On Finding a Wolf

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Over the past year I have become aware of a few wolves in the modern day church. They are surprising wolves, quite honestly, and by all accounts, play the part of a sheep quite well–almost perfectly. In one case, I was appalled to read a review of a popular book that basically redefines Christianity. The man who wrote it is a popular evangelical preacher. And I was equally appalled to attend a conference where I heard a live presentation by a very popular Christian author who so effectively weaved together true doctrine with heresy that it was almost impossible to define between the two. I am not going to go into who they are here, as my purpose for blogging is not to take a controversial stand against certain persons. However, there are a few things we need to be looking for when we choose to listen to or read the books of another person (no matter how famous). So here are a few criteria that can be used to spot a wolf–

1.  Wolves use buzz words like “social justice” and “rights of the poor” on a frequent basis. The term “social justice” is never found in scripture but is found in books written by Karl Marx. In other words, it is a communist term, not a biblical one. From a biblical standpoint we are to extend mercy and help, but it’s not about “social justice”.  Now, let me be clear, I am not saying that all people who use this term are wolves. It has become such a popular term that it may be used quite innocently. But when I hear this word, my ears perk up and I make sure to investigate further. Along that same line, Wolves try to make us feel guilty for any material blessings we enjoy. There is a big push for communism in this country and the church has jumped on board, adding a spiritual twist to it. Wolves give the message that if we have something that someone else doesn’t have we are materialistic and selfish. But this is not a biblical point of view. While we are called to be good stewards of our money, there is no sin in being wealthy. The sin comes in when our treasure, hope, and joy is found in our wealth. The sin comes when we use our wealth only for our own good and satisfaction, giving no thought whatsoever to the poor and needy (Matthew 6:20, Proverbs 13:22, Genesis 13:2, I Timothy 6:7-10).

2.  Wolves focus on love and tolerance alone. However, tolerance has been re-defined to mean that anyone can do anything they want and it’s okay. (Of course, there is no tolerance for those who believe scripture teaches living a holy life. They categorically define that as legalism.) There is very little, if any, talk about sin and moral justice. There is almost no mention of righteous living. If you never leave church feeling convicted of sin in your life, it may just be led by a wolf.  They do not preach about sin, because sin is not important to their religion. It is all about love. But I ask you–doesn’t that leave a gigantic hole in the gospel? If there is no sin, there is no gospel (Romans 6:23).

3.  Experience always trumps biblical doctrine. And so wolves teach that the foundation of spiritual religion is personal experiences and feelings, rather than the Word of God. This was has reached its tentacles into even the most conservative churches. Someone once asked my husband when he was in church leadership how he can argue against someone’s experience. But I ask you– doesn’t it seem like the lion who is seeking to devour us (I Peter 5:8) and the angel of light (II Corinthians 11:14-15) could offer counterfeit experiences?

4.  Wolves tell us that any confrontation is equal to judgment. They will quote Matthew 7:1 emphatically, conveniently ignoring verses like Matthew 7:16 and James 2:26. Church discipline and confronting a sinning church member are almost unheard of anymore. Wolves teach that confrontation is the opposite of love. But the Bible teaches us otherwise. Check Matthew 18:15, Galatians 6:1, and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

5.  Wolves conveniently forget about the scriptures that have to do with worldliness and holiness — or they re-define them to mean something different than they have meant for the last 2000 years.  All tradition is thrown to the wind, so that they can satisfy worldly desires or grow mega-churches and gain popularity (or both). Of course, not all mega-churches are bad and don’t confuse traditions with traditional interpretation of scripture–they are two very different things. If your pastor is discarding traditional interpretations of scripture faster than you can blink, you may want to make sure that he’s not a wolf. If your pastor is using worldly entertainment such as ungodly movies and songs to promote scriptural principles or is more like a stand-up comedian than an expositor of God’s Word, you may want to run. Wolves change their churches to appeal to the world instead of making an effort to be separate from it (I John 2:15).

6.  Wolves also conveniently forget that Christians are going to be hated in this world and the road to heaven is narrow (Matthew 7:14, Matthew 10:22). They proclaim the salvation of thousands because of a prayer whispered at an alter, even if no transformation or any life change has ever taken place.  They tell us that we can expect the praise and honor of the world. They teach us to join with the world to solve big problems. But Jesus said in John 15:19 that the world will hate us because we are not of it.

7.  Wolves encourage new age spiritualism, giving them new names that sound biblical. Contemplative prayer, breath prayers, divine mystery, centering prayer, inner light, labyrinth, and spiritual formation are all terms that find their origins in far eastern religions. This is a very serious infiltration in the church today, moving people towards one world religion. It it so important that we be well read and aware of what’s going on, so that we will not be fooled.  Be very, very wary and keep your eyes open (I John 4:1, I Timothy 4:1, Jude 1:4).

Now, in presenting this list, I want to make it very clear that I do not believe that all pastors and teachers promoting one or two of these seven things is a wolf. Some very sincere pastors and teachers have been deceived. If you believe that your pastor or spiritual leader has been deceived, make it a matter of prayer and then talk to them about it.

But what I am saying is that  you might want to investigate because they could be one.  We need to stop relying on fallible men for our spiritual growth. While they can be used to help us to grow, God’s Word needs to be our compass, so that we can spot a false teacher. We need to love the Truth. We need to study the scriptures and we need to study with  humility, integrity, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to mold our lives to the lessons held within its pages. We need to be careful not to manipulate the Bible to say what we want it to say.

The other thing we have to do is to be very careful not to allow the pendulum to swing the other way so that we shy away from helping the poor and loving our neighbor. The Bible clearly teaches that we are to do both. The gospel is about justice and love.

Let us be ready and willing to fight the wolves that have surreptitiously made their way in among the true church flock (John 10:11-14). Let us step outside of status quo and stand up and be a light in this very dark church age!

 

 

Wise Counsel for A Son

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I came across this the other day. It was written by hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt, who lived from 1607-1676. I found it on the Hope Blog (you can find the original post here). I believe the counsel given here is incredibly wise and timeless– beneficial for both our sons and our daughters, and perhaps even for ourselves. Hope you enjoy this–

Now that I have reached the 70th year of my life and also have the joyful hope that my dear, holy God will soon rescue me out of this world and lead me into a better life than I have had until now on earth, I thank Him especially for all His kindness and faithfulness which, from my mother’s womb until the present hour, He has shown me in body and soul and in all that He has given me. Besides this, I ask Him from the bottom of my heart that when my hour comes He would grant me a happy departure, take my soul into His fatherly hands, and give my body a peaceful rest in the ground until the dear Last Day, when I, with all of my [family] who have been before me and also may remain after me, will reawake and behold my dear Lord Jesus Christ face to face, in whom I have believed but have not yet seen. To my only son whom I am leaving behind I leave few earthly goods, but with them I leave him an honorable name of which he will not have to be ashamed.

My son knows that from his tender childhood I have given him to the Lord my God as His possession, that he is to become a servant and preacher of His holy Word. He is to remain now in this and not turn away from it, even if he has only few good days in it. For the good Lord knows how to handle it and how sufficiently to replace external troubles with internal happiness of the heart and joy of the spirit.

Study holy theology in pure schools and at unfalsified universities and beware of the syncretists [those who mix religions or confessions], for they seek what is temporal and are faithful to neither God nor men. In your common life do not follow evil company but rather the will and command of your God. Especially: (1) Do nothing evil in the hope that it will remain secret, for nothing is spun so small that it is not seen in the light of day. (2) Outside of your office and vocation do not become angry. If you notice that anger has heated you up, remain still and speak not so much as a word until you have first prayed the Ten Commandments and the Christian Creed silently. (3) Be ashamed of the lusts of the flesh, and when you one day come to the years in which you can marry, then marry with God and with the good advice of pious, faithful, and sensible people. (4) Do good to people even if they have nothing with which to repay you, for the Creator of heaven and earth has long since repaid what humans cannot repay: when He created you, when He gave you His beloved Son, and when He accepted you in Holy Baptism as His child and heir. (5) Flee from greed as from hell. Be satisfied with what you have earned with honor and a good conscience, even if it is not all too much. But if the good Lord gives you something more, ask Him to preserve you from the burdensome misuse of temporal goods.

In summary: Pray diligently, study something honorable, live peacefully, serve honestly, and remain unmoved in your faith and confessing. If you do this, you too will one day die and depart from this world willingly, joyfully, and blessedly. Amen.

Source: Christian Bunners, Paul Gerhardt: Weg Werk Wirkung (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 301-302. Translated by Benjamin T. G. Mayes, 5/4/2007

A Call to Fathers

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When a father provides for a child’s material needs, he is considered a decent father.

When that same father provides sound teaching in the ways of the world, such as how to handle money, hold down a job, and control one’s temper, he is considered a great father.

But when a father provides godly counsel using scripture, along with heartfelt prayers to God for the souls of his children (and, later, grandchildren)–is there even a word to describe that?

It reminds of those credit card commercials that always show the price tags of items and vacations and then, at the very end, show a memorable moment followed by the word “Priceless”.

You cannot put a price on a father who cares about the spiritual welfare of his children.

I was reminded of this when I received a phone call from my father yesterday. He knows that I am bearing a burden that is feeling pretty heavy. He called to let me know he loves me and to encourage me. He then went on to give me some wise counsel from scripture, first making sure that I wanted this counsel (yes, please!)

His words encouraged me to look at the situation from a little different perspective. He helped me to see what is perhaps the root of the problem. But, most importantly, he let me know that he is praying for me and the parties involved and that he and Mom are available for me, should I need them in any way.

Can I express to you the feelings of comfort and blessing that this call provided to even a grown daughter with almost-grown kids of her own? To know that my father cares deeply about me and my family and is pointing us to God and His Word is a great encouragement and a balm to my soul.

I can’t speak from the perspective of being a father because I am not one. I can only speak from the perspective of being a daughter. But I have a few questions for you fathers–

Do you have conversations about the stuff that matters with your kids?

Do you pray regularly for your children and their walks with God, asking Him to guide and protect them?

Do you know the principles of God’s Word, so that you can provide your kids with godly counsel?

You see, it isn’t enough to make sure your kids have enough to eat and a roof over their heads. And it isn’t enough to play ball and board games and even dolls. These things are good things and it is a part of being a good father.

But many, many kids’ hearts get lost even with good fathers because Dad never provided the spiritual component so desperately needed in the family.

And so kids grow up and instead of a godly role model to turn to as they go through difficult times, they have a nice guy whom they love and respect but would never turn to for their big questions and tough problems.

May I suggest that perhaps the primary reason we are losing our kids’ souls is because of this?

“But I wouldn’t even know where to begin?” you may think.

Start when they are young. I would like to give you an example from the life of my husband to encourage you. From the time the kids were very small he was the one who had bedtime devotions with them. He would come home late and so very tired from his quest of starting a new business, but would make time for the spiritual well-being of his children. It showed our children that mommy wasn’t the only one who cared about their relationship with God. The kids had lots of good and helpful conversations in those bedtime hours with their father. Another great way to make this happen is over the dinner hour (be sure to have one–don’t let sports and other activities steal it away!) We spent many hours with our kids discussing our own problems and the problems of the world, always using God’s Word as our guide. Kids need to hear and participate in conversations like this with their dads.

And if your kids are grown (or almost grown), then might I suggest that you open up the door for good conversations by becoming vulnerable? Your kids want to know–need to know–that you have struggled, too. That you don’t have it all together. They need to hear of how God has been faithful to you through the years. They need to see you growing more like Christ. They need to know you on a personal level. This is scary, I know, but it is the only way to set the stage, so that when they are facing a spiritual battle or personal problem, they know you will be open to talk with them and probably have something worthy to say.

I think this is the only post I have ever written specifically for men. I know I can’t understand all you are going through.You have burdens we women can’t even imagine. Work stresses, the burden of caring for the physical needs of your family, and forever trying to meet your wife’s expectations. I know it is not easy. But amidst all that’s going on, I hope that you will consider my words.

I know that you love your child. But do you want to make the life of your child the best it can be? Then be a dad who knows the Word of God and be available to give them wise, godly counsel that comes from a heart filled with deep and caring love.

For very few things matter more than the souls of your children.

 

The “Good” Lady

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We sat there chatting. She was telling me about her job at the local casino. She asked me if I ever go there? I paused for only a moment and then said, “No, I don’t gamble.” She continued on to tell me that it is not necessary to enjoy gambling to go there. The casino has a live band each weekend and of course, there is a bar there. I hesitantly informed her that I don’t drink or dance, so that probably wouldn’t be a good fit for me. She laughed and said, “Oh, so you’re a good lady.”

I almost laughed outright. Me? Good? No, not so much.

And right there and then, God gave me the opportunity to share what He has done in my life. I told her that I am a sinner just like anybody else, but that He has saved me and that it is my honor and duty to please Him with my activities. (I am not sure it was quite that concisely or smoothly, as my heart was beating fiercely as I spoke!)

She changed the subject.

I thanked the Lord for the chance to perhaps plant a seed.

But it got me thinking about how there is this thought among a lot of people that if you do certain things you are “good” and if you do other things you are “bad”.

Let’s be honest, we are all sinners. It is about our heart and the motive behind our actions. Sin comes in many ways besides the most obvious. We can have sins that occur only in our minds– selfish, angry thoughts; envious, jealous thoughts; hateful, bitter thoughts. No one sees, but we are still sinning. We can have the most awesome accomplishments in the world, done out of purely selfish motives, and we are still sinning.

And so, I hope as you read blogs and best sellers, you don’t idolize the author. And as you listen to preachers or radio broadcasts that you don’t idolize the speaker. They are a human sinner, just as we all are. Our goal should be to be like Jesus. And the only way to truly understand Jesus is to read and know God’s Word. Only then we will truly get that Jesus was the perfect example of balancing Truth and love, that Jesus predicted we would be hated by the world, and that Jesus encouraged us to love God and others above self. He taught us to live sacrificial lives and to put God’s Will as our primary priority. And this is just scratching the surface. There is so much in the Bible that shows us how to be Christlike in our attitudes and our behavior.

It is important that we don’t idolize human beings. Oh, it’s good to find mentors and godly men and women to respect. But don’t make them your ultimate model, so that if they fail, you are crushed and all trust in God is destroyed. That is never healthy.

Jesus is our ultimate model–the Jesus of the Bible. The world and even the modern-day church has created a “Jesus” to meet their own selfish, worldly desires. Let’s know the Jesus of the Bible, so that we can grow a little bit more like Him each day!

 

Trust is a Powerful Thing

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Have you ever thought about just how powerful trust is? If we trust someone, we will —

1. Want to be like them.

2. Believe what they tell us about others.

3. Believe what they tell us about the world.

For example, think about someone you really trust and admire. If they told you something about someone, would you believe them?  I had the “privilege” of hearing two sides of a personal confrontation a few months ago. Each side had their own personal interpretation on what had happened and were influencing people’s opinions of the other person by the tale they were telling to the people who trust them.

Or let’s think about our kids for a moment. We have such power to influence positively or negatively because of trust. If, as Christian parents, we love them enough to set boundaries, have the hard discussions, and live out our faith, we will build the trust that will make it so much easier for our children to follow the Lord. But if we are self-absorbed hypocrites, well, then there is little trust and our kids will probably walk away from the Lord.

How about pastors and teachers that we trust? If they tell us the entire world was created from a rock, we will give them credence, because we trust them to tell us the truth. Or perhaps they interpret a certain passage of scripture differently then we have ever heard– if we trust them, we will believe them. Or political leaders? If they tell us they will put more money in our pockets by lowering taxes, then we will…well, I guess that’s not such a good example, is it? Not a whole lot of trust when it comes to the government anymore.

My point is this: the more that others trust us, the more responsibility we have to honor that trust. We do this by —

1. Being extremely careful with our words. Words are so powerful, and even more so if people are actually listening to our words.  The more people that listen, the more powerful our words become. I don’t want someone to form an opinion about someone else based on my experience with that person.  Just because I didn’t have a good encounter with a particular person, doesn’t mean that everyone else won’t. And judging people on one encounter is never a good idea, anyway. It’s better to just keep our mouths shut about others.  And if we are just natural “venters”  then we should at least counter our words with something like this: “but I know I probably didn’t handle it right, too” or some other such phrase. (I would add here that I am talking about personal relationships and not about warnings regarding false teachers, which is something we are called to do in scripture Acts 20:29-32).

If people trust us, our words also can be used to sway them towards God or away from God.  We can set a good example by speaking words of truth and faith and love and kindness or we can pull them away from God by our complaining and skeptical words.

2. Being extremely careful with whom we respect and trust as Christian leaders and pastors. If people trust us, then we want to make sure that we are being very careful with where we place our own trust so that we are directing them to godly men and women who know and follow the traditional interpretation of the Word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:15). I look for men and women who are humble and holy (Titus 1:5-9) and for one who has not fallen into heresy or capitulated to worldly compromise (James 1:27) Unfortunately, my list of respected Christian leaders grows smaller almost every day. I try to be very careful with the links (listed to the right) I recommend because of this. I don’t want to be responsible for directing anyone astray. In fact, last year, there was a link listed there of a ministry I did trust but when I became aware of some heresy in that ministry, I immediately removed it.  Sometimes we don’t know about a certain ministry, but when we do find out, we need to carefully withdraw our support of that ministry.

3. Being extremely careful with our actions. Oh, this is a tricky one and I often feel the weight of it. You see, I know my kids (and probably others) are watching me to see what I am watching, reading, listening to, and wearing. If I make a choice to do or wear something that is on the line, then I will, in essence, be giving my approval of that thing. Even if, afterwards, I recognize that it was not a good decision the damage will have been done. Occasionally, I will watch a movie that may be questionable by myself first before allowing my kids to watch it but, more often than not, I just don’t watch it. In fact, the older I have gotten the more I lean towards just not wasting my time on something that includes things that offend my God. Life is just too short for that and the trust issue too great. I still do mess up sometimes, though, on this one.

Our actions, of course, also include things like flaring up in anger or gossiping to our friends or lying to our boss. People, and especially our kids, are watching us all the time. It is critical to do the right thing not only to please the Lord (which is the primary reason) but also because of the observant eyes of the ones who are looking to us as an example.

Trust is a mighty thing. If we have it, we need to be very careful with it. It can be lost in a moment by doing something stupid.  And there is a constant struggle going on inside with the perpetual question: “Do I want my kids (or anyone else who trusts me) to be like me?” If I am honest, my answer is always no. I have such a long way to go in my walk with God. But I keep trying, knowing that people are watching and that I have a responsibility to be the most godly person I can be based on what I have learned about God and His Word so far.

 

 

Are We Dropping the Ball?

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All around us we see youth from Christian homes who have turned their backs on the one true God. A decent percentage of them have walked away to live lives in utter, immoral chaos. But, more often than not, most are trying to live good lives, attending church on the Christian holidays, and trying to make a decent living and raise a responsible family…all in their own power, not truly knowing the Savior who gave His life for them.

When I read Titus 2, I realize just how far we have strayed from God’s plan for who we are supposed to be. Paul, in this letter to Titus, defines what we are to look like as believers in this passage.

These words seem almost ridiculous in a culture that prides itself on staying young, partying, living for the moment, and having a good time. Here are the adjectives that should be used to describe a godly man: sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience.

And godly older women: reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.  We read on to discover what these good things are.

Somehow, in the last five years or so, I became one of the older women. It comes to all of us at one time or another. And here is what the Bible says I am supposed to be teaching younger women: to love their husbands and children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, and obedient to their husbands.

And let’s go on to the young men, who do not escape Paul’s descriptions. Here is what he says they are to be like: sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,[a] sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.[b

So, if this is what true believers are to look like, then why do so many of not look like this? Or, in the light of our imperfections, perhaps an even more important question is: why do believers not want to look like this?

Could it be that we older people have dropped the ball?

It starts in our homes, where many of us allow our toddlers to control everything from the TV to the schedules. And then it blossoms into the churches, where we have allowed the youth to determine everything from worship style to church programs. When and why did the older generation relinquish their responsibility?

Was it when we, too, became more enamored with our stuff than with our Lord?

Was it when we got scared of the accusations and name-calling (fuddy-duddy, traditionalist) and ran away?

Was it when we made ourselves our priority and stopped spending time with our adult children?

Or perhaps it was when we started listening to worldly wisdom instead of God’s Word?

I have no idea, but somewhere there has been a breakdown of godly living being passed down from one generation to the next.

May the Lord help us not to be one of those weak links! I pray that my kids and grandkids would be stronger and holier and bolder for Jesus Christ than I am!  I want my family to grow stronger in the Lord, not weaker.

Yes, this takes work–the kind that never ends. It takes late nights and long phone conversations and confrontations. Sometimes it is lonely. But we have a responsibility and we need to step up to the plate and take it seriously! Let’s stand strong and encourage those who come behind us to stand strong with us!

 

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,[a] sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.[b]

~Titus 2: 1-8

 

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Wednesday Wisdom: 21 Ways to be an Exceptional Dad

my brother and me with our dad

my brother and me with our dad

Last Sunday was Father’s Day. What a wonderful day to celebrate the men who have shaped us and who are shaping our children. I feel indeed blessed to not only have had an exceptional father, but also to have an exceptional father for my children. 

I heard this blog post read the other day and was struck by its simplicity, its truth, and its applicability (is that a word??) to both dads and moms. But before we move on to the article, we need to face a hard truth: it is a rare father that does all 21 of these things. And mine certainly didn’t. But then he (and my husband) both have their own unique personalities and good traits that aren’t listed in this article.  

If we are mothers reading this, then let’s appreciate the good things that are written here and also the wonderful things that may not be included here about our fathers and husbands. Let’s apply what we can and become better mothers. 

If you are a father reading this, then I present this as encouragement and inspiration–not as a source of dissatisfaction or hopelessness.  Be the best, most godly father you can be with the resources you have. That is all God asks of you. 

And on a personal note, in this article the author shares how his father rubbed his legs when he was suffering from growing pains as a child. His mention of this brought one of my own favorite memories of my father rushing to my memory. How well I remember him rubbing my aching legs in the middle of the night, while we talked about what heaven will be like. It is one of my fondest memories of time spent with my dad.  

This was written by father and pastor, JoshMcPherson. You can find his original post here.

I don’t want to be a good dad—I want to be a great dad.

But the longer I live and more ministry I do, the more I have come to realize there are precious few examples of grace in action when it comes to fatherhood. So on this Father’s Day, I wanted to take a moment, heed Paul’s exhortation (Eph. 6:1), and honor my own father, Greg.

Was he perfect? Nope.
Did he make mistakes? Sure.
Does he wish he could do things differently? I have no idea.

But in a land where few men finish well when it comes to the daunting task of fatherhood, I’ve found myself reflecting and marveling at the grace of God in my dad’s life. He loved Jesus, repented often, and poured his life into his two sons. How much more could a boy ask for?

In your life, Dad, I have found a roadmap for my own role as father. So I wanted to take a few moments, and tell you thanks from the heart of a grateful son. Specifically, thank you for . . .

1. NEVER PUTTING ME DOWN

Not once. You never made fun of me, mocked me, or talked about me like I wasn’t there. Never was I the butt of your jokes. In everything you built me up, encouraged me, and moved me forward. You always spoke of my future with great hope. “The Lord will give you great opportunities, Josh. Jesus has great plans for you, son.” This sort of prophetic encouragement every boy needs, and I got it in bushels. Thanks, Dad.

2. RUNNING INTO MY ROOM

. . . the night I screamed in agony from growing pains. I was eight. You were half asleep. Tripping on a toy you went sprawling across the room in your underwear. We both burst out laughing. Then you rubbed my leg-cramps for an hour. I slept in the next day; you were up at 5 a.m. and out the door. You put my need to be comforted in front of your need for sleep. Thanks, Dad.

You loved Jesus passionately and it drew me in.

3. BEING THE TOUGHEST MAN I KNOW

. . . and crying in front of me often. It’s good for a boy to see both. I’ve seen you cut down trees, fix tractors, build things, and tackle gut-wrenching church conflict with unflinching courage and razor-sharp biblical clarity. I’ve also seen you listen intently, hug often, and tear up quickly when moved by someone’s pain or God’s grace. Not the helpless, whimpering, cowardly sort of tears—the genuine, earnest, heartfelt tears of a man who feels and thinks deeply. You cry easily when talking about Jesus, the gospel, redemption, and the day God called you into ministry. I love that. Thanks, Dad.

I never felt more safe and loved than when held in your arms.

4. RAISING YOUR HANDS

. . . and singing loudly with the church. I distinctly remember as a young boy looking up and seeing tears roll down your cheek during worship. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I knew that you were singing to someone who meant everything to you, who was great and big and awesome and worthy of your allegiance, and who gave you great joy. That is a gift to a young man. You didn’t tell me to love Jesus passionately—you loved Jesus passionately and it drew me in. Thanks, Dad.

5. SPANKING US, THEN HUGGING US

That is a powerful parenting combination that no child’s heart can resist. I never felt more safe and loved than when held in your arms as the sting of the spank faded and the assurance of your unshakable love filled my little heart. Redemptive discipline is a precious thing. Thanks, Dad.

6. LEAVING ME NOTES ON THE BATHROOM MIRROR

Sometimes they were a verse written out you’d read that morning, or a prayer for something big I was facing, or an apology for something said the night before. No matter the occasion, they were always encouraging, full of Scripture, and right on point. This told me you were thinking about me even when you were gone, and were vested in my success. Huge. I still have most of them to this day. Thanks, Dad.

Always you were there, Bible in hand, heart open, mind working.

7. PUTTING MY FRIENDS TO WORK

Mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, working on a project in the shop. Every time my friends came over to our house, you worked us like dogs. I could never figure out why all the guys always wanted to come to my house.

But I figured it out later: you treated them like men. And then you’d fire up the BBQ and spend the rest of the day asking us what we wanted to do with our life that would make an eternal impact. Thanks, Dad.

8. READING YOUR BIBLE EVERY MORNING

That is the biggest memory I have: you, at the kitchen table, worn Bible in front of you, studying away. Not checking Facebook. Not returning email. Not reading the paper. Soaking in the Word. Sometimes tears were running down your face. Sometimes your eyebrows were burrowed in thought. Sometimes your head was bowed in prayer. Sometimes your pen was scratching furiously in your journal. But always you were there, Bible in hand, heart open, mind working. It left an indelible imprint on the life of a young boy about how a real man starts his day. Thanks, Dad.

9. LAUGHING LOUD, LONG, AND LOTS

At the dinner table. On a hunting trip. Or just whenever. Some of the most fun memories I have include watching you slap your thigh, throw back your head, and roar with laughter. I loved hearing your laugh. Still do to this day. You took many things in life blood-earnest, but you laughed at yourself often. That is a gift that has served me well in ministry. Thanks, Dad.

10. CHARGING ME RENT

You did this the day I turned 18 and was still living in your house. All of my other friends learned to freeload. I learned to work. And it wasn’t done as a cruel punishment, but a teaching moment for taking responsibility and growing up as a man. Thanks, Dad.

You were not living life unless you’re serving others and God’s kingdom.

11. LOVING ME WITHOUT QUESTION OR HESITATION

I have questioned many things in my life, doubted many things, faced many unknowns. But there is one thing of which I have never questioned: your love for me has been unwavering and relentless, dependable and true. It’s taught me a lot about how I am loved by my better heavenly Father. Thanks, Dad.

12. TURNING DOWN SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

. . . so you “wouldn’t miss the important years.” I didn’t appreciate it then. I do now. Thanks, Dad.

13. WRESTLING WITH US AS KIDS

. . . every night when you came home from work. You were probably exhausted from work, but knew we were waiting behind the couch to launch a surprise attack. You could have said you were too tired. But you didn’t. You wrestled until, giggling and short of breath, we begged for mercy (and asked for more at the same time). Thanks, Dad.

14. FILLING THE DINNER TABLE WITH STORIES OF GOSPEL VICTORIES

These were the best moments ever. To hear of a broken person made whole through the redeeming work of Jesus. My big takeaway from our dinner conversations was that you were not living life unless you’re serving others and investing in God’s kingdom. You whetted our appetite for gospel ministry early. Thanks, Dad.

15. READING THE PICTURE BIBLE EVERY NIGHT BEFORE BED

And oh, how you brought it to life! When Moses faced the Red Sea, I was overwhelmed with despair. When David stared down Goliath, I trembled with fear. When Jesus rose from the grave, we cheered and clapped for joy. Dad, when you read the Bible, The Story came to life. It’s no wonder your two boys have given their life to teaching others that same Bible. Thanks, Dad.

16. BUYING A HOT TUB

. . . so we could have a place to “hash things over.” Some of my best memories as a teen are coming home after something happened at school or with sports or with friends and asking, “Wanna hit the tub, Dad?” and knowing that you’d never say no, so we could have life-shaping conversations. Thanks, Dad.

17. TEACHING US THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTORS

You did this by having multiple mentors yourself and regularly showing us how they helped you. To this day, learning from men around me is a deeply held value of mine, one that has served me, my wife, our family, and our church well. Thanks, Dad.

A wise man is not a perfect man, but a repentant man.

18. SITTING ON THE FRONT ROW

. . . at church, Bible open, taking furious notes and bellowing hearty “Amen’s” while I preach. In this, you show me what it’s like for a man to be a lifelong learner.

19. CONFESSING SIN OFTEN

You were not perfect, but when you messed up, you were quick to confess it and repent of it. These made me feel safe, like I could follow you without fear. There was integrity in your life, and it gave me confidence in your leadership. You taught me by your example that a wise man is not a perfect man, but a repentant man. Thanks, Dad.

20. BEING THE FIRST PERSON I WANTED TO CALL

. . . when we found out Ella Mae would be born with Spina Bifida. That was a dark-night-of-the-soul moment. A confusing time. And all I knew was I needed to call my dad. You listened and affirmed your love for us and God’s plan in all the pain. Then you prayed with us and invited us over to the house. We needed to “talk it out and make a plan for this new little blessing God’s bringing into our lives.” I needed someone to tell me that day that this little girl would be a blessing, and you did. Thanks, Dad.

21. LOVING MY WIFE LIKE YOUR OWN DAUGHTER

She feels your love, she feels your support. She knows that if we came to you for counsel with a relationship conflict between us, that you’d take her side first before you’d take mine. “I think we love her more than we love you, Josh. I know we like her more,” you’ve said with a wink and a laugh. But it’s communicated the point. And that’s a wonderful thing for a daughter-in-law to know. Thanks, Dad.

I could go on but I’m way over word-count. So thanks, Dad, for loving Jesus and living a life that makes it easy to remember and honor. I love you deeply and am still watching closely as you follow Jesus and finish well. You have lived a life worth emulating, and I’ve been taking notes. May I learn from God’s grace in your life to love my children the same.

Wednesday Wisdom: The Church’s Power Over the World

1195995_44850378revI haven’t used one of my favorite authors on here for awhile. As I find in almost everything he writes, the following excerpt by A.W. Tozer seems like it could have been written yesterday rather than over fifty years ago.  While some of the terms have changed over the years, I can’t help but wonder if this is even more relevant today than when it was written, if that is possible. 

The world seems to possess a real genius for being wrong, even the educated world. We might just let that pass and go fishing except that we Christians happen to be living in the world and we have an obligation to be right—in everything, all of the time. We cannot afford to be wrong.

I can see how a right man might live in a wrong world and not be much affected by it except that the world will not let him alone. It wants to educate him. It is forever coming up with some new idea which, by the way, is usually an old idea dusted off and shined up for the occasion, and demanding that everyone, including the said right man, conform on pain of deep-seated frustration or a horrible complex of some kind.

Society, being fluid, usually moves like the wind, going all out in one direction until the novelty wears off or there is a war or a depression. Then the breeze sets another way and everyone is supposed to go along with it without asking too many question, though this constant change of direction should certainly cause the thoughtful soul to wonder whether anyone really knows what all the excitement is about after all.

Right now the zephyrs are blowing in the direction of social integration, sometimes also called social adjustment. According to this notion society is possessed of a norm, a sort of best-of-all-possible model after which we must all pattern ourselves if we want to escape sundry psychosomatic disorders and emotional upsets. The only safety for any of us is in becoming so well adjusted to the other members of society as to reduce the nervous and mental friction to a minimum. Education therefore should first of all teach adjustment to society. Whatever people happen to be interested in at the moment must be accepted as normal, and any nonconformity on the part of anyone is bad for the individual and harmful to everybody. Our highest ambition should be to become integrated to the mass, to lose our moral individuality in the whole.

However absurd this may appear when thus stated baldly it is nevertheless a fair description of the most popular brand of philosophy now engaging the attention of society. So many and so efficient are the media of mass communication that when the Brahmans of the educational world decide that it is time for the wind to change, the commonality quickly get the drift and swing obediently into the breeze. Anyone who resists is a kill-joy and a spoilsport, to say nothing of being old-fashioned and dogmatic.

Well, if to escape the charge of being dogmatic I must accept the changing dogmas of the masses, then I am willing to be known as a dogmatist and no holds barred. We who call ourselves Christians are supposed to be a people apart. We claim to have repudiated the wisdom of this world and adopted the wisdom of the cross as the guide of our lives. We have thrown in our lot with that One who while He lived on earth was the most unadjusted of the sons of men. He would not be integrated into society. He stood above it and condemned it by withdrawing from it even while dying for it. Die for it He would, but surrender to it He would not.

The wisdom of the cross is repudiation of the world’s “norm.” Christ, not society, becomes the pattern of the Christian life. The believer seeks adjustment, not to the world, but to the will of God, and just to the degree that he is integrated into the heart of Christ is he out of adjustment with fallen human society. The Christian sees the world as a sinking ship from which he escapes not by integration but by abandonment.

A new moral power will flow back into the Church when we stop preaching social adjustment and begin to preach social repudiation and cross carrying. Modern Christians hope to save the world by being like it, but it will never work. The Church’s power over the world springs out of her unlikeness to it, never from her integration into it. (emphasis mine)

—The Price of Neglect, A.W. Tozer

For the Graduating Seniors

IMG_7801revOne more child graduated from high school on Saturday. Three down –only one to go. Where in the world has the time gone? As I sat listening to the commencement speaker address the group of gifted kids that made up my daughter’s senior class, my mind started to wander (no reflection on the speaker–just on my easily distracted mind). What would I say if I had the opportunity to address these kids? Trust me, I am under no grand illusion that anyone will ever ask me to speak to a group of graduating seniors but it did make me wonder: what would I say to a group of kids ready to embrace life as an adult?

In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that I was the one hugging my friends, saying good-bye to favorite teachers, and smiling for the camera. But it wasn’t yesterday, it was a lifetime ago. And it is amazing what one learns in a lifetime. And so here it is in a nutshell–my commencement address to anyone who is finishing up an education, whether it be high school or college–

1.  Develop a deep love for the Word of God. Let it function as your guide and help for the many tough decisions you will be facing. Make it your moral compass. Many has been the time that my husband and I have said to each other that we don’t know what we would do without the Bible. It truly is a source of comfort, strength, and guidance—like a solid rock amidst the crazy sea of life.

2.  Who you marry matters–a lot. It will make or break your life. Make a decision right now to only marry someone who not only says they are a believer, but actually lives like they are one. You will spare yourself much, much heartache in the long run. I have seen so many young people make the wrong assumption that the person they marry will eventually be saved or they will change that bad habit, but, while it does happen on occasion, it is much more likely that you will end up in a very difficult marriage. Choose wisely!

3.  Make every decision with the desire to please the Lord.  Whether it be the smallest thing (what movie am I going to see tonight?) or the largest (what career should I choose?), seek the Lord’s will. Rather than trying to gratify your temporal desires now, live with an eternal perspective. I’d like to say this gets easier as you get older, and while in some aspects it does, as long as we are on a fallen earth, this is difficult to do.

4.  Don’t sweat the small stuff. Life has enough big stuff to work through without making the small stuff so significant. This one I have certainly learned (or shall I say continue to learn) firsthand. I have the personality that can get very easily distraught over something very trivial. It has taken many years –and still I sometimes catch myself doing it– to relinquish the worry and frustration over the stuff that just doesn’t matter in life. But I have learned that life is so much sweeter if you don’t let the small stuff get to you.

5.  Feed your mind well. If you spend your nights watching mindless television shows that mock all things Christian, you will never grow as a believer. Do not accept the mindless entertainment of this culture but, instead, think deeply, and then teach that to your children. Choose a church that will help you to grow in your knowledge of biblical doctrine and in the application of God’s Word. And remember–just because something has a Christian label, doesn’t mean it is Christian. Do you remember that verse about Satan coming as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14)? There are a lot of books, music, and other media that twist the truth just enough to be completely out of whack. Know the truth, so that you can spot the lies.

6.   Whatever you do, do it well. Some of you know what path you are headed on and some of you are still trying to figure it out. As you choose to go a direction, sometimes God will close doors and make it clear He wants you somewhere else. But whatever job you happen to be in right now–wherever He leads you–do your work heartily, as unto the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23). This world desperately needs people with a good and honest work ethic. Be that kind of worker.

7.  Feelings matter but the truth matters more. Be careful not to base your life on your feelings. This is especially hard in a culture where almost everything is based on feelings. You don’t feel like going to work? Just call in sick. You love that guy who doesn’t know the Lord? Just marry him. You don’t love that girl anymore? Just get divorced. You are depressed about having a baby? Just kill it.  But God calls us to live righteously even when our feelings don’t agree. Your life will end up so much better –in the here and now and for eternity– if you follow this advice: do what is right and don’t worry about your feelings.

8.  Make people a priority. Material stuff is very enjoyable. I mean who doesn’t like a cool car or a new iPhone? But keep people more important than your stuff. Don’t get so wrapped up in texting or the world online that you miss the potential relationships right in front of you.

9. And, finally, stay humble enough to learn from those who have gone before you. Learning from the elderly is not “cool” in our culture.  Youth, and all things young, are what it’s all about. But you will spare yourself much heartache if you take the time to ask godly men and women questions and then listen to their answers. Sure some of us older people can be downright irritating–we know it, too–but that is because we love you so much. Give us a break and don’t write us off completely because we have learned a lot and we would love to share it (at least most of us).

I know I will never have the opportunity to share this in front of a group of graduating seniors, but this is what I would say. I don’t mean any offense to the educational gurus out there, but let’s face it, by the time you are 35 or 40, no one cares where you went to school. In fact, they don’t even really care if you went to school. But they do see how you are living your life. Live a life dedicated to Jesus Christ and by doing so, go out and make a difference for Him. Live with conviction and integrity so that you will shine like a bright light in the midst of a very dark world. After all, that is what really matters.

 

The Cool Factor

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Have you ever met one of those people that is just too cool for anything?

They are too cool to laugh or be seen with certain people or to go to a certain store. They look down their noses at certain brands, certain types of people, and certain styles.

And they are usually very cool.

But I have always wondered — how much fun are they missing out on?

Now, I am often berated (especially by my kids) for how “uncool” I am. But one of the wonderful things about growing older is not caring as much about what people think.

That’s why you often see seniors marching to the beat of a different drummer–with what they wear, the things they do, and the life they live. They have learned a valuable lesson: do the things you want to (or the Lord wants you to) and don’t give even a second’s worth of thought to the cool factor.

Of course, there is a measure of common sense to this.  As believers, we are supposed to consider the feelings of others.  I am not talking about that here. I am talking about  doing (or not doing)  something because you are scared of what people will say about you.

I have always been somewhat of a “non-conformist”. That can get me in trouble sometimes, but, for the most part, I wouldn’t want to live life any other way.  So I am usually willing to try anything at least once.

Take my experience a few years ago in Dominican Republic. They were giving free scuba diving lessons in the pool for resort guests. My husband and I thought, “Why not? We are game. Scuba sounded like a very cool thing to do.”

But, I discovered (or shall I say was reminded) that day that I HATE being underwater.  I became totally claustrophobic–and I was only in a stupid swimming pool!  I don’t think I will ever be searching for lost treasure ships.

But that is because I don’t like it. No because I feel like someone else wants me to scuba dive or not scuba dive.

This takes on spiritual meaning when we consider that standing up for our convictions is often very uncool.

It is just not cool to avoid certain movies, bands, and TV shows. It is cool to wear immodest clothing, drink beer, and to tell coarse jokes and use foul language.

Unless we are willing to stand firm and risk being uncool, we won’t be able to make a difference for the Lord. After all, how can we be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) if we look and act just like everybody else.

So, alas, I know full well that I am totally uncool. But, truthfully, I am okay with that–because God’s thoughts about me are really the only thing that matters…and if He is pleased, then I will be living the life I am supposed to live…regardless of what other people say :)