Living in the Last Days (Part 2)

last days

Last time we took a look at I Timothy 3 and it’s timely counsel for us as we live in a culture that is speeding towards the last days. Today we are going to continue by looking at I Timothy 4. As Paul prepares for the end of his ministry, he is, in effect, passing the baton on to Timothy. What he tells Timothy applies to all of us, as well. Let’s take a look–

1.  We are to preach the Word. (v.2)

The mandate is to preach the Word. It is not to feed the poor or to meet felt needs or to help dig wells. While nothing is innately wrong with these things, our main priority must be to preach the Word. If this is lost, all is lost.

2.  We are to preach in season and out of season. (v.2)

MacArthur Study Bible has this to say about in season and out of season: “The faithful preacher must proclaim the Word when it is popular and/or convenient, and when it is not; when it seems suitable to do so, and when it seems not. The dictates of popular culture, tradition, reputations, acceptance, or esteem in the community (or the church) must never alter the true preacher’s commitment to proclaim God’s Word.”

I believe this applies to all of us laypeople, as well. We should be filled with a desire to share the Gospel and point people to the Word, being willing to sacrifice our comfort, convenience, and reputation. A difficult calling, to be sure. But when we remember what Jesus did for us, I am not sure how we can do any less.

3. God’s preacher or teacher is to use the Word to convince, rebuke, and exhort. This is to be done with great patience. (v. 2)

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at[a] His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

4. For the time will come that people will not endure sound doctrine. (v. 3)

Paul says not only will they not endure sound doctrine, but because of their own selfish desires, they will actually turn towards false teachers and fables and turn away from the truth. These two verses are playing out before our very eyes today! All across the world, people are falling prey to the bewitching of false doctrine, because of their own desires. They desire a religion that will provide abundant material blessings, make their dreams come true, heal their physical bodies, and make life easy. And there is no dearth of teachers to feed those itching ears.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

5. Be watchful in all things. (v.5)

Many Christians today would have you believe it is intolerant and unkind to be watchful. And yet, we know that we must be. Satan seeks to devour us! We must be watchful!

6. Endure afflictions.  (v.5)

Afflictions are going to come. We are to endure through all of the normal storms of life, as well as through the persecution that will come (which is promised to all who desire to live a godly life in I Timothy 3:12).

7. Do the work of an evangelist. (v.5)

The word “evangelist” is used only two other times in the NT and it always refers to preaching the gospel to non-Christians. Witnessing should be an integral part of the fabric of our lives.

8. Fulfill your ministry. (v.5)

We are to fulfill whatever ministry God has given us.

But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

9. Like Paul, may we say at the end of our lives that we have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. (v. 7)

If we take a moment and think about our lives, are we actually fighting the good fight? Or running a race? Sometimes we Christians get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget there is a spiritual battle raging around us. We forget that we are running a race and must intentionally work to keep the faith. These things don’t just happen. They must be done intentionally or we fall into a lazy, apathetic place from which it is hard to recover.

10. There is reward coming for those who loved the Lord and have served Him faithfully. (v.8)

Our reward is eternal. A good thing to remember when we feel battered by life’s storms and the world’s persecution.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

11. There is no sin in naming names. (v.10-16)

Some Christians will try to convince you that it is sinful to name the names of false teachers or even those who are straying from the faith, and yet, here, below, we see that Paul does just that. He avoids slander and gossip, but simply states the facts: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” and “Alexander the Coppersmith did me much harm…beware of him”

We can see from Paul’s example that it is not wrong to name names, but that we must do so carefully and without added unnecessary criticisms, personal attacks, and drama.

12. Paul had enemies, and we should expect no less. (v.10-16)

I think it is easy for us to raise Paul on a pedestal and think that he was so beloved that he never faced the heartbreak of betrayal, rejection, or abandonment. And, yet, in just a few short verses, we have a window into Paul’s experiences with others. Just as we all do, he had those who supported his ministry and those who desired to destroy it. He had those who were his friends and those who deserted the faith because of a love for the world. Doesn’t this sound so familiar? His experiences show us that this has been going on all through the ages and encourage us to keep our focus on the Lord, as we continue serving Him in a hostile world.

Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. 15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.

13. Our strength comes from the Lord and He will preserve and protect us until He calls us home (v.17-18)

When we think about the enemies we face in both the world and in the spiritual realm, it can be a bit daunting. Are there any more comforting verses to consider than these? Here we know that God will stand with us, strengthen us, deliver us, and preserve us, as we seek to glorify Him and share the Gospel. We are not alone!

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!

14. God uses many people for His purposes and most of them are not famous.

Paul finishes this epistle with greetings and tidbits about other servants of Christ. Many of these we know nothing about. The early church was made up of thousands of people who daily served the Lord in their villages and homes. May we follow the same example as the men and women listed below–faithful servants that Paul would greet in a letter if he was still on the earth today.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick.21 Do your utmost to come before winter.Eubulus greets you, as well as Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brethren. Farewell

22 The Lord Jesus Christ[b] be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen

I hope that you have enjoyed these thoughts on 2 Timothy. There was just so much to reflect on as I read those two chapters that I just felt compelled to share it here with you. I hope that this has encouraged and challenged you–not only to ponder on what I wrote but also to dig deep into the Word for yourself.

As we approach these last days, it is our only anchor in this crazy world. I don’t know if Jesus will return today or if it will be another one hundred years. But what I do know is that we are hurling at top speed towards one-world religion, one-world government, and one-world economy. The end is coming. And these two chapters in 2 Timothy help us to know how to live in this unprecedented time.

 

Living in the Last Days (Part 1)

last days

So we might be living in the last days. Or we might not. There is no way to truly know. What I do feel safe in saying is that, if we aren’t experiencing the end times already, we are most certainly moving closer towards them each day. Some day soon I would like to write about how so many aspects of the last times foretold in the Bible are converging. It is really incredible and so confirming of scripture. But today is not that day.

A week or two ago, when we started reading our Bible Challenge passage for the week, chapters 3 & 4 of 2 Timothy, a friend texted me and said it sounds just like Paul was writing about our times right now. I couldn’t agree more! And so as we approach the last days, there is much gold to mine from the treasure of the Word, particularly in these two chapters. It helps us know what to expect and how to respond. There are some nuggets there to show us how to personally face our own last days, as well.

Paul wrote the letter of 2 Timothy as he pondered the nearness of his own death. He knew he wouldn’t be around much longer and so he wrote encouraging and challenging words for Timothy that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t read these chapters recently, I would encourage you to go do so now or after this post. They are pretty incredible.

I’d like to share some of what I have learned from chapter three of 2 Timothy today and then finish up with chapter four on Thursday. Please keep in mind that these are simply observations. I am no Bible scholar but I do believe that I am proof that you do not have to be a Bible scholar to read, study, learn about and benefit from the Bible. So here we go–

1. The last days will be perilous. (v.1)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:

Perilous: full of danger and risk.

i.e. Not fun. Not full of chasing our dreams. Not wealth, health, and happiness. But danger. And risk.

2. Paul describes men and women in the last days and it reminds us so much of right now. (v. 2-5)

For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 

This sounds pretty familiar. But, of course, things could get a lot worse.

3. People will call themselves godly but they won’t really be godly. (v.5)

4. In contrast to the popular message of our day, Paul tells us that we are not to unify with people like this. (v.5)

having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

5. Women are and always will be especially gullible to false teaching. (v.6)

For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,

Okay, I know women do not want to hear this, but, in many ways, we do tend to be more sensitive to spiritual things and this often puts us at a greater risk to be deceived. We must be so very careful. By the way, this is not a criticism of women. God purposefully designed us this way.

6. Many people learn about God, but they never study His Word with a submissive and obedient heart and this keeps them from the knowledge of the truth. (v.7)

always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

7. Time and truth walk hand-in-hand (v.8-9)

Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

Eventually false teachers are found out. They can pretend to be biblical teachers for awhile, but time eventually sells them out. Paul uses the example of Jannes and Jambres resisting Moses to make his point. We can see this same dynamic with the likes of guys like Rob Bell and William Paul Young. They pretended to be Christians, but eventually time showed everyone that they were preaching a very different Gospel.

8. Paul’s lifestyle was in direct contrast to a worldly lifestyle. He praised Timothy for following his example. We, too, should follow his example. (v. 10-11)

9. Paul endured much persecution but also experienced the Lord’s deliverance in mighty ways! We serve a mighty God who can do mighty things! (v. 11)

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.

10. If we desire to live a godly life we will suffer persecution. (v. 12)

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Not “might”; not “if”; not “could”, but WILL. We WILL suffer persecution. We may as well just expect it. In fact, if we know it’s coming, it should help us prepare to accept it with a spirit of grace, love, and forgiveness.

11. Evil men and imposters of the faith are going to get so much worse. The deception is not going to improve. (v. 13)

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Again–we see this so clearly in these days, don’t we? False doctrine abounds more than ever before. The authority of God’s Word has been cast aside for the sake of experiences, false unity, and social justice. It is so incredibly tragic but it’s going to keep getting worse until the appearing of our Savior. Again, we need to expect it.

12. Our only source for truth is the Holy Scriptures. We must continue to study the Bible and hide it in our heart, for this is what will keep us strong in these last days!

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

13. Scripture is all we need to know God and to live a holy life that is pleasing to Him.

 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Through the years, Satan has tried to eradicate, hide, bury, twist, destroy, mangle, convolute, minimize, and change the Word of God. He gets how powerful it is. He understands that the power for the Christian life is there. He knows that it is God’s very Word to the human race.

Unfortunately, humans–even many believers–don’t get this. They don’t understand that the Holy Scriptures are the only way to know God. They are what make us complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. They are an amazing treasure!

 

There is much to learn in all of scripture, but I believe that 2 Timothy 3 & 4 is especially encouraging, challenging, and convicting for this time on earth. It is from this passage that we understand the world isn’t going to get better. We can see that it isn’t our job to bring God’s Kingdom to earth (a very popular message these days) but that we are to hold on to scripture tightly, while we preach the Word (ch. 4 will talk about that) in the midst of such dreadful wickedness and apostasy. We learn that we are to expect persecution– not material health, wealth, and fulfilled dreams.

These two chapters offer encouragement and challenges for us in this age–whether Jesus returns tomorrow or one hundred years from now. Keep looking up!

 

 

Weathering the Storms of Life

storm

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.

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”.

 

Wednesday Wisdom: When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

When Life

A few years back, I would share some written wisdom of godly men and women here on the blog on a weekly basis. I called it Wednesday Wisdom. I haven’t done this for quite awhile, but today is the perfect day to bring it back, at least for this week. I am sure you will understand why if you keep reading.

Last week while we were at the beach we met a couple who was spending the weekend with a friend who has terminal cancer. Given only a few months to live, she had gathered some special friends to spend a weekend together. I have always hated the word “cancer”. And over the last few months it just seems like I hear this word more and more. And if it’s not cancer, it is something else. It feels like some painful trial is always lurking around the corner. This is just part of living on a fallen earth.

Are trials different for us, as believers in the Gospel? Yes. They aren’t easier (we still feel the pain and heartache) but they are different. Because we have been saved and are God’s children, He has promised to care for us in a special way and to make all things work together for our good. We have hope in spending eternity with Jesus that the lost do not have. And we have a promise that God will supply the grace, peace, and strength that we need when we need it.

Someone very dear to me who is facing their own trial right now shared this writing by Frank Hall with me. I wanted to share it here as it expounds on this subject of how trials are intrinsically different for believers than they are for non-believers. I hope that this will be a comfort to any of you who especially need it today.

________________________________________

“We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!” Romans 8:28

(by Frank Hall)

We often find ourselves in . . .

  trying circumstances,
  inexplicable difficulties,
  and perplexing situations.


Experience teaches us daily that life is filled, not with joy and happiness only, but with troubles, heartache, and pain. We prove the words of brother Job every single day of our lives, that, “Man who is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble!” 

Is there consolation to be had in such times of trouble? Indeed there is! If there is a verse of Scripture that ministers comfort to my doubting fearful heart, it is the verse before us. Romans 8:28 is . . .

  help for the helpless,
  comfort for those in trouble, and
  a beacon of light that guides believers on the tumultuous sea of life.
 
My beloved brothers and sisters in trouble and strife, all remains well with our souls.
Not only has the Father elected us unto salvation,
not only has the Son redeemed us from our sins,
not only has the Spirit regenerated us and given us spiritual life,
but God our Father works all things together for our eternal good! God is our Father, and our God is on His throne ruling all things for the glory of His name, and the everlasting salvation of our immortal souls!
 
Who knows? Paul begins this comforting verse with two precious words, “WE know!”  The people of God know,
believers know,
the redeemed of the Lord know,
those who are “the called according to God’s purpose” know.
This is knowledge that only the saints of God have.
They know, not with a bare theoretical head knowledge–but by faith rooted in their hearts.
They know because God has taught them this knowledge effectually by His Spirit and grace.
They know because they believe His infallible word of truth.
They know in such a way as to find solace and comfort in what He has revealed.
 
God’s people are here identified by two distinct characteristics–they love God, and they are called according to His purpose.
 
1. All of God’s people love God! They love His glorious person and rejoice in all of His perfections as God:
  His righteousness,
  His immutability,
  His holiness,
  His sovereignty,
  His wisdom,
  His power,
  His love,

  His grace.

They love . . . .
  His will,
  His word,
  His ways,
  His gospel,
  His Son,
  His Spirit,
  His purpose,
  His providence,

  and His people.

God’s people love God–and all that pertains to God.
 
2. All of God’s people are “called according to His purpose!” They are a particular, distinct, special people, here named the “called.” They have been graciously and effectually called in grace, by God’s Spirit through the gospel–not according to their works, merit, or choice–but according to God’s eternal purpose which He purposed in Himself before the foundation of the world.
 
All things do not work together for the good of ALL men, but for God’s people alone, because their God providentially rules over all things for their eternal good and salvation. God rules . . .
  all things,
  all men,
  all angels,
  all demons,
  all circumstances,
  all events,
  in every place,
  at all times–
and He does so for the good of His people!
 
What do we know? “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!” Things may appear to be against us, but it only seems that way. We should not judge God’s purpose by His providence–but His providence by His purpose. If we judge using the former method, we are sure to misjudge and we will never have peace in this life.
 
All pleasures, joys, and delights are certainly ruled by our God–but that’s only half of His rule. He rules all evil–as well as all good.
All death,
all opposition,
all sickness,
every disaster,
every problem,
all our pain, and
all our sorrow–
are sovereignly ruled, governed, ordered, and controlled by our God–to bring about eternal good for our souls. God does not tells us how He does this–only that He does.
 
Whatever my God brings to pass in time–is the outworking of His purpose of grace–and it’s for my good, whether it be in my little sphere of existence, or in the universe at large.
 
Oh God help me to believe Your word! Teach me not only to submit to your providential rule–but to rejoice and rest in it! Set a watch upon my mouth, that I murmur not!  Arrest my heart by your grace, and give me peace! Keep me from sinning with my lips and complaining against Your all wise, gracious, and adorable providence, for it is good!
 
God controls and directs all things with . . .
  infinite power,
  absolute sovereignty, and

  unfailing wisdom and grace!

Nothing can . . .
  hinder Him from doing His will,
  keep Him from having His way, or
  stop Him from accomplishing His purpose.
 
“We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!” Romans 8:28

Some Lessons for All of Us

some lessons

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.

 

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.

Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, this is so true!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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