Interconnected Strands

strands

Yesterday morning I was awakened by a familiar buzz. I didn’t know who would be texting me that early but I reached over and, fumbling to put on my reading glasses so I could actually read the text, I picked up my phone.

I squinted my eyes to take in the unfamiliar number and opened the text. It was from Discover card, asking me if I had made a purchase at Sunoco in the amount of $4.98. Somehow they had gotten my cell phone number (I do not remember giving it to them) and decided to start texting me about purchases. While most early mornings, neither my husband or I would ever be at a Sunoco gas station, this particular morning was one where my husband was busy doing snow removal. I knew he often stopped there to grab a snack and drink. I was sure the charge was legitimate.

I decided to get out of bed since I was awake and as I did so, I pondered the interconnectedness of everything in our lives. Even a credit card charge by my husband comes to my cell phone. Everything is connected. Here’s another example: Have you ever looked at something on Amazon and then went over to Facebook, only to see ads for what you were just looking at? Personally, I find that rather creepy. And now there are apps out there that track your kids’ phones so you know where they are at all times; security systems, lights, and furnaces that can be turned on and off by your smart phone; and fitness devices that track every step you take and every place you go and then provide that information to any device you desire. In this world of technology, everything is connected.

While I could (and perhaps should) write on the privacy we are giving up willingly in this world that is interconnected in so many different ways, I am actually going to go a different direction.

These strands of life interconnecting and forming one whole is exactly how we should be living as believers. All strands interconnect and wind around one another, each affecting the other.

Sometimes we like to pretend that a certain strand can remain separate from the rest of our spiritual life, but that is a naive thought. For example, we like to believe that our “entertainment” strand isn’t part of the whole. Way over there with that strand we can fill up our minds with ungodly movies, music, and books and oddly believe this will not affect the whole. Or we do it with our “family” strand, acting like a completely different person at home than who we portray out in public, somehow believing that we can freely express our anger and selfishness there in that safe space, all the while keeping that “family” strand far away from the whole of who we really are. One final example would be our “online” strand. So often we think who we are online is separate from who we are in real life. We seem to believe that our “online” strand, and the angry rants and selfish posts that go with it, are there own separate strand far away from the rest of who we are.

But it just doesn’t work like that. Everything we are and everything we do is a reflection of who we are in Christ. We can’t separate any strand of life from the whole. I admit it would be nice if we could. But here is what God’s Word has to say about this–

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’[a] This is the first commandment.

Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

James 4:4-5  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

We can see by these verses (and there are so many more, as well) that following Jesus means giving our whole ball of interwoven strands to Him. We can’t separate out the parts we don’t desire to surrender to Him. To try to do so only leads to one thing: hypocrisy.

It is hypocrisy to say we love Jesus and then to continue in any sin. Whether it be yelling at our spouse; tuning in to a radio station that plays songs filled with lyrics about sex outside of marriage, drug use, and violence; or its being unkind and self-absorbed online. While we are certainly going to sin sometimes (as humans, we can’t reach perfection here on this earth), the Holy Spirit will fill the hearts of believers who are in the Word with conviction and repentance. The more I am in the Word, the more often this happens.

And, contrary to what you might think, this life of surrender and obedience is a much more joyful and peaceful place to be. Sure, it’s no fun facing our sin. But there is something so comforting and amazing in knowing that the Almighty, Omnipotent Creator actually cares enough about me to show me my sin and to grow me to be more like Christ. Life is so much better when we stop rebelling.

Total obedience yields a life of true joy and peace. I am convinced of this more and more each year. But we must remember that this isn’t some solitary decision. As life ebbs and flows and changes, some days it is easier to surrender to the Lord than others. There is no magic pill that makes this lifestyle easy. But we must keep trying.

If you have a strand that you have tried to keep separate from the whole, I encourage you to surrender that strand to the Lord. It’s part of the whole, anyway, whether you realize it or not. Give it all to God. He will not disappoint.

 

Flip-Flopped Unity

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Sometimes the word “unity” scares us Bible-believing Christians just a bit. We know that we are to have unity with other believers but there is also a form of unity that is both heretical and unbiblical which is growing at a mind-boggling rate and this alarms us–and rightly so.

So what does unity mean from a biblical perspective?

My husband taught on this in Sunday School yesterday and as we discussed the biblical perspective it made me realize just how backwards we are when it comes to this thing called “unity” (but more about that later).

Philippians 2:1-4 gives us good insight into what unity looks like in the church–

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

From these verses we can see that believers can and should be unified because we are like-minded–having the same purpose of loving and serving Christ. Unity does not mean we all have the same personalities and opinions. And this is where humility comes in. Humility serves as the oil that keeps the engine of the church humming smoothly. When it works, it is amazing.

But so often selfish agendas interfere. And suddenly the gears are clicking and grinding. The oils of humility and selflessness are missing and without it, unity can never work.

And this is where we are so backwards.

We get all uptight about things that are not biblical but affect us personally. And we are completely apathetic about heresy entering the church that {we think} doesn’t affect us personally. Therefore we will be quick to compromise on big, spiritual issues that compromise biblical doctrine but we are not so passionate about unity when it is messing with our own agendas–our agenda for money, for relationships, for paint colors, restaurant choices. Have you ever thought about the ridiculous things we get upset about?

And yet so many of us don’t even care if God’s Word is being compromised. Interesting since this is the one time we should choose not to unify (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Peter 3:17-18; I John 4:1-6; Matthew 7:15-20; Titus 1:9)

Let’s bring this down to a practical level. Think about the last time you were upset or angry. Was it about you? Or was it about God or His Word?

I know what the answer is for me. And I am not proud of it.

You see, true unity is being like-minded in our purpose to live out our Christian faith according to the Word of God with submission and obedience. When this happens, the things of life that don’t matter fall away. Suddenly, the insignificant things of life aren’t worth arguing about.

All of this is greatly helped by taking time to study our Bible. For it is through this that we will find that the things we must divide over and stand for–no matter the cost–show themselves ever more clearly as we, simultaneously, begin to understand that we must allow the unimportant things to fall away.

Unity is important in our homes and our churches, where we work out our faith and learn to be selfless and to back down from our strongly held but insignificant opinions. Unity is important in our work places where we can shine as bright lights of unselfish and thoughtful individuals–a stark contrast to the “stand up for my rights” and “no one is going to push me around” crowd that mostly exists at work.

True strength lies in not pushing our opinions on others and in doing so, we naturally become part of unifying any group around us. And then when we do find the need to stand for a biblical truth, people will be much more likely to listen to us because they have come to respect and like us. Now there are exceptions to this (some people are uninterested and even hostile towards biblical truth no matter who shares it) and it doesn’t always work like this, but it certainly does help.

Unity is a tough thing to work through in our current age. While, on one hand, we are being told to cave on all doctrinal issues, we find that, on the other hand, we are being told to look out for number one. This leads people–including us Christians–to capitulate on all types of important doctrines but to stand for the ridiculous things that won’t matter one bit in eternity.

I propose that we flip-flop this and that we begin defending the doctrines that dare not be compromised and we start capitulating to our own personal agendas. If we all would actually put this into practice, I do believe we would see an incredible change in our churches. Of course, it won’t happen, but it is nice to dream… And, while we can’t change everyone, we can change ourselves. Let this change begin with us.

 

 

Why Should I Read the Bible in 2018?

BibleStudy

As a believer, we know that we should read the Bible. We feel guilty when we don’t read the Bible. And we vaguely know that there are some benefits to reading it. And so we often start out strong in the new year in our Bible reading. This will be the year, we say with hesitant confidence. It is my hope that this post will encourage you to make sure this really will be the year that you stick with it. That you make Bible reading/study as much a part of your day as eating.

Why? Well, I am glad you asked!

So why should we read the Bible in 2018? Or anytime, for that matter? Here are six reasons (seven if you count the most important one at the end of this post!)–

1. The Bible is God’s Word divinely given to us. Experiences and feelings can lie to us. They are utterly unreliable. But the Bible–God’s inerrant, inspired Word never lies.We can count on it being the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know that what the Word teaches us about God is true. And we have no doubt when we read the Word that it is God speaking to us. Since we know that Satan comes as an angel of light, counterfeiting God whenever he can (2 Corinthians 11:14), there is really no way to know who is really speaking any “message from God” that is claimed outside of scripture. Only the Bible is trustworthy.

2. The Word will change us and make us more like Christ. Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to talk with my brother (Pastor Dean) at length about the new paradigm of Christians discarding scripture and replacing it with personal experience. There is a tendency to always believe any supernatural experience is from God (when in all actuality there is no way to truly know that it is from God) and so these become much more exciting than the hard work of growing as a believer. Experiences are easier and make us feel better. There is no conviction or rebuke in an experience, is there? But if we genuinely want to become more like Christ and mature as a believer, we must be reading and studying our Bibles. There is just no other way. No experience is going to grow us in the fruits of the Spirit. While our personal experiences can encourage us to change, it is the Bible that leads us into true, selfless, and lasting change that honors God and makes us useful for His Kingdom.

3. Immersing ourselves in God’s Word helps us to discern and to do so with a proper attitude. Discernment is important, whether it be our entertainment, the signs of the times, or regarding what is going on inside of our church. We will be able to discern so much better by being in the Word and understanding God’s heart about these matters. But studying scripture will also keep our attitude in check. We will be kind and loving with people who don’t have the same convictions. We will show humility and gentleness. We are called to discern, but so many claim to have the gift of discernment and yet are full of pride and without love. Staying in scripture will ensure that we discern well and that we do it with the right heart.

4. Being in the Word improves our relationships by revealing our selfishness. Sometimes we are discouraged because we are struggling in our relationships. Our natural tendency is to blame others. But when we start reading the Bible, we begin to understand that so many of the problems begin with us. Scripture is like a mirror that magnifies our selfish hearts. And when we can see just how selfish we are, we can work with the Lord to start eliminating it. This will naturally improve all of our relationships. It can’t help but improve them. Selfishness destroys relationships and sacrificial love and self-denial builds them.

5. Studying the Bible helps to give us the answers we need for our kids, for those we are witnessing to, and for other believers who have questions. Oftentimes, fear will keep us from having the hard conversations. We are afraid we won’t have the answers and will look foolish in front of our kids, co-workers, or others. And so we don’t witness and we don’t talk about doctrine. But there is a remedy to this fear! When we start to seriously study the Word, we start to understand the themes and doctrines within its pages. Sharing them becomes a natural thing instead of a fearful thing.

6. The Bible is a trustworthy, immutable, and pertinent guidebook for life. It gives us perspective and clarity regarding our priorities, moving to the background the temporal things that so overwhelm us and bringing the eternal things to the forefront. It lights our way when darkness threatens to undue us.

So there are six reasons to read your Bible in 2018! But do you know the greatest reason of all? We are to read the Word out of obedience and our great love for God. He gave us the Bible and we are to read it with a submissive, humble, and obedient heart–even when we don’t feel like it. We can make time for so many other things. We can find time to watch TV, to work on our favorite hobby, to go to the gym, or to read other books. Let’s make 2018 the year we find time to read our Bibles!

 

The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11

P.S. If you don’t have a Bible Reading Plan in place yet this year, it’s not too late to join the G4L Challenge. Find more information here.

The G4L 2018 Bible Reading Challenge

And some thoughts about the purpose of this blog

join

The challenge for 2018 is up on the blog! You can find all the details here at this page.  I have shared this page on Facebook already but am uncertain if that published page made its way to my subscribers. This is why I thought I’d write a specific (and short) post about it this morning.

I started blogging in 2010. It’s hard to believe that this coming year will mean I have been writing posts twice a week for eight years! Time goes so fast. As the years have gone by, the purpose for this blog has gradually become more defined.

Over the past twenty years or so, the Bible has taken a beating. So much so, that most people who call themselves Christians today are not only completely biblically illiterate, but they are actually completely content in being so. This has happened in a number of ways. First, they are distracted. Distracted by commitments, careers, over-scheduled kids, etc. Second, they are not being taught the Word in their churches. Expository preaching has been replaced by stories, worldly entertainment, and worship music that have no basis in the Word. And, third, they have turned to personal experience to verify and confirm their closeness to God. The Word has become superfluous in a church culture that believes you need to hear from God personally to be a really spiritual Christian.

I will write more about this later, but have no doubt that this is exactly what Satan wants. When he can turn our hearts and minds off of the Word, he has effectively captured us. He can deceive, trick, warp…and we will have no idea. Because we don’t even know the Bible.

And, so, over the past few years, this has become my purpose–to turn my readers back to the Word as the authority for their Christian life. To encourage my readers to study the Word with a submissive and obedient heart that leads to real and lasting change.

I have seen the Word transform people. This is how we know God. Knowing the Bible is what makes us stable and sound spiritually. Scripture is sufficient and I am here to shout that out! We don’t need special messages, visions, and dreams in order to be close to God. I hope to write more about that later this year, but I want to encourage you to dig deeply into scripture this year.

It is with this in mind, that I am once again offering the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge. If you don’t have any other plan in place to study scripture this year, I hope that you will consider joining this challenge. It is an easy way to get started (only two chapters per day). We read the same chapters five times, so we really become familiar with them. It is a wonderful and quite doable way to begin scripture study. I hope you will join me!

Happy New Year!

 

Serving All, All the Time

Serving All

This is the time of year that we focus on giving. Much of the giving is focused on children. We fill shoe boxes and purchase toys to give to local charities. It is rewarding to watch our children’s excitement as they walk with us through the store and help to pick out toys and toothbrushes and socks for children across the world or in their own neighborhood. It is truly a wonderful opportunity to touch the world with the love of Christ.

Giving to children is so special. There is something especially delightful about it. And Christmastime is such a fun time to give. There are so many different opportunities available that it doesn’t take much work for us to be part of something greater than ourselves. Perhaps we should use this time of year as a catalyst for change– a change that yields a life that intentionally gives and serves all year long.

There are some things to consider as we evaluate our lifestyle of service.

Children are wonderful, but there are so many elderly people who have no family to visit them. They sit, sad and lonely, throughout the year, wondering if anybody cares. Do they have the same value as a child? We would answer of course because we know that is the “right” answer but do we live it out by our actions?

And do we give all year long or do we only serve and give during this one little window of time during the year? Are we practicing a life of service all year long or do we live a life of self-absorption that disappears for a short time at Christmastime?

Time goes so fast. We will be back to our normal routine again before we know it. This holiday season seems a good time to consider our patterns of giving and serving.

Many people have set examples for me in this area of serving others throughout the year, but one example that made an impact on me was something my mother-in-law did when I was a young mother. She would take my kids along with her to the local nursing home to visit a few of the elderly from our church. As a pastor’s wife, it was a way she could bring a little sunshine and joy to their lives. At the time, I didn’t realize just what a service of love this was. Most older people love kids. As I watched her set this good example and as I grew braver and more mature, I hesitantly decided to try it myself. I say “braver”, because my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t know what to say.

So one day I gathered my children and we set off in our minivan. How do you talk to an elderly person that you don’t really know? But what I found was that, especially with kids along, there is rarely an awkward moment. I figured out how to ask lots of questions and we would learn so much about the past. (The incredible upside of this is that so many of these older people have so much to teach us. If we will just take the time, we can learn so much.)

But this post is not just about giving of ourselves to elderly people. Are we serving and encouraging our pastors, and other church members such as the single parents, the downcast and depressed, the sick and weary, and those who are struggling financially? These should all be on our radar throughout the whole year.

There are many ways we can encourage, serve, and build them up. We can do this by sending a card or an email. We can do this by babysitting; providing meals, if needed; by just sitting and talking after church instead of rushing out the door. And, of course, we can do this by praying for them. There are many more ways we can love and serve others.

One of the things I try to do is to think about what I would want someone to do for me if I were in their situation. And you know what? Sometimes I am the one who needs encouraged. Sometimes I need to be the recipient of the love and service of my church family. I have been there, too. And this may be one of the best things about being part of a church family–the love and care we take of each other. Learning to receive gracefully and gratefully is a topic for another post.

As I write this, I can see how I have failed in this area of serving others in such a big way. I can be so blind. I often find myself so caught up in my own agenda that I lose sight of those who need to be encouraged, built up, and supported.

But scripture continues to prod me (and hopefully you, too!) into a holier and more obedient life that is filled with love for others. I Peter 4:10-11 exhorts us to serve one another–

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I John 4:7-8 exhorts us to love one another–

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

And I Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us to encourage one another–

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

These passages are particularly referring to the Church. This is our first priority–serving other Christian brothers and sisters, loving and taking care of each other in a way that unifies the church and causes the world to step back and wonder what we have that they don’t have.

Scripture will not let us go. It continues to draw us to a more mature faith, showing us how we fail and where we need to grow. Christmas season is a great time to evaluate our life of service.

May we broaden our horizons and see that needs abound across all classes, races, and ages of people. May we never miss an opportunity to share the Gospel as we give to those that don’t know Christ. And may we be especially sensitive to the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters both here and across the world as we faithfully serve and give throughout the whole year!

 

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

freezing

The other evening, as my family discussed the recent terrible church shooting, my father-in-law shook his head.

“Can you imagine discussing something like this twenty years ago??” he asked incredulously.

No, we can’t. Because we wouldn’t have. Oh, bad things happened and there have always been evil men and women. But this. This is just beyond anything we could have imagined.

And then someone else mentioned how frequent these things are becoming. The shock is almost wearing off because these types of events are becoming monthly–sometimes weekly.

And this can breed fear in some of us, making us wonder–when will it be us? Or someone close to us?

Or it could be something else that makes us fearful; some other anxiety that is stealing our peace and joy. There are innumerable causes for fear in our lives.

For some of us, this fear can turn into a life full of anxiety and worry, turning our happy smiles into frowns of concern. Fear is a mighty master, controlling our lives with an iron fist.

Of course, much of this comes from not taking Matthew 6:35-34 very seriously. As I have battled my own fears about a variety of things, these verses keep coming to mind–

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But how do we freeze out the fear that threatens to undo us? What can we do to help eradicate the sins of worry and anxiety from our lives?

I believe one of the most underrated things we can do to help us overcome fear is to cultivate a heart of gratitude. We learn this from Philippians 4:6-7–

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

How often do we practice this as we face our fears and anxieties? Do we come to God with a thankful heart or is gratitude crowded out by the fear that threatens to overwhelm us?

Because you can’t really have both. You can’t be fearful and thankful at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

Have you ever thought about that before?

And so this week of Thanksgiving, I want to encourage you (and me, too!) to give our hearts and minds to developing a spirit of gratitude. To truly live out Philippians 4 and to be be anxious for nothing, but instead making our requests be known to God with a spirit of thanksgiving. And that is when fear will be frozen out and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.

 

 

Balanced is Beautiful

Balanced

Have you ever met someone who has a pet topic? Whether it is their kids, their job, a particular sport– they just seem obsessed with this one thing and can hardly keep from talking about it.

We Christians can be like this, too. We should be passionate about Jesus Christ and His Word–that goes without saying, really–but sometimes we can become so passionate about a certain spiritual (and worthy) thing to the point where we are indifferent about all other topics. This can lead us to be very unbalanced as believers.

This is something I have noticed in others and also fight regularly myself. We become passionate about a certain topic (such as discernment, orphans, mission work, the unity of the church, etc…) to the point where we become very one dimensional as believers.

Of course, God uses our different passions to accomplish much for His kingdom. It is not wrong to be passionate about a particular subject. I am thankful for those who are passionate about discernment for they help us to stay on the straight and narrow and spot the falsehood abundant in the church today. I am thankful for those passionate about orphans and missions for they keep us aware of what’s going on and encourage us to make a difference with our prayers, our money, and even our time.

But my caution here is that we don’t become so enamored with one particular topic that we neglect all others completely. We can be wonderfully passionate about finding homes for orphans and still practice discernment. We can practice discernment and still show concern for missions. These things are not mutually exclusive. And yet so often we act like they are.

Of course, the biggest problem facing the church today is probably not even this, is it? As I am thinking about this, I recognize that the thing many people are most fascinated and passionate about is…themselves. I struggle with this, as well. We lose our balance because we are only concerned with our own affairs. We rarely think outside of ourselves and our own needs and when we do, we give ourselves a huge pat on the back and then go on our merry way.

And, yet, the Christian life is clearly to be full of personal growth in obedience and holiness (I Peter 3:10-16), concern for others (Philippians 2:3-4), concern for widows and orphans (James 1:27), separation from the world (James 1:27), a desire to discern truth (Hebrews 5:14), sharing the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), and unifying together as the body of Christ (Colossians 3:12-15)–to name just a few.

And that’s my point, exactly.

We must give efforts to all of these things. To all of these and to the rest of what scripture teaches. We never want to become spiritually unbalanced, only giving our attention to that which comes easiest or is the most appealing.

Not having the “gift of discernment” doesn’t give us the right to not practice discernment; not being comfortable with evangelizing doesn’t give us the right to not do it; being busy with our families doesn’t give us the right to be unconcerned with widows and orphans.

Being balanced is the key. Not letting ourselves get so caught up with one issue (or with ourselves) that we neglect the whole of scripture. Balanced is truly beautiful and is what we are called to be as believers–paying attention to all that scripture contains and not just our favorite topics and passages. It is in this way that we become well-rounded believers that bring honor to Christ and shine His marvelous light into the dark world.

 

A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

Have you ever stopped to think about what your motivation is for anything you do in life? Why do you take care of your kids? Why do you want to be financially well off? Why do you want to be kind to others?

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

Are we living a God-centered life or a self-centered life?

I am doing a Bible Study on Colossians right now (click here for this great resource) and I was really challenged by the author’s words in this week’s study. He first shared this about the fall of man that I never thought about before–

“The new creation is the result of Christ’s deliverance from the fall of Adam. In the Garden of Eden, Adam lived before God in a state of righteousness. However, he acted in disobedience, and the result of his sin was disastrous. His entire nature was transformed. He became a self-centered individual instead of God-centered. His sin also affected the entire human race. All men now bear the nature of Adam–sinfully depraved and spiritually separated from God.” p. 67* (italics mine)

I don’t think I ever thought about the fall in this way before.

So if along with our sin nature comes a self-centered life, this means that, after we are saved, we should be transformed from that self-centered, sinful creature into a new creation that is growing more like Christ and become more God-centered every day (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But is this what we are doing? Is this even something that we are being encouraged to do?

And let’s take it a step further: Even if we look like we are becoming more God-centered in our lives, is this actually true?

The author goes on to say–

“So often among Christians, character development takes on a self-centered orientation. We pursue it for our own benefit and self-improvement.” p. 70* (italics mine)

Oh my goodness. If that isn’t convicting, I am not sure what is. Oh, how often have I done this very thing? Claiming my desire is to be more like Christ but really simply desiring to have an easier/better/more fulfilling life.

This becomes very evident when we simply take a look at the Christian bestsellers on the book shelves (or on Amazon) today. There are books about how to have better relationships, better budgets, and better health. Books about how to fix our anxiety issues, our depression, our anger, our addictions. Most of these have one goal: To give us a better life.

But is this what the Christian life is all about? Is it a self-centered quest to have the best life we can have? And even if we say no to this question (because, obviously, we know from scripture that this is not our goal), are we living out what we say we believe?

Personally, I was really challenged by this. Even though I claim high and lofty spiritual goals, when I think of my desires in the light of biblical truth, I can see that they are tarnished with selfishness.

The problem is that, as sinners still stuck with our fleshly desires (I John 1:8), it is so hard to separate these two things. Of course we want to please the Lord. But it is natural to want to please ourselves. We wouldn’t be human if we wouldn’t want better lives. And so we have to sort through this messy dynamic.

And to complicate things further, even the most beautiful thing can be done for the wrong reason. Works of charity may be completed so that we receive personal glory. Supposed grace may just be a cover for our own desire to avoid conflict. Kind words may be a manipulative tool to get someone to do what we want. We want to kick our addiction, live within our means, or organize our homes to make our lives better and, often, glorifying God has nothing to do with it at all.

It’s just all so complicated.

And yet in Colossians 3:17, we can see that our motivation for everything we do–every word spoken and every action completed–should be based on our Lord Jesus–

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul reiterates this–

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.

Scripture makes it clear that our life is to be God-centered. And, yet, all around us is a Christianity that is self-centered.

So how do we A) evaluate our motives? and B) change in this area?

These are challenging questions for us, since, as humans, I am not sure we can ever get 100% beyond being tainted by personal motivation. And, thankfully, God–in His great kindness and mercy–actually makes our lives so much better when we follow Him. Isn’t that kind of Him? There isn’t anything innately wrong with wanting a good life, a better marriage, or to kick a sinful habit. These are good things to want and the fact that we receive joy and happiness from these things is exactly what God intended.

The sin enters in when we only do what is right when it conveniences or benefits ourselves. In fact, as I was thinking about this, I realized that this may be the best test for our motivation–

Do I stop doing what is right when I don’t get the results I want?

If I try to be a submissive wife (or a loving husband) but my spouse doesn’t respond the way I want, do I decide that obedience to the Lord just doesn’t work and forget about it?

If I work on a big charity project at church and I watch all of the credit and glory go to someone else who didn’t do near as much work as I did, will it keep me from ever doing it again?

If I have forgiven someone who has offended me but the person keeps offending me–over and over again–do I eventually give up and hold a grudge or do I continue to respond in a biblical manner?

If I have given all of my energy to change a sinful habit in my life and I am not getting the results that I hoped for, do I continue in a path of obedience or do I cave in a fit of hopelessness?

These are just a few examples. We can come up with dozens more we face each day. Are we doing what is right because we want to please our Lord or are we doing what is right for ourselves? What is our motivation?

Living a God-centered life is no easy task. Reading this chapter made me realize just how self-centered I still am. And, honestly, this is one area that you can really only judge yourself. We really can never know the motivations of someone else, as they are locked away deep in our hearts and minds. Sometimes we even have a hard time understanding our own motives, don’t we? Past experiences, choices, abuses, neglects, and sins are powerful contaminators of our motives. These things can heighten our desire to protect ourselves, to look out for number one, and to prove ourselves.

But this is in complete opposition to scripture, where we find that we are to become God-centered in all our decisions (which also means becoming others-centered). (Mark 12:30; Philippians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:12-15).

And, once again, biblical Christianity crashes headlong into cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity says live for Christ (Philippians 1:21), deny yourself and take up your cross (Matthew 16:24) and do what’s right (John 14:23; James 2:20) and cultural Christianity says “you deserve to be happy” and “God wants you to fulfill your dreams”.

So how in the world do we remove the indoctrination of a culture that is speaking the opposite of what we are to actually be living? There is truly only one anecdote and that is the Bible. The Word is truly like a mirror, revealing our innermost secrets and motivations and giving us the hope for change through the Holy Spirit.

God has not said “fix yourselves” and then left us on our own. Instead, He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us rightly divide the Word, which will, slowly and surely, transform us more and more into His likeness.

And, yet, so many of us simply spend such little time studying God’s Word. We cannot grow in this area of pure motivation without being in the Word. It is simply impossible.

Life is hard. And evaluating our motivations for purity makes it even harder. Why am I doing what I am doing?  This is a critical question that we must ask ourselves if we are to live a holy and pure life that is centered on God.

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

Weathering the Storms of Life

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Trials in life generally do not fit into our well-laid plans, do they? Along with wreaking havoc to our schedules and in our families, they also tend to fill us with uncertainty, doubt, frustration, and hopelessness.

But should this be our response? What part does faith actually play as we face real-life trials?

This past Sunday my brother, Pastor Dean, preached two sermons on weathering the storms of life. In listening to them I was challenged, encouraged, and convicted. Mostly convicted. Sometimes God brings something my way that affects me profoundly. This was one of those times.

The fact that Pastor Dean and his family are currently experiencing their own considerable trial gave these sermons a notable authenticity. These two sermons, given from his own search of the scriptures as they weather their storm, take us beyond the typical platitudes as he unpacks what the scriptures have to say about trials and our response to them.

And so for today’s post, I want to refer you to these two sermons by Pastor Dean. Be encouraged and uplifted–and perhaps also challenged and convicted–as you weather your own storms, whether they be small or large. This is for those experiencing small trials (like a car that won’t start) and large trials (like an unexpected health diagnosis) and everything in between. In other words, this is for all of us believers. I am confident that you will find these worth every minute of your time. I truly hope that many of you will take the time to listen to these.

 

Part 1:

WEATHERING THE STORMS OF LIFE

Part 2:

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE STORMS OF LIFE

 

Click here if you’d like to listen to more sermons by Pastor Dean.

Please note: If the link doesn’t work, click on the down arrow at the top right of the page. I have found I sometimes need to do this in order to listen on my iPhone.

We Are All Teachers

And how to be the best one you can be!

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Think back a moment to your school days. Do you have a few teachers that stand out? I sure do. My third grade teacher was an older woman named Mrs. Ulrich who loved anything Navajo. She would wear beautiful jewelry of shiny turquoise in its setting of sparkly silver every day. She had a reputation for being strict, but I loved her. And she loved her students. And then there was Mr. Nolt. He had to be one of the best teachers ever! He made learning so much fun for rambunctious and confused sixth graders. We forgot we needed to be “cool” when we were in his class. Over the years, I had others who really made an impact on me through the avenue of teaching.

But then there were those who had the opposite effect. I had some really terrible teachers. I won’t name them (you know…just in case) but they were either so boring I would fall asleep; or they were so mean, you never knew if you were going to do something wrong; or they were so liberal, they couldn’t teach one class without promoting their agenda. Actually, I remember a few debates with those teachers and I honestly believe it helped to grow me in my knowledge of the Word quite a bit!

All of us have had teachers. School teachers, music instrument teachers, Sunday School teachers, coaches. Even as adults, many of us still continue to learn under the guidance of a teacher.

As I was reading in 2 Timothy 2:2, I was reminded how important it is to teach the truth of the Word to others. Paul is specifically talking to Timothy in this letter, but–as with the rest of the letter–we know that what he says is for all of us.

This is what that verse says–

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

He is talking specifically about teaching sound doctrine to faithful men, who can then teach it to others, who will teach it to others–like the stone thrown in the pond creates ripples that move outward.

But, as I was thinking about this verse, I was also reminded of Deuteronomy 6:6-7–

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

As believers, we are responsible for teaching the truth to the next generation, as well as to others.

Now, I know that many of you would not view yourselves as teachers. But, while it is clear in scripture that some receive a special gift of teaching, it is also clear that all of us end up in some capacity of teacher throughout our lives.

So how do we do our best in passing on the truth to the next generation and to others around us–even if we don’t have the gift of teaching? As I think back over my own experience with teachers (and with my parents and grandparents), I have ten suggestions that–if put into place– would make all of us good teachers in any situation, but particularly in teaching others about God’s Word–

1. Don’t have an agenda. We need to teach what we are supposed to teach without any hidden agenda. How often have you had a teacher that has been so consumed by a certain topic, that many days’ lectures led right back to that pet topic? I remember one teacher (and he wasn’t teaching philosophy) that just kept coming back to how all religions lead to the top of the same mountain. We would debate this over and over again. This was something he felt he needed to teach, even though it was completely outside the scope of what he had been hired to teach.

But let’s apply this to biblical teaching for a moment. How important that we teach the unadulterated truth of the Bible without the interference of our own personal agenda or preferences. Not doing so leads to all kinds of problems. For example, if you only desire to teach on the love of God, you miss a chunk of the Gospel by not teaching about His hatred of sin. If we only want to teach about the good things in the Bible and never on how to discern false doctrine and false teachers, we put our students at great spiritual risk. Or if we have the agenda to be well-liked, we may only want to focus on the pleasant passages of comfort and peace. But then we miss the part about how we need to grow in holiness and purity. Of course, some teachers go the other direction and only focus on sin or God’s wrath or discernment. This all leads to very unbalanced teaching. People with personal agendas never make good teachers.

2. We must care so deeply about our subject that we can’t help but teach with confidence and courage. No matter what subject, no matter what the response of the students, we must approach our subject with boldness and passion in order to be a good teacher. This is especially challenging when it comes to teaching the Bible as it is not really the most popular thing to do these days and it requires a great amount of courage. But, in thinking back to my Christian college experience, I realize that the professors who made the most difference in my life were the ones who brought personal interest to their subject and who proclaimed truth with confidence and without apology. Those who mumbled or read from a text book during class or who didn’t care about their subject all that much made little–if any–impact in my life.

3. Don’t be afraid to admit you are wrong. Good teachers (and good parents) apologize. No one wants to be taught (or parented) by someone so arrogant they can never admit to any wrongdoing. Enough said.

4. Provide a safe place for them to ask questions and to share concerns. If a student feels like they are going to receive judgment from us every time they ask a question, we will create an atmosphere of fear. We must allow questions and concerns to flow freely, always directing them back to the authority of the Bible. What does the Bible teach about this? Helping our students to run all through the grid of the scriptures will be the first step in helping them to be healthy spiritually. Of course, school teachers don’t often have this option but it is still important that you create a safe place to ask questions, so that perhaps they may come to you later, outside of school, to look for answers to life’s biggest questions.

5. Make learning interesting. Oh, how important this is. I have to be honest– I never had a good history teacher and so, during all of my school years, I thought history was the most boring subject ever. And then I started teaching it to my children and everything changed. History is a fascinating subject but it was never presented to me in a very interesting manner. On the other hand, I had a wonderful professor named Prof Gordon for my business classes. I didn’t even really like the subject of business all that much, but he made it interesting.

Sitting at a desk listen to someone drone on and on about dates or methods or systems is one of the quickest way to kill the desire to learn in any student. What a responsibility we have to show that our subject is interesting and worth learning! When we teach the scriptures–which we all should do in some capacity–how important it is to communicate Hebrews 4:12–

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

It is not some dry, old book that doesn’t matter to us today. It is the powerful and life-changing Word of God! We must teach it with this in mind!

6. Be approachable. Oh, the power of a smile and kind words. Think back in your own experience a moment. What do you remember about the faces of your favorite teachers? What about their actions? I am sure that most of you will remember a kind and warm-hearted man or woman who smiled a lot. Someone who said positive words just as often–or perhaps more–than they said critical words.

7. Teach them to apply what they are learning in their own lives and how to teach what they are learning to others. The student of a good teacher doesn’t generally leave the classroom (or home) unchanged. They are filled with a zeal to apply what they have learned and to teach others.

8. Love your students. This probably should have been number one. Again, think back to your own experience–whether it be in the home, in church, or in school. Which teachers had the most impact? If we felt loved, we were open to be taught. If we felt like a bother or the teacher was constantly irritable, we became distracted wondering why and then speculating if we were the problem…

Feeling unloved and in the way completely changes the atmosphere for teaching.

9. Share yourself with them. Sometimes it is good to step outside what is just for class or Bible Study and share how your subject has made a difference in your life. This is especially crucial in teaching the Word. When we can show how we personally had to run a decision through the grid of the Bible or how we had to submit to the authority of God’s Word in a specific area of our life, we become more “human” in the eyes of our students. We show them that we are just like them–perhaps only a few steps ahead in the journey.

10. Set a good example. And, last– but certainly not least–is that we must live out what we are teaching. We can’t effectively teach what we don’t live. Kids and adults can spot a hypocrite in a second. And that is a sure fire way to destroy any biblical teaching ministry.

 

I hope I have given all of you some food for thought. While this post was geared to teachers of all subjects, my heart mostly lies with those of us–which should be all of us–who teach the Word of God. Whether we are a parent, grandparent, Sunday School teacher, Bible Study teacher, pastor, blogger, or teach the scriptures in any other capacity, may we put these things into practice so that we can have an effective teaching ministry and create a godly legacy that will live on for years and years after we are called to glory.

 

(By the way, I would love to hear about your experiences–either as a teacher or as a student. Comment below and let me know what I missed in encouraging us to be the best teachers we can be!)