Learn to Discern: How Do You Determine What Is True, Right, and Good?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I don’t think I can count the amount of times that I have heard something like this as a defense for a false teacher or a doctrinally unsound book or church–

But it has helped so many people!

(or its sister comment: It has really helped me.)

The item or person in question is judged on this fact alone– if it has helped someone, it must be right (and the opposite: If it hasn’t helped anyone, it must be wrong.)

But here is something we must consider: Is this how the Bible teaches us to determine truth? Does the fact that something is helpful automatically make it true, right, or good?

The belief that this is how we determine truth is called pragmatism.

Officially, the definition for pragmatism is: An approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

In essence, it is the belief that the end justifies the means.

Most of us would say, of course, this isn’t true. We would never agree that we can get from point A to point B any way we want to. But, when it comes to how we actually approach what is true, we have taken on this philosophy far more than we would care to admit.

For example, when the book The Shack first came out, many, many Christians loved it! If anyone dared to suggest it wasn’t doctrinally sound, the defense was that “it helped me understand who God is” or “it comforted me.”

Of course, we can see that the measurement being used by most people to judge this book was a practical, subjective method (how it makes me feel or what I have perceived) rather than using scripture as the measurement tool.

All these years later, William Paul Young shows us clearly that He does not believe what the Bible teaches in his latest book, Lies We Believe About God. In this book, he clearly denies tenet after tenet of the Christian faith.

So why were so many Christians fooled? Why did they not recognize this early on? And why did it take a book that finally clearly espouses what he believes to convince them?

For many, it is because they are pragmatists. They judge what is right and what is wrong by what works for them or by what feels right or good.

I guess it is only natural that this would eventually enter even the most conservative churches. After all, it started in the secular culture awhile ago now. But it is important that if we are going to learn to discern, we do not fall prey to this deadly philosophy.

And so in order to protect ourselves it is critical that we learn what scripture teaches us about how we determine truth. Let’s take a look–

John 17:17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 

In this chapter, Jesus is praying for believers. He is asking the Father to protect and keep us. And to sanctify us. And He adds this interesting line: thy word is truth. The Bible is truth.

John MacArthur’s writes about this verse–

“Sanctification is accomplished by means of the truth, which is the revelation that the Son gave regarding all that the Father commanded Him to communicate and is now contained in the Scriptures left by the apostles.”

In 2 Timothy we find another verse showing us that the Word is truth–

2 Timothy 2:15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

So from these two verses, we can see that the Bible is truth.

Now let’s take a moment and look at a few verses that clearly show we will not be the popular ones, the successful ones, and that it will appear our methods are not working (at least according to human, worldly standards)–

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Luke 6:26Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

James 4:4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

We can know from these verses that true believers will generally not be favored and followed. (Generally. There are exceptions, of course.) This is because we cannot be friends with the world. Therefore, even when we are faithfully following God and doing as He commands us in His Word, it will often appear as if what we are doing is “not working”. And, because we are basically told both inside and outside the church that “if it isn’t working, God isn’t in it”, we are tempted to measure ourselves by the success we experience in the mainstream church or the world, rather than by using the barometer of scripture.

I would also like to remind you that Satan has to make false teachers look appealing. If he didn’t, no one would follow them. Therefore, the indication that their methods or ministries seem to be working according to human standards should never be our measurement of what is true, right, or good.

Of course, there are also the real-life experiences of Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah, and of countless others throughout the history of the world to also assure us that what we are doing will not always appear to be working. Followers deserted Jesus (John 6:66), Paul was attacked by the crowds (Acts 16:22-24), and Jeremiah’s pleas for change did not work (Jeremiah 44:4-5). Research a little church history or read a few missionary biographies and you will find many more examples of this.

So should we judge whether or not something is true, right, or good by if it is working? Should we determine our own course of action or ministry by how it appears to be working?

I hope I have convinced you that this isn’t a good idea. This is a big topic that cannot really be wholly covered in a short blog post. But I do hope I at least got you to start thinking about how to judge the popular “Christian” books and the celebrity pastors that are in abundance today. I am going to include a short video below that will probably do a much better job than I can. I hope that this will help you see even more clearly not only how this thinking has invaded the church but how deadly it is to the church–

 

Find all posts in the Learn to Discern series here.

 

 

The Forgotten Guidelines

Many years ago, a skinny kid with a pickup truck and a riding lawn mower started a lawncare business. (Yes, that is him in the photo above!) A year later he got married (to me) and started a family. All the while, the company was quickly growing and the demands on his time increased exponentially. Summer droughts came and money was tight. But this kid, who soon grew into a man, was committed to two guidelines from scripture that aren’t very popular–

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10%.

We rarely hear anything about either of these anymore. Oh, every once in awhile we hear about giving–especially if there is building project in the works– but we rarely, if ever, hear about keeping the Lord’s Day.

Are these things something we have to do? Of course not. There is nothing we have to do to be saved. Some cults would teach that if you don’t keep the Sabbath, you aren’t saved. And some groups would imply that giving to their ministry is the paramount command of God. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! If that is what you are hearing, then you are in a false system.

But I do believe there are reasons to seriously consider making these two things a part of our lives. Here’s why–

Let’s look first at the Sabbath Day. When God created the world, He set a pattern to work six days and to rest on the seventh. The week, set up by God in Genesis 1, comes directly from the Bible. The author of Hebrews also references this week set up by God in Hebrews 4, carrying the idea of this rest over into the New Testament. When God specified the seventh day for rest, we know it wasn’t because He needed it. He doesn’t need to sleep or slumber. So why did He do this? I believe He did this not only for His own glory but because He knew that man would need a pattern of rest. Carm.org puts it this way–

On the seventh day, which is the Sabbath day, the day of rest, Christians cease from their work, just as God did. But where we need to be replenished, God does not.

So let’s go back to that kid for a moment. When Eric started our company, he could have easily worked 24/7. The work was there and plentiful and he was full of energy. But he had been taught that Sunday is a day of rest and chose to abide by this even as a young man going into business. As we look back now, we see how this not only provided him with the rest he so desperately needed, but perhaps even saved our marriage and family during those tough years of building the business.

The other day we were talking to a young man who has ventured out on his own to start the same type of business. As he shared about his summer, he talked about how he was working seven days a week– long days with rarely a break. We encouraged him to consider making Sundays a day of rest. For himself and for his family. Owning a company is demanding. Customers want things and they want them now. Establishing that your trucks will not leave the property on Sundays is a simple–and I believe God-given–way to take a much-needed break after a long week.

Of course, some people have jobs in which this is not possible. I do get that. But if we can do this, perhaps it is time to give this some reconsideration. How kind of God to provide this pattern in Genesis 1 that His people can follow,  providing us one day of rest from the work of the week.

So let’s move on to tithing. This one is so different from what it used to be. Or at least from what I remember it being. Growing up, I was taught that you tithe 10% to your church. Period. Oh, sure, there were some parachurch organizations that you gave to but that wasn’t where your main giving went to. It was your church. Since then, there has been an explosion of parachurch organizations. Many of these ministries are good ones and in need of funds. There is nothing wrong with giving to these. But our churches still need our 10% to function. Our pastors need their salaries, our churches have electric and oil bills and need to buy office supplies and pay their secretarial and janitorial staff. This can’t be done unless its committed members are tithing.

I heard someone once say this– “Give to your church first and then give to other organizations.” This is good advice. I remember hearing it and thinking Yes! That makes a lot of sense! I only wish I could remember who to give the credit to for this statement. Of course, this is not a biblical mandate, by any means, so this is a very personal decision that each person needs to work out on their own.

As an aside, I will add here that in the recent years we have made the choice to give only to charities that are committed to spreading the Gospel. Oh, I can’t say we don’t give $10 or $20 here and there to other charities, but we want the bulk of what we give to go towards spreading the true and unadulterated Gospel. Even many charities labeled “Christian” are not spreading the Gospel but, instead, are focused only on fixing temporal situations. Of course, there is nothing wrong with digging wells and providing medical care, but if we aren’t sharing the Gospel, then all of that work has no eternal value. It is critical to care first and foremost for their souls. We really try to make sure that this is the case for the charities we support.

But some of you are probably thinking something like this: I can’t even give 10%, much less anything over and above that.

I get that. I truly do. When we got married, we started life out with (my) college debt. We lived very meagerly in a small apartment. Every dollar counted. We didn’t have much and giving 10% of what we did have meant real sacrifice. It was difficult to place that check in the offering plate each week, but we had been taught by our parents that you give, no matter what.

And, now, looking back over all of those years, we wouldn’t change a thing. God was so faithful! He always provided for us. Always. We had some lean years but we were always able to pay our employees. We always had enough to eat. We could always pay our bills. Not always on time–but they always got paid!

So why do we tithe? We know that God doesn’t need our money. So what’s the deal? I love how Dave Ramsey puts this

So why does He ask us to give 10% to Him? Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, employees and employers.

Once again, we see that this is a guideline that blesses us. That it was given for our good and our benefit. What a kind God we serve. Something that would seemingly cost us a great deal actually ends up blessing us!

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10% require something from us, don’t they? They require sacrifice and discipline. But the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. We have seen this in our own lives and in the lives of others. Don’t despair if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. You can do this. I believe when we choose to honor God and the patterns He has set before us in scripture, He enables us to follow them. He will walk with us each step of the way.

 

 

There is a Reason

white dog

We have had a lot of rain here lately, but last week we had one bright, sunny afternoon. I decided it was the perfect afternoon to go for a walk. I ushered Macy, our Chocolate Lab, into the car, and off we went. Why the car? Because I now drive to where I can walk, because of two attack dogs that reside between me and my walking area. Just thinking about walking past the house where they reside fills with me fear. (You can read about this incident in my post Obstacles.)

I didn’t actually realize just how much fear until last week when I took that walk. I was enjoying the beautiful day when suddenly, from out of nowhere, I heard a dog bark menacingly as it rushed towards me. My heart started pounding, my hand gripped the leash tighter, and I could feel my whole body tense, as if preparing for an attack. I glanced towards where I heard the sound and saw that not only was it a rather smallish dog, but it was also enclosed in a fence, which meant that this little barking fiend was no threat to me or to my dog.

Now, I have never, ever been afraid of dogs before. Not like that. Sure, I never liked the mean, snarling ones (who does?) but I love dogs. It is frustrating to me that now I am filled with fear if I hear one on my walk.

My personal experience has led me to respond and react differently than I used to.

Personal experience has a way of doing that to us. I remember when this thought first hit me and changed how I viewed people.

It was Christmas Day many years ago and it was snowing. Unlike most of you, we never wanted white Christmases around here because that would mean Christmas without Daddy. We plow snow and people still want it to be removed, even if it is a holiday. It also meant a day of stress and frustration for me, as I have to take the phone calls.

I can still vividly remember one phone call from that day long ago. It was an elderly lady, recently widowed, who had no children. She was normally a very nice lady, but on this particular day she started screaming at me, asking why we hadn’t been to her house yet. I assured her that everyone was out working hard and that they just hadn’t gotten there yet, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. She obviously needed to yell at someone and that someone was going to be me. I was so hurt and angered by that unreasonable call. But after I hung up and gave it some thought, God impressed upon my heart just how lonely and miserable she must be–especially on Christmas. How would I be if I was spending my first Christmas alone without my best friend and didn’t even have any children or grandchildren to ease the pain? Would I be tempted to lash out at someone, too?

I knew the answer was probably yes.

While this is not one of my favorite Christmas memories, it changed forever how I view people. I realized that people always do what they do for a reason.

This doesn’t change how we view sin, but it should change how we feel about the sinner–

That prostitute on the street used to be a little girl that was neglected and abused by her mother.

The gay man who lives next door was once a bright and hopeful little boy who was sexually abused by a neighbor.

The grumpy old man has had a lifetime of broken dreams and disappointments.

The lady who was absolutely unreasonable on the phone a minute ago just found out yesterday that her daughter has cancer.

Thinking through why people might do what they do fills me with compassion. What if I had grown up neglected and abused? Wouldn’t it be just as possible that it could be me walking the street? What if my life was filled with broken dreams and disappointments and I didn’t have hope in Jesus Christ, couldn’t I just as easily be labeled the grumpy one?

But for the grace of God, go I.

Right?

God’s grace changes everything. It fixes the broken. It heals the heart. It fills us with peace and joy despite the most tragic of circumstances. But most of the world does not know this.

Understanding that people are much deeper than what we see externally should not only fill us with compassion but also drive us to share the Gospel. We should never let unfounded, sinful arrogance keep us from loving others. We should never let an unsavory profession or a little grumpiness deter us from telling someone about Jesus. These people, underneath all of that gruff and bravado, are broken and in need of a Savior.

Of course, some don’t want to hear it. And from those, we walk away (Matthew 7:6). If they are hard-hearted and rebellious, we shouldn’t waste our time. But, let’s be honest, most of us never even get that far. We don’t find out if they are lost and searching because we are too scared or too arrogant to talk to them.

Oh, may our hearts be filled with compassion towards the broken and unloving. There is a reason they are doing what they are doing. And it is quite likely, that given a similar life experience and without the light of Christ in your life, that you may be just like them. Thank the Lord for his loving-kindness in your life and reach out with the Good News that there is salvation available to all through Jesus Christ!

 

 

The Greatest Miracle of All

aniwa

When we think about the word “miracle”, our minds tend to think of miracles having to do with a person’s health, wealth, or welfare. Things like miraculous cancer recoveries, disappearing tumors, or an unexpected check in the mail or bag of groceries on the porch. While these miracles are certainly amazing to witness and demonstrate just how personally and deeply God cares for His children, I would like to submit to you that the greatest miracle of all is a heart deadened in sin that is awakened to new life in Jesus Christ.

I just finished a wonderful book called The Story of John Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. As many of you already know, I love reading missionary biographies. They have changed me, because they change my perspective of Christianity. You see, when we are in our comfortable homes with all our modern conveniences and plenty to eat, we can forget what many people give up to tell others about Jesus. It can slip our minds that our faith in Christ is to transform our lives and push us to share the gospel with fervor and zeal.

As I read this book, I was once again reminded of these things. Mr. Paton’s autobiography, which takes place on the New Hebrides Islands (now called Vanuatu) in the mid to late 1800s, includes miraculous escapes, nail-biting journeys, and many testimonies of saved souls. There are so many excerpts I would love to share from this book with you, but I decided to narrow it down to this one testimony of a young chief, troubled and antagonistic, miraculously saved from sin by God’s outpouring of grace on his life. Yet another evidence that the greatest miracle of all is a changed heart.

I hope you enjoy reading this short excerpt and that it will move you to pick up the book and start reading it. The chapter is entitled–

THE CONVERSION OF YOUWILI

THESE events suggest to me another incident of those days, full at once of trial and of joy. It pertains to the story of our young Chief Youwili. From the first, and for long, he was most audacious and troublesome. Observing that for several days no Natives had come near the Mission House, I asked the old Chief if he knew why, and he answered, “Youwili has tabooed the paths, and threatens death to any one who breaks through it.”

I at once replied, “Then I conclude that you all agree with him, and wish me to leave. We are here only to teach you and your people. If he has power to prevent that we shall leave with the Dayspring.”

The old Chief called the people together, and they came to me, saying, “Our anger is strong against Youwili. Go with us and break down the taboo. We will assist and protect you.”

I went at their head and removed it. It consisted simply of reeds stuck into the ground, with twigs and leaves and fiber tied to each in a peculiar way, in a circle round the Mission House. The Natives had an extraordinary dread of violating the taboo, and believed that it meant death to the offender or to some one of his family. All present entered into a bond to punish on the spot any man who attempted to replace the taboo or to revenge its removal. Thus a mortal blow was publicly struck at this most miserable superstition, which had caused bloodshed and misery untold.

One day, thereafter, I was engaged in clearing away the bush around the Mission House, having purchased and paid for the land for the very purpose of opening it up, when suddenly Youwili appeared and menacingly forbade me to proceed. For the sake of peace I for the time desisted. But he went straight to my fence, and with his tomahawk cut down the portion in front of our house, also some bananas planted there—the usual declaration of war, intimating that he only awaited his opportunity similarly to cut down me and mine. We saw the old Chief and his men planting themselves here and there to guard us, and the Natives prowling about armed and excited. On calling them, they explained the meaning of what Youwili had done, and that they were determined to protect us. I said. “This must not continue. Are you to permit one young fool to defy us all, and break up the Lord’s work on Aniwa? If you cannot righteously punish him, I will shut myself up in my house and withdraw from all attempts to teach or help you, till the vessel comes, and then I can leave the island.”

Now that they had begun really to love us, and to be anxious to learn more, this was always my most powerful argument. We retired into the Mission House. The people surrounded our doors and windows and pleaded with us. After long silence, we replied, “You know our resolution. It is for you now to decide. Either you must control that foolish young man, or we must go!”

Much speech-making, as usual, followed. The people resolved to seize and punish Youwili; but he fled, and had hid himself in the bush. Coming to me, the Chief said, “It is left to you to say what shall be Youwili’s punishment. Shall we kill him?”

I replied firmly, “Certainly not! Only for murder can life be lawfully taken away.”

“What then?” they continued. “Shall we burn his houses and destroy his plantations?”

I answered, “No.”

“Shall we bind him and beat him?”

“No.”

“Shall we place him in a canoe, thrust him out to sea, and let him drown or escape as he may?”

“No! by no means.”

“Then, Missi,” said they, “these are our ways of punishing. What other punishment remains that Youwili cares for?”

I replied, “Make him with his own hands, and alone, put up a new fence, and restore all that he has destroyed; and make him promise publicly that he will cease all evil conduct towards us. That will satisfy me.”

This idea of punishment seemed to tickle them greatly. The Chiefs reported our words to the Assembly; and the Natives laughed and cheered, as if it were a capital joke! They cried aloud, “It is good! Obey the word of the Missi.”

After considerable hunting, the young Chief was found. They brought him to the Assembly and scolded him severely and told him their sentence. He was surprised by the nature of the punishment, and cowed by the determination of the people.

“To-morrow,” said he, “I will fully repair the fence. Never again will I oppose the Missi. His word is good.”

By daybreak next morning Youwili was diligently repairing what he had broken down, and before evening he had everything made right better than it was before. While he toiled away, some fellows of his own rank twitted him, saying, “Youwili, you found it easier to cut down Missi’s fence than to repair it again. You will not repeat that in a hurry!”

But he heard all in silence. Others passed with averted heads, and he knew they were laughing at him. He made everything tight and then left without uttering a single word. My heart yearned after the poor fellow, but I thought it better to let his own mind work away, on its new ideas as to punishment and revenge, for a little longer by itself alone. I instinctively felt that Youwili was beginning to turn, that the Christ-Spirit had touched his darkly-groping soul. My doors were now thrown open, and every good work went on as before. We resolved to leave Youwili entirely to Jesus, setting apart a portion of our prayer every day for the enlightenment and conversion of the young Chief, on whom all other means had been exhausted apparently in vain.

A considerable time elapsed. No sign came, and our prayers seemed to fail. But one day, I was toiling between the shafts of a hand-cart, assisted by two boys, drawing it along from the shore loaded with coral blocks. Youwili came rushing from his house, three hundred yards or so off the path, and said, “Missi, that is too hard for you. Let me be your helper!”

Without waiting for a reply, he ordered the two boys to seize one rope, while he grasped the other, threw it over his shoulder and started off, pulling with the strength of a horse. My heart rose in gratitude, and I wept with joy as I followed him. I knew that that yoke was but a symbol of the yoke of Christ, which Youwili with his change of heart was beginning to carry! Truly there is only one way of regeneration, being born again by the power of the Spirit of God, the new heart; but there are many ways of conversation, of outwardly turning to the Lord, of taking the actual first step that shows on whose side we are.

Like those of old praying for the deliverance of Peter, and who could not believe their ears and eyes when Peter knocked and walked in amongst them, so we could scarcely believe our eyes and ears when Youwili became a disciple of Jesus, though we had been praying for his conversion every day. His once sullen countenance became literally bright with inner light. His wife came immediately for a book and a dress saying, “Youwili sent me. His opposition to the Worship is over now. I am to attend Church and School. He is coming too. He wants to learn how to be strong, like you, for Jehovah and for Jesus.”

Oh, Jesus! to Thee alone be all the glory. Thou hast the key to unlock every heart that Thou hast created.

 

Paton, John Gibson (2012-05-16). The Story of John G. Paton Or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. Kindle Edition.

While We Were Sleeping

anesthesia

I went in for minor surgery the other week. I never love the idea of going under. It’s so strange, isn’t it? One second you are listening to the conversation going on around you and the next you are totally conked out.

As I awoke in the recovery area, I slowly became aware of my surroundings. The nurse asked me if I was okay. My sluggish thoughts gathered enough to say “I think so.”

I was definitely awake enough to realize that I was incredibly thirsty.

She put me off drinking anything for a half hour.

Finally, she set a plastic cup with a straw in front of me. Ginger ale never tasted so good!

After explaining the surgery and giving me a small dose of extra pain meds, she brought my mom back and told me I could get dressed. I still had not seen the doctor.

I finally asked, “Isn’t the doctor going to come in and talk to me?”

The answer I got stunned me: “She already did.”

Wait? What?

I had NO recollection of that, whatsoever. None.

But, apparently, I had answered and responded to her.

That is a little scary, if you think about it!

As I pondered this over the next week, I thought about unbelieving friends and family and wondered if they aren’t a little like I was when I was under? In that they are listening and responding, but, spiritually, they are asleep.

Until they are awakened spiritually by God (John 6:44), they are talking in their sleep. They are blind and cannot understand (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Look, I don’t know how this works together with free will. I know they both exist– man’s free will to choose God and God’s election. Somehow they work together in a parallel way that is incomprehensible to us.* I do not need to understand it. Why do we think we need to understand this?

Do you remember when you first came to know the Lord? For some of us, it was totally life-changing–a dramatic change of lifestyle. For others of us, it wasn’t a very drastic life change since we were children or adolescents in Christian homes. But in understanding God’s salvation plan, whether the life change was minimal or drastic, we became aware that we were sinners and needed to repent and turn a different direction. We became aware that the death of God’s Son paid for my sin on the cross and made a way for me to be reconciled to Him. God removed our blinders. We woke up.

So what is my point?

I have three, actually–

1. Never, ever underestimate the power of prayer in winning someone you love to Christ. You can argue, cajole, debate, and sweet-talk–and some of these things will plant seeds that the Lord will use later– but never lose sight that God does the waking up. Pray earnestly and frequently for your unsaved friends and family.

2. Don’t take the conversations and interactions you have with unbelievers too personally. This one can be difficult. When we are in a conversation about God, people can get pretty touchy. They can say things they shouldn’t as we share the gospel with them. They may hurt our feelings or attack us personally. They may grow resentful of us and try to cause us to stumble as we try to hold to a biblical standard. Does it help to remember that they are, in essence, still sleeping? They have not awoken yet to the glorious promises of God’s amazing grace and wonderful mercy.

3. We have the important task to respond with love and gentleness to all–even the meanest, vilest person. I have heard several testimonies of the most unlikely people becoming saved when a Christian has been kind and loving to them, even while being teased and tortured mercilessly. No one is beyond hope! There is no place for flaring tempers and sulkiness in this business of sharing the gospel. Let’s be a help and not a hindrance to our heavenly Father as we share the Good News.

As we share the true gospel in the midst of this foreign land we find ourselves in, let’s remember to be kind, to not take anything too personally, and–most importantly–to pray for the salvation of those God has put in your life’s path. Pray for the glorious day of awakening!

 

*If you struggle with this concept, listen to this excellent sermon by John MacArthur, explaining that we can NEVER understand how these work together. He has been very misaligned in this area of election, so if you have heard that he is unbiblical in this area but have never heard his view from his own mouth, then I encourage you to listen to this sermon. You will find that this isn’t the case at all.

 

 

What Is One Life Worth?

982474_49743966

I watched one of those old disaster movies the other day– you know where the world is ending and they have to decide who are the lucky ones who will be saved. This isn’t really my normal style of movie, but I had watched it years ago and a bit of nostalgia nudged me to watch it again. At any rate, in this particular movie, when the announcement was made that a random lottery would be held to save humanity they added this caveat — Anyone over the age of fifty will not be entered into the lottery.

Funny. When I watched this movie the first time I didn’t give a second thought to that sentence. But this time, it really hit home because I am approaching 50 rather rapidly. And my thoughts started turning. Is that what our society really believes? That anyone over fifty isn’t worth saving?

These thoughts came to my mind again this week as I did some transplanting in my greenhouse. I naturally go towards the stronger, taller plants and throw the small, frail-looking ones in the trash. I only need so many plants and when the germination rate is high, I have to pick which ones I am going to keep. Whether or not it was the movie that made that day’s transplanting extra hard, I am not sure, but I found myself feeling rather badly for the small plants and transplanting a few of them just to give them a shot. I know, I know. That is really strange.

But it was with remarkable clarity that I suddenly realized that this is why we should never view humans in the same way we view animals and plants. The Bible tells us that we have been designed by God in His image (Genesis 1:27) and we are each fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14). We have eternal souls, unlike other forms of life on earth. Whether we are still within the warm womb being shaped or approaching our 90th birthday does not make us any less valuable in God’s eyes and should not make us any less valuable to each other.

But when a culture makes the switch from believing in a Creator to believing that we all just happened by chance, how we view humanity inevitably changes. Because, in this system of belief, everything is simply a bunch of cells that “just happened” to form plants and animals and people (and they say believing in God takes faith?!), the view of the human race naturally becomes equal to that of any other life on this planet. We are no different than dogs or the whales. All are equally important.

Interestingly enough, there are a few ways we have seen this belief take shape. Some people actually elevate animals as more important than humans. Have you run into any of those people who “save the whales” one day and hold a sign for abortion the next? But the fruit of this belief that is even more evil (if that’s possible) than animal elevation is the belief that human life is only worthwhile if it is productive. This is why a society will eventually allow for the practices of infanticide and euthanasia.

You can see it coming. In fact in some ways and in some countries it is already here.  Much of our society does not give a second thought to aborting an imperfect child already. There is also very little value placed on those who are languishing in nursing homes and have become a large “drain” on society. Self-inflicted euthanasia is already a popular reason to travel to the countries of Switzerland and Belgium. In fact, just recently, Belgium even lifted their age restrictions to include suffering children. (See article here) If this is allowed, how close is it until we go to the next step of forced euthanasia? I can’t imagine it will be very long.

And I believe that this all stems from man’s belief about origins. But should we be surprised? It makes complete sense from a worldly perspective that man would try to eliminate all accountability that would keep him from living the way he wants to live. Unfortunately, the consequences of that type of life are very, very high and there is a plethora of negative effects that have been the result of this effort to convince man he is nothing but a bunch of cells. It is not simply coincidence that the amount of fatherless children, divorce rates, and abortions have sky-rocketed in the last fifty to a hundred years.

So what can we do?

First, we need to know why we believe what we do and why it is not the fairy tale the world tells us it is. We need to know God’s Word and what it says about man and his sinful state. We need to understand why it is impossible, not only to believe in evolution, but to believe in anything but a young earth (hint: death cannot come before sin for the gospel to be true).  I am so very grateful for men like Ken Ham and his ministry, Answers in Genesis, who, unapologetically, stand for a young earth.  He has great resources on his website and I highly recommend it.

Second, we need to be willing to speak up as God gives us opportunities. I mentioned in a recent blog post, that we are probably not going to be changing our culture anytime soon. But does Jesus Christ ever mention anything about saving the culture? I can’t think of any verses that call us to do this. No, instead, we are to focus on preaching the gospel and winning disciples (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Mark 13:10). We need to take this more seriously! I need to take this more seriously. We’ve been stone-walled into silence in many ways. Oh, we won’t get hauled off to prison or lose our lives, but a threatened reputation and ridicule are still very effective ways to get people to keep their mouths closed, are they not? Think about how Christians are portrayed in almost any Hollywood movie and the reputation they are given in the press and in politics. It is no easy thing to stand up for Christ. And it shouldn’t be. We have been a bit spoiled in this country with just how accepted Christianity and the Christian world view has been. But no more. That means now is the time for boldness and courage! (Joshua 1:9)

And, finally, I think we need to be careful how we value life. How important it is that the world doesn’t “rub off” on us in this area. Let’s not forget that all people are valuable to God– not just the ones who contribute to society. Precious children, who, with their imperfect bodies and minds, teach their parents invaluable lessons, as well as the elderly souls who are nearing the end of their lives. Our senior population has been pretty much left in the dust, haven’t they? Once they can’t function as a normal human being they are put in a home and pretty much forgotten. But let’s remember that one day that will be us. And the example we set will most likely be followed.

Oh, may we stand boldly and set a good example for future generations. May all who come behind us find us faithful! I conclude with the lyrics from this old song

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful!

Part 2: Casa de Pan

IMG_3602revThis is part 2 of the amazing story of Casa de Pan, a home we visited in Costa Rica last week. You can read Part 1 here. And now for the rest of the story–

With Raymond functioning as her interpreter, Melba first started to tell us the story of Anita, one of her young daughters, who appeared to have a form of Cerebral Palsy. I found out later that my sister-in-law had asked about her and that was the reason for the special invitation into the house for this specific story. She told us that this nine year old girl had been born a normal little girl. But when she was just a toddler, she had been found with a fractured skull, two broken collar bones, broken legs, and infected cigarette burns all over her body. From that point on, she was never normal again.  It was later discovered that her stepfather had done these horrible things to this tiny girl. Who knows what else this evil man had done to her in her short life? I think I may have listened to the story with my mouth open. I cannot fathom the depth of wickedness within a person to cause them to do such things to an innocent child. It moves far beyond my comprehension. The little girl is not only physically disabled, but mentally disabled, as well. She will forever be a child now…and all because she happened to be the unfortunate recipient of an evil man’s anger or perversion (or maybe both). When they brought her to the home of Victor and Melba, they opened up their arms and took her in. She is one of {I think} three special needs children in their home at this time.

As we continued to talk, she told us a few more tragic stories of the children now safely ensconced in their loving home. As she talked, we could feel her love and care for each child. She went on to tell us that they had six biological children and that 95 adopted children had already grown up in their home. I asked her if she was in touch with each one. She smiled and said “of course,” and then went on to tell of one son who had lost touch for awhile, but had recently been back in touch. The couple keeps the weekends free of any extra visitors and reserves those days just for family. That is when their grown children stop by, many of them now bringing along their own kids.

Finally someone asked how all of this had come about. We listened intently to the fascinating story–

Her fourth child, a girl, was extremely ill. They had made the decision to take her to the hospital, where they had been given the devastating news that she was dying. They visited often and did all they could to make their sweet baby comfortable. In the next bed, a young boy lay dying from cancer. But no one visited him. In fact, they later found out that his family had abandoned him. And so they started showing him some attention, trying to show him that someone cared whether he lived or died.

As the doctor watched the couple’s reactions to the tragic news of their daughter’s impending death, he was amazed at the peace and strength with which they accepted the news. He had never seen anyone react like this. The couple made it clear that God was the source of their strength and they gave Him all of the credit.

As they prepared to take their daughter home to die, the doctor approached them with an unusual request. Would they be willing to take the abandoned boy home with them, as well? There wasn’t really much of a discussion, as they knew they couldn’t let the boy die alone in the hospital and so they bundled the two young children up–a small girl much loved by her biological family and a small boy completely and utterly abandoned by his — and took them both home to die.

But, unbelievably, both children did not die. Instead they grew stronger and stronger, until both were declared well again (in fact, the beautiful lady on the far left of the photo above is this daughter all grown up!)

After that incident (or should I say miracle?), Melba told us of her and Victor’s decision to give all they had and owned to the Lord completely. I am not sure if they knew what that meant at the time, but they were soon to find out.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to get all the details of how they went from one to 142 adopted children, but, needless to say, in the last 35 years, they have become a valuable resource for the Costa Rican government. They will often drop their most hopeless cases there. In fact, because they know and trust the couple, they will actually do the paperwork, pay any fees, and hire the lawyer to see the entire adoption process through.

She went on to tell of some of the amazing ways God had provided for them through the years. While she talked, I couldn’t help but stare at the picture of the family hanging on the mantle. My eyes then strayed to their wedding picture on a little round table nearby. They couldn’t have possibly realized that day so long ago just how mightily God would use them in the future — and all because they gave everything to Him.

After hearing her story, I felt so many things.

deeper faith — in hearing how God had cared for this family in so many big and small ways.

thankfulness — for a couple who would give up their own comfort to meet the needs of all of these beautiful children.

shame — for being far too worried about my own comfort and convenience in my own small world.

and thoughtfulness — what would happen if we Americans gave our all, instead of being busy with inconsequential things? How could God use us and the abundant resources we have available to us?

And I knew that I would never be quite the same person after hearing her story. I will always thank the Lord for allowing me to listen in on that testimony of faith and to see an example of how the Lord works when we submit everything to Him.

 

 

Part 1: Casa de Pan

IMG_3633Our week in Costa Rica was almost over. It was Thursday afternoon and we had been to one private children’s home and two public children’s homes already. We were told this one was different. This was a real home owned by a couple who had adopted all 46 of the children living there. My mind tried to comprehend that, but it seemed to be beyond my scope of imagination. 46?!? I was to find out that it was actually many more.

After driving through city streets, seeing hundreds of homes behind iron bars, the bus pulled up to a beautiful, plant-covered wall. As we got out, we saw a big blue gate. As we walked towards the gate, we heard the laughter of children behind the wall and even a couple of dogs barking.IMG_3620

As the blue gate swung open and our team walked up the driveway, I smiled with delight. For here was a beautiful oasis in the city of San Jose. There was a big backyard and in the middle of it stood a huge tree. As we looked up, we saw an immense tree house tucked within its branches. Children of all ages and sizes played happily. The house, white with blue trim, looked warm and welcoming. Up on the roof and at the upstairs open windows were several teenagers watching us.

Our team was there to play with the children for a few hours. After a few minutes, I noticed that a few of the ladies were headed around back. They were headed to the outdoor dining room to use the tables. I hurried to join them. As we walked around the back of the house, I came upon an outdoor room that was obviously the laundry room. This large, long room was probably used daily, evidenced by the little onesies hanging on the line just outside the door and the mounds and mounds of laundry I could see over the wall.

IMG_3588We took a left and walked down a pathway to the outdoor kitchen, located on the right. To my left, I saw a shelf that reached to the ceiling, filled with little shoes. As we walked into the dining room and started coloring, we noticed a couple older teenagers, blonde and blue-eyed, who didn’t look Costa Rican. As I talked to one, I found out that this 17 year old girl from Austria was just finishing up a 3 month term as a volunteer here in the house known as Casa de Pan. 

IMG_3598At one point, I went in search of a bathroom. I found one for our use, in the center of a new building that stood beside the house. The bathroom was finished (I can certainly understand why that would have been a priority), but there was an older gentleman working on finishing the rooms to either side. On my way there, I poked my head in the room and offered a smile and a “Buenas Dias”. The man smiled, offered a firm handshake, and told me his name was Victor. He then pointed to the little boy playing at his feet and told me with a smile that his name was Victor, as well. We talked for a few minutes, using his limited English, my limited Spanish, and a few hand motions, and then I left. At the time, I did not realize that Victor was the heroic head of this wonderful household.

After awhile, I headed to the backyard to join in the fun there. As I snapped a few photos, I drank in the loveliness of the place. Here were 46 children who would not get lost in the system. Here were 46 beautiful souls that had found home. And not just any home, but a home run by parents with faith in Jesus Christ. It was truly amazing. As I contemplated this couple, I will be painfully honest and let you know that I started to feel just a bit shallow in my “work” for the Lord. How much more I could give.

As I was looking around and thinking, my eye caught movement on the front porch. I saw my sister-in-law and my daughter following an older lady into the house, along with our Costa Rican leader and our American team leader. I hurried to catch up and joined the end of the line. This looked like it might be an opportunity to see a bit more of the inner workings of this incredible place.

Inside, we were taken to a beautiful large living room. Right inside the door was a girl of about twelve holding a three week old baby, swathed in a pink blanket. The girl offered her to my sister-in-law, who after a few minutes, graciously handed her to my baby-loving daughter. There the baby nestled in for a nap in the arms of my contented daughter for the duration of our time inside.

We were told to have a seat. Melba, a calm, kind, and comfortable-looking woman sat on a sofa with Raymond, our Costa Rican leader, us three women sat on another sofa, and Steve, our team leader, sat on a chair.

As Melba started to speak, I had no idea that this would be the most impactful and inspiring hour of my entire week. I will share Part 2 tomorrow.

 

6 Reasons You Should Go

orphans collage

As you may have noticed by now, I am keeping to the theme of missions this week, in light of my upcoming trip to Costa Rica. You can read the whole story about why I am taking this particularly trip here if you missed it.

As I was thinking about leaving on Sunday, I started remembering some of the other mission trips I have been on. When our children were young, my husband and I determined that, if we had the resources to do so, we would make sure each of our children left United States soil at least once before they left our home. We felt it important for so many reasons. In the past five years, I have had the privilege to take my oldest daughter to Ukraine and my middle daughter to Guatemala. We saw God worked in an amazing way so that our whole family could go to Haiti. I feel so blessed to have been able to take these trips. Not only for the sake of my children, but for mine.

You see short-term mission trips, while definitely a blessing to those who are on the receiving end of our help and supplies, are perhaps an even bigger blessing to those of us who are on the giving end.

Why do I believe this?

Here are a few reasons–

1. We get out of our comfort zone. Oh, how so many of us love our comfort zones. So much so that many of us aren’t willing to go somewhere where we might be uncomfortable or hot or thirsty or have to work or can’t speak the language. It freaks us out and we exaggerate the awfulness of it all. But when we actually go, we see it isn’t so bad, after all.

2. It helps us gain perspective. If we live in the U.S. (or any other wealthy place) we can lose sight of the fact that the luxuries we take for granted are not worldwide. Taking a short-term trip shows us that there are actually people who live without computers (gasp!), cars, and running water. There is a whole world of people who have never been taught how to read or write. People that somehow make a plastic grocery bag full of rice and beans sustain their families for an entire month. There are children who live in institutions without the loving care of a family. Taking a mission trip opens our eyes to the real world that lies just outside our little sheltered place where we live most of our lives.

Let me add here that, while I believe we can find many places to minister here in the U.S. that will help us gain perspective, most countries do not have the welfare programs and government helps that we have here and so it is generally far worse conditions in many lands on this earth for those living in poverty.

3. It kindles our heart for the lost and renews our dedication to sharing the good news of the gospel both abroad and at home. Taking a trip reminds us of just how many people do not know the Lord personally. Many people have never even heard the gospel. Actually sharing the good news with lost souls is such a privilege. Sometimes we forget that in our day to day lives.

On one of my trips, I was one of the oldest team members and so I was the one they picked to actually sit down with the nationals and share the gospel, through an interpreter. I was so nervous. But I did it and it became more and more natural. And I was reminded that sharing the Lord with others isn’t as hard as I make it out to be.

4. We make incredible memories and new friends.  From the poignant to the crazy, memories abound on these trips. I remember vivid moments of frustration and fear. But I remember many more moments of satisfaction and joy. On each trip I made new friends, some of which I am still in touch with today.

5. We touch the lives of others. The photos above are all from my previous mission trips. Each one of these faces brings back beautiful memories. A connection of hearts was made, if even for the briefest moment. There are a few I still think of and occasionally pray for today–the beautiful young girl in a Ukrainian orphanage for the mentally handicapped, even though she didn’t seem to belong there; the energetic twin boys in Haiti who just loved my son; and the laughing, silly 2 year olds that I would spend my mornings with in Guatemala, helping to get them dressed for the day and giving them hugs. So many more encounters that I could fill up several pages worth (I won’t!) but as I write, my heart is filled with such thanksgiving that I was able to meet these precious souls, if even for just a few meager minutes of my life.

6. We have the opportunity to trust the Lord in the fearful moments and watch Him work. From how to raise the funds to go to some very frightening moments in airports, God has been so faithful to me through these trips. I honestly believe if we never take a risk we can never truly see Him work. Let’s face it, if we are average people in the first world, we have most of our needs and many of our desires met every day — food, water, clothing, and shelter are a given for most of us. Sure, we may have to choose ramen noodles over steak, but we aren’t starving. We rarely remove ourselves from this comfortable place to even be able to watch the Lord work. Of course, sometimes things beyond our control happen, such as accidents and diseases and we are thrust into that world quite suddenly. But a short-term mission trip is a way to give up a little control and quite purposely put your life in the Lord’s hands, if even for a week.

And so if you can find a trip, you should go! If the Lord’s been tugging at your heart about the trip with your church, then call today and get more details. If you heard about a trip a friend is going on and it keeps coming to mind, then do some checking online. But I would just encourage you, in keeping with my post yesterday, to make sure it is with an agency that keeps sharing the gospel as their number one priority.

Anyone can give food and shelter, but only Christians can give the life-giving water that changes lives for all eternity.

 

 

Never Underestimate

In the current wave of a few great books, Christians have been encouraged to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the poor and the orphans. And this is a call that was needed! But I can’t help but wonder if, in the enthusiasm of stepping up and out of our comfort zones, we haven’t forgotten something–

There are still ministries here that are well worth our time and efforts. There are still jobs right here in small-town America (or wherever you are, for that matter) that need doing. They should not be viewed as second class or unimportant in our eyes. Things like–

-Teaching Sunday School to children. Teaching children about God’s Word is so imperative in a time where Sunday School may be the only place children ever hear about God. I have heard many testimonies of adults who became saved through a Sunday School teacher’s ministry. This job can never be underestimated.

-Taking care of elderly parents, or grandparents, or aunt, or church members. Many of us have elderly people in our lives. Let’s not forget them in our excitement to minister in other, more “impressive” ways. I have a feeling that they may get pretty lonely. Many of them have lost their spouses, their friends, their brothers and sisters. They have doctor appointments that they may need help getting to or may need help with some housework or repairs. Sometimes just visiting can be a big boost to their spirits. Especially if we take some little children along.

-Opening up our homes to others. Paul tells us in Romans 12:13 that we are to be given to hospitality. Do you open up your home to the friends of your children? Or to your church group? Or to anyone outside your small circle of family or friends? If so, then you are doing some important work for the Lord. Teens need a good place to hang out. Meeting for a meal in a home is a great way to get to know other church members on a much more personal level. Perhaps there is an unsaved family that you know well enough to  have them over for a meal. It is easier to discuss spiritual matters in a home than beside a soccer field or baseball diamond.

-Serving at our church by cleaning up or serving in the nursery or helping in the kitchen or doing the lawn or organizing activities or anything else that helps keep the church running smoothly. We cannot discredit these services. They are often done with little, if any, reward. They have no glamour attached to them and are viewed as unimportant jobs, kept deep in the shadows of the bigger stuff – like adopting orphans or working tirelessly to feed the poor. But they are jobs that someone has to do to keep a church running smoothly and functioning so that church members can grow both spiritually and closer as a church body.

-Ministering in the place we find ourselves most often–the workplace. Your workplace may be your home. Teaching your children about God is a very important work. Or it may be that you find yourself surrounded by unbelievers in an office, or in a restaurant, or on a construction crew. All of these workplaces will lead to ample opportunities to show that you live by different standards and to share the gospel. Or perhaps you are a teacher. Questions from students can lead to some great discussions. I can think of a few teachers who have really come alongside my husband and me in encouraging our kids in their walk with the Lord. What a blessing!

-Serving right here, right now. I have a friend that visits an inner city classroom each week to help children with their school work. I have another friend that teaches public school children about God for an hour each week through a special program. I have another friend that has taught English to foreigners. I have a friend who faithfully teaches a Bible study to other women. I also have friends who work hard at spotting needs that need to be met and then do their best to meet them. Each of these individuals saw an opportunity to minister and then stepped up to be the one to fill the need.

That’s just a very incomplete list of things we can do to serve the Lord in our lives in a practical way. Let’s not forget that the Lord has placed you where you are for a reason. And your job is to find out what that is. Where does the Lord want you to serve? It may be that you are called to foreign service or to adopt an orphan. But it also may be that you are called to build up the church body by serving there on the board or in the Sunday School classroom. It may be that you are a great cook and have a gift for making people feel cared for through the wonderful food you prepare.

May we not grow discouraged as many of us labor in the shadow of the “big stuff”. Let’s do whatever we are called to do to the best of our ability. Always. Knowing that we are serving the Lord and it is all for His glory.

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