Interconnected Strands

strands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Technology Is Like a Razor Blade

manipulation-smartphone-2507499_1920

Razor Blades work great to remove paint from glass. They have other very helpful applications. But they are also dangerous and must be handled extremely carefully.

It sounds like technology.

The other evening I watched a group of teen-aged girls come in from the frigid cold to the warm indoors. The first thing each one of them did–without exception–was to stand for a few minutes at their phones, posting photos from their adventure outside. And then their phones were put away and they started talking.

But this incident reminded me of just how much technology has changed our lives.

That group of girls can’t remember a world without texting and social media. They can’t remember a time you couldn’t FaceTime or Skype someone who lives far away or follow your favorite movie star’s personal life.

But I remember. And the changes are staggering if you really stop and think about it.

But just like that razor blade, the changes are not all bad. There are amazing things that make our lives so much better. I have two daughters that live in a different state than me. Technology makes this so much more bearable. They can send me photos, text me at any time, and we can FaceTime. It makes them feel so much closer. When I lived away from my parents they got an occasional letter and a weekly {very expensive} phone call. This was all we had. There are so many other good things. We can listen to podcasts of godly preachers at the push of a button. We can find free or almost free copies of Christian classics written by godly men long ago. We can use social media to talk about our faith and to point people to God’s Word. And so, of course, we must be grateful for the good things.

But just like that razor blade, technology has an edge. And it will bite. It must be handled very carefully or it can be very dangerous. What are some of the biggest dangers that we must watch out for? Here are a few that I think are worthy of your consideration for yourself or your children–

1. It drives us to be consumed with ourselves. Social Media is designed to glorify self. Look at me! See what I’ve done…see my amazing family…see how I have succeeded…see how cool I am. We twitter our important opinions and expect people to take note. It tends to be a big promoter of SELF. Now don’t hear me saying that posting photos and opinions is sinful. It isn’t. These things can be wonderful tools for family far away to stay in touch with us or a way in which we can point people to Christ. It is our attitude that determines if it is sinful not the act itself.

2. It divides families. When I was growing up, we had one TV. We had to watch the same thing or not watch TV. Now everyone can go their separate ways. Parents are in the family room watching one TV, while their teenager is on their tablet in another room binge-watching a Netflix show, another one is playing video games online, and a daughter is snap-chatting with her friends. They are never together. And the TV is rarely off.

3. It is the greatest thief of family bonding time. Parents have grabbed onto technology as the escape they need from their children. And so, instead of communicating with them and talking about important, eternal things during the hours they have with them in the car, in restaurants, and even at home, they hand them an iPad so that they will shut up and let them alone. This may be the greatest tragedy of all because these kids grow up without having any solid relationship with their parents. In a world of over-worked parents, the iPad has become the tool that is killing their family bit by bit. Of course, giving a child an iPad at a restaurant occasionally or on the a long car ride to Grandma’s isn’t sinful. But if it is habitual, it will harm your family.

4. It promotes gossip. We know far too much about everybody and we like to talk about it. Did you see what so-and-so posted? Did you hear about this person? Or what that person said? Social Media turns us all into busy-bodies if we aren’t extremely careful. While it can be a valuable tool to keep us informed on the people we love, we must be vigilant in taking our thoughts captive in how we think about that information.

5. It has altered our attention spans. In a world driven by photos and two-minute videos, we find it harder and harder to concentrate.  Watching and looking require much less thinking than reading or listening. As we spend less and less time reading and concentrating it becomes harder and harder to do so. It is only with great intention that we can change this. It has become an almost natural thing for young people to hate reading. And this is a grave tragedy. A grave tragedy indeed.

 

These are just a few dangers. There are so many more. The Christian life can never be one of status quo. We are not called to just let life happen while we apathetically stand by. We are called to make intentional choices that move us towards holy living and becoming more like Christ. We do this by examining every single thing through the grid of God’s Word. We do this by scrutinizing the fruit of every thing that comes along. And in doing this, it not only helps us to avoid sin, but it also helps us to keep ourselves from experiencing the worst fruits of those things that can bring such good to our lives but also have potential to cause unbelievable damage.

We cannot sit idly by as our kids are gobbled up by their smart phones. We cannot allow the TV to bring its messages into our homes 24/7. We must be proactive in controlling technology or it will control us.

So how do we change this? What are some practical ways?

A few things I would suggest are this–

1. Don’t turn the TV on at dinnertime. Whether you live by yourself, there are just the two of you, or you have a houseful of kids, let mealtime be a time of discussion or reflection.

2. As a rule, keep iPads, DVD playeres, and headphones out of the car. Exceptions can be made for long trips but, other than that, intentionally use this time to talk about the things of the Lord, to listen to uplifting music together (try some hymns!), or to just play games and have fun together!

3. Put boundaries around the use of phones, video games, TV use, etc. that are doable (and not extreme). Whether it’s for your kids or yourself, going about change in this manner will make it doable and bring small positive changes instead of making it feel impossible.

4. Live intentionally. We must stop letting life happen to us and be more intentional about where we want to go. Year after year passes by without any change at all, if we don’t intentionally work at it. My pastor often quotes something his mom used to say to him: “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Yes! This is so true!

5. Live balanced. When my kids were teenagers they had a friend who wasn’t allowed to have any junk food. When she came to my house, she would eat and eat and eat any sugar she could find here. I’ve watched the same thing happen with a couple of girls who weren’t allowed to ever watch TV. They would come to our house and just stare at the TV, unmoving. This is a good lesson that teaches us that removing something that isn’t sinful in and of itself can cause our kids to become obsessed with it. It is often wiser to teach our kids how to use it beneficially and balanced than just eliminating it. This goes for us without kids, as well. We must live balanced lives. We can spend time on social media, but we shouldn’t live there. We can check our smartphones, but we shouldn’t be obsessed with them. It sounds silly to write but I have seen quite a few older people obsessively scrolling through their phones. This is not just a younger generation thing.

 

I hope this helps. I hope it helps us recognize the dangers of technology and also gives us some ideas on how to go about making positive changes in our lives as well as in the lives of our families. Mostly, I hope it reminds us all that this wonderful thing called “technology” is sharp as a razor blade and it will cut us if we aren’t careful.

 

This Little Light of Mine

lantern-2938027_1920

Do you remember singing “This Little Light of Mine” as a child? Perhaps you still sing it with your own kids or grandkids. I love watching toddlers sing this song. Seeing them hold their chubby little finger up and blow on it during the verse “Don’t let Satan blow it out” is a delightful thing to watch.

But have you ever thought just how profound the words are in this children’s song?

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m going to let it shine

Don’t let Satan blow it out
I’m going to let it shine

Shine it all over {your town}
I’m going to let it shine

Let it shine ’til Jesus comes
I’m going to let it shine

Even though this song is simple, it shares a message that we should all heed, no matter how old we are.  John MacArthur says this–

In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says God who first ordered the light to shine in the darkness has flooded our hearts with His light. We can now enlighten men by giving them the knowledge of God’s glory that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are lights. We are children of light. *

There are several scripture passages that refer to believers as light. We see that Jesus tells us we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and that Paul and Barnabas were called to be a light for the Gentiles (Acts 13:47). In Romans 13:14 we read that we are to put on our armor of light. Paul tells us to walk as children of light in Ephesians 5:8. There are more.

We are children of light.

So what does this mean, practically speaking?

If we look at the song verses individually, we can gain some insight–

1. This little light of mine. First we must recognize that we are just a little light. In actuality, we are just a reflection of God’s much greater light. We must stay humble and remember that God doesn’t need me or you to accomplish His purposes. We are not the origin of the light. We can do nothing without Him.

2. Hide it under a bushel? No! A hidden light is a useless light. If we aren’t willing to stand for Jesus Christ and His Word, we become ineffective as a witness for God. When we hide our lights, we meld in with the world and make no eternal difference at all in the lives of others.

3. Don’t let Satan blow it out. Satan would like nothing better than to render you ineffective for God’s Kingdom. Once saved, we are eternally saved. But He can–and does–do things that keep us tied up and fruitless. Some of the things that come to mind are distracting us with worldly things, deceiving us with false doctrine, convincing us that busyness is the same as holiness, encouraging us to be fearful and anxious… and so many more. Satan has many different tactics he uses to keep a Christian from furthering God’s Kingdom.

4. Shine it everywhere. There is no where that the light of Jesus can’t go. His light–the light that we are reflecting–shines even brighter in the darkness. As believers, we are called to shine that light in every and all situations and places. No exceptions.

5. Let it shine ’til Jesus comes. Our lights are to shine for Jesus forever. We take no breaks from being a light. Until we are called home or Jesus returns to take us home, we are to shine.

Being light should encompass every area of our life. Think about this in light of your upcoming week. Most of us will meet with family and friends over the holidays. It is important to ask ourselves if we are shining our light or hiding our light. To ask if we are encouraging people to walk more closely with Christ or to move away from Christ.  F.B. Meyer puts this better than I ever could–

These thoughts press on one’s heart that one can never speak a word, never transact a piece of business that one’s face is never seen lighted up with the radiance of God or clouded and despondent without it being made harder or easier for other men to live a good life.  Every one of us every day resembles Jeroboam the son of Nebat who made other men sin, or we are lifting other men into the light and the peace and the joy of God.  No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself, but the life of everyone is telling upon an increasing number of mankind what a solemn responsibility it is to live.

So as we enjoy (or dread, depending upon your circumstances) our upcoming festivities may we remember that we must shine our little light. May we shine with gusto, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. May we have courage to speak truth with great love. May we be the peacemakers and the joy-bringers. Bringing the light of God anywhere we go so that we are encouraging and inspiring those around us to be transformed by God’s power.

I will close with this from John MacArthur–

You are light. You have been called to light the dark world. And the quality of your life is the platform of your personal testimony. You have to understand that. By the kind of life you live, you build a platform on which what you say is made believable. If you have no platform because of your life, your message isn’t believable. And a murmuring discontent, grumbling, griping, complaining Christian is never going to have a positive influence on others. You can’t be talking about the gospel, forgiveness, joy, peace, gladness, comfort, and be moaning and grumbling and complaining all the time. People are not going to believe the gospel will do what you’re trying to say it will do. That’s why the philosopher Heine in Germany said, “Show me your redeemed lives and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.”

Amen! Jesus came as a baby to bring light to the world. We are a reflection of that light! May we shine brightly everywhere we go!

 

*Both of these quotes are from the sermon Stop Complaining, Part 2. I highly recommend both parts!

 

Christmas Wreaths (9)

PLEASE NOTE:

Tomorrow I will present the final part of this year’s Christmas story, “Meeting Ella”. And then next week I will present the 2018 Bible Reading Challenge. I will go back to regular posts on January 4th. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year! Thank you for being a reader this past year. It means more than you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying the Ride

16067224582_d443cd1985_b

The other night we decided we would spend the evening looking at some Christmas lights. After paying $15 to drive through a display that was considerably short of impressive, we decided to drive across the county to check out another one that came highly recommended.

The thing I haven’t told you is that there were seven of us so in order for us to all drive together in the same car, two people would have to sit in the rarely used backseat. I really thought we’d have more fun if we went together so I offered to sit there. After all, my car was made to “seat 7”. My son-in-law offered to sit there, as well, and so we both climbed into the back. This was our first clue that it was going to be tight.

We weren’t back there more than 30 seconds before we realized that the backseat was definitely not meant for adults. With the two of us sitting a bit sideways and with our knees to our chests, we all set off on our adventure.

The first part of the evening wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes we stopped for dinner. And then another 15 minutes after that we drove through the first display. But the last ride–the one across the county– ended up taking over 30 minutes (maybe closer to 45). This is when it started to stretch my patience just a bit. We were going on a back country road and I started to feel a bit carsick. And then the other dynamic was that no one listened to us. We’d try to join the conversation but we were back so far, we were generally ignored because it was so hard to hear us.

About halfway through that drive I was starting to get annoyed. My bad knee was starting to hurt, I was extremely uncomfortable, and the carsickness was really starting to get to me. And it was around that time that it hit me: I can choose to focus on the negative or I can enjoy the ride. After all, here I was, with two of our kids and their families, having a good time together. What a blessing! I recognized that I had so much to be thankful for, even if I was temporarily squished into a seat that was meant for children. And, thankfully, our son-in-law has a good sense of humor and made the ride in the back much more enjoyable than if I would have been back there alone.

Ironically, when we finally arrived, we found out to our dismay that the display was in front of us. As we parked the car in preparation for the light show, we realized that we wouldn’t even have a good view to watch. We just had to laugh.

And that was my Friday night.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this in relation to all of life (of course!)

So often we are on a ride we don’t enjoy and we can’t get off. We can’t change it, we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it. We just have to ride through it. But the one thing we can choose is what attitude we are going to have as we take our undesired ride. We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to complain. We can choose to rely and lean on the Lord or we can choose to focus on our own feelings and despair. Keep in mind that we are going to have to take the ride either way. It’s non-negotiable. Having a negative attitude isn’t going to change anything or make anything better (in fact, it will make it worse), while having a joyful attitude not only makes us more pleasant to be around, it is also a dramatic testimony of God’s grace, mercy, and love that is provided to His children during the tough times.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. I feel like I am writing to myself here, quite honestly. I struggle so with this. We have come to have certain expectations in life. We want life to be convenient and comfortable and easy. And so when the road turns a little bumpy and we are stuck in the backseat, we can tend to grow a little discontent and grumpy. But that isn’t going to help anyone–especially ourselves. And, most importantly, it reveals that we don’t really trust God’s plan for our lives. It truly is an affront to God’s Sovereignty, if you think about it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can be reminded of on a ride through the country?

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Isaiah 45:9

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Daniel 4:34-35

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Every Life

father-1633655_1920

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to see our daughter’s college soccer team play for a National title. They won the first game easily and as we sat watching the warm-ups for the championship game, my husband leaned over and made his prediction of the outcome. He thought our girls could easily beat this other team. They weren’t as skilled and their bench wasn’t as deep. But there were two things that he didn’t see–first, this team really wanted to win and second, he didn’t realize the skill and tenacity of #7. As the game started we could see a fight was on. As the final minutes of regular game time wore down, the score remained 0-0.

As we headed into the first ten minute overtime, the play continued to go back and forth and remain scoreless. It was now sudden death. The first team to score was going to win this championship. With only 1:40 to go, there was a foul and we were given a direct kick. We held our breath as one of our seniors stepped up to take it. She kicked the ball and we watched it sail over the heads of the defenders and then over the head of the goalie to land perfectly in the corner of the goal. (It was actually a very dramatic and pretty awesome way to win such an important game!) The crowd roared and the team ran together and cheered and jumped and hugged. The game was over and we had won because of one kick. What a night for this senior! I am sure she will never forget it.

Don’t you just love when you have moments like this? The perfect kick or hit or shot. The musical piece or dramatic act that is played just right. The phone calls offering the perfect job or the accepted bid for your perfect house or even better yet– the good results of a health test; the rare moments when the whole family is together, having fun, and getting along. The moments of everything working out perfectly. These are beautiful, awesome moments that fill us with joy and inspire us to keep going.

And then there are the other moments…

That same day, after the game, kind ladies prepared a meal for the soccer families. The setup was in a class room, so it wasn’t ideal. But they worked with what they had and did it well. We went through the line and then sat down to eat. Suddenly, we heard a loud crash. We saw one of the hard-working ladies grab some paper towels and bend over to the floor.  As we left the room, we realized that she had knocked down the five gallon container of punch that had sat a bit insecurely on its makeshift surface. My heart went out to her as she and several other ladies mopped up the mess as best they could with school paper towels. I felt bad for her because I’ve been there. Often.

These are the moments we don’t love as much. Embarrassing moments; sad moments; angry moments. The moments we knock something over, or break something; the moments we find out a diagnosis we didn’t expect; or get the call to the boss’s office or the notice from the bank. Spouses walk away from marriages, kids make bad choices, and death comes knocking at the most unexpected times. These are the moments that make us feel insecure, unloved, unhappy, and, sometimes, hopeless.

You may think it naive of me to lump all of the bad moments together. Some are so much worse than others. But my point is this: they are all bad on some level. We don’t have any interest in living them over. Ever.

And every life is made up of ordinary moments interspersed with extra-special, wonderful moments and the frustrating or dreadful bad moments. And this is just how it is. There isn’t anything we can do about it. It just IS.

But so often there seems to be this goal to only live in the wonderful. Doesn’t it seem as if so many of us are constantly searching to live on the happy plane of the extra-special moments? And this is such an unrealistic expectation. I am not sure if it came from movies or romance novels or preachers that don’t preach from the Word, but many of us seem to have an expectation that our lives should be filled with special moments all the time. That to live just an ordinary life is somehow not enough. Some even go a step further and say that to experience bad moments means we are disobedient in how we are living our Christian lives. Of course, we know there is zero biblical basis for this belief and yet some people actually believe this.

But life–thankfully–is made up mostly of the ordinary for most of us. Our ordinaries change often, but somehow we adjust and grow comfortable with our new normals.

Every life experiences the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the wonderful days and the really hard days and a whole lot of ordinary days. We love the wonderful days. They are pretty awesome. But they can never be sustained. Sometimes they are far and few between. And we really don’t like the hard days. They are long and dark and can go on for weeks. But ordinary–that place where there are no big woes or worries; the place where we often find ourselves discontent–that place is truly an often unnoticed but remarkable blessing.

And so as we reflect on our year and think about Thanksgiving this week, it may be good to be intentional about not setting our expectations so high that we find ourselves in a constant state of discontent. But, instead, may we find ourselves grateful for the excitement and beauty of the good moments; may we acknowledge God’s Sovereignty and be looking to learn and grow from the bad moments; and may we enjoy and be grateful for the peace and beauty of the ordinary days that make up most of our lives.

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

freezing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

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

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

Have you ever thought about that before?

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

 

 

A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

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

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author goes on to say–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just all so complicated.

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

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

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

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

Weathering the Storms of Life

storm

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 1:

WEATHERING THE STORMS OF LIFE

Part 2:

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

 

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

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

We Are All Teachers

And how to be the best one you can be!

female-213731_1280

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

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

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

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

This is what that verse says–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

What You Can’t See

IMG_9048

Last week was spent at the beach with family. It was a wonderful, relaxing time, but now it is time to get back to reality. After being gone for over a week, I am ready to get back to my own space and routine.

The week was full of beautiful summer-like weather and so one evening a few of us headed to the beach. We had visions of sitting on the quiet, empty beach during the evening hours, watching the baby play in the sand and taking in the view. As you can see in the photo above, the view was fantastic. Isn’t it beautiful?

But there are some things you can’t see on the photo. Actually it was more like five million things: Tiny “no-see-ums”–minuscule sand flies that suck blood from their hosts. Right around dusk, these things came out in mass. They were crawling through the baby’s hair, biting our arms and legs, flying around our heads. It didn’t take us very long to pick up our stuff and leave. As we walked across the sand, we carried the heavy beach chair (why did we pick this one??), and a growing baby. And the sand toys kept falling out of the bucket! Our idyllic evening ended up not being very idyllic at all.

But you would never know it from the photo.

Oh, how true this is for any photo you see. It is one of the reasons I don’t really care for photo-driven social media. There is so much you don’t know from a photo. We now make judgments about people based on their photos. Confident selfies, and photos of beautiful homes, happy families, and lots of material “stuff” give us impressions of people. But are they the right impressions?

The photos we see are just like that beach photo. They are lovely but they are not the whole story. Not by a long shot.

Behind a selfie you might find a confident person having a good time. But you may also find insecurity, a longing to be loved, or a desperate need for attention. Behind beautiful photos of homes and families, you don’t see the cereal on the floor, the toddler’s messy hands on the kitchen cabinets, or the muddy footprints brought in after the rain. You don’t see the screaming, the yelling, the crying, the frustration, the irritation, and you can’t see the love, the fun, the joy, the peace. You can’t see anything but a photo. It tells us nothing. Not really.

And, in this day and age, you don’t even know if a photo is telling the truth. With the likes of photo editing software, anyone can make a photo “say” anything. Photos just can’t be trusted as our main source for truth.

So the next time you are tempted to judge someone you know by a photo, think again. It doesn’t tell the whole story about them. It is just a tiny fraction of the whole. If social media causes you to envy and covet and to think about “what if’s”, then perhaps you should consider getting off. Besides it being a sin (I Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:26; Ephesians 5:3), life is just too short to constantly be wishing for a different life while yours passes you by.

Last night, as we traveled home from the beach we passed a 55+ community. I looked at my husband and said, “we are almost old enough to live there! How did we get here?”

“We just kept living,” was his astute response.

We just kept living. We all have been blessed with the gift of a certain amount of time. None of us knows exactly how much it will be, but let’s not waste a second of it wishing for someone else’s life.

 

(By the way, we did find a different beach where we spent two incredibly lovely evenings that were all that the photos imply. Sometimes photos do tell the truth. But sometimes they don’t. We really have no way of knowing when they are or when they aren’t, so we may as well just enjoy them at face value and then move on with life.)