to joy and, more likely than not, will lead us to heartache.

I am truly amazed at the amount of people who call themselves Christians and yet regularly commit these sins, without conviction and generally defending them to be acceptable, listed in Galatians 5: 19-21: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery,  fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

As if somehow these are no longer really sins.

As if God has changed.

But God hasn’t changed. And we are to avoid these things. Not only to please God but also to protect ourselves.

My pastor said something so profound yesterday about this whole topic of sin in our lives. It is something we should all consider as we leave the path of holiness and righteousness to chase after our dreams in the thicket:

Holiness always comes before joy and happiness.

Always.

Compromise with the world will not lead to happiness. Sleeping with that co-worker will not make us happy. Getting a different husband or wife will not make us happy. Getting drunk will not make us happy. Neither will cheating on our taxes, lying to stay out of trouble, or filling our minds with ungodly entertainment.

But following God whole-heartedly? Staying on the straight and narrow path? That is how we experience true joy and happiness.

Which is such a wonderful truth, isn’t it? God has designed it so that, in pleasing Him in all that we do, we actually are at our most joyous, happiest selves. True believers are not sad that they can’t join the world or participate in all its “fun” because we see it for what it is.

I love that God loves us and cares enough about us to bring us true peace and joy in following hard after Him. What a gracious and kind God we serve.

So let’s stay far from the thicket. Whatever beckons from the deep underbrush will never be worth the price we pay for it. Instead let’s keep our feet on the path of righteousness, living a life of godliness and purity, setting a glowing example for those who are following after us.