Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, this is so true!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches

Biblical Evangelism

Imagine with me, if you will, a young couple who falls in love. We will call them Joe and Susan. Joe has carefully chosen a beautiful engagement ring and is ready to ask Susan the all-important question: “Will you marry me?”

He takes her to a romantic gazebo lit up with twinkly lights under the night sky and they dine together in the moonlight. After they are finished, Joe takes her by the hand and leads her to…

His mother! She has been sitting in the corner quietly watching the young couple. Joe tells Susan that his mother has something very important to share with her and then Mother says: “Susan, Joe loves you so much. He wants to spend his whole life with you. Will you marry him?”

Or imagine Joe takes Susan to a party and surrounds her with guests who gush about how much Joe loves her and, through this, Joe fervently hopes that Susan will come to understand that he wants to marry her without having to actually ask her outright.

Foolish, right? And yet we do this all of the time in how we approach evangelism. Our Sunday School teacher used a similar analogy this past Sunday and as he talked, I realized just how true this is.

How often do we “witness” to our loved ones, friends, and neighbors by taking them to our pastor or inviting them to a Christian function?

We have this idea that the pastor can share the Gospel and our Christian friends can show them just how wonderful the Christian life is. And, somehow, from these things they will “get it”. In fact, many churches encourage this type of evangelism by watering down their sermons for unbelievers, bending over backwards to make the unsaved feel comfortable when they walk through the church doors, and providing all kinds of activities for people to bring their lost friends to. Of course, activities aren’t wrong in and of themselves, but should they be viewed as “witnessing tools”? Does scripture teach this type of evangelism? Is this the model for witnessing we find in the Bible?

Let’s look in the Word.

In my research I found this web page that cites the verses/passages that pertain to witnessing. Do you know that I didn’t see even one verse that would indicate that we are to take our lost friend to our pastor so that he can tell them about Jesus? I also didn’t find any verses that would suggest we take them to a church service or an activity with Christian friends to tell them about salvation.

Let’s look at a couple of the passages–

Mark 5:18-19 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Jesus tells the man healed of demon-possession to go home and report what has happened to him. He isn’t to take his friends to church or to bring them back to Jesus. He is to report to them what great things the Lord has done for him! Now, you may think: if God miraculously healed me like that I would gladly tell others about it. Oh, dear reader, hasn’t Jesus done something even greater in saving your soul? Isn’t this a miracle of even greater import? How often we forget the magnitude of the gift we have received. And, in doing so, we lose our fervor for witnessing and we hesitate to talk about the very thing most important in life.

Acts 8:30-35 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER; AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT, SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY; WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

Notice, Philip didn’t say something like this: “Oh that is a good question. Let’s go to my pastor (or friend or leader) and see what he has to say.” No, it says that Philip opened his mouth and preached Jesus to this man. My friends, if we cannot do what Philip did, then we are probably not in the Word like we should be. As sinners saved by grace we should be able to communicate the message of salvation with a lost person. Sure, most of us aren’t going to know all of the theological details and we may not be able to answer every question, but we should know the basics of salvation: We are saved, not of our own works, but based on Jesus Christ alone! (Romans 3:23-26) If we are saved, we can share this. In fact, we must share this!

I Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

Of course, Peter doesn’t tell us to be always be ready to take the person who asks us about the hope within us to someone who knows more about the Bible than we do. Instead he tells us we are to personally be prepared to share and defend the hope that is within us. We aren’t to pass them on to someone who knows more than we do.

These are just three of many more examples we find in scripture. So why is it so tempting to take our unsaved friends to church instead of just talking to them ourselves? I believe there are two main reasons for this and I fall prey to them, too, sometimes! We are so easily snared, aren’t we?

1. First, It is a lot easier. Let’s face it– studying scripture, preparing a defense, and making time for “big question” conversations takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Most of us are just too busy or too lazy to put this kind of effort into it. We’d so much rather pick up a novel than to study the Word. We’d rather watch a game than listen to a sermon. We’d rather talk about the weather or sports than to broach such a controversial subject as religion. We’d rather sit at home watching TV than take a lost friend for coffee. Taking someone to a church service or to our pastor is–by far–the easier option.

2. Second, we are so fearful. We are so scared. We are scared we won’t have the answers. We are scared we will be ridiculed. We are scared we will lose friends or even our job. We are scared we will make someone uncomfortable. We are scared we won’t say the right thing. We are just so scared. And so most of us will take the tentative step of inviting someone to church or kindly offer to take them to see our pastor with their questions. This seems like the safest option to protect ourselves–providing the opportunity to do our “Christian duty” while still preserving our comfort, convenience, and reputation. Oh, how little faith we have! What blessings we miss because of our fear!

 

We hear so little about evangelism anymore. It is almost a thing of the past with the advent of seeker-friendly churches and the onset of new mission philosophies. But, although it may be out of style in this post-modern church age, it is not out of biblical style. God’s Word never changes and Matthew 28:19-20 is as true today as it was when it was written almost 2000 years ago.

So let’s go out and tell the world about Jesus! Let’s tell our co-workers what He has done for us. Let’s have that conversation about religion with our family members. Let’s have a picnic with our unsaved friends and talk about something of eternal significance. But, let’s also remember to always do this with love, grace, and a sensitivity to their receptiveness (Colossians 4:6). Let’s overcome our fear and our laziness so that we can make an eternal impact on this world for the Gospel. After all, we are wicked sinners who have been saved by God’s amazing grace. How can we not share this?

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

 

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.

 

For My Dad

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day. It is the annual day to celebrate our Fathers–the men who have provided for us, who have shaped us, and who have loved us. Some of us have terrible fathers and this day is particularly hard. Some of us have unremarkable fathers and this day is just another day. But some of us have wonderful fathers and we love to celebrate this day.

I am so incredibly blessed to be in that third group. I’d like to share a few reasons why my dad is so wonderful and how he has not only shaped me but how he is also creating an amazing legacy for those who follow after him.

From my earliest memories, I recall Dad’s love for the truth. As little children, I can remember my brother lying about riding his bike in the street and dad’s reaction to this lie. From that moment forward, I never told a lie. Oh, I am not saying I have never fudged the truth a bit, but I have never told an outright lie. That was a defining moment in my life and it stuck. Forever. But Dad’s love for the truth goes far beyond his kids not lying to him. His desire and love for the truth is first and foremost rooted in the scripture. He wants to know God’s truth and to live by it. He doesn’t only speak this, he lives it. Oh, he’d be the first to admit he’s not perfect, but what an inspiration it is to his family that he continues in that love–even now–and keeps trying to grow in the Lord. He has a passionate desire to know the truth about what’s going on in the world, as well. This has greatly impacted the ministries of both my brother and I, as well, forever changing our perspectives on life. This love for truth has been instilled in us, his children, and we have tried to pass it on to our own kids, as well. Contrary to popular opinion these days, truth is absolute. There aren’t many conflicting avenues of relative truth–there is one absolute truth and that is found in God’s Word.

I also want to publicly thank my dad for being such an encouragement to me. He has–and continues to be–one of my greatest supporters. When he notices something good, he lets us know. He is quick to say “I love you” and “I am proud of you”–not only to me, but to my husband and children, as well. These words are like a balm to the soul, especially in times of uncertainty or doubt or when we are barraged by discouraging remarks from others around us. His kind and encouraging words have been like a fresh spring of water in a desert on many occasions. And, interestingly enough, this habit of his makes us much more willing to sit up and listen to him if and when he needs to challenge us on something–which is rare. But I do remember the rare occasion when we were young parents where he would say something. And we were willing to listen because we knew if he was bringing it up, it was probably important. I am really trying to emulate this with my own kids. I don’t have it down, but I keep trying! I want to build up my family with my words and not tear them down! This builds healthy family relationships and creates a tight bond of love that just can’t exist in an atmosphere of consistent, negative criticism.

My dad, like many out there, worked hard to provide for his family. This was through some very discouraging times and one of the few times I remember my dad crying was during an especially difficult job change. And, yet, I never saw him give up or land in a pit of despair. I have watched him go through difficult job changes, discouraging church changes, and, I guess most of all, an extremely painful family situation and yet, instead of landing in depression or giving up, I have watched him continually turn to the Lord and to learn and grow from these challenges. He has taught me to keep walking forward, taking one day at a time, through all of life’s ups and the downs.

Another thing I love about my dad is his ability to have fun and to be serious, too. My childhood was made up of hours playing soccer and football with my dad (and mom, too!) in the backyard or board games on our family room floor. It was made up of laughter and fun and games. But then there were also many times of serious conversations–about the Lord, about His return, about what it means to be a Christian, and about the world and where it was headed. As I started my own family, this same wonderful balance of having fun and being serious continued. Many of our family’s favorite memories center around the wonderful times we have had camping. Many of them were made around evening campfires, where my dad would sometimes laugh with abandon and, at other times, hold serious, spiritual conversations. He provided–and continues to provide–a wonderful balance between being serious and having fun. How many people do you know who love to do both? Oh, what wonderful memories! We hope to continue this legacy of being able to have fun and yet to not let our desire for fun to consume us so much that we have no serious conversations about scripture and growing in the Lord.

And, finally, I want to mention a very important lesson I have learned from my father. He has taught me not to hold grudges. He has been a living example to me of actively forgiving and living out Romans 12:18–the principle of trying to live at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. I have watched him give his best efforts in healing relationships. I have watched him not give up. And I have watched him do all of this without holding a grudge. I, too, have faced some really difficult “relationship” moments, where resolution was not forthcoming. His example has taught me to forgive even if forgiveness is not asked for. He has taught me to be open to resolution. And to love and enjoy life, despite the unresolved issues.

Dad, I know you will read this, because you are one of my biggest supporters. Thank you for everything. This list isn’t exhaustive. I know I could come up with many more ways that you have impacted me and my family for all of eternity. You have told us that your one goal was to have your kids and grandkids walk with the Lord and make an impact for the cause of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I see your son’s (Pastor Dean) ministry and I know God has answered that prayer. I also see Him answering that prayer in the growing spiritual maturity of your grandchildren, which has been a wonderful and inspiring thing to watch. I hope that He is also answering that prayer through my ministry here at Growing4Life.

Dad, you set your priorities for your family early on and then, with a humble and teachable heart, gave 150% to make it happen. Thank you for that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough about my brother and me to give of yourself. I love you!

I hope that this post will encourage others to set their priorities well for their own families. I hope it encourages my readers to use their words to build up instead of to tear down. I hope it gives people cause to think before holding a grudge and I hope it reminds us all that both laughter and serious conversation should be part of all families. But, most of all, I hope that it reminds people to hold the highest esteem for God’s Word and the absolute truth we find there. No matter what our earthly father was like, we have the opportunity to make these changes now–for our own kids and grandkids–so that we, too, can leave a godly legacy.

 

 

The Only Time It Is Okay to Be a Hypocrite

feelings

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

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

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

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

Curious, yet?

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

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

Yes!

A million times yes!!

So often we hear people say things like this–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

This, Too, Shall Pass

1930s

A few weeks ago I went to my daughter’s cello orchestra concert. As I listened to the music, I stared at the old-fashioned screen–a very interesting relic of the past–that was behind the orchestra. It was from the 1930s and had a beautiful, pastoral scene in the middle with advertisements for local businesses around the outside edge. My eyes went from one advertisement square to the next, where I read names that were completely unfamiliar to me. Two of the local businesses advertised had been in their final years when we had moved to the area in the early 90s and so I recognized the names. Only those two–out of the eighteen advertisements–were even slightly familiar to me.

Wow. This really reminded me of just how temporal this life is. We have a small business (as many of you already know) and sometimes we can get caught up in all of the problems and trials that come along with this particular lot in life. Business owners face issues that most people never even think about and it can be quite the challenge. My husband daily faces most of them, as he is in the day-to-day organization of the field work, while I support him and work with him to process some solutions and plans for the dilemmas and situations that come along. We have been doing it this way for thirty years now. And we have weathered a lot. But I have to admit that this year has brought some challenges that were not only unforeseen, but have also reminded us that we can’t rely on our strength alone.

These challenges can potentially be overwhelming if we forget that this is just a temporal calling.

Not only is this business just a temporary thing, but we also need to remember that our hope does not lie in any business! Only God is our hope. It should never be placed in anything else. For us, we can easily place our hope in our business if we aren’t careful. But for some of you, it may be in your family or in the government or some other thing. It is so incredibly tempting to place our hope in things other than God.

When things go wrong, this is when we find out just where our hope lies. If we are assailed by anxiety and fear, we are probably putting our hope in temporal things. Things that won’t last for eternity.

And so–as always–God has used these trials to gently draw us back to a proper perspective. And for that, we are thankful. While the trials are hard and frustrating, it is a good thing to be reminded that this world is not our home and that our affections shouldn’t be rooted too deeply here. It is good to remember that everything is temporal–except for the souls of men.

I don’t think it was an accident that I saw that screen on that day. And while I still experience moments of deep frustration and fear and even sadness at all of the cultural changes going on, I know that God has not deserted us. God has been so faithful to us through the years, answering so many prayers. We know He will continue to walk with us–just as He has for over thirty years now–as we strive to operate a business with integrity. The challenges may be more abundant than we’d prefer, but we were never told anywhere in scripture that life would be easy. So why do we expect it will be?

And, I know this will seem like a bit of a rabbit trail, but I guess I just have to add one more thing regarding this. I believe that the expectation that life will always be easy–that somehow it is greener on the other side of the fence if we can only get there–is part of why there are so many divorces, failed businesses, and church-hoppers. Years ago, we were taught to live by this sentiment: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” but now that sentiment could be replaced with something like this: “When the going gets tough–or unpleasant–or we just don’t like it– it is time to walk away.”

How thankful I am to be married to one of those rare guys who doesn’t walk away from trials and challenges but, instead, rises up to meet them. Oh, how we need more men (and women) like this!

To tie it all together–you knew I could do it :) — not being surprised by trials and challenges (and then sticking around to see them through) and having an eternal perspective by placing our hope in the Lord (and not in temporal things) both go a very long way in keeping us at peace. When we can accept God’s sovereignty in our life, always trusting that He knows best, we can experience the joy and peace that is promised us in scripture. We may not always know why. We may not always understand. But we can courageously face our trials, knowing that He will always be faithful.

The trials of this life shall soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.

May we face the battles of life bravely while keeping an eternal perspective. May we remember that there are lessons for us to learn and people, desperately lost in their sins, who need to see us live out our Christian lives in the tough times. And may we remember that all of this life’s trials pale in comparison to the glory that awaits us in heaven!

 

A few verses that came to mind while writing this post–

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I Peter 1:20-21 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

James 1:10-11 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass[c] he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Isaiah 40:7-8 The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

 

Four Important Principles of Battle

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This morning in church we had a brave Viet Nam war veteran share a bit of his testimony. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to condense such an experience to just a few short moments on a Sunday morning. He concluded by comparing his experiences as a soldier to our duty as a soldier for Christ. As he talked, I found myself engrossed in what he was saying. How little we talk about the battle that is going on and what our duties are as a soldier for Christ. Most don’t want to focus on the negative. And, yet, scripture makes it clear that we are in a battle. If you have time, read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20, which is where we will find some description of this spiritual battle and also some keys to victory.

Even though it was just a short testimony and challenge for our congregation, I came away with four things we should all know about fighting the spiritual battle we Christians become a part of as soon as we are saved. Like it or not, if you are a Christian, then you are a soldier in Christ’s army. While this isn’t a specific Learn to Discern post, I do believe that these principles are key to our understanding of discernment and also help to clarify the importance of discernment in the church today.

Here are Four Important Principles of Battle

1. Stay Focused on the Enemy. He said this several times–how important it was that they stay focused on the enemy. If they lost sight of them, if the enemy stay hidden, they knew they could very well be taken out in a heartbeat. Our enemy, as believers, is Satan. And we must keep an eye on what he is doing. So often we will hear the opposite–that we aren’t to focus on the enemy, but instead just keep our eyes on Jesus. And, yes, the center of our faith is Jesus Christ, our Lord. But if we aren’t keeping an eye out for Satan and his devious plans, we are going to be deceived! And while Christians are being deceived, the lost are being told a false gospel. There is so much that hangs in the balance. We must keep our eyes on the enemy.

2. Someone Needs to Stand Guard. One of the keys to keeping the company safe was to have someone stand guard. The consequences were severe for the guard–sometimes even execution–should the enemy enter the camp while he fell asleep on duty. These guards could save the whole troop. The same is true spiritually. How interesting that instead of thanking the guards of the church, they are so often mocked, belittled, and marginalized. To stand guard in protection of the church generally means not only fierce attack from the enemy on the outside, but it also often brings on attacks from the inside. Instead of being grateful for the protection–for someone brave enough to point out how something doesn’t match scripture–churches and Christians grow angry and are constantly telling the guard that they are imagining things–that it isn’t the enemy they see. This never fails to befuddle me.

The guard has absolutely nothing to gain by calling out a false teacher and–in this current church culture–they have everything to lose. If they are brave enough to speak up to protect the church, then we’d better take heed and listen.

3.War Isn’t Pretty. As this man described some of the things that happened and the experiences he faced (and I know he gave us the “G” version, as a full description of the horrendous and awful sights he saw wouldn’t have been appropriate in a church service), I cringed. I couldn’t even imagine facing anything like this. One of the reasons for this is because I like my world comfortable and well-ordered and without conflict. Thank you very much.

But war isn’t pretty. It’s dirty. It’s violent. It’s chaotic. It’s terrifying. People get hurt and die. And you know what? Spiritual battles aren’t pretty, either. Gossip flies. Character assassinations occur. Reputations are ruined by false accusations. Christians languish in prisons and sometimes die cruel, horrible deaths. We need to stop expecting this life to be roses and lollipops. Standing up for Christ is not for the faint-of-heart.

4. Don’t Fight With Your Comrades. And, finally, he talked about how important it was that the company be unified. As I thought about this in relation to our spiritual battle, I thought about something that I started to really put in place in my life a while ago now. As a young person, I tended to argue a lot. I’d make big deals out of things that just weren’t. Somewhere in the last twenty years or so, I have learned a very important lesson: Never argue or debate anything that is not in scripture. If it won’t matter in 100 years, it is not worth an argument. Now, this can be tough–especially at home. I don’t do it perfectly (just ask my family!) but I am working on it.

You see, sometimes disagreements and divisions must occur, but only because there is an effort to compromise the Word of God. We can and we must make a big deal out of standing for what scripture teaches. But we can and we most certainly must let the other things go. If we are to gain the respect of those around us, we can’t argue and criticize and judge just because. Only a stand for the Bible and what it teaches is worth a real argument. And if we are lovingly agreeable on most occasions, then when these things come up that compromise scripture and we lovingly disagree, we will have the respect of those around us, even if they don’t like what we are saying. We must endeavor to keep the unity among believers as much as it is up to us! (Romans 12:18)

I hope this has encouraged you today. Life can be so hard. Sometimes it is hard because we are living out the consequences of sinful choices. But sometimes–many times– it is hard because we are fighting this battle against our enemy. If we are sharing the Gospel, if we are pointing out false teachers, if we are taking a stand for Christ and against worldliness, you can be guaranteed he does not like it! Let’s remember these four principles of battle and keep fighting on, bravely giving our all for the One who gave His all for us.

 

For So We Once Walked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has it happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

A View from the Other Side of the Story

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When we hear of a fairy tale, kings and princesses and castles generally come to mind. Few of us dwell for too long on the dreadful villains who work their dastardly plans to ruin the happy ending. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we always imagine ourselves in the role of the hero or heroine. Few desire to be the villain of any story.

But, of course, there is always a villain or–in official literary terms–the antagonist. This is the character that is keeping the protagonist (the good guy) from his happy ending. And none of us want to be that, do we?

Who in their right mind dreams of being the Ugly Stepmother in Cinderella or the Evil Queen in Snow White? Who would long to be Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo (if you haven’t read this classic, you should!), Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians or Long John Silver in Treasure Island?

But even as we recognize that no one really desires to be any story’s antagonist, we are forced to recognize four things in regards to this–

First, actual villains are villains for a reason. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be mean and ugly. Instead most were disappointed in life. Perhaps they felt out of control. Or sad and lonely. Perhaps jealousy or bitterness has eaten away part of their soul. Whatever it was, a variety of experiences and their wrong responses to those experiences caused them to become a negative influence in the lives around them. We see it play out all the time don’t we? In homes, churches, and workplaces. Selfish, unhappy people who want to make the lives of others miserable. Honestly, we should feel sorry for them.

Second, sometimes–many times–antagonists help us to grow spiritually. I remember hearing a sermon about this once. Instead of always dwelling on the unkindness or evil doings of the antagonists (or villains, as the case may be for some of us) in our lives, perhaps we should turn our focus inward and start to consider how our own responses and reactions show our true character. We may not have a choice on how we are treated, but we most certainly do get to choose how we respond (Matthew 5:43-44).

Third–and perhaps the hardest of all–is that sometimes, just by simply desiring to obey God’s Word, we become the antagonist in the eyes of a world who wants to do their own thing. We are the worker that won’t budge on integrity. Or the church member that points out a beloved false teacher. We are the parent that won’t let a child listen to rock music. Or the photographer that won’t photograph a gay wedding. There are countless examples of this in our world today. Whenever we keep someone from getting their own way, we become someone’s “villain” in their life story. When men and women are proud and lovers of selves (2 Timothy 3:1-7) and when right is called wrong (Isaiah 5:20) things get pretty confused. Which leads me to my fourth point…

Fourth, while in a story  or movie we can easily determine who the villain is, in real life this isn’t always so easy. People are complicated. A few specifics? Well, first–they lie and exaggerate and gossip. And they love drama. So you put a few people together around a water cooler or at a church social and–wa-la!–innocent “villains” can be created in just a short conversation. Many people are also driven by their emotions and feelings and experiences. This leads them to view anyone who would pull them to God’s Word for absolute truth as an antagonist. People are selfish and they want what they want. This will often mean that anyone who gets in the way of their desires will be called their personal “villain”. Oh, they won’t label them that, but they will treat them as such–gossiping about them, giving them the cold shoulder, or arguing all the time with them–treating them like an enemy. Life is rarely as cut and dried as the books we read.

But, as complicated as life gets and as crazily unpredictable as people are, we do have our anchor for this world in the Word of God. Not only do we find absolute truth there but we also gain an understanding of God’s plans–and who the real villain of this world is. All others–whether they be demonic or human– are just his henchmen.

We must stay in the Word, my friends, submitting to and obeying it, so that we don’t get confused when someone treats us like we are the villain for standing up for Christ. It is there only that we find strength and guidance for a world turned upside down. The Holy Bible teaches us about God’s plan and Satan’s agenda to thwart it, so that we can wisely understand who are truly the antagonists. We must wisely choose to compare anyone labeled antagonist to what scripture teaches instead of relying on the gossip we hear.

The world grows darker and darker and many of us find ourselves wondering how long the Lord will tarry. How thankful we can be that He gave us His Word to comfort and guide us as we see the end drawing near.

 

Changed Lives: Dennis

Changed Lives

Homosexuality. This word brings up strong feelings in almost all of us. It is most certainly not a neutral word. And, with all of the changes over the past twenty or so years, this word–this subject–now affects almost all of us in one way or another.

Years ago, I had a youth group leader named Dennis. He was a wonderful, super-talented guy that everybody loved. Little did I know of his secret struggle with homosexuality. A few months ago, I found out not only about this struggle but about his victory over it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I listened to his testimony, I was compelled to ask him if I could share his story here and he kindly said yes! I believe this is the perfect time to share it. What better way is there to contemplate the Lord’s sacrifice and victory over death than to hear the victorious story of what God has done, through the cross and resurrection, in a man who had little hope for ever experiencing victory? Because of God’s gift of salvation, Denny has experienced victory over sin in an incredible and powerful way. I am so thankful that he is willing to share his story at a time when it is increasingly unpopular to do so. Please pray for Denny as he strives to bring hope to others caught up in this sin.

Here is his story–

It’s one of the more familiar scenes in scripture. A crowd gathered around a tomb as Jesus calls out –

LAZARUS COME OUT! You can almost feel the crowd holding their breath watching. Some are excited.  Some are fearful. Many are skeptical. Many of the religious leaders were frankly angry. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, so the last thing they needed was a major miracle. Jesus’s words echo off the stone.

We don’t know how long they waited in silence, but you can bet that when Lazarus appeared from the darkness of his tomb, there was noise. First a collective gasp. Screams of shock turning to cries of joy.  This was one major party. There was such a commotion that Jesus had to remind them to unwrap the man. Let him loose! Unwrap the grave cloths. Jesus had given Lazarus new life….but the remnants of death were making it difficult for him to move. He needed help.

Hang on to that image of Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb wrapped in grave cloths, and jump ahead to the Church in Corinth where there was a major problem. There were lots of walking dead folk. Lawsuits, incest, gossip, you name it. Things were a mess.

So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:8-10–

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

There were LOTS of problems with the Church in Corinth.  And smack in the middle of Paul’s letter of warning is the word: Homosexuals. (Okay, there I’ve said THE WORD, let’s all take a deep breath!)

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without getting bombarded with that particular word?

Let me continue reading from First Corinthians 6:9-11 because I didn’t finish Paul’s thought.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

I love that past tense: WERE.

My journey begins mid-way through the last Century. My parents were extremely young when I was born, the first of six kids. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home that included Sunday school, church, and mid-week prayer meetings. At the feet of my grandmother, I heard stories about my great-Uncle’s missionary work in China. She’d also tell me about her prayers for me. She firmly believed that God had a ministry for me. In high school, my friends were all part of Youth for Christ. I worshipped frequently at my girlfriend’s church as well as my own. Following graduation from high school, I attended the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. The course of my life was set. Nice Christian family. Check. High school diploma. Check. College degree–then marry my high school sweetheart—then have two kids– and a dog.

Let’s back up. That’s only part of the story. While I may have been called to new life in Christ, I was still wearing grave cloths.

During my early formative years with Dad away at work, I was primarily raised by my grandma, my mom, and my female aunts. I don’t remember EVER having a male friend prior to entering first grade. Simple fact, there were no boys my age living nearby. (Hey, this was the 1950’s where, for entertainment, my cousins and I used to spend summer evenings counting cars going back and forth from Lititz to Lancaster! True story. We are talking way rural.)

But, as a young boy, my battle with homosexuality began. As I grew into a young teenager, things worsened as I discovered gay porn magazines and from there it went downhill. At one point I went to a youth pastor and told him about my sexuality. (I think it is safe to say that most Bible colleges weren’t teaching students how to counsel homosexuals at that time.) He blanched, blushed, and suggested prayer. I went to the Billy Graham exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965 and talked to a counselor. His advice? That I take a nice girl to the prom and all would work itself out!

My sexual encounters continued even in the heart of the Bible Belt, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college. Indeed, they escalated.

The winter of my senior year I left Bob Jones – disillusioned–and returned to Lancaster. I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do next. The little game plan that I thought I had was clearly not happening.

If you grew up in this era (late 60s and 70s), you probably weren’t aware that any of this was going on. Did you know that in the 1970s homosexuals were persecuted just for being homosexuals? They were called names, attacked on the streets, and even arrested just by having this label. But in 1969, that all started to change with the riot of homosexual men and women against the NYC police at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Times were changing and I realized that I was not the only disillusioned young man in America.

This movement eventually made its way to Lancaster county and made me more comfortable with my label of “homosexual”. Fueled by alcohol and any number of drugs, anonymous sex became routine.  I was running around with Lancaster’s movers and shakers.

By the time I was 21, I was totally disenchanted with anything that had to do with the Church. I was designing interiors and window displays for Watt & Shand and other major department stores. I was running around with the theater crowd from a local college. If you were part of the cool straight crowd, you had to have token black and/or gay friends. For nearly seven years, my life was one long party waking up next to nameless people, sometimes wondering how I’d even gotten there.

One night one of my best friends asked me: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget the things we were taught from the Bible when we were kids?” His family were pioneers at Calvary Church and I can tell you point blank, that even then–while high on drugs and alcohol — I KNEW without a doubt that God was still there. I can also tell you that I knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me regularly – even if they didn’t know the depths to which I had fallen.

One Memorial Day after a day of drinking and drugs, I fell apart–mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Late that night I called my Dad. It’s the first time in my life I ever remember asking him for help. He told me that he was coming to get me. He picked me up at my apartment on West King Street, but instead of taking me home, I discovered that he was taking me to the hospital. When we got to the parking lot, I got out of the car and started running. My dad took after me. Grabbed me, knocking me to the ground.  I remember his words as vividly as if he were standing here now:  “YOU ARE MY SON, AND I’M NOT LETTING GO.”

He wasn’t the only FATHER not letting me go.

During my few weeks in the psych ward, I met Jerry Young, a young pastor who had just started a church in Lititz. He gave me an invitation to visit his church and left. Nothing came of it until two years later, the last Sunday evening, October 1974, while I was on my way to work. I had been serving drinks part-time at a mixed gay/straight private club and I simply pulled my car to the side of the road.

“Jesus, I am so tired of this. You know my life is a mess. Please change my life.”

If repent means to turn around, in this case, it was quite literal. I turned my car around and went to that little church in Lititz.

If this were Bethany, the crowd would start roaring because Foreman was stumbling out of the grave much like Lazarus! Stumbling being the key word. There were years and years of addictive grave clothes in the way.

Slowly I began to see God at work in my life. Through the ministry of that church I began to grow. God also provided a way for me to return to college and get my degree. Thank you, Grace College!

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I received some of the worst counsel I’ve ever had. A trusted leader told me: “Do NOT share your same-sex struggles with anyone in the church because they won’t understand.” (And, you should know that when word got out that I was starting to share my life story at various churches, I’ve had similar counsel!) Week after week I would hear testimonies from men healed from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I’d hear about a marriage that was healed after major infidelity. I heard testimonies from men who had spent time in prison. All the while white-knuckling my temptations and usually failing, all the while hearing the prevailing message of the time: ONCE GAY, ALWAYS GAY. Gay is different. It is abhorrent to God. It’s the end of the downward spiral. You cannot change.

This is important: Jesus had breathed NEW life into me, but I was deeply entangled in grave clothes, and I didn’t know how to extricate myself. I wanted freedom to dance. I believed God’s Word–I just wasn’t sure of how to get free from my addictive lifestyle! And – remember – I had been told I shouldn’t ask anyone for help.

I finally decided to try a Christian counselor. After 6 months, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about homosexuality. What?!!! It took 6 months to figure that out?! I went to another Christian counselor and after several months realized that he was hitting on me!!!!

How do you handle that?

You know, it’s fairly easy for someone to say, “Just stop what you are doing!” But when we think about other struggles and addictions—whether they be food, gossip, or shopping; alcohol, cigarettes, or prescription drugs—we know it just isn’t that simple.

Here was the dilemma: I had asked Jesus to save me. And He had! But I still had very strong sexual urges and I didn’t know what to do with them. Plus, I’d been told not to discuss my sexuality with anyone in the Church. And So I opted to live two very distinct lifestyles. One in complete secrecy.

So take a deep breath, everyone….here we go….

In my mid-30’s I began working at a local church and became a licensed pastor. In 1993, I received a Youth Sponsor of the Year Award. At the same time, I was living completely in sin in my secret life. In August 1999, I was one of two individuals nominated for National Youth Pastor of the Year by my denomination. I am NOT saying this to brag, but because, less than 4 months later, on December 9 of the same year, I was arrested in a sting operation for trying to pick up an undercover policeman.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

I came face to face with the fact that what I had sowed, I was now reaping.

In a moment, I lost everything. My career. My friends. My church family. My NAME. My integrity.

Breathing was difficult. I didn’t want to live. One evening while driving home, I began to see each telephone pole as a target. I wanted to die and yet something—the Holy Spirit?–urged me to pull the car over. Storm clouds were gathering as I pulled into a parking lot along the road. Slowly as I got out of my car, I saw a rainbow and God’s Word wrapped around my heart, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

Call it what you will– you are entitled to be skeptical– but I don’t think I’d be here were it not for that experience.

Under Church Discipline and given oversight by a three-man ‘restoration’ team, I was reminded from Hebrews 12:5 and 6–

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

I went into hiding mode.

It took one little girl from my former youth group named Ashley to help me begin again. She placed a tape of Christian music in my mailbox. “Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is Your Name…bearing my sin, my cross, my shame…Jesus, YOU are my all in all.” I played that tape written by Dennis Jernigan constantly as I drove to the only job I could find– working the 3-11 shift at a local mini-market. For nearly two years, I just existed.

Earlier I stated that on December 9, I lost everything. Not true. I discovered just how incredibly much God loves me. Even though I was a hot mess of raw nerves, God’s Spirit was there. Jesus was so near, He was palpable. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t trade that dark time for anything because I was beginning to understand how deeply God loves His fallen children.

Another job opened at a bank about a thirty minute drive from my home. One Sunday afternoon, one of the clients stopped by and said, “Denny, I don’t know you other than from banking here, but I just sense that you need prayer. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” Yeah. Right in the middle of a grocery store! Candid Camera time?! It wasn’t too much longer before he began to disciple/mentor me. Jesus was beginning to use people I barely knew to start unwrapping the grave clothes.

Steve admitted that he never struggled with homosexuality, but he pointed me to a counseling ministry, DaySeven, in Lancaster. Through that organization, I was encouraged to attend a conference for men and women coming out of the gay lifestyle. I went kicking and screaming to that conference.

The very first night, the worship leader opened with “Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name….bearing my sin…”  Would you believe it? Dennis Jernigan, the writer of many of the most popular worship songs of the time, had come out of the gay lifestyle! (His testimony is available online and I highly recommend it!)

Jesus said I AM the resurrection and life. It is one thing to trust God for our salvation. I’d done that, but I was still struggling with this huge addictive sin nature.

About five years ago, I realized that it was essential that I become part of a church family again. I’d stayed at my former church thinking that it was important for those from my former youth group to witness God’s restoration. But after a while it became quite clear that if I stayed I would be a spectator.  And so I began to search for a new church. God faithfully led me to a church where I can serve Him.

So, here I am: One who identified as being gay for most of my life. There is something ironic about the fact that I ‘came out’ as a gay man at a time when you could get beat up, arrested, or killed if anyone thought you were a homosexual and at a time when you didn’t mention homosexuality in churches.  Now here I am ‘coming out as EX-gay’ at a time when the tide has turned. It is now politically incorrect to even hint that the gay lifestyle is wrong. Counselors who teach that homosexuality is a sin and point to the way out can lose their credentials. Church after church is using terms like “affirming” when discussing same-sex relationships. The gay community has flexed its muscle and they would not be happy to see me here. Within the past month, I was the target of a Facebook/Twitter hate campaign because of my stance. Some would say that my testimony can be equated with hate crimes.

But guess what? The religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t just want to see Jesus dead, they also wanted Lazarus silenced. In John 12:9 we read—

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Two years ago, I was asked by a young pastor (one of the men from my former youth group) to come speak at his church. At that time, I stated:

“I’m not here this morning to get into the politics of gay marriage. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Little did any of us realize how quickly the Supreme Court would move to legalize same sex weddings.

And so I am here to offer HOPE to anyone here who is struggling with same-sex feelings. To offer hope to men or women who may be involved in same-sex relationships or to those of you who have friends or family members caught up in the lifestyle. And it is a lifestyle. It is a community.”

So, now you know my story. Dead in sin, and when finally recognizing Jesus voice calling, “FOREMAN, COME OUT of that tomb,” struggling with the remnants of the grave, entangled in grave cloths and told to be silent. BUT here I stand, not the FACE of Gay men…but the face of ONE sinner saved by God’s Grace and still in the process of untangling.

So what have I learned in the journey that has led to sharing my story in churches? I have one simple premise:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUE.

The Bible is a love story.

A loving Father God creates man and woman in his image according to Genesis 1. A loving Father God creates man and woman uniquely designed to complement each other and form a perfect union.

You know the story. A perfect garden and a horrific fall. SIN enters the picture and we are left with the heart-wrenching picture of Father God calling out: “Where are you, Adam?!”

The proponents of Homosexual Rights would like ME to believe I was born gay. Okay, I’ll go this far. I was born into a fallen world. Hey, gang, I have some news for you: We are ALL born with sin NATURES.  David reminds us in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

How many of you had to teach your kids how to be disobedient? After learning the words Mama and DaDa, isn’t one of their first words NO? Their disobedience usually followed by the word “MINE,” as they discover the sin of being self-centered!

So, yeah, we are all born with sin-natures. We are also born with the need to be LOVED.  Andy Comisky writes:  “Our longings for love become sinful when we take them into our own hands and say, ‘this is how I’m going to meet my own needs; they are mine and I am going to meet them any way that I can and want.”

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that stated: “Silence is Golden.” But I beg to differ! Silence is a prison that can cripple. The church that is appalled over what is happening with the Gay Movement was completely silent about it when it mattered and, because of this, I—and many like me—were led to believe we were hopeless and beyond redemption.

We need to re-look at ROMANS 1:16a

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

I needed to know that I could be saved, too! That my sins had not taken me beyond salvation! The irony in all of this is that many of these same churches were using the Book of Romans or the Romans Road in reaching the lost. Hey, I was one of the LOST! I needed to hear the rest of that book. Romans is priceless because it offers HOPE! I needed to hear that God’s kindness leads to repentance!

I want to share two important things to consider if this subject is one you, a family member, or a friend are battling–

1. The Bible is God’s Word. It is TRUTH. I grew up believing that. I still believe that. That belief, that FAITH – sometimes buried in the darkness of my tomb-like existence – was still there. I couldn’t shake it.

Listen carefully, because I believe this is absolutely necessary for healing from ANY sin: God’s Word is True. When I hear gay activists say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that loving relationships between two men or two women is a sin,” I get very nervous. It sounds remarkably similar to the line the serpent gave to Eve when he was tempting her to eat the fruit: “Did God really say you can’t eat…”  Does God really say that homosexuality is a sin? YES. So, for me, the first step toward healing was that I BELIEVED WHAT GOD SAYS. For the sake of the souls of men and women bound by the sin of homosexuality, we dare not let go of the truth of God’s Word.

2. Coming Out is a BIG deal for gays. For those of you who don’t know what that term means, Coming Out means that I’m basically announcing to the world and my family that I am a homosexual. Every gay organization encourages men and women to come out. The feeling is that when people recognize their brothers, sisters, and friends are gay and NORMAL, it will open up other doors. And if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention during the past 50 years. Good grief, if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention the past Two YEARS! I have lived long enough to see a world where homosexuality wasn’t discussed in polite society, to a world where you can rarely see a newspaper or TV show where gay issues are not presented on a regular basis. On a recent Today show, the cast of Will and Grace were interviewed and they stated bluntly that they were proud that they had introduced gay men to American households, making homosexuality acceptable to millions. And even within the past year those that believe that homosexuality is a sin are not only in the minority but are ostracized and called names.

You are witnessing a continuation of my healing. There was a time when being OUT was important to me. As a Believer, I’m NOT going back in the closet, I AM COMING OUT of the bondage of homosexuality. And being separate. I am coming out of sin and living in the Light of Truth. I can no longer be silent! Returning to the Book of Romans I’m learning the importance of speaking out! Scripture says—

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. IT IS WITH YOUR MOUTH THAT YOU CONFESS AND ARE SAVED!

As I started to heal, I also came face to face with the truth that my sin had affected others. My sins – and your sins – are never without impact upon the greater body around us. No sin is only personal.

I have been forgiven by a loving, merciful Heavenly Father, but the fact remains that when my homosexuality was exposed in a very public way in 1999, my sin was no longer personal. It had a HUGE negative effect on a congregation.

From that moment, it was absolutely clear to me that my repentance and restoration had to be played out in full view of that congregation, particularly the kids in my youth group. I had to take responsibility for the God-designed boundaries I had broken. It is one of the reasons I am eager to share my story whenever I can.

CS Lewis makes a strong statement when he says: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sins. Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters, we desperately need each other. James reminds us—

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

And now I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ of my healing.

I’ve always loved the stories of the Exodus and God’s dealing with the Nation of Israel. I remember reading and scratching my head, baffled by the way Israel would see God do monumentally amazing things–like parting the Red Sea, for example, and then watch as the people built a golden calf to worship! What?! Id’ read that God would provide manna, and then, after a few days, the people would complain, “It was better in Egypt. At least there we had onions and garlic.”  And time after time, there was the issue of IDOLATRY.

It’s a term we rarely use today. We don’t use it, because for most of us, when we say ‘IDOL’ we immediately think of statues made of stone or wood. Objects. But the reality is that IDOLATRY is divinizing what is not God. And here is where I must return to Romans 1:25—

…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

And as a result: perversion and death–the due penalty for our idolatry.

In I Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.”

When I identified myself as gay, my life was devoted to sensuality. It had become my idol.

Let me re-read that I Samuel passage: Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and ARROGANCE like the evil of idolatry.

I was worshipping the wrong thing. While at the same time growing more and more frustrated with God because He didn’t seem to be healing me. And then one day it dawned on me! The greatest idol in my life wasn’t sensuality or homosexuality—it was ME!

I had spent so much time focusing on the sin of homosexuality, that it had become the end all be all.  Subconsciously I had started to believe that if I could stop being a homosexual, I would be perfect. Did you get that? I was so focused on homosexuality, I truly thought that if that were gone, everything else would be resolved. Saying that out loud only underscores how ludicrous that is!

In essence, I was saying, if it weren’t for the homosexuality and pornography, I wouldn’t need God. I had forgotten other areas of my life like negativity, gossip, over-eating and not taking care of my physical body, lying, cheating, coveting the latest car, driving through an upscale local development and wishing one of those homes would be mine, and the list goes on.

In other words, without homosexuality in my life, I thought I didn’t need JESUS.

And that leads me to my conclusion and my salvation. JESUS.

Don’t be deceived by all the hype out there. We ALL need Jesus.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

 But I was washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

There is love that came for us, humbled to a sinner’s cross.
You broke my shame and sinfulness.  You rose again victorious
Faithfulness none can deny!
Through the storm and through the fire,
there is truth that sets me free: Jesus Christ who lives in me!
Jesus, You are stronger, You are stronger. 
Sin is broken, You have saved me. 
It is written, Christ is risen! 
Jesus You are Lord of all
No beginning and no end – You are my hope and my defense.
You came to seek and save the lost. 
You paid it all upon the cross
You are stronger, You are stronger,
Sin is broken! You have saved me!!
So let Your name be lifted higher, JESUS, YOU are Lord of all!

 

DForemanDennis L. Foreman (chaplain, teacher) is available to share his story.