A Punch in the Gut

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It felt a little like being punched in your stomach and getting the wind knocked out of you.

I had glanced over and had seen someone I knew from a former time in my life. There was that moment of recognition. I started to smile a hello. But the other person turned away.

Like they didn’t even know me.

Only both of us knew that they did know me.

I’d like to say this doesn’t hurt. But it does. I was never best friends with this person, but we had been friends at one time. And then there were choices followed by insidious lies. And somehow we came out on the other side as The Enemy, with never an opportunity to even defend ourselves.

And, yes, it still hurts.

Why do I share this here? It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. It’s not the stuff we like to talk about.

But it is real life.

I can’t imagine that some of you haven’t had similar experiences at one time or another. As much as we would wish it, life is not wrapped up neatly into a little box tied with a beautiful bow. Happy endings are for another world. True forgiveness is a rare treasure and second chances don’t come around often.

It is what it is.

These kinds of moments always make me think of one of my very favorite verses–

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)

What does this mean exactly? I am not going to give the deep theological meaning. I am going to give the very practical, applicable meaning in my life at the moment that the above encounter took place.

It means that I very purposely walked up to the other person, ignoring the pain, the fear of rejection, and the awkwardness, and said a friendly hello. It means I asked them about things in their life, trying to be genuinely gracious and kind as I did so.

I didn’t do this out of spite or manipulation. It wasn’t to say I’m better than anyone else. In fact, I didn’t want to do it at all. At all. So why did I do this?

I did it out of pure obedience. I did it because of this verse.

As believers, we are required to love our enemies. To bless those who curse us. To pray for those who persecute us. To do good to those who hate us. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27)

Many are the times I have failed in doing this. It is so much easier to just walk away, adding more bricks to the wall already between me and someone else. But this one time, I think I did what would have pleased my Savior.

When I do take that tentative step of obedience, I can walk away knowing that I have done everything I can do to be at peace with that person who doesn’t like me, which brings that wonderful peace between me and my God. And I can honestly say it also helps to change how I feel about the other person. I’m not sure how or why, but it removes some of the bitterness that may be building in my heart, replacing it with grace and love towards the one who has hurt me. As this defies human logic, I have concluded that this must be God working in the obedient heart.

Oh, how I wish I could be so obedient all the time but, alas, I fail so often. There are few things more painful emotionally than rejection or broken, messy relationships, and working our way through them in a way that honors God is so difficult. But when we can make the choice to love our enemies, we grow in our faith and in our capacity to love. It is not a void decision that makes no difference, but instead fills us with love and peace and the knowledge that God is enough. Sure, one conversation doesn’t make that big of a difference, but it is sure a step in the right direction.

I have no idea what you are dealing with today. I don’t know if it’s a relationship within your family or perhaps your spouse’s family that is causing you great pain. Maybe it’s friends (or people you thought were your friends) at work or school or church. Whoever it is, do what’s right before God and “kill them with kindness.” As true soldiers of Christ, let’s commit to showing His love and grace, no matter what the response is from the one who is causing us pain. And in responding in such a surprising way we will not only grow stronger in our own faith but we will shine brightly and offer a choice of hope and love for the hurting, bitter world around us. We will show that Christ does make a difference in the life dedicated to living for Him.

 

Middle-Aged Marriage: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Adrienne-ShaneWedding-493

If anyone would have told me how hard this time of my life would be I don’t think I would have believed them. I was not prepared for the changes and the emotions that would encompass this time. Kids leave our homes to start their own adventures, our bodies do crazy things to us, and life is filled with doubts, regrets, and disappointment as we reflect on past choices or wonder about the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”. Life-changing events during middle-age– college, ill or elderly parents, weddings, grandchildren, kids moving away–often come at us quickly and unrelentingly, bringing ever-constant change. All of this can be very hard on a marriage. And it can be pretty ugly.

My husband and I used to wonder how couples could stay together for 25 or 30 years and then divorce when the kids left the house. But now that we are here, it makes a lot more sense. There are a lot of emotions surrounding this time of life for both husband and wife. If you go into it without a solid base of devotion to God and friendship with each other, it will prove extra challenging and sometimes impossible. Some marriages survive it and some don’t.

Today my husband, Eric, and I celebrate 27 years of marriage. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that we said our vows and drove off in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (anyone remember those?) but, in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I’d like to tell you that with age, marriage has grown easy and that we are coasting in to the finish line. But that would be a lie.We both married sinners and so we continue to strive to work together. Some times are easier and some times are harder. These past couple of years would probably fit under “harder” for us.

This is why I am so thankful that I married a guy who has continued to be my best friend through all of the ups and downs. Let me assure you–our story is no fairytale. There have been serious struggles. But through it all, God has shown Himself so faithful.

Since it is our anniversary, I can’t help but reflect on why my husband and I are still such good friends even in the midst of this all. I think one of the main reasons is that he isn’t too proud to say he is sorry. I also love that he is willing to work at our marriage and will plan romantic things or read books just for me, even though his heart isn’t in them. I am glad he hates discord and won’t let more than an hour go by without talking if we are in a disagreement. And I am thankful for a husband who desires to please God with his life and who desires to obey His Word.

I am not sure why God led me to this man, but I am certainly glad He did. And I’m glad that God has walked with us every step of the way–through the dark times and through the good times.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. There are many times that we are so frustrated with each other we could scream. My husband isn’t even close to perfect, so don’t go comparing your husband to mine. No, instead, think right now of the good things your husband brings to your marriage. Unless you are married to a complete loser, you know there are some. The same thing goes for you men– remember the good things about your wives. Oh, how important it is at any stage of marriage to always remember why we fell in love!

And just a brief side note here: If you are a mom still in the middle of laundry and soccer games and homework and diapers, I want to encourage you to keep working at your marriage. Don’t let the kids steal your heart. Always remember that you have a man who still needs you. Because some day, all too soon, you will find yourself with only him. Make sure he is not a stranger.

Some of you have been reading this blog for a while now and you have been walking with me through this new stage of life. Many of you have been there and have offered encouragement. Or you are there and can relate to what I write. Thank you for that.

The good news is that I think I am starting to see some of the benefits to this upcoming stage of  marriage. We are able to go out for dinner without finding a babysitter. We can sit and talk uninterrupted. There is a whole lot less chaos and stress in our home. And, of course, we have a little more extra money with only one teenager in our house instead of four! And, so, I think once things settle down here, we will become used to our new normal and we will find ourselves even more deeply in love.

Until then, I would just like to say Happy 27th Anniversary to my wonderful husband. He reads this blog faithfully to support me (another thing I appreciate!) so I know he will see this. I love you, Eric, and if I could choose, I’d marry you all over again.

 

Ironing for Jesus

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The other day, as we prepared for yet another wedding, I watched my brother and sister-in-law. They efficiently and diligently did every task asked of them without complaint or attitude. I have seen them do this before. Since they never complain and no job is too small or “beneath” them, they are wonderful to have around! While we have had so many helpful relatives and friends give us a hand these past few weeks, on this particular day there were just a few of us and I watched my brother and his wife closely. As they quietly worked, much got done and there was no drama. They willingly and gladly did anything necessary to help. By the end of the day, I was convicted.

On the way home that day, I asked the Lord to help me be more like them. I told him that I wanted to stop complaining when a task is boring or hard. Or when I’d rather be doing something else.

Little did I know that God would present me with a situation that would test my earnest prayer the very next day.

We had tablecloths to iron. Lots of tablecloths to iron. Somehow I ended up at an iron (probably because no one else wanted to do it!) But these weren’t just any tablecloths. These things were so difficult to iron. There was no feeling of accomplishment even when I’d spend 15 minutes on one tablecloth. I am convinced that many of the wrinkles in these rented cloths were permanently in place.

This made for a pretty discouraging task. For a variety of reasons–

It was hot.

It was boring.

And there was no possible way to do it well.

As I watched everyone having all the fun of decorating the venue, I stood at the ironing board, dutifully doing my “mom” thing but not with a very good attitude. I was bummed and started complaining inside my head. And then the complaints started spilling out of my mouth.

And that’s when the Holy Spirit challenged me.

Did you really mean what you prayed yesterday? Because this is a test.

No, I didn’t hear the words. But I was convicted.

I made a choice to stop complaining in that instant. What did it matter? Why not spare someone else from having to do this awful job and let others have the fun? The only reason I even cared was because I was thinking only of me. If this was my job, then I would do it cheerfully. I went to work and, instead of being resentful about missing out on all of the fun, I put on some uplifting music and chose to enjoy watching all of the activity.

Thankfully, God was so kind to me and provided my mom to help me with the ironing a little later on. But not before I learned a good lesson. Sometimes we don’t get to do the fun job or the job we think we should. Instead we are asked to do the job that we don’t want to do. The one that perhaps we think we are too good for. And that’s when our true character shows, isn’t it? That’s when we see who we really are inside. Because anyone can be pleasant and diligent when they are doing what they want to do.

Thankfully, the Lord hasn’t given up on me yet and so, while this could have ended up as one of my many spiritual failures, in this particular instance I made a choice, through the nudging of the Holy Spirit, to respond correctly and started ironing for Jesus.

One of my favorite verse came to mind while I did so–

Colossians 3:23-24  And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Are you doing your mundane or hated tasks with a joyful heart and pleasant attitude? If not, I encourage you to, this day, think through your attitude. For it is here that Satan can so easily ensnare us. We Christians don’t always view our bad attitudes as sinful, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are sinful.

Let’s improve our characters by making the conscientious choice to smile in the boring tasks. To praise God through the difficult demands. And to be humble when asked to do something we think is beneath us. For in doing so, the light of our Lord and Savior will shine ever so brightly through us!

 

Weekend Reflections

Weddings

Today’s post is not typical and there really isn’t going to be any spiritual lesson. Instead, I am going to try to encapsulate my emotions from this past weekend just a bit. We had my son’s wedding on Saturday (which you already know) and then we had my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary party on Sunday. S0, before we go any further, I will answer the question I know you are thinking– yes, I am a bit crazy to do that. That has already been established.

However, just so you know, my brother is from out-of-town and this just made the most sense. Plus we were able to use the wedding venue and the wedding centerpieces, so it came together pretty easily–especially when you have a sister-in-law and a daughter who should really go into party-planning as a business…

Now that we have my sanity (or lack thereof) established, we can move on to some of my impressions from the weekend.  As mentioned above already, this is certainly not my normal kind of post but I thought I would share this here because so many of us share the same emotions when it comes to our children and our parents. I’ll get back to my normal style on Thursday.

So, first, my impressions of Saturday–

I guess if you read my blog, you are already familiar with the fact that I have been on an emotional roller coaster regarding this wedding. Let me say first and very clearly, this roller coaster had nothing to do with my son’s choice of a bride. She is the perfect choice for him and we couldn’t be more thankful. The fact that her parents are some of our closest friends is a very special bonus. It’s the stuff in life you could never plan! I think, rather, that it was partly because it was my only son’s wedding and I knew he now would officially have another woman as his priority in life. Some of you will get what I’m saying and some of  you won’t. I also think it was because the reality of the empty nest is starting to set in now.

But, last Monday, I started to feel so much better. Over the course of the next few days, I had three or four dear, dear friends text or tell me in person that they were praying for me. I could feel their prayers holding me up and I had a great week last week. Prayer is an amazing thing.

And, this morning, I am okay. I am really exhausted but I’m okay. Although, I cannot lie–there is a big empty sadness that fills me when I think about my son’s room never being occupied by him again. It’s just so…strange.  No one ever tells you when your babies are little what it feels like to watch your birdies try their wings and fly off away into their own lives. I find myself wishing I didn’t feel so deeply. It makes it so much harder.

But we are so excited for our son–and for our two daughters– and their future lives. They have all grown up to be responsible adults who want to follow Jesus and have found spouses who want to do the same. What more could you ask as parents? While there may be some mourning over what was, I stand amazed (and also filled with a bit of relief if I think back to the question marks of the teen years!) when I look at my adult kids. They are not perfect kids and we are far-from-perfect parents. We take no credit. God is so good. And He is so faithful.

Which leads me to my impressions of Sunday–

As people started to file in to my parents’ party I saw many dear friends that I hadn’t seen for so many years. Memories of yesteryear filled my mind. And I had to think of how God uses certain people in our lives at certain times and then they leave the stage of our lives and we move on. It’s the nature of life. We move, we change jobs, we change churches, and we become disconnected. And it makes me thankful for two things–first, that we are graced with the presence of so many dear friends throughout our lives. People who have supported us and encouraged us just when we needed it. What an incredible blessing from God! And, second, for the really special friends that God gives us that hang around our entire lives. At the party were a few friends that my parents have remained close to through all of the changes in their lives. They have a special connection (I call it a “kindred spirit”) with my parents and have been with them through thick and thin. If we are fortunate enough to have just a few “kindred spirit” friends, we are beyond blessed. True friends are hard to come by. They are a treasure and should never be taken for granted.

And as we celebrated, the absence of several relatives was felt. But, for me it was the absence of my mother’s brother, Larry, that was felt most deeply. He has gone on to be with the Lord and life on earth–at least for this family–will never be the same. He is still so sorely missed. I know that all people are missed, but Larry was special. He was one of those uncles that you knew cared about you. That you could go to if you ever needed anything. And he made us laugh–oh, how he made us laugh. I know that life will never be the same without him.

I was also filled with such thankfulness as I thought about God’s sovereignty in putting me in this particular family as a tiny baby. Why me? Why was I so blessed to be put there? I have no answer for that. But I do have a very grateful heart.

And so this weekend was filled with emotion for me– the hope of the future and looking back to the past. It was a lot to take in. To say the least.

But I guess if there is any lesson to be had here, I would leave you with something my dad said when he shared a few words yesterday.  He said that before any children joined the family, he and mom had talked about the fact that nothing would ever be more important to them than that their children would come to know the Lord. That would always be the priority. My parents were not perfect, but that was always the priority. They held to their word.

They now have a son who is a preacher (and an amazing one at that!) and a daughter who writes about biblical principles. But their decision has also affected the lives of their grandchildren. For we, their children, have also made that the priority with our own children. And it is our prayer that our children will do the same.

If you have young children– or even if your kids are older– I encourage you to make the same priority in raising your kids. Nothing is more important. No sports trophies or academic accolades compare. No stage or glory or awards matter more than this one thing–that our kids love and serve Jesus.

Weaknesses and unkind words and unloving actions have abounded in my families. They were part of my life growing up and they are part of my life now. But if we keep the Lord our priority, he is so faithful. He is so faithful. He fills in the gaps of our weaknesses and honors our commitment to Him. It is truly hard to explain the joy and peace that fills a heart that lives for Him. Life isn’t perfect and there are hard times. But, through it all, it is well with my soul.

I know so many of you have experienced the same faithfulness. You have experienced God’s great love and grace for you. We don’t base our Christian walk on that experience (as is so common today) but, the experiences confirm what we know to be true from scripture. They confirm the promises we read in God’s Word. I leave you with just one of those promises–

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! (Psalm 34:8)

 

The Many Faces of Pride

PRIDE

I’ve had a really rough week. You don’t need details, but suffice it to say that I came face to face with my loathsome, prideful self yet once again.

Does that ever happen to you? Or am I the only one? You think you are doing pretty well in this Christianity thing and then something happens that you didn’t see coming or someone doesn’t meet your expectations and you react. And that’s when you realize that you still have so far to go. While it can be really painful, I am so thankful for these times, for they remind me of why I need a Savior so incredibly much and they help me to grow more like Christ.

Pride is an insidious, deadly sin. It gobbles up our peace and joy so quickly. It destroys most everything in its wake. Or, at the very least, keeps any relationship from being the best it could be.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Christ was humble, even to death on a cross, and humility is what He requires of us. First and foremost, humility is necessary for us to understand our need for a Savior. But, after our initial conversion, it is also so key in staying in a right relationship with God. It is absolutely critical for healthy family relationships. Humility helps us to be a better co-worker, a better child, a better spouse, a better parent. We are happier when we are humble. We bless others when we are humble. We experience much greater peace when we are humble.

When we think of pride, we often think of the kind that David exhibited in I Chronicles 21 (and 2 Samuel 24). David took a census. This was apparently an act of pride that cost him (and the whole nation of Israel) dearly. We can’t know for sure, but according to my Bible study notes, David’s act of taking this census could have angered God for a number of reasons. Perhaps because David was trying to gratify his pride in the great strength of his army and military power. Or he was putting more trust in his forces than in his God. Maybe this was showing that he was taking credit for the many victories of Israel. Whatever his reason, we know that God was angry, as we read in the passage.

And our pride often looks like David’s in our own day-to-day living. We take credit for something; we want the glory; we draw attention to our accomplishments and awards and accolades.

But let’s just say that we don’t really struggle with this type of thing. Maybe we hate attention and would never boast about ourselves. We would never count our successes and victories and put them out there for all the world to see. Is there still the possibility that pride could still be an issue for us, if boasting and taking censuses isn’t our style?

Of course, the answer to this is a resounding YES.

So what are some ways that pride hides out in the dark corners of our minds and hearts? I have been really thinking about this topic of humility this week. Knowing that in order for my relationships to work right, I need to be humble. In searching some of my favorite authors on this topic, I came across a $2.99 Kindle book called Sermons on Humility by Charles Spurgeon. I have not finished it, but in the first few pages he shares several different ways pride exhibits itself in even the most “humble” of us. I will follow each one with a few practical, modern-day examples —

There is the pride of the heretic, who will utter false doctrines, because he thinks his own judgment to be better than the word of God, never content to sit like a child to believe what he is told, he is a disputant but not a disciple. He will insist upon it that his own reason is to be the well-spring of his own beliefs, and he will receive nothing beyond his own reach.

This is immediately what I think of when I think of the Christians who claim that homosexuality isn’t a sin, that unity is more important than truth, or that the world evolved. They have the pride of the heretic–relying on their own intellect or on the intellect of other men instead of on the Word of God. The other person that comes to mind is the one who says there are many ways to heaven or that there is no hell. They, too, are holding their own thinking in higher merit than the Word of God.

There is next the pride of the Papist, who attaches merit to his own works, and hopes to will heaven as the reward of his own doings.

While they may not brag or boast about this, many think they are good people, quietly assuming that their good deeds outweigh their bad ones and this will be what gets them into heaven. Even many, many Christians (or shall I say people who identify with the religion of Christianity) believe they are going to heaven based on their own merit. This is pride. This is the kind that keeps our eyes blinded to our need for a Savior.

Next there is the pride of the curious. The man who is not content with simplicities, but must pry into mysteries. He would if he could climb to the Eternal Throne, and read between those folded leaves and break the seven seals of the mysterious book of destiny. You know well our apostle has many things in his writings which are hard to be understood, yet he uttered them because of the Spirit, and you never meet with any attempt in the apostle’s writing as you do in the preaching of some ministers, as you do in the conversation of some professors, to reconcile predestination with free will. He was quite content to preach to men as free agents, and exhort them to repent, quite willing to speak of God as working in us to will and do of his good pleasure, while we also work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Paul was never curious to find out where the lines of truth met, he was perfectly content to take his doctrine from his Master’s spirit, and leave the old wives fables and endless genealogies and disputings, and questionings, to those who had no better guests to entertain.

I included this whole section here because it goes so very well with my post from Monday. I agree with Spurgeon whole-heartedly– it is prideful to think we have to understand the things we can’t understand. Yes, the ungodly will call you stupid and unintellectual when you take this approach (mostly because of their own personal pride). They don’t know God the way we do if we are saved. They don’t understand that submitting to His sovereignty is an incredible blessing. That some questions can go unanswered because the ones that really matter have already been answered. They can’t get it. Their eyes can’t see.

Again, there is the pride of the persecutor; the man who is not content with his own notions, but would hunt to death another, the pride which suggests that I am infallible, and that if any man should differ from me, the stake and the rack would be the due deserts of so great a sin, against so great a person as myself.

We may not want to see someone physically harmed when they don’t agree with us, but how many broken families and split churches fall under this type of pride? Millions? Trillions? This is perhaps the most tempting one for “godly Christians”. We think we are right. We believe that our opinion is best. We believe we are infallible. But if it’s not within the pages of scripture, is it actually something worth a broken relationship?

Is any special piece of furniture or bank account worth the fracturing of a family upon a parents’ death?

Is any decision of our adult children worth the tense and strained relationship that comes when we keep insisting they are doing wrong thing or making the wrong choice?

Is any opinion of mine worth holding on to if it’s causing stress and constant argument in my marriage?

Is my hurt pride over what I heard that someone said about me worth a broken friendship?

NO, a thousand times NO. The answer to all of these questions is NO.

And so, so many of us fall prey to this deadly sin, leaving a trail of broken hearts and strained relationships. I don’t want to do this. I want my marriage more than I want to be right. I want a right relationship with my kids more than I want to be right. I want to be a good testimony more than I want to be right.

Keep in mind I am not talking about biblical truth here. Of course, we have to stand strong and fight for the truth held within the pages of scripture. I might add here that even these biblical debates can and should only be done with great gentleness and kindness. But most of us are not arguing over biblical doctrine (a few more of us should be! We seem to not find that important, while inane, silly things get us so riled up!), instead, we are debating and arguing over issues which have no biblical mandate. No right or wrong. I am talking about the silly, stupid stuff we won’t bend on. The stuff that isn’t worth it.

Life is hard. Relationships take work. And no relationship works well without at least one party practicing humility. Joy and peace elude us without humility. Unanswerable questions haunt us without it.

And so we start with us. Today. The only place we can start. And we take our desire to be right, our yearning for glory, and our prideful thoughts about how good we are and hand them all to the Lord, asking Him to humble us and to become more like Him.

Often crying and screaming inside our heads as we endure the emotional pain of the process.

 

 

Spurgeon, Charles (2014-09-28). Twelve Sermons on Humility; Titus Books. Kindle Edition.

 

About Love

I Corinthians 1313

When I was a kid, life was a lot different. I can remember when Dad brought home our first microwave, our first VCR, and our first Video Game Console. I remember the Christmas as a young married woman when I received my first CD player. I was so excited! I didn’t know it at the time, but just like life had changed so drastically with the development of machines in the late 1800s, so would life change again in the late 1900s with the development of the computer.

One of those changes — a seemingly very minor one — is that instead of buying the whole album of our favorite artist to get the song we love, we can now just buy that one song. This option means we don’t have to buy the songs we don’t like. But I wonder if it doesn’t also mean that we miss a few we would really like?

Sometimes I think we approach love a little like that. We want to just experience the easy, good parts of love. Let me explain–

If we are a parent, the easy, fun parts are the hugs & kisses, the snuggling up at night and the “I love yous” and the proud moments when you get to say “I’m that kid’s parent!”

If we are a spouse, some of the good parts are when we are in complete harmony in purpose, holding hands and talking, looking across a room and knowing exactly what the other person is thinking.

If we are a son or a daughter, the good parts are the cool ways your parents take care of you even as an adult, or the friendship that has grown deeper with your older parents.

If we are a friend, the easy part is the connection we feel, the support we know we have, no matter what befalls us.

These are some of the best things about love. The joy that comes from interpersonal relationships.

But I wonder if, with the advent of all of this technology, we have become a little unrealistic in our expectations of love, thinking we can just pick the good times. Trying to hang on to “perfect”– just getting the pleasant experiences and bypassing the unpleasant ones.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that sometimes there are far more unpleasant ones than pleasant ones. We are all sinful human beings and life is hard–

As parents, we need to discipline and provide consequences for sinful behavior. We need to have hard conversations. We need to endure a few “I hate you!”s and quite a few seemingly hopeless moments that just aren’t any fun at all and certainly not easy. But that is love.

As spouses, we don’t always jive, we disagree, and we have periods of crazy, busy times where we hardly see each other. We argue, we fight, we lay in bed not talking. But this is just the hard part of love.

As adult children, we see our parents growing weaker, they need us to do things for them that they used to be able to do for themselves, we take them to dr appts, or do their finances, or change their diaper. But we remember how hard it must have been to raise us, and we do it because we genuinely love them with all our heart.

As friends, we disagree– sometimes on major things, our kids may fight or not get along, or we may move far away from each other, but if true love abounds, the friendship remains, because that is what true love does.

I just wonder if we have become so used to pulling only the good things and avoiding the bad things, that we have not experienced love in its fullest, most satisfying way. For when we walk away (physically or emotionally) from a tough situation, we are in essence saying that we don’t want the hard stuff.

Now, please don’t take this to the extreme. There are a few very legitimate reasons to walk away from certain relationships, at least for a time. But this is not the norm. Most relationships are broken because they just weren’t easy or fun anymore.

Many of those who walk away go on to start a new relationship that sours faster than the first one.

But true love accepts the bad stuff along with the good stuff. Rejection isn’t even an option. Divorce or abandonment aren’t even a passing thought in our brain. True love means commitment and work but, oh, the rewards are tremendous.

I have no idea if you are struggling in a relationship today. Many of us are. Don’t give in to the thoughts that tell you to quit and move on. Keep loving. Keep doing what’s right. Do what you can do and then pray. Hard. We can’t change the other person, but we can surely do all that we possibly can to salvage the troubling relationships in our lives.

 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)

 

Worldview Changes Everything

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We hadn’t seen the girl for a long time. We knew her like we know our postman. Barely. But enough to smile and say Hi. I didn’t even know her name.

She referred to her husband in the past tense in the course of our conversation. Which made us wonder. Was everything okay?

Turns out everything wasn’t okay.

Unbeknownst to me, my small question had just opened the door for a very interesting conversation.

She shared about how she and her husband had never really felt anything for each other. They had just dated as kids and after you date you get married. She realized that they had really only been just friends more than anything else and she decided after a few years that this wasn’t the way she wanted to live the rest of her life. There was no enmity, no arguing–but there wasn’t any love, either.

I got the distinct impression that this was more about her not feeling love than him not feeling love. She went on to share that her choice had left him broken-hearted and devastated. She truly felt bad for him, but not that bad. The separation had recently become final with that ugly word divorce.

It all made complete sense. If you have the world view that your happiness is your first priority then it made complete and absolute sense. I don’t fault her. She is just living out what all of us have been taught for at least the last 30–if not 40– years: Our personal happiness is the most important thing in the world. We cannot be the human being we were always meant to be (although with most of the world believing in evolution, what does that even mean, anyway? What exactly were we meant to be if we are just a bunch of cells thrown together??) But I digress. As I was saying–we are taught that we cannot possibly be all that we were meant to be if we aren’t happy. Many marriages, children, parents, friendships, and other relationships have been sacrificed on the altar of personal happiness.

But there is an intrinsic problem with this world view–we are searching for something that can’t be found, even if we have more money, a better body, or the perfect marriage. Happiness cannot be found in perfect circumstances. Even when we think we have found it for a year or two, it is so elusive, that as soon as we think we have grabbed a hold of it permanently, it disappears again and we are left empty-handed or frustrated, continuing our search elsewhere.

No, true happiness isn’t to be found in changing our circumstances, but instead it is found in fixing our eyes on Jesus and submitting ourselves to God’s plan for our lives. True happiness is found in obedience to God’s Word. (Psalm 37:4, Proverbs 16:20, Proverbs 28:14, and almost all of Psalm 119)

The time wasn’t right, but I so wanted to share with her that God can fill her heart with love — deep and abiding love– for her husband. I wanted to tell her that Jesus isn’t just a name or some historical figure that people talk about but that He’s real and is making a real difference in my life and many other lives of true believers. That He has radically saved and changed me. And my husband. And our kids. I mostly wanted to tell her that He can radically save and change her.

But after she had told us about what had been going on in her life, we were out of time and we had to head different directions. And so I had to walk away from that conversation rather dissatisfied at the outcome. Thinking I could have done better. Said something wiser. But, alas, the opportunity was over.

But we left realizing that the world view that most of us have taken to heart is an outright lie from the pit of hell.  And, lest we Christians become a little “uppity” here at this point, think for just a moment about how important your happiness is in your own life. Oh, we may not walk away from a marriage or do anything so drastic, but this quest for personal happiness plays itself out in millions of small ways every day, causing arguments, strife, and heartache. You see, whether we are Christians or not, when we fall for this lie– when we make our own happiness our most important priority– we not only end up bringing disappointment and turmoil to our own lives, but to many lives around us, as well.

Let’s find our happiness and joy in Jesus, delighting in and obeying His Word and submitting to His will for our lives. **Only then are we be able to say that we are truly happy.

 

** At least until the next time we find ourselves focusing on ourselves yet again–it’s such a cycle. Permanent and everlasting happiness will come in heaven and not before. Another thing to remember.

 

 

The Tie That Binds

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Have you ever had the following experience? You start talking with someone. It may be a complete stranger at the mall or in a restaurant. It could be your insurance agent or your professor. As you converse, you find out that they, too, follow Christ. As you talk further you realize that they– just like you– are passionate about their faith. Immediately you feel this amazing bond that is beyond any human comprehension. It is quite different than finding someone who comes from the same city or does the same job. It is an awareness that you are related in the Lord. It is a wonderful experience.

I remember this happening twenty years ago. My husband and I were going to one of those special all-inclusive honeymoon places in The Poconos (anyone else remember those? The Poconos was the place to go before the Caribbean became the place to go). We were celebrating our 5th anniversary and by that time had a couple of kids. We were excited to spend a weekend alone.

When we arrived, we found out that we had to share a table with another couple at our meals. We were a bit hesitant as we headed to the resort’s restaurant. Who would we be seated with? A loud, obnoxious couple who loved to drink? A quiet couple who made it difficult to converse? An old couple? A young couple? We were anticipating complete awkwardness (keep in mind that we were really just kids at the time and especially hated to be put out of our comfort zone).

Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the dining room and were seated with a police officer and his wife from Brooklyn, NY. We quickly surmised from their accents that they had probably been born outside America and found out a few minutes into our dinner that they had immigrated from Nigeria. That certainly gave us something to talk about. We were relieved. Our dinner partners were pleasant enough and we knew we would be fine.

But as we chatted with them, we eventually realized that we were related in the Lord. And, after that, all our supposed differences fell away. As other couples drank and danced the night away, we stayed at the table, talking about raising kids, church, and life in light of our common faith. We talked about the difference between Nigeria and Brooklyn. I especially remember his conversation about Nigerian jails. FYI: You really want to avoid going to a Nigerian jail (and it was his opinion that American jails should be a little more like them!) We talked about our cultures and homes. But all of our conversation was infused with the knowledge that, although we had different skin colors and came from completely different countries and backgrounds, we were one in Christ.

And the knowledge of that was so sweet.

You see, when we meet a fellow brother or sister in the Lord it doesn’t really matter what color they are or what background they come from or what they are wearing or how much money they have. It doesn’t even matter if you can speak the same language.

One of my favorite things about mission trips is when we will go to a national church. Hearing the familiar tunes being sung in a different language is a reminder that the bond we have in Christ is strong and very special. It reminds me of the old hymn–

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

I didn’t really understand the words in this song when I was younger, but life has taught me about this Christian love that binds our hearts. Twenty years have passed since that time together around a table at a honeymoon resort in the mountains of Pennsylvania and yet I still clearly remember it. We thoroughly enjoyed their company and all four of us mused at how God had arranged for us to sit at the same table.

For true Christian love is a tie that binds us to our Christian brothers and sisters. And I thank the Lord for that.

 

 

Face It (Part 2)

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One of the most difficult things about standing up for the truth is figuring out what the truth really is. There are so many different interpretations and opinions and thoughts, that it can get a little crazy. For instance–

–Someone may think that putting red curtains in the church sanctuary is ungodly.

–Someone may think that driving a big SUV is a sin (I actually had someone say something similar to me when I was driving my Yukon XL).

–Perhaps someone thinks that eating certain foods is wrong.

–Someone else may think that all movie-going and TV-watching is sinful.

So, herein lies the question: How do I know if what I believe is actually truth or just my opinion?

There is and will always be only one way. We can only know truth by knowing what God’s Word says.

YES, I get that people have twisted and turned and interpreted and translated the Bible until it has become something that many people don’t trust and even more people don’t bother with (oh and, by the way, yes, it DOES matter what translation of scripture you use. Some have been seriously compromised.)  However, I believe that we can stand firm on the biblical doctrines of old. I say this because of what Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:15–

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

I believe Paul is referring to sound doctrine here, the biblical, true Christianity taught since Jesus Christ came to earth, not meaningless traditions that hold men hostage.

There are many who are trying to redefine Christianity to make it more palatable and acceptable to the masses and so they’ve changed the meanings and interpretation of verses we have understood differently for two thousand years. That’s what we need to be very wary of.  If it changes the way traditional Christian doctrine has been viewed through the ages, it is most likely not from God.

But, that being said, there are many times that we stand self-righteously on things that just do not matter.

My husband and I have run into this on many occasions while raising teenagers. In fact, often has been the time that I have been standing firmly, saying “NO, you may not do that,” when Eric (my husband) will look at me and ask, “Honey, really…why not?” And, I have to swallow my pride and concede when I come to the conclusion that I can give no biblical reason or principle to apply to the situation.

I can also think of several times that Eric, as a business owner and church board member, has chosen to concede on things he felt very strongly about, simply because they were not opinions derived from scripture.

If we are willing to compromise on these non-biblical issues, people will be more likely to listen to us when it is time to stand for biblical doctrine and principles. Humility and kindness and compromise go a long way and is critical for the stupid stuff in life that doesn’t matter if we want to be taken seriously about the stuff that does.

And when it’s hard to know the difference about if it’s right or if it’s wrong from a biblical standpoint, I’ll just be honest and let you know that  I tend to err on the side of standing instead of caving. This is because God’s approval is so much more important to me than man’s.

God grant us the wisdom to know what is Truth worth standing for and what are the situations unworthy of a grand stand.  We will only have respect and a listening audience when we know the difference.

p.s. If  you haven’t read part 1 of this series, you can find it here.

Face It

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I can’t remember where I heard this a few weeks ago, but wherever it was, I can’t stop thinking about it: The reason people refuse to face the truth is because it will cost them.

That is probably one of the most profound things I have heard in a very, very long time.

All of us have heard the excuses. But the bottom line, in most cases, is that facing the truth will cost something we don’t want to pay. And, many times, most of us don’t consider the greater cost at the end of the line.

I thought of this the other day when I watched a movie. It was an unrealistic, poorly cast movie about a couple who had adopted a little girl from an Eastern European country. In a few weeks, the wife came across some clues that this child was probably not an under-privileged child growing up in an orphanage, but instead a child maliciously stolen from her loving mother.  As she dug further, she became sure that this was the case and went to a federal agent. At one point in their conversation the agent looked this brave woman in the eye and told her that the outcome for this would not be good for her. The child would most likely be reunited with her biological mother and she would go back to a life of waiting for a baby to become available.  This was the time that she could choose to look the other way and move on with her new life of motherhood. No one would be the wiser. She could go home, treat this child as her own, and be a happy family.

Fortunately for the child’s real mother, this woman had the character and the courage to do what would cost her the most. She faced the truth.

Oh, she and her husband tried to rationalize keeping the baby for a few moments: The baby would have a better life in America and they could give her so many privileges and opportunities that she would never have in her country.  But when the decision had to be made, they bravely did the right thing.

Would we have done the same?

I would like to think so. But sometimes we can’t even face our teenagers. Our spouses. Our friends. Our bosses.

Most of us walk right by truth and try hard to ignore it. Consider these examples–

–Our child wants to do something which we know is not a good idea. We will often cave because the cost (them being mad at us or screaming “I hate you!”) is not a price we are willing to pay.

–We find out our boss or a co-worker is dishonest.  We will often ignore it because the cost (getting embroiled in drama, being harassed, or losing our job) is not worth it.

Many times, we can’t even face ourselves. Because to look at ourselves honestly is to see a sinner. And most of us do not want to see that. Even if we are saved and came to that conclusion a long time ago, we don’t want to be reminded of it over and over again.

And so we just live as if everything is just fine. Except everything is not fine.

There are a few of us who wisely look down the road and see if we don’t face the truth now, it will cost us in the end and so we do face the truth head-on –at least in the things that affect us personally.

But when it comes to a boss (who cares?) or our church (it’s none of my business) or a friend (it’s their life) we are much less apt to be willing to stick our noses in.

We often don’t have enough love for our co-workers and friends and church family to do what will help them the most because of the cost to ourselves.

And, honestly, I’ll grant you this: it takes a lot of tact, careful words, kindness, love, and, most of all, courage, to speak the truth, even when it’s going to hurt our reputations or affect our comfort level.

But perhaps being able to see ourselves and the world honestly and then being willing to act on what we see is one of the most courageous and vital things we can do.  Instead, many–if not most–of us have been molded by our culture to shy away from it. We have also been scared by our culture and what happens to people who stand for truth–especially for God’s Truth.

We don’t have to be a preacher to share God’s Truth, we just have to know it (by knowing His Word) and then share it and stand for it. It’s that simple. But it’s that difficult.

But let’s always remember this: The price we pay for speaking truth may be very, very dear.  And through the journey we may have many questions. But God faithfully and lovingly cares for us when we do the right thing. Always. He comes alongside those who stand for what is right in a way that sometimes seems even miraculous. Yes, it is difficult, but God is faithful and it is worth it.