Enjoying the Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was my Friday night.

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

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

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

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

 

Romans 8:28-30

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

Isaiah 45:9

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

Daniel 4:34-35

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

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

 

Serving All, All the Time

Serving All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Balanced is Beautiful

Balanced

Have you ever met someone who has a pet topic? Whether it is their kids, their job, a particular sport– they just seem obsessed with this one thing and can hardly keep from talking about it.

We Christians can be like this, too. We should be passionate about Jesus Christ and His Word–that goes without saying, really–but sometimes we can become so passionate about a certain spiritual (and worthy) thing to the point where we are indifferent about all other topics. This can lead us to be very unbalanced as believers.

This is something I have noticed in others and also fight regularly myself. We become passionate about a certain topic (such as discernment, orphans, mission work, the unity of the church, etc…) to the point where we become very one dimensional as believers.

Of course, God uses our different passions to accomplish much for His kingdom. It is not wrong to be passionate about a particular subject. I am thankful for those who are passionate about discernment for they help us to stay on the straight and narrow and spot the falsehood abundant in the church today. I am thankful for those passionate about orphans and missions for they keep us aware of what’s going on and encourage us to make a difference with our prayers, our money, and even our time.

But my caution here is that we don’t become so enamored with one particular topic that we neglect all others completely. We can be wonderfully passionate about finding homes for orphans and still practice discernment. We can practice discernment and still show concern for missions. These things are not mutually exclusive. And yet so often we act like they are.

Of course, the biggest problem facing the church today is probably not even this, is it? As I am thinking about this, I recognize that the thing many people are most fascinated and passionate about is…themselves. I struggle with this, as well. We lose our balance because we are only concerned with our own affairs. We rarely think outside of ourselves and our own needs and when we do, we give ourselves a huge pat on the back and then go on our merry way.

And, yet, the Christian life is clearly to be full of personal growth in obedience and holiness (I Peter 3:10-16), concern for others (Philippians 2:3-4), concern for widows and orphans (James 1:27), separation from the world (James 1:27), a desire to discern truth (Hebrews 5:14), sharing the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), and unifying together as the body of Christ (Colossians 3:12-15)–to name just a few.

And that’s my point, exactly.

We must give efforts to all of these things. To all of these and to the rest of what scripture teaches. We never want to become spiritually unbalanced, only giving our attention to that which comes easiest or is the most appealing.

Not having the “gift of discernment” doesn’t give us the right to not practice discernment; not being comfortable with evangelizing doesn’t give us the right to not do it; being busy with our families doesn’t give us the right to be unconcerned with widows and orphans.

Being balanced is the key. Not letting ourselves get so caught up with one issue (or with ourselves) that we neglect the whole of scripture. Balanced is truly beautiful and is what we are called to be as believers–paying attention to all that scripture contains and not just our favorite topics and passages. It is in this way that we become well-rounded believers that bring honor to Christ and shine His marvelous light into the dark world.

 

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

We Are All Teachers

And how to be the best one you can be!

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Think back a moment to your school days. Do you have a few teachers that stand out? I sure do. My third grade teacher was an older woman named Mrs. Ulrich who loved anything Navajo. She would wear beautiful jewelry of shiny turquoise in its setting of sparkly silver every day. She had a reputation for being strict, but I loved her. And she loved her students. And then there was Mr. Nolt. He had to be one of the best teachers ever! He made learning so much fun for rambunctious and confused sixth graders. We forgot we needed to be “cool” when we were in his class. Over the years, I had others who really made an impact on me through the avenue of teaching.

But then there were those who had the opposite effect. I had some really terrible teachers. I won’t name them (you know…just in case) but they were either so boring I would fall asleep; or they were so mean, you never knew if you were going to do something wrong; or they were so liberal, they couldn’t teach one class without promoting their agenda. Actually, I remember a few debates with those teachers and I honestly believe it helped to grow me in my knowledge of the Word quite a bit!

All of us have had teachers. School teachers, music instrument teachers, Sunday School teachers, coaches. Even as adults, many of us still continue to learn under the guidance of a teacher.

As I was reading in 2 Timothy 2:2, I was reminded how important it is to teach the truth of the Word to others. Paul is specifically talking to Timothy in this letter, but–as with the rest of the letter–we know that what he says is for all of us.

This is what that verse says–

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

He is talking specifically about teaching sound doctrine to faithful men, who can then teach it to others, who will teach it to others–like the stone thrown in the pond creates ripples that move outward.

But, as I was thinking about this verse, I was also reminded of Deuteronomy 6:6-7–

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

As believers, we are responsible for teaching the truth to the next generation, as well as to others.

Now, I know that many of you would not view yourselves as teachers. But, while it is clear in scripture that some receive a special gift of teaching, it is also clear that all of us end up in some capacity of teacher throughout our lives.

So how do we do our best in passing on the truth to the next generation and to others around us–even if we don’t have the gift of teaching? As I think back over my own experience with teachers (and with my parents and grandparents), I have ten suggestions that–if put into place– would make all of us good teachers in any situation, but particularly in teaching others about God’s Word–

1. Don’t have an agenda. We need to teach what we are supposed to teach without any hidden agenda. How often have you had a teacher that has been so consumed by a certain topic, that many days’ lectures led right back to that pet topic? I remember one teacher (and he wasn’t teaching philosophy) that just kept coming back to how all religions lead to the top of the same mountain. We would debate this over and over again. This was something he felt he needed to teach, even though it was completely outside the scope of what he had been hired to teach.

But let’s apply this to biblical teaching for a moment. How important that we teach the unadulterated truth of the Bible without the interference of our own personal agenda or preferences. Not doing so leads to all kinds of problems. For example, if you only desire to teach on the love of God, you miss a chunk of the Gospel by not teaching about His hatred of sin. If we only want to teach about the good things in the Bible and never on how to discern false doctrine and false teachers, we put our students at great spiritual risk. Or if we have the agenda to be well-liked, we may only want to focus on the pleasant passages of comfort and peace. But then we miss the part about how we need to grow in holiness and purity. Of course, some teachers go the other direction and only focus on sin or God’s wrath or discernment. This all leads to very unbalanced teaching. People with personal agendas never make good teachers.

2. We must care so deeply about our subject that we can’t help but teach with confidence and courage. No matter what subject, no matter what the response of the students, we must approach our subject with boldness and passion in order to be a good teacher. This is especially challenging when it comes to teaching the Bible as it is not really the most popular thing to do these days and it requires a great amount of courage. But, in thinking back to my Christian college experience, I realize that the professors who made the most difference in my life were the ones who brought personal interest to their subject and who proclaimed truth with confidence and without apology. Those who mumbled or read from a text book during class or who didn’t care about their subject all that much made little–if any–impact in my life.

3. Don’t be afraid to admit you are wrong. Good teachers (and good parents) apologize. No one wants to be taught (or parented) by someone so arrogant they can never admit to any wrongdoing. Enough said.

4. Provide a safe place for them to ask questions and to share concerns. If a student feels like they are going to receive judgment from us every time they ask a question, we will create an atmosphere of fear. We must allow questions and concerns to flow freely, always directing them back to the authority of the Bible. What does the Bible teach about this? Helping our students to run all through the grid of the scriptures will be the first step in helping them to be healthy spiritually. Of course, school teachers don’t often have this option but it is still important that you create a safe place to ask questions, so that perhaps they may come to you later, outside of school, to look for answers to life’s biggest questions.

5. Make learning interesting. Oh, how important this is. I have to be honest– I never had a good history teacher and so, during all of my school years, I thought history was the most boring subject ever. And then I started teaching it to my children and everything changed. History is a fascinating subject but it was never presented to me in a very interesting manner. On the other hand, I had a wonderful professor named Prof Gordon for my business classes. I didn’t even really like the subject of business all that much, but he made it interesting.

Sitting at a desk listen to someone drone on and on about dates or methods or systems is one of the quickest way to kill the desire to learn in any student. What a responsibility we have to show that our subject is interesting and worth learning! When we teach the scriptures–which we all should do in some capacity–how important it is to communicate Hebrews 4:12–

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

It is not some dry, old book that doesn’t matter to us today. It is the powerful and life-changing Word of God! We must teach it with this in mind!

6. Be approachable. Oh, the power of a smile and kind words. Think back in your own experience a moment. What do you remember about the faces of your favorite teachers? What about their actions? I am sure that most of you will remember a kind and warm-hearted man or woman who smiled a lot. Someone who said positive words just as often–or perhaps more–than they said critical words.

7. Teach them to apply what they are learning in their own lives and how to teach what they are learning to others. The student of a good teacher doesn’t generally leave the classroom (or home) unchanged. They are filled with a zeal to apply what they have learned and to teach others.

8. Love your students. This probably should have been number one. Again, think back to your own experience–whether it be in the home, in church, or in school. Which teachers had the most impact? If we felt loved, we were open to be taught. If we felt like a bother or the teacher was constantly irritable, we became distracted wondering why and then speculating if we were the problem…

Feeling unloved and in the way completely changes the atmosphere for teaching.

9. Share yourself with them. Sometimes it is good to step outside what is just for class or Bible Study and share how your subject has made a difference in your life. This is especially crucial in teaching the Word. When we can show how we personally had to run a decision through the grid of the Bible or how we had to submit to the authority of God’s Word in a specific area of our life, we become more “human” in the eyes of our students. We show them that we are just like them–perhaps only a few steps ahead in the journey.

10. Set a good example. And, last– but certainly not least–is that we must live out what we are teaching. We can’t effectively teach what we don’t live. Kids and adults can spot a hypocrite in a second. And that is a sure fire way to destroy any biblical teaching ministry.

 

I hope I have given all of you some food for thought. While this post was geared to teachers of all subjects, my heart mostly lies with those of us–which should be all of us–who teach the Word of God. Whether we are a parent, grandparent, Sunday School teacher, Bible Study teacher, pastor, blogger, or teach the scriptures in any other capacity, may we put these things into practice so that we can have an effective teaching ministry and create a godly legacy that will live on for years and years after we are called to glory.

 

(By the way, I would love to hear about your experiences–either as a teacher or as a student. Comment below and let me know what I missed in encouraging us to be the best teachers we can be!)

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”.

 

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.

 

Some Thoughts On Hurricane Harvey

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During this past week we watched as a historical hurricane named Harvey released its fury on Texas. In its wake, it left thousands of lives uprooted and topsy-turvy, destroying both homes and businesses with its winds and water. A few precious lives were even lost in this terrible storm. It will take a lot of time and an enormous amount of money as the area works on drying out and rebuilding.

While I am always generally interested in the weather (maybe it’s because I am married to a landscaper?), this particular storm captivated my attention because I have a daughter and son-in-law living in the Houston area. I found myself watching the weather channel to keep track of this storm and then watching Fox News as they started to cover it, as well. Here are a few of my (scattered) thoughts about this past week.

1. I noticed that race didn’t seem to matter at all during these past few days. Whether you were Hispanic, white, or black didn’t matter even a tiny bit as rescues took place and shelters were opened. No one cared. Perhaps this indicates that prejudice is not as big of a deal as the press would like us to believe. Do most people really feel a deep-seated prejudice towards other races? Oh, sure we may not understand each other like we should but do we really feel prejudiced? I just don’t believe that most do. Is it even possible that the press is fomenting racism with their constant coverage that aims to divide?

2. Tragedy brings out the best in people. There is nothing like a historical hurricane to remind you that America is a great place to live. As volunteers and resources pour into Houston, we can see that many Americans still care about their fellow man. It is an encouraging reminder for all of us.

3. I remembered why I don’t watch the news. I stopped watching several years ago now, after I realized that it affected my mood and also that the coverage was so biased and incomplete. I do watch a weekly 15 minute recap of world news by a YouTuber who puts clips together. This gives me a great overview of what has happened in the world over the past week. What I have found is that American news channels tend to be extremely myopic and selective in what they cover and there is so much we never even hear about that is going on in the rest of the world.

The other thing I noticed is that they thrive on debate. I just want to hear the news. I was disheartened to see Fox give coverage in the middle of all of this to a fireman who claimed that “Houston just wasn’t prepared for this like they should have been” and then ask a busy official his response to this fireman’s statement. Really? You would do this in the midst of all that’s going on? This was one of several times I saw something like this. It is my opinion that Fox News is just like every other news channel. They feed off debates and arguments and care far more about ratings than they care about the people they are covering. Sadly, this is what the news has become, no matter which way they “lean”.

4. And, finally, on a more personal note, it was quite challenging to be so far away from someone I love during such a time. As my daughter sent me photos and information about what was going on, I felt so helpless. Moments like these are so completely out of our control and they cause us to run straight into God’s sovereignty. I knew that I had to make a conscious decision to trust God for the safety of my kids and choose not to worry–not an easy task for someone prone to worry. And so I grew a bit in trusting God during this past week. And I was reminded that He loves them far more than I ever could. I once heard someone say something like this– “My kids are much safer in the Lord’s will far away from me than they are if they live close and are outside of His will.” So. True.

So there are just a few unrelated tidbits of thoughts I had about this past week. Let’s continue to pray for Texas (and the other states affected, as well) and offer to help however we can. They all have a very long road ahead of them.

 

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!