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.

 

People Do Change

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The other day, someone said something to me that indicated that they thought they were far too sinful to be saved. They couldn’t imagine how God would ever save them. They said it in passing, in a public place, where we couldn’t talk. I told them the beauty of salvation is that none of us deserves to be saved but I have been wondering what I would have–should have–said, had we had more time? I got some help with this question yesterday as I was listening to my father-in-law tell us about Paul during our campfire “church” service (which is what we do for worship time when we go camping).

He shared about some of Paul’s background and just where he had come from. This was perfect because, as any of my readers who are participating in the 2017 Growing 4Life Bible Reading Challenge already know, we are reading Paul’s epistles this year. It was interesting to find out more about the author God chose to write these books of the Bible.

As he spoke about Paul’s education and family, he told us how he was part of the group of Jewish leaders who persecuted the church. I was familiar with most of the information but it was great to have a refresher course on this man that God used to write a good portion of the New Testament. Paul was even present at Stephen’s death, the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith. Here is what we read about Paul (at that time he was called Saul) in Acts 8:1–

Now Saul was consenting to his {Stephen’s} death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And then this in verse 3 of the same chapter–

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

From these verses we see that not only did he consent to Stephen’s death but that he was part of the great persecution that rose up against the church. He personally entered homes and would drag men and women off to prison! He did everything he possibly could to stop the church of Jesus Christ from spreading.

As we discussed this, we wondered why God took someone so evil and called on him, of all men, to write the epistles? Why did God decide on Paul?

We can’t really know the answer to this, but one of the things I did think about was how encouraging and wonderful it is that God did use Paul. The fact that He did shows us, once again, that God can change the heart of a wicked, sinful man and use him to fulfill His purposes! No one is beyond His grace.

No one!

This should comfort us. Not only for ourselves, but it should also bring hope to our hearts for the ones we love who are caught up in unimaginable sins, imprisoned by Satan’s lies, with no conviction and no change on the horizon.

No one is beyond God’s grace.

God can change any man or woman–even one who has attacked His church. He can use any person for His purposes and His glory. Let us not grow weary in our prayers for those we love who are walking on the broad road of the world, far away from God.

When we read in the next chapter that Saul is converted, we find Ananias very concerned when the Lord tells him to seek out Saul and help him–

 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”  (Acts 9:13)

Saul’s reputation was well-known. We can imagine that the dramatic change in Saul would have been the topic of conversation in town squares during the following days and months. Was Saul really changed? Or was this just temporary? One group was wondering if he could be truly be trusted and another group was probably mourning the loss of one of their most zealous members, hoping he’d return. Of course, we know now that Paul was saved by God and changed forever.

Sometimes, we can grow skeptical about people truly changing. We have watched people say a prayer for salvation and then sprout up and seemingly and quickly grow, only to wilt and fall away when the tough times came along. Just like the seed we read about in the Parable of the Sower, the seed can’t take the scorching sun (Matthew 13:1-9). These things can make us start doubting that people ever change. In fact, sometimes you will hear this line: “People never change.”

But Paul is a dramatic real-life example to us that this is not true! People do change and Paul is one of our greatest proofs! Of course, the longer we live as a believer, the more examples we see of the Holy Spirit working change in the lives of those around us. I have seen Him change lost sinners into saved saints and even in my own life and the lives of other Christians, I see Him molding and shaping us to grow more like Christ. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago. Or five years ago. Or last year. I hope you can say the same thing.

So let us persevere in prayer for our lost loved ones and even for victory in our own personal struggles, knowing that God’s grace covers even the worst of sins and confident that true and lasting change is possible!

 

We know we will be fine.

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I am posting this on Monday, the day that I am dropping my youngest daughter off at college. I wrote this post a few days before we left as I started really thinking about what my new life will look like. You see, with her new college adventure, we start our own new adventure, as our nest will officially be empty. It has been quite an interesting summer trying to sort through all of the emotions that surround this moment. Actually, I have been trying to prepare myself for this for quite some time now. (But, honestly, can you prepare for this?)

As my regular readers and real-life friends already know, I tend to be pretty transparent both here on the blog and in day-to-day conversations. And, so, over the last few years, I have shared my thoughts, fears, and emotions regarding this new transition in my life fairly openly. The one thing I was not prepared for was the range of responses I would get from other women. While some women share their own struggles and warmly encourage with tears in their eyes, others casually tell me I will be fine. Still others share how excited they are for this new stage and some even imply that I am somehow being sinful or ridiculous in the struggles I am experiencing as I deal with this new transition.

And so I am writing this post to the women who don’t struggle through this empty nest transition from those of us who do not find it quite as easy. There are some things that are important to share–

First, our sadness over this transition is completely separate from the absolute joy and excitement we feel for our kids. We are thrilled to watch them take this new step of faith. We couldn’t be prouder that they are doing exactly what we have been planning and preparing for all of these years. But this joy for our kids doesn’t take away the deep sadness we feel for ourselves as we approach the end of an era. In fact, this mix of emotions can be rather overwhelming and confusing. Are we happy or are we sad? It changes constantly.

Second, we know we will be fine. Seriously, we understand that things will settle into a new normal. But we need time to grieve. We need just a little time to mourn what was. Please help us if we stay in that place too long or we fall into a pit of despair, but we are going to be the ones who will need a few days or weeks or months to process. One lady recently told me it took her three years until she grew used to her new normal. For many of us, our whole lives were wrapped up in our kids. We never even thought about life beyond them. While this might not have been the wisest thing, it is what it is. Give us a little time to just work our way through it. We are in the process of getting used to a whole new life. We know we will be fine but it’s going to take awhile.

Third, remember that everyone processes things differently. Let’s offer heaps of grace to one another. We are all so different and this is a good thing. Let’s embrace our differences rather than judge one another for them. I am not talking about sin issues here, of course! But when it comes to personality differences or preferences that have nothing to do with biblical standards, let’s just let people be who they are. Some of us will take longer to work through these changes than others and–as long as it doesn’t lead to sinful actions or behavior–this is okay.

Fourth, we already know there are amazing advantages to this time of life. We are looking forward to quiet evenings for reading, hobbies, or walks. We are excited about having a cleaner house. And experiencing freedom we haven’t had in years is very appealing to us. But our enthusiasm for these things doesn’t eliminate our sadness.

Fifth, the sadness we feel is not a reflection of our marriages. We love our husbands and are looking so forward to spending more time with them.

And, sixth, we would love for you to pray for us. Even if you can’t understand us, would you pray for our comfort and strength as we face the end of a much-beloved era? All of the changes that life brings come with their own special challenges. And this one is no exception. We humbly admit that we can’t do this on our own. We need the Lord’s help. Your petitions to Him on our behalf would be such a blessing.

This particular era in a woman’s life tends to be a rather crazy, unpredictable time but if we submit to God and yield to this new season that is upon us, He can use this time to draw us to Himself in a deeper way. As we all process through these changes just a little bit differently, let’s be sure to offer lots of grace to one another (did I say that already?)

So to those of you who were able to have a pretty easy time of watching your birdies fly away, we just want to say: We know that you know we will be fine and we want you to know that we know we will be fine. We just have to work our way through it all.

Because we are all different.

And that’s okay. :)

 

PLEASE NOTE: I talk to a lot of different people, both online and in real life. This post is not geared towards any particular person or conversation. It is simply my hope that this post will encourage all of us to offer grace to one another.

 

Grace That Changes

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Sometimes I wish I could go back and re-live high school. I know so much more now than I knew then. I’d treat people so differently. I’d be so much kinder. Mostly, I have grown a whole lot in the grace I have for others.

I think God started changing me in college with my first roommate. We couldn’t have come from more different family backgrounds. She was a new believer from a broken family and I was a “holier than thou” believer from a good Christian family. Instead of trying to help her, I judged her from my proud heart. I just cringe when I think about how little grace I had towards her. Thankfully, God, in His Sovereignty, drew us back together after that first {terrible} year and, ironically, we became best friends and she is still one of my best friends today. Funny how God works.

As I look back over my life, I can see that this was the starting point of God’s grace affecting how I live. But I still had a long way to go.

A long way.

I think I really started changing when I started to understand God’s grace towards me. As I already mentioned, I had been blessed as a young person to be in a wonderful Christian family. Not only had I not experimented with the typical teen-age temptations (such as sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking) I didn’t even want to try them. Unfortunately, while I don’t regret not doing those things, I do regret the pride and lack of grace that grew out of that. Obviously, I was more focused on the outward than the inward at that point in life. And I wasn’t in the Word like I should have been.

But then I grew up and got married and started a family. I started studying my Bible and actually listening to sermons. And God, in His great kindness and mercy, started opening my eyes. And I began to see myself as who I really was instead of who I thought I was. I saw what I could have been were it not for God and His marvelous grace towards me. I was a wicked sinner just like everyone. I wasn’t anything special at all. And instead of pride, I was filled with gratitude. Instead of judgment, I was filled with sorrow. Where in the world would I be if not for Jesus?

As I have grown in the Lord, I have come to understand that grace for others is something we Christians should be known for. We should extend it freely and kindly, because of the great grace we have been shown.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we never confront sin or speak truth. We are clearly mandated to do both in scripture. But we should do so out of a heart of grace and love, not pride and arrogance.

The world will tell you that if you disagree with them you aren’t showing grace. You are critical. You are unkind. Actually, the church will often tell you the same thing. That if you say something that is negative (even if it is biblical), you are critical and without grace. But this just isn’t true.

God’s grace towards us doesn’t cover up sin. God doesn’t simply say “you are okay now.” Even in salvation, we must face the negative (we are wicked sinners) to grasp the import of salvation. God sent His son to take away our sin through Jesus Christ. We aren’t freed on our own merit. We are freed because of Christ’s merit! God’s grace doesn’t pronounce us sinless, it pronounces us forgiven!

Do you see? We Christians are not doing anyone a favor by saying they can just live the way they want to live. We aren’t helping by not speaking the negative. This is not grace. It is cowardice. But grace does mean we speak words of truth from a heart filled with grace and love.

Pride and arrogance destroy but grace and mercy build up.

I am still growing in this area. And I hope you are, too. As our understanding of God’s grace towards us–desperate, wicked sinners–deepens each year, so, too, should our grace for others.

 

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

 

 

Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

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When I was a young married woman, I had a big problem. Without going into details, worry was something I battled on an almost daily basis and it was strangling the life out of me. At least that is how it felt. I was able to function normally so I truly doubt most people knew the battle I faced every day.

But God graciously rescued me and He used two verses to help me–

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)

and

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

He used the first verse to show me that I needed to take every thought captive in obedience to my Savior. This included all of my fretful thoughts that started with “but what if…” and I had a lot of those. And He used the second verse to remind me that my fear was a hopeless trap and that I could instead turn to the Lord, trust in Him, and be safe in His sovereign care.

It wasn’t instant and it took a lot of hard work (Philippians 2:12) but it was so worth it! I begged God to give me victory over this sin and He answered! I walked out of my prison of worry and into the bright light of freedom and trust in my sovereign, heavenly Father.

I very naively thought I had beat that horrible sin in my life. But I was wrong.

Fast forward many years. Life slowed down and, suddenly, I had that very precious commodity of time on my hands. My life that had basically been the same for so many years started changing… and changing… and changing. Questions and quandaries I had never really prepared for abounded. And, quite without warning, this terrible sin reared its ugly head and viciously attacked me. Well, let me rephrase that– as that makes me sound like the victim. In reality, I gave it an opening and it rushed in and almost ate me alive.

I am on my way to victory once again but it has been rough. I have struggled to not let the fear and worry control me but it has been quite a battle. And I have tried to understand why this sin came back without warning and with such a vengeance.

As I have thought about it (I know, I know–I just think wayyyy too much), I wonder if it isn’t for three reasons–

First, I believe I may have been so distracted during my very busy years of raising kids and running the business that I forgot I had this struggle. I had few moments to myself during that time and when a rare solitary half hour came I was too excited about it to spend even a precious second of it on worrying. Now that I have so much time alone– which leaves me with far too much time to think–I have found my mind wondering in the sinful directions of anxiety and worry.

Second, I naively (and perhaps proudly) believed that my battle with this particular sin was over. The return of this sin in my life has been a good and hard lesson for me. It has taught me that no sin is ever “conquered”, showing me that I must always be on guard since even “conquered” sins can sneak their way back into our lives if we aren’t careful. Victory over sin is not an event but is carefully maintained through humble examination throughout our lives.

Third, I am quite sure I didn’t (probably still don’t) have a proper view of God’s Sovereignty. This is really the root of almost all anxiety, fear, and worry. Every day we hear of the most horrible things that happen to people. Stories hit the news and we talk about them with our family and friends, reeling at the awfulness of them, knowing that the same thing could happen to us. Something I read by John Newton a month or two ago was instrumental in reminding me of one very important fact: Nothing can happen to me outside of God’s plan. Here is what he wrote–

“When believers die–whatever the accident or the illness may be–they are only the means, but not properly the cause of their death. They die because the time has come when He who loves them best, will have them with Him to behold His glory!

Until then, they are immortal. They recover from sickness, however threatening, and are preserved unhurt–in defiance of the greatest dangers! But when His appointed hour arrives–then they must depart. When He will have them with Him–we cannot detain them; nor ought we to wish it, though the flesh will feel the parting stroke.

None of us can be perfectly happy in this poor fleeting world. It is a state in which sin and sorrow will hunt us and pain us to the last step of life! Therefore, though we wish to keep those whom we love with us as long as we can–it is well both for us and them, that we cannot live here always. We are in the Lord’s hands–and He does all things wisely and well, at the right time and in the right manner.

Death is but a temporary separation. Those who are gone before us, are waiting for us. Oh! It will be a happy meeting before the throne of the Lamb–out of the reach of sin and sorrow, to meet and part no more!”

Oh, this is so true!

And as I have reflected on this sin that I thought had disappeared from my life forever, I realized that it had only lay dormant for many years, while I faced many battles with other sins, and then rushed back just when I least suspected.

And so I am back in the Word, re-memorizing the verses that were so helpful to me many years ago and finding new verses to memorize that will help me. And I am working very hard to take my thoughts captive–determinedly turning my brain from the worrisome, anxious thoughts before they spiral downward and out of control.

This is very personal to share this morning. But I share it here because I hope that this will encourage you, my readers, in several ways–

1. I hope it will remind you that our battles with sin are never over. They ebb and flow but we should never think we have beaten something completely. Knowing this will keep us on our guard against it and help us to maintain victory. Victory over sin is not an event but rather a lifetime of watchful maintenance.

2. If you are fighting against worry or anxiety–or any other sin, for that matter–I hope this encourages you, too, to take your thoughts captive. I hope that you will realize that you can win your battle with sin, through the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. And I hope that God may use this post to keep you from throwing your hands up in despair and just giving up.

3. I hope this will remind you of the power of God’s Word in our lives as believers.  God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and it is profitable for reproof and for correction (2 Timothy 3:16-17)–which is exactly what we need sometimes! The Bible is our sword (Ephesians 6:17) and without it we are defenseless. May we remember this always but particularly in our fiercest battles.

 

Now go fight your personal battle with the sin that threatens to overtake you, relying on God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for the strength and the wisdom you so desperately need. And stay watchful, because although the sin may disappear for awhile, it remains there waiting to pounce on you just when you least suspect it. We can stay spiritually strong and be prepared to fight by staying in the Word and walking closely with our heavenly Father–which is always our safest place.

 

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Adrienne

Changed Lives

This testimony is quite a bit more personal than any I have shared before. That is because today I bring you my daughter’s story. A few years ago, we started to see a remarkable change in the life of this child. A few months ago, I asked her if she would be willing to share what God has done in her life. She said she would and this is what I present today. But, first, I want to share a bit of my own testimony as background.

As you may already know, we have four children. Two were fairly easy to raise, as they were saved at a young age and quickly grew to be full of conviction regarding spiritual matters. While we certainly had our difficult moments with them, we were mostly encouraged as we watched these two grow in their faith during their childhoods and teen years. The other two, also supposedly “saved” as little children, actually probably weren’t. Of course, only God knows the heart but if they had stood before a judge the evidence would have been against them, for they had rebellious hearts, a passion for worldly things, an apathy toward their sin, and ungodly lifestyles (I John 2:15; I Samuel 15:23; John 15:14; Galatians 5:16-24).

Acknowledging this was most definitely one of the hardest things my husband and I have ever had to do. Because in doing so, we had to also acknowledge our own failure in communicating our faith to them and we also had to face the devastating fact that should a tragedy suddenly take their lives, we were fairly certain about where they would spend eternity.

We felt disheartened and powerless as we watched these two kids during this time. And then we did the only two things we knew to do. First, we tried to let go of the battles that were not biblical, while holding firm and staying faithful to biblical boundaries, using the Word of God as our authority. This meant lots of communication and discussion and, yes, some punishments, as well, all taking place beneath the umbrella of our unwavering and unconditional love for them. And, second, we prayed A LOT. Many others prayed with us. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Friends. And one lady–a dear lady from our church–prayed so faithfully for us all. It was so encouraging! I specifically prayed for three things—1) That these children would come to love God with all of their hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30) and 2) That God would protect and keep them from making any wrong choices that would yield burdensome, lifelong consequences and 3) That He would spare their lives at least until such a time that they would come to know Him.

These were dark days for our family. We felt so helpless as we watched our precious children make wrong choices. I would like to add here that, thankfully, neither child did anything super bad. So, in that sense, maybe we had it good. But we recognized that the root of rebellion that is within any child who rebels is EVIL—no matter how it exhibits itself.

We traveled those days one step at a time, supported by our ever-present faithful God and by the prayers of those who lovingly and faithfully prayed for us. We found hope in the little things and God–in the way He often does–would give us just the tiniest bit of encouragement just at the moment we would need it. And, looking back now, we can see God’s kind hand of protection upon both of them throughout this time and we are both humbled and amazed.

This difficult time lasted for several years and then it started gradually to improve when first one and then both of these kids came to know the Lord personally. We are so humbled and incredibly grateful that, all due to God’s amazing grace and His generous mercy, He saw fit to bring both of these children to Himself in their late teens.

But even as I write these words, I do feel compelled to remind you that my family and I are wicked sinners just like everybody else (Romans 3:10). Life didn’t suddenly become perfect when these kids turned a corner. And this isn’t about perfection (or anything close to it!) but rather it is about how God continues to work in and through this imperfect family, daily shaping us into His image through the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I also wanted to make a note here that salvation is not simply a prayer or a moment. Some of us can look back on a moment when we surrendered all to Jesus and some of us can’t, instead experiencing a growing love for– and submission and obedience to –God’s Word, giving evidence of a changed heart. I say this because we have been taught to look for a “moment”. But sometimes, as you can see from this testimony, that moment is not genuine. We parents dare not hang on to assurance of salvation simply because a child (or anyone) said a prayer. Scripture makes it very clear: True belief yields a changed life (Matthew 7:16).

And so, now that I have shared a bit of my own testimony in seeing God work, I want to share the testimony of my daughter. I stand amazed—in complete awe– at how the Lord has answered my prayers regarding her life. Adrienne has become passionate for God and His Word. And she and I have rebuilt our relationship and it is stronger and closer than I ever dreamed possible! It is unbelievable that this is the same child that I had sadly resigned myself to the probable fact that we would never be close. This goes to show that we should never underestimate God!

I hope that Adrienne’s story will encourage any parent (or grandparent) of a rebel. The sentences she writes here hold so much emotion that cannot really be expressed with mere words. She writes in one simple sentence some of the struggles she faced, but what the reader cannot see or comprehend are the depths of sorrow and the utter hopelessness that undergird her words. Life is not easy. We all have our burdens to bear. But may we never forget that God, through His grace, His mercy, and His Word can change a life. And we know this because we have seen it in our own family!

 

ADRIENNE’S TESTIMONY

I grew up in a Christian home and would have told people for most of my life that I got saved when I was 6. Looking back on it now, I recognize that I didn’t really get it. Salvation is understanding that I am a hopeless sinner and that God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to save me from my sins (John 3:16). At age 6, did I truly understand what that meant? Did I realize that I needed to change my lifestyle and try to do all things to glorify God? I can’t say that I did.

Now at 6 years old I had heard all about Jesus and how He died on the cross to save me from my sins so, of course, I had somewhat of a grasp of what it meant to be a Christian. But reflecting on it now, I can see that my life at that age revolved around staying out of trouble and doing the right things to please my parents and I wasn’t necessarily interested in pleasing God. And, while there are definitely some circumstances where kids grasp salvation at a young age and continue to show fruit in their lives as they continue to grow in the Lord, I can see now that I was not one of them.

Around age 13 I started to really struggle with wanting what the world had to offer me. When I compared it with what I wrongly thought the Lord had to offer (rules and boredom), the world looked much more appealing. I became disrespectful to my parents and elders around me, I struggled with an eating disorder–always trying to be pretty enough, and I desired secular music and movies.

I would say at this point I knew what was right and wrong because of what I had been taught but I was simply not willing to give 100% to the Lord. And, so, overall I would say I was in a pretty rough spot in life. Thankfully by the grace of God, the love of my parents, and lots of prayers for me by my parents, grandparents, and others who loved me, I never got myself into too much trouble!

During this time my parents never gave up on trying to direct me in a Godly path and pull me from the worldly path I was on. 1 John 2:15-16 says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” My parents were consistent with discipline and did all they could to protect me and I am beyond thankful for that. I had good times and bad times all throughout high school. I would say I really battled a lot with truly wanting to please God but I just wasn’t ready to give up worldly things.

I went off to college and there I became involved in the wrong group of friends. Nothing super-terrible but I still found myself longing for what the world had to offer and, therefore, was failing to give 100% to God. This kept me half-hearted in my faith and also made me very ineffective for Christ and the Gospel. I did feel conviction, so I do believe I was saved at this time. I just didn’t really care about growing in the Lord for the most part. I seemed to be at a standstill.

One specific night in college I was with all my friends and I remember sitting there thinking, “Nothing about this conversation is honoring to the Lord. I know there is a God, I know God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and I know for a fact that I am not living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.” From that moment forward I would say I really started to change who I was and started to really strive to please the Lord.

Since that time, I have grown a lot closer to the Lord for two reasons: First, I have moved 3 times since I’ve been married, all of them being far away from my family which has been hard–to say the least. During those hard times, though, I have truly had to rely on God and He has always shown Himself even in the smallest circumstances. This time of my life has also provided me with the opportunity and time to study the Word more than ever before. This has been life-changing for my spiritual growth.

Second, I have finally fought my temptation– with the Lord’s help—of listening to worldly music and I also have changed the kind of TV and movies I watch. Let me encourage you to do the same, as this has changed my life completely. I feel closer to the Lord and, the less I partake in the worldy things and focus on The Word, the less is my desire for them and I find I can’t even stand the evil that is in most secular music, shows, and movies.

I am grateful for the way God has changed my heart in this area of life. Don’t get me wrong– there are many things I still struggle with but worldly entertainment seems to be a sin among many Christians that gets ignored. I promise you: Practicing discernment in this area of your life will make a difference in your walk with God—just like it has in mine.

Looking back I am so grateful for all the prayer and Godly examples I have had throughout my life and continue to have. One thing I cannot IMG_1965revexpress enough is how grateful I am for my mom and dad and the fact that they never took the easy way out and just gave in to what I wanted. They never gave in to me and I wouldn’t be where I am without either of them. Also–a little side note–my mom was a parent growing up but not always a friend. I say this because I am sure my mom wanted to just be a friend and give in to what I wanted, especially on those days where I wouldn’t even talk to her because I was so upset with her. But she never caved into that desire and continued to push me to do what was right. As I write this I can truly say my mom is my best friend. So all the moms out there going through a tough time with their daughters, I want to encourage you to not give up or give in– because your daughter will one day be so grateful that you didn’t!

I would also like to encourage parents to not just assume that, when your daughter or son says the salvation prayer at a young age, this necessarily means that they personally know the Lord. Continue to look for fruit and growth in their walk with the Lord, as that will show if they are truly livGoodFamily2016-34ing for the Lord. Personally, I can see now that I wasn’t truly saved until my late teens, as God started to work on my heart.

Looking back through my 22 years of life, I can see how God protected me and continued to lead me toward Him. I am truly blessed to be a part of God’s family.