A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

Have you ever stopped to think about what your motivation is for anything you do in life? Why do you take care of your kids? Why do you want to be financially well off? Why do you want to be kind to others?

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

Are we living a God-centered life or a self-centered life?

I am doing a Bible Study on Colossians right now (click here for this great resource) and I was really challenged by the author’s words in this week’s study. He first shared this about the fall of man that I never thought about before–

“The new creation is the result of Christ’s deliverance from the fall of Adam. In the Garden of Eden, Adam lived before God in a state of righteousness. However, he acted in disobedience, and the result of his sin was disastrous. His entire nature was transformed. He became a self-centered individual instead of God-centered. His sin also affected the entire human race. All men now bear the nature of Adam–sinfully depraved and spiritually separated from God.” p. 67* (italics mine)

I don’t think I ever thought about the fall in this way before.

So if along with our sin nature comes a self-centered life, this means that, after we are saved, we should be transformed from that self-centered, sinful creature into a new creation that is growing more like Christ and become more God-centered every day (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But is this what we are doing? Is this even something that we are being encouraged to do?

And let’s take it a step further: Even if we look like we are becoming more God-centered in our lives, is this actually true?

The author goes on to say–

“So often among Christians, character development takes on a self-centered orientation. We pursue it for our own benefit and self-improvement.” p. 70* (italics mine)

Oh my goodness. If that isn’t convicting, I am not sure what is. Oh, how often have I done this very thing? Claiming my desire is to be more like Christ but really simply desiring to have an easier/better/more fulfilling life.

This becomes very evident when we simply take a look at the Christian bestsellers on the book shelves (or on Amazon) today. There are books about how to have better relationships, better budgets, and better health. Books about how to fix our anxiety issues, our depression, our anger, our addictions. Most of these have one goal: To give us a better life.

But is this what the Christian life is all about? Is it a self-centered quest to have the best life we can have? And even if we say no to this question (because, obviously, we know from scripture that this is not our goal), are we living out what we say we believe?

Personally, I was really challenged by this. Even though I claim high and lofty spiritual goals, when I think of my desires in the light of biblical truth, I can see that they are tarnished with selfishness.

The problem is that, as sinners still stuck with our fleshly desires (I John 1:8), it is so hard to separate these two things. Of course we want to please the Lord. But it is natural to want to please ourselves. We wouldn’t be human if we wouldn’t want better lives. And so we have to sort through this messy dynamic.

And to complicate things further, even the most beautiful thing can be done for the wrong reason. Works of charity may be completed so that we receive personal glory. Supposed grace may just be a cover for our own desire to avoid conflict. Kind words may be a manipulative tool to get someone to do what we want. We want to kick our addiction, live within our means, or organize our homes to make our lives better and, often, glorifying God has nothing to do with it at all.

It’s just all so complicated.

And yet in Colossians 3:17, we can see that our motivation for everything we do–every word spoken and every action completed–should be based on our Lord Jesus–

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul reiterates this–

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Scripture makes it clear that our life is to be God-centered. And, yet, all around us is a Christianity that is self-centered.

So how do we A) evaluate our motives? and B) change in this area?

These are challenging questions for us, since, as humans, I am not sure we can ever get 100% beyond being tainted by personal motivation. And, thankfully, God–in His great kindness and mercy–actually makes our lives so much better when we follow Him. Isn’t that kind of Him? There isn’t anything innately wrong with wanting a good life, a better marriage, or to kick a sinful habit. These are good things to want and the fact that we receive joy and happiness from these things is exactly what God intended.

The sin enters in when we only do what is right when it conveniences or benefits ourselves. In fact, as I was thinking about this, I realized that this may be the best test for our motivation–

Do I stop doing what is right when I don’t get the results I want?

If I try to be a submissive wife (or a loving husband) but my spouse doesn’t respond the way I want, do I decide that obedience to the Lord just doesn’t work and forget about it?

If I work on a big charity project at church and I watch all of the credit and glory go to someone else who didn’t do near as much work as I did, will it keep me from ever doing it again?

If I have forgiven someone who has offended me but the person keeps offending me–over and over again–do I eventually give up and hold a grudge or do I continue to respond in a biblical manner?

If I have given all of my energy to change a sinful habit in my life and I am not getting the results that I hoped for, do I continue in a path of obedience or do I cave in a fit of hopelessness?

These are just a few examples. We can come up with dozens more we face each day. Are we doing what is right because we want to please our Lord or are we doing what is right for ourselves? What is our motivation?

Living a God-centered life is no easy task. Reading this chapter made me realize just how self-centered I still am. And, honestly, this is one area that you can really only judge yourself. We really can never know the motivations of someone else, as they are locked away deep in our hearts and minds. Sometimes we even have a hard time understanding our own motives, don’t we? Past experiences, choices, abuses, neglects, and sins are powerful contaminators of our motives. These things can heighten our desire to protect ourselves, to look out for number one, and to prove ourselves.

But this is in complete opposition to scripture, where we find that we are to become God-centered in all our decisions (which also means becoming others-centered). (Mark 12:30; Philippians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:12-15).

And, once again, biblical Christianity crashes headlong into cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity says live for Christ (Philippians 1:21), deny yourself and take up your cross (Matthew 16:24) and do what’s right (John 14:23; James 2:20) and cultural Christianity says “you deserve to be happy” and “God wants you to fulfill your dreams”.

So how in the world do we remove the indoctrination of a culture that is speaking the opposite of what we are to actually be living? There is truly only one anecdote and that is the Bible. The Word is truly like a mirror, revealing our innermost secrets and motivations and giving us the hope for change through the Holy Spirit.

God has not said “fix yourselves” and then left us on our own. Instead, He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us rightly divide the Word, which will, slowly and surely, transform us more and more into His likeness.

And, yet, so many of us simply spend such little time studying God’s Word. We cannot grow in this area of pure motivation without being in the Word. It is simply impossible.

Life is hard. And evaluating our motivations for purity makes it even harder. Why am I doing what I am doing?  This is a critical question that we must ask ourselves if we are to live a holy and pure life that is centered on God.

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

Weathering the Storms of Life

storm

Trials in life generally do not fit into our well-laid plans, do they? Along with wreaking havoc to our schedules and in our families, they also tend to fill us with uncertainty, doubt, frustration, and hopelessness.

But should this be our response? What part does faith actually play as we face real-life trials?

This past Sunday my brother, Pastor Dean, preached two sermons on weathering the storms of life. In listening to them I was challenged, encouraged, and convicted. Mostly convicted. Sometimes God brings something my way that affects me profoundly. This was one of those times.

The fact that Pastor Dean and his family are currently experiencing their own considerable trial gave these sermons a notable authenticity. These two sermons, given from his own search of the scriptures as they weather their storm, take us beyond the typical platitudes as he unpacks what the scriptures have to say about trials and our response to them.

And so for today’s post, I want to refer you to these two sermons by Pastor Dean. Be encouraged and uplifted–and perhaps also challenged and convicted–as you weather your own storms, whether they be small or large. This is for those experiencing small trials (like a car that won’t start) and large trials (like an unexpected health diagnosis) and everything in between. In other words, this is for all of us believers. I am confident that you will find these worth every minute of your time. I truly hope that many of you will take the time to listen to these.

 

Part 1:

WEATHERING THE STORMS OF LIFE

Part 2:

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE STORMS OF LIFE

 

Click here if you’d like to listen to more sermons by Pastor Dean.

Please note: If the link doesn’t work, click on the down arrow at the top right of the page. I have found I sometimes need to do this in order to listen on my iPhone.

We Are All Teachers

And how to be the best one you can be!

female-213731_1280

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

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

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

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

This is what that verse says–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

On Sharing the Gospel

people-2564436_1280

When I was a kid and even into my young adult years, evangelism was a pretty big deal in the circles I traveled. In fact, I can remember going door-to-door taking surveys on a summer ministry team with the express purpose that this would give us the opportunity to share the Gospel. This type of witnessing ended up being mostly replaced by “Friendship Evangelism”, which is the idea that we witness to our friends by being a good friend and behaving like a “Christian”, with the assumption that this will then lead them to ask us questions about God. Eventually, this, too, went out of style, and witnessing became extraneous in our church culture.

This is probably for two main reasons. First, our churches changed their formats and methods to appeal to the unsaved, which made it far easier to just invite a lost friend to church and helped us to avoid the hard task of doing the witnessing ourselves. And, second, it is probably because it just became so “politically incorrect” to imply that someone may be wrong in their belief. This, particularly, led most of us to just back away and stop sharing anything that might imply that someone will spend eternity in hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. Saying something like this has become the main offense in a world of relative values and most of us are just not brave enough to share such an unpopular message. And so many of us grew quiet, offering the occasional invitation to church but rarely going further than that.

Don’t get me wrong–I know there are still people sharing the Gospel. And that is so awesome. But, by and large, evangelism is simply not important to the church anymore.

For those of us that are committed to sharing the Gospel we have a grave responsibility to share the whole Gospel and not just a watered down “Jesus will make your life better” kind of Gospel. The Gospel is not about making life better. It is about Jesus Christ dying to save us from our sins. A Gospel that doesn’t mention sin or repentance isn’t the true Gospel. The Gospel reconciles us with our just and holy God. The positive changes that happen in our lives when we become saved are added blessings and never the reason for our salvation.

As always, we need to go to scripture and see what it says about witnessing. There we will see that part of the Christian life is sharing the Gospel with others (Matthew 9:37-38, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8, Romans 10:14-15). And so–if this is the case–what is the scriptural way to go about doing so?

As I was reading in I Thessalonians 2 a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find a clear example set out by Paul for us regarding evangelism. This is something we are all called to do and Paul has, by his example, given us some really helpful guidelines in verses 1-12 of this chapter.

(You will find I Thessalonians 2:1-12 at the end of this post).

1. Be bold to declare the Gospel–even in the midst of much conflict. (v2)

This would seem to imply that we cannot worry about ourselves. We shouldn’t worry about our comfort, our convenience, or our reputation. We are to continue to share the Gospel, even if it causes conflict and personal suffering.

2. We must strive to have our appeals for the Gospel spring from a pure and true heart, without impurities, error, or deception. (v3)

You may say, “Well, of course!” –but remember that many are those who share the Gospel and yet they are doing it for their own gain. And then there are those who would twist it and remove anything offensive so as to make it more favorable in the eyes of men. I am sure you can think of men and women doing that right now. Paul lays out a clear example, showing us that we must avoid any impurity, error, or deception as we share the Gospel.

3. Seek to please God and not man. (v4)

This verse really struck me–

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.

Oh, how we love to please man. It is as natural as breathing to most of us. But our desire to please man must never take priority over pleasing God. You see, the Gospel is offensive and foolish to most people (I Corinthians 1:18) and they are not going to like what you have to say. But if we can remember that it is God who tests our hearts and that it is God whom we want to please, then we can stay the course, even when we grow weary and discouraged.

4. Avoid flattery and greed. (v5)

Paul puts it like this:  For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.

As we share the Gospel, may it be done from a mouth that despises flattery and a heart that is not prone to greed.

5. Do not seek glory from people. (v6)

Oh, this one is such a challenge for us, isn’t it? Oh, how we want the glory. It makes us feel good if people notice us and appreciate us. But Paul says he purposefully did not seek glory from others. Can you say the same? I know I can’t. At least not always.

6. Be gentle. (v7)

This is an interesting one to throw in there, isn’t it? Paul says they were gentle with them–just as a nursing mother is with her children. When you imagine a mother with her children, we get a deeper understanding of what his gentleness looked like. Do we have that same spirit of gentleness with the lost? Or do we grow frustrated when they are quarrelsome or apathetic when they don’t respond like we think they should?

7. Be willing to share your very self. (v8)

Sharing the Gospel is not made up of just one moment. Coming alongside a new believer and helping them, discipling them, studying the Bible with them takes a lot of time. Paul shows us that not only is this what he did but he did it out of his great affection for the people. He loved them dearly and was happy to give himself to them.


8. Don’t be a burden on those you witness to. (v9)

It would seem as if Paul wanted there to be no question regarding his motives in witnessing to the church there. He didn’t want to be a burden on the group and so he took care of his own needs. This is in complete contrast to many of the false teachers of that day (and of the current day) that are caught up in their requests for money.

9. Be holy, righteous, and blameless in your conduct. (v10)

One of the greatest lies being taught today is that God does not care about our behavior. Of course, you don’t have to read very far in scripture to know that He cares a great deal about our behavior. When we are saved, He transforms us from the inside out, changing our desires so that our behavior changes on the outside, as well. Paul shows us that this is something we must consider as we share Christ with others. A holy, righteous, and blameless reputation validates our witness like nothing else can.

10. After someone is saved, continue to exhort and encourage them to walk in a manner that is worthy of God. (v12)

Here again we see that sharing Christ with someone was not a one-time event for Paul. Paul uses the analogy in this verse of a father with his children, growing them to be like Jesus, teaching them to walk worthy of God. This takes work and lots of time but we cannot underestimate the importance of coming alongside baby Christians and teaching them to grow in the faith.

 

I found this chapter such an education as I strive to share the Gospel when I have the opportunity. I hope it has encouraged you, too. May we put these ten things into practice as we go out and share the true Gospel with a lost and dying world.

 

 

I Thessalonians 2:1-12

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even[a] after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged[b] every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

Shopping for Furniture

furniture-2439944_1920

She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

Coming in the Back Door

door-knob-1924315_1920

We Christians have a knack for attaching our loyalties to “family-friendly” enterprises and then letting our guards down. Specifically today I am referring to TV channels like HGTV and Hallmark.

If you are a conscientious Christian who wants to be careful about what you put before your eyes, there isn’t much left to watch anymore. Channels like these provide blessed relief from all of the sex, violence, and bad language we find on most of the other channels.

But even these channels are not immune from pushing an ungodly agenda.

For example–

The other day I had some mindless work to do and so I turned on a Hallmark movie. I don’t actually watch that many Hallmark movies but sometimes I record the mystery movies they feature on their movie channel. About an hour into the movie, out of the blue, a character started talking about her “crystals”. It was in passing but it was there. Towards the end of the movie, another character–who had received a gift of crystals from the first character–was praising these crystals for improving her life. Huh…

So here you have this seemingly innocent movie. And yet, even here, there is this New Age (occultic) practice not only being introduced, but even being presented as something positive that will improve one’s life.

Wow. Talk about slipping evil in the back door. And this is not an isolated incident. I have seen this type of thing before on this family-friendly channel.

And we find another example from HGTV. I like the show House Hunters and, several times now, I have turned it on to see a gay couple house-hunting together. Unfortunately, this is not rare. Watching things like this condition us to accept this as normal. Personally, I choose not to watch these episodes because it is not normal. It will never be normal.

Now–just to be clear–this post is not about what you should and should not watch. The Christian life is not about rules but about a heart that desires to please the Lord. I am not saying that you should not watch or listen to something just because they insert something evil. (I underline this because inevitably someone will accuse me of being legalistic in posts such as these). You must work out with God, through Bible Study and prayer, what you put before your eyes.

The point of this post is not about what we watch but about something else completely–

These incidents are good reminders that, as believers, we can never let our guards down.

Discernment can never take a break. Whether we are watching something that is labeled “Christian” or “Hallmark” or “HGTV” –or anything else for that matter– we must keep alert. All things must go through the grid of the Word.

We must do this for our favorite authors. For our favorite channels. For our favorite radio stations and magazines and websites. We must do this for our favorite pastors (and, honestly, a godly pastor will want you to do this) and for our counselors and therapists.

We should never be so loyal to any author, network, radio host, pastor, therapist, or musician that their message trumps what the Bible teaches.

We should never grow so lazy that we become numb to the sin around us or, even worse yet, start taking on the world’s values.

I know this takes work. And I know it is exhausting. But I want you to know it is so worth it for the spiritual health of you and your family. Taking the time to recognize evil and to have conversations with our families about it–teaching our kids (and our grandkids) to discern– keeps us from being hardened to sin and protects us. Sure, we will make wrong judgments and we will grow lazy sometimes and let something slip by that we shouldn’t. This is the nature of our humanity. But we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again. We just keep going. Because…

Satan roars about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8) and he comes as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). This means he is after you and your children. It means that he rarely comes with horns and warts but usually looks lovely and beautiful and pure.

So stay watchful! Be vigilant! And, please, talk about these things with your kids and grandkids so that you are teaching the next generation the importance of having the Bible as their authority and how to be godly discerners.

 

 

Grace That Changes

gracethatchanges

Sometimes I wish I could go back and re-live high school. I know so much more now than I knew then. I’d treat people so differently. I’d be so much kinder. Mostly, I have grown a whole lot in the grace I have for others.

I think God started changing me in college with my first roommate. We couldn’t have come from more different family backgrounds. She was a new believer from a broken family and I was a “holier than thou” believer from a good Christian family. Instead of trying to help her, I judged her from my proud heart. I just cringe when I think about how little grace I had towards her. Thankfully, God, in His Sovereignty, drew us back together after that first {terrible} year and, ironically, we became best friends and she is still one of my best friends today. Funny how God works.

As I look back over my life, I can see that this was the starting point of God’s grace affecting how I live. But I still had a long way to go.

A long way.

I think I really started changing when I started to understand God’s grace towards me. As I already mentioned, I had been blessed as a young person to be in a wonderful Christian family. Not only had I not experimented with the typical teen-age temptations (such as sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking) I didn’t even want to try them. Unfortunately, while I don’t regret not doing those things, I do regret the pride and lack of grace that grew out of that. Obviously, I was more focused on the outward than the inward at that point in life. And I wasn’t in the Word like I should have been.

But then I grew up and got married and started a family. I started studying my Bible and actually listening to sermons. And God, in His great kindness and mercy, started opening my eyes. And I began to see myself as who I really was instead of who I thought I was. I saw what I could have been were it not for God and His marvelous grace towards me. I was a wicked sinner just like everyone. I wasn’t anything special at all. And instead of pride, I was filled with gratitude. Instead of judgment, I was filled with sorrow. Where in the world would I be if not for Jesus?

As I have grown in the Lord, I have come to understand that grace for others is something we Christians should be known for. We should extend it freely and kindly, because of the great grace we have been shown.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we never confront sin or speak truth. We are clearly mandated to do both in scripture. But we should do so out of a heart of grace and love, not pride and arrogance.

The world will tell you that if you disagree with them you aren’t showing grace. You are critical. You are unkind. Actually, the church will often tell you the same thing. That if you say something that is negative (even if it is biblical), you are critical and without grace. But this just isn’t true.

God’s grace towards us doesn’t cover up sin. God doesn’t simply say “you are okay now.” Even in salvation, we must face the negative (we are wicked sinners) to grasp the import of salvation. God sent His son to take away our sin through Jesus Christ. We aren’t freed on our own merit. We are freed because of Christ’s merit! God’s grace doesn’t pronounce us sinless, it pronounces us forgiven!

Do you see? We Christians are not doing anyone a favor by saying they can just live the way they want to live. We aren’t helping by not speaking the negative. This is not grace. It is cowardice. But grace does mean we speak words of truth from a heart filled with grace and love.

Pride and arrogance destroy but grace and mercy build up.

I am still growing in this area. And I hope you are, too. As our understanding of God’s grace towards us–desperate, wicked sinners–deepens each year, so, too, should our grace for others.

 

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

 

 

Every Three Seconds

telephone-586266_1280

Have you ever clicked on one of those articles or blog posts that has an advertisement after almost every paragraph? I find it so annoying that I usually do not even finish reading the article. I want to just read without having my eyes–and attention–drawn away every three seconds.

I came upon one of these articles the other day and as I clicked off of it–deciding it wasn’t worth the frustration–a dread came over me.

I realized that I sometimes do this with my smartphone. It is the “advertisement” that pulls me away from my life every three seconds. Well, not literally, but you know what I mean.

I just read somewhere that smartphones are ruining our concentration and I believe it. We can’t pray, read, sit through a church service, or have a conversation with someone without looking at our phone every three seconds.

Sometimes I love my smartphone. It puts almost any information at my fingertips. It helps me stay in touch with my kids. It makes me feel safer. It’s great to have apps that help me memorize scripture or to organize my life.

But just as often I hate it. I hate what it has done to me. I hate how smartphones have changed our society.

Life is always about finding a God-honoring balance–even when it comes to our phones. But that balance can be hard to find, can’t it?

Is there anything in scripture that would help guide us in finding this balance? I believe there is. Let’s look–

1. Love the Lord thy God with all of our hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30). Loving the Lord isn’t some heady notion that doesn’t reach our fingertips. Our love for God–which is clearly to encompass all of our being–is shown in even small things like how we use (or don’t use!) our smartphone during Bible reading, prayer, and church. Don’t hear me saying that it is sinful to check your phone during these times. I am not suggesting that. But I do wonder if we shouldn’t consider how we can best please our Holy God during these sacred times.

2. Treat others as we would want to be treated (Mark 12:31). The other thing we can learn from scripture regarding our smartphones is that we are to use it around others in the same way we would want it to be used around us. Pulling it out and staring at it while someone is talking to us is just rude. We wouldn’t like that and we shouldn’t do it to others. (I am speaking as much to myself as I am to you! I have been very convicted about this recently!)

3. Share the Gospel (Mark 16:15). Another curious thing that has occurred with the arrival of smartphones is a remarkable decrease in conversation on the sidelines of games, in store lines, the airport, or at the doctor’s office. Places where we may have chatted with people years ago we now find, instead, most people with their eyes on their smartphones. This includes us. And yet we are to be telling others about Jesus. Again, nothing sinful with looking at our smartphones in the airport. But I do find myself wondering if we are missing opportunities to share the Gospel?

4. Meditate on the Word day and night (Psalm 1:2). I am not sure about you, but I find it a lot easier to pull out my smartphone and scroll through Facebook or Instagram when I have a few minutes than to memorize a verse or to spend time in prayer. The first one takes no brain power and so, if we aren’t careful, we can default to this very easily. Again, recognize that it isn’t a sin to scroll through social media. But–I will speak for myself here–when it becomes my default behavior to the exclusion of God and His Word, I see that I am not honoring Him as I should.

Smartphones are wonderful tools. When you actually stop and consider what they actually can do it is incredible! But, oh, how important it is that we maintain control of our smartphones instead of allowing them to control us. This is truly a modern-day challenge that none of us really expected. But now that it is here, let us strive to honor and please God always with how we use these powerful little devices.

 

Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

climbing-to-the-top-2125148_1920

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.