A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

Have you ever stopped to think about what your motivation is for anything you do in life? Why do you take care of your kids? Why do you want to be financially well off? Why do you want to be kind to others?

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

Are we living a God-centered life or a self-centered life?

I am doing a Bible Study on Colossians right now (click here for this great resource) and I was really challenged by the author’s words in this week’s study. He first shared this about the fall of man that I never thought about before–

“The new creation is the result of Christ’s deliverance from the fall of Adam. In the Garden of Eden, Adam lived before God in a state of righteousness. However, he acted in disobedience, and the result of his sin was disastrous. His entire nature was transformed. He became a self-centered individual instead of God-centered. His sin also affected the entire human race. All men now bear the nature of Adam–sinfully depraved and spiritually separated from God.” p. 67* (italics mine)

I don’t think I ever thought about the fall in this way before.

So if along with our sin nature comes a self-centered life, this means that, after we are saved, we should be transformed from that self-centered, sinful creature into a new creation that is growing more like Christ and become more God-centered every day (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But is this what we are doing? Is this even something that we are being encouraged to do?

And let’s take it a step further: Even if we look like we are becoming more God-centered in our lives, is this actually true?

The author goes on to say–

“So often among Christians, character development takes on a self-centered orientation. We pursue it for our own benefit and self-improvement.” p. 70* (italics mine)

Oh my goodness. If that isn’t convicting, I am not sure what is. Oh, how often have I done this very thing? Claiming my desire is to be more like Christ but really simply desiring to have an easier/better/more fulfilling life.

This becomes very evident when we simply take a look at the Christian bestsellers on the book shelves (or on Amazon) today. There are books about how to have better relationships, better budgets, and better health. Books about how to fix our anxiety issues, our depression, our anger, our addictions. Most of these have one goal: To give us a better life.

But is this what the Christian life is all about? Is it a self-centered quest to have the best life we can have? And even if we say no to this question (because, obviously, we know from scripture that this is not our goal), are we living out what we say we believe?

Personally, I was really challenged by this. Even though I claim high and lofty spiritual goals, when I think of my desires in the light of biblical truth, I can see that they are tarnished with selfishness.

The problem is that, as sinners still stuck with our fleshly desires (I John 1:8), it is so hard to separate these two things. Of course we want to please the Lord. But it is natural to want to please ourselves. We wouldn’t be human if we wouldn’t want better lives. And so we have to sort through this messy dynamic.

And to complicate things further, even the most beautiful thing can be done for the wrong reason. Works of charity may be completed so that we receive personal glory. Supposed grace may just be a cover for our own desire to avoid conflict. Kind words may be a manipulative tool to get someone to do what we want. We want to kick our addiction, live within our means, or organize our homes to make our lives better and, often, glorifying God has nothing to do with it at all.

It’s just all so complicated.

And yet in Colossians 3:17, we can see that our motivation for everything we do–every word spoken and every action completed–should be based on our Lord Jesus–

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul reiterates this–

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

Scripture makes it clear that our life is to be God-centered. And, yet, all around us is a Christianity that is self-centered.

So how do we A) evaluate our motives? and B) change in this area?

These are challenging questions for us, since, as humans, I am not sure we can ever get 100% beyond being tainted by personal motivation. And, thankfully, God–in His great kindness and mercy–actually makes our lives so much better when we follow Him. Isn’t that kind of Him? There isn’t anything innately wrong with wanting a good life, a better marriage, or to kick a sinful habit. These are good things to want and the fact that we receive joy and happiness from these things is exactly what God intended.

The sin enters in when we only do what is right when it conveniences or benefits ourselves. In fact, as I was thinking about this, I realized that this may be the best test for our motivation–

Do I stop doing what is right when I don’t get the results I want?

If I try to be a submissive wife (or a loving husband) but my spouse doesn’t respond the way I want, do I decide that obedience to the Lord just doesn’t work and forget about it?

If I work on a big charity project at church and I watch all of the credit and glory go to someone else who didn’t do near as much work as I did, will it keep me from ever doing it again?

If I have forgiven someone who has offended me but the person keeps offending me–over and over again–do I eventually give up and hold a grudge or do I continue to respond in a biblical manner?

If I have given all of my energy to change a sinful habit in my life and I am not getting the results that I hoped for, do I continue in a path of obedience or do I cave in a fit of hopelessness?

These are just a few examples. We can come up with dozens more we face each day. Are we doing what is right because we want to please our Lord or are we doing what is right for ourselves? What is our motivation?

Living a God-centered life is no easy task. Reading this chapter made me realize just how self-centered I still am. And, honestly, this is one area that you can really only judge yourself. We really can never know the motivations of someone else, as they are locked away deep in our hearts and minds. Sometimes we even have a hard time understanding our own motives, don’t we? Past experiences, choices, abuses, neglects, and sins are powerful contaminators of our motives. These things can heighten our desire to protect ourselves, to look out for number one, and to prove ourselves.

But this is in complete opposition to scripture, where we find that we are to become God-centered in all our decisions (which also means becoming others-centered). (Mark 12:30; Philippians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:12-15).

And, once again, biblical Christianity crashes headlong into cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity says live for Christ (Philippians 1:21), deny yourself and take up your cross (Matthew 16:24) and do what’s right (John 14:23; James 2:20) and cultural Christianity says “you deserve to be happy” and “God wants you to fulfill your dreams”.

So how in the world do we remove the indoctrination of a culture that is speaking the opposite of what we are to actually be living? There is truly only one anecdote and that is the Bible. The Word is truly like a mirror, revealing our innermost secrets and motivations and giving us the hope for change through the Holy Spirit.

God has not said “fix yourselves” and then left us on our own. Instead, He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us rightly divide the Word, which will, slowly and surely, transform us more and more into His likeness.

And, yet, so many of us simply spend such little time studying God’s Word. We cannot grow in this area of pure motivation without being in the Word. It is simply impossible.

Life is hard. And evaluating our motivations for purity makes it even harder. Why am I doing what I am doing?  This is a critical question that we must ask ourselves if we are to live a holy and pure life that is centered on God.

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

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.)

 

Parenting 101

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Parenting is quite the adventure! Each stage offers its own challenges and rewards. Just when you are getting used to the stage you are in, it is replaced by the next one. Before you can blink, you have been through all of the stages and find yourself in the final stage of having adult kids. Grandchildren make this long and final stage of our parenting years extra sweet.

Several years ago I did a series on parenting. Since this was before many of you subscribed, I thought it may be time to dust it off and share it again. Some things are worth bringing back out of the archives and I believe this series is one of them.

The series addressed all the stages we go through as parents, written from my own experience as well as from the examples of Christian families that have a good track record of raising adult kids who are living for the Lord.

And so I am going to put all the links for this series below. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Parenting 101: The Basics

This post deals with some of the basics we must understand, no matter what stage we are at in our parenting years.

Parenting 101: What Does My Marriage Have To Do With It?

This shows how a healthy marriage can really give us a great jumpstart in raising healthy kids.

Parenting 101: Who’s the Boss?

This post addresses some of the challenges in raising toddlers and preschoolers.

Parenting 101: When They Grow Out of the Cute Stage

This post continues the series by offering some tips on how we can start preparing our elementary-aged children for adulthood.

Parenting 101: I Need a Reason

This post addresses the specific concerns we have when we are parenting teens.

Parenting 101: What’s My Role

Eventually our kids become adults. This post offers some thoughts on our changing role as the parent of an adult.

Parenting 101: On Being a “Great” Grandparent

This post was based solely on watching grandparents around me, as I was not even a grandparent when I wrote this. More specifically, we have been blessed to watch my parents and my husband’s parents love and support our children. Their wonderful example was the basis for this post.

 

 

Raising Courageous Kids

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When you think of the word courage what comes to mind? Is it a fireman racing into a burning building to save someone? Perhaps a soldier marching into war or someone bravely facing a battle with cancer? Or does your mind bring up pictures of sky divers or some other extreme sport?

According to dictionary.com, courage is defined as–the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.

And so all of the things listed above do require courage. But it also takes courage to speak truth amidst lies; to go one way when the rest of the world is going another; and to choose to live according to God’s Word, despite the ridicule and persecution one may have to endure.

This is the kind of courage we need to teach our kids. And this is the kind we see less and less.

As I have watched young parents train their children, I am beginning to understand why. I believe there is a direct correlation between Christian parents not letting their children experience anything hard or difficult and the lack of bravery we see in our Christian young people. Think about it with me for a moment, if you will. Many Christian moms and dads–parents who truly want to do what is right–have removed all of the pain and difficulty that they can from their kids’ lives. And it is tough not to. Culture has pretty much dictated that this is how “good parents raise their kids”. While nothing could be further from the truth, it takes courage to raise kids in a biblical way these days.

Because we don’t want our kids to experience pain and we believe that this is what a “good parent” is supposed to do, we rush in to fix every school issue, every teacher problem, and every friend situation. We begin to allow the things of the world into our home so that our kids won’t be ridiculed but can look like everyone else. We allow our girls to dress a certain way because, after all, “everybody is doing it”. We allow music groups, tv shows, movies, and video games that do not reflect our Christian values because we don’t want our kids to face the pain of being different from their friends. We want them to be liked and to have a positive experience.

This is understandable.

But is it in their best {eternal} interest?

Kids that feel no pain or do not face any difficulty as they grow up will, most likely, become driven by their own selfish desires as adults. They are the ones who will make every choice based around how it affects them personally rather than whether something is right or wrong. They will do everything they can to avoid discomfort, difficulty, and inconvenience. This type of person is often the kind we see show up at job interviews for our company now. And, honestly, I expect it from the world. They have been taught that nothing matters but them. To do what’s right for them, no matter the cost. But what I didn’t expect was to see the same things from those claiming to be believers. And yet this is what we see more and more.

So how do we raise kids that are courageous? Kids that will go against the flow in a world gone mad? Kids that will bravely face the ridicule and the mockery?

1. First and foremost, be an example they can follow of courage and bravery. Be willing to go against the flow yourself in order to follow hard after God. Be willing to turn away from popular entertainment in order to grow spiritually. Be willing to speak up at work or on the soccer sidelines if God gives you the opportunity. Be a godly example of someone who is sold out for God, no matter the cost.

2. Pray for your kids to have courage. Pray that your kids will have courage to stand up for what’s right. One of my prayers for my kids when they were little was that they would become bolder and stronger Christians than my husband and me. I wanted (and continue to want) them to shine brightly for God in such a dark world. I cannot begin to express to you the wonderful joy I feel as I begin to see the answer to that prayer happening in their lives. They are so much further along spiritually than I was at their age and I know God is answering my prayer. He is just so faithful! I wish I would have prayed even more than I did for them. It was hard amidst the business and craziness of life. I fear that prayer may be a much under-used blessing for many as they raise their kids.

3. Teach your kids to measure their decisions by the Word of God instead of by what makes them feel good. Sometimes obeying God is not fun. But if we can teach our kids that life is about so much more than our feelings, we will be giving them a huge headstart in developing the courage they will need for the future. When God’s Word is our guide instead of our own selfish agenda, we naturally become braver and bolder because we have a correct view on what matters.

4. Allow them to feel the pain of being different. I have seen so many parents cave on their own personal values because they didn’t want their kids to experience pain or difficulty. From what we allow our girls to wear to what video games we allow our sons to play, facing the pain of being different will build their character. I think I mentioned this before, but we have never regretted the things we didn’t let our kids do, but we do have a few regrets regarding the things we caved on because of this very thing. So stay strong and live according to the Word. You will be so glad you did.

5. Teach your kids to fight for the right things. Over and over again I see strife and problems in work places and churches and families because of someone fighting for the wrong things. Selfishness–my will, my rights, my agenda, my desires–becomes what we fight for and this yields to so much pain and anguish. We need to teach our kids to stand and fight for the Truth of God’s Word. To hold ground for the things that are eternal. If it is never mentioned in the Bible and it doesn’t matter to God, then it isn’t a hill to die on. But usually we see the opposite–people who are willing to cause all types of anguish for their own agendas but completely unwilling to stand up for God and His Word. I guess it’s our human nature. But we must teach our kids to fight this tendency and to be wise in what they fight for. It takes no courage to stand up for yourself. But it takes great courage to stand up for God in a world that hates Him.

So there are five ways to help your kids become courageous in a world full of spiritual cowards. It is a hard time to raise kids. I feel for you in this culture. So many things assail from all directions. You have to constantly be on your guard. But, at the end of the day, it is the Word of God that will be your anchor. Hold fast to that and parent according to it and you will find that God will fill in your weaknesses and failures. He is just so faithful!

**I do need to mention one thing for those of you with teens. Please do not judge your kids’ courage based on their teen years. Each one has a different personality and the teen years are so hard. Some will stand bravely, with no care for what people think of them, while others–fighting that urge to be like everyone else–will struggle. Just keep praying and having those discussions that go back to the Bible and what it teaches. And then, hopefully, you can–like us–look back someday and see God’s hand in the lives of your teens as He orchestrated His plan in their lives in a way you never dreamed possible.

 

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.

 

We know we will be fine.

WeKnow
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.

 

 

Eight Ways to Have a Happier Household in Times of Stress

Life can be so stressful. While there are many wonderful times, there are also times that are not so wonderful–like when we take on more projects than we should, our calendars are too full, or we are assailed by several minor–albeit extremely frustrating–trials. If we aren’t careful, we can quickly find ourselves overwhelmed, which often turns us into…hmmm…shall we say not our best selves?

Unfortunately, these times generally affect our whole family. I remember hearing many years ago that I, the mother of my home, was responsible for the tone of my household. This seemed rather unfair at the time. But fair or unfair, it was true. We moms do set the tone for our home. If we are angry, frazzled, and stressed all the time, our kids will be, too. If we are short-tempered and irritable, often our entire household will follow suit.

So how exactly do we keep our households happy even when things are crazy busy? I feel a little hypocritical even writing about this because I am not the best under stress (just ask my family!) but I have learned a few things that do help a lot when I actually put them into practice. Here are eight things that have helped me to have a happier household when I am overwhelmed.

1.  Do not skip Bible reading and prayer time. This is often the first thing to go during stressful times even though it should be the last thing to go. Spending time with God helps us to keep a proper, eternal perspective and gives us strength for the day. Keeping this priority is critical during these times.

2. Be grateful. It is easy in stressful times to forget the good things. Taking a little time each day to express our gratitude to God and to our loved ones is like a balm to our soul, building our relationships and reminding us that there is more to life than this stressful moment in time.

3. Listen to hymns or doctrinally-sound praise and worship music. Listening to good music makes such a difference to me when I am going through a tough time. Music is so powerful. What we choose to listen to during these times can lift us up and help us cope or it can frazzle us even more.

4. Don’t let anyone manipulate your emotions. My dad told me recently that his dad used to say this to him. While I have been working at this concept for a long time now, I had never heard it put quite like this. Isn’t that so profound? What this means is that we shouldn’t let our emotions be driven by those around us. If our spouse is angry or our children are grumpy, this should not change our emotions. We shouldn’t let anyone have power over our emotions–even bad drivers on the highway and cranky clerks at the store! This is extremely difficult (at least for me) but when we can control our emotions instead of letting them wildly take over when things don’t go our way, it makes all the difference in the world.

5. Keep your home free of clutter. I know few people who aren’t affected negatively by a house that is constantly untidy. Clearing counter tops, tables, and dressers, washing the dishes, keeping up with the laundry, and sweeping the floor truly doesn’t take that much time and goes a long way in helping a family feel more peaceful–especially in times of high stress. I would like to add here that as a young homeschooling mom of four this was especially difficult to do! Every time I turned around a new toy or game was on the floor. But after several years of frustrating my husband over the clutter, the kids and I got in the habit of cleaning up every day before daddy came home. It took awhile to instill this new practice, but with some effort, it was possible and did really help!

6. Remember how fast time goes. If you have young children, you may feel like this time will never, ever end. Your days are filled with endless requests, duties, and demands. But trust me–all too soon, you will be watching your last one pack up their things and move away. You are just in a season. Before you know it, the next season will arrive, with its own challenges and frustrations. Remembering this during stressful times would always help me.

7. Examine your calendar. I can remember several times through the years with my family that I had to step back and evaluate our schedules. I would start paring it down until it became doable again. It is okay for your kids to be home doing nothing. In fact, it’s better than okay! It’s necessary for their maturity and emotional health. Don’t cram your schedule so full that there is no downtime and if you have done that, start eliminating things. As I learned from experience, your child will be just fine without the gymnastics, dance, or piano lessons. They will suffer no ill consequences if they aren’t on the soccer or basketball teams. Review your schedule with your spouse, determine your priorities for your family, and then, together, choose one or two of these things that fit best with your priorities and let the rest go.

8. Be careful of your high expectations. This was always a hard one for me. I not only wanted life to be perfect– I expected it! I can still find myself there if I am not careful. We have expectations for our spouses, our kids, our jobs, our homes. When they aren’t met we can become grumbly and grouchy. But when we can accept that life will not be perfect on this earth and lower our expectations, we can find contentment. True peace and joy are not dependent on circumstances. Instead they come when we accept our circumstances– knowing we are in God’s sovereign care–and we persevere through them.

There you go–eight things that have helped me! It seems funny even writing this as we are now preparing for an empty nest here in a few weeks. But I have learned so much in my parenting years. And, while I didn’t always put them into practice, when I did, they really helped! I hope that these eight things may have inspired you to make your home a happier place today.

Some thoughts on ending a marriage

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Yesterday morning, as I scrolled through Facebook, something quite unexpected popped up. Lysa TerKeurst, famous speaker and author, announced that she is divorcing her husband. I don’t know about you, but these things rock my world. She has been teaching women to love and serve Christ for many years now and has even written a book on marriage. While I do not actually condone all that she writes and she has some extremely troubling associations (read more here), I would not wish her experience on anyone. How incredibly humiliating and awful to have to announce you are getting a divorce after you have spent much of your life encouraging women to be “Proverbs 31 women”.

This whole thing has got me thinking quite a bit. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts regarding Lysa and this announcement. They are all kind of disconnected, so hopefully you will bear with me as I meander through a few different responses to this news. And, let me add here, none of this is in criticism of Lysa regarding her decision. I do not know her personally and have no insight whatsoever into her marriage or her home. My responses are for two reasons only –to remind us to pray for her and others suffering through similar, tragic circumstances and to get us thinking about our own marriages. I hope this post will accomplish these two things.

First, I would like to say that my heart goes out to Lysa and I am praying for her and her husband. Broken marriages are a painful, terrible thing. I can’t imagine having to go through it with the whole “Christian” world watching. Not agreeing with her biblical stand and ungodly associations does not mean I shouldn’t pray for this woman and her family. And, honestly, perhaps we should pray that God would use this situation to draw her back to scriptural truth. We serve an amazing God with limitless power. He can change any heart and perhaps He will use this to change Lysa’s.

Second, one of the first thoughts I had as I read that post was this: “If that can happen to her–an author who writes about marriage and godly living–well then, this could happen to me, too!” I played with this thought for a few moments–thinking about my marriage and about my husband. And I realized that any marriage is in danger of disintegrating without proper love and care. We can never stop working on our marriages. And I can see how this does happen when two people allow themselves to get too busy and they stop communicating. Even Christian couples are in danger when life gets in the way and they lose touch with one another. My husband and I have worked and continue to work very hard at making sure we have time to talk. We do not have many date nights or special getaways, but, instead, keep our hearts in tune to one another through talks on the porch, in the car, or on the sofa at night. This has been our method since the beginning of our marriage and when we don’t have time for these, we suffer. Of course, these times have been much easier to find since the kids have grown up! We really had to search for them early on.

Third, one has to wonder about the dynamics in the TerKeurst household regarding Lysa’s career. Even I, as a tiny, insignificant blogger can frustrate my husband if I spend too much time working on it. There is also the dynamic of her husband living in her famous shadow. Most men do not care for that. I am not sure what a famous woman can do about this dynamic, but it is certainly something to consider in a rise to fame. We women–whether we are finding fame in the Christian world, like Lysa, or we are finding success in a career outside the home–must remember to keep focusing and working on our marriages. And we must respect our husbands. While I am certainly not privy to what went on in Lysa’s home, I do see an awful lot of successful women who have lost respect for their husbands or treat them like one of their children. Oh, what a sad thing! And this reminds me of Titus 2:4-5 where we read that women are to be submissive to their husbands. There is no caveat on this. It does not say “unless they earn more money than their husband”. We also read there that women are to be working at home. It is hard to do this if our time and attention is continually drawn to something outside the home. I know it is politically incorrect, even among Christians, to suggest that women should not work outside the home and I also realize there are many reasons why women may be forced to do so, but the pattern set up for us in scripture does help us to avoid a lot of issues in our marriages and families if we choose to follow it.

Fourth, and finally, one has to wonder what Lysa will do now regarding her ministry? History has shown that western Christians have very short memories. Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, Charles Stanley–all divorced and all still embraced by the Christian community. It doesn’t really seem to matter anymore. Her ministry will most likely not suffer, given the current status of our Christian culture. And that is quite an indictment on just how far Christianity has come. It used to be a big deal if the President of the United States was divorced. As relativism and post-modernism took over, that became unimportant to an American culture obsessed with money and progress. But now, we even continue to embrace Christian authors and speakers who have failed marriages. While I don’t wish their situations on anyone, I find myself doubtful that I, personally, could continue ministering in the same way. While I believe there are many other ways I could minister (even to women who are suffering through divorce and being single again), I think that I would perhaps choose to step down from being the head of a ministry. This is a personal opinion and not necessarily something I can find in scripture, as celebrity status and public ministry was never really addressed in scripture, aside from the qualifications for elders (Titus 1). What are your thoughts?

Thank you for sticking around for my thoughts on this matter. These kinds of situations–so common anymore–still give us pause to think, don’t they? And they remind us that we must continue to work on our own marriages so they don’t travel down the same heart-breaking road that the TerKeursts are on.  If you take anything at all from this disconnected, rambling post, I hope it will be that.

And, please, would you just take a moment right now and pray for this family? Satan is busy and active, trying to ruin the reputation of anyone who represents Jesus Christ. Ask the Lord to turn hearts back to Him and to heal this marriage.

 

DISCLAIMER: A few hours after posting this, I was dismayed to realize that people were not reading this post with the objective intention with which it was written but instead were viewing it as an unkind assessment of a painful time for Lysa. Please know that I am not implying anything about Lysa, her reason for her divorce, OR her spiritual status (aside from what we can clearly see that has been public knowledge for years). May I repeat: I DO NOT KNOW HER. I view her decision to divorce her husband with the greatest sorrow and completely without judgement.

I have no underlying motives for this post. Broken marriages happen. They have happened to people I love dearly. I am not judging anyone. I was simply trying to process some of the questions and fears that arise when situations like this happen. I feel like those of you who are my regular readers understand this about me. Those who have just happened to land on this post and do not regularly read this blog will not. I process and I share what I am processing and learning because many of you have expressed that this is a blessing to you. But perhaps this is one time I should not have processed “out loud”. I am still uncertain, as I sit here typing.

I cannot control what you think about me. It is one of the hardest things about blogging that there is–this judgement of me and my motives that is drawn from only one or two posts. But I can confidently tell you this post is only meant to help us to process all of the thoughts swirling around in our heads regarding this situation and to draw people to the Word as we mourn with a couple going through a very public divorce.