Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, this is so true!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Engaging the Enemy

Engaging the Enemy

As a young person, I have to confess that I had this “pie in the sky” dream that if I could just talk to someone long enough, I could change their mind. That somehow God would use my wise words or carefully crafted email to help someone see the light. I recognize now that it was my pride and immaturity that drove this dream. I started to understand, many years ago now, that there are few happy endings and that people who don’t want to hear the truth just don’t want to hear the truth. I could talk constantly for a year and, without the working of God in a person’s heart, never move their opinion even an inch in any direction.

I have also learned to be much more discerning on what is even worth confrontation. Many times, haughtily thinking I knew all the answers, I would confront people about inconsequential things. I have since learned that A.) I don’t have all the answers and B.) That so many things should be simply ignored and covered by grace. Only biblical issues are worth defending. Oh, how often I would get caught up in stupid, little arguments that were just about my selfish pride! I still do this on occasion. It is a great weakness of mine!

So, while we do know that much grace should cover non-biblical issues, how exactly do we deal with the really important, biblical issues? Jesus gives us some insight in Luke 20. Here He sets an excellent example for us in engaging our enemies. Let’s take a look at it.

1. Long debates and arguments over issues are a waste of time. Speak the truth in love and then walk away.

If you notice in Luke 20:8, Jesus refused to get in an argument with them over His authority. So, too, should we refuse to argue. If the Holy Spirit isn’t working in the heart of the person we are engaging, we are wasting our time. While some people do enjoy a healthy debate about important biblical issues, we must always be extremely careful not to cast a negative light on God and His Word through our words and actions. We are His ambassadors here on earth and, for some, we are the only contact they will have with true Christianity.

2. Be consistent. It is critically important to live a life that matches our words.

We know that Jesus’s life matched His words perfectly since He was God and could not sin. We, on the other hand, struggle with this. Do our lives match what we are saying? If our kids or grandkids hear us talking about spiritual things, does what we say match how we live? If not, we are better off just not saying anything. On the other hand, we will never be perfect. This is about a humble heart and a consistently examined life and not about waiting for perfection before opening our mouths. If we wait for perfection, we will never say anything!

3. Ask them a question.

In Luke 20:24, we see that Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. How often do we get put on the defensive and just freeze? Or answer in a way that is angry or irritated? We can slow that process down and give ourselves time to think by asking a question.

4. Recognize that our greatest hostility will often come from those within the church.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. It was these organized church leaders that felt most threatened by Jesus and His claims. We have seen this play out over and over throughout church history. The organized “church” was often responsible for the cruelest campaigns of persecution. And even now–in this post-modern era–the believer who is committed to a literal, inerrant, and sufficient view of scripture will find their greatest enemies are those that use the name of Jesus Christ. We must be prepared for this sad and discouraging fact as we defend true Christianity.

5. It is okay to name or warn against false teachers.

There is this ploy of Satan’s to deceive Christians into thinking we cannot mention specific names of false teachers. This is extremely clever, since–if this would be true–it would keep many undiscerning, immature believers in the dark, continuing to read and listen to those that taint and destroy true biblical faith. But here in Luke 20, the Lord Himself sets an example by warning His disciples (within the hearing of all of the people) of the scribes (v. 46-47). He says, “Beware the scribes.” He names them and says beware! We can and should do no less.

6. Biblically think through the hot button issues of today.

I have to confess that I am not a great debater. My heart starts beating, my mind starts to race, and I start talking without thinking. I am not great when I am in “defense” mode. Jesus, on the other hand, was completely composed. He not only knew the answer to any question they could ask, He knew the reason they were asking the questions. While we don’t have the same advantage that Jesus had, we can and should wisely prepare ourselves to defend a biblical worldview by spending some time studying and researching. We must especially be prepared to defend the Gospel. I Peter 3:15 puts it like this: but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

7. Our first priority should always be to preach the Gospel.

We must remember that the Gospel is the heart of our message. The Gospel is the means by which people are saved. We must keep this first and foremost in our minds as we engage our enemy. This is the heart and soul of our message. We offer nothing but empty hope and useless words without it. While we don’t see this specifically in Luke 20, we know that Jesus’s whole ministry was focused on people understanding who He was and why He was there.

8. You will be viewed as the enemy if you preach an unadulterated Gospel. Plan on it and be prepared.

Jesus was the arch enemy of the Pharisees. He ruined their selfish plans and cast {very valid} doubts on their false religion. We see in other passages of scripture and also in church history that any believer who defends the true Gospel is going to be attacked by Satan, by the world, and even by the organized “church” (which is really just the world in disguise). This is not a very “fun fact” and has caused many to close their mouths and just go about their lives quietly. Not only do we not want to be attacked, we have this great desire for the praise and laud of men. We want to be liked. This may drive some of us even more than the desire to not be attacked. The Bible tells us to expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19; I John 3:13) and that the devil is our enemy (Ephesians 6:11-13; I Peter 5:8). Ephesians 6:10-20 gives great insight into how to prepare ourselves for attack. This is worth some study as we find ourselves thrust more and more often into battles over Christian principles that are ridiculed and rejected.

 

Instead of expecting our dreams to be fulfilled and a life unhindered by problems, let us recognize that true believers must engage themselves for battle! Being a Christian–a real, biblical one–is not fun and games. Instead, we must have courage and boldness. We must spend time in the Word and on our knees, humble and teachable before the Lord. And we are called to turn away and deny our own selfish lusts and pleasures. This is not the Gospel preached today and, like Paul, I find myself wondering how the church has turned so quickly away from the true Gospel (Galatians 1:6) but I guess that is a post for another day! I hope these principles for engaging the enemy have given you some food for thought as you face whatever spiritual battle is before you today.

 

The Little Things

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American Idol premiered in 2002. That show single-handedly launched the careers of dozens of obscure, wannabe rock stars, country singers, and crooners during its 14-year-run. I think it also helped to shape and solidify the way we Americans think about change. Instead of viewing change as something that is brought about by consistent and diligent hard work (the way it had been viewed forever), we now longed for that magic day when we would win a contest and life would change forever!

You may have no desire for fame, but I do wonder if this show, along with dozens of other shows, magazines, and radio talk shows haven’t left us believing that that magical, happy time of having our dreams fulfilled will come if we will just be patient and hang on long enough. Meanwhile, we kind of sit back and just wait for it.

This is true in the work world, where there is an expectation for promotions and raises to be given without corresponding work and effort. And it is true on the sports fields and on the dance stage, where there is this longing to be the star of the show–the one that stands out and is picked for that college scholarship or that special award that will jumpstart a career. We are just waiting for that magic moment when people will recognize our gifts and talents.

But, for most, that moment never comes.

The statistics will show that few people reach success, fame, or fortune without a lot of hard work and discipline.

As believers, our ultimate goal has little to do with success, fame, or fortune, but is, instead, centered on living holy, godly lives and growing to look more like Jesus. But, even in this area, we can be conditioned to believe that this happens by a special anointing of the Spirit or by receiving a special message from “Jesus”. We are being conditioned to believe that it is some magical experience that will take us to the next level of spiritual growth.

You can see how Christians are so susceptible to this type of thinking since–

Magic moments are IN and consistent hard work is OUT.

The other day, I had a knock on my door. When I opened it I saw a man standing there that I didn’t recognize. He reached his hand out kindly to me and told me his name. Here he was an employee of ours from over 20 years ago! What a fun time to chat with him and to see how he had grown and changed. I called my in-laws down (they live next door to us), for they had known him, as well, and we all stood in the front lawn for several minutes talking and reminiscing. At one point, the man looked at my father-in-law and said that he had given him a book about being a godly man that had really impacted him. He still had it and planned to have his sons read it.

As I listened to that exchange, I was again reminded that this is how change and growth usually occur. It is the gift of a book. Or a seemingly insignificant phone conversation. Or a heartfelt text. It’s in the conversations in the break rooms and the church hallways. Or the words of a hymn or song. But, most importantly, it is through the Word of God. Like the Grand Canyon carved by a stream of water, so we, too, are changed by the little things.

Perhaps we need to relinquish this insatiable desire for sensational, supernatural experiences in our lives. While this can and does happen to some of us (as we read in Larry’s Changed Life testimony) it does not happen to most of us. But if we keep consistently growing and changing through lots of prayer, through the Word of God, and through a humble and teachable spirit. If we realize this and put it into practice then, whether or not that “magical moment” of change we are longing for ever transpires, we will confidently know we are going the right direction instead of sitting around waiting for a miracle to propel us to change.

I would also like to add one more important note here. It is regarding this obsession that is currently sweeping through Christendom for personal messages from God and encouraging whispers from Jesus. I won’t go too deeply into it here today, but the need for sensational experiences in order to grow spiritually not only isn’t scriptural, it leads to arrogance and pride and to chaotic confusion. It has created a Christian culture that is basing its maturity on experiences rather than on the Word of God. If you would like to know more about this, I suggest you read the book Is That You, Lord? by Gary Gilley. This gives an extremely helpful, biblical perspective on this new phenomenon of “hearing from the Lord”. I know it will be immensely beneficial to any of you who are wondering about this. (Notice I am using adverbs like “extremely” and “immensely” because I am trying to get across the idea of just how much this book has helped me!!)

Real life change happens through prayer and through the Word of God–where we not only find encouragement for our thirsty souls, but we find the commands and principles for living that bring true peace and joy when we choose to submit and obey. The Bible is the power for the Christian life. And true change generally happens by reading, studying, and putting it into practice–tiresome day after tiresome day. True and lasting change takes consistent work.

But it IS possible! Sometimes we will be tempted to think that no one ever changes. And yet, we know that through the power of God and His Word, true change is not only possible but should be expected. Hopefully, your own life is a testimony to how God can change a life.

So don’t give up! It is most often the little things that bring about the changes we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Only Time It Is Okay to Be a Hypocrite

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Hypocrisy is such an ugly word, isn’t it? It is defined as: Behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. (from Merriam-Webster.com)

All of us, at one time or another, have probably played the part of a hypocrite. We have claimed to believe one thing when we are with one group of friends but our actions contradict our claims when we are with another group of friends. Some are worse at this than others.

And the basic consensus of all human beings since the beginning of time is that hypocrisy is bad. And it is! It is never good to pretend you are something you are not. Or to say you believe something with your mouth but then deny that belief with your actions.

But there is one time that being a hypocrite is not only good but also very helpful.

Curious, yet?

I have struggled my whole life with being a slave to my feelings. If I didn’t feel like reading the Bible, I didn’t. If I felt like eating a sugary snack, I ate it. Thankfully, I have grown and continue to grow in this area, but it continues to be a struggle, particularly when change happens in my life. This is always the time that my feelings rise up and scream to be heard–and when I am most tempted to listen.

But the other day, I heard someone say this: Be a hypocrite to your feelings.

Yes!

A million times yes!!

So often we hear people say things like this–

I can’t act like I love my husband if I don’t feel like I love him. That would be hypocritical.

I don’t want to read the Bible if I don’t feel like reading the Bible. That would seem hypocritical.

But feelings are the one thing we can and should play the hypocrite to. In fact, we must act differently than our feelings on most occasions. While feelings can help us process and determine certain things about ourselves, they should most certainly never dictate our behavior.

As I have watched our world go from objective, absolute truth to subjective, you-decide-what’s-true-for-you truth, I have seen the dictatorship of feelings take over the souls of many people–even Christians. It is often the reason for sporadic church attendance. It is the reason for family quarrels and fights. It is the reason for the dearth of Christians who pray and study their Bibles. Feelings are dictating behavior.

The interesting and wonderful thing about feelings is that they are very…convertible. Strange word to use, I know, but I couldn’t think of a better one. When we do the right thing– in spite of our feelings– our feelings pretty quickly get with the program and usually convert into the proper ones we should be having.

For example, when I feel irritated with my husband but I choose to treat him in a kind and loving way, I will start feeling like I love him again.

Or when I feel lazy and I don’t want to read my Bible and pray but I do it, anyway, I will often feel motivated afterwards.

Of course, this is not some magic solution and sometimes our feelings are sluggish to follow. And perhaps for some they never change. It doesn’t matter. We do what is right because it is right. We should never let feelings be our guide.

And this leads us to one other thing closely related to this: The frequent statements Christians often make regarding God’s input in their feelings. How often have you heard someone say something like this–“I feel like God…” or “God impressed upon me…”? I even catch myself sometimes saying things like “Well, I feel like God is wanting me to do this or that”. But if our feelings are so unreliable, how could we know if it is God or just some whim of our own? Oh, how much better off we are with a rational faith based solely on the Word of God than on our own ambiguous and fluctuating feelings!

So be a hypocrite to your feelings! Tell yourself that no matter what you feel, you are going to ignore it and do what is right anyway. And be thankful for the times your feelings do match your actions. They are marvelous times of blessing that motivate us to continue on the path of godliness.

 

 

For So We Once Walked

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We once walked as the world walks. We were foolish, slaves to our passions and pleasures, and living an ungodly, worldly lifestyle. We were unrighteous, sexually immoral, and idolators. We passed our days in malice and envy and hate. This is how Paul describes those who are not in Christ (see passages below).

But then we were saved through God’s great mercy and loving-kindness! And everything changed! Everything!

You may say “Wait a minute. My neighbor isn’t saved but he is a really nice guy. He doesn’t sound anything like what Paul describes.” But we must remember that even our thought lives and secret sins are known to God. He knows why we do what we do. He knows where our thoughts turn when we are tempted. He knows if our kindness or peace-making are motivated by selfishness.

We are all wicked. There is no exception. No, not one. (Romans 3:11 & 23)

One of the things I have noticed as I have started to study scripture in a more in-depth way is its miraculous cohesiveness and consistency. How often I will read something in one book and then see the same thing reiterated in another. Sometimes by the same human author, but not always. Over and over, we see the same principles repeated.

These past few weeks as I have studied Titus 3, the phrase “But such were some of you” kept coming to mind but I just couldn’t remember where it was from. When I finally did some research, I found it in I Corinthians 6, where Paul lists those who will not inherit eternal life but then goes on to add “But such were some of you.Titus 3 says something similar where Paul puts it like this–“For we ourselves were once…” And then yesterday in church, our pastor read Ephesians 2 and, lo and behold, here was another passage emphasizing what we were and what we are now. Here we read, “…in which you once walked” .

Each of these passages has a similar theme. Paul first describes unbelievers and then goes on to say how we–you and me (and all who are saved)–once walked the same way. But now we no longer walk in this way. We are changed. We are transformed.

How has it happened?

I Corinthians 6 says it this way– “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Titus 3 puts it this way–“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

And Paul writes it in Ephesians 2 like this–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Each of these start with the word “but”. We were once lost in sin, but God! God reached out and saved us. It had nothing to do with our own righteousness or good works, but is solely because of God’s rich mercy, great love, grace, loving-kindness, and goodness.

These passages, as we study them together, hold four important lessons for us–

1. First, these passages teach us to truly appreciate our salvation. We so easily forget just how wicked we were before salvation. We start to think we were pretty good and it makes salvation seem like no big deal–particularly if we were saved as children or always lived a fairly moral lifestyle externally. But these passages remind us of what we really were in our core–wicked; selfish; dead in our sins. And this realization then fills our hearts with gratitude and joy that God loved us so much that He provided a way of salvation and eternal life. Oh, how much more we appreciate salvation when we remember the chains of sin that held us so tightly in hopeless despair!

2. Second, these passages teach and emphasize the significant differences between the lives of the unsaved and the saved. These three passages (and many others) consistently remind us that a life saved by Christ is a life lived in direct contrast to a life not saved by Christ. It is incredibly clear that salvation changes us. I understand that reflecting on this can be frightening when we think of some we know who claim to be a Christian while living in sin without conviction or repentance. But this is what the Bible teaches. Life before Christ looks nothing like life after Christ. While it is not our job to judge any individual’s salvation, it is certainly our job to teach this principle of a changed life when we talk to people about the Gospel. Clearly, throughout scripture, we find that true belief yields true change.

3. As we consider the first two lessons, we also learn (or perhaps are reminded) that the lost are not our enemies! As I read these passages, I was filled with real sorrow and tremendous grace for their terrible state. Dead in their sin, slaves to their flesh, and hopeless that anything will change. This was us! We were there. Can you remember that hopelessness? That feeling of being enslaved? Even though I was a child when I was saved, I have started to comprehend as an adult who I was without Christ–who I would be now without Him. This should fill us with such loving-kindness towards the lost. I am so saddened when I see people who call themselves Christians treat the unsaved with arrogance and judgment. This is never the proper response of any believer– in fact, it is exactly opposite of what Christ would do. We must follow God’s example of kindness, grace, and mercy as we share the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps this is one of our highest callings.

4. And, finally, these passages remind us that a saved soul is one prepared to do good works. We do not do good works to be saved, but instead do them because we are saved. This is what we are called to as believers (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8) So exactly what are good works? We have gotten a little confused in this world of politically correct “social justice”. Feeding the poor and digging wells are worthy causes (as long as the Gospel is being shared) but so, too, is visiting your elderly neighbor or babysitting for your friend who is a single parent. Cooking a meal for a hurting family or regular visits with a lonely widow are good works. We can do good works for God by being a godly example to those younger than us, by training and nurturing our children, teaching children about Jesus in Sunday School, praying for a missionary, or by writing notes of gratitude and encouragement. How important it is that we don’t narrow our definition of good works down to what is politically correct in the church in this particular era.

I am sure there are many more lessons we can learn from these passages. These are just four that really struck me as I studied. Studying the Word of God starts to open our eyes to the reality that much of what is being preached in the name of Christ today is really not true Christianity. It is heart-breaking to even write that sentence, but, nonetheless, it is true. When we compare scripture to what is popular today, we can easily see that somewhere–sometime–biblical Christianity and popular evangelical Christianity started to part company. Let us not forget what the Bible teaches us about the saved and the unsaved. This is the only reliable resource for answers. No book, no article, no preacher, no author overrides the Bible. Ever.

 

Here are the full passages. Notice their similarities and differences–

Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 

Here’s a Novel Idea

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I am so excited to share this post with you. But let me back up, first, and give some context.

A few years ago, I found myself with some extra time on my hands. And so, with some encouragement from a good friend, I started a Bible Study. One Bible Study grew into four (too many!) and now has backed down to three that I lead on a regular basis. Since the beginning, I have used several different books to lead the studies–a Kay Arthur Inductive Study on I & II Peter, a Bible study on Women of the Bible by Elizabeth George, and Becoming a Titus 2 Woman by Martha Peace (I do recommend each one of these resources if you are looking for a biblical study). One year we did the Chronological Read-Through Bible Challenge. And last fall I even wrote a Bible Study on the Women of Luke for the ladies (I hope to make that available to my readers in the future).

I co-lead one of the Bible studies with a good friend and this winter we came to a bit of a crossroads. What direction should we go with our Bible Study? As we searched for something new, we realized that there are very few studies left that do not compromise the Word. As I talked to Pastor Dean, he suggested that we just study {drumroll please}—

The Bible

Now that’s a novel idea for a Bible Study, isn’t it?

He recommended R.A. Torrey’s book How to Study the Bible (the first chapter of this book is the basis for the post I wrote on Conditions for Profitable Bible Study) and so I purchased it and started reading. As I read an idea started to form in my mind and as I presented the idea to my co-leader, she was beginning to think the same thing and we were in complete agreement. It was time we studied the Bible.

Since this can be rather intimidating (after all, who are we to think we can actually study the Bible??), I created a worksheet to help us. When it was presented to each group of ladies, I could see the hesitation in their eyes. My heart sank. Perhaps this was a really bad idea. I prepared myself mentally to lose a lot of the ladies (and some did drop out due to the change of methods).

But as we have used this over the past few months, I can see that this is the most effective Bible Study I have ever led. We are actually studying the Bible and it is changing us!

As we went along, I made some changes and revisions. I am currently using this revised worksheet in two of my Bible studies and the ladies love it! I knew I loved it–finding out the background and context of the book and going through the Word on my own to dig for treasure has been incredibly encouraging and challenging. I have even started to get the hang of outlining the book. The process has made us all really dig for ourselves into the scriptures and it has been incredibly rewarding!

This is not about my worksheet (a mere tool anyone could create) but about the power of the Word of God! We must stop believing that we can’t understand the Bible for ourselves. This is a lie from Satan. Sure, there are some hard passages (thank you, Dr. MacArthur, Pastor Dean, and GotQuestions for helping me understand some of these!) but this shouldn’t keep us from studying the Word.

Now, one thing I will mention here is that doing Bible Study this way does take work. It takes more time than just filling in a few blanks and it is much more about the Word than about how we feel about the Word. Many ladies are not interested in this. They prefer the kind that focuses on them and their feelings and their problems.

Of course, studying just the Bible does do all of this. But in such a way that we recognize that God is the center of the universe. Not us.

There has been a disturbing trend in ladies’ Bible studies recently. A trend that brings mysticism into every study (“stop and listen to what God is saying to you about this” is A) not ever commanded in scripture and B) straight from the contemplative prayer movement) and a trend that takes the focus off of God and puts it on me. These are both very dangerous trends and we must be so careful. One way we can avoid this is to simply study the Bible.

God has designed this marvelous book to be readable at all different levels. The more we read and study the more treasure we mine. This holds true for all believers who have placed their faith and trust in Christ.

It is probably no secret to you that this blog, always devotional in nature, has become very much about the Word of God. Reading it. Studying it. Protecting it. Defending it. I firmly believe that this is the heart of the battle. If Satan can get people out of the Word and focused on their own subjective experiences, it will keep their minds focused on themselves and off of growing more holy. It will make them susceptible to Satan’s lies and deception. And it will also render them ineffective witnesses for God’s Kingdom. Scripture is sufficient! (II Peter 1:3) One way to truly “get” this is by giving time and effort to actually studying it.

God bless you as you delve into the Word. If you choose to use someone else’s book or study be sure you know where they stand. Be sure you know that they, too, consider the Word to be sufficient for all of life and godliness. But may I encourage you to try just studying the Bible? Pick up a copy of Torrey’s book or even feel free to e-mail me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net (I have to write it that way because of the internet trolls! Replace with the appropriate signs) and I will be happy to share my worksheet.

And one final note–independent Bible Study can be sabotaged by using unbiblical resources. Click here for some resources to get you started.

 

The Real Description of Love

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What is love? The word “love” is tossed about freely, without much regard to its true meaning. But as I was reading I Corinthians 13 this morning, making a careful list of all that describes love in this passage, it gave me pause. Somehow evaluating each of these words individually was way more convicting than simply reading through the familiar verses.

I wasn’t actually planning on posting today, but as I wrote and pondered, I realized that perhaps some of you, too, would be challenged and convicted by these verses in a way you haven’t been before.

Love is a big word, isn’t it? And it has multiple definitions. But Paul gives us such a beautiful description of love in this chapter. Here is a breakdown of what love looks like in a Christian’s life. Read and be challenged–

  1. Love is patient.
  2. Love is kind.
  3. Love does not envy.
  4. Love does not boast.
  5. Love is not arrogant.
  6. Love is not rude.
  7. Love does not insist on its own way.
  8. Love is not irritable.
  9. Love is not resentful.
  10. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
  11. Love rejoices in the truth.
  12. Love bears all things.
  13. Love believes all things.
  14. Love hopes all things.
  15. Love endures all things.
  16. LOVE NEVER ENDS.

And then let’s not forget this–

We can do all kinds of fabulous things for the Lord. We can speak marvelous, challenging words that encourage people to grow spiritually. We can play beautiful music that leads people in worship. We can even die for Christ. But if all of these things are done without love, they are nothing. They mean nothing. We gain nothing.

Think about that–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Imagine with me for just a moment what would happen if all people who claim the name of Christ would put this list into practice. It would literally transform marriages! Heal families! Revolutionize churches! This is a powerful, powerful list.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. But we do have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live these out in our own life. May we continue to strive to do this as we grow for life and seek to be like our Savior!

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (I Corinthians 13:1-8)

Have a great day! And thanks for letting me stop by your in-box on this Wednesday morning! :)

 

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

The Best Christian You’ve Never Heard Of

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Yesterday, I watched this very amazing video. It was a man singing a very popular song, using 21 different character voices that he plays in Disney movies. As he would change singing voices, a little picture of the character would pop up to match the voice. It was so interesting and this guy is unbelievably talented!

And yet, while many of us are more than a little familiar with many of the movies he takes part in (especially if we have kids), most of us have never heard of this guy. We wouldn’t know him if he walked by us in the street. We would not even recognize his name.

It reminded me of something I heard in a question and answer session I just listened to online the other day. The speaker was Paul Washer and he was speaking to students of Master’s Seminary who hope to become missionaries someday. Unbeknownst to me, Paul Washer was a missionary before he ever became an evangelist. This session was really helpful for any Christian — whether you are going on the mission field or not.

One of the things he talked about was that many of the best preachers and missionaries will never have any fame or glory. We’ve never met them or even heard of them. They preach amazing sermons to six people in the jungle or give selflessly, at risk to themselves, when they see a need. He went on to talk about the brother (or brother-in-law) of Jim Elliot. I was completely unfamiliar with him or his ministry, which was exactly his point. This man had labored–had died to himself and his own desires–every day for sixty years on the mission field and no one had ever heard of him. But everyone has heard of Jim Elliot. His point was well-taken.

There are men and women all over the world in the Lord’s service who sacrifice their wants, their desires, and their health for the sake of the gospel every day. And yet, we don’t even know their names.

And, since few of us reading this are official missionaries, let’s bring this closer to home. This isn’t just about being a missionary on a foreign field. In this fame-fascinated world we live in, we can start believing that we can’t possibly be of true use if we are only ministering to a few. We start thinking that, unless we are pastoring a mega-church or writing to an audience of thousands, our work for the Lord is pointless. Bigger is better. Is this really true or have we been deceived?

God asks us in Romans 12:1-2 to be a living sacrifice for Him. There are no conditions on how many, who, or where in these verses.

Did you know that there are most likely amazing living sacrifices as part of your life in your world right where you are? Parents who bring unloved children into their homes, loving them like Christ commands, without any expectation of reward or thought of glory. Faithful Sunday School teachers who pour their hearts and souls into teaching children and adults the Word of God every week. Parents who follow God’s instructions on raising kids, by both loving and disciplining them faithfully. Nurses and doctors who selflessly give to the sick and the elderly,  taking every opportunity to share the hope that is within them because of Jesus. Men and women who bravely tell the truth to a world that loves lies. Men and women who faithfully minister to the sick and needy of their church families.

I guess the Christian life really isn’t about fame and glory, after all. It is about doing well the mundane work that has been set before us and responding to the needs that we see in the world around us. It’s about doing the right thing, no matter what the world thinks (John 15:19). It’s about knowing God by studying His Holy Word (Psalm 119:105-106). It’s obedience (I John 2: 3-6) and striving to live a holy and pure life (I Peter 1:15). It’s about whole-heartedly loving others (I Peter 1:22). It’s about ministering sacrificially for the sake of others (James 1:27) And It’s about sharing the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). This is sacrificial living.

And, while there are some really wonderful “famous” Christians, I am guessing that many of the most decorated crowns in heaven will be on the heads of those we have never even heard of.

 

 

Beyond the Clouds

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No matter what weather is going on down on earth, when a giant, silver-winged plane soars beyond the clouds, the sun soon appears. Have you noticed that, too, when you have had the opportunity to fly? Above all of the black clouds or fuzzy gray fog, we always–without fail–will find the sun.

I have often thought that there is a very similar spiritual parallel to this. As you may already know, I am a Bible Study leader. Currently, we are studying Philippians and I have been struck–as I usually am in this epistle–by Paul’s focus on joy. When you really think about all of the pain and suffering Paul endured (much of it because he was standing for truth), it seems almost incongruous, doesn’t it?

How in the world could Paul have been content and joyful through all of these hardships? And yet, we read in Philippians 4:11-12

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

And he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 7:4

Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.

So just how did Paul learn to be content in all circumstances? What was the source of his joy?

It is generally agreed that the key word for Philippians is the word joy. And that is most definitely the main theme throughout the book.  The Greek noun or verb form of the word “joy” is found over a dozen times. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Paul mentions Christ 50 times in this short epistle. John MacArthur puts it this way in his introductory sermon on Philippians

The theme of these chapters is joy; Paul mentions it at least 16 times in these four chapters.  He also mentions Christ 50 times.  And that is because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

I think that last sentence is worth repeating–

Because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

Now think about this with me for a moment. Is your joy found in Christ? Because I can tell you right now that this is a huge struggle for me. Instead, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for happy circumstances and personal comfort and convenience. And when all is lined up just perfectly, then I claim to be joyful. But is this really joy? Or is it rather just a temporary state of well-being that I am calling “joy”?

You may be wondering by now what all this has to do with an airplane and clouds and the sun…

Well, I am glad you asked!

I wonder if we are so desperate for sunny skies and carefree living that we forget that Christ is always there–working through all of our circumstances–whether we can see Him clearly or not. And I wonder if our finite and temporal view of things makes us distracted and forgetful? Are we so focused on the here and now that we lose sight of the big picture?

If we can only see the clouds and forget what is beyond them, we can become embroiled in grief and depression and despair. Without proper perspective, we become unhappy, thankless, selfish people who live just like the rest of the world.

But if we, like Paul, can remember that our joy and, in fact, our very lives, are wrapped up in the Person of Christ, then we become a joyful and peaceful person that not only stands through the storms of life, but who can also boldly testify to the strength and power and faithfulness of Christ’s love through those storms.

For He is always there.

The winds may blow, the skies grow dark, and the rains pour down but Christ will not move. He is the constant that our whole world revolves around.  And He is always there, working in and through the shadows and storms for His glory and our good.

Paul says it best in Romans 8:28-29

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

I guess joy and contentment will always be a battle for most of us. It will be something that eludes us as we focus on ourselves and on our temporal situations. But when we turn our focus to the Lord Jesus, the temporal will fade a bit. Oh, it never fades completely, of course, but it fades a bit. And as we become more and more mature in the faith, we become more and more content. And contentment yields greater joy and peace. Isn’t this a most wonderful thought?