Changed Lives: Mandy

Changed Lives

Today I want you to meet Mandy. I got to know her when she started attending the Bible Study I was teaching last fall. It became immediately evident that she had an unusual hunger for the truth. She asked a lot of questions, demonstrating a humble and teachable spirit that is seen in few. One evening, after the study, Mandy shared with me some of her story. I knew at that point that if I ever followed through on my idea of sharing testimonies on Growing 4 Life, that I would want to include hers. It’s a beautiful story of God’s love and redemption. I am so thankful she is willing to share it–

Mandy’s Story

As a young woman, I found myself involved in drinking, partying, and relationships with men outside of marriage. I was desperately trying to fulfill a longing to be loved but, instead, ended up deceived and alone.

I truly wanted to stop living this foolish and dangerous lifestyle and also started to develop a hunger for Truth. God brought a couple into my life who befriended me, bought me my first Bible, and invited me to their church. Even though I still did not know the Gospel, I began to believe there was hope for me.  Looking back now, I can see how God was beginning to divinely draw me to Himself.

Not long after this, I was brought to deep conviction about the sin in my life– particularly for my relations with many men outside of marriage. I had already had two abortions and was a single mother to two sons from two different men.

Around that time, bearing a heavy burden of feeling unclean from my promiscuous lifestyle, I made the decision to have a routine checkup for sexually transmitted diseases. On my way home from the doctor, I fell into deep despair. It was just at that moment that my friends stopped by.

“I deserve to burn in Hell and live with the consequences of my behavior,” I cried. It was a most terrifying and sobering thought. It was at this time that this couple presented me with the Gospel and God began to remove the blinders from my eyes that had kept me in such darkness.

Two weeks passed and, finally, my doctor called me with my test results. I nervously answered, expecting the worst. I knew I deserved it and I was ready to pay a high price for my sinful lifestyle.

But instead he shared with me that I had a clean bill of health! In fact, he told me that my pap test was clear—for the first time in seven years! I praised God for this unexpected news and it was then that I bowed my head and asked God to forgive my sins: past, present, and future. I thanked Him for sending His Son to die on the cross for my sins so that I am able to have a relationship with Him and one day be with Him in Heaven for eternity and I claimed Jesus as the Lord of my life.

Following my profession of faith, my longing to be loved was being fulfilled and I was experiencing the true joy, peace, and freedom that only Christ can give. I truly felt born again!

But all that would change when I chose once again to live in sin.

Prior to my profession, I had been introduced to an active duty marine who was on leave visiting his family. We spent the last several months of his service talking and learning about each other. He came to visit me after his term ended and it did not take us long to fall in love. We knew that we would be married someday in the future. Little did I know, sin was crouching at my door; and its desire was for me. I am ashamed to say that I did not master it. Unfortunately, we did not keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and I conceived.

I learned the hard way that sin will take you further then you want to go, keep you longer then you want to stay, and cost you more then you want to pay. The shame was unbearable, my purity was sacrificed in one moment of passion, my friendships where falling apart, I lost the desire to read my Bible and attend church, and before I knew it, I stopped walking with the Lord completely.

Three years passed and I was now married and living with my two sons and our newest addition, a sweet daughter. My husband and I bought a home and I worked hard to make it comfortable and homey.

From a worldly view it may have looked like I had it all– a loving husband who was able to provide enough for me to be a homemaker, three healthy children, a charming house, enough money to buy what we wanted whenever we wanted it. And—yet—there was a desperate longing inside me that just wasn’t being fulfilled.

DSC_8704-8After attending a Women’s Conference at a local church in September 2015, the Holy Spirit pressed heavily upon my heart. It seemed far too easy to believe that God was waiting for me with open arms. Surely I had to do more than to confess my sin, accept God’s forgiveness, and then pick up where I left off with Him? But I did this very thing and my life hasn’t been the same since!

I am convinced life is not found in anything but Jesus. My family and I started faithfully attending church and Sunday school again and I got involved in a couple of Bible Studies. God has been pruning, teaching, and molding me through it all. In humility, I am able to say I stand more firmly in my faith because of it and nothing gives me greater peace and joy then serving and glorifying God.

 

Consider the Blossoms

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Sometimes–with everything that’s going on in the world and within the church and, perhaps, even in our own lives– we can start to feel a little anxious, overwhelmed, or fearful. We lose sight of perspective and take our eyes off the Lord and turn them to earthly things. This is so easy to do, isn’t it? How quickly we forget that we serve an almighty God who will be the victor in this fierce battle for the world! I Chronicles 29:11 puts it this way–

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness,
The power and the glory,
The victory and the majesty;
For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours;
Yours is the kingdom, O Lord,
And You are exalted as head over all.

I thought it might be a welcome break to take our eyes off of the problems, battles, and sadness of this world and turn them to the wonder of God’s breathtaking creation this morning. I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a nearby gardens with my camera yesterday. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite shots from that trip plus a few from my own backyard. God has clothed the flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow, and yet He has done it so marvelously! O, How much more He cares for us! What a wonderful reminder (Luke 12:27-28).

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Born to Stand Out

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Yesterday, when I was going through some old things, I came across a little jar of buttons my mom had given me a long time ago. When I was a child, my grandmother had a big basket of buttons I used to love and this jar was a little sampling of them.

I hadn’t thought of that button basket in a very long time, but my mind went back to that basket yesterday. Its home was the shelf of a large hutch that sat in the back of the main room of my grandparents’ house. In front of the hutch was a little table. I remember sitting there, sorting and playing with those buttons on many occasions.

Many of the buttons were drab and nondescript, some were pretty colors but plain and round, and then there were the special ones– heart or flower-shaped and brightly-colored. These were my very favorite buttons. They were the ones that I would search for every single time.

As my mind wandered in the past, I suddenly realized that the world is really just like that button basket.

Most unbelievers, like those drab buttons that made up most of the basket, are living life and leaving no mark on eternity. They are self-absorbed and focused on pleasing themselves. And then there are the pretty-colored, plain ones–these represent the unbelievers who are doing many good things for the world before they leave it.  But it is we Christians who should be the heart and flower-shaped buttons. We should stand out among the world by our love, by our holiness, by our godly choices, and by our actions in an incomparable manner, because we have the Holy Spirit living within us.

Only most of us don’t really want to stand out. We find it easier and even more pleasant to just fit in.

Oh, most of us Christians don’t mind looking like those pretty buttons that do some good in the world. That’s okay because it’s very acceptable. But we don’t want to change our shape, because that means we can be spotted and teased and mocked and persecuted. And we don’t really want that.

Of course, if this is how we feel, then we must ask ourselves: Do I really understand salvation?

Having a bold witness, choosing holiness, and standing up for Jesus Christ are born out of the love we feel for God because of the great grace and mercy we have been shown by Him. Our transformed life is born out of the humility, sinfulness, and utter unworthiness that we bring to the cross as we kneel there, begging for forgiveness and new life in Christ. This new life is born out of the understanding that we owe everything to Christ and are no longer our own master.

When we truly understand salvation, standing out isn’t a decision. For, of course, we will. For what else could we choose?

My savior died for me and so I will live for Him.

The brand of Christian so prevalent today isn’t doing anything of the sort. I don’t know if that means they aren’t saved at all or if they just don’t truly understand salvation (it is probably some of both) but what I do know is that it is confusing the world around us as to what being a Christian really means. It is giving the impression that Jesus is here to give me a better life on earth and some fire insurance for the hereafter. This unbiblical teaching has seeped its way into even the most conservative churches and it is hurting the Gospel.

So what to do?

We choose to live out biblical Christianity in our own little world. We choose to be brave and courageous as others falter and try to hide. We live a holy life, making even the smallest choice with a mind to please God. We speak the truths of scripture but always with love, kindness, and humility– even when we passionately disagree with someone. And we exude the joy and peace of our God in the midst of these dark, troublesome days. In living out biblical Christianity right where God has placed us, we will stand out like one of those brightly-colored and beautifully-shaped buttons. It matters not that we are standing out alone, for this is what we are called to do.

It reminds me of a saying I once heard in a secular movie–

Why are you trying so hard to fit in, when you were born {or re-born} to stand out?

I leave you with these words from I Peter 1:13-25. I hope these words will instill you with the desire to please our heavenly Father and to do so with courage, no matter what other Christians are doing around us–

 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”[c]

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[d] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,[e] 24 because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man[f] as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”[g]

Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.

 

Seeing Ourselves As We Really Are

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Would you know what you look like if you didn’t have access to a mirror? We can hardly even imagine not having a mirror available anywhere. But just think on this with me for the next few minutes, if you will–

The era is around World War II–late 30s or early 40s. The town is London. The girl is born with a club foot. Her cruel mother hates her and thinks the girl is cursed by the devil. Because of this, the mother tries desperately to hide the girl from the world and refuses to let her leave their drab, one-room apartment. In that room she has lived her whole, short life and she sits at the tiny, lone window all day, watching the world go by below her.

One day she decides to try to teach herself to walk. It is very painful and such a struggle, but she does it! She can walk across the room. And it’s a good thing, too, because finally, one day she and her little brother are given an opportunity to escape. They board a train bound for the country and head towards freedom.

On the way there, the train stops and the kids get off the train to use the bathroom. As she limps to the sink in the unfamiliar room, there seems to be another girl washing her hands in another sink right in front of her. She is shocked at just how ugly the girl is. She is by far the nastiest, dirtiest girl she has ever seen. Her hair is knotted and unkempt. Her clothing is filthy and ripped. And then she notices the girl imitating her and she gasps. That isn’t just another girl from the train. It is her! She is looking in a mirror and the ugly girl is herself.

She has come face to face with how she truly looks and it isn’t a pretty sight.

This story is not from a Christian book and there is no indication that the author is a believer, but this part of her book helped me understand this passage from James in a whole new light–

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:22-24).

When we read the Bible, we are just like that girl looking in the mirror for the first time. We, too, get a glimpse of our true self–the sinful, dark, ugly side we’d prefer to ignore. And yet, James indicates that many of us look in that mirror and then just walk away. Why is this? I think there are two reasons, which really end up being the same thing in slightly different packages–

1. We are prideful and self-righteousness.

Pride, in essence, keeps the mirror hazy. Have you ever seen a window when the sun shines on it? What looked clean in the darkness looks positively filthy in the sunlight. Pride is that darkness that keeps us from seeing the filth. When we read the Word, some of us honestly believe we are good people and that we are making a pretty good go of this thing called “life”. We don’t really need a Savior because we don’t believe we are really that big of a sinner.

2. We love our sin.

In order for us to be changed by the Word, we need to be willing to obey the Word. This is a very tall order because it affects every aspect of our lives. We can’t approach the Word with a willing heart, because we are not willing to put what God wants ahead of what we want. Looking in that mirror will require some very painful and sacrificial change. And we don’t want it. It hurts too much. So we go on in with our devotions and Bible reading but it really never changes us because we love our sin too much and are not willing to part with it.

Both of these can be boiled down into one concept: Self-Love. We love ourselves far too much to be too fazed by the mirror of the Word.

And so many who read the Bible never change. They are the same person from year to year. And this is who James talks about–the ones who are hearing but never doing. The ones who are reading but never changing.

And this is why we need to check our hearts before we come to the Word. True and lasting change is only possible if we approach the Word of God with a heart of submission and a willingness to obey. An unyielding, prideful heart will reap no fruit from time spent in the Word.

It has been a challenge for me to think about how I approach the Word. Am I willing to see the real me? And am I willing to do whatever it takes to give up the sins that I love–whether they be how I entertain myself, how I eat, what I wear, or how I react to people when I don’t get my way?

If I can answer yes! to these two questions, then the wonderful hope in God’s Word is that we are not alone in our battle against sin. God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us. Romans 1:9-11 puts it this way–

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Life is not filled with hopeless battles that we can never win. Victory can be ours but only if we are willing to look at ourselves honestly. Victory can be ours but only if we are willing to cast aside the sins that we love.

If we do can do these two things by the grace and mercy of God, then– and only then– will we become doers of the Word, and not hearers only.

Rescued

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Imagine you are on the ocean a thousand miles from land. You are literally dying from thirst. Your lips are parched and your skin blistered from the scorching sun. The only thing keeping you from drowning in the unfathomable depths of the endless ocean is a flimsy yellow raft. The days are ticking by and death seems close at hand.

Or imagine you are in the belly of the earth, deep inside a cave. You have lost your source of light and you have lost your way. You don’t know where to turn and the darkness is so thick you can touch it. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face for there is not a hint of light anywhere. You recognize that you are never going to be able to find your way out and you start facing the fact that you are going die a slow, torturous death in this place, leaving behind a pile of bones that someone may stumble onto some day in the distant future.

In both scenarios, all hope is gone. Your life on earth is over and you know it. You have faced the facts and are simply waiting to die.

Now, suppose that–against all odds– someone rescues you. Not only does he rescue you, but he gives his life to save you. He knew that your rescue depended upon the sacrifice of his life but he chose to save you, anyway.

How would you feel about this person?

What kind of passion would you express when you tell the story of your dramatic rescue? What kind of words would you use when describing the person who gave his life to save you?

Most people would tell the story of their rescue in great detail, infusing their words with zeal and fervor. They would try to convey –as much as words would allow– the deep, abiding love and tremendous awe and respect they have for the stranger who saved them.

And this passion is given for a temporary escape from something that’s still going to happen eventually. Our rescue hasn’t cheated death permanently–it’s just given us a bit more time here on earth.

Why do we feel such great passion about a temporary physical rescue and yet feel little or no passion regarding our spiritual rescue?

We were sinners completely without righteousness (Romans 3:23). We were headed for eternal separation from God. Eternal separation (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Our final destination was going to be hell–a place of torture and fire (Luke 16:24).

Unending punishment was certain.

We were without hope.

And then came the day long ago that God put His plan of salvation into motion. He sent His only Son to the earth as a baby. That baby would grow into a man who would die on a cross for the sins of man. He took our sins on Himself and covered us with His blood and righteousness so that we could be reconciled to the One, True God!

And then He rose again, victorious over death!

O, Death where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55)

We haven’t been given temporary respite from death–we have had an eternal rescue!

And yet, most of us Christians talk about our rescue like we talk about what we are having for dinner. There is no passion, no fervor. We don’t tell our neighbors and we don’t tell our friends. In fact, some of us do all we can to avoid bringing up the subject, nervous and afraid to speak the name of Jesus.

But how can we keep from praising His name? How can we keep from singing?

Salvation is far more than an intellectual acknowledgement. Even the demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). Salvation is a change of heart.

If our hearts have been changed, then praise should spill forth without effort because we have been rescued! We have left the roiling sea of sin and have found the solid anchor that holds! We have left the inky, black darkness that has blinded us and have walked into marvelous light!

How can we keep from praising Him? How can we keep from singing?

I know this type of  passion and fervor in “Christianity” isn’t always acceptable. We don’t want to get too excited because we don’t want to look strange. But have you been to a sports event lately? Or a concert? Passion and zeal abide there for literally no reason. And we can’t bring some excitement to our dramatic, eternal rescue from sin and hell?

As we focus this week on the death and resurrection of Christ, let us consider what Jesus did for us and the passion we have towards what happened. Let’s ponder our wretched sinfulness and reflect on how He reconciled us to God, gave us eternal life, and saved us from eternal damnation. If we are truly saved, we will find that we can’t keep from praising His name and singing out!

 

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. (Psalm 18:49)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)

Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. (Isaiah 42:10)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

Our Reason to Hope

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Have any of you been keeping an eye on what’s going on in this presidential race? I guess that’s a rather foolish question, given the coverage this election is getting on almost any outlet possible. I have to admit that I just shake my head at the hopelessness of what I see. While there is an outside chance of having someone decent to vote for, the upcoming election looks to be quite bleak for so many different reasons. My husband is still hoping some white knight will come riding in to save the country. We laugh, but it’s how we both feel. We think of the great country we knew and loved and cannot believe how far it’s come.

But here we are.

So now what?

I think, first, it’s good to remember some very important facts. As believers, we should view the election and state of our country a little differently than most. After all, we are not in the same desperate situation as our unbelieving friends for two reasons–

1. Our hope is in the Lord. Our hope should not be placed in presidents and kings (I Peter 3:15; I Timothy 1:1) but in God Almighty. We are not those who hope in vain, but instead can rest in the knowledge that God not only knows everything that is going on, but that it all falls under His sovereign plan. Elections, wars, uprisings, revolutions–these do not come as a surprise to God.

2. We know the ending. If you believe the traditional view of the book of Revelation, as I do–that it is literal and will take place here on earth–then you, like me, will be astonished by how this prophecy is coming to life right in front of our eyes. The Bible has to be true. There is no other explanation. While what we read there is rather terrifying, we cannot help but recognize that the pieces of the end days puzzle are fitting together so quickly we can hardly catch our breath.

When I was a child, I wondered how the world would ever get to a point where we could only buy using a mark on our hand or forehead (Revelation 13:17). I don’t wonder that anymore. RFID chipping (which is taking place in humans already for many different reasons) will make this not only possible but inevitable. There is already talk about it.

Way back when, I couldn’t understand how the whole world would see the two witnesses (Revelation 11:9-11). But with the birth of satellites, real-time news became second nature to us all. In fact, we have come to expect to know what’s going on while it’s going on.

And, of course, we could never have comprehended how there would be a one-world religion, a one-world economy, a one-world government. And, yet, while it may not be on the horizon tomorrow or next year, it is most certainly on its way. Globalism is being forced upon us and patriotism is viewed as evil. We are being forced to meld Christianity together with all sorts of other religions. And those of us who are not cooperating are not viewed very kindly. To say the least.

I could add so much more here. If you follow the news, there is so much taking place so fast, it is hard to keep up. The world is changing. And it’s changing quickly. We are back to an era similar to the Tower of Babel– an era where man believes he can accomplish anything and is purposing to do so. Just google transhumanism if you don’t believe me.

So where does all of this leave the United States of America as a country? I know this may not be what you want to hear, but I can’t find any indication anywhere in the book of Revelation that she plays any part in the last days. And, if that’s the case, it would seem that eventually she will be weakened beyond recognition with little part to play on the world’s stage. And we also have to admit that a democratic, capitalistic society cannot exist in a world dedicated to globalism. It’s an impossible combination. As to when and how this all will happen, I have no idea. But the fact that it will happen cannot be denied if we hold to the book of Revelation. Of course, we can hope and pray for revival and for the Lord’s hand to hold off for a little while longer, but to hope that America will return to her former greatness and glory, I believe is to hope in vain.

On a personal level, as we watch all of this play out, we find that it is getting harder and harder to share our faith. Not so much because we are outright persecuted, but because we are viewed as almost sickened in the mind–loony cast-offs that are un-enlightened. This is very powerful stuff–this ostracizing of a whole group of people. And it can’t be denied. For just one example (of a zillion), you can wear t-shirts to public schools that promote Islam, witchcraft, and any other religion–but will be in danger of prosecution if you wear a t-shirt with the name of Jesus on it. Meanwhile, in the church, the name of Jesus has come to mean something completely outside of who the Bible says He is. We have been deceived in numbers I never thought possible. It is astounding and so disheartening.

And so what is our task in these dark days? How do we respond? As my husband and I have pondered this on many occasions, we have come to this conclusion–

We are to focus on our family, first and foremost. We have a duty and responsibility to do all we can to encourage them in their walk with God. Personal knowledge of the Word of God, along with boldness and courage, are going to be critical as we strive to live in a post-Christian society. We believe it is our duty to do all we can to encourage and strengthen our family members, so that we can all stand firm together in the oncoming storm that threatens to knock down even the strongest of believers.

Second, we believe we are called to be a light in the darkened world we are in. No easy task, as the horizon grows darker and darker. It can be scary to speak the truth of God’s Word in this current culture and sometimes we chicken out. I just have to be honest here. But we know that this is what we are called to do. And so we keep trying to shine brighter and brighter in a world that grows darker and darker.

When you really think about it, we have so much reason to hope! The last days are here and that means that we could be rescued at any time. While I know there are many views on the rapture (pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib) and I wouldn’t go the wall for any particular stance, I do believe that the Bible teaches a pre-trib rapture. Wouldn’t it be incredible to be the generation that is rescued from darkness by a meeting in the sky with Jesus? How awesome would that be? This is the hope we have, if we cling to God’s Word.

But, no matter what is in our future, we know that God is faithful. If we are in His Word and we hold fast to its truths, testing all things that come our way, then we will be able to stand firm in the upcoming days. Hold fast, my friend, hold fast.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,  for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

 

 

 

With Acceptance Comes Peace

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When you get to be my age, sometimes you look back over your past and you realize just how much you have changed in certain areas. Oh, in many ways, I am still the person I was but–praise God!– in so many ways I am not.

Sometimes it seems that all we hear about the Christian life is brokenness and imperfectness and how that unites us all. And, yes, we are all broken. I actually prefer the term sinful. It’s what we are and it is how we are born. But there is some victory over the years in the life of a servant of God who truly desires to obey the Word of God. I’d like to share one of those small victories with you today. I am not sure I was even aware of it until a conversation took place a few weeks ago.

This person was not happy with their circumstances. They kept reminding me of how unfair it all was and questioning why life wasn’t going a bit more according to their plan.

As I listened, vague memories of my own dissatisfaction with my life circumstances came to my mind. I remembered feeling much the same way about my life situation when I was a young wife with a houseful of small children and a workaholic husband. If you remember, we were building a business. And businesses take hours and hours and hours. My husband has never worked less than 55 hours a week. Many times it was more. (It probably still is). And, of course, in the beginning years, there was little money to show for it. It was a lot of hours for little reward.

I could feel myself growing slightly resentful. I’d hear of things other husbands were doing and how they were able to help their wives and I’d think to myself: That’s just not fair.

But somewhere in that time of my life when I could have grown bitter and resentful over this, the Lord opened my eyes to a wonderful truth–

With acceptance comes peace.

This particular phrase was coined by Elisabeth Elliot. I am using it because it is the simplest, most profound way to say what I learned.

My life was my life. I was not changing my husband. I knew enough to know that. So I could choose to be joyful in my circumstances or I could choose to be a miserable grump. The choice was all mine. And the ramifications of that choice would ripple out across my family.

As I understood this more fully, I came to understand that the only thing I could change was me. Was I so arrogant as to believe that I somehow I had it all together? Did I think my husband had it so easy to be married to me?

Yes, as the Lord opened my eyes to accepting my circumstances, he also opened my eyes to my own bad attitudes, unkind words, and impatience. And it was not a pretty sight.

As I started climbing out of the pit that complaining and dissatisfaction had kept me in, I started realizing just how good I had it. Sure, my husband worked long hours but he loved his family. He was there for the kids whenever he possibly could be, making it to more games and events of theirs than most dads who don’t work those same hours. We had winters together–a few quiet months each year to catch our breath and regroup as a family.

As I started to focus on the positive and not the negative, our family life changed. As I started focusing on fixing myself instead of fixing my husband, our marriage changed.

Oh, I’d like to say I never experienced defeat in this area again, but, of course, life isn’t like that. But remembering that accepting my circumstances is the key to peace (and joy, too) in my life has helped me navigate many an unfair circumstance in my life. That lesson I learned as a young mom has helped me through many difficult times.

Let’s face it–we could all have a reason to be dissatisfied with our lot in life in one way or another. And if the thing we struggle with could be fixed tomorrow, we’d find something else to be unhappy about. It is the very nature of our humanity. We actually have to work against our selfish nature to rise above it and reach acceptance.

Now, let me just add this one thing–

Acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.

Accepting our circumstances does not mean we resign ourselves to the fact that our circumstances will never change. We still pray and ask the Lord to convict those who need to change. We ask Him to turn hearts to Him or to work in an area of our life or someone else’s life that needs changed. Oh, how we neglect the power of God to change people when we don’t get on our knees with diligence and perseverance.

But while we wait for God to work, we have to accept His timing and His sovereignty in the situation and work on our own selves–humbly recognizing our own sinfulness and need for growth.

Yes, this can all be extremely difficult, but the sweet and abundant fruit we yield when we do so is so much different than the bitter, ugly fruit we yield when we don’t.

And, so, there is some victory in the life of a believer truly dedicated to God and His Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is so true, isn’t it? —

 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Word of God will change us–but only if we spend time studying it with a humble and yielded heart.

 

How Deep the Father’s Love

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The other night my husband and I were laying in bed talking. As we prepared to go to sleep for the night, he turned over and wrapped me in his arms. As I lay there, listening to him breathe and feeling the warmth of his body, I felt so safe and secure. I don’t deserve to be loved as well as he loves me. I just don’t. I can be bossy and talk too much and struggle with being submissive sometimes but he loves me, anyway. I make mistakes and sin and fail and continue to do so even after all these years. And yet he continues to love me. For almost 28 years, this man has loved me despite my faults.

Of course, he has his faults, too, and so we love each other, offering much grace and mercy, in our mutual understanding that we are both sinful human beings in a fallen world.

I know I am beyond blessed to have this kind of marriage. I know that this is not the experience of everyone. And my heart hurts for those of you who have never experienced this or have experienced it but have had it taken away due to the great thief called Death. (And, on a side note–we all have our crosses to bear. My crosses just look different than yours. A happy marriage does not equal a perfect life.)

But as I was thinking about the security I feel in the imperfect, human love of my sinful husband, I found my mind moving to the absolute security, safety, and peace that we have in the perfect, divine love of our Heavenly Father when we are born again. We can trust Him wholly because of who He is.

It is a little easier for us to offer love to one another because we understand each others’ humanity. We expect the other person to make mistakes and to fail and change. We expect them to expect us to do the same.

But God doesn’t change. He doesn’t fail. He doesn’t make mistakes.

That He would reach down to love someone such as I astounds me. He is perfect, just, and holy. He is omnipotent and mighty. He does not need me for any reason. I have nothing to offer Him. Anything good in me is a gift from Him to be used for His glory. And yet, despite all this, He made a way for me–and for you, too–to be saved through faith alone, by His grace alone.

Ephesians 2:4-10 is just one of the scripture passages where we read of this great love towards wretched sinners–

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

God loves us with great love and much mercy. And that’s something to be thankful for today. There are so many songs about God’s love, but I think the song How Deep the Father’s Love For Us best expresses my thoughts for today–

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Here is the song, if you’ve never heard it but would like to. I hope it is a comfort and blessing to you today, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in–

10 Reasons Why We Avoid the Altar

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Sometimes I just don’t really want to be a Christian.

That’s just the honest truth.

Oh, I am not talking about the kind of Christian that is so popular these days–the kind who call themselves Christians and then go on to live however they want and do anything they want and still believe they have fire insurance from hell because they said a prayer. I’m not the judge, but God’s Word itself tells us about these kind of people—

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:1-5

No, I am talking about the real kind. The kind that Paul describes in the New Testament. The kind Jesus says He is preparing a place for in heaven.

Being this kind of Christian is so hard some days. In fact, if it weren’t for the Holy Spirit living inside of us true believers, drawing us to the Word and transforming our lives, it would be impossible.

I happened upon the lyrics of “Trust and Obey” the other day. It was the fourth, little-sung verse that really made me think–

But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

There is such truth in this verse–supernatural peace and lasting joy and God’s favor are just part of our reward when we sacrifice our life for Christ. But, oh, how much our human flesh hates that altar! We sing songs that say we surrender all or lay all at the feet of Jesus, but do we? Really?

It costs us so much. And so many of us don’t want to pay the price. I thought of ten reasons why we are so tempted to avoid the altar–

1. We have to give up our independence. Our life is no longer our own and we hate that. We want to make our own decisions and choices without anyone–even God– looking over our shoulders, telling us what to do.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

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. Romans 12:1-2

2. We have to hand over our dreams, our hopes, and our expectations to God. We are told every day by some author or TV personality to follow our dreams. But is this, truly, what scripture teaches? No, it is not.  And this can be extremely difficult–especially if we don’t know our heavenly Father well enough to trust Him. (The absolute beauty of this sacrifice is that God changes and molds our dreams to reflect His will and, so, when it is all said and done, we are more far more fulfilled than if we would have had our own paltry dreams, anyway!)

 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.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 6:24-25

3. We have to stand alone sometimes. This takes a tremendous amount of courage, as it means we can no longer follow the crowd. Peer pressure can be so strong. If we are a follower, this can be so difficult. We want to be liked. We want to be cool or hip or trendy. It’s hard to be the one that’s different. The one that people are talking about behind their hands on the sidelines of the soccer game or around the water cooler at work.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. John 15:19

4. We have to swim upstream in a downstream world. It is exhausting. Sometimes my husband and I just wanted to tell our kids to go to that movie, get that video game, or whatever, because we were just so tired of swimming upstream. It is downright hard work to be the one moving one direction, when the rest of the world is moving a different direction.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  Matthew 7:13-14

5. We have to give up the things of this world. We walk away from the world and towards Jesus. But the ramifications are much broader than you’d first think when you read the verse below. Setting our eyes on Jesus and eternity means we purposefully change how we handle money, what radio station we listen to in the car, what movie we go to see, how we spend our time, what books we read, and how we celebrate holidays. We stop acting and looking like the world and purposefully, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, grow to look more like Jesus.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. I John 2:15-17

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-20

6. We lose the glory. This one can be really hard in this age of self-glory. We live in a world of “selfies” and mega-stars. But, as believers, should self-glory be our goal? As we grow in Christ, we realize the depth of our sin and that it is God who works in us to do any good thing. This can be hard to believe if we are full of pride and desire the glory for ourselves.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31

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. Colossians 3:23-24

7. I must decrease. Every choice, decision, and thought should be based on the Word. Salvation costs us nothing and yet it costs us everything. We are all at different points on our journey with God, traveling at different speeds and jumping different hurdles. But, as a rule, we believers are decreasing in our own eyes, while Jesus is increasing.

He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30

8. We must turn away from human wisdom. Instead of believing what the scientists say, we look to the Bible. Instead of believing the psychologists, we turn first to the scriptures.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. I Corinthians 1:25

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; I Corinthians 3:19

9. We lose our rights— While we all have basic human rights that are set up in the first few books of the Bible, when we lay our lives on the altar, we give up our right to indulge, our right to follow our flesh, our right for revenge, our right to never forgive; our rights to do what we want, to say what we want, to live how we want, to watch what we want; to read what we want. We submit to the will of the Father in all things. We find out His will by reading His Word.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body[c] and in your spirit, which are God’s. I Corinthians 6:19-20

10. We have to admit that there isn’t anything we can do to save ourselves from our sinful state. This may be the hardest thing of all for some of us. In our human pride, we like to insist that we have something good to bring. Did you ever think about the fact that Christianity is the only religion that doesn’t require something from man to be right with God? It doesn’t require good works or a human sacrifice. It doesn’t require prayer five times a day or a pilgrimage to some distant land. It is truly the gift of God to mankind. But, even when we accept Christ’s gift to us, we can sometimes forget that it has nothing to do with us and go back to thinking that our good works are helping us get to heaven. But this is not what the Bible tells us.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

 

But let’s not end this post in this place where all looks to be sacrifice with no reward. There are so many reasons why the price of laying our lives on the altar is so very worth it. Besides the fact that it is the least we can do to honor and love the Savior who died for us, we reap so very many rewards. Here are just a few verses to get you started. It may be something to study for yourself–

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. I Corinthians 15:56-58

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 2 Corinthians 2:14

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. I Timothy 6:6-7

 

We have one to life. One. And God has graciously given us a choice. We can choose Christ or we can choose self. But we can’t choose both. That is one of the fundamental truths of the New Testament. You will hear so many pastors and teachers and authors and song-writers telling you otherwise these days. But I encourage you to study the Word for yourself and read what it says. Laying our lives on the altar is just what we believers do. It is part of the wonderful transformation that takes place when we are saved.

Oh, we all grow at different rates and find ourselves at different parts of the journey, so I wouldn’t recommend looking around at how much your Christian neighbor has surrendered. That’s between him and the Lord. But have you laid your life on the altar? For, me, personally, I find it a daily struggle. I can see I am much further along than I was 20 years ago and that gives me hope. But each day I find myself struggling with my flesh in one area or another, but I continue the battle, never giving up. I hope you feel the same way. I leave you with these words of Paul–

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. I Timothy 4:6-8

May we, too, be able to say this same thing when we have reached the end of our lives.

 

My Personal Christmas Carol

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“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.” Charles Dickens

I sat cozily in my recliner with a mug of hot coffee on the table beside me. This was the morning I would catch up on my Bible reading. Somehow with all of the holiday activity, I had managed to fall a few days behind schedule. I opened up my chronological Bible to pick up where I had left off. I looked down and saw that that I was starting in Ephesians. What I didn’t realize was just how convicted I’d be by the end of reading this short epistle of Paul’s.

As I read through all six chapters that morning, several verses jumped out at me, pointing out a particular sin in my life that I had downplayed until I almost believed it wasn’t a sin. Almost. It brought to mind Hebrews 4:12–

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

This particular December morning, God’s word was certainly piercing my soul, showing me a sinful habit that has yielded unwanted fruit in my life. And will continue to do so unless I change it.

A little later on that same day, I turned on my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. It stars George C. Scott as Scrooge and Edward Woodward as the “ghost” of Christmas Present. It’s a great version.

I was working on something else while watching so I wasn’t paying real close attention to the dialogue. But as Scrooge knelt over his own grave asking if these things of the future would be or just might be, it hit me–

All of us have futures that will be that are based on the choices we are making today. Unlike Scrooge, most of us do not have the opportunity to have our future illuminated so clearly before our eyes by the “ghost” of Christmas future. But we do have the Word of God which clearly shows us the narrow path of righteousness and the dreadful consequences of walking the broad way.

So why then do we stay on our path to destruction?

I think it is because it happens so subtly and so gradually.

Scrooge never set out to be a miserable, stingy old man. When asked what they want to be, no twenty year old ever says that they hope to be a homeless drunk or a lonely, cold-hearted woman.

But every action, every choice, and every attitude we cultivate about our circumstances add up and lead us somewhere. And we have a great deal of freedom in determining where that place will be. For some of us it is leading us to miserable loneliness and to the devastating health and financial consequences of self-indulgence. For others, it is leading to peace of mind and strong family bonds.

How easy it is to talk ourselves into sin with a mental promise to change tomorrow. Our pride and love for self keep us careening on the path to destruction, somehow talking ourselves into postponing change. As we read, it is probably very easy for us to think of someone who is really on the pathway to destruction–like a friend who drinks too much or a father who spends too much time at the office but I’d like to throw out a challenge to you: what are the behaviors and attitudes that are leading you to a place you don’t want to go? Where have you decided you are going to do things your way and ignore the principles of God as laid down in His Word?

Of course, the great news is that we don’t have to keep going in the wrong direction in our lives. We can choose to leave the broad way of destruction and take up traveling on the the narrow path of righteousness. Whether it’s an addiction to drugs, food, alcohol, or even to social media, we can make a choice this very day to change. Whether it’s anger, a habit of lying, an unforgiving heart, gossip, sexual sin, or any other sin named in scripture, we can choose, by the strength of the Holy Spirit living in us, to make changes.

God used Ephesians to convict and challenge me to change. And it won’t be easy.

Sometimes change feels downright impossible, but God promises us victory– maybe not 100% of the time (as we will continue to fight our flesh all our years on this earth) but we can have victory over sinful habits. We don’t have to throw up our hands in defeat and shout “I give up!” Check out I Corinthians 15:57; I Corinthians 10:13; I John 1:9; Ephesians 6:10; Psalm 3:8; Romans 8:31-32; and Proverbs 21:31 for some biblical encouragement.

I have had victory over other sins. I know that God not only can deliver me from sinful habits, but He already has done that many times over the years.

And, so as I was reading the other morning, I realized that I don’t need any ghost to tell me about my future, because I have the Bible. And that is enough for me. Because it’s only by being in the Word that we can ever have any hope of real and lasting change–the kind of change that reaches way down deep into our hearts and changes us from the inside out.