Color Catcher

ColorCatcher

Have you ever thrown something brightly colored in the laundry along with your whites? Sometimes we can get away with it, but more often than not the item will tinge the lighter load a dull, sickly shade of itself.

As I have been reading the epistles of Paul this year, I can see how even those of us who are truly dedicated to pleasing the Lord with our lives have been tinted by the world in ways we don’t even realize. Here are a few of those ways–

We’ve resigned ourselves to dissensions and divisions in our families and churches, even though this is clearly stated as sin (Galatians 5:20)

We treat the sin of anger and envy differently than other sins (Galatians 5:19-21)

We retire not only from our jobs but often from everything, letting the young people step in and do the work in the church (Galatians 6:9)

We hold grudges and somehow think this is okay for a Christian to do. (Romans 12:18)

We are so myopic (this is my new favorite word!) This means that we are so short-sighted. Always thinking of the here and now and rarely of eternity. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

We strive to live good lives for the wrong reason and end up in legalism. Instead of our good works being an outpouring of love towards God for his indescribable gift, we actually believe (perhaps without even realizing it) that we are saved only if we do the right things. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We treat the Word of God like its just any other book, instead of what it really is–the Word of God Himself to His children, full of unsearchable riches and the “mystery hidden for ages in God”. (Ephesians 3:8-9)

We pray for relief from our problems, instead of praying for strength and for deep roots of faith and love through the trials. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Whether at home, church, or work many believers are eager to gratify and glorify self, instead of thinking of others. Instead of being humble, gentle, and patient, we react with pride, harshness, and impatience. Instead of bearing one another with love, we bear one another with irritation. (Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:4-5)

We look like, dress like, talk like, react like, watch like, read like, and listen like the world. Instead of separating ourselves from the darkness, we continue in it. (Ephesians 4:17-20)

We easily complain about almost everything and quickly fall into arguments over the most trivial things. (Philippians 2:14)

We accept anything that is labeled “Christian” as if it must be biblical, without any discernment at all. (Ephesians 5:6-13)

We see no sin in having ungrateful, complaining hearts or in considering ourselves first and foremost. (Ephesians 5:20-21)

We live lackluster lives that do not exhibit the joy of the Lord. (Philippians 4:4)

We are imprisoned by fears and worry. (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

There are so many more ways that we have been tinged by the world and by sin but I’ll stop there. You get the idea. The funny thing is that when we compare ourselves to the world, we look pretty white. It is really just like the laundry. We come out of the washer looking a sickly pink but when compared to the red item (the world), we look pretty good. It is only when we hold the tainted item up against a bright white item that hasn’t touched the red item that we realize just how pink it really is.

So what to do?

A few years ago, a company came out with an item called a Color Catcher. It “absorbs and traps loose dyes”. How ingenious. I don’t really know if it works, as I have never tried it, but we Christians have a Color Catcher, don’t we? It is the Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we come to understand that some of the attitudes and actions we have assumed were okay are not okay at all. But, even more importantly, it keeps us from falling into sins and attitudes that would easily ensnare us if we weren’t in the Word. Just like a color catcher supposedly keeps reds, blues, and greens from bleeding into whites in our washing machine, so the Bible keeps the world from bleeding into our daily habits, attitudes, and actions in our lives.

But, of course, doing this can really cramp our style. We may not want to face that the way we are living is downright sinful. And so we just carry our Bibles into church on a Sunday and then go home the following week, spending our quiet time (if we even have one) reading a light devotional or skimming a few verses, never really being challenged. Never really being changed.

I hope that you are encouraged today to start really getting into the Word. Not only does it reveal our sin, but it also shows us our desperate need for a Savior, making salvation even more precious and wonderful than it already was to us!

So use the Color Catcher you have been given. Get yourself into God’s Word and start studying.

(By the way, if you don’t know where to start, I created a free worksheet that may help you. Please e-mail me at Leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net if you’d like a copy.)

 

 

Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, this is so true!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Adrienne

Changed Lives

This testimony is quite a bit more personal than any I have shared before. That is because today I bring you my daughter’s story. A few years ago, we started to see a remarkable change in the life of this child. A few months ago, I asked her if she would be willing to share what God has done in her life. She said she would and this is what I present today. But, first, I want to share a bit of my own testimony as background.

As you may already know, we have four children. Two were fairly easy to raise, as they were saved at a young age and quickly grew to be full of conviction regarding spiritual matters. While we certainly had our difficult moments with them, we were mostly encouraged as we watched these two grow in their faith during their childhoods and teen years. The other two, also supposedly “saved” as little children, actually probably weren’t. Of course, only God knows the heart but if they had stood before a judge the evidence would have been against them, for they had rebellious hearts, a passion for worldly things, an apathy toward their sin, and ungodly lifestyles (I John 2:15; I Samuel 15:23; John 15:14; Galatians 5:16-24).

Acknowledging this was most definitely one of the hardest things my husband and I have ever had to do. Because in doing so, we had to also acknowledge our own failure in communicating our faith to them and we also had to face the devastating fact that should a tragedy suddenly take their lives, we were fairly certain about where they would spend eternity.

We felt disheartened and powerless as we watched these two kids during this time. And then we did the only two things we knew to do. First, we tried to let go of the battles that were not biblical, while holding firm and staying faithful to biblical boundaries, using the Word of God as our authority. This meant lots of communication and discussion and, yes, some punishments, as well, all taking place beneath the umbrella of our unwavering and unconditional love for them. And, second, we prayed A LOT. Many others prayed with us. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Friends. And one lady–a dear lady from our church–prayed so faithfully for us all. It was so encouraging! I specifically prayed for three things—1) That these children would come to love God with all of their hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30) and 2) That God would protect and keep them from making any wrong choices that would yield burdensome, lifelong consequences and 3) That He would spare their lives at least until such a time that they would come to know Him.

These were dark days for our family. We felt so helpless as we watched our precious children make wrong choices. I would like to add here that, thankfully, neither child did anything super bad. So, in that sense, maybe we had it good. But we recognized that the root of rebellion that is within any child who rebels is EVIL—no matter how it exhibits itself.

We traveled those days one step at a time, supported by our ever-present faithful God and by the prayers of those who lovingly and faithfully prayed for us. We found hope in the little things and God–in the way He often does–would give us just the tiniest bit of encouragement just at the moment we would need it. And, looking back now, we can see God’s kind hand of protection upon both of them throughout this time and we are both humbled and amazed.

This difficult time lasted for several years and then it started gradually to improve when first one and then both of these kids came to know the Lord personally. We are so humbled and incredibly grateful that, all due to God’s amazing grace and His generous mercy, He saw fit to bring both of these children to Himself in their late teens.

But even as I write these words, I do feel compelled to remind you that my family and I are wicked sinners just like everybody else (Romans 3:10). Life didn’t suddenly become perfect when these kids turned a corner. And this isn’t about perfection (or anything close to it!) but rather it is about how God continues to work in and through this imperfect family, daily shaping us into His image through the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I also wanted to make a note here that salvation is not simply a prayer or a moment. Some of us can look back on a moment when we surrendered all to Jesus and some of us can’t, instead experiencing a growing love for– and submission and obedience to –God’s Word, giving evidence of a changed heart. I say this because we have been taught to look for a “moment”. But sometimes, as you can see from this testimony, that moment is not genuine. We parents dare not hang on to assurance of salvation simply because a child (or anyone) said a prayer. Scripture makes it very clear: True belief yields a changed life (Matthew 7:16).

And so, now that I have shared a bit of my own testimony in seeing God work, I want to share the testimony of my daughter. I stand amazed—in complete awe– at how the Lord has answered my prayers regarding her life. Adrienne has become passionate for God and His Word. And she and I have rebuilt our relationship and it is stronger and closer than I ever dreamed possible! It is unbelievable that this is the same child that I had sadly resigned myself to the probable fact that we would never be close. This goes to show that we should never underestimate God!

I hope that Adrienne’s story will encourage any parent (or grandparent) of a rebel. The sentences she writes here hold so much emotion that cannot really be expressed with mere words. She writes in one simple sentence some of the struggles she faced, but what the reader cannot see or comprehend are the depths of sorrow and the utter hopelessness that undergird her words. Life is not easy. We all have our burdens to bear. But may we never forget that God, through His grace, His mercy, and His Word can change a life. And we know this because we have seen it in our own family!

 

ADRIENNE’S TESTIMONY

I grew up in a Christian home and would have told people for most of my life that I got saved when I was 6. Looking back on it now, I recognize that I didn’t really get it. Salvation is understanding that I am a hopeless sinner and that God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to save me from my sins (John 3:16). At age 6, did I truly understand what that meant? Did I realize that I needed to change my lifestyle and try to do all things to glorify God? I can’t say that I did.

Now at 6 years old I had heard all about Jesus and how He died on the cross to save me from my sins so, of course, I had somewhat of a grasp of what it meant to be a Christian. But reflecting on it now, I can see that my life at that age revolved around staying out of trouble and doing the right things to please my parents and I wasn’t necessarily interested in pleasing God. And, while there are definitely some circumstances where kids grasp salvation at a young age and continue to show fruit in their lives as they continue to grow in the Lord, I can see now that I was not one of them.

Around age 13 I started to really struggle with wanting what the world had to offer me. When I compared it with what I wrongly thought the Lord had to offer (rules and boredom), the world looked much more appealing. I became disrespectful to my parents and elders around me, I struggled with an eating disorder–always trying to be pretty enough, and I desired secular music and movies.

I would say at this point I knew what was right and wrong because of what I had been taught but I was simply not willing to give 100% to the Lord. And, so, overall I would say I was in a pretty rough spot in life. Thankfully by the grace of God, the love of my parents, and lots of prayers for me by my parents, grandparents, and others who loved me, I never got myself into too much trouble!

During this time my parents never gave up on trying to direct me in a Godly path and pull me from the worldly path I was on. 1 John 2:15-16 says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” My parents were consistent with discipline and did all they could to protect me and I am beyond thankful for that. I had good times and bad times all throughout high school. I would say I really battled a lot with truly wanting to please God but I just wasn’t ready to give up worldly things.

I went off to college and there I became involved in the wrong group of friends. Nothing super-terrible but I still found myself longing for what the world had to offer and, therefore, was failing to give 100% to God. This kept me half-hearted in my faith and also made me very ineffective for Christ and the Gospel. I did feel conviction, so I do believe I was saved at this time. I just didn’t really care about growing in the Lord for the most part. I seemed to be at a standstill.

One specific night in college I was with all my friends and I remember sitting there thinking, “Nothing about this conversation is honoring to the Lord. I know there is a God, I know God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and I know for a fact that I am not living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.” From that moment forward I would say I really started to change who I was and started to really strive to please the Lord.

Since that time, I have grown a lot closer to the Lord for two reasons: First, I have moved 3 times since I’ve been married, all of them being far away from my family which has been hard–to say the least. During those hard times, though, I have truly had to rely on God and He has always shown Himself even in the smallest circumstances. This time of my life has also provided me with the opportunity and time to study the Word more than ever before. This has been life-changing for my spiritual growth.

Second, I have finally fought my temptation– with the Lord’s help—of listening to worldly music and I also have changed the kind of TV and movies I watch. Let me encourage you to do the same, as this has changed my life completely. I feel closer to the Lord and, the less I partake in the worldy things and focus on The Word, the less is my desire for them and I find I can’t even stand the evil that is in most secular music, shows, and movies.

I am grateful for the way God has changed my heart in this area of life. Don’t get me wrong– there are many things I still struggle with but worldly entertainment seems to be a sin among many Christians that gets ignored. I promise you: Practicing discernment in this area of your life will make a difference in your walk with God—just like it has in mine.

Looking back I am so grateful for all the prayer and Godly examples I have had throughout my life and continue to have. One thing I cannot IMG_1965revexpress enough is how grateful I am for my mom and dad and the fact that they never took the easy way out and just gave in to what I wanted. They never gave in to me and I wouldn’t be where I am without either of them. Also–a little side note–my mom was a parent growing up but not always a friend. I say this because I am sure my mom wanted to just be a friend and give in to what I wanted, especially on those days where I wouldn’t even talk to her because I was so upset with her. But she never caved into that desire and continued to push me to do what was right. As I write this I can truly say my mom is my best friend. So all the moms out there going through a tough time with their daughters, I want to encourage you to not give up or give in– because your daughter will one day be so grateful that you didn’t!

I would also like to encourage parents to not just assume that, when your daughter or son says the salvation prayer at a young age, this necessarily means that they personally know the Lord. Continue to look for fruit and growth in their walk with the Lord, as that will show if they are truly livGoodFamily2016-34ing for the Lord. Personally, I can see now that I wasn’t truly saved until my late teens, as God started to work on my heart.

Looking back through my 22 years of life, I can see how God protected me and continued to lead me toward Him. I am truly blessed to be a part of God’s family.

 

 

 

The Little Things

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American Idol premiered in 2002. That show single-handedly launched the careers of dozens of obscure, wannabe rock stars, country singers, and crooners during its 14-year-run. I think it also helped to shape and solidify the way we Americans think about change. Instead of viewing change as something that is brought about by consistent and diligent hard work (the way it had been viewed forever), we now longed for that magic day when we would win a contest and life would change forever!

You may have no desire for fame, but I do wonder if this show, along with dozens of other shows, magazines, and radio talk shows haven’t left us believing that that magical, happy time of having our dreams fulfilled will come if we will just be patient and hang on long enough. Meanwhile, we kind of sit back and just wait for it.

This is true in the work world, where there is an expectation for promotions and raises to be given without corresponding work and effort. And it is true on the sports fields and on the dance stage, where there is this longing to be the star of the show–the one that stands out and is picked for that college scholarship or that special award that will jumpstart a career. We are just waiting for that magic moment when people will recognize our gifts and talents.

But, for most, that moment never comes.

The statistics will show that few people reach success, fame, or fortune without a lot of hard work and discipline.

As believers, our ultimate goal has little to do with success, fame, or fortune, but is, instead, centered on living holy, godly lives and growing to look more like Jesus. But, even in this area, we can be conditioned to believe that this happens by a special anointing of the Spirit or by receiving a special message from “Jesus”. We are being conditioned to believe that it is some magical experience that will take us to the next level of spiritual growth.

You can see how Christians are so susceptible to this type of thinking since–

Magic moments are IN and consistent hard work is OUT.

The other day, I had a knock on my door. When I opened it I saw a man standing there that I didn’t recognize. He reached his hand out kindly to me and told me his name. Here he was an employee of ours from over 20 years ago! What a fun time to chat with him and to see how he had grown and changed. I called my in-laws down (they live next door to us), for they had known him, as well, and we all stood in the front lawn for several minutes talking and reminiscing. At one point, the man looked at my father-in-law and said that he had given him a book about being a godly man that had really impacted him. He still had it and planned to have his sons read it.

As I listened to that exchange, I was again reminded that this is how change and growth usually occur. It is the gift of a book. Or a seemingly insignificant phone conversation. Or a heartfelt text. It’s in the conversations in the break rooms and the church hallways. Or the words of a hymn or song. But, most importantly, it is through the Word of God. Like the Grand Canyon carved by a stream of water, so we, too, are changed by the little things.

Perhaps we need to relinquish this insatiable desire for sensational, supernatural experiences in our lives. While this can and does happen to some of us (as we read in Larry’s Changed Life testimony) it does not happen to most of us. But if we keep consistently growing and changing through lots of prayer, through the Word of God, and through a humble and teachable spirit. If we realize this and put it into practice then, whether or not that “magical moment” of change we are longing for ever transpires, we will confidently know we are going the right direction instead of sitting around waiting for a miracle to propel us to change.

I would also like to add one more important note here. It is regarding this obsession that is currently sweeping through Christendom for personal messages from God and encouraging whispers from Jesus. I won’t go too deeply into it here today, but the need for sensational experiences in order to grow spiritually not only isn’t scriptural, it leads to arrogance and pride and to chaotic confusion. It has created a Christian culture that is basing its maturity on experiences rather than on the Word of God. If you would like to know more about this, I suggest you read the book Is That You, Lord? by Gary Gilley. This gives an extremely helpful, biblical perspective on this new phenomenon of “hearing from the Lord”. I know it will be immensely beneficial to any of you who are wondering about this. (Notice I am using adverbs like “extremely” and “immensely” because I am trying to get across the idea of just how much this book has helped me!!)

Real life change happens through prayer and through the Word of God–where we not only find encouragement for our thirsty souls, but we find the commands and principles for living that bring true peace and joy when we choose to submit and obey. The Bible is the power for the Christian life. And true change generally happens by reading, studying, and putting it into practice–tiresome day after tiresome day. True and lasting change takes consistent work.

But it IS possible! Sometimes we will be tempted to think that no one ever changes. And yet, we know that through the power of God and His Word, true change is not only possible but should be expected. Hopefully, your own life is a testimony to how God can change a life.

So don’t give up! It is most often the little things that bring about the changes we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

The Only Time It Is Okay to Be a Hypocrite

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

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

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

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

Curious, yet?

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

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

Yes!

A million times yes!!

So often we hear people say things like this–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

One of Our Highest Callings

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On Saturday, we attended the high school graduation of our last child. It may well be one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. How can you be so filled with joy for your child and so filled with sadness for yourself? But I know it certainly is possible to be filled with such contrasting emotions at the exact same time because it is what I experienced on Saturday.

As I went through old photos to prepare for her graduation party, I was assailed by feelings of nostalgia and joy. Wonderful memories came rushing back as I stared at photos of happy babies, busy children, and posed family portraits. And while we had our share of frustrating, angry, and hopeless moments, this was not what came to mind when I poured over our precious family photos.

When our children were born, my husband and I determined that we had one priority. Temporal things–sports, academics, accolades, and awards–do not last. But their souls–we knew their souls must be our focus. We made any decisions regarding our family with this one thing in mind. Our only goal being that our children would know God and would make Him known. We prayed that they would love Him and His Word and that they would be bold and courageous as they walked with Him. Even though they are now adults, we continue to pray this same prayer for our children, experiencing great joy as we watch the Lord grow them and use them for His glory.

The funny thing is this: We did so many things wrong. We were weak when we should have been strong. We said yes when we should have said no. We caved to our own selfish desires more times than we can count. We can see it so clearly now. Hindsight is always 20-20. And, yet, God has been so faithful to our family. Far beyond anything we deserve.

And so it is with much sadness, great joy, and a keen awareness of God’s great mercies and kindnesses to our family, that I bid this stage of my life a fond adieu. I just cannot believe how quickly the time has passed and yet here I am with the last birdie in the nest about ready to fly away. As I stare at my soon-to-be empty nest, I realize that it is time to move on to the next stage of my life. I am not sure what that looks like yet, but I know God will make it clear to me, as I continue to rely on Him for direction. I do know it includes continuing a godly legacy with my grandchildren and that will, most certainly, be one of my highest priorities.

So what is the point of this post? It is to encourage you–whether you are a parent, grandparent, favorite aunt or uncle, or teacher–to make the souls of those in your care your priority. When each of these precious children reach the end of their lives, it will be only this that matters. All else will fade away as they come face to face with the One who made them. We cannot get so wrapped up in worldly pursuits that we lose sight of what really matters.

A few months ago, I just “happened” across a song that says what I am trying to say so perfectly. As I couldn’t find a video for it, I made one of my own with some old photos of our family. I have debated at great length about sharing this video, knowing that these photos won’t mean much to those of you who don’t know our family. But decided to go ahead and post it, in the hopes that these pictures may remind you of all of the good memories you have had with your own families.

As you listen to this song, I hope that you, too, will be filled with a passion for the souls of the precious children in your lives–for this may well be one of our highest callings. May we be faithful stewards of these treasured souls. The song is called Steward of Their Soul and is by a group called Seven Arrows. I hope you enjoy it–

 

 

 

Four Important Principles of Battle

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

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

Here are Four Important Principles of Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

For So We Once Walked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has it happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Learn to Discern: Reawakening the Conscience

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So some of you are going to really hate today’s post. You may decide that I’m a little crazy and never read anything at Growing4Life again. But I’m willing to take that chance. Mostly because I have seen this all play out in my life and in the lives of others around me. I will share about that a bit further on in the post. But here is my premise–

When we fill our minds with worldly entertainment, we deaden our consciences.

Let me explain. Sometimes I wonder how so many who call themselves Christians cannot see what is going on within the church. How can they not understand how ravenous wolves–posing as sheep–are changing the very mission and vision of the church?? As I was thinking about this the other day, I realized that it’s because many of them have so deadened their consciences, that they aren’t even willing (or able?) to call sin sin. Not only can they not tell the difference between true and false, but they are starting to fudge and rationalize about the differences between right and wrong. And when we lose our ability to discern right from wrong, our ability to discern what is true from the false has already left us.

So you may be asking: How does worldly entertainment affect my discernment? I have an answer for that and any thinking person will have to admit these are true. Worldly entertainment changes us in the following ways–

1. It keeps us from our Bibles. While this may not be true 100% of the time, it is certainly often true. How many times have you heard someone say that don’t have time to read the Word but they will somehow have had time to watch TV?

2. It keeps us immersed in the goings-on of the world. When we think of worldly entertainment, we often think of the bad things, but I would submit to you that even the news and sports can steal our affections if we aren’t careful. While these things aren’t bad in and of themselves (most of the time), they will keep us immersed in the culture and, instead of separating from the world (as we are told to do in James 1:27 and James 4:4) we become fascinated by it.

3. It changes our values and hardens our hearts. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they can watch anything they want on TV because they know right from wrong and it doesn’t affect them. That they can listen to worldly music espousing sex, drugs, and alchohol because they aren’t going to ever do those things. Besides a stance like that begging the question why any believer would desire such entertainment (why would we–as a believer–want to fill our lives with the things God has clearly said He hates? Galatians 5:19-21), it also does have to be acknowledged that these things do change our values. They make us less sensitive to sin and harden our hearts.

4. It makes us more susceptible to needing the world’s approval. When we become immersed in the world the approval of the world can be all-consuming. When we love the world, we want to be loved by the world. But this, carried out to its fullest, will keep us from salvation. In John 12, this very thing happened, when we are told that some of the Pharisees believed but they so feared man’s opinion, rather than God, that they did nothing. John 12:43 simply puts it like this: for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. When we fill our minds with the world, we become much less interested in truth and much more interested in popularity.

5. It keeps us from caring about what matters in life. Entertainment is meant to entertain. Its goal is to distract us from real life for a little while and give us some refreshment. It is not a bad thing in and of itself. But we have become so enthralled with being entertained that we are distracted from our real lives much of the time. With our smart phones, our tablets, and things like Netflix and Youtube, we are constantly entertained. Many of us can’t even stand in a line at a grocery store or sit at a booth in a restaurant without pulling out our phones. This has exponentially compounded our interest in the trivial, while eliminating interest in the serious stuff of life at the same time. How many Christians do you know who ever discuss God? Or heaven and hell? Or the Bible? When serious matters do arise, most arguments are based on popular opinion rather than the Word of God. I believe this is in much part due to our obsession with entertainment.

So why do I say this? What proof do I have? Let me share three different testimonies about this–

First, I want to share something my brother, Pastor Dean, has shared with me. Shortly after college, he made two decisions. He stopped watching football on Sunday afternoons and instead read the Word. And, second, he removed all rock music from his life (including Christian rock). He credits these two decisions with changing his life completely. He says it was like withdrawing from a drug (if you have ever tried to give up rock music, you will find that it is extremely addictive) but that it was a life-changing decision. These two decisions not only strengthened His walk with the Savior, but also deepened his love for the Word and his hatred for the world.

Second, I want to share my own testimony. Mine is a little more like one of those jagged lines that goes up and down and all over the place. While I have always been conscious that worldly entertainment has great potential for evil in my life, I have not always been as careful as I ought. And I have had stages in my life where it has drawn me into its snare. And let me say this: It does change me in all of the ways listed above. I have seen these things in my own life. I know it is true.

And, third, I want to share the testimonies of two of my children. Both have told me this at two separate times. But let me back up a bit. When my kids became teenagers, we loosened up our standards a bit. Oh, not near so much as most of their friends, but we didn’t want them to look like complete losers and not be aware of anything in the world and so we caved. At that time we allowed secular rock into our home, as long as it didn’t have “bad lyrics”. We regret that choice. Even if one song of a particular artist doesn’t have bad lyrics, the others probably do. And, to add to that, the artists’ lifestyles are rarely anything we want modeled. About five years ago or so, I just started pleading with God that my children would love righteousness and hate evil. And He has answered this prayer in incredible ways! One of those ways was that two of my children decided–on their own–to eliminate secular music from their lives. And both have told me (in two separate conversations, without the other one’s knowledge) what a difference this has made in their own discernment and spiritual walk with God.

You have to know this: What we fill our minds with does affect our discernment. But there is good news! We can reawaken our consciences! It is not too late. If we start eliminating or drastically reducing (in the case of things like news and sports) the world’s entertainment and filling our minds with the Word of God, we will find our consciences will get back to work, informing and enlightening us about not only what is right and wrong, but also about what is true and false.

Okay, so now I have given you several ways our conscience is affected by worldly entertainment and I have given you three real life examples of how this has happened. As you read, you probably found yourself in one of four places and I’d like to speak to all four.

First, you may be one of those who doesn’t really have strong feelings about entertainment. You may like to watch a show or two, but you aren’t addicted. You may have a pop station on in your car but it’s just there. I would like to encourage you to continue to purify your life and to deepen your desire to please your Savior and to worry less about being “cool” in the eyes of the world.

Second, you may be one who is truly addicted to Netflix binges or your smartphone or to rock music. You realize you should change but you just don’t really want to. You enjoy your addiction and to change it now seems completely overwhelming. I want to suggest to you that you start praying that God would give you the desire to change. Or you may know you need to change and want to start now. Pray for strength and guidance. You cannot do this alone. God is faithful and He will answer these prayers!

Third, you may be someone who thinks I am completely crazy. This post makes you genuinely angry and you honestly believe that I am wrong. If you are one of these, then I ask you–beg you–to go to God’s Word to research what I am saying. Turn away from the viewpoints of popular authors or speakers and turn to the Word of God before you make your final determination.

And, fourth, you may agree with me. You may have witnessed this dynamic in your own life. (If that’s true, I’d love to hear your story. Please share by commenting below.) I would ask those of you in this group to share this unpopular message with your family and friends as the Lord gives you opportunity. So many of us Christians love the world. But this love is stunting our growth and keeping us from discerning. It is removing our effectiveness as a witness for Christ and it is making us so vulnerable to wolves who are invading the church in droves now. If you see this and you believe it, please don’t be afraid to say it. This is the time to be brave and speak up!

God bless you as you continue to learn to discern. Be in the Word, basing all your views on what you find there. And take all your concerns regarding the learning process to the Lord in prayer. He is so faithful and He will answer.

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

A View from the Other Side of the Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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