Some Lessons for All of Us

some lessons

Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

People Do Change

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The other day, someone said something to me that indicated that they thought they were far too sinful to be saved. They couldn’t imagine how God would ever save them. They said it in passing, in a public place, where we couldn’t talk. I told them the beauty of salvation is that none of us deserves to be saved but I have been wondering what I would have–should have–said, had we had more time? I got some help with this question yesterday as I was listening to my father-in-law tell us about Paul during our campfire “church” service (which is what we do for worship time when we go camping).

He shared about some of Paul’s background and just where he had come from. This was perfect because, as any of my readers who are participating in the 2017 Growing 4Life Bible Reading Challenge already know, we are reading Paul’s epistles this year. It was interesting to find out more about the author God chose to write these books of the Bible.

As he spoke about Paul’s education and family, he told us how he was part of the group of Jewish leaders who persecuted the church. I was familiar with most of the information but it was great to have a refresher course on this man that God used to write a good portion of the New Testament. Paul was even present at Stephen’s death, the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith. Here is what we read about Paul (at that time he was called Saul) in Acts 8:1–

Now Saul was consenting to his {Stephen’s} death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And then this in verse 3 of the same chapter–

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

From these verses we see that not only did he consent to Stephen’s death but that he was part of the great persecution that rose up against the church. He personally entered homes and would drag men and women off to prison! He did everything he possibly could to stop the church of Jesus Christ from spreading.

As we discussed this, we wondered why God took someone so evil and called on him, of all men, to write the epistles? Why did God decide on Paul?

We can’t really know the answer to this, but one of the things I did think about was how encouraging and wonderful it is that God did use Paul. The fact that He did shows us, once again, that God can change the heart of a wicked, sinful man and use him to fulfill His purposes! No one is beyond His grace.

No one!

This should comfort us. Not only for ourselves, but it should also bring hope to our hearts for the ones we love who are caught up in unimaginable sins, imprisoned by Satan’s lies, with no conviction and no change on the horizon.

No one is beyond God’s grace.

God can change any man or woman–even one who has attacked His church. He can use any person for His purposes and His glory. Let us not grow weary in our prayers for those we love who are walking on the broad road of the world, far away from God.

When we read in the next chapter that Saul is converted, we find Ananias very concerned when the Lord tells him to seek out Saul and help him–

 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”  (Acts 9:13)

Saul’s reputation was well-known. We can imagine that the dramatic change in Saul would have been the topic of conversation in town squares during the following days and months. Was Saul really changed? Or was this just temporary? One group was wondering if he could be truly be trusted and another group was probably mourning the loss of one of their most zealous members, hoping he’d return. Of course, we know now that Paul was saved by God and changed forever.

Sometimes, we can grow skeptical about people truly changing. We have watched people say a prayer for salvation and then sprout up and seemingly and quickly grow, only to wilt and fall away when the tough times came along. Just like the seed we read about in the Parable of the Sower, the seed can’t take the scorching sun (Matthew 13:1-9). These things can make us start doubting that people ever change. In fact, sometimes you will hear this line: “People never change.”

But Paul is a dramatic real-life example to us that this is not true! People do change and Paul is one of our greatest proofs! Of course, the longer we live as a believer, the more examples we see of the Holy Spirit working change in the lives of those around us. I have seen Him change lost sinners into saved saints and even in my own life and the lives of other Christians, I see Him molding and shaping us to grow more like Christ. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago. Or five years ago. Or last year. I hope you can say the same thing.

So let us persevere in prayer for our lost loved ones and even for victory in our own personal struggles, knowing that God’s grace covers even the worst of sins and confident that true and lasting change is possible!

 

Shopping for Furniture

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She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

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: Dennis

Changed Lives

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

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

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

Here is his story–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

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

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

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

I love that past tense: WERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you handle that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went into hiding mode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible is a love story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

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

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Killing Sin

killing sin

Is victory over sin possible in the life of a believer? We are constantly hearing about how broken we are. But is that all there is? There is so much talk about how we are all sinners but so little talk about overcoming sin.

And, of course, it’s true–we will fight our flesh and its sinful desires until the day we die. But that does not mean that we won’t be victorious over sin. It simply means that we will go from one victory right on into another battle. Life here on earth is one battle after the other for those of us who truly desire holiness. No sooner do we fight an intense battle with one sin and win the victory but then the Holy Spirit convicts us of a different sin. It is a lifetime of battles but there are victories. We are not destined to flounder in the same sins all of our lives without hope of rescue. There is growth and change and victory in the Christian life!

This week we found ourselves traveling home from a trip on Sunday and so we were unable to go to church. Since my husband and I are both reading our pastor’s Bible Reading Challenge (which also happens to be the 2017 Growing 4 Life Bible Reading Challenge), we decided to turn on a sermon that had to do with the passage we are currently reading, which is Romans 8. We found it on the Grace to You app, where they have all the sermons broken down by scriptures and topics. We chose a sermon based on Romans 8:12-13 called A Key to Spiritual Victory.

As we drove along listening to John MacArthur expound the Word, we were challenged. One section I found particularly helpful and I started writing notes. As I wrote, I thought of you. I realized that you–my reader–may find this helpful, as well.

He was talking about victory–the power, the people, the pattern, and the passion. When he got to the pattern of victory, he gave five things we can do to “kill sin” in our lives. While this does not mean we won’t ever sin, these steps will help us live a more victorious Christian life.

(The steps are from the sermon, the commentary includes some things from the sermon, as well as some of my own thoughts.)

–HOW TO KILL SIN–

1. Recognize the sin within yourself.  Pastor MacArthur talked about how much we like to place the blame for our sin on others or things around us–we blame the world, or other people, or Satan. Have you ever heard one of your kids blame a sibling for their sinful choice to hit or kick? And, honestly, they learn this from us, don’t they? We lose control of our tempers and then blame our spouses or kids for frustrating us. But we will never be able to kill sin until we are willing to take the blame for our sin. This is a crucial first step.

2. Have a heart fixed on God. This sounds so easy, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s so hard. I find that my heart is so often fixed on me. If I am struggling with sin it is because my heart is fixed on myself. Pastor MacArthur went on to say how this is an important function of church. Church should bring us back to the Word, taking our minds off of the temporal and putting them back on the eternal. It is one of the reasons why we fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters–to sharpen each other spiritually (Proverbs 27:17) and to encourage each other (Acts 11:23).

3. Meditate on the Word of God. Notice that he doesn’t just say “meditate” but specifies that we meditate on the Word of God. Meditation is a word that has been completely hijacked. Most of what you read or hear about meditation today is taken from mysticism and is the opposite of biblical meditation. (check out my post A Vast and Irreconcilable Difference, where biblical meditation is compared to new age/mystical meditation.) When we meditate on the Word of God, we fill our minds with the commands, promises, and knowledge of God. One of my daughters has been doing quite a bit of memory work and she was telling me how doing this has really deepened her walk with God. It is because she is meditating as she memorizes. She is thinking about what the Word says while she is hiding it in her heart. By the way, memorizing scripture is a good way to meditate on it.

4. Be diligent in prayer. Not only should we praying for victory over sin, but we need to be daily confessing our sin and repenting of wrong deeds. We need to ask the Lord to help us hate sin and to love righteousness. John Owen puts it like this: He who pleads with God for remission of sin also pleads for his own heart to detest it.

5. Cultivate obedience to the Word. We need to make it our goal to obey scripture. This sounds so simple but it is a very difficult thing to actually do. Some of the things this includes is forgiving when all we want is revenge; loving when we don’t feel like loving; and turning away from the world’s entertainment when all those around us are filling their minds with it (and mock us when we choose not to). As we study God’s Word, we need to apply what we learn, instead of constantly looking for loopholes that will help us rationalize our sin and our desire to keep feeding our flesh.

 

So those are the five steps. I found it a very helpful exercise to take a hard and honest look at my own life to see how (or if) I have been incorporating these steps. It is my hope that sharing this with you today will be a blessing to you as you evaluate your own battles against sin.

 

Being Molded to Look Like Christ

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Suffering. Something that happens to all of us. When we think of suffering, we often think of the obvious things that we can see. We know someone is suffering when they are fighting cancer or when a loved one dies. We know they are suffering if their child is arrested or when they lose their job. Physical disabilities, car accidents, a child with Down’s Syndrome, a house fire–these things fill us with deep compassion.

But there is so much suffering we never see–a family’s daily struggle to stay financially afloat; being married to a selfish, difficult spouse; a chronic disease or physical injury that isn’t outwardly visible; debilitating anxiety; persecution in all its various forms as we stand for God and His Word in an increasingly hostile world and apostate church; the betrayal of a trusted friend or family member; pornography, drug, and alcohol addictions; sexual or verbal abuse; a neighbor or co-worker who has made it their goal to make your life miserable for whatever reason; church issues; rebellious children…

This list could go on and on and on…and on. In fact, it is probably far longer than the list of troubles we can see in the lives of others.

This came to mind yesterday as I was reading in *Romans 5. Verses 3-5 tell us this–

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

So what is my point? I have two, actually.

First, I just wonder how much more grace we would have for others if we would remember that they may be struggling through something we can’t even see. We are so quick to judge and yet all of us, in one way or another, is struggling. And if we aren’t suffering now, it will come. So often we think we are so spiritually mature and yet none of us knows how we’d act if we were handed the same circumstances as that fellow Christian. This doesn’t mean we let a beloved Christian sister or brother wallow in sinful reactions and choices. But remembering this does fill us with so much more love and grace as we help them.

And, second, let’s remember that God uses all of our suffering–the visible trials and the secret torments– to grow us in endurance, character, and hope. But this can only happen when we are turning to the Lord on a daily basis. Trying to endure on our own strength is exhausting and pointless. It is like being on a hamster wheel–we end up using all of our energy to turn in circles.

And, I guess I do have one final thought on this subject of suffering. I have found in my own life that many times God uses the little irritations and frustrations of life to draw me to Himself and to grow me in endurance. A disobedient toddler or a challenging situation at work can be used to mold us into the image of Christ.

Our whole lives are made up of moments that give us a choice:

Will we grow? Or will we respond with our selfish, human nature?

As believers, God is using everything to shape us and to work things out for His glory. We are all familiar with Romans 8:28–

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

But we need to continue reading verse 29–

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

One of God’s purposes–perhaps His main purpose for us–is to conform us into the image of His Son. May we not forget this as we suffer through trials seen and unseen. May we keep the eternal purpose in mind as we face inconsequential frustrations and overwhelming tribulations.

And may we remember that, through it all, God will not give up on us! Paul let us know this in Philippians 1:6–

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

And so we must keep fighting our sinful flesh through the trials. We must submit to God’s sculpting hand as He molds us into the image of His Son. And as we do so may we rely on the help and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We can’t give up. Thankfully, God will be right by our side, never leaving or forsaking us. What a glorious encouragement!

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

(By the way, I feel slightly hypocritical even writing this, since many of you know I continue to work through all of the changes in my life over these past few years, but I guess at least you know that a) I am writing to myself as much as I am writing for you and b) I am not giving up!)

 

* I was reading Romans 5 for our 2017 Bible Challenge. If you haven’t started a Bible Reading plan yet for this year, it is not too late to join us! And if you are doing the Bible Challenge, please feel free to join the Growing4Life Facebook group especially dedicated to the challenge. There you will find encouragement and resources regarding our Bible Readings.

 

 

 

Hallmark’s Reason for the Season

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The other night I was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. Yes, I know they are super predictable and, generally, have the same theme every single time. But don’t judge me. They are clean and, overall, fairly innocent. At least that is what most of us believe.

But is this true? Are they as innocent as we may think?

Does something become good for us to watch simply because it doesn’t have bad language, sexual content, or violence?

While I am not saying that we should never watch Hallmark movies, I do think there is some value in evaluating the messages of their movies and to contemplate how this production company is secularizing Christmas.

So let’s go back to the other night, when I was watching that movie. At one point, there is a conversation about the meaning of Christmas. What is the meaning of Christmas?

Do we hear something about Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men? Do we hear of the Christ child and the glorious hope for man to be reconciled with God? No, instead, we hear some ambiguous message about the “love we all feel in our hearts towards each other”.

Look, I am not saying that we don’t feel those things around the holidays. And I am not saying that is not a good thing. But things have really changed.

Years ago, even the secular movies would have made some reference to baby Jesus. Some movies would even mix baby Jesus and Santa all together. But at least there was a reference to the religious message of the season.

It wasn’t until the other night that I realized just how secular our nation has become. Hollywood rarely even mentions the name of Christ during Christmas. City scenes never have a manger scene and Luke 2 is never read. God is seldom mentioned and if He is, it usually has to do with a very unbiblical portrayal of angels.

Instead, in many ways, this culture has gone back to the pagan roots of the holiday and Christmas has become a godless holiday centered on the glory of man and materialistic consumerism.

So what does this mean for us? I think it means two things–

First, we each need to decide just how much we are going to fill our minds with entertainment that promotes a very secular worldview during this holiday season. I am not saying it is a sin to watch the occasional Hallmark movie. But let’s be very aware of what each movie is saying (or not saying) about Christmas. Let’s not mindlessly consume the entertainment of the age, even if it is morally okay. We need to always give thought to the philosophies that are being taught in anything we watch and that includes Christmas movies.

(and perhaps we should think about watching less entertainment during this time of year and filling our evenings with things that have nothing to do with the television…)

Second, we have a special way we can now stand apart from the world over the holiday season. As we talk about Christmas with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends, let’s be sure to mention the Bible’s reason to celebrate the season. Let’s consider the Gospel and how we can share it with those we love as we give gifts. And let’s keep the focus of Christmas where it belongs for our children, our grandchildren, and for our extended families as much as we possibly can. Let’s not get caught up in the shallow, secularized version of Christmas that is now celebrated by most of the world.

Every now and again I realize just how very different America is compared to when I was a kid (and, honestly, it wasn’t all that great then). But it wasn’t until the other night as I was watching that movie that I realized just how far we have come from our Christian roots. Many would laud that as a wonderful thing–they have been working towards that for years. But they are short-sighted and blissfully unaware of where relativism and immorality lead any culture. It is a sad, sad thing to watch.

Thankfully, through it all, we have the opportunity to shine brightly for Christ. We have a wonderful message of hope to share. Let’s share it freely and often. And there is no better time to shine than during the Christmas season!

 

 

So What Now?

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You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Christians across America as we watched the election results on Tuesday night. What we thought was impossible actually became possible as we watched states start to turn red. I am still shaking my head that–

A. Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States.

and

B. That I actually voted for and am glad that Donald Trump is President.

I feel like I have fallen into some alternate universe or something. What a crazy year. And what an upset. And here we are– with a guy who has few morals– and even less experience– about to run this country.

While I consider this a huge victory and answer to prayer, it certainly isn’t because of who became President but strictly because of who didn’t become President. Hopefully, we will now witness a halt or at least a slowing down of the aggressive liberal and socialistic agenda that has been the passion of our current President.

Before this election, many Christian pastors and bloggers reminded us that our hope is in the Lord. We felt hopeless, we felt powerless. We Christians needed to be reminded of where we should find our hope.

But with what happened this week, we may be tempted to start hoping again in the wrong things. Let us be careful we do not place our hope in a man. On Tuesday night we watched  as reporters almost stuttered in their shock and amazement over what was taking place on that map. Even staunch Republican insiders saw no hope for a win. But, while this is most certainly a wonderful surprise, we need to continue to pray! God is still our only hope. He is still the one who raises up and removes kings. Only He controls the nations. We must be careful not to place our trust in a man or in a government.

Trump is historically liberal in where he stands morally. While he may not be as aggressive in pushing immorality, it is unlikely that he will make sweeping changes to the morality of this nation. This was not a victory for Christian principles in this country.

In my opinion, this wasn’t really a win for Christians as much as it was a win for those who desire a return to sanity. Progressives are deeply mourning what they believe to be a move backwards for this nation. One has to wonder how well they know the histories of civilizations. When a country starts to break down in a way ours has been, complete destruction is never far behind. And so I believe we are simply backing away from the edge of the cliff for a few years. And, in so doing, may we continue to pray. Not only for the direction of this country but also that there would be opportunities to reach the lost. This respite will hopefully give us four years free of the persecution that we saw looming ahead of us. It may give us four more years of free speech. May we redeem this time and use it to proclaim the Gospel!