Changed Lives: Jan

Changed Lives (final)

Last year I started a series called Changed Lives. The goal of this series is to show how Jesus Christ is changing lives one life at a time. He is radically saving us and then transforming us into His likeness and using our trials for His glory and to further His kingdom. It is my greatest hope that this series will remind you that Jesus is still changing people! Several months have gone by since I brought you the last testimony but today I finally have another one to share. This one is by my dear friend, Jan. This story is a bit different than the others, as you will see. You may want to grab a tissue.

I met Jan around ten years ago when her oldest daughter and my youngest daughter were on a travel soccer team together. We quickly connected due to our like-minded faith in Christ. A year or so later, they started coming to our church and we became friends with the whole family. A few years ago, the unthinkable happened to this family. I have watched Jan face this unforeseen and unexpected hardship with strength and fortitude that could only come from God. I remember having a conversation with her sometime in the middle of all of this. She told me how she was continuing to listen to John MacArthur sermons on rides to and from work. She kept feeding herself good spiritual food through it all. This made an impact on me. So often our human tendency is to withdraw from solid spiritual food when bad things happen.

Even though, in many ways, Jan continues to travel in dark, unknown territory, I see her continue to trust God through it all. Please pray for Jan and her daughters as they continue their journey of getting used to a new normal. I believe her story will not only inspire you but will also challenge your faith. I know it is her greatest desire that God use this for His glory and I believe that He will do so.

Here is Jan’s story–

July 2016

The morning sky is a beautiful blue and the air is crisp and refreshing. It is a joy to experience such a day in the middle of July. We look up from where we are standing to see a peaceful field, swaying trees in the horizon, and orange lilies in full bloom. But the tears blur our vision and as we stand there with our arms around each other, we wonder if we will ever heal. I recall Michael W. Smith’s lyrics “There is strength within the sorrow, there is beauty in the tears, and You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear…You’re teaching us to trust”.  I wonder if Lydia, 17, and Naomi, 13, are trusting more. Or do they, like me, only feel the pain? I’m not sure. There is only a grave marker there; the tombstone is not in yet. Some things are just not that important and I figure it can wait.

November 2011

Family Photo from 2013

Walt Disney World. The “vacation of a lifetime” so we have been told. My husband, Doug, and I had never experienced Disney but, for some reason, we wanted to make sure our family would experience it at least one time. We were in a transition period in our lives and it felt like a vacation to Disney would complete one item we had on our bucket list.

I had worked at The Hershey Company for 20 years and had resigned just nine months earlier.  Doug had completed his training and certification in Massage Therapy and was starting a business with another massage therapist while also working for a Chiropractor. Since Lydia, our oldest, was born Doug had been the stay-at-home dad and I was the working mom. (Maybe a better explanation is that I was the bread-winner, since all moms work). It was a good plan for us as Doug was a wonderful dad. He was a typical Type B personality and nothing seemed to bother him. He enjoyed his time with the girls at home, even home-schooling both girls (which was my preference, not his). We had an easy marriage, always supporting each other’s goals and dreams.

Our transition period was the plan for me to stay at home with the girls in their junior high and senior high school years while Doug went back into the workforce. We were all set for that change. Hershey had eliminated my position so I took advantage of a severance package. I felt like God had given me the gift of an extra and early year at home! Honestly, this was a huge step of faith for me as Doug had not yet graduated from massage school at that time. But I truly believed that this was what God was calling me to do. “Do you trust me?” seemed to be what He was asking. There were three specific happenings that led us to make the confident decision that it was time to come home. I would even classify them as “miracles”.

Miracle #1 At a 48th birthday dinner for Doug he announced that he knows what he wants to do in life. I am stunned. After being together for a little over 30 years, Doug finally knows what he wants to do? To give you a little more insight into this, you should know that we started dating when I was in 10th grade and Doug was a senior. He never went to school beyond 12th grade because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. The topic came up no less than 50 times in our years together but the answer was always the same: “I don’t know.” So this truly was a miracle.

Miracle #2 As we explored several schools for him to attend, it didn’t occur to me until later that Doug had not been in school for 30 years. He would need to take an entrance exam to get into the school. Since he was a quarterback and point guard and not an academic scholar, this would prove to be a challenge. He took the test and came close to passing, but, unfortunately, he didn’t pass. But since the economy was tight, admissions were low, and he was studying to be a massage therapist, they told us that they would “wave the entrance exam and see how he does”.  Miracle #2 complete.

Miracle #3 If this is not a miracle then I will classify it as a strong sign from God that this was the direction we were to take. After working for Hershey for almost 20 years, there was only one position that I had interviewed for. Every other move, promotion, or change was a tap on the shoulder. If they asked me to do something, I said yes. That included a move half-way across the country to Arkansas for 3 years. And then another yes when they wanted me to head up a project in the home office and another move 1,200 miles back. I always said yes and there was always a position ahead. But this time was different. As I walked into my boss’s office the human resources person was present. He began to tell me that the position I was in was being eliminated but that they created another job that I could apply for. Actually, the job description was what I was already doing. It was a simple choice, really: Just interview for the other job and continue with my Hershey career. Or was it a gift from God to trust where He was leading me? After all, I was planning to resign in one year, anyway, when Doug was done with school and had started his business.

Again, God seemed to be asking me: “Do you trust Me?”  I responded to this by resigning with a one-year severance package, trusting that Doug would graduate and begin his career. For just a short while, life was perfect. We were both so excited! Doug was thrilled about pursuing his newfound passion in life and I was thrilled to finally be home with our girls. We couldn’t wait to get started with this new plan for our lives.

Shortly after our Disney vacation I received a phone call from Doug’s sister. Doug had recently been in his hometown for a wedding and had stayed with his sister. While there, he had confided in her that something wasn’t right but he didn’t know how to explain it. I also was starting to feel uneasy about our situation but I brushed it off to a newness for all of us. Me being home and Doug being out in the working world was a really big change for us.

Doug’s sister insisted that I set up a doctor’s appointment just to make sure things were okay with him. I immediately agreed and we went in to see the doctor right before Christmas. The doctor explained that his slowness or sluggishness was probably caused by depression. But this didn’t explain another puzzling symptom: He was not able to write his name. He couldn’t connect the cursive letters together. Printing was fine.

We were in the midst of one of the most exciting times in our lives and the doctor was diagnosing Doug with depression? Neither of us believed him and so we proceeded with blood work and a follow-up appointment. Over the holidays I received a call from the doctor and he genuinely seemed giddy. He said he had found out what was making Doug feel different: His thyroid levels were very high and the appropriate medication should ease the symptoms. Of course, that was the answer! Since I had quit work we were in the process of switching insurances and had neglected to get his thyroid medication filled. It was as simple as that.

But three months later, Doug was still not better and his thyroid tested fine. This was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. No jobs, no idea what was happening with Doug’s health, and the girls were being home-schooled. What would we do with them? What did this mean for my dream to be at home? My plan to stay home with the girls was disappearing. I felt sick to my stomach.

At the time, I was teaching an evening class at a local college as an adjunct professor. I began to realize that I needed to find another job very quickly. Just the thought of having to do this was tearing me up inside. “But God”, I cried, “I trusted you!”  My dream of staying home with the girls was being taken away while, at the same time, my husband of 26 years was so different. At this point I would have described him as mentally retarded. He was acting so odd. For example, he’d walk through a door and let it close on us. Or he’d lean over the girls in church to shake someone’s hand and make them almost fall without even reacting. It was definitely a strange place to be.

I was able to get a better-paying job with benefits in April of that year. But it meant a commute of 45 minutes to work (compared to the 5 minutes that I had previously) and I was making $40k less and also had fewer holidays and vacation days than my original job at Hershey. And this new job gave me even less time with my girls. Around this time, my trust in God was wavering. I questioned Him many times; I really did not understand.

Through the rest of that summer and fall, Doug progressively got worse and we still didn’t have any diagnosis from doctors. The girls started at a Christian school and I kept working. It just didn’t make sense to me. I thought I was doing everything right. I thought I was giving up my career to allow my husband to be the one bringing home the paycheck. I thought God was clearing the way for me to homeschool and enjoy my girls. I had trusted that this was what God was calling me to do. Nothing made sense to me. But I had no choice but to keep working and taking care of my husband and the girls. It wasn’t easy. Did I trust God? I said I did. Again, I didn’t understand. God had provided a job for me that allowed us to send the girls to a Christian school and, for that, I was grateful.

In early winter we got a diagnosis of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I had to research it since I had no idea what it was. We found out that it was a terminal disease with a life expectancy of anywhere from two to twenty years. I didn’t find that helpful. What would I do with a 49-year- old husband who has two to twenty years left to live? How do two young girls walk that journey along with me? I didn’t know how to navigate it myself, much less help them.

Of course, with this diagnosis it meant that we had some financial decisions to make. Again, the unknowns made this so difficult to make decisions and the experts in the industries were not really “expert” regarding our specific situation. I felt so very alone. I cried out to God to direct my decisions – it was only me making these huge decisions as Doug wasn’t able to really help me by this time. I needed to trust that God was guiding my decisions and looking over us.

As the disease progressed, life became more of “just getting through each day”. There was no time to really consider what this meant to our family or to consider what we would have done differently once he was gone. Would there be any regrets? Who knew? God had me in a place that was very unfamiliar. Caring for a husband who could no longer communicate, the majority of my time was spent cleaning up pee from accidents, waiting on him, arranging rides for the girls, trying to make their lives as normal as possible while the unthinkable was happening to our family, working full time, all the time trying to pretend that nothing was going on. Who was I kidding? Life for us would never be normal again – at least it wouldn’t be what we had once considered normal.

About this time, Doug started to take a huge decline every three months. We would adjust to the current condition and then he would make a huge decline again. We were never ready for each step downward. After he suffered a stroke on his 50th birthday, his needs increased dramatically.  He needed help to get dressed, to eat meals, to go to the bathroom, and checked on multiple times during the day.

The next decline scared me more than the first. The disease was characterized by a backward fall. One day when I was home with him I watched him get out of a chair, take one step forward, and then four backwards before falling. He was bruised more than I would like to admit from all the falls he had sustained over the prior months. I had a new goal: No more bruises. He needed someone to walk him everywhere, since he could no longer navigate on his own. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How were we possibly going to do that?  I had to arrange for someone to walk him everywhere, help him in the bathroom, and feed him while I was working and the girls were in school.

While we were dealing with all of this, we had another hurdle around that time. Doug had a condition that made him go to the bathroom every 1-2 hours, including the night time hours. I told my oldest daughter that between us, we could alternate nights staying up with him. She was off school for the summer, and for me, I figured how much different could this possibly be than having a newborn? I could do this. I took the first night and didn’t sleep at all. My daughter had the next night. I told her she could sleep as long as she wanted the next day, after his caretaker came at 7 am. I took the next night, and again, didn’t sleep at all. I obviously would not be able to do this and work full time. I was exhausted. After we talked, she agreed to take the night shift every night. What a blessing she was during that time. There was no way that I could do this by myself.

My oldest daughter went to two different week-long camps that summer. This meant that I had to care for Doug during the nights. I remember being at work on a Thursday during one of those weeks. I was sitting in a meeting when it hit me– I hadn’t slept since Saturday. How was I surviving this? God must have been sustaining me. We were continuing to trust Him in everything. We certainly didn’t know why He was allowing this, but we chose to trust in Him and what He was doing.

When the girls started back to school in late August, I was forced to get help. I hired a college student to take the night shift. Free room and board and a wage, too – seemed like a pretty good deal to me. I remember the day she moved in. I went for a walk and felt like I was walking on air. Just the thought of having another adult to take on some of the load and responsibility was freeing to me! This turned out to be only somewhat helpful. She often needed help with him during the night and I’d hear her quietly tiptoe into my room to wake me. We had given Doug a bell to ring when he need help but, unfortunately, once we passed the 3am time frame she wouldn’t even hear it go off. I would hear it, get up to help him, and let her sleep.

The next milestone came in October of 2013. I was getting him ready on a Saturday morning and could no longer get him up the steps. We were in the middle of the stairway when he fell backwards onto me. I’m not even sure how I got out of that dilemma. I do remember getting him upstairs and crying out to God for help. I truly did not know what to do at that moment. I came face to face with the fact that I could no longer take care of him in our home the way it was. I needed two people to assist him at all times and it was difficult enough getting one person. There weren’t any care facilities that would take him because of his age. I was not sure what the next steps would be and found myself completely and totally at God’s will. There was nothing I could do on my own. I was lost and saw no way out.

I cannot recall how we navigated those two desperate weeks. But what I do remember is God putting a name in my mind near the end of those weeks: A neighbor who worked for hospice.  I had no idea what her role was at hospice or if Doug would qualify for hospice or even if the insurance would cover it. In fact, I really had no idea what hospice was. But I had nowhere else to turn. At the end of my rope, I called Amy.

I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table with my sister when I called Amy. Within three hours, I had a hospital bed, a lift for Doug, other equipment, and a hospice nurse coming in five days a week. I was overwhelmed. I went from one of the deepest pits of despair to having a solution in place in three hours. God had answered my prayers. I also clearly remember a return phone call I received from Amy an hour later. She said that they had a bed at their hospice facility in Harrisburg and that I qualified for a week of respite care for Doug. They would come and get him in an ambulance, transport him to the facility, and take care of him for a week. I was overwhelmed with relief, grief, and confusion. I said no, thinking how could I send him away?  It didn’t seem right. I hung up from Amy and looked at my sister. She had been there for several days, if not weeks, trying to help me. I was sobbing when I looked at her. My next thought was I need to do this not only for me, but for her. I had so many thoughts going through my head.  Amy called back. “Yes”, I said, “that would be a blessing”. I desperately needed some respite and my sister needed to go home.

I talked to Doug about this. As much as I could understand him, he seemed ok with the idea. I would follow the ambulance to the facility, make sure everything was fine, and then go home without him. That was on a Saturday. On Sunday, the girls and I headed to the hospice home to see him after church. I wanted them to know that he was being taken care of – probably better than we could care for him here. We went to lunch afterwards and tears once again stained our cheeks.

Doug came home a week later and he was confined to his bed. Hospice would come every day and give him a bed-bath and his daytime caregiver would prepare meals and feed him. It was easier to care for him at this point. No more getting up in the middle of the night to help him to the bathroom. He was bedbound and would be until he went to be with his Savior.

He had a palliative care doctor who came to the house every month. She was a blessing to us. In October, she said that Doug probably had until ‘summer’. Another month she said the beginning of the summer, and at another point she said the end of the summer. I know it was a guess but that put a timeline on his remaining time with us. This was a difficult discussion with the girls.  When it was ‘two to twenty’ years or six months, it doesn’t seem as final. It’s almost like the ‘tomorrow’ statement – tomorrow never comes. But the summer of 2014 does come, and it was painful to hear. At that point, we knew that Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2013 would most likely be his last. We also realized that his birthday in February would also probably be his last.  But what should we do differently? I didn’t know.

When my youngest turned 11 that January, it was extremely difficult for me. Instead of rejoicing with her for turning 11, my mind only went to one thought: For the rest of her life, when she talks about her dad or about her life, she will say that she was 11 when her dad died. That’s all I could think about. I knew this because my mother’s father died when she was 12 and I remember her many stories over the years– “I was 12 when…”

We continued to watch Doug deteriorate. He was getting thinner and thinner. It was very difficult to watch the changes. Bed sores didn’t come until near the end. He didn’t have many as we cared for him as best we could. He was also becoming very stiff and his hands and feet were starting to look like they had severe arthritis. The hands that had so gently massaged other people’s muscles were now deformed and motionless. What he loved most were the foot and hand massages that many of his caretakers would give him.

It was on May 19 that the hospice worker recognized that fluids and food were going into his lungs. He was now unable to swallow correctly. We had known to expect this as it was a symptom of the disease. So it was on this day that the decision was made to stop all fluids and food, since he would asphyxiate which, I was told, would be worse than starving to death. And those were our choices at this point. We “celebrated” our 28th wedding anniversary on May 17th. I knew it would be our last.

For anyone who has watched a loved one slowly pass on my heart goes out to you. Difficult does not describe what that is like. Morphine becomes a gift. Each day you think is the last and then it turns into tomorrow. There is no quality time– only waiting and tears. But God sustains and helps you get from one day to the next. And as you kiss your loved one on the gurney as he is being taken out of your home for the last time, you know you will miss him, but that you also know that –if they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ—you have the hope that someday you will see him again in Heaven.

December 2016

As I look back and reflect on the past five years, I can see God in every decision. I know that He was with me. He didn’t take away the pain, but He let me know He was always there. On May 30, 2014 I said good-bye to my husband of 28 years. At this point, two and a half years later, I still have no idea what God wants me to do with this. But I still trust in His leading. He has never left me.

“The worldly things have become a little dimmer, and the things of Heaven have become a little brighter”.  I heard that from a pastor’s wife who lost her husband in a terrible car accident after church one Sunday as they were traveling back to their home. She did not seem bitter but, instead, said it with a sweetness that could only come from God. I now know what she meant.

John 14:2

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

As James 4:14 says

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

God has been faithful to us throughout the past five years. Although we don’t understand, we trust that He knows what is best for us. The girls and I prayed faithfully that God be glorified through our trial. Whatever happened, we wanted God’s glory to shine through us. This was our verse:

I Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

One of Doug’s care-takers responded to a gift and note that I left for her one morning:

Jan:

For some reason I just now turned the page in Doug’s book. I opened your card and tears just poured from my eyes. Not out of sorrow or pain but because I am so thankful for everything I had to go thru that has led me to be with you and your family.

 I learned the true Grace of God thru you. Though I love Doug as though he were my child it is your actions that I saw day to day that renewed my faith in God. To love someone is to love someone like Jesus loved us. Sick, poor, meek ….

 I know you are grateful for my care of Doug without you ever saying a word. God brought you and your family to me so I could see. It is I who is most grateful. I have recently had an experience with God that is indescribable. It has made me committed to do His will and taught me that without him I have no life. You and Doug and your family contributed greatly to my salvation. I love you and I love Doug.

 Thank you for the birthday present. But mostly thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

 When I asked her if I could use this text at his memorial service, this was her response: “Oh I would love that….I am going to be glorifying God for sending him and your family into my life…  For I came into a home where my Father was the center so that I would come to see the Light of Christ Jesus, My savior, family-fall-2016-v2through a family that witnessed the love my Lord has for all His children without uttering a single word. Doug was sent to me as a silent messenger and a righteous man. At my baptism you will all be mentioned for the selfless love you have shown me as Jesus asked you to do. Words aren’t enough”.

If all of this was for one soul to spend eternity in Heaven, it was worth it.

 


 

Behind Enemy Lines

enemylines

Last night at the presidential debates we heard Hilary describe her dream for America. She communicates well so I have no doubt that she swayed a few voters but did you catch what she said?

She wants a world where the government can’t interfere if a mother wants to abort her baby that is due in a day or two (but the government can interfere when a Christian chooses not to bake a cake for a gay couple). She wants a world where marriage is between any two people who choose to love each other. She wants a country that takes from those who work hard and gives it to those who will not work.

Almost every policy she has goes against scripture and, while she talks about how she wants to make sure every special group has their rights, she has made it very clear that the right to religious freedom for Christians isn’t something she is interested in.

If she wins, we are going to become the enemy more than ever. But that’s nothing new. We already are living behind enemy lines if we are a believer. For we are not of this world (John 17:14).

And we were never meant to be friends with the world. When you start trying to please the world, you are headed down a very slippery slope from which there is no return. In fact, James makes it as clear as it could possibly be and yet we Christians can’t seem to understand–

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

For many years now, there has been an enormous crowd of Christian “fence-sitters”. One foot in the world and one foot in the church. Now that the tide is turning against us and what we stand for, that option is disappearing rapidly.

But should it have ever even been an option for Christians at all?

If we are born again and are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), then we have become an enemy of the world (John 15:19). The Bible could not be any clearer on this.

And, yet, most Christians are trying desperately to fit in. We have adopted the ways, the music, the language, the entertainment, and the clothing of our enemy. We have decided that to reach the enemy we need to be like them–that our God is not strong enough to draw people to Himself without some help from us (even though He has been doing so since the beginning of time). And so most Christians look just like the world in which they are living. Their radio stations, their movies, their books are all written and promoted by the enemy. In fact, the “church” has become so impassioned with being like and pleasing the world that now even well-known speakers are caving on big issues like homosexuality and important doctrines such as hell.

I mean, in this day and age, how do you become popular or please the world if don’t change your position on certain issues? How do you become popular and viewed as “normal”  if you turn your back on the world’s entertainment? Plain and simple: You don’t.

I believe we have totally forgotten that it is God who draws men to Himself (John 6:44). It is God who changes a person’s heart. He uses us and we get to plant seeds and even sometimes help explain the Gospel, but it isn’t because we are like the world. It is in spite of the fact that we are like the world.

We are the enemy. We are living in enemy territory. We shouldn’t look like, talk like, dress like, or be like the world. Yet, most of us–including myself–have made ourselves pretty comfortable here in this world and feel pretty much at home. We are living a status quo reality that I believe is going to change.

So if you are a fence-sitter, you are going to very soon be faced with a dilemma. Which side of the fence will you land on? Are you more afraid of the world’s condemnation or God’s condemnation? Which will it be?

I leave you with these words from Jesus, clear words that cannot be misinterpreted. Words that have been ignored for a long time now in this American culture. I hope that we will consider them carefully as we become less and less liked in a society that is growing more immoral each day–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

 

Every Promise Kept

foggy-woods

I woke up on Saturday morning to some really bad news. It had nothing to do with me or even anyone close to me, but, instead was about a family that is related to a friend of mine. My heart cried out, “WHY GOD? WHY? I don’t understand. This doesn’t make sense.” Honestly, it rocked my world a bit. How can such terrible, terrible things happen to people that love the Lord? Why do they happen?

This is an age old question, isn’t it? We know sin exists. We know that we all will die. We see bad stuff happening around us everyday. Every. Day. The stories are heart-breaking and overwhelming sometimes. They are especially heart-rending when they happen to fellow believers.

Wouldn’t you know–this past Sunday’s sermon happened to be just about this very thing. We had a former missionary by the name of Larry Gray visiting our church and his message for us was centered around the fact that God always keeps His promises. He then gave us three different ways in which He does so. I’d like to pass along his outline and examples, elaborated with a few of my own thoughts and a few extra examples from scripture between points.

He started off with a quote by our church’s retired pastor, Pastor James Ober–

A disappointed heart is one of the most fertile places for Satan to do his work.

What a succinct way to say such a profound truth. Disappointment is often what yields bitterness, an unforgiving heart, depression, a downcast spirit, a lack of joy. If Satan can get us to focus on our disappointment we become like super-fertilized soil for many bad things.

As I was listening to the sermon, my mind wandered for a second. What causes us to be so disappointed, anyway? Why are we so disappointed when things don’t go our way? Is it because we have been taught to expect a perfect, carefree life? Or perhaps because we believe that God isn’t working unless He is working out things the way we want them to work out? Hold that thought. We will get back to it.

The speaker went on to describe three ways in which God keeps His promises to His people–

1. Intervention. This is when God intervenes by changing our circumstances or removing us from the circumstances. This is the way we like the best, isn’t it? It is, by far, the easiest from our human vantage point.

Two examples he mentioned from scripture were the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14) and the blind man who was healed by Jesus (John 9). But there are so many more, aren’t there? How about Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6) and the perfectly timed earthquake that opened the jail cells of Paul and Silas at Philippi (Acts 16:25-34)?

If we have followed Jesus Christ for any amount of time at all, we have had some of this intervention in our own lives, as well. “Coincidental” meetings, miraculous timing, disappearing tumors, a much needed check in the mailbox or a bag of groceries on the doorstep. Just the right thing at exactly the right time. God is still working in this way. And, of course, we love it when He does!

2. Interaction. This is where we work, God works, and, together, we accomplish God’s purposes and plan. This requires a bit more from us than the first way, doesn’t it? We actually have to do something. We may have to sacrifice our time as well as our selfish will and desires. We will probably have to work very hard in order to experience victory.

The speaker gave the example of Elijah outrunning the chariot (I Kings 18:45-46). I also thought of Moses having to hold his arms up to win the battle (Exodus 17:11) and Esther putting her own life in peril to approach the King in order to save the Jews (Esther 4:11). The Great Commission is also a proof that this is sometimes how God works (Matthew 28:19-20). These passages show us that oftentimes God uses man (He doesn’t need us but chooses to use us) to accomplish His purposes.

This is often the way in which we experience victory over things like obesity, debt, and addictions. We step up and give our best efforts and God is there strengthening, supporting, and guiding us all the way.

3. Inner Action. This is where nothing changes but our hearts. This is the one that we probably find the most difficult. We want things to change. We want relief! And we want it now! But sometimes God says Wait. And sometimes He says No. But in the process of it all– if we don’t let disappointment and disillusionment grab hold of our heart–spiritual fruit grows. We develop a deeper walk that eventually spills out over on to the lives of others, encouraging them, blessing them, perhaps even leading them to the precious Savior.

The speaker gave the example of Paul’s thorn in the flesh for this point (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). I would also add John the Baptist–beheaded by the orders of a vengeful, evil woman (Matthew 14:1-12) and Jeremiah, the prophet who was hated, mocked, and abused for declaring the Word of the Lord, with little relief (Jeremiah 11:21; 12:6; 20:1-2 –to name a few!)

He also gave the modern-day example of Joni Eareckson Tada. Most of you are probably familiar with this woman, now in her mid 60s, that was in a diving accident as a 17 year old, leaving her a quadriplegic. If you haven’t ever read her story, you have missed one of the best biographies of these modern times (If you’d like to read it, you can find it here). The speaker went on to talk about just how much Joni has done for the Lord in her wheelchair.

Think about that for a moment. If God would have answered the desperate appeals and cries for healing for this young woman, would she have been able to be used by God in the same way she is used today? Would she have been able to have the same incredible impact among the disabled that she has had today without healing? She has had an incredible ministry with the disabled because she is disabled. She is a wonderful example of not giving in to the disappointment of unanswered prayer, isn’t she? By the way, her reach goes far beyond the disabled. She has written many wonderful books, draws and paints beautiful works with her mouth, and has also quite a speaking career. God took her pain and turned it into something magnificent for His glory! Isn’t it amazing what a heart that yields to God’s will–instead of caving in to disappointment– can accomplish for the Lord?

So that’s the sermon in a nutshell. Isn’t that profound? But before I conclude, let’s go back to our expectations for a moment. One of the statements our speaker made was this–

If this {intervention} is your only expectation, you will have a disappointed, damaged faith.

This is so true! I had never thought about it quite like that before. You see, we so badly want to be removed from our circumstances. We don’t want to do any work at all. We certainly don’t want to stay in our bad circumstances. And, so, we basically tell God “answer my prayers the way I want them answered or else.” Instead of submitting and yielding to our Most High God, we want Him to bow to us and our desires. Instead of desiring to serve an Almighty, Holy God, we want Him to serve us! Think about that for a moment! This is a big deal.

What is our purpose? What are we here for?

To have our every whim and desire fulfilled? No.

To live worry-free, without cares? No.

To have everything go just as we want? No.

To never experience pain, death, or persecution? No.

To bring God glory and to make Him known? YES! A thousand times YES!

If we remember this, it completely changes our paradigm for life. Instead of trying to manipulate circumstances and fixing situations, we rest quietly and wait on the Lord. Instead of always wanting to get our own way, we think of others first. Instead of living in a state of panic, fear, and disappointment, we trust in the Lord, knowing that He loves us deeply, fully, and forever.

Living in a fallen, sinful world is hard. It is painful. Oftentimes it is downright unpleasant. But if we know God and trust in Him He will uphold us. If He is the rock we build our life upon (Matthew 7:24-29), no disappointment or trial will destroy us. Instead, they will make us stronger.

I hope this has helped you as much as it helped me. I hope that you will continue to trust the Lord today, no matter what trial or deep disappointment you are facing. God has not deserted you. Instead, He is fulfilling His purposes in you. Don’t turn away from Him during this time–turn towards Him.

Small Mercies

sunflowers

Where to begin. It’s been a rough few weeks around here. On many different levels and in many different ways. I have felt completely uninspired and, honestly, pretty hypocritical as I wrote posts here. Most of you seemed to agree with me, if the response (or lack thereof) to recent posts was any indication.

At this point, I am saying to myself–What am I doing? Who do I think I am? I have no right to be writing. No right to be telling people how to live godly lives. Not while I still struggle so much myself.

It all started with a prayer. We were talking in our home about how so many people have blind spots. Areas of their life where they just can’t see the truth about themselves. This was bothering me. And so I asked the Lord to show me any blind spots I have. He has been busy doing so ever since.

I didn’t really realize it until, at one of my lowest points, it hit me. God was answering my prayer. And it wasn’t pretty. And it was so painful. But my eyes were opened. And I saw myself as I really am.

Through all of this, God has been extending small–but infinitely encouraging–mercies to me. A kind word about the blog passed along through a mutual friend. A scripture passage that almost seems like it was written just for me. An excerpt from a book I am reading that challenges and encourages me just where I am at. A friend who is praying for me during this spiritually dry time.

And I am being reminded that even when we are chastised or going through trials, that God is there. He doesn’t leave us to wallow in our pit of despair, but, oh so gently, meets us there and walks with us. He picks us up and gives us His strength.

Paul puts it this way–

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

While I can’t really say I have gotten to the point of taking pleasure in these things, I can see the benefit of them. I can see how they mold me and shape me and sanctify me. I am starting to see how they force me to rely on Christ’s strength instead of my own. And, most importantly, they humble me and fill me with awareness of just how weak and sinful I am. God’s amazing grace and endless mercy become even more precious to me with each infirmity. With each reproach. With each need and persecution and distress.

And so it is so important to me that you realize I am just a person. I am not some perfect role model. I have so many areas which I still need to grow. In fact, the further along I get the more I realize this. I never want to appear arrogant or judgmental in any post. I only desire to point people to God and His Word. I want to glorify Him and Him alone. I want to point people to the Savior–Jesus–the only way we can be reconciled to God. I want to show that the Word of God is the only anchor we truly have in the storms of life. And I want to encourage Christians to shake the status quo Christianity that has become acceptable–and even expected– in the church today.

I do this as a weak and lowly sinner. As an imperfect vessel. And I do thank God for showing me my weaknesses so that His strength can shine through. So that I, too, can say “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

If you are still reading Growing 4 Life posts, I thank you. I hope that you are encouraged to grow and to encourage those around you to shake the status quo Christianity. If you are struggling today, if God is showing you your weaknesses, I hope that you, too, will experience His small mercies and unending love.

(Now go and have a wonderful Labor Day weekend! :) Can you believe summer is over already?)

 

Diving Into Change

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Today is my youngest daughter’s first day of her senior year in high school. That means that next year at this time, the school start date will mean nothing to me. I won’t receive any papers that need a parent’s signature or be putting school soccer games on my calendar. I won’t be receiving e-mails from the school office and my car will rarely travel to the town where the Christian school is located.

And that’s just how it is.

Many of us are experiencing lasts around this time of the year. The last time we take a child to college. The last child to enter kindergarten. The last time our kids will begin their year at the elementary school or the middle school.

But many of you are experiencing exciting firsts, too. It may that this year you are trying homeschooling or have decided to send your children to Christian school. Perhaps you decided to send your kids to public school. Yep, this time of year has a lot of exciting firsts and lasts. And, in some ways, we can prepare for them.

Life is full of firsts and lasts. It is full of changes and some of us handle change better than others. I am probably not one of the best at molding to change in my life. Which is strange, considering I have had quite a bit. As we all do, I guess. When I think I am getting better at this thing called “change”, a new change comes along to challenge my assessment of how I handle change.

Inevitably when I write a post like this one, some of you who have been through this time want to assure me that I will be okay. That I will love my new “empty nest” life. So allow me to assure you that I do know this. At least my head knows this. And I am not worried that I won’t find my new normal. I know I will. But getting there has been a tough journey for me. I still find myself on many occasions just having the thought that I want my old life back. Oh, there are some things in the here and now that I love. Changes that have been good changes and I would never go back to the old way. But as for how my day-to-day life has changed; the quiet house; not taking care of the needs of a large family…well, that is taking some getting used to. (However, I definitely don’t miss the extra laundry and cleaning. Just wanted to clear that up!)

As I have been processing all of this in the last few years, I have learned some lessons. I thought I may share some of this with you here today–

I remember to find perspective

When I think about those in the Middle East who have been forced to leave their homes or those in Venezuela who don’t even have the basic necessities for life, I am ashamed. I am easily brought out of my self-centered sadness when I remember how good I have it. Sometimes my thoughts will go to those Jewish families, ripped from their homes, separated, and placed on cattle cars in Nazi Germany. I have had none of that happen in my life. There are child sex slaves, thousands of them, operating even as we speak. Mothers across the world who are struggling to feed their babies and have no time or resources to play games or to homeschool their children. When I think about all of this, I am ashamed. How can I be sad in the face of all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had? Of all I have now? This thought pattern starts me on the path to–

Choosing gratitude

We can’t find proper perspective without being filled with gratitude. A thankful heart changes everything. And when we recognize our many blessings we naturally develop a thankful heart. Now, you may be thinking at this time that you don’t have the warm and happy memories. You may be dwelling on your memories of abuse and neglect or pondering your unhappy marriage. You may be staring at a change that has cast you into absolute shock. And it is in this place that you are wondering: How do I find perspective and choose gratitude here?? I am not where you are, so I want to be careful what I say. But I think it has something to do with remembering who we were as sinners and the vast grace and love that God has shown us. We can be saved from our sins and reconciled to God only because of His amazing grace and unending mercy. This is something for which to be thankful, no matter what is going on in our lives. Paul puts it like this in I Timothy 1:12-17–

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen.

If we are saved, we have a reason to be thankful. Which leads us to the next, very obvious step. As Christians, we know the One to whom we direct our most heartfelt thanks and–

We remember the One who never changes.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about this very thing, so I won’t elaborate much on this here, for fear of repeating myself. But, suffice it to say, we know that God never changes. And we know that the one Who never changes guides and directs all things, working all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28) Through all of this we also know that we are loved with a deep and abiding love. There is nothing that can separate us from His love, no matter what our earthly experiences are–

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

And so this One who never changes deserves the praises spilling forth from our grateful hearts. And a heart that is praising and thanking God is a joyful heart. Sadness has dissipated by the time I get to this step. This helps me to have right heart and mind to–

Set proper priorities

When I am sad and self-focused, I lose sight of what is important. I am filled with self-pity. I believe the lies that pour into my ears about my uselessness and irrelevance. And this is what makes me unusable for God’s Kingdom. Did you catch that? We are rendered useless for the Kingdom only if we choose to stay self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with our age. It has nothing to do with our physical limitations or our intellectual capabilities.

The only thing that can render a servant of God useless is their attitude.

Humility, contentment, submission: This is what will lead to a fruitful life, no matter what change comes our way. These attitudes or godly attributes are what will keep us setting proper priorities. They are the attitudes that will determine if we will be used by God throughout our entire lives or if we will become a useless lump of self-pity and self-absorption and a burden on those we love.

This is serious stuff. Where we turn when changes comes is a big deal. I heard a quote in a movie the other day. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend the movie as I turned it off after a few minutes (I don’t know why I keep holding out hope that I will find a good movie without filth made in the last five years, as it is just so rare anymore!) but, anyway, this quote is worth repeating–

Change is like a wave. We can resist it and die. Or we can dive into it and survive.

Yes, yes, yes! We need to dive into change. We need to submit to it and to roll with it. Resistance will kill all of the potential good for God’s Kingdom. It will rot any spiritual fruit. It will stymie our growth and render us useless. And so we must dive! Our future and our work for God’s Kingdom depends upon it!

And one final thought–I have found that it generally is not choosing one or the other for most of us. As we stand in the unrelenting sea of change, we have our days of resistance and we have our days of diving. But the key is to keep working towards the right choice until our sea settles quietly into a new normal. At least for a little while.

I know that this post will not be relevant for all of you, but it is my prayer that– for those of you who, like me, are struggling through a life change right now–this post will give you some hope and some direction.

 

One Thing We All Know For Sure

hourglass

A 48 year old man is on his way to a job when suddenly, with no warning at all, a car, driven by a teen-aged girl, crosses over into his lane. They are both killed.

A curious young boy steps too close to rushing flood waters and is swept away. He is one of 24 who are killed from flash floods in West Virginia.

A young family is playing on the lake beach of a famous resort. Suddenly, an alligator grabs their two year old and he is drowned.

The room is loud, the crowd is dancing and drinking, with no thoughts of eternity on their minds. Suddenly, shots fire. Over fifty are dead within minutes.

A man isn’t feeling well. He goes to the doctor and discovers that his body is riddled with cancer. Within months he is dead.

A 55 year old woman is on the beach on a windy day, celebrating her birthday with friends. Suddenly, a beach umbrella comes flying at her without warning, its point embedding itself in her heart. She is dead within minutes.

These are just six stories of death among the thousands that play themselves across the world every single day. Recent stories that you may have heard about. We don’t like to focus too much on death, but for just this one day, I want to talk about it.

There are a lot of opinions about a lot of things in this world. And with our new post-modern culture, we find that most people accept all opinions as true and valid. If you share anything about the Gospel with someone, you will most like hear something like this: well, that is true for you but it is not true for me. (As if 2+2 can equal 4 for me but equals 6 for them. The argument is so illogical I can’t stand it!)

But there is something we all can agree on–something that no one will argue over. There is one thing we all know for sure. And that is that we are all going to die. And, disconcertingly, few of us have absolutely any idea of when. This is not something we really want to think about, is it?

But perhaps we should think about it a little more often, because it would help us do a re-focus of a few things–

1. First and foremost, pondering death should make us think about our eternal destiny. Do I know where I am going to spend eternity? Am I confident in this? If you aren’t sure or are perhaps confused about the gospel, please read this post. If you think you are going to heaven because you said a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart, then I would ask you: does your life give evidence of your belief? Do you read and study God’s Word? Would your family and friends testify to the working of God in your life? While it is true that we only need believe in order to be saved, it is also true that true belief yields a changed life. (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 25:41-46) Is your life a living testimony of the work of Christ? If not, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

2. If we are confident we are saved, then we also have some soul-searching to do. Death should push us to share the gospel. Many have never heard the Truth from God’s Word. Oh, they may have heard parts of it or they may have heard mangled, twisted bits and pieces taken out of context. But many people still think they are working their way to heaven. What are we going to do about it? Our days are limited and we have no guarantees. Has anyone heard the Gospel from us? Have we planted some seeds along the way? Could we plant more? These are the questions that arise when we think of death.

3. If I knew I was going to die in 5 years, what would I do differently? Would I be kinder? Would I work more? Or less? Would I really try to fix my anger issue? Or climb out of debt so my family isn’t stuck with a mess? Would I make sure my relationship with my kids, my spouse, my parents was healed? We humans like to operate on “someday” time. Someday I’ll talk to that person. Someday I’ll work on this or fix that. But, for most of us, someday never comes. We focus on the everyday cares of life and rarely give attention to changing and growing, choosing instead to live very comfortably at status quo.

4. Death is a great reminder of God’s Sovereignty. He holds our days in His hands. God has even numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He knows everything–past, present, future. A day is as a thousand days to Him (2 Peter 3:8) God operates outside of time. We can rest securely in the care of our heavenly Father, knowing that we (and anyone we love) will not be removed from this earth before their time (which, by the way, is a concept that is SO much easier to write a sentence about than to actually live out).

5. Pondering death changes how we view our trials. We can become quickly overwhelmed with life and allow this to steal our joy, if we aren’t careful. Whether it be a houseful of children keeping us crazy busy or a bothersome physical trial, life can get us down. Whether it be a job that demands much from us or some relatives that suck the life out of us, life can move from joyful to draining in a short time. So much depends on our attitude. I feel a bit hypocritical even writing about this. I am very guilty of letting my circumstances control my mood. This is a constant struggle for me, but I am guessing that I am not totally alone in this (am I??). It is so easy to let external circumstances be the driving force of our lives. But we know that we should be controlled by the internal joy that we receive from the Lord and the peace that is available to us when we submit to His will. This is the secret to true and lasting contentment. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: With acceptance comes peace. Somehow when we think of death it gives us a different perspective on the trials that are plaguing us, doesn’t it? It brings them into proper focus.

6. When we think on death, it reminds us of just how blessed our ordinary days are. We move from one day to the next and complain a little if nothing exciting is happening. And, yet, ordinary can be swept away in an instant. Let’s appreciate it now–before it’s too late. Life changes. Sometimes it is very gradual and sometimes it is in a moment. How important that we appreciate each day and each stage of life. My daughter actually just wrote post on this. Maybe you want to check it out.

As you go about this week, I hope that you will think a bit on this. Who are the lost that you rub shoulders with every day? Do you have a passion to share the Gospel with them? What needs changed in your life to make you look more like Christ? What work does the Lord have for you before you leave the earth? Do you spend a lot of time complaining? Is it time to start working on a heart of gratitude and a spirit of contentment?

Life is short. And none of us has any guarantees. The time to shine our light is now. The time to change is now.

Because only the Lord knows what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

 

Becoming the Enemy

Snarling German Shepherd

Eight years ago–2008–dawned with an important election on the horizon. Perhaps even more important than the one coming up this year. At the time, my youngest girls were 11 and 8. As we discussed what the future of the country would be under the care of a President like Obama, one of the girls became frightened and had the unreasonable fear that this new President would steal her from our house. We all had a good laugh about that one.

But eight years later it isn’t as funny. He might not have personally stolen any children from their homes, but how he has changed this country in just eight short years is almost unimaginable. And somehow, in that time, biblical Christians have become the enemy. Oh, I am not talking about the ones that cave to the culture and ignore the Bible–those kind of “Christians” have never been any threat, have they?

But for those of us who still declare that abortion is wrong, that homosexuality is wrong, that adultery and fornication are wrong, and for those of us who declare that there is such a thing as sin and that Jesus Christ desires that we live a holy, godly life on this earth–well, we now have a big problem, don’t we? In just 8 short years we have become the enemy. It had been brewing for awhile, of course, but Obama set the course in motion at breakneck speed.

When I was a little girl–perhaps about five or six–we had a little mini dachshund named Daisy Mae. One day we went to visit my grandparents and, for whatever reason, we had taken her along. It was a nice summer day and we were out in the front yard talking. Suddenly, we saw a brown streak race across the yard, straight for our puppy. It was the neighbor’s German Shepherd and he was on a mission. He picked up our little puppy and started shaking it and shaking it, amidst the screams and shouts of the adults and children there. When he finally dropped her, it was too late.

She lay there, lifeless, in a brown little heap.

I don’t remember much past that. Did the neighbor come over and profusely apologize? I have no recollection. But what I do remember is the horror of it all. We were so helpless. Our tiny little dog was defenseless. There was nothing she could do.

Don’t you feel just a little like our tiny dog standing in the middle of the yard? As biblical Christians in America (and perhaps in all of the Western World), we have become a small minority group and there is this giant German Shepherd of the wicked world rushing towards us with the mission to kill us and be rid of any accountability to God, once and for all.

Of course, we know they will never be successful. In fact, we can look back over history and see that when the church is persecuted is when it actually grows the most. And, so, its light will never be extinguished. Never.

Which is encouraging in theory. But what does it mean for us personally?

None of us really knows. But the light of America’s Christianity is waning and it’s waning quickly. And we need to ask ourselves this question: What are we going to do?

Are we going to be brave enough to stand up for Christ amidst the hostility we are facing? Or are we going to melt into the background?

Are we going to have the courage to share the truth of the Bible with those we meet? Or are we going to ignore any opportunities God may give us in order to avoid being labeled as one of those Christians?

Straddling the fence will not be an option much longer. You realize that, don’t you? Many Christians have been riding the fence for far too long. One foot in the world and one foot in the church. That may be a viable option for those who aren’t truly saved, but that is no option for anyone who is a genuine Christian. Jesus Christ puts it this way in Matthew 10, verses 38-39:

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

If we are carrying a cross, we have no time or energy for worldly pursuits. If we are following Christ, our own wants and desires will eventually conform to God’s will and we will have no inclination or desire for the world.

These are not suggestions. This is how Christ describes His true followers.

I do not know what is ahead of us in the next eight years. But, unlike my dog who stood there defenseless, we have the God of the universe on our side. Nothing–absolutely nothing–happens outside of his sovereign care. His power and love are far deeper and greater than we could even imagine. I love how Romans 8:31-39 puts it–

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”[c]

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And so, yes, somehow in eight short years we have become the enemy. And, yes, we are living in a country that is becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity. We may soon face what so many of our Christians brothers and sisters faced under men like Nero and Stalin–and what many of them are facing even now under regimes like Isis or radical Hinduism. Satan is on a mission to eliminate Christianity. This has been his mission throughout history. As we move towards the last days, it would seem only natural that things would heat up for Christians. Biblical Christianity, by its very nature, stands in opposition to all that Satan is trying to accomplish.

But if we are on Jesus Christ’s side, we are going to win. May we never forget that– no matter if the enemy steals our reputations, our material goods, or even our very lives–we are going to win.

So pick a side, but be sure to choose with eternity in mind.

 

Perseverance Pays Off

Running

A few years ago, I became very interested in making organic versions of products that we often use. Some of them were big failures–like the liquid soap!–but others were wonderful, working as well as (or even better than) the store-bought versions. One of these recipes I ended up calling “Magic Cream” because it was so versatile and wonderfully healing on all types of skin issues. From cuts and scrapes to blemishes to burns to super-dry skin, this stuff works like magic.

A little while ago a friend of mine expressed interest in the recipe for my Magic Cream as she thought it might help her with a skin issue she was having. I gave her the recipe along with a small tube of it that I had on hand. When I saw her a little while later, I asked her how she liked it. She hesitated a bit and then confessed that, while it was working, it was taking a lot longer than she had hoped. She had expected it to work instantly but that had not happened.

When she said that, it hit me how often all of us do this in life. We so badly want a positive change to occur instantly and when it doesn’t happen we grow discouraged and give up. This happens in any number of areas of life including weight loss, addictions we want to overcome, dysfunctional relationships, and growing in biblical knowledge. None of these things happen instantly, but we have been trained to want instant.

And, yes, instant is wonderful. No question about that. My last two children had to be delivered via C-section and both times as I lay there on the table being prepped, I experienced overwhelming nausea. Now that is one of the worst feelings in the world because you can’t even sit up. When I mentioned it, something was added to my IV and I instantly felt better. I have never had relief happen that quickly. I can still vividly remember how wonderful that was.

And some people–maybe even some of you–have had instant relief from addictions and other sins when you came to Christ. It does happen occasionally.

But most of us have to persevere and sweat a little bit to conquer sin, working with the Holy Spirit who empowers and enables us. Of course, there are a few sacrifices we need to make in order to actually change and grow in a vibrant and permanent way–

1. We need to give up our sin. So simple and yet so incredibly difficult. But unless we are intentionally “putting off” the old man, we will continue to struggle. Far too many of us live in a place of hopelessness and defeat because we aren’t willing to give up all of that old man.

Ephesians 4:22-24 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

2. We need to immerse ourselves in the scripture. Psalm 119 is just one passage of many that shows us the value of the Word in our victory over sin and our growth as a Christian.

Psalm 119: 9 How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.

3. We need to surround ourselves with godly people who will challenge us. Do our friends exhort us to live godly lives or are they encouraging us to live worldly lives?

Hebrews 3:13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

4. We can’t give up. Sometimes it is tempting to throw our hands up in the air and give up. And we can come up with a thousand reasons why it’s okay to live in sin in “just this one area” of our lives. But we need to keep trying. We need to keep running the race with 100% of our efforts. Sin slows us down. These verses from I Corinthians remind us that we are not running for some earthly prize (although there may be some earthly rewards that accompany our victories over sin) but we are running for an imperishable crown. Verse 27 of this passage also shows us that our testimony and Christian witness is reliant upon us not only running this race, but running it well.

I Corinthians 9:24-27 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Sin can be difficult to conquer. Some of us are trying to overcome sins that have been in our families for generations. But it is not impossible. It will take diligence and perseverance, along with filling our minds with scripture and much prayer, but it is not impossible.

And one day in the future–if we don’t give up– we will look back at the road we have traveled and see just how far we’ve come. And that will be a great day!

 

The Line

line

The other morning I heard a song that started me wondering about something–

If I stood completely alone in my stand for Christ with no fellow believers to be found anywhere, would I continue to stand? If I was rejected and abandoned by family, friends, and co-workers for my faith; If I was mocked and scorned and persecuted, would I cave?

Our pastor once told the story of The Line as part of his sermon. I am going to paraphrase it here–

There was a college professor who one day came up with an interesting little experiment to try on his classes. He showed different lines on a screen in front of his students. The lines were very obviously different lengths. When he pointed to the longest line, he asked how many of the class thought this was the longest line. (Now remember, it was very obviously the longest line). Only one student raised his hand. As he looked around him, he became hesitant and slowly pulled his hand back down to his side.

What the student didn’t know was that this had been a set-up. The professor wanted to know how many would raise their hand confidently at the objective truth in front of them, even if they were the only one.

75% of the lone students caved.

Seventy-five percent!

Now doesn’t that help us understand the state of the church a bit more clearly?

We aren’t teaching our kids to be courageous! We aren’t teaching them to stand up for the truth no matter what the cost!

And forget the kids for a second. What would you have done? I would say that I don’t care all that much about man’s praise, but when I think about that scenario, I think even me, at my stage in life, may have questioned myself. We are so caught up in the herd mentality that we have lost site of what matters. We so loathe being singled out, pointed at, and ridiculed that we do everything possible to avoid it–even if it means compromise.

And it’s getting harder and harder to stand. There used to be some tolerance for people who believe the Bible to be the inspired and infallible Word of God. Now there is very little–even from people who call themselves Christians. This change in our culture certainly gives us lots of opportunities to stand firmly for Christ– or to not stand.

The thing about compromise is that once you do it once, it becomes easier and easier. For solid Christians who actually know the Word of God the first step into the murky waters of compromise feels very uncomfortable. But it gets easier and easier and if we aren’t careful, we are surrounded and immersed in it and don’t even realize it.

Jesus tells us in John 15:18-25 that the world will hate us. That we should expect this. We find similar thoughts in 2 Timothy 3:12, I Peter 4:12-14, I John 3:13. In fact this theme is so woven throughout the scriptures, that we can come to the conclusion that if we aren’t persecuted and hated by at least some of those we come in contact with we may not be walking with God the way we should be.

This is very opposite of what you hear today, isn’t it?  Instead we hear that peace and unity are the signs of a “good Christian”.  Of course, if we are hated, it should be because of speaking truth. We never want it to be for the unkind way we speak truth or for promoting our own selfish agendas couched in “Christianese”. This is how Christians get such a terrible reputation.

I remember hearing John MacArthur say something that echoes my thoughts exactly on this. I can’t quote him word for word because I don’t have it. But it was something that stuck with me and it was something like this–

I am not concerned if people hate me for speaking the truth from God’s Word because they don’t like it. But I am very concerned if people hate me because of my sin–because I’ve been rude, or arrogant, or unloving.

I wish I had his exact quote, but I just don’t. But I remember hearing him and saying–YES! This is what we Christians need to remember! It’s okay to be hated for speaking the truth but it is never okay to be hated for being unloving or rude.

It’s a convicting challenge that requires constant testing of our own hearts. If Satan can’t get us to compromise then he instead tempts us to stand for the truth in an unloving, arrogant way. We can never let down our guards. As it says in I Peter 5:8–

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Hmmm. I got a little off-track there for a moment. Let’s go back to the story of the line. Are you a little worried, like me, that you wouldn’t have the courage to raise your hand and stand for the truth all by yourself?

I remember as a teenager being so concerned about this. I would hear stories from the {former} USSR about people who would be shot or sent to Siberia for their faith and worrying that I would cave if I should ever face that same thing. But God gave me great comfort in two ways regarding this. First, in the promise that no matter what we face, His grace will be sufficient–

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (I Corinthians 12:9)

We will get the grace we need when we need it and not a moment before.

And, second, I take great comfort in the life of Peter. Isn’t it great encouragement that Peter–the man who denied his association with Christ three times (John 18) wasn’t rejected by Christ, but instead went on to do wonderful and amazing things for the Kingdom–even dying for Christ in the end? We should take great encouragement in this. For even one of Christ’s very disciples struggled with this and yet, in the end, stood strong and firm!

I hope these things encourage you, too, because I think our opportunities to stand alone are going to become more and more frequent. It is sobering and actually quite frightening. But it’s not impossible. And–as my pastor says–there is always a remnant–a remnant of those of us who believe the Bible wholly and fully. Praise God! We are never truly alone, even though it may feel like it for a moment.

Many of you are part of that remnant. Let’s encourage one another as we face the unknown. Let’s put the foolish arguments that don’t matter aside and unite in our commitment to God and His Word. Let’s stand boldly–no matter the cost.

 

Why Do You Need God?

Why

 

Why do you need God?

The answers to this question were all given with different voices, different words, different intonations. But they all said basically the same thing–

To make my life easier.

Words like encouragement and strength and comfort were used. We need God because He helps us get through difficult times.

This was a dialogue I heard a couple of weeks ago on Todd Friel’s Wretched Radio program. Almost every Wednesday he dedicates his radio program to talking to the lost. He calls it  “Witness Wednesday”, taking his radio show on the road and asking people what they think about God. It is generally fascinating and eye-opening. On this particular day he was asking the question “Why do you need God?” to students on a college campus.

Of course, many said they don’t need God or that they don’t believe in God. But far more troublesome to me were the students who seemed to have a basic understanding of Christianity as a religion and yet didn’t truly understand why they need God.

Instead their answers were filled with the feel-good, me-centered drivel we have all grown quite used to.

But is this really why we need God? Is it because He helps us get through tough times and makes life here on earth so much better? While I am not denying that this is true, I would like to suggest that this is not why we need God. The primary reason we need God is because we are eternally damned without Him. (Romans 6:23; Romans 3:23; Revelation 21:8)

We are born sinners. We are slaves to our sin and to Satan, living in thick, black darkness. But God sent His son to redeem us–to die on a cross for our sins, making a way for us to be reconciled to Himself. We need not be condemned forever, because Jesus died for us–in our place! What marvelous truth! (Hebrews 9:12; I Timothy 2:5) This is what Christianity is all about.

At least it used to be what it was all about.

Somehow in the last 20 years or so, it has become a watered-down, weak, ecumenical, self-absorbed religion that looks nothing like what the Bible teaches.

The intrinsic problem with this change is that there are so many who have been swept into this religion that consists of a god of their own making. When we move away from the Word of God as we strive to answer eternal questions, we leave ourselves open to lies and deadly false teaching.

As I heard the students explain why they need God, there was no mention of sin and no mention of salvation. Instead it was centered around how God helps them in their self-centered agendas. No wonder they get disillusioned later on in life when things don’t go as they planned.

This is an amazing contrast to the disciples, all who were martyred for their faith (except John, who was exiled to an island). But the censorship and persecution started for the disciples even before Jesus was crucified. As I read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11 last week, I learned that Jesus was walking into grave danger as He traveled to Lazarus, who was located in Judea. By this time, the Pharisees were actively seeking to do away with this Man who was calling Himself God. Of course, Jesus knew that nothing would happen to Him before it was His appointed time, but the disciples did not have this same knowledge. And so as Jesus starts for Judea, the disciples fully understood that their lives could be in danger, as well, if they decided to accompany Him. But instead of turning back, this is what we see Thomas say in verse 16–

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

The text would indicate that he honestly believed that there was a likelihood they would die with Christ on that day.

This not only shows us just how dreadful and powerful the Pharisees were but it also tells us just how dedicated the disciples were to the Savior. And I find myself wondering:  Would I have been courageous enough to follow Jesus? Or would I have opted to protect myself instead? It is sobering to think about, isn’t it?

When Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), this does not mean that our lives will be full of flowers and sunshine. Sure we will be blessed with wonderful moments (thankfully!) but some of the places Christ leads us will be terribly difficult and we will find ourselves persecuted and hated. Are we willing to make that sacrifice to follow the Savior? Or will we walk away broken and embittered when Jesus doesn’t meet our “felt needs” or fulfill our worldly dreams?

Are we prepared to follow Jesus anywhere or will we defect when things take a painful turn? Asking this question is a great way to test the genuineness of our faith. If our faith is built on the biblical doctrine of salvation then we will stand strong in the face of persecution. We understand that we need God because He is our only hope of salvation from the sin that imprisons us! And then–as we grow in Christ–we learn that He offers us so much more than we can ask or imagine, but being rescued from our sin is always our starting point.

Will we be like Thomas–understanding true salvation and following Jesus even though it may mean suffering for the sake of our Savior? Or will we be like those college students–living with a vague, partial, and unbiblical definition of a God they aren’t even seeking?