Four Ways to Love Our Men

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

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

Let’s think for a moment about men.

Men love sex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

A God-Centered Life

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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

Weathering the Storms of Life

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Trials in life generally do not fit into our well-laid plans, do they? Along with wreaking havoc to our schedules and in our families, they also tend to fill us with uncertainty, doubt, frustration, and hopelessness.

But should this be our response? What part does faith actually play as we face real-life trials?

This past Sunday my brother, Pastor Dean, preached two sermons on weathering the storms of life. In listening to them I was challenged, encouraged, and convicted. Mostly convicted. Sometimes God brings something my way that affects me profoundly. This was one of those times.

The fact that Pastor Dean and his family are currently experiencing their own considerable trial gave these sermons a notable authenticity. These two sermons, given from his own search of the scriptures as they weather their storm, take us beyond the typical platitudes as he unpacks what the scriptures have to say about trials and our response to them.

And so for today’s post, I want to refer you to these two sermons by Pastor Dean. Be encouraged and uplifted–and perhaps also challenged and convicted–as you weather your own storms, whether they be small or large. This is for those experiencing small trials (like a car that won’t start) and large trials (like an unexpected health diagnosis) and everything in between. In other words, this is for all of us believers. I am confident that you will find these worth every minute of your time. I truly hope that many of you will take the time to listen to these.

 

Part 1:

WEATHERING THE STORMS OF LIFE

Part 2:

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE STORMS OF LIFE

 

Click here if you’d like to listen to more sermons by Pastor Dean.

Please note: If the link doesn’t work, click on the down arrow at the top right of the page. I have found I sometimes need to do this in order to listen on my iPhone.

A Lop-Sided Faith

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The other day someone shared an article with me. They were disturbed by the post’s point and wondered what my opinion was. The blog post was a call to share in brokenness and dysfunction together. To look for the little bright spots in the state the writer found herself in, rather than sharing that there is a possibility and great potential to fix the situation, by applying the Word of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If that seems vague, it is because it is intentionally so. I have no interest in throwing this blogger under the bus, so to speak. I just see this as another post that is encouraging Christians in a lop-sided faith.

Have you, too, noticed the propensity of this? The “Christians” of today want a faith that makes them feel less guilty about their sin. They want an encouraging, build-me-up kind of faith. They don’t really want to deals with their sins (or the sinful self-wills of their children). They have no interest in the hard work it takes to grow in holiness and purity. Since it is much easier–at least in the short-term–to stay in that bad place, it is quite comforting to have someone tell you that it is okay to be there.

Of course, there is a fine line we walk here, though. Since we are all sinful and we all do struggle, an encouraging word is such a blessing! It is so comforting to know we aren’t alone in our struggles. So I am not suggesting that we don’t post and share these things. No, that is not it at all.

What I am concerned about is that we share only these things.

The Christian faith is one of building up but it is also one of holiness. It is one of encouragement but it is also one of self-examination. It is one of growing–through words that build up and words that confront sin.

If you find yourself only drawn to posts that comfort and build you up, may I encourage you to also read and look for posts that challenge you to grow and take you out of your comfort zone and into the scriptures?

While there are an abundance of verses that comfort and build us up, there are just as many verses that challenge and confront our sin. We must be so careful to keep a balanced view of the Bible and of our faith.

Balanced writers will share their struggles but they will also offer challenging words from the Bible to confront their own sin, as well as yours. Bible-centered writing will view all of life through the lens of scripture, rather than through the broken and dirty lens of our culture. It is my hope that this is what you will find here at Growing 4 Life and–if it is not–that you will let me know. I want to encourage and to challenge you. I hope to do both. Because this is what the Bible does for us.

The Bible is the perfect Word of God–offering us both God’s love and forgiveness in our sinful, broken state and yet challenging us to grow holier and purer with each passing moment. It calls us to love but it also calls us to truth. It calls us to be kind but it also calls us to discern. It speaks of God’s amazing grace while still calling us to moral purity. It gives us hope for eternity, while challenging us to run the race of life well in the here and now of a fallen world.

It is my hope that you will find all of this here, as well. Not in perfection, of course, since I am not perfect, but in a way that shows that I love the Word of God so much that I build by life –and this blog–upon it.

And it is my hope that I will encourage you to do the same–to build your life upon the whole Word of God and not just the passages and verses that make you feel better. It is in this way that we have a whole and sound faith to see us through all of the storms of life. It is in this way that we grow more holy and pure. And it is in this way that we have eyes opened to the false doctrine that is all around us, even within our own churches.

Let’s keep the whole counsel of God’s Word as we move forth in our Christian life, instead of falling prey to the lop-sided faith that is so prevalent today.

 

 

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”.

 

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!

 

Shopping for Furniture

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She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

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.

Color Catcher

ColorCatcher

Have you ever thrown something brightly colored in the laundry along with your whites? Sometimes we can get away with it, but more often than not the item will tinge the lighter load a dull, sickly shade of itself.

As I have been reading the epistles of Paul this year, I can see how even those of us who are truly dedicated to pleasing the Lord with our lives have been tinted by the world in ways we don’t even realize. Here are a few of those ways–

We’ve resigned ourselves to dissensions and divisions in our families and churches, even though this is clearly stated as sin (Galatians 5:20)

We treat the sin of anger and envy differently than other sins (Galatians 5:19-21)

We retire not only from our jobs but often from everything, letting the young people step in and do the work in the church (Galatians 6:9)

We hold grudges and somehow think this is okay for a Christian to do. (Romans 12:18)

We are so myopic (this is my new favorite word!) This means that we are so short-sighted. Always thinking of the here and now and rarely of eternity. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

We strive to live good lives for the wrong reason and end up in legalism. Instead of our good works being an outpouring of love towards God for his indescribable gift, we actually believe (perhaps without even realizing it) that we are saved only if we do the right things. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We treat the Word of God like its just any other book, instead of what it really is–the Word of God Himself to His children, full of unsearchable riches and the “mystery hidden for ages in God”. (Ephesians 3:8-9)

We pray for relief from our problems, instead of praying for strength and for deep roots of faith and love through the trials. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Whether at home, church, or work many believers are eager to gratify and glorify self, instead of thinking of others. Instead of being humble, gentle, and patient, we react with pride, harshness, and impatience. Instead of bearing one another with love, we bear one another with irritation. (Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:4-5)

We look like, dress like, talk like, react like, watch like, read like, and listen like the world. Instead of separating ourselves from the darkness, we continue in it. (Ephesians 4:17-20)

We easily complain about almost everything and quickly fall into arguments over the most trivial things. (Philippians 2:14)

We accept anything that is labeled “Christian” as if it must be biblical, without any discernment at all. (Ephesians 5:6-13)

We see no sin in having ungrateful, complaining hearts or in considering ourselves first and foremost. (Ephesians 5:20-21)

We live lackluster lives that do not exhibit the joy of the Lord. (Philippians 4:4)

We are imprisoned by fears and worry. (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

There are so many more ways that we have been tinged by the world and by sin but I’ll stop there. You get the idea. The funny thing is that when we compare ourselves to the world, we look pretty white. It is really just like the laundry. We come out of the washer looking a sickly pink but when compared to the red item (the world), we look pretty good. It is only when we hold the tainted item up against a bright white item that hasn’t touched the red item that we realize just how pink it really is.

So what to do?

A few years ago, a company came out with an item called a Color Catcher. It “absorbs and traps loose dyes”. How ingenious. I don’t really know if it works, as I have never tried it, but we Christians have a Color Catcher, don’t we? It is the Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we come to understand that some of the attitudes and actions we have assumed were okay are not okay at all. But, even more importantly, it keeps us from falling into sins and attitudes that would easily ensnare us if we weren’t in the Word. Just like a color catcher supposedly keeps reds, blues, and greens from bleeding into whites in our washing machine, so the Bible keeps the world from bleeding into our daily habits, attitudes, and actions in our lives.

But, of course, doing this can really cramp our style. We may not want to face that the way we are living is downright sinful. And so we just carry our Bibles into church on a Sunday and then go home the following week, spending our quiet time (if we even have one) reading a light devotional or skimming a few verses, never really being challenged. Never really being changed.

I hope that you are encouraged today to start really getting into the Word. Not only does it reveal our sin, but it also shows us our desperate need for a Savior, making salvation even more precious and wonderful than it already was to us!

So use the Color Catcher you have been given. Get yourself into God’s Word and start studying.

(By the way, if you don’t know where to start, I created a free worksheet that may help you. Please e-mail me at Leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net if you’d like a copy.)