The Secret to True Peace

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Some of you are old enough to remember the hippies of the sixties and their use of the word “peace”. It was kind of a buzz word of that era. I think this was probably in reaction to the Vietnam War. I was just a baby during that time so my personal memories are very limited.

I have been thinking a bit about this word peace for a few weeks now. Mostly because I have not really had it. These past few years have brought so many changes so fast–and there are more to come–that I have had a hard time settling into a normal. I have a hard time being at peace when things are not normal. I like routine. I didn’t realize how important routine was to me. But now that life is changing so much so quickly, I can see how I have relied on my circumstances remaining pretty status quo. Most of my change is just normal life change. It’s just–for me–it is all happening at once instead of gradually. My head feels like it is spinning.

I have handled all of this in a variety of ways–crying, denial, just pushing through, fighting back, being irritable with others–but through it all I have not felt peaceful.

And then the other day I heard a sermon by the husband of a dear friend of mine. He had lots of good things to say in that sermon, but the one thing that really resonated with me was the part about peace. You see, I think most of us believe peace is a calm and carefree life without trials. It means a world without war and disease. In fact, many people in the world are working feverishly to bring peace to the world.

But the Bible makes it clear that we will never experience peace in this world until Jesus returns. Even Jesus Himself assured us that He did not come to bring peace–

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

This means we shouldn’t expect earthly peace. And it is also clear in God’s Word that we should not expect peace in our circumstances since we read this in John–

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will[a] have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In fact, in James we read that we are to actually count it all joy when we have trials–

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

And in Romans we read–

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

So from these verses we can see that our peace is not dependent upon a carefree life or a world without war.

So how do we have peace? John 16:33 tells us that our peace will come from our relationship with Christ. Our peace will be inward because we are reconciled to God through Christ. It is not about external circumstances.

In Isaiah 26:3 we find instructions on how to be in perfect peace–

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

We must keep our mind stayed on God. We must be willing to put our trust in Him that He will work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

I don’t know about you but, personally, I can find this quite a challenge. Not only in my personal life but in all of the craziness going on in the world. We read of terrorist attacks and shooting sprees and we come face to face with our mortality. At any time in any place we could breathe our last. If we don’t keep our mind stayed in the right place, we will become anxious and nervous. If we don’t keep our mind on God and His glory and purposes, we will become frustrated and disillusioned when things don’t work out in our lives the way we thought they should.

This is no easy task, mind you. It is our natural human tendency to worry and fret and to long for peace in our external world. While we know from the scriptures that true external peace will not happen on this earth, we are promised internal peace through our saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And this is the kind of peace that truly matters.

Not only should we not expect external peace, but we learn from the Bible that God uses trials and tribulations to help us grow. We read in the Romans passage from above that trials produce perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope. God is using our trials to make us more like Christ!

And so I have been challenged recently to be sure that anything in my life that I am unhappy about will be used by God to draw me to Him and to grow me as a believer. Instead of being a discontented and unhappy person, I want to learn perseverance and to be a light to those around me. And God is teaching me that the only way this can happen–the secret to true peace–is to keep my mind stayed on Him instead of on my circumstances.  He is teaching me that true peace come through my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and is not dependent on being free from trials and tribulations (or life changes happening all at once!)

I have let you see a little bit into my own personal struggles this morning. I don’t know if there is someone else out there who has these same struggles, but I thought I would share what the Lord has been teaching me. It is my hope that any who are struggling will be encouraged to look to the Lord for internal peace rather than grasping for illusive, impossible external peace. I hope that, together, we can grow more like Christ through all of life’s changes and trials.

 

 

Grateful or Greedy?

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Have you ever been around anyone who talks about Jesus like He is their own personal genie? Instead of a grateful heart, they have a greedy heart. Instead of wanting to serve Jesus, they want to get from Jesus. Instead of denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24), they want sunshine and roses and happy times and, believing this is what they deserve, they fully expect Jesus to fulfill their every wish and desire.

I finished out last year with reading Luke. When I came to verse 8 in chapter 23, it caught my eye. This is what it says–

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.

As we read on, we can see that Herod had no interest in being saved from his sin, he was just glad to see Jesus because he had heard so much about him and he wanted to see a miracle done by him.

Oh, how often we can be like Herod!

So many of us only want to accept good gifts from Jesus. We come to Him selfishly, fully expecting Him to fix everything in our lives and to give us a happy, satisfying life here on earth. We want Him to fix our broken marriages, our rebellious children, and our dysfunctional families. We want Him to change someone or to give us financial stability or to whisper sweet nothings in our ear.

But this is not how the Bible describes Jesus. Jesus is our Savior from sin. When we are saved from sin and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, nothing is ever the same again. Life becomes not about what we can get from Jesus but about what we can give to Jesus.

Instead of grasping for peace and joy and material wealth and supernatural answers to prayer, we should rest in God’s Sovereignty. Instead of using unbiblical methods and supernatural experiences to “know God” (I would argue that these do not lead us to knowledge of the only True God but are instead leading us to our deadliest enemy), we should read His word with a submissive heart that is ready to obey–no matter what the cost.

(Truly–I am astounded just how many believers are caught up in experiencing the supernatural. They want to hear Jesus speak to them or they want to feel God’s presence. But these teachings are not found in God’s Word but are, instead, based on principles of ancient Catholic mysticism. And, honestly, it is our human nature to be attracted to this type of thing because it makes us feel good and seems to be a much easier way to be “close to God” than what the Bible teaches.)

But there are few short cuts in this world and certainly none when it comes to knowing God. Knowing God means digging into His Word. Knowing God will mean denying ourselves. Knowing God will cost us.

This is not what most of us signed up for when we said a prayer one Sunday morning or at camp as a teenager. We came to Jesus because we expected Him to solve all of our problems and to make us happy and fulfilled. Like Herod, we were anxious to watch Him work miracles–hopefully in our own lives.

And yet this view of Jesus is so incomplete. Yes, He will help us. Yes, He will sometimes work in ways that astound us. But, mostly, following Jesus will be a hard and narrow path, full of rocks and twists and turns (Matthew 7:13-14). It means we will be hated by the world and even sometimes by those who call themselves Christians (John 15:19). It means we will give up our own personal dreams and purposes and happiness, in order to bring glory to our heavenly Father and to further His kingdom (Matthew 6:19-21). It means we submit to being pruned and shaped as the Father wills (John 15:1-2).

This is not a popular viewpoint, is it? And yet, this is what we read in scripture.

As we grow in Christ, let’s be sure to keep a biblical view on what this really means. Let’s be in the Word, reading it in context to understand who Jesus really is. And let’s turn our backs on the vain philosophies of men and the deceitful workings of false teachers that are in abundance around us, wooing us with promises of short cuts to God through mystical experiences. Instead of being greedy and only caring about what Jesus will give us, let’s have a grateful heart and be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Instead of being like Herod, let’s be like Paul–

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

 

 

Conditions for Profitable Bible Study

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One of the saddest things I see going on today by professing believers is how little they are actually studying the Bible. We instead fill our hearts and minds with books about the Bible or with short blog posts, videos, or soundbites of devotional thoughts. We do this and feel pretty good about ourselves, believing we have accomplished our “devotions” for the day.

This kind of thinking leads to biblical illiteracy, which we see in vast numbers today within the church. This is the year that I want to really point people back to the Word of God for life and strength. I hope to show that it is through the Bible that we know our heavenly Father and experience spiritual transformation. I want to encourage people to read and study the Word of God with a submissive spirit and a heart ready to obey.

I also want to encourage people to ask the question: “What does this mean?” Instead of the dangerous question: “What does this mean for me?” These two questions are in direct contrast to one another. The first leads to an objective and literal study of God’s Word, while the second leads to a subjective and mystical study. We will talk more about this as the year progresses, but this is a basic thought to keep in mind as you prepare to dig into the Word this coming year.

As I was talking to Pastor Dean about this recently, he highly recommended the book How to Study the Bible by R.A. Torrey. Thankfully, I had a copy of this laying around that had never been read and so I picked it up. It is worth buying for the first chapter alone and I highly recommend doing so. (I have linked the book title to Amazon for your convenience; I get no proceeds from this).

But I would like to share a skeletal version of Chapter One for you here, entitled Conditions for Profitable Bible Study. I think you will find this most helpful as you start any study of the scriptures–whether it be the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or a different one that is completely unrelated to the challenge here at Growing 4 Life.

And so here we go–some thoughts on preparing yourself to study the Word of God. Torrey starts out by writing this:

The secret lies in meeting certain fundamental conditions before you begin to study the Word of God. If you meet these conditions, you will get more out of the Bible, while pursuing the poorest methods, than the one who does not meet them while he pursues the best methods. What you will need is far deeper than a new and better technique.

Here are the conditions–

  1. You must be born again. Little is to be gained from study of scripture if your spiritual eyes have not been opened.
  2. You must have a love for the Word of God and an appetite for spiritual food. Perhaps you are concerned about this one. Let me assure you that when you start to study in earnest, this will be developed. The more you study, the stronger your appetite will grow.
  3. You must have a willingness to work hard. Few things are gained without work and Bible Study is no exception. You will get out of it what you put into it.  Torry puts it this way: “The reason many people get so little out of their Bible reading is simply because they are not willing to think. Intellectual laziness lies at the bottom of a large percent of fruitless Bible reading.”
  4. You must have a will that is wholly surrendered to God. The old hymn “I Surrender All” takes on a whole new meaning when we actually think about living the words we sing. This is a tough one but it is key if we are to truly get anything out of our Bible Study. We must say–like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42)–“not my will, but Thy will be done.”
  5. You must be willing to obey all commands in scripture as soon as you become aware of them. This is related to #4, but it is a bit different in that it requires action. There are many sins we commit each and every day that we may not even think about until we get in the Word and it shows us –like a mirror–the truth about our souls. James puts it like this– But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25). We will get the most out of our study by bringing a heart and mind that is willing to obey.
  6. The sixth condition is a childlike mind. What this really means is bringing to your study a humble and teachable heart. I just love how Torrey puts this: “How can we be babes if God is to reveal His truth to us, and we are to understand His Word? A child is not full of his own wisdom. He recognizes his own ignorance and is willing to be taught. He does not oppose his own notions and ideas to those of his teachers.” Oh, how very important this condition is! This alone may be why so many who claim to be in the Word show no apparent growth or transformation. Whenever we impose our ideas and thoughts on the Word, viewing the Bible through our own already preconceived worldview, we are hindering greatly the work of the Holy Spirit to give us insight into the Word. A teachable spirit cannot be over-emphasized enough in this study of the Word of God!
  7. The seventh condition Torrey gives is that we believe the Bible is the very Word of God! This involves four things– 1) We bring an unquestioning acceptance to all that we find within its pages, even if it seems unreasonable or impossible. 2) We have absolute reliance in all its promises in all their breadth and length. 3) We give prompt obedience to its every precept. 4) We study as if we are in God’s presence–as if hearing the living God speaking the words of scripture to us. This is because the Bible truly is His very words to us and we are always in God’s presence. Torrey puts it like this: “We can have God’s glorious companionship any moment we please by simply opening His Word and letting the living and ever-present God speak to us through it.”
  8. The last condition for profitable study is prayerfulness. Bend over each passage of scripture in prayer. Prayer for a clean and pure heart. Prayer for a submissive and obedient heart. Prayer for insight into what you are going to read in the Word. David puts it this way in Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see, Wondrous things from Your law.

I hope that you have found this a helpful post to get you started in the greatest adventure anyone can undertake–a study of the very Word of God! Whether you have studied your Bible for years or this is your first attempt, I pray the greatest blessing on you as you begin a new year of studying the Bible. I know full well–if the above conditions are met–you will not come away unchanged from your time in the Word.

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.

Why Are You So Offended?

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The other day I was shopping for groceries right around lunchtime. Spotting the beautiful salad bar in the store, I decided to buy a salad for lunch. Choosing one of the containers that has three different sections, I filled it up and then carefully set it in my cart. There it lay, with salad ingredients in one half and some beautiful fruit in the corner. Perfectly separated.

I managed to get it to the check out counter without mixing the items all together and there I lifted it out of the cart, holding it in such a way that the salad would not get mixed with the fruit, and rested it behind the rest of my items on the conveyor belt.

But all that care ended up being in naught as I watched the store clerk lift up the salad and recklessly turn it to and fro looking for a bar to scan. Finally, she sighed and asked the clerk beside her how to check out a salad.

Upon receiving the necessary information, she checked out my now thoroughly mixed salad and put it in a bag.

Now, in my earlier life I may have grown a bit frustrated over this all. Yes, it’s just a salad but she had undone everything I had so carefully tried to avoid in just a few seconds. Literally. She had carelessly lifted it up and mixed it all together, with no thought given to how I might feel about that.

But here’s the thing– she had no idea whatsoever that she was frustrating me. None at all. Her only thought was that here was something she didn’t know how to check out and she knew she had to figure out how to check it out and she had to do that quickly.

So often we get so offended with people who have no idea they are even offending us. They are just living their life from their perspective without a care for anybody else’s and their agenda collides with ours. In this case, my agenda was to keep the container flat so that my food wouldn’t get all mixed together. The clerk’s agenda was to find a price for that salad. When these agendas clashed, I knew a moment of irritation.

So why in the world am I talking about something so unimportant? Because– let’s face it– a salad that gets all mixed together is about the most minuscule thing in life you can imagine.  I share this because I think there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

Well, two lessons, actually.

First, we get offended about the wrong things. I mean who cares about a salad? Or the car that cut in front of us on the highway? Why do we care so much about the co-worker who got the credit we deserved or when our spouse shares something that they would like us to change? We care because we care so very much about ourselves.

In contrast, think about the last time you got offended when you heard God’s name taken in vain or heard someone take a Bible passage out of context or make some heretical statement. Did this offend you? Did it fill you with the same irritation that it would have if they had taken your words out of context or used your name as a swear word?

My guess is no. And this is a great test about who we love most, isn’t it? Just when I think I am making some headway, God will show me that I still love me most. It’s a discouraging, disheartening thought. Until I remember how far I’ve come. I am still struggling, but I love God now in a much deeper and fuller way than I even dreamed possible when I was a teenager. Filling my mind with His Word is how this came about. There is no shortcut full of special experiences and feelings (but that’s a really, really long bunny trail and a post for another day).

So are we getting offended about the right things? This is a question we must ask ourselves.

The second lesson to be learned from the salad incident is that, whether we are personally offended or offended for the sake of God and His Word, how we react says a lot about us. Do we grow angry and defensive? Do we speak unkind words or give someone the silent treatment? This says we love ourselves so much more than we love God.

But if we overlook small, inconsequential offenses we show a desire to be like Christ. If we address worthwhile offenses with love and kindness, using God’s Word as our guide, we show that our love for that person is far greater than our desire to “be right”. If we practice patience and joy when someone is frustrating us, we show that we have eternal perspective.

Now let’s think about this practically for a moment. What would these reactions show to a world overflowing with self-absorbed, easily-offended people? It would be a welcome and wonderful change for store and hotel clerks, for co-workers, and for churches, too. It may even give us an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. At the very least, it will be evidence of the light of Christ that is within us.

We are never going to change anybody else. But we can change ourselves. We can choose to overlook a slight offense. We can show love and grace when confrontation is necessary. And we can choose to challenge people on the stuff that really matters–the things that offend our loving, heavenly Father. And, in doing these things, we are shining witnesses for Jesus Christ and also help to make the world a gentler, kinder place.

It begins with us.

 

 

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

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People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!

 

 

The Forgotten Guidelines

Many years ago, a skinny kid with a pickup truck and a riding lawn mower started a lawncare business. (Yes, that is him in the photo above!) A year later he got married (to me) and started a family. All the while, the company was quickly growing and the demands on his time increased exponentially. Summer droughts came and money was tight. But this kid, who soon grew into a man, was committed to two guidelines from scripture that aren’t very popular–

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10%.

We rarely hear anything about either of these anymore. Oh, every once in awhile we hear about giving–especially if there is building project in the works– but we rarely, if ever, hear about keeping the Lord’s Day.

Are these things something we have to do? Of course not. There is nothing we have to do to be saved. Some cults would teach that if you don’t keep the Sabbath, you aren’t saved. And some groups would imply that giving to their ministry is the paramount command of God. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth! If that is what you are hearing, then you are in a false system.

But I do believe there are reasons to seriously consider making these two things a part of our lives. Here’s why–

Let’s look first at the Sabbath Day. When God created the world, He set a pattern to work six days and to rest on the seventh. The week, set up by God in Genesis 1, comes directly from the Bible. The author of Hebrews also references this week set up by God in Hebrews 4, carrying the idea of this rest over into the New Testament. When God specified the seventh day for rest, we know it wasn’t because He needed it. He doesn’t need to sleep or slumber. So why did He do this? I believe He did this not only for His own glory but because He knew that man would need a pattern of rest. Carm.org puts it this way–

On the seventh day, which is the Sabbath day, the day of rest, Christians cease from their work, just as God did. But where we need to be replenished, God does not.

So let’s go back to that kid for a moment. When Eric started our company, he could have easily worked 24/7. The work was there and plentiful and he was full of energy. But he had been taught that Sunday is a day of rest and chose to abide by this even as a young man going into business. As we look back now, we see how this not only provided him with the rest he so desperately needed, but perhaps even saved our marriage and family during those tough years of building the business.

The other day we were talking to a young man who has ventured out on his own to start the same type of business. As he shared about his summer, he talked about how he was working seven days a week– long days with rarely a break. We encouraged him to consider making Sundays a day of rest. For himself and for his family. Owning a company is demanding. Customers want things and they want them now. Establishing that your trucks will not leave the property on Sundays is a simple–and I believe God-given–way to take a much-needed break after a long week.

Of course, some people have jobs in which this is not possible. I do get that. But if we can do this, perhaps it is time to give this some reconsideration. How kind of God to provide this pattern in Genesis 1 that His people can follow,  providing us one day of rest from the work of the week.

So let’s move on to tithing. This one is so different from what it used to be. Or at least from what I remember it being. Growing up, I was taught that you tithe 10% to your church. Period. Oh, sure, there were some parachurch organizations that you gave to but that wasn’t where your main giving went to. It was your church. Since then, there has been an explosion of parachurch organizations. Many of these ministries are good ones and in need of funds. There is nothing wrong with giving to these. But our churches still need our 10% to function. Our pastors need their salaries, our churches have electric and oil bills and need to buy office supplies and pay their secretarial and janitorial staff. This can’t be done unless its committed members are tithing.

I heard someone once say this– “Give to your church first and then give to other organizations.” This is good advice. I remember hearing it and thinking Yes! That makes a lot of sense! I only wish I could remember who to give the credit to for this statement. Of course, this is not a biblical mandate, by any means, so this is a very personal decision that each person needs to work out on their own.

As an aside, I will add here that in the recent years we have made the choice to give only to charities that are committed to spreading the Gospel. Oh, I can’t say we don’t give $10 or $20 here and there to other charities, but we want the bulk of what we give to go towards spreading the true and unadulterated Gospel. Even many charities labeled “Christian” are not spreading the Gospel but, instead, are focused only on fixing temporal situations. Of course, there is nothing wrong with digging wells and providing medical care, but if we aren’t sharing the Gospel, then all of that work has no eternal value. It is critical to care first and foremost for their souls. We really try to make sure that this is the case for the charities we support.

But some of you are probably thinking something like this: I can’t even give 10%, much less anything over and above that.

I get that. I truly do. When we got married, we started life out with (my) college debt. We lived very meagerly in a small apartment. Every dollar counted. We didn’t have much and giving 10% of what we did have meant real sacrifice. It was difficult to place that check in the offering plate each week, but we had been taught by our parents that you give, no matter what.

And, now, looking back over all of those years, we wouldn’t change a thing. God was so faithful! He always provided for us. Always. We had some lean years but we were always able to pay our employees. We always had enough to eat. We could always pay our bills. Not always on time–but they always got paid!

So why do we tithe? We know that God doesn’t need our money. So what’s the deal? I love how Dave Ramsey puts this

So why does He ask us to give 10% to Him? Tithing was created for our benefit. It is to teach us how to keep God first in our lives and how to be unselfish people. Unselfish people make better husbands, wives, friends, relatives, employees and employers.

Once again, we see that this is a guideline that blesses us. That it was given for our good and our benefit. What a kind God we serve. Something that would seemingly cost us a great deal actually ends up blessing us!

Resting on Sundays and Tithing 10% require something from us, don’t they? They require sacrifice and discipline. But the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. We have seen this in our own lives and in the lives of others. Don’t despair if you feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. You can do this. I believe when we choose to honor God and the patterns He has set before us in scripture, He enables us to follow them. He will walk with us each step of the way.

 

 

A Look at the Modern Day Church

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Most Americans are obsessed with comfort and convenience. We may as well admit it. We do not like to do anything that takes us out of our “comfort zone”. We spend millions of dollars each year on making sure we are comfortable in our homes, our work places, and, yes, even our churches.

I have been mulling this over in my brain for a few weeks now–this obsession with comfort in the church and how we have gotten a little mixed up. Yesterday at church my pastor talked a bit about it, too, explaining how feeling welcome is not the same thing as feeling comfortable. Oh, how true!

Since when should unbelievers feel comfortable in church? Who decided that? Since the inception of the church, unbelievers felt uncomfortable. Oh, many times they felt loved and welcomed– but they certainly did not feel comfortable.

How come?

Because they were in a place where their sin was exposed. Where they came face to face with the fact that they need a Savior. It was the pastor’s job to encourage his congregation towards holiness and purity of life and this was in direct contrast to the self-centered lifestyle of the unregenerated sinner. This, naturally, created a bit of discomfort.

I heard John MacArthur say this in a recent Q&A: “If an unbeliever isn’t uncomfortable in church, it’s not a church.”

That’s something to consider, isn’t it? And I believe it is absolutely true. When we study the church in scripture we can see that it is always referring to a body of believers. Together, they strive to serve Christ and to grow in holiness (read this if you want to know what the Bible says specifically about church).

This was the definition of church for thousands of years.

Until one day some guy decided that it’s the church’s job to witness to unbelievers during the worship service. Oh, it doesn’t matter that we do not find this purpose for the church anywhere at all in scripture. His theory caught wind and it took off, forever changing what we know as church.

I have a passion for the lost and many other Christians I know do, as well. But we believers should be getting fed in our churches so that we can reach them as we live our everyday lives. We shouldn’t be bringing them to church to get saved. That’s not our pastor’s job–it’s the job of every believer (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

As this movement took hold and has infiltrated almost every congregation to some extent, it has literally changed the face of Christianity.

No longer are true believers getting fed meat, but they are forced to squeak out a meager existance on milk in their church homes so that no sermon makes anyone feel uncomfortable. This leads to Christians who are not growing in their faith.

No longer are true believers feeling a passion for the lost because we rely on our churches to do that messy, unpleasant work.

No longer are true believers focused on serving and pleasing God, but on fulfilling personal dreams and desires as they search for happiness. (Well, these people may not even be true believers, as this is the antithesis of saving faith. But I am not the judge. People do get caught up in lies.)

But, probably, most tragic of all, is the fact that millions of unbelievers are sitting in churches across this nation on any given Sunday and are never being taught the truth! They are sinners in need of a Savior. This need isn’t focused on making their dreams come true or making them rich or in making them happy. The true Gospel has taken a backseat to a self-centered, false gospel–a necessity if preaching to the unregenerate. For they wouldn’t stay for anything else.

Oh, I know there are many churches that sit somewhere in between these two. Fence-sitting–just like many believers– trying to make both styles work somehow.

But what are the fruits of this?

It is my belief that this movement is full of bad fruit. We now have a “church” that thinks it is wrong to judge sin. We have a “church” obsessed with personal fulfillment. We have a “church” full of the unregenerate–people who, tragically, never even hear the true Gospel in a service. And we have a “church” captivated by the world and its methods.

So what can we do?

If we are in a good church already, first and foremost, be thankful! There aren’t many of us and we are truly blessed. And then let’s make sure that any unbeliever that comes to visit  feels welcome. An unbeliever can walk into a church full of people who are dressed up and singing hymns and feel loved. They might not feel comfortable, but they can feel loved. Why we have equated feeling comfortable to feeling welcome is beyond me. They aren’t even the same thing.

If we are in a church that is fence-sitting, perhaps it is time to take your concerns to leadership. Ask them to give a scriptural reason for their latest shift or change. Find out if leadership is more interested in pleasing God or pleasing man. Yes, this takes courage. But, if done in love and with respect, it can be a wonderful thing. But, beware, this can also grow really ugly really fast if leadership is full of pride. It is definitely a risk, but one worth taking if we care about God’s true church.

If we are in a church that has sold out to the world, then it’s time to get out. I heard recently –from two different people– of young persons living in sin who just love the worldly mega-church they attend. What is wrong with this picture? If your church is allowing their members and attenders to live in sin, it is time to leave. If your church is infusing the worship service with the things of this world to attract unbelievers, it is time to leave. This is not church. This is entertainment.

So perhaps it isn’t so bad if we feel uncomfortable in our churches. In fact, it’s a good thing. Feeling uncomfortable often leads to spiritual growth. If we are humbly and eagerly sitting under a pastor that is challenging and encouraging us from the Word of God, we can’t help but be changed. We can’t help but to grow. It is how it is meant to be.

I truly believe that the church has been infiltrated by the enemy and it is time to kick him out!

 

Why Good Things Happen to Bad People

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Last Thursday we left for our annual trip to the beach. On this trip we were joined by my brother (Pastor Dean) and his family and so we enjoyed a time of being together as a family that we rarely get anymore. As we sat and talked around the campfire one day about life and about the church, my brother mentioned that he wishes someone would write a book entitled, “Why Good Things Happen to Bad People”.

Remember the book written some years back called “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People”? (I haven’t read it, so this post has nothing to do with that book at all). Well, my brother turned the title around and explained that he believes people just don’t truly understand how wicked they are and so they mistakenly believe that they deserve so much better than they get and are entitled to certain things in life.

How true this is! Have you noticed it, too? This belief by most people that they are basically good and deserve the best things in life. But there is a fundamental problem with this point of view: It makes mankind innocuous to salvation. Think about it– if you don’t have a grasp of just how sinful and wicked you are, how can you really believe you need a Savior to save you from your sins? God, holy, just, and perfect, sent his son Jesus, to die on the cross as a sacrifice (or propitiation) for our sins (I John 4:9-10). This is the Gospel. 

As we drove home later, we were listening to a recent album put out by a Christian group. As I listened to the words, I realized that almost all of their songs had to do with brokenness, healing, strength, purpose, and love. Not once did I hear the words sin, sinner, or repentance. Now, don’t get me wrong–of course, Jesus does heal our brokenness and loves us and gives us strength. Praise God, Jesus does all of this! But not until we repent, believe in Him, and turn from our sins. If this part is missing, then salvation is missing and so are the rest of the benefits that go along with salvation.

I am not judging that music group. Perhaps I missed some lyrics as we were driving along. I only share this because I did notice that song after song had no mention of sin and repentance. And it reminded me of just how little our new Christian culture mentions these two words. Why is this?

I believe it is because of two reasons– first, we hate to think of ourselves as sinners. Sure, we mess up and make mistakes, but wicked sinners that deserve hell? No way. We compare ourselves with ourselves (2 Corinthians 10:12) and come to the {wrong} conclusion that we doing pretty good.  And, second, if Satan can get us thinking we are doing pretty good, then he can effectively eliminate the need to recognize our sin and to repent and accept Christ–the only thing that saves men from eternal damnation.

Do you believe you are wicked enough to deserve hell? When I first came to Christ, I didn’t think so. I grew up thinking I was a pretty good person. I was raised in a Christian home and never did anything really bad as I saw some doing around me. Thankfully, God opened my eyes to my own wicked heart (and continues to do so) as I have matured as a believer and this has helped me to understand and appreciate salvation in a much deeper way. It has also magnified my thankful heart for all of the undeserved blessings I receive from my heavenly Father.

You see, none of us is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10). And this means that we deserve nothing good. Anything that is good comes from the loving Father above as an undeserved blessing. Each breath, each step we take is because God, in his great mercy, allows it.

Is this a little too “over the top” for you? Consider these verses found in Acts 17:24-28–

 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’  (bold is mine)

God gives to all life, breath, and all things. He has determined our times and where we will dwell. It is only in Him that all men live and move and have their being.

If we understand that we are not righteous (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:10; Micah 7:2-4; I John 1:8-10; Luke 18:19) and that salvation and all other gifts–even our very breath–comes from God above and are undeserved, having nothing to do with our own merit (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 11:6; 2 Timothy 1:9) then we have a completely different view of the Gospel, do we not?

Instead of the Gospel being a mystical experience that makes us feel better about ourselves and gives us purpose or simply a “decision” that we need to make in order to have fire insurance from hell, it becomes the center of our very being. We admit we are a sinner, we repent, we turn from our sins. We are transformed and our greatest spiritual desire becomes to please our Savior instead of ourselves. To deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow Jesus every day (Luke 9:23). If we understand our wickedness and the great mercy God has shown us in making a way to be reconciled to Himself, this is what we want to do. Oh, most of us don’t do this all that well, but it is our greatest desire to do so.

I am afraid that the gospel has been considerably watered down. I am afraid that we have become a people who have been warped by the world into believing we are basically good people. And I am afraid that in believing we are basically a good people we have become incapable of truly understanding the Gospel.

And, once again, we come back to the Word. The Word is our only source of truth on this subject. This is where we need to go to understand the plan of salvation. Authors and bloggers are nice and they can be helpful. But they can also be extremely destructive. We need to compare everything we read and hear and watch to the Word of God. I include myself in this warning. Don’t take my word for it! Go to the scriptures. Know the Word to protect yourself from a false Gospel. This is truly the only way to survive this time of unprecedented apostasy.