The Real Description of Love

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

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

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

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

And then let’s not forget this–

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

Think about that–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

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

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

 

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

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

 

What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

Have you ever wondered why some families are so close and some seem so distant? Why some seem so full of love and some are so full of anger? And why some seem so happy and some seem so sad?

All families are imperfect. In fact, all families are dysfunctional in one way or another. The degrees differ, but they all are!

So what makes for a healthy family? One that, even through life’s hard struggles, remains generally close, loving, and happy?

We can find the answer to this question from the Word of God, where we see principles we can practice for healthy relationships and close families. I want to look at two passages and pull a few principles from them that we can practice in order to have healthy families–

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

1. They are loving and kind. It is no secret that the Bible teaches us to be loving and kind. Many of us manage this outside of our homes but when we get home we throw off our good behavior and become who we really are inside–selfish and rude individuals who want our own way. But having a healthy family requires lots of love and kindness. And it starts with you and with me. We can’t expect our kids to be kind if we can’t manage it ourselves.

2 They are joyful. This word can haunt those of us who really struggle with being melancholy or with a flaring temper. But families overshadowed by sadness and anger make for kids who just want to leave and never come back. We cannot let the trials and struggles of life steal all of our joy. We will all have bad days–even bad months– but healthy families still find joy. And while laughter isn’t required, it is certainly good medicine for any family (Proverbs 17:22). Families that laugh together are happier. You have heard it said that families that “play together, stay together.” How important it is that we intentionally spend time together with our families, enjoying one another and practicing joy. We must ask ourselves: Do we bring joy to our family?

3. They are faithful. “Faithful” means loyal; reliable; steady in allegiance and affection; trusted; true to one’s word. As we read these adjectives, we can see how this would be invaluable to the health of a family. When we can’t trust each other, walls go up quickly. Let’s consider if we are true to our word? If we can be trusted to do what we said we are going to do? Whether it is making a promise to our spouse and then not doing it or threatening to discipline our kids and yet never following through, we must understand that this principle has a lot more facets than we would first think.

4. They are self-controlled. Ohhhhh, this is a tough one, isn’t it? This means that we practice self-control not only on the obvious things (such as our tempers) but also on the not-so-obvious–like our finances, our eating habits, and how we spend our time. Healthy families are balanced in how much they spend. They aren’t encumbered by debts they can’t pay and their houses aren’t full of things they can’t afford. Healthy families don’t drink soda and eat fried foods at every meal (or they will be unhealthy in more ways than one!).  And healthy families don’t spend all of their time in front of the TV or allow their kids to play video games or be on their phones without boundaries. Healthy families are self-controlled. Do we understand how important it is to set up boundaries for ourselves and for our kids that lead us to practice self-control?

5. They are patient and not easily angered. Oh, dear. Another really tough one. At least for me. But there it is in I Corinthians 13 (and many other places in scripture, as well!) Healthy families do not have members that are easily angered but instead practice patience with each other. Have you noticed how those members of the family that don’t practice this bring such strife to the family? This one can really add dissension to the family quickly–particularly if the other members of the family don’t practice principle #9!

6. They are gentle. What does gentle mean exactly? The dictionary tells us this–moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe. Does this describe you? This is easier for some of us than for others, isn’t it? Sometimes I will say something and my family will tell me I sounded harsh–and I didn’t even realize it! I just told my daughter the other day that I just can’t seem to gain victory over the tone of my voice. It can be rather discouraging for me–but I keep working at it! I don’t want to sound harsh or severe. When we do this, we tempt our family members to be defensive and angry. Think about the last time you were unhappy about something and then ask yourself: Did you express your concerns gently?

7. They rejoice with one another instead of envying each other. Oh, another really big one. How much grief and strife come from brothers and sisters envying one another? We only need to look at Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37) to see what comes of envy in a family. And this story has played itself out over and over and over again throughout the centuries. (Note to parents: Favoritism has no place in a healthy family! We parents have to take this so seriously, lest we destroy our families). When we are jealous instead of happy for family members that get a break or who succeed, this leads quickly to an unhealthy, unhappy family. Do you envy a sibling when they get something you wanted or are you able to rejoice with them? And another important question: Do you show favoritism with your own kids? (How would they answer that question?)

8. They value the truth. Families that are close communicate truth. There are few secrets between mom and dad (if any!). Communication is clear and truthful–not sarcastic and “beaten around the bush”. Healthy families talk about the important things and the big questions in life. Christian families use these discussions to grow their kids’ knowledge of the Word of God and the ultimate truth that is found there. Do you love truth? Do you share truth with your family?

9. They practice repentance and forgiveness. This one is talked about a lot and cannot be overestimated. Families that don’t keep forgiving, soon have walls so high, no one can break through. Unforgiveness leads to bitterness and bitterness is a destructive root that weaves its tentacles through almost all parts of life, but particularly through a family’s well-being. Of course, forgiveness is much easier to give when the party who has offended practices true repentance over their sin. Oh, how important it is that we give genuine apologies that do not have any “buts” after them. You know what I mean–the ones that go something like this–“I shouldn’t have done that but you…” Those aren’t apologies, they are excuses. Do you give genuine apologies? Do you practice forgiveness “seventy times seven” in your own family?

10. They keep loving unconditionally–lots of grace and no grudges. All of these can be wrapped up with this final principle. Healthy families offer lots of grace to each other. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They keep on loving each other despite all of the imperfections and failures and sins. They don’t hold grudges when one member doesn’t live up to the expectations of another. Healthy families overlook small offenses. Do you give lots of grace? Or is your love conditional on your family members meeting your expectations?

And there you have it! Ten principles for a healthier and happier family. Of course, we live in a fallen world, so none of us can practice these perfectly. As I wrote, I was challenged on several of these that need much improvement in my own life.

I know that this list looks impossible to some of you. Some of you have a spouse or grown kids who aren’t practicing many –if any– of these. They may be selfish or angry or distant and they have no interest in changing or in working at building a healthier family. What to do?

I just want to encourage you to build a healthier family as best you can by incorporating these things into your own life. The tone of your family will change as you put these into practice. It won’t be easy and it won’t–most likely–be miraculous. But a few years from now you will look back and see how your obedience to the Word of God and the principles found there has changed your family. Just start with one principle today. Look at this list and determine which one of these you most need to work on.

While this list of ten principles is certainly not exhaustive, I do hope that I have encouraged you today to build a healthier and happier family! This is a never-ending endeavor and we can never be satisfied with status quo when it comes to our families, for we are investing for eternity!

 

{Please note: I am taking a break from Learn to Discern this week; more posts are coming.}

The Ticking Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

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

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

We choose what bothers us. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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!

 

 

Life as a “Fixer”

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I felt crushed. I was only trying to help. But I had just made things worse. Have you ever done that?

Most of us find ourselves one of two personalities–there are those of us who like to fix problems. And there are those of us who like to ignore them. There are those of us not afraid of confrontation if it will make things better and there are those of us who would rather have our arm broken than deal with any kind of confrontation.

I have always been a fixer. I don’t like confrontation, but I am willing to endure it if it makes things better. This has gotten me into trouble on multiple occasions. I think a little conversation and airing out will help, just to find out that it has actually made it worse. Some people don’t want to fix things. It takes a very wise person to discern when to speak.

Thankfully, by this point in my life, I have learned a lot and am much more cautious about when and when not to say something. I am certainly not perfect, but I felt pretty good about this…

Until I became a parent to adult kids.

My method became: I would notice something, so I would mention it. Just for the record this is a bad idea. I am learning, ever so slowly (as my kids will attest) to keep my mouth shut unless I am asked for advice.

I like to give advice. And, more importantly, I like to keep my precious kids from learning hard lessons. My intentions are good. They really are. But this is not what my adult kids want nor is it what they need.

As I have been reading through the Gospels this year, I have realized that I am quite a bit like Peter. Always talking. Always trying to fix things.

When the Lord was going to wash Peter’s feet, remember how Peter exclaimed “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8) or how about the time that Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to be killed? (Matthew 16:22). And, of course, we all know the time that Peter declared that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26:35), only to deny Him three times later on in the same chapter.

I love that Peter is in the Bible as one of the Lord’s disciples. It shows me that the Lord can use those who speak too quickly. Those who are always trying to fix things. Those who are impulsive.

Going back to my kids, I have recognized that they need me to be a support and encouragement. They need me to speak kind words as they embark on their own lives. Unless I see something that is a biblical issue or has the potential of really hurting them, I need to keep my mouth shut. Of course, the opposite of this is to never speak at all to adult kids about anything. This isn’t good, either. Serious issues that could and should have been addressed lovingly by parents are often avoided and this ends up causing so much heartache, too. It is so much about balance.

This is a new and wild world I find myself in. It started when they were teens. Knowing when to speak. Knowing when not to. Always praying. Always praying.

Somehow my parents had this balance. I am trying very hard to follow their example. They were so encouraging. When we went to them for advice, they were not judgemental or critical. And, yet, there were a handful of times that they approached us about something of a concern. Because of the relationship we had with them, we soberly considered what they were saying. We were thankful they had shared with us. Through it all, they were praying for us and for the kids. We always knew this. It was like a safety net of support that we knew was there.

I hope to be the same for my kids. I hope that you are (or will be) the same for your adult kids. Our children need our love and support. They need us to pray for them (and for their kids when they come along). They need us to pray for things of eternal value–for them to love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength; that they will hunger for the Word; and that they will love righteousness and hate evil. We need to be willing to speak, but only with great discernment and very rarely. Instead, we should use our words to build them up.

I hope I can do this as well as my parents did. I really do. I am blessed to have had such a good example. I know that many of you do not. I am not there yet, but at least I know where I want to be and that is always the first step, is it not?

While I know some of you are parenting adult kids, many of you are not. You probably wonder what to even take from this post (if you are even still reading). I hope that what you will take is that it takes great wisdom to know when and when not to speak. And it takes courage to speak when we should. How we respond will affect us as parents, as children, as siblings, as co-workers, and as church leaders. Whether we are a fixer or an ignorer, let’s endeavor to grow in this area.

 

Diving Into Change

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Today is my youngest daughter’s first day of her senior year in high school. That means that next year at this time, the school start date will mean nothing to me. I won’t receive any papers that need a parent’s signature or be putting school soccer games on my calendar. I won’t be receiving e-mails from the school office and my car will rarely travel to the town where the Christian school is located.

And that’s just how it is.

Many of us are experiencing lasts around this time of the year. The last time we take a child to college. The last child to enter kindergarten. The last time our kids will begin their year at the elementary school or the middle school.

But many of you are experiencing exciting firsts, too. It may that this year you are trying homeschooling or have decided to send your children to Christian school. Perhaps you decided to send your kids to public school. Yep, this time of year has a lot of exciting firsts and lasts. And, in some ways, we can prepare for them.

Life is full of firsts and lasts. It is full of changes and some of us handle change better than others. I am probably not one of the best at molding to change in my life. Which is strange, considering I have had quite a bit. As we all do, I guess. When I think I am getting better at this thing called “change”, a new change comes along to challenge my assessment of how I handle change.

Inevitably when I write a post like this one, some of you who have been through this time want to assure me that I will be okay. That I will love my new “empty nest” life. So allow me to assure you that I do know this. At least my head knows this. And I am not worried that I won’t find my new normal. I know I will. But getting there has been a tough journey for me. I still find myself on many occasions just having the thought that I want my old life back. Oh, there are some things in the here and now that I love. Changes that have been good changes and I would never go back to the old way. But as for how my day-to-day life has changed; the quiet house; not taking care of the needs of a large family…well, that is taking some getting used to. (However, I definitely don’t miss the extra laundry and cleaning. Just wanted to clear that up!)

As I have been processing all of this in the last few years, I have learned some lessons. I thought I may share some of this with you here today–

I remember to find perspective

When I think about those in the Middle East who have been forced to leave their homes or those in Venezuela who don’t even have the basic necessities for life, I am ashamed. I am easily brought out of my self-centered sadness when I remember how good I have it. Sometimes my thoughts will go to those Jewish families, ripped from their homes, separated, and placed on cattle cars in Nazi Germany. I have had none of that happen in my life. There are child sex slaves, thousands of them, operating even as we speak. Mothers across the world who are struggling to feed their babies and have no time or resources to play games or to homeschool their children. When I think about all of this, I am ashamed. How can I be sad in the face of all of the wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had? Of all I have now? This thought pattern starts me on the path to–

Choosing gratitude

We can’t find proper perspective without being filled with gratitude. A thankful heart changes everything. And when we recognize our many blessings we naturally develop a thankful heart. Now, you may be thinking at this time that you don’t have the warm and happy memories. You may be dwelling on your memories of abuse and neglect or pondering your unhappy marriage. You may be staring at a change that has cast you into absolute shock. And it is in this place that you are wondering: How do I find perspective and choose gratitude here?? I am not where you are, so I want to be careful what I say. But I think it has something to do with remembering who we were as sinners and the vast grace and love that God has shown us. We can be saved from our sins and reconciled to God only because of His amazing grace and unending mercy. This is something for which to be thankful, no matter what is going on in our lives. Paul puts it like this in I Timothy 1:12-17–

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[d] Amen.

If we are saved, we have a reason to be thankful. Which leads us to the next, very obvious step. As Christians, we know the One to whom we direct our most heartfelt thanks and–

We remember the One who never changes.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about this very thing, so I won’t elaborate much on this here, for fear of repeating myself. But, suffice it to say, we know that God never changes. And we know that the one Who never changes guides and directs all things, working all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28) Through all of this we also know that we are loved with a deep and abiding love. There is nothing that can separate us from His love, no matter what our earthly experiences are–

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

And so this One who never changes deserves the praises spilling forth from our grateful hearts. And a heart that is praising and thanking God is a joyful heart. Sadness has dissipated by the time I get to this step. This helps me to have right heart and mind to–

Set proper priorities

When I am sad and self-focused, I lose sight of what is important. I am filled with self-pity. I believe the lies that pour into my ears about my uselessness and irrelevance. And this is what makes me unusable for God’s Kingdom. Did you catch that? We are rendered useless for the Kingdom only if we choose to stay self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with our age. It has nothing to do with our physical limitations or our intellectual capabilities.

The only thing that can render a servant of God useless is their attitude.

Humility, contentment, submission: This is what will lead to a fruitful life, no matter what change comes our way. These attitudes or godly attributes are what will keep us setting proper priorities. They are the attitudes that will determine if we will be used by God throughout our entire lives or if we will become a useless lump of self-pity and self-absorption and a burden on those we love.

This is serious stuff. Where we turn when changes comes is a big deal. I heard a quote in a movie the other day. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend the movie as I turned it off after a few minutes (I don’t know why I keep holding out hope that I will find a good movie without filth made in the last five years, as it is just so rare anymore!) but, anyway, this quote is worth repeating–

Change is like a wave. We can resist it and die. Or we can dive into it and survive.

Yes, yes, yes! We need to dive into change. We need to submit to it and to roll with it. Resistance will kill all of the potential good for God’s Kingdom. It will rot any spiritual fruit. It will stymie our growth and render us useless. And so we must dive! Our future and our work for God’s Kingdom depends upon it!

And one final thought–I have found that it generally is not choosing one or the other for most of us. As we stand in the unrelenting sea of change, we have our days of resistance and we have our days of diving. But the key is to keep working towards the right choice until our sea settles quietly into a new normal. At least for a little while.

I know that this post will not be relevant for all of you, but it is my prayer that– for those of you who, like me, are struggling through a life change right now–this post will give you some hope and some direction.

 

The Birthday Party (or Self-Obsession: Part 2)

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After I published my last post, a couple of my friends contacted me to make sure they hadn’t been the ones to offend me with their words. I am so glad they did! First, so I could tell them they certainly had not and that my post had nothing to do with them, but also because they made me realize that I had neglected to say something when I wrote my post yesterday. (First, let me add here that I am fairly certain that the people I referred to in that post never read Growing4Life. If I thought they did, I would not have written it.)

But this is what I forgot to mention yesterday: No one owes me an apology. Anything I perceived to be hurtful is just that: my self-absorbed perception. I truly know that neither of those people meant to hurt me.

Have you ever caught yourself being driven by your perceptions of events rather than actual facts? Or perhaps of taking an off-handed comment and allowing it to take you into a downward spiral, far from the path of truthful thoughts? If you have, then you know what I mean.

So often we allow ourselves to hear something and by the time we are finished thinking about it, we have determined that the person who said it hates us with a deep, abiding passion (or some other similar, depressing, false thought).

If we continue to follow this line of thought, our spirit cries out for our “rights” to be approved and loved (as if they are rights somehow!) and our pride demands confrontation. But this is not usually the best way to deal with something like this.

It reminds me of an incident that happened to me long ago. One of my daughters spent a great deal of time with a group of girls. One day one of the girls handed out invitations to her upcoming birthday party. The only problem was that my daughter did not receive an invitation. Oh, how hurt she was! How hurt I was for her! My gut reaction was to be offended and upset over this. Actually, I was very offended over this. Why does it always hurt us moms at least 20 times more when our kids are hurt than when we are hurt ourselves??

When I shared the incident with a friend, she suggested I “confront” this mother about this in Matthew 18 fashion. But, for whatever reason, I recognized that my offense wasn’t based on biblical doctrine, but instead on my own personal feelings. Young as I was, God gave me the wisdom to not follow that advice and I am so very thankful for that.

That little girl had every right to invite who she wanted to that party. It was none of my business. It also taught my daughter (and me!) a lesson in handling disappointment.

Do you realize that perhaps 80-90% of the things we are offended over are due to our own wrong perceptions, pride, and selfishness? Confronting someone about something that is based on these things is the makings for serious turmoil in our relationships.

I know this because I haven’t always so wisely refrained from confrontation. But I am learning. Slowly learning. And now, I confront less and less. Unless it is a sin issue that can be backed up with scripture, I try to stay quiet. Although, I have to admit here that this is much harder to practice at home than anywhere else! I am also learning that sometimes it is best to offer grace, even when it is a sin issue. Sure, sometimes people say purposeful, mean things or do unkind things to us which are certainly harder to forgive. But, unless it is a regular occurrence by the same person, I am learning to choose grace: To process and forgive and love without making a scene and without holding a grudge, giving the benefit of the doubt and trying to show much grace. This is so much easier to do when I remember just how much grace I need myself–from God, first and foremost, but also from those who know me.

God is so good. He meets us in our desire to forgive the small (and large) offenses that come our way and I can honestly say that He has helped me to forgive both actual and perceived hurts. He can and will do the same for you. If you struggle with this, He will help you. We serve a great God who not only has saved our souls, but who strengthens and sanctifies us in our everyday walk with Him, as well. He has given us His Word for our anchor and guide while we live here on earth and there is much there that is said on this subject of forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 is a good place to start.

Well, I promise not to flood your inbox every day, but I did want to do this quick follow-up to yesterday’s post. I hope that it has clarified some things and that it has encouraged your heart. Have a great day!

 

Self-Obsession

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Sometimes I am still so amazed with how obsessed I am with myself. Seriously. How can this be? I think I have grown in this area of loving God more than loving myself and then I am criticized or minimized and I am back to realizing just how much I love me.

In the past few weeks, two specific things happened. In one instance, a ministry I have given my heart and soul to was completely–and quite unintentionally–minimized. In another, a project I was working on was criticized behind my back and that criticism found its way to my ears. In both instances, my first thought was: Why do I even bother? 

I have found in my life that these two things– criticizing or minimizing –are the two surest ways to knock the wind out of my sails. I get hurt, I get angry, I get frustrated.

But why? Why do these things bother me so much?

As I thought about this a lot over the past few days, I realize that it is because I love myself more than I love God. I get more angry and offended if someone hurts me than I do if they commit an offense against God.

I am quite ashamed to admit this, but it is just the truth.

When I can find my way back to biblical sanity–a place that is easier to find when I am walking with the Lord–I recognize that I can learn from comments that criticize or minimize–but only if I am willing to look at them honestly and humbly. When I can look at them honestly, there is potential to learn from them. When I am humble and stop thinking so highly of myself, the temptation to walk away from a fruitful ministry because of a comment seems silly.

And so my job is to examine whether or not the comment has truth or not and then to make changes if it does and to forgive and ignore if it doesn’t. That’s it. That’s what I am supposed to do.

I have to be honest with you– I did not want to share this today. It feels far too personal. But I believe that God wanted me to share this. So much so that I had nothing else to write today. Nothing. I was a complete blank– except for this.

And I recognize that self-love is a grave temptation for all of us. When we think we have it conquered, it rears its ugly head and reminds us that we certainly do not. It keeps us depending on and trusting in our heavenly Father for grace and strength. It reminds us why we so desperately need a Savior.

I also believe this dynamic–this self-obsession–is what keeps the body of the church from being unified on many occasions. It is what causes grudges to be held, forgiveness to be withheld, and ministries to fail. It is what causes rifts in families and great divides in churches.

All because of our great idol: self. 

And so God has continued to humble me. And while I don’t enjoy it, I am thankful for it. It is always good to be reminded that I am just a pinpoint–less than a pinpoint– on the timeline of life. God can accomplish His plan and His purposes without me–and without you, too. We are here to glorify Him and to make Him known, but He doesn’t need us. However, we do need Him. I think sometimes we get that a little mixed up and view ourselves as more important than we are.

Life is challenging. All of us face criticism or being minimized at one time or another. We face hurtful remarks and slander and gossip that swirls around about us. How we handle it is crucial and very telling of how much we worship self.

The next time this happens to me, I hope my journey to humility and honesty is just a little shorter. I hope that I will be less in love with myself and more in love with God. But I also recognize that this love of self is all-pervasive and ready to rear its ugly head at all times. We have to fight this sin very intentionally. And we can never rest because the path of self-obsession leads to a very dark and lonely place.

 

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31


 

The Glory of the Garden

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The dying rose caught my eye. It only had a few of its petals left. Nestled among the leaves close by this rose were still-green, closed buds, along with buds just starting to show their color, adolescent roses shyly opening their petals to the world, and full and stunning roses in the height of their glory. This last group were the ones which I had come to photograph. Is there any flower that shows its glory more than the rose? I was coming a bit late and had missed the first push of the season, but I still found many beautiful roses, bright and gorgeous flowers in shades of pinks, salmons, yellows, oranges, and whites.

But it was that fading rose that really started me thinking.

In a way, our lives are similar to that of the roses. We start as baby buds–young children with so much potential ahead of us but, still green, we give little indication of what we will look like as adults. And then, as teenagers, we open up and our colors start to peek through just a bit as we start to show who we will become as adults. A few years later, we are in our twenties and we are immature flowers that are tentatively opening up to the world around us. This stage finds us ready to take on the world and eagerly developing our talents and dreaming our dreams. It is in our thirties that most of us experience pure and stunning fullness. By this time, most of us have a good understanding of ourselves and who we are. We have found our niche and have settled in to our comfort zones. By this time we have acquired some wisdom and we also still have our health. As we hit our forties, our petals open wider and start to fade. Our bodies stop cooperating with us and we feel a bit stiff when we get out of bed in the morning. We are glad for the wisdom that age has taught us, but we are bummed about our bodies starting to let us down. And then as we head into our fifties and sixties, we start losing petals. One by one they start falling off. The things that we have counted on for security — our children, our careers, physical beauty, health, parents– one by one they start falling away. It is in this stage that we realize no one is taking pictures of us anymore. We are the rose that is fading. The one that is on the way out. And then comes the rosehip. This is what develops when all of the petals have fallen off. The rosehip can be used for so many things, just as those in their 70s, 80s, and 90s still have so much to offer a world that has lost interest in them. The older generation may be the least mined treasure in existence in a world that idolizes youth.

There is really no spiritual lesson here. Just an observation about human life. We are like the roses. And this is the way that life goes.

I heard this quote recently: “Sometimes we get so caught up in who we were, that we can’t appreciate who we’ve become.” This is very tempting for those of us who are older. We are tempted to define ourselves by who we were, rather than focusing on who we’ve become and what we can still be doing for the Lord today.

Well, that’s a little philosophizing for you today. Now for the photos. Below you will find a few of my favorite photos of the roses. I used my point and shoot camera, so they aren’t quite as good as usual, but I think they are still worth sharing. Hope you enjoy them!

p.s. I am taking next week off from writing. It’s time for a little break! I’ll be back the week after next. :)

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The Education Dilemma

Education Dilemma

Mandates regarding public education are coming from the federal level that cause any Christian parent –or any moral parent, for that matter– to shudder. Should Christians remove their children from the public schools? How does a family know when it is the right time to leave (or not leave) the public school system? And what is the best choice for education if the choice is made to leave the government-run schools?

Education has been a source of disagreement and contention among Christians for a long time now. Homeschooling, Christian Schools, and Public Schools all have their passionate supporters. But sometimes that passion turns into hurtful, arrogant remarks that cause dissension and strife. There is a lot of emotion and strong feeling around this very personal decision and many walls have been built between relationships because of it.

I have purposefully not written very often about education on this blog. I have my opinions, but, alas, I cannot find a specific command about this subject of educating our children anywhere in the Bible. And, so, that means that each Christian family is called to make a wise, thoughtful, and very personal choice about how their children are going to be educated. Thankfully, we still have that choice–at least for now.

But whatever we decide is extremely important. Adolf Hitler put it this way “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” I am not a big fan of Hitler, but he does have that right. And, so, it is crucial that we keep the hearts of our children, no matter which choice we make.

Any education we choose for our child will have its advantages and disadvantages and many different things will weigh into our decision. A few public schools still have quite a bit of Christian influence, while a good many are a lost cause. Some families have a decent, affordable Christian school nearby and some do not. Some mothers love the challenge of homeschooling and others do not feel gifted in this area. These are all things that will affect our decision about education.

It would seem to me that the bathroom mandate from President Obama probably has many Christians thinking just a little harder about how they are going to make sure their kids get a good education without being destroyed morally and spiritually in the process.

Making a change, however, can prove to be very confusing and challenging. Friends and family will list the pros and cons of their education system of choice. Very strong and loud opinions are spouted by our friends and acquaintances as to what they think we should do. But the decision does not need to be made by our parents, sibling, or friends. It is a decision that has to be made by each individual family. So how do we decide as a family what is the best choice for the education of our children? This very question came up in our Sunday School class last week and I have been thinking about it ever since. I thought of five factors we should all probably consider when making such an important choice–

1. What is the best choice for my child? If we aren’t careful, the choice we make will be based on a mother’s desire to work outside the home. Notice I used the word “desire”. While there are certainly some moms that are forced to work due to a variety of reasons and there are also some who work so that they can afford to send their children to Christian School, there are also so many others who work simply because they long for the satisfaction and fulfillment of a career outside of home life. One of the hardest things to do as a mother is to put the needs and interests of our children before our own. Our natural selfishness can cause our own personal purpose and fulfillment to trump what we know in our hearts is best for our children. This is promoted and bolstered by a world that sees “self-fulfillment” as the ultimate goal.  In order to make a wise decision about education, we moms have to cast aside our own desires and dreams and answer this question: What is best for my child?

2. Remember that soldiers are thoroughly prepared before engaging in combat. I so often hear the argument that we need Christians kids to be salt and light in the dark world of the public school system. While I believe there may be a few, valid reasons to choose to use the public school system, I do not believe this should ever be one of them. Just as a young recruit would never be thrown into the battlefield without intense training, so, too, should we never throw our children onto the battlefield of the world’s stage without first training them in the things of God. Our children are like sponges, soaking up everything they hear. While you may be telling them that the world was created by God, the government school system will be telling them otherwise. And while you will be telling them that there is absolute truth and right and wrong, they will be hearing the complete opposite throughout all of their years in the system. This will be confusing to them. They are not yet prepared to handle such conflicting messages. While you can work through this at home, it will take great diligence and lots of work to undo the damage done during their school days, as any parent with a child in public school already recognizes.

3. Consider your child’s personality. Each child is so different and, while some are born leaders and will never sway from the convictions they have learned at home, others are easily swayed by even the lightest of peer pressure. What is your child like? If they are a follower, public school (and even Christian school) could potentially be a very dangerous place for them.

4. Consider your family’s and each individual child’s communication style. Does your family communicate effectively about the stuff of life that really matters? Are conversations about God and the Bible and godly, life choices a natural part of dinner conversations? Does your child participate in these conversations? Does your child ask big questions and tell you about his day when you tuck him into bed at night? Do you know if she is struggling internally with a problem or question? If the answer to these questions is yes, then this will give you a wonderful window into what’s going on in their soul and mind, making any education choice feel a little safer. If the answer to this question is no, then it is important to consider the ramifications of this in regards to education.

5. Whatever choice we make does not eliminate our need to educate our children spiritually. How many kids do you know that have been placed in Christian School because Mom and Dad thought it would fix them? What they don’t recognize is that what is happening to their child is not about external circumstances but about what is going on internally and spiritually. But figuring all that out can be hard, tedious work that is sometimes messy, awkward, and incredibly difficult. It is so much easier to place a child in Christian School and hope that the teachers there will fix a rebellious child. But there is not any education choice that we can make that will fix what is broken or turn our child into some spiritual giant. The main responsibility for this lies in the home. It is our responsibility, as parents, to see that our kids leave our homes with a deep love and respect for God and His Word. It is our job to teach them that they are ultimately accountable to God and that they are sinners but are so deeply loved by God that He made a way for them to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. It is our job to teach them that the Word of God is their authority and to obey and submit to it joyfully. It is our job to teach them that obedience and submission to the Word will yield a joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling–albeit not trial-free– life. It is our job to teach them that the world is a dangerous, evil place and we are safest and happiest if we avoid its pleasures, its entertainment, and its lusts. It is our job to teach them to trust in God’s Sovereignty during difficult times, to forgive others just as God has forgiven us, and to love and serve others. This is our job as parents and belongs to no one else–not the school, not the teachers, not the pastor, not the youth group.

 

I hope these five factors will help any of you who may be struggling with this decision. Personally, I have experience with all three kinds of education–I went to public school from kindergarten through high school, I homeschooled our children for 16 years, and then our younger three children attended Christian School for several years. It is hard to believe that our youngest will be a senior next year. As I look over the past and consider the choices we made regarding our children’s education, there is one thing that really stands out in my memory and that is that God always showed us which fork in the road to take when we would come to a crossroads. I can think of at least three specific times where we agonized over what to do regarding this subject and the wonderful way that God so faithfully answered our prayers, showing us His will in this area of our family’s life. God, in His ever faithful way, provided very clear answers to our prayers. If this is something you are struggling with, take it to the Lord in prayer. If you are praying with a heart to submit and obey Him–no matter what answer He gives (even if you don’t like it!)– then you can be sure that He will answer that prayer.

And, finally, let me conclude with this–

We need to offer much grace and kindness in this area of education. We need to allow our Christian friends and family to make their own choices, based on their own convictions and circumstances. If we feel strongly that someone we love is making a wrong choice, the best thing to do is to pray for them. Strongly stating our opinion only leads to broken and strained relationships.

As our family approaches our final year in answering this education question, I find myself filled with compassion for those of you with young kids. It is an evil, pagan world we live in and this is spilling out into all areas of life, including the government schools. It will, most likely, only continue to get worse. You will have big questions to face as you raise your precious little ones. Get on your knees and ask God to show you what to do. He is faithful!

Psalm 121 is a wonderful reminder of this–

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.