Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

My Personal Christmas Carol

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“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.” Charles Dickens

I sat cozily in my recliner with a mug of hot coffee on the table beside me. This was the morning I would catch up on my Bible reading. Somehow with all of the holiday activity, I had managed to fall a few days behind schedule. I opened up my chronological Bible to pick up where I had left off. I looked down and saw that that I was starting in Ephesians. What I didn’t realize was just how convicted I’d be by the end of reading this short epistle of Paul’s.

As I read through all six chapters that morning, several verses jumped out at me, pointing out a particular sin in my life that I had downplayed until I almost believed it wasn’t a sin. Almost. It brought to mind Hebrews 4:12–

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

This particular December morning, God’s word was certainly piercing my soul, showing me a sinful habit that has yielded unwanted fruit in my life. And will continue to do so unless I change it.

A little later on that same day, I turned on my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. It stars George C. Scott as Scrooge and Edward Woodward as the “ghost” of Christmas Present. It’s a great version.

I was working on something else while watching so I wasn’t paying real close attention to the dialogue. But as Scrooge knelt over his own grave asking if these things of the future would be or just might be, it hit me–

All of us have futures that will be that are based on the choices we are making today. Unlike Scrooge, most of us do not have the opportunity to have our future illuminated so clearly before our eyes by the “ghost” of Christmas future. But we do have the Word of God which clearly shows us the narrow path of righteousness and the dreadful consequences of walking the broad way.

So why then do we stay on our path to destruction?

I think it is because it happens so subtly and so gradually.

Scrooge never set out to be a miserable, stingy old man. When asked what they want to be, no twenty year old ever says that they hope to be a homeless drunk or a lonely, cold-hearted woman.

But every action, every choice, and every attitude we cultivate about our circumstances add up and lead us somewhere. And we have a great deal of freedom in determining where that place will be. For some of us it is leading us to miserable loneliness and to the devastating health and financial consequences of self-indulgence. For others, it is leading to peace of mind and strong family bonds.

How easy it is to talk ourselves into sin with a mental promise to change tomorrow. Our pride and love for self keep us careening on the path to destruction, somehow talking ourselves into postponing change. As we read, it is probably very easy for us to think of someone who is really on the pathway to destruction–like a friend who drinks too much or a father who spends too much time at the office but I’d like to throw out a challenge to you: what are the behaviors and attitudes that are leading you to a place you don’t want to go? Where have you decided you are going to do things your way and ignore the principles of God as laid down in His Word?

Of course, the great news is that we don’t have to keep going in the wrong direction in our lives. We can choose to leave the broad way of destruction and take up traveling on the the narrow path of righteousness. Whether it’s an addiction to drugs, food, alcohol, or even to social media, we can make a choice this very day to change. Whether it’s anger, a habit of lying, an unforgiving heart, gossip, sexual sin, or any other sin named in scripture, we can choose, by the strength of the Holy Spirit living in us, to make changes.

God used Ephesians to convict and challenge me to change. And it won’t be easy.

Sometimes change feels downright impossible, but God promises us victory– maybe not 100% of the time (as we will continue to fight our flesh all our years on this earth) but we can have victory over sinful habits. We don’t have to throw up our hands in defeat and shout “I give up!” Check out I Corinthians 15:57; I Corinthians 10:13; I John 1:9; Ephesians 6:10; Psalm 3:8; Romans 8:31-32; and Proverbs 21:31 for some biblical encouragement.

I have had victory over other sins. I know that God not only can deliver me from sinful habits, but He already has done that many times over the years.

And, so as I was reading the other morning, I realized that I don’t need any ghost to tell me about my future, because I have the Bible. And that is enough for me. Because it’s only by being in the Word that we can ever have any hope of real and lasting change–the kind of change that reaches way down deep into our hearts and changes us from the inside out.

 

Treasures Abounding

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One of the very best things about reading through the Bible is how it puts all the pieces of God’s plan for salvation all together. Throughout our lives we memorize verses like Romans 3:23 or John 3:16, but reading and studying these verses in context makes them so much more meaningful and deepens our insight by leaps and bounds. We hear of the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament, but actually reading their stories and following the history of the Jewish people and their laws helps us to understand the need for salvation and God’s plan for humanity in a way that is quite impossible without actually reading through the Old Testament.

It is so hard to believe that the Growing4Life Bible Challenge 2015 is drawing to a close. We are on Week 49. That means that if you have stuck with me this year, you have almost made it through reading the entire Bible! (If you just found Growing4Life and didn’t know about the challenge, I will leave the information on the blog, as it can be done any year and maybe you will want to tackle it for 2016!)

My last two weeks have been crazy busy so now I am a few days behind in the Bible Reading schedule. So this means that I started Romans today. Wow, what an incredible book! Even though I have read it several times before, this morning I read it afresh with new eyes and deeper insight–perhaps it is because I now have the historical perspective of the Old Testament. Whatever the reason, this morning I realized that there is much treasure to be mined in the book of Romans!

Romans is the book to read if you want proof that we are ALL sinners, born with unregenerate and darkened hearts (Romans 3:10-11). It’s here that we understand that salvation is based on faith alone (Romans 3:23-26). Romans also shows us why salvation and God’s grace is not a “get out of jail free card”, giving us the right to continue in sin (Romans 6:1-2). And it’s the book to read to find out why there is no acceptable excuse for anyone to reject God (Romans 1:19-20) and why we must continue to proclaim that homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). It also shows us that these sins rank right up there with homosexuality–

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality,© wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving,[d] unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)

I don’t know about you, but looking over that list is a little sobering when we think about the Christians–including perhaps ourselves–who are caught up in such sins like pride, lack of love, and unforgiveness. Oftentimes, we aren’t even willing to call these things sin but instead convince ourselves that they are personality quirks or are some kind of psychological dysfunction.

Actually, Romans flies in the face of much that is being taught in mainstream Christianity today. If you want to know and understand basic Christian doctrines, as they have been taught through the ages, read Romans. If you want to be able to defend a biblical world view using scripture, study this book. I cannot believe how much is in there and I have only read the first six chapters!

I would like to come back and study it some more. But for right now, I will enjoy reading the profound truths held within its pages. I hope that you, too, will read this book– even if you aren’t participating in the Bible challenge. While it is certainly filled with unpopular truths that the unregenerate are not interested in hearing, if we are truly saved, this book will be a balm to our souls and will deepen our understanding of God’s wonderful plan of salvation.

 

 

Two Types of People

in everything

I was listening to Gateway to Joy the other day and heard Elisabeth Elliot say something like this: “there are only two kinds of people: the kind who complain and the thankful kind.”

And I had to ask myself:

Which kind am I?

I guess none of us are either kind all the time, but which kind am I most of the time?

The really great thing about this question is that we get to choose what kind of person we will be. It isn’t like the question are you short or tall? While we can’t change our height, we can change if we are a complainer or if we are thankful.

I would say that I am overall a pretty happy person, but these last couple of years have challenged that a bit. I have been thrown out of my norm, forced to develop a new normal, and I have rebelled a bit against that. I have had many moments– even months– that I have not been thankful. I have blamed it on my circumstances.

But God, I don’t want this in my life.

Slowly but surely, God is teaching me that my joy is not dependent on my circumstances. My grateful heart is not dependent on what’s going on in my life. Instead it comes from a heart surrendered to the will of the Father, trusting in Him and knowing that whatever is going on in my life is for His glory and my best.

This is a very hard lesson to learn, no matter what change in life we face. Or what circumstances. We all have them, don’t we? We traverse on this troubled and fallen earth where trials abound. We can all think of plenty of reasons to complain. But when we choose thanksgiving, we are like a lighthouse on this dark earth.

Let me give you an example.

I know two older women who have now lived out most of their lives. They have married, raised a family, and watched grandchildren grow up. They have health issues and life has changed considerably for both of them over the past ten or so years, giving them much to complain about.

But these two women are like night and day in how they face their circumstances and the contrast is remarkable.

The one complains frequently about her circumstances. The other one chooses to be thankful despite her circumstances. The complainer talks negatively about everyone around her. The other one does not. The complainer rarely has a positive thing to say. The other one is inspiring and full of joy. The complainer is lonely and has few friends. The other one is loved dearly by many. One is showing me what not to be like when I am old and one is creating a beautiful legacy.

One of these women is joining the roiling, heaving mass of discontented humanity and the other one is standing out like a lighthouse on the shore, offering hope despite life’s hard times.

This contrast has given me cause for great thought. I want to be creating a beautiful legacy of joy and thanksgiving. But how do I get there?

Perhaps the change starts in our minds, where we first get our initial thought of complaint. Most of us are wallowing in sinful, negative thoughts before ever speaking. And if we want to change, we need to recognize this. 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands us to take every thought captive. Captive. Instead of  letting our thoughts take control of us, we are to take control of them. This is where I fail so often.

I have that thought of sadness or irritation and I will feed it. Instead of taking it captive, I will set it out to pasture to gobble up all of my peace. And yet, life is so much better when I take those thoughts captive as instructed in scripture.

And so I am learning to choose joy and thanksgiving. In my Bible Challenge reading this week, I read that wonderful passage in I Thessalonians 5, including verse 18 about giving thanks always. God’s Word speaks to so many of our problems and struggles. But changing is no easy process and needs to be done very intentionally through the power of the Holy Spirit, just like the rest of our Christian lives. Intentional submission to God’s sovereignty, intentional scripture study and prayer time, intentional choices that lead to pure, holy, and thankful lives. Until one day God calls us into His presence to live with Him forever. The Hope of Heaven–now that is something for which to be truly thankful!

 

Forsaking and Fleeing

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Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.

These words startled me when I was reading my assigned passage from the gospels for the Bible Challenge the other day. I have read through Matthew many times, but for some reason, these words from the second half of Matthew 26:56 really made me stop and think that morning.

Peter’s denial happens later on in that chapter but before Peter ever denies Christ, Matthew tells us that all of the disciples have left their Messiah’s side when they realized that Jesus was being arrested.  As I went on in the chronological reading, I discovered that Mark recorded this in much the same way–

 Then they all forsook Him and fled. (Mark 14:50)

These eleven men (the twelfth had just betrayed Jesus), had seen Jesus, our Savior, Himself in the flesh. They had walked and talked with Him. And yet they fled from His side when the going got rough. They had seen Him turn water into wine (John 2:1-12), watched Him raise a dead man (John 11:38-44), and had witnessed the healing of the multitudes (Matthew 12:15). These same eleven men had watched as a few fish and several loaves of bread fed a huge, starving crowd–twice! (Matthew 14:17-21 and Matthew 15:33-39).  Astonishing and incredible miracles were just part of the course of a day with Jesus and these eleven men had witnessed them over and over again as His disciples.

Not only did they see miracles, but they sat under the teaching of Jesus, the perfect Teacher. They had learned wisdom and doctrine from God Himself.

They have spent three amazing years following and serving the true Messiah. And yet, when things get a little frightening, they all flee.

All of them.

Not one single one of them stood by Jesus when He was arrested.

Thankfully, their legacies do not stop there, amidst failure and fear. Instead, every single one of those disciples (with the exception of Judas, of course) went on to live devoted and whole-hearted lives for Christ. They traveled to places like India, Russia, and Persia spreading the gospel. They all, without exception, went on to do big things for the sake of Jesus Christ. (See Below)

What encourages me about this is that, quite clearly, failures and lapses in courage do not disqualify us from running the race that has been set before us. God knows our thoughts and desires. He can see when our hearts are stubbornly rebellious or when we are repentant and ready to submit to Him. He sees every sin we commit. Every failure. Every time we cower in fear. And yet, despite all of this, He loves and forgives us.

Somehow, knowing that the disciples forsook Jesus at such a critical time but then went on to spread the gospel far and wide is reassuring for me. It means that we can forsake and we can run, but there is forgiveness waiting for us when we choose to continue moving on for the sake of Christ.

God’s free gift of salvation and forgiveness for sins is not for perfect people who have mastered their sinful natures. Instead, it is for me. And for you. It is for cowardly, sinful people who make really bad choices and fail over and over again. How thankful I am for God’s marvelous grace and mercy!

 

If you are not familiar with what happened to each of the disciples, here is a brief overview taken from this article at Christianity.com

Into All the World
Reports and legends abound and they are not always reliable, but it is safe to say that the apostles went far and wide as heralds of the message of the risen Christ. An early legend says they cast lots and divided up the world to determine who would go where, so all could hear about Jesus. They suffered greatly for their faith and in most cases met violent deaths on account of their bold witness.

PETER and PAUL were both martyred in Rome about 66 AD, during the persecution under Emperor Nero. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified, upside down at his request, since he did not feel he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.

ANDREW went to the “land of the man-eaters,” in what is now the Soviet Union. Christians there claim him as the first to bring the gospel to their land. He also preached in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, and in Greece, where he is said to have been crucified.

“Doubting” THOMAS was probably most active in the area east of Syria. Tradition has him preaching as far east as India, where the ancient Marthoma Christians revere him as their founder. They claim that he died there when pierced through with the spears of four soldiers.

PHILIP possibly had a powerful ministry in Carthage in North Africa and then in Asia Minor, where he converted the wife of a Roman proconsul. In retaliation the proconsul had Philip arrested and cruelly put to death.

MATTHEW the tax collector and writer of a Gospel, ministered in Persia and Ethiopia. Some of the oldest reports say he was not martyred, while others say he was stabbed to death in Ethiopia.

BARTHOLOMEW had widespread missionary travels attributed to him by tradition: to India with Thomas, back to Armenia, and also to Ethiopia and Southern Arabia. There are various accounts of how he met his death as a martyr for the gospel.

JAMES the son of Alpheus, is one of at least three James referred to in the New Testament. There is some confusion as to which is which, but this James is reckoned to have ministered in Syria. The Jewish historian Josephus reported that he was stoned and then clubbed to death.

SIMON THE ZEALOT, so the story goes, ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to the sun god.

MATTHIAS was the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Tradition sends him to Syria with Andrew and to death by burning.

JOHN is the only one of the company generally thought to have died a natural death from old age. He was the leader of the church in the Ephesus area and is said to have taken care of Mary the mother of Jesus in his home. During Domitian’s persecution in the middle 90’s, he was exiled to the island of Patmos. There he is credited with writing the last book of the New Testament–the Revelation. An early Latin tradition has him escaping unhurt after being cast into boiling oil at Rome.

The Prison of Worry

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I would like to tell you that I am worry-free. But, alas, I am not. There are just so many things that can go wrong! If we are the kind of person that thinks too much, we can tend to be worriers. Am I the only one who thinks there is something desperately wrong if I am unable to get a hold of my child on their cell phone for ten minutes or if I have a strange pain somewhere?

Worry can be so debilitating.

It steals our peace.

It controls our thoughts.

It takes our joy.

And the wonderful reward for all this worry?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

The time we spend worrying steals our present, yet makes no difference in the future. Worry keeps us locked up in a prison of our own making, far away from the joys and blessings of life.

When I was a young twenty-something, I was positively crippled by worry. I would lay on my sofa for wasted hours feeling sick because of worry. It was so awful. But God rescued me. He taught me to take my thoughts captive. I learned to move my mind from my worry to something else. Oh, the first few months it felt impossible. But it got easier and easier, until it became a habit. Of course, every now and then, a few question marks show up in my life to remind me that I haven’t mastered worry.

Theologically, I have learned that worry is really an affront to God. When we worry, we are telling Him that He doesn’t know what He is doing. That we can’t trust Him.

But this week as I was reading in Luke 12 for the Bible Challenge, I found some very practical and helpful principles for this raging battle with worry and anxiety that so many of us face–

  1. We are loved and valued by the Father. Luke 12:7 tells us that not even a sparrow is forgotten before God and that we are of far more value to Him than many sparrows. We need not fear.
  2. The Holy Spirit will guide us through trials. Luke 12:11 tells us that the disciples brought before magistrates and authorities for the sake of Christ will be given words to answer the accusations through the Holy Spirit. When I read this verse the other day, I felt comforted to know that if (or when) the church faces persecution, we will not be alone. And there are other verses throughout scripture to show us that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort and to counsel us: John 14:26; Romans 15:13; 2 Timothy 1:14.
  3. Worry changes nothing. Luke 12:25-26 asks this: And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? 
    When things are outside our control, many of us tend to stew and fret and make those around us miserable (if we are honest!) and yet, all that frustration and misery won’t change one thing. That is sobering to think about, isn’t it? Especially for us worriers. How many precious hours have we wasted on this time-sapping activity?
  4. God promises to take care of us. A little further on in Luke we read this in verse 28: If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?  Worry is probably a timeless sin that has affected almost all human beings at one time or another. And yet, Jesus tells us here that we can trust the Father. He will care for us.
  5. Knowing God and making Him known needs to be our first priority. I don’t think it is an accident that verses 34-35 (Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.) follow right after this whole passage on worry. After all, worry is often the result of having our priorities a little out of order. It is much easier to yield our will to the Father’s when we can keep our worldly possessions in perspective or when we truly want to please the Father in all things first and foremost– even before our own health or popularity, before any relationship, or before our reputation. When we really keep God first in our lives and seek His kingdom, it helps us to sift and sort through all of the trivial–and not so trivial– things we worry about.

Of course, all of these principles are well and good, but if you are in the midst of a battle with worry this may feel a little rote to you. And some of you are facing really big struggles right now, with no good conclusion forthcoming. Illnesses, loss of jobs and income, straying kids. There are very legitimate causes for concern in so many of our lives. If this is the case, I encourage you to pray, begging God to help you live out these principles in your life. If you are a true believer, the Holy Spirit is there to comfort and guide you.

Sometimes in the midst of a deep, dark trial that has me captured by worry, I find myself unable to even pray. If you find yourself in a similar place ask a friend or family member to pray for you until you get though the worst of this.

But, most of all, let’s keep our eyes on the Father, the author and finisher of our faith. He will never leave or forsake us. Let’s glorify Him by showing the world that we trust Him implicitly instead of staying locked up in our prison of worry.

 

How Well Do You Know Jesus?

How Well

One of the things that I find really fascinating in this current church age are the lies that are told about Jesus. One clear example is from the movie Walk to Remember. It’s the story of a terminally ill pastor’s daughter who falls in love with the typical bad boy. While the story was beautiful, there was a line in there that was not biblical in the least. The teen-aged girl and her father sat on a porch swing talking about her relationship with this boy and she made this statement–

“I believe He {Jesus} wants me to be happy.”

Her father never pointed to scripture and said no, your happiness is not the purpose of life (which any godly pastor would have done, by the way).

Have you heard that statement before? Do you believe that Jesus wants you to be happy? What other misconceptions do we have about Jesus?  Thankfully, the lies we have heard about Jesus are cleared up quite nicely as we read the gospels. If we believe the Bible, then we simply cannot believe these statements–

Jesus wants me to be happy and to fulfill my dreams.

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (Mark 8:34)

Jesus says that we will be loved and adored by the world.

If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.(John 15:19)

Jesus came to bring peace on earth.

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)

Jesus expects us to eliminate poverty.

For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. (Matthew 26:11)

Jesus never said a negative word to anyone.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Matthew 23:13-14)

Jesus tells us that we need to be like the world to win the world.

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.(Matthew 5:13)

Jesus unified people wherever He went and expects us to do likewise.

And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people. (John 7:12)

So there was a division among the people because of Him. (John 7:43)

Jesus’s death and resurrection means that I can do anything I feel like doing.

She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more. (John 8:11)

 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)

Jesus would never allow anyone to spend eternity in hell.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— (Mark 9:43)

Jesus would never be so narrow-minded as to say there is only one way to heaven.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6)

Have you, too, heard these lies about our Savior and King? Does it pain your soul like it does mine? Jesus has been remade to be someone who He is clearly not in so many of our churches. Can you understand why it is so important for Satan to undermine our trust in the Word of God? For it is there– and only there– that we can truly learn about our Savior.

If you are continuing in the G4L Bible Challenge with me, you will be discovering who Jesus really is for yourself. When I sat down and read the gospels through for the first time last year, I became really and fully aware of just how warped the view of Jesus is in the minds of most people–even many Christians. And I believe this is mostly due to the fact that we do not know the Word and what it says about our wonderful and merciful Savior.

The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) give details about the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. While each of the gospels tells each event just a bit differently and some add details that others don’t include, they all harmonize in a marvelous way. Each author is from a different background and education and, at the time, was writing for a different audience, and yet, we can clearly see that God is the Master Author of them all.

The more we study the scripture, the more we will get to know Jesus. So keep reading. And if you haven’t started, I hope that you will join us! You can find the reading schedule here. You can just pick up with us where we are (Week 43, Day 4) or you can start from the beginning. Just get into the Word and start learning to know who Jesus really is.

Why Do You Follow Jesus?

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If you are new to Growing 4 Life, I want to fill you in briefly on what has been taking place here this past year. We have a 2015 Chronological Bible Reading Challenge going on and we have just entered the New Testament. Over the past year, I have spent most Thursdays writing about what we are reading in our challenge. I plan to do that through the end of this year. By the way, this would be a great time for you to join us since we are only a week into our New Testament reading. You can finish out the year with us. Click here for more information.

I am really excited to finally be in the New Testament and reading about the life of my Savior. This morning’s reading was from the gospels and was about Jesus healing the multitude (Matthew 12:15; Luke 6:17-19). I found myself wondering what it must have been like to be part of that group of people. Can you imagine if there was a man who was healing people –like really healing them? Wouldn’t you do everything in your power to visit him if you were terminally ill? Or if your child or sister or father was suffering from cancer or mental illness? This man would provide the quick fix our human hearts long for. Healing would mean relief from the pain and anxiety that accompanies any illness.

This helps us to understand why the multitude followed so passionately after Jesus. They naturally longed for relief from their physical ailments and struggles.

But what I find really interesting is the fact that the adoration of this multitude (that was given a miraculous respite from their worry and pain) was rather short-lived. It would seem that as soon as they were no longer benefiting, most turned away (John 6:66). Where were all of those who were healed on the day that Jesus was crucified? Why weren’t they crying for his release?

Of course, He couldn’t have been released or there would be no sacrifice for sins and we would have no way to be reconciled to God. Nevertheless, I do find myself wondering about the fickle multitude who passionately clung to Him when they could get something they wanted from Him and who wanted nothing to do with Him when it would cost them.

Perhaps the followers of Jesus still do this very thing today.

What is keeping us dedicated to serving Jesus? Is it because we are hoping that He will give us all of our desires? Is it about the material wealth or freedom from disease that some {false} teachers would promise? Perhaps it is because we long for the peace and joy that seems to constantly eludes us?

But if this is why we are serving Jesus then when things get a little rough, we will walk away. When we go through a spell where we don’t “feel” like He is there, we will search elsewhere for some other quick-fix. And when we are teased or persecuted for our faith, we will determine it’s not worth the cost.

How critical to remember that Jesus didn’t come to make us rich. Or to make us happy. He didn’t die on the cross to make us comfortable or healthy. He died to reconcile us to God. A miraculous, merciful, and amazing rescue. To save us from our sinful selves. We deserve nothing but hell. And yet, God in His infinite grace and mercy, made a way for us to be saved.

I know that there are so many of us who are serving Christ passionately because we love Him. We find ourselves full of gratitude for the grace and mercy we have been shown and we want to please Him with our lives. But even we can get a little off-track sometimes, can’t we? We can be tempted to give up or to be quiet. We can consider our reputation as more important than our witness and our relationships or jobs or worldly desires as more important than the truth we read in the Word of God.

So how do we stay strong when others cave? How do we keep our eyes on Jesus and stop worrying so much about our own comfort and feelings?

I know of no other way to stand against temptation than being in the Word. When I am immersed in the Word and I am taking time for prayer, God gives me strength to keep my eyes on Jesus. When I have grown lazy or too busy, I tend to cave and become self-absorbed.

Oh, how essential it is that we stay in the Word regularly, learning to know God and growing in our faith. How important that we pray, petitioning our Father for a thirst for righteousness and a hatred of evil. We need to ask Him to give us a hunger for His Word and a discerning heart and mind, so that we can sort through all of the false doctrine that abounds today. Only through prayer and studying the Word will we be able to keep the right priorities as we live out our Christian faith.

 

 

Lessons from Esther

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After reading the prophets, I have to admit that I breathed a big sigh of relief to get to Esther. I have loved this story since I was a child. With this time through, I found it very helpful to see where it fits in chronologically. I did not realize that this story takes place while the Jews are still exiled in Babylon. I guess I just never really thought about the details of the story before.

As I was reading this time around, I was amazed at the practical lessons that we can take away from what appears on the surface to be just another story of God’s miraculous work in saving the lives of the Jews–

1.   Sometimes God uses beautiful and powerful people. We tend to place a lot of emphasis on the fact that God uses the weak and the broken. We sit in our mundane lives filled with financial pressures and family struggles and we enviously watch the lifestyles of the rich and famous, clinging to 2 Corinthians 12:9 and comforting ourselves with the promise that God uses normal people like us to accomplish His will. And He sure does. But Esther shows us that, sometimes, God uses beautiful people like Esther to accomplish His will, too. She, of all of the young women chosen to present to the king, is the one he prefers. God raised her to a place of great power and position and, through this providential placement, saved the Jews. God can use anyone. There are no limitations.

2.  You are where you are for such a time as this. When Mordecai presents the terrible plot to kill the Jews to Esther, he asks her to go to the king. She hesitates, knowing that he could command her execution on the spot (aren’t you glad you don’t live in that kind of world??). Mordecai then reminds her that just because she is in the King’s palace doesn’t mean she will escape death. And then he gives Esther a final and compelling reason: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Since we know the end of the story, we know that she was put in the kingdom for just that reason. Just as we all are exactly where God wants us to be. We were born at the specific time and place God planned for us. There are no accidents with God. He knew that you and I would be in this world right now–a world that is pushing globalism and one-world everything. A world that is heating up in the Middle East. A world that is dark and lost and needs Jesus Christ–the real Jesus Christ of the Bible– not the fake, feel-good version so many claim to follow. What are you doing for God? What is the eternal reason you are where you are right now?

3.  Keeping ourselves as our top priority hinders our work for the Lord. After Mordecai presents his argument as to why Esther needs to go to the king and beg for the lives of her fellow Jews, she agrees. She asks him and all of the Jews in Susa to fast for her and then says she will fast, as well, in preparation for the fearful duty of speaking to the king. She concludes with this statement: If I perish, I perish.

Esther was willing to put her own safety and well-being aside in her efforts to save the Jews. How convicting is this for us? We don’t even want to give up our comfort and convenience to do good. We don’t go to church for reasons like soccer games or needing more sleep. We don’t visit our elderly neighbors or grandparents because it makes us uncomfortable or we find it boring. We don’t speak up when God’s name is cursed because we are fearful for our reputations. Why is this? Because we are our top priority. Our comfort, our convenience, our desires, our success, our health, our pride– these are the things that often keep us from doing the right thing. Saying no to self and submitting to God’s will is a constant battle but one we can never stop fighting. Esther sets a great example for us.

4. Planning is best. Some of us — we know who we are– are the ones in this world who speak before we think. Instead of thinking and planning, we emphatically present our half-baked ideas in our efforts to fix things. Esther shows us a better way. Instead of going to the king and stating her case with tears and anger, she asks him to come to a banquet, along with Haman; carefully planning her presentation to the king. I have to be honest, reading that this time around, convicted me. She was so deliberate and so tactful in how she went about it. That does not tend to be how I present things. I want to be more like her when I have an urgent situation that needs to be remedied, don’t you?

5. When you live a life of sin, your whole family pays. Haman was a wicked man. His pride and desire for power cost him not only his life, but the lives of his ten sons. I wonder if sometimes we forget about the cost that is involved for our kids when we practice sin? When we can’t make our marriages work, it isn’t just us who pay. When we cheat or lie or steal, our kids are watching. Our pride, our complaining spirits, our grudges–all of these hurt those around us. Sin is not a solitary exercise, is it? Instead it encompasses everyone in our circle of influence, raining down consequences on those we love.

6. God can turn what looks to us like inescapable tragedy into triumph. Instead of the Jews’ enemies being able to eradicate them, the tables were miraculously turned and the Jews were able to rid themselves of many of their enemies through the king’s edict. Verse 1 of chapter nine says that “the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.” Think about how dreadful things looked for them only a few days before– there was much weeping and mourning about their certain doom. And yet, only a short time later, there they were– the victors! Of course, it doesn’t always happen this way, but we certainly do need to remember that anything is possible with God! The same God that saved the Jews in the book of Esther is the God we serve today. He has not changed. What a comforting thought!

 

And so concludes my lessons in Esther. I am sure there are more lessons there to be learned in this short book. Do you have any to share?

Today is October 1– and that means that we are now in the month that we start the New Testament! If you are still with me in the Bible Challenge, we can now say that we have made it almost 3/4 of the way through! Let’s keep going. Only a few months to go :)

Pressing Through the Storm

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Raising kids is hard. Really hard if you want to do it right. It means saying no when everyone else says yes. It means setting boundaries, being consistent, and setting a godly example in all areas of life–at least giving it our best effort and then resting in the knowledge that God will make up for our weaknesses. It requires much prayer and lots of time in The Word.

Being an influence for good in the workplace is hard. It’s really hard if you want to not only be a good influence, but a godly one. It means forsaking popularity. It means that you may be teased, harassed, and targeted. It requires lovingly telling the truth when no one wants to hear it. And standing apart from the crowd, being lonely, and loving difficult people.

How about being a godly spouse? Or a blessing to your church family?

These are things we know are God’s will. We are supposed to be godly parents and spouses. We are supposed to be working for God’s glory in our church family and in our workplaces. But sometimes it’s just downright hard. We try so hard to do the right thing but it doesn’t always work out like we hope. People don’t like us. Or they get in the way of the good things we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes very intentionally. We are hurt. We are attacked. We are afraid.

It is at this point that many–if not most–of us cave. The storm rages around us and we grow frightened. We lose any bit of courage we may have had and we tuck our tail and run.

We go into hiding in our workplaces, staying quiet as a mouse when the subject of God comes up. We laugh at the dirty jokes and gossip by the water cooler. Anything to keep from standing out.

We stay at the fringes of the church family. Never really knowing anyone. Or offering to help in any ministry. It’s just easier and much less painful.

We become ineffective (or even negative influences) in our homes. We let our screaming toddlers and rebellious teenagers do whatever they want. We give up on our spouses and we stop praying for them. We become tired and hopeless.

But yesterday, as I read Ezra 4 for our G4L Bible Challenge, I realized anew the importance of pressing on through the storms of life. When the Jews were sent back to rebuild the temple, there was a group of people who plagued them constantly. They tried to discourage them, to frustrate them, to keep them from building (Ezra 4:4-5). And, yet, they kept on plugging away. At one point, they were required to stop working because of a letter filled with lies that this group sent to the King. But they didn’t give up hope. And, sure enough, they were back working at the temple years later.

God wanted that temple re-built, and so it was going to be re-built.

No man can stand in God’s way.

But that was then. And this is now. Those were God’s chosen people living that story and we are Americans living a world away and thousands of years later. If we don’t need to build a temple for God then what does God want for our lives? What is His will for us?

Perhaps we are supposed to be temple-building, as well–

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.(I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Our body is a temple– the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Our calling as believers is to keep our temples pure and holy, obeying and glorifying God. We are to be confessing and eradicating sin. We are to live apart from the world and shine as bright lights of hope.

Building our temple is giving our whole-hearted efforts to our roles as spouses and parents. It’s building up the church and being a godly example at work. As we build our temple, it will change every area of our lives.

When we grow scared or angry, we have to keep working on our temple. We weather through powerful storms with scripture study and prayer. We do this for the sake of our marriages, our kids, our churches, and for the lost who live and work beside us. We can’t become ensnared in human drama and give up. Like the Jews in Ezra, we need to keep building, placing one brick at a time until, one day as our eyes close in death, we can see the temple we have built before us– A lifetime of service to the one, true God!

Sure, we may be given a mandatory pause due to illness or some other unforeseen circumstance but then we get back at it again. And if it’s in our control, then let’s not pause for too long. Because when we stop using our muscles we atrophy. Our bodies grow weak and useless. And because kids don’t wait. Before you know it, they have grown and there is no more time for Bible memory verses or family devotions. And because people die and move away. And tomorrow, that co-worker may no longer be there.

We need to keep our eyes on the goal and let the rest go. Just let it go. The storm may howl around us. The winds may blow. But, through it all, we keep building, remembering what’s important–

To know God and to make Him known.