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.

 

 

10 Reasons Why We Avoid the Altar

Fight

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

in everything

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.

 

 

Practicing Joy When It’s Hard

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Sometimes the world around us seems so hopeless. We watch the news on TV, we age and our bodies grow weaker, and we hear so many stories of brokenness and tragedy. We come face to face over and over again with the hard reality that we live in a fallen world in a body headed for death.

These tough truths also come to light in the books of the Old Testament Prophets. These men of God predict the sword, famine, and pestilence on God’s chosen people. They have turned their hearts to idols and God has decided enough is enough. How would it have felt to be in Israel during that time? What would it have been like to live with the knowledge that the wrath of God was coming?

Could it be a little like right now? Oh, I know we aren’t Israel. And I know that the wrath of God fell hard on them in a way that will probably not be repeated until the Tribulation. But don’t you sometimes wonder how long the wrath of God will tarry for a nation that kills its babies at a rate of 2000+ per day? Or a nation that has declared God to be null and void and prefers to give credit to the ludicrous and illogical theory of evolution? How long can a nation last that lives like there are no moral absolutes? What can we expect when we turn our back on God’s chosen people, Israel? (Genesis 12:3)

I don’t tend to get dragged down too often by the state of this nation, but every once in awhile it just hits me. This is not the same nation it was. It is changing so fast it sometimes feels like it’s hard to catch your breath. And in the back of my mind is always this question: what will it mean for the faithful? What is ahead for us in a country that is becoming increasingly hostile towards anyone who follows the Jesus of the Bible?

This week, while I was thinking a bit about this, the Lord brought to mind my dear friend, Bea. It’s not often that you are good friends with someone who is 35 years older than you are, but we are a glorious exception. God has blessed our family tremendously by knowing her. She has functioned for many years as my kids’ third grandmother and as a source of godly wisdom for me.

I decided that I would ask her her thoughts on finding joy when things are looking dark. She has a lot she could be discouraged about. Her health is starting to fail and life is very different than it was even ten years ago. Looking to the future doesn’t bring much hope, as her body will probably continue to grow weaker. And yet when I stop in she always has a genuine smile on her face. A smile that comes from her heart. I asked her how she finds joy in the midst of discouraging days.

She had some great thoughts and I know that you will benefit from them as much as me. As always, her practical wisdom is so helpful. When I asked her how she fosters joy in her life, she gave the following thoughts–

1. Count Your Blessings.

She went on to share just how good God has been to her through the years. She prayed for her husband’s salvation for 32 long years and God answered that prayer. And now this husband treats her like a princess, loving on her in a way that wasn’t possible in their busy, younger days. She enjoys the more relaxed, living-in-the-moment that they are able to do now. And she looks for even small improvements in her health or other situations. She says there are always plenty of blessings to be remembered.

2. Talk to God a Lot.

She elaborated here and told me she talks to Him all the time. She asks for strength to get through the day. And to help her find a lost earring. She talks to Him about her feelings of discouragement. And she prays for others. Instead of just (or perhaps along with) one designated prayer time for the day, she keeps a running conversation going with God all day.

3. Choose to be thankful.

This kind of goes with the first one, but it is a bit more intentional. She thanks God for her good days. And for the healing that is taking place despite her aging body. She thanks God for the blessings that are in her life. Even the smallest blessing is worthy of gratitude.

4. Press on through the discouragement.

When I asked if she had anything more, she added this final thing. And perhaps this may be the most important of all. We have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, continuing in the service God has for us, no matter what the task. Bea’s tasks have changed considerably over the years and she now finds herself in a place where she can’t do that much physically. But she can still pray and she can still encourage others. She can still cook and do some things around the house. And she can still love her husband and her family. When we are tempted to stop walking in our difficult places, our focus turns inward and we withdraw from life if we aren’t careful. We often end up in a fog of depression and misery, oftentimes curled up in a ball in our beds or zoned out in front of the TV. Self pity doesn’t make things better. It makes things much worse.

Instead we need to keep pressing on through the pain and the discouragement, remembering the future that is in store for us if we are saved and always prepared, with hope, for the return of our Lord and Savior. Isn’t it just wonderful to contemplate a life without pain and without sorrow? It seems almost beyond the realm of our comprehension. But that is what we have been promised if we are God’s! This life is not the whole picture. It’s just a tiny part of the whole.

I guess you can tell how much I love my dear friend. She has been such an inspiration and godly example for me. And not only has she been a great role model, but she has always been willing to share her struggles and her heart with me. Ladies like this are rare and I consider it a great privilege to have her in my life. I want to keep learning from her as long as possible and continue mining the treasure of her 80+ years of experience.

I hope this post has inspired you to find joy in the hard places! But I also hope it has inspired any of you who are women to find a godly woman whom you can talk to and learn from. One who is willing to be open and honest and who has years of experience and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls we tend to make as wives and mothers.

And, as I write this, I find myself encouraged that perhaps it’s not so hopeless, after all. Sure, the world isn’t going anywhere great, but we can’t quit. We ordinary women can make a difference by building into the lives of others and sharing the things we have learned from God’s Word. Oh, we probably won’t change the world, but we can help the people that God places in front of us. And, according to Titus 2:3-5, perhaps that is what we are supposed to be focused on, anyway.

Joining the Dance

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On Saturday, I finally worked up the courage to clean my son’s room.

I knew it would be the very last time I would clean it for him. When he moved away, he had left a sundry of assorted items on the floor and on the shelves, along with a basketful of items that he said weren’t his. That, along with a few other things, have sat in that empty room since he moved out in June.

I told myself that I was just too busy to get to it and had reminded myself that it wasn’t really any hurry, but I knew full well why I was putting it off.

Cleaning that room was going to make me sad. And it was going to remind me that my life was never going to be the same again.

But Saturday was the day.

And so I gathered some garbage bags, the vacuum, and my courage, and opened the door.

As I glanced around the room, I could almost hear echoes of the past. A little boy’s laughter. A sibling argument. A middle-schooler pesting a sister. A parent-teen discussion. It was all in the past. A loud, trying, crazy, happy, chaotic past.

I tried to find perspective as I cleaned the room. I thought of the possibilities and what I could do with the extra space. I eyed up the closet and contemplated filling up its shelves.

And, yet, somehow it just didn’t seem right–this filling up of a space that had been–and would, in some ways, always be–our son’s.

In the midst of my melancholy, I recognized the importance of pushing on and of finding the good in the now. Of seeing the possibilities and potential of this time in my life. Yes, life is changing but it’s not all bad.

God is teaching me and drawing me to Himself in a deeper way right now, as I am able to spend more time in His Word. I cherish the relaxed time I have with my youngest child and husband. And I love spending time with all of my kids (this includes the wonderful kids that have joined our family).

And, so, as I cleaned the room, I was also trying to clear away the last vestiges of sad nostalgia that had taken up residence in my mind this past year as, one by one, I have watched my three oldest kids start their own lives. And I somehow grasp the importance of enjoying this moment. There is so much to take in and savor and to love about life right now. When we get hung up in yesterday–whether it be a good or a bad past–we miss so much.

Life keeps changing. Some changes are good and some are not. Some change we can control, but there is much we can’t control.

But there is always one thing we can control: Our attitude. We can choose to dance and move in step with the change or we can choose not to. Growing sad or depressed won’t keep change from happening, it will just make us miserable.

And so on Saturday when I finished that room, I was ready to join the dance of change. Oh, I know I will still have my moments of tears and sadness, but I am ready to intentionally grab hold of my new life with joy and expectation. I had prepared that room for new opportunities–just as I am becoming prepared for new opportunities.

 

Keeping Secrets

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I guess we all try to hide things once in awhile. Even me.

Now it is pretty rare that I try to hide anything from my husband. But a little while ago I did just that. I should have known better. I am the kind of person that if I do try to hide something, it will be found out. I really shouldn’t even try. But maybe that is a blessing in disguise.

Let me start from the beginning–

We were leaving for Texas the following day. My agenda was packed as I tried to think of all the things that needed to be done before an extended time away from home. My daughter had just gotten married and we were going to Texas to help them get settled into their new home. Understandably, my mind was going a million different directions. To top it off, it was a gorgeous day. Since my college days, days like that have always been perfect for loud, fun music. And so, as I ran errands, my radio was blaring (good music, of course!) and I was singing at the top of my lungs. I was bopping to the beat and speeding through a road in town when I happened to see flashing lights in my rear view mirror.

Those lights were for me. I knew it as soon as I saw them.

I pulled over immediately and, quickly assessing that I was probably considerably over the 25 mile speed limit, knew without a doubt that he was going to give me a ticket. (Now, I’d like to add here that I wasn’t intentionally going over the speed limit. I just got so distracted that I forgot the speed limit on that road. Oh, how I hate when that happens!)

Fifteen minutes later, I was pulling away with an expensive ticket and a couple of points. I will add here that the policeman who pulled me over was a very nice guy and for that I was very thankful. But, nevertheless, I got the ticket that I certainly did deserve and went on my merry way.

On my way home, as I pressed very lightly on the gas pedal, I started thinking about my ticket. If I didn’t tell anyone, there wasn’t really any other way that anyone would find out about my ticket. No one was in the car with me and there were no familiar faces in the few cars that had passed me while I sat on the side of the road. Perhaps I could keep it under my hat –at least for a few days. Maybe after we got back I would mention it.

I went home, paid the ticket, and kept the whole thing to myself.

During our trip, I had a couple of very good opportunities to mention it but decided I didn’t want to ruin our vacation with that kind of bad news, so just kept quiet. This is actually not typical behavior for me and I am not sure why I kept so silent. It’s not like my husband would scream and throw things at me. He’s actually a pretty reasonable guy. I guess I just wanted to avoid the teasing and scolding that was certain to come when I did spill the beans.

As we pulled into our driveway a week later, we were not in the best of moods. It had been a very long day of travel and it had not started out well (another story for another day!). It was also not ending well. We both grumpily pulled our uncooperative, stiff bodies out of the truck and started unloading. Our youngest daughter quickly unloaded her stuff and then wisely disappeared.

As I made a trip into the house, I noticed the answering machine flashing at me. I ignored it for awhile, but after I had done a bit of unpacking, I decided to push the button. Unfortunately, my husband was in the room at the time.

“Yes, this message is for Leslie in regards to the speeding citation she received…”

My heart sank. So much for keeping a secret around here. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Eric’s ears perk up as he started listening intently.

Apparently, the police officer had not assessed the correct amount and I owed more than what the ticket said.

Doesn’t it just figure?

The timing really couldn’t have been worse and upon hearing that message, my husband gave me a pretty hard time (remember –we were both a bit on the irritable side).

So why do I share this here? Why embarrass myself further?

I guess it’s because I learned a little something about keeping secrets.

I should have just told my husband what happened right away. Honestly, I am still really not sure why I didn’t. But once a few days had passed, it was just easier to not say anything. And it got easier and easier. Now a speeding ticket is no big deal in the scope of life.

We laugh about it now and, of course, there was little time lost in making sure the whole family knew about Mom’s speeding ticket, but, even so, I am glad that I don’t have the burden of a secret even that small hanging over my head. There is such great freedom in truthfulness.

I would guess that some of us are keeping much bigger secrets than speeding tickets today. There are many secrets that are keeping us from living our best Christian lives–

Affairs/Infidelity

Crippling Debt

Alcoholism

Prescription Drug Addictions

Eating Disorders

Gambling Addictions

Abuse of All Kinds

And so many more…

But here’s the thing—while that horrible, dark secret lies within you, you are locked in a prison so tight it may as well have iron bars. You feel hopeless as Satan whispers insidious lies in your ears; telling you that you will be in this place forever, that change is impossible.

Secrets have caused so much torturous pain through the years. They have caused broken marriages, suicides, and hopeless families, all held imprisoned by the unutterable secret. Bitterness bubbles in the soul and the darkness overwhelms those who hold on to awful secrets.

But with confession comes light and wonderful freedom! First, we should pour our hearts out to God and tell Him everything. He is waiting for us. In fact, He already knows every bit of our secret. All of it. Nothing is hidden from Him.

And then we should consider telling someone else. Now, I don’t suggest that we announce our secret to the world on Facebook. But if we can find someone that we trust– a family member or a dear friend–and can share the secret, I think we will find the strength and the courage to work through our dark, lonely, terrible place. God has designed us to need each other and to encourage one another. Somehow, it helps when just one other person knows our secret and can encourage us to take the next step.

But choose your confidant wisely. Be sure it is someone who is a godly example and lives according to God’s Word consistently.

Life is hard enough without being imprisoned by a dreadful secret.

And there is so much hope! No situation is too big for God. Oftentimes telling a trusted Christian brother or sister will help us sort through the thing that looks insurmountable, giving us the courage to take the next step and unlocking the bars of hopelessness that have kept us imprisoned.

If you are someone who needs to share a long-kept secret, I want you to know that I am praying specifically for you today. I am praying that God will give you the courage you need to share your heart with just one other person. Freedom is often just one conversation away.