Enjoying the Ride

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The other night we decided we would spend the evening looking at some Christmas lights. After paying $15 to drive through a display that was considerably short of impressive, we decided to drive across the county to check out another one that came highly recommended.

The thing I haven’t told you is that there were seven of us so in order for us to all drive together in the same car, two people would have to sit in the rarely used backseat. I really thought we’d have more fun if we went together so I offered to sit there. After all, my car was made to “seat 7”. My son-in-law offered to sit there, as well, and so we both climbed into the back. This was our first clue that it was going to be tight.

We weren’t back there more than 30 seconds before we realized that the backseat was definitely not meant for adults. With the two of us sitting a bit sideways and with our knees to our chests, we all set off on our adventure.

The first part of the evening wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes we stopped for dinner. And then another 15 minutes after that we drove through the first display. But the last ride–the one across the county– ended up taking over 30 minutes (maybe closer to 45). This is when it started to stretch my patience just a bit. We were going on a back country road and I started to feel a bit carsick. And then the other dynamic was that no one listened to us. We’d try to join the conversation but we were back so far, we were generally ignored because it was so hard to hear us.

About halfway through that drive I was starting to get annoyed. My bad knee was starting to hurt, I was extremely uncomfortable, and the carsickness was really starting to get to me. And it was around that time that it hit me: I can choose to focus on the negative or I can enjoy the ride. After all, here I was, with two of our kids and their families, having a good time together. What a blessing! I recognized that I had so much to be thankful for, even if I was temporarily squished into a seat that was meant for children. And, thankfully, our son-in-law has a good sense of humor and made the ride in the back much more enjoyable than if I would have been back there alone.

Ironically, when we finally arrived, we found out to our dismay that the display was in front of us. As we parked the car in preparation for the light show, we realized that we wouldn’t even have a good view to watch. We just had to laugh.

And that was my Friday night.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this in relation to all of life (of course!)

So often we are on a ride we don’t enjoy and we can’t get off. We can’t change it, we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it. We just have to ride through it. But the one thing we can choose is what attitude we are going to have as we take our undesired ride. We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to complain. We can choose to rely and lean on the Lord or we can choose to focus on our own feelings and despair. Keep in mind that we are going to have to take the ride either way. It’s non-negotiable. Having a negative attitude isn’t going to change anything or make anything better (in fact, it will make it worse), while having a joyful attitude not only makes us more pleasant to be around, it is also a dramatic testimony of God’s grace, mercy, and love that is provided to His children during the tough times.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. I feel like I am writing to myself here, quite honestly. I struggle so with this. We have come to have certain expectations in life. We want life to be convenient and comfortable and easy. And so when the road turns a little bumpy and we are stuck in the backseat, we can tend to grow a little discontent and grumpy. But that isn’t going to help anyone–especially ourselves. And, most importantly, it reveals that we don’t really trust God’s plan for our lives. It truly is an affront to God’s Sovereignty, if you think about it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can be reminded of on a ride through the country?

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Isaiah 45:9

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Daniel 4:34-35

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Serving All, All the Time

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This is the time of year that we focus on giving. Much of the giving is focused on children. We fill shoe boxes and purchase toys to give to local charities. It is rewarding to watch our children’s excitement as they walk with us through the store and help to pick out toys and toothbrushes and socks for children across the world or in their own neighborhood. It is truly a wonderful opportunity to touch the world with the love of Christ.

Giving to children is so special. There is something especially delightful about it. And Christmastime is such a fun time to give. There are so many different opportunities available that it doesn’t take much work for us to be part of something greater than ourselves. Perhaps we should use this time of year as a catalyst for change– a change that yields a life that intentionally gives and serves all year long.

There are some things to consider as we evaluate our lifestyle of service.

Children are wonderful, but there are so many elderly people who have no family to visit them. They sit, sad and lonely, throughout the year, wondering if anybody cares. Do they have the same value as a child? We would answer of course because we know that is the “right” answer but do we live it out by our actions?

And do we give all year long or do we only serve and give during this one little window of time during the year? Are we practicing a life of service all year long or do we live a life of self-absorption that disappears for a short time at Christmastime?

Time goes so fast. We will be back to our normal routine again before we know it. This holiday season seems a good time to consider our patterns of giving and serving.

Many people have set examples for me in this area of serving others throughout the year, but one example that made an impact on me was something my mother-in-law did when I was a young mother. She would take my kids along with her to the local nursing home to visit a few of the elderly from our church. As a pastor’s wife, it was a way she could bring a little sunshine and joy to their lives. At the time, I didn’t realize just what a service of love this was. Most older people love kids. As I watched her set this good example and as I grew braver and more mature, I hesitantly decided to try it myself. I say “braver”, because my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t know what to say.

So one day I gathered my children and we set off in our minivan. How do you talk to an elderly person that you don’t really know? But what I found was that, especially with kids along, there is rarely an awkward moment. I figured out how to ask lots of questions and we would learn so much about the past. (The incredible upside of this is that so many of these older people have so much to teach us. If we will just take the time, we can learn so much.)

But this post is not just about giving of ourselves to elderly people. Are we serving and encouraging our pastors, and other church members such as the single parents, the downcast and depressed, the sick and weary, and those who are struggling financially? These should all be on our radar throughout the whole year.

There are many ways we can encourage, serve, and build them up. We can do this by sending a card or an email. We can do this by babysitting; providing meals, if needed; by just sitting and talking after church instead of rushing out the door. And, of course, we can do this by praying for them. There are many more ways we can love and serve others.

One of the things I try to do is to think about what I would want someone to do for me if I were in their situation. And you know what? Sometimes I am the one who needs encouraged. Sometimes I need to be the recipient of the love and service of my church family. I have been there, too. And this may be one of the best things about being part of a church family–the love and care we take of each other. Learning to receive gracefully and gratefully is a topic for another post.

As I write this, I can see how I have failed in this area of serving others in such a big way. I can be so blind. I often find myself so caught up in my own agenda that I lose sight of those who need to be encouraged, built up, and supported.

But scripture continues to prod me (and hopefully you, too!) into a holier and more obedient life that is filled with love for others. I Peter 4:10-11 exhorts us to serve one another–

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I John 4:7-8 exhorts us to love one another–

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

And I Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us to encourage one another–

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

These passages are particularly referring to the Church. This is our first priority–serving other Christian brothers and sisters, loving and taking care of each other in a way that unifies the church and causes the world to step back and wonder what we have that they don’t have.

Scripture will not let us go. It continues to draw us to a more mature faith, showing us how we fail and where we need to grow. Christmas season is a great time to evaluate our life of service.

May we broaden our horizons and see that needs abound across all classes, races, and ages of people. May we never miss an opportunity to share the Gospel as we give to those that don’t know Christ. And may we be especially sensitive to the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters both here and across the world as we faithfully serve and give throughout the whole year!

 

 

Four Ways to Love Our Men

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I awoke yesterday to hear that Matt Lauer had been fired. Now, I knew he was extremely left-leaning and a typical reporter, but, as newscasters go, I did think he seemed like a nice guy.

As I tried to wrap my brain around the latest casualty of the sexual harassment and abuse accusations, I felt sad. There have been several over the past few months and, while not surprising, they are just…sad. I know as much about these guys and their accusers as I do about the peanut head bug (yes, a real insect) that lives in the Amazon Rainforest (i.e. nothing), so I have no idea what the truth really is and I will refrain from sharing any opinions on such tragic situations. But perhaps these accusations can raise a conversation that we Christian women should probably have.

Let’s think for a moment about men.

Men love sex.

Sure, there are exceptions, but as a rule, most men were created by God to love sex. As young men, they can hardly go a few minutes without thinking about it. This obsession might diminish slightly as they grow older but their love for it remains. Men love sex.

And Hollywood and marketers use this love for sex to achieve ratings and sales. Anywhere you turn, sex is being sold. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war movie or a commercial for deodorant, sex is often what’s for sale. It is appalling.

On our TV screens, fornication and naked bodies abound. Crude and dirty jokes are the norm. And many–even Christians– just watch, with nary a thought to turn it off. Radios croon out lyrics encouraging premarital sex, cheating, and all other varieties of sexual sins and it is justified by the excuse that it’s only the tune they like–they are not listening to the words. (Impossible, by the way, since your subconscious mind hears everything.)

The internet is loaded with pornography that is hard to escape. Even a simple search on a site we consider safe will sometimes bring naked images to our screen.

And this push to sell sex has reached us in personal ways we never imagined. Co-workers show cleavage, church ladies wear short skirts. Even at homecoming dances, our teenagers wear the latest styles that leave little to the imagination–torturous for the young men accompanying them.

Men cannot escape the constant battle and efforts of this culture to remove the purity of their minds. There is nowhere they can turn. Even in church this battle is fought, as even the sanctuary is no longer a sacred place where a man can get away from women who are dressed immodestly.

I think we can see that Satan has hijacked sex. Literally. He has mangled and destroyed it, warped it and corrupted it until it has become something Christians don’t even want to talk about. But sex is a beautiful gift from God the Father. He designed it specifically for a married couple. And when used in this way God is not only pleased but He is also glorified.

And so we can see that there are two utterly opposing views–the world’s view of sex and God’s view of sex. And Christian men are often caught in the cross-hairs of these two viewpoints–knowing the view they should have, but constantly being pulled to the world’s side of things wherever they go.

So while a man is absolutely and completely responsible for his own sexual purity, I do want to raise the conversation that there are four things we women can do to help our Christian brothers as they fight this tough battle of purity in their own lives–

1. As girls and women, we can dress modestly. As parents, we can require our daughters to do the same, explaining that this is a way we can show Christian love to the boys and men around us. We can make sure that we and our daughters are clothed in such a way that it doesn’t lead a man to think sexual thoughts.

2. As moms, we must keep our young and teen-aged boys away from sexually impure entertainment and work hard to protect them from online pornography. We can and should help our husbands in this area as much as we are able to, as well. This may well be one of the most challenging and important jobs we will ever take on.

3. As women who love the men in our lives, we can pray for them. Pray hard, that God would protect them as they walk through a world that is obsessed with sex at almost every turn.

4. And as wives, we must be sure to love our husbands in all ways, including in the bedroom. God designed sex to be beautiful and wonderful in its biblical context. If our husbands don’t feel loved in this way we leave them open to temptation.

 

Life is often ugly and messy. This is one of those things we don’t even like to talk about. But sometimes things just need to be said. Again–let me be clear–men are 100% responsible for their thoughts and actions. They will be accountable to God for what they think and what they do. But I hope, as Christian women, we can come alongside our Christian brothers in love and support as they fight to stay pure in a culture fixated on sex.

 

 

Every Life

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Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to see our daughter’s college soccer team play for a National title. They won the first game easily and as we sat watching the warm-ups for the championship game, my husband leaned over and made his prediction of the outcome. He thought our girls could easily beat this other team. They weren’t as skilled and their bench wasn’t as deep. But there were two things that he didn’t see–first, this team really wanted to win and second, he didn’t realize the skill and tenacity of #7. As the game started we could see a fight was on. As the final minutes of regular game time wore down, the score remained 0-0.

As we headed into the first ten minute overtime, the play continued to go back and forth and remain scoreless. It was now sudden death. The first team to score was going to win this championship. With only 1:40 to go, there was a foul and we were given a direct kick. We held our breath as one of our seniors stepped up to take it. She kicked the ball and we watched it sail over the heads of the defenders and then over the head of the goalie to land perfectly in the corner of the goal. (It was actually a very dramatic and pretty awesome way to win such an important game!) The crowd roared and the team ran together and cheered and jumped and hugged. The game was over and we had won because of one kick. What a night for this senior! I am sure she will never forget it.

Don’t you just love when you have moments like this? The perfect kick or hit or shot. The musical piece or dramatic act that is played just right. The phone calls offering the perfect job or the accepted bid for your perfect house or even better yet– the good results of a health test; the rare moments when the whole family is together, having fun, and getting along. The moments of everything working out perfectly. These are beautiful, awesome moments that fill us with joy and inspire us to keep going.

And then there are the other moments…

That same day, after the game, kind ladies prepared a meal for the soccer families. The setup was in a class room, so it wasn’t ideal. But they worked with what they had and did it well. We went through the line and then sat down to eat. Suddenly, we heard a loud crash. We saw one of the hard-working ladies grab some paper towels and bend over to the floor.  As we left the room, we realized that she had knocked down the five gallon container of punch that had sat a bit insecurely on its makeshift surface. My heart went out to her as she and several other ladies mopped up the mess as best they could with school paper towels. I felt bad for her because I’ve been there. Often.

These are the moments we don’t love as much. Embarrassing moments; sad moments; angry moments. The moments we knock something over, or break something; the moments we find out a diagnosis we didn’t expect; or get the call to the boss’s office or the notice from the bank. Spouses walk away from marriages, kids make bad choices, and death comes knocking at the most unexpected times. These are the moments that make us feel insecure, unloved, unhappy, and, sometimes, hopeless.

You may think it naive of me to lump all of the bad moments together. Some are so much worse than others. But my point is this: they are all bad on some level. We don’t have any interest in living them over. Ever.

And every life is made up of ordinary moments interspersed with extra-special, wonderful moments and the frustrating or dreadful bad moments. And this is just how it is. There isn’t anything we can do about it. It just IS.

But so often there seems to be this goal to only live in the wonderful. Doesn’t it seem as if so many of us are constantly searching to live on the happy plane of the extra-special moments? And this is such an unrealistic expectation. I am not sure if it came from movies or romance novels or preachers that don’t preach from the Word, but many of us seem to have an expectation that our lives should be filled with special moments all the time. That to live just an ordinary life is somehow not enough. Some even go a step further and say that to experience bad moments means we are disobedient in how we are living our Christian lives. Of course, we know there is zero biblical basis for this belief and yet some people actually believe this.

But life–thankfully–is made up mostly of the ordinary for most of us. Our ordinaries change often, but somehow we adjust and grow comfortable with our new normals.

Every life experiences the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the wonderful days and the really hard days and a whole lot of ordinary days. We love the wonderful days. They are pretty awesome. But they can never be sustained. Sometimes they are far and few between. And we really don’t like the hard days. They are long and dark and can go on for weeks. But ordinary–that place where there are no big woes or worries; the place where we often find ourselves discontent–that place is truly an often unnoticed but remarkable blessing.

And so as we reflect on our year and think about Thanksgiving this week, it may be good to be intentional about not setting our expectations so high that we find ourselves in a constant state of discontent. But, instead, may we find ourselves grateful for the excitement and beauty of the good moments; may we acknowledge God’s Sovereignty and be looking to learn and grow from the bad moments; and may we enjoy and be grateful for the peace and beauty of the ordinary days that make up most of our lives.

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

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The other evening, as my family discussed the recent terrible church shooting, my father-in-law shook his head.

“Can you imagine discussing something like this twenty years ago??” he asked incredulously.

No, we can’t. Because we wouldn’t have. Oh, bad things happened and there have always been evil men and women. But this. This is just beyond anything we could have imagined.

And then someone else mentioned how frequent these things are becoming. The shock is almost wearing off because these types of events are becoming monthly–sometimes weekly.

And this can breed fear in some of us, making us wonder–when will it be us? Or someone close to us?

Or it could be something else that makes us fearful; some other anxiety that is stealing our peace and joy. There are innumerable causes for fear in our lives.

For some of us, this fear can turn into a life full of anxiety and worry, turning our happy smiles into frowns of concern. Fear is a mighty master, controlling our lives with an iron fist.

Of course, much of this comes from not taking Matthew 6:35-34 very seriously. As I have battled my own fears about a variety of things, these verses keep coming to mind–

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But how do we freeze out the fear that threatens to undo us? What can we do to help eradicate the sins of worry and anxiety from our lives?

I believe one of the most underrated things we can do to help us overcome fear is to cultivate a heart of gratitude. We learn this from Philippians 4:6-7–

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

How often do we practice this as we face our fears and anxieties? Do we come to God with a thankful heart or is gratitude crowded out by the fear that threatens to overwhelm us?

Because you can’t really have both. You can’t be fearful and thankful at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

Have you ever thought about that before?

And so this week of Thanksgiving, I want to encourage you (and me, too!) to give our hearts and minds to developing a spirit of gratitude. To truly live out Philippians 4 and to be be anxious for nothing, but instead making our requests be known to God with a spirit of thanksgiving. And that is when fear will be frozen out and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.

 

 

What No One Wants to Talk About

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On Sunday, as we left east Texas to start our long journey home, just a few hours away the unthinkable was happening: An unsuspecting country church congregation in a small Texas town gathered for worship and were gunned down by a madman with a vendetta.

Last night, when I was finally able to catch a bit of news coverage, I heard a reporter say this to a local man she was interviewing–

“There are those on the far left who say the blood of these people is on the hands of the Republicans because they haven’t changed the gun laws.”

His answer was perfect. He assured her that had we had stricter gun laws, the man would have probably gone on to kill more people. Gun laws won’t keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists and madmen, they will keep them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens who desire to protect themselves. And yet, this is always the cry in the wake of something like this–

Gun control! Gun control! Gun control!

But is this really going to solve anything? Or is it far deeper than simply keeping a weapon out of their hands?

Proverbs 4:23 tells us this–

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.

Should we be at least considering if there is a connection between violent, occultic entertainment and evil actions?

The other day, as my husband pulled up next to a car at a local gas station, loud screamo music reverberated throughout the parking lot from its sound system. Evil, mind-numbing music. When he got home he expressed how that music must have some affect on its listeners, as it made his spirit feel angry just to listen to a few seconds of it.

And, all across this nation, people are filling their minds with this kind of music. Music that is filled with lyrics encouraging them to kill, to commit suicide, to shoot, and to commit all other types of evil.

And no one says a word.

Meanwhile, playing on TVs and in movie theaters across this nation are such evil things we could never have imagined. Dark, demonic pictures fill the minds of the masses.

And no one says a word.

Video games rated “M” (as if somehow that will keep impressionable children from playing them) are played–where the whole goal of the game is to shoot, to kill, to maim.

And no one says a word.

Even those who claim to be Christians enjoy these things. And if you dare to say a word, you are branded as the evil one.

I confess that I find myself perplexed beyond measure.

But please tell me this: If we can’t eat a steady diet of junk food and come away unscathed, why do we think we can fill our minds with horror, violence, and the occult and come away unscathed?

And why isn’t anyone talking about the dark, evil entertainment that fills the minds of so many of these shooters? Why isn’t anyone looking for that link?

It’s easy to answer that question, of course. It is called political correctness.

The other day, one of my daughters sent me Taylor Swift’s latest video because she was so appalled. In this dark, evil video, Swift–the innocent sweet 15 year old that hit the music scene not that long ago–appears to be singing about killing someone as she prances about, filling the minds of her audience with all kinds of disturbing images. But no matter how dark, how evil she has become, she is still praised, featured, and promoted by the media. (Perhaps that was the plan all along–to drag more naive, unthinking teens down a dark path while their parents do nothing to stop it.)

Things are so dreadfully wrong with the entertainment industry it is hard to comprehend.

And no one says a word.

Look– I am not implying that this is the only factor in any shooting. Nor am I even implying that it is a factor at all. What I am asking is why isn’t this ever considered? I am not implying that most people will crack under the mountain of evil entertainment they feed their minds. But is it worth considering that some minds will not withstand the pressure?

But no one will ask the questions. And so we are simply left with a hurting, mourning nation, one half crying for more gun control and the other half asking only to be able to defend ourselves in the onslaught of evil attacks that is starting to reign in this nation.

I know that this post will change nothing. It was really just a few thoughts about what is going on. But I do hope that if it changes anything, it will encourage you–as Christian parents and grandparents–to know what your teens are listening to and watching. That you will be proactive and intentional in what goes in their minds, instead of naively believing it won’t affect them. May we lead our families on a path that moves closer to Christ in these dark days. May we not ignore the power that worldly entertainment has in the lives of our own dear families. And may we be brave enough to stand alone in this fight, because–trust me–no one wants to fight this battle. This is one area where you will often stand alone. As Satan targets our kids and grandkids in this area, most will sit idly by. And if you dare to speak up, you become most unfavored and unpopular. So be prepared for this.

Oh, what an upside down world we live in. We can’t change what’s outside our own walls, but may we be tenacious in protecting and caring for those who are under our care and in our circles of influence.

 

Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself

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Somewhere in the second half of the last century, psychologists started declaring that many of the ills and woes we experience are simply because we just do not love ourselves enough. Somewhere in the late 70’s or early 80’s the church jumped on this same bandwagon and started promoting self-esteem as a biblical concept (it isn’t).

While, of course, we read in scripture that we are created and loved by God, scripture also makes it clear that self-esteem is not our issue. Several places we find that self-love is an attribute we all have and the command is to love people as we already love ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Philippians 2:3-4).

Part of our sin nature is to be in love with ourselves so much that we end up hurting others around us. As the culture and the church has encouraged us to love ourselves more we haven’t seen it solve problems but instead create them. We have seen a rise in family breakdowns, church splits, shootings, racial tension–to name just a few. I think it is safe to say that self-esteem is not the answer to the world’s or the church’s problems.

But the damage has been done and even we Christians have soaked up a bit of this by just living in this culture. As I thought about my own life over the weekend, I can see how my love for myself can be so damaging to my relationships. And I thought of these five ways that demonstrate that we are really just far too in love with ourselves. Think about these things in light of how you relate to your family and your friends. At church, at work, even as a spectator at your child’s sports activities. Think about these in relation to yourself instead of someone else who might come to mind. It is my hope that my own personal examination will encourage you to do your own personal examination–

1.  We are easily offended. Our offense is based on the fact that we have been hurt personally. Whether the offense is actual or just perceived doesn’t matter. This will often lead to holding a grudge and being bitter. This is a sure sign that love for self is dominating our actions.

2. We are difficult and grumpy when things don’t go our way. We all get a little frustrated when our plans go awry. This is certainly natural. But when we love ourselves too much we take our internal frustration and let it affect us externally, making life miserable for all around us if things aren’t going the way we think they should.

3. We grow defensive if anyone dares to confront us. Instead of humbly listening and carefully evaluating, we immediately lash out and close our ears. This is a sure sign that we care more about our own personal feelings than we do about growing in Christ.

4. We only want to talk about things that interest us. Have you been in one of those conversations where someone is animatedly talking about themselves but as soon as you mention something about your own life, their eyes glaze over and they walk away? That is the extreme form of this but many are the one-sided conversations that exist in this self-centered age. If we only talk and never listen, it is a good sign that we are too in love with ourselves.

5. And, last but certainly not least, we arrange all of life for our own comfort and convenience. We won’t serve because it’s inconvenient. We won’t stand up for truth because we don’t want the pain of being mocked. We don’t attend church because we are tired. We will sacrifice God’s scriptural principles on the altar of our own selfish desires.

Now, look, these five things should prove to us that we are too in love with ourselves. We all are. It is probably the biggest battle we Christians face as we struggle to grow in our faith and in obedience. Sure, a few of you may have won this battle, but I know I certainly haven’t and I am guessing most of you haven’t, either.

But we must fight this battle because so much is at stake. If we lose this battle, we lose so much. We lose the respect of those watching us (and people are watching–family members, co-workers, church and school families). We lose close and warm relationships, because people are afraid to tell us the truth. Our relationship with God suffers because we are not living in obedience to the scriptures. And we lose our power of living as an example for others to follow, as we are the people that no one wants to be like.

I feel like this is a battle I have struggled with all my life and I still remain in the trenches fighting against myself. In Luke 9:23 Jesus makes it clear that this is what the Christian life is all about–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

We can see from this that–no matter what pop psychology and philosophies are saying–that the only way to serve Jesus well and faithfully is to deny ourselves. This is in direct opposition to what we hear in most churches and is unpopular in the extreme. But it is what we read in scripture–not only in Luke but in others places as well, such as Luke 14:25-27, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, and Ephesians 5:1-2.

The Christian life has us swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream in a raging river. It is no easy task and we have the opportunity to clearly show that we have chosen to swim the opposite direction of the world (and most of the church) in how we respond and react to the circumstances around us as we face the daily trials of sickness, financial woes, relationship difficulties, and disappointment. This is an often neglected and ignored light that all of us can shine in this dark world obsessed with “self”.

 

What You Can’t See

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Last week was spent at the beach with family. It was a wonderful, relaxing time, but now it is time to get back to reality. After being gone for over a week, I am ready to get back to my own space and routine.

The week was full of beautiful summer-like weather and so one evening a few of us headed to the beach. We had visions of sitting on the quiet, empty beach during the evening hours, watching the baby play in the sand and taking in the view. As you can see in the photo above, the view was fantastic. Isn’t it beautiful?

But there are some things you can’t see on the photo. Actually it was more like five million things: Tiny “no-see-ums”–minuscule sand flies that suck blood from their hosts. Right around dusk, these things came out in mass. They were crawling through the baby’s hair, biting our arms and legs, flying around our heads. It didn’t take us very long to pick up our stuff and leave. As we walked across the sand, we carried the heavy beach chair (why did we pick this one??), and a growing baby. And the sand toys kept falling out of the bucket! Our idyllic evening ended up not being very idyllic at all.

But you would never know it from the photo.

Oh, how true this is for any photo you see. It is one of the reasons I don’t really care for photo-driven social media. There is so much you don’t know from a photo. We now make judgments about people based on their photos. Confident selfies, and photos of beautiful homes, happy families, and lots of material “stuff” give us impressions of people. But are they the right impressions?

The photos we see are just like that beach photo. They are lovely but they are not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

Behind a selfie you might find a confident person having a good time. But you may also find insecurity, a longing to be loved, or a desperate need for attention. Behind beautiful photos of homes and families, you don’t see the cereal on the floor, the toddler’s messy hands on the kitchen cabinets, or the muddy footprints brought in after the rain. You don’t see the screaming, the yelling, the crying, the frustration, the irritation, and you can’t see the love, the fun, the joy, the peace. You can’t see anything but a photo. It tells us nothing. Not really.

And, in this day and age, you don’t even know if a photo is telling the truth. With the likes of photo editing software, anyone can make a photo “say” anything. Photos just can’t be trusted as our main source for truth.

So the next time you are tempted to judge someone you know by a photo, think again. It doesn’t tell the whole story about them. It is just a tiny fraction of the whole. If social media causes you to envy and covet and to think about “what if’s”, then perhaps you should consider getting off. Besides it being a sin (I Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:26; Ephesians 5:3), life is just too short to constantly be wishing for a different life while yours passes you by.

Last night, as we traveled home from the beach we passed a 55+ community. I looked at my husband and said, “we are almost old enough to live there! How did we get here?”

“We just kept living,” was his astute response.

We just kept living. We all have been blessed with the gift of a certain amount of time. None of us knows exactly how much it will be, but let’s not waste a second of it wishing for someone else’s life.

 

(By the way, we did find a different beach where we spent two incredibly lovely evenings that were all that the photos imply. Sometimes photos do tell the truth. But sometimes they don’t. We really have no way of knowing when they are or when they aren’t, so we may as well just enjoy them at face value and then move on with life.)

 

Beautifully and Naturally Changed

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We were about halfway to church when I realized it. I sighed and looked in my car mirror, just to be sure. Yep. It was true: I had totally forgotten to put on my make-up. Distracted during my morning routine, I remembered that I had never gone back to the bathroom mirror to finish getting ready.

I don’t actually wear that much make-up but it still felt strange going to church without it. I looked at my husband.

“I forgot to put on my makeup. Can you tell?”

“Nahhh. It’s summer. You are tan. It’s not a big deal.”

Not that it mattered. We weren’t turning around for such an insignificant reason, anyway. We drove on to church and worshiped, as usual.

In the winter, our skin is lighter but in the summer it tans to a nice golden brown if we spend time in the sun. Since there wasn’t any sunscreen for thousands of years, we can only imagine that God designed our skin this way. And when we are tan we look healthier for some reason. (Even though the latest craze from the medical world is to encourage us to wear sunscreen 24/7 and not let a bit of sun stain our skin.)

So what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I was thinking about how not wearing my makeup was so much less noticeable in the summer than it would have been in the winter and I realized that this is very similar to a dynamic that goes on in many churches, in that–

Good works is the “make-up” that those claiming to know Christ will use when they haven’t actually been transformed by Christ.

Let me explain–

We have all heard of the “good Christian man” who is caught with a prostitute or declares bankruptcy due to a gambling addiction. We have heard of the woman that up and leaves her family out of the blue or gives evidence that she is an alcoholic after hiding it for many years. Et cetera, et cetera. So many of these cases, so many different details, but all the same thing: Someone whom we thought was godly was actually not godly at all, as evidenced by their following after sin and never turning back from it with a repentant heart.

These types of people have worn the make-up of good works–some for many, many years. But what was missing was the golden tan of a heart transformed by the love of the Savior. You see, we can look pretty good to the church if we will simply step up and do the right thing–serve in the kitchen or on the coffee committee, serve as a church leader, teach Sunday School, work in the sound booth, greet people on a Sunday, or minister to children (to name just a few). These things make us look holy–even though we might not be. They give us the “make-up” we need to look presentable at church.

Many people put on a good show, while in the privacy of their own homes or offices, they are not really all that sold out for God as they live a life that is consumed with selfish desires. Some are living a life that is in complete opposition to the one they are portraying at church.

This is a great reminder that we should always be sure to confirm that our own good works are originating from a changed heart and not from some outward putting on of “righteous works” in order to make us look good to others.

Jesus points out a clear example of this in the lives of the Pharisees, who on the outside looked holy and pure but on the inside were wicked and unchanged by God. He puts it like this in Luke 11:39-40–

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

So let’s be sure that our outward behavior is a reflection of a changed heart and never the means we use to look “holy” to our church family on Sundays while living to please ourselves the rest of the week.

A beautifully changed heart will always yield a life that is also beautifully–and naturally–changed on the outside.

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

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

So, first, how I have really been doing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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