Self-Obsession

self-obsession

Sometimes I am still so amazed with how obsessed I am with myself. Seriously. How can this be? I think I have grown in this area of loving God more than loving myself and then I am criticized or minimized and I am back to realizing just how much I love me.

In the past few weeks, two specific things happened. In one instance, a ministry I have given my heart and soul to was completely–and quite unintentionally–minimized. In another, a project I was working on was criticized behind my back and that criticism found its way to my ears. In both instances, my first thought was: Why do I even bother? 

I have found in my life that these two things– criticizing or minimizing –are the two surest ways to knock the wind out of my sails. I get hurt, I get angry, I get frustrated.

But why? Why do these things bother me so much?

As I thought about this a lot over the past few days, I realize that it is because I love myself more than I love God. I get more angry and offended if someone hurts me than I do if they commit an offense against God.

I am quite ashamed to admit this, but it is just the truth.

When I can find my way back to biblical sanity–a place that is easier to find when I am walking with the Lord–I recognize that I can learn from comments that criticize or minimize–but only if I am willing to look at them honestly and humbly. When I can look at them honestly, there is potential to learn from them. When I am humble and stop thinking so highly of myself, the temptation to walk away from a fruitful ministry because of a comment seems silly.

And so my job is to examine whether or not the comment has truth or not and then to make changes if it does and to forgive and ignore if it doesn’t. That’s it. That’s what I am supposed to do.

I have to be honest with you– I did not want to share this today. It feels far too personal. But I believe that God wanted me to share this. So much so that I had nothing else to write today. Nothing. I was a complete blank– except for this.

And I recognize that self-love is a grave temptation for all of us. When we think we have it conquered, it rears its ugly head and reminds us that we certainly do not. It keeps us depending on and trusting in our heavenly Father for grace and strength. It reminds us why we so desperately need a Savior.

I also believe this dynamic–this self-obsession–is what keeps the body of the church from being unified on many occasions. It is what causes grudges to be held, forgiveness to be withheld, and ministries to fail. It is what causes rifts in families and great divides in churches.

All because of our great idol: self. 

And so God has continued to humble me. And while I don’t enjoy it, I am thankful for it. It is always good to be reminded that I am just a pinpoint–less than a pinpoint– on the timeline of life. God can accomplish His plan and His purposes without me–and without you, too. We are here to glorify Him and to make Him known, but He doesn’t need us. However, we do need Him. I think sometimes we get that a little mixed up and view ourselves as more important than we are.

Life is challenging. All of us face criticism or being minimized at one time or another. We face hurtful remarks and slander and gossip that swirls around about us. How we handle it is crucial and very telling of how much we worship self.

The next time this happens to me, I hope my journey to humility and honesty is just a little shorter. I hope that I will be less in love with myself and more in love with God. But I also recognize that this love of self is all-pervasive and ready to rear its ugly head at all times. We have to fight this sin very intentionally. And we can never rest because the path of self-obsession leads to a very dark and lonely place.

 

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31


 

One Thing We All Know For Sure

hourglass

A 48 year old man is on his way to a job when suddenly, with no warning at all, a car, driven by a teen-aged girl, crosses over into his lane. They are both killed.

A curious young boy steps too close to rushing flood waters and is swept away. He is one of 24 who are killed from flash floods in West Virginia.

A young family is playing on the lake beach of a famous resort. Suddenly, an alligator grabs their two year old and he is drowned.

The room is loud, the crowd is dancing and drinking, with no thoughts of eternity on their minds. Suddenly, shots fire. Over fifty are dead within minutes.

A man isn’t feeling well. He goes to the doctor and discovers that his body is riddled with cancer. Within months he is dead.

A 55 year old woman is on the beach on a windy day, celebrating her birthday with friends. Suddenly, a beach umbrella comes flying at her without warning, its point embedding itself in her heart. She is dead within minutes.

These are just six stories of death among the thousands that play themselves across the world every single day. Recent stories that you may have heard about. We don’t like to focus too much on death, but for just this one day, I want to talk about it.

There are a lot of opinions about a lot of things in this world. And with our new post-modern culture, we find that most people accept all opinions as true and valid. If you share anything about the Gospel with someone, you will most like hear something like this: well, that is true for you but it is not true for me. (As if 2+2 can equal 4 for me but equals 6 for them. The argument is so illogical I can’t stand it!)

But there is something we all can agree on–something that no one will argue over. There is one thing we all know for sure. And that is that we are all going to die. And, disconcertingly, few of us have absolutely any idea of when. This is not something we really want to think about, is it?

But perhaps we should think about it a little more often, because it would help us do a re-focus of a few things–

1. First and foremost, pondering death should make us think about our eternal destiny. Do I know where I am going to spend eternity? Am I confident in this? If you aren’t sure or are perhaps confused about the gospel, please read this post. If you think you are going to heaven because you said a prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart, then I would ask you: does your life give evidence of your belief? Do you read and study God’s Word? Would your family and friends testify to the working of God in your life? While it is true that we only need believe in order to be saved, it is also true that true belief yields a changed life. (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 25:41-46) Is your life a living testimony of the work of Christ? If not, then perhaps some soul-searching is in order.

2. If we are confident we are saved, then we also have some soul-searching to do. Death should push us to share the gospel. Many have never heard the Truth from God’s Word. Oh, they may have heard parts of it or they may have heard mangled, twisted bits and pieces taken out of context. But many people still think they are working their way to heaven. What are we going to do about it? Our days are limited and we have no guarantees. Has anyone heard the Gospel from us? Have we planted some seeds along the way? Could we plant more? These are the questions that arise when we think of death.

3. If I knew I was going to die in 5 years, what would I do differently? Would I be kinder? Would I work more? Or less? Would I really try to fix my anger issue? Or climb out of debt so my family isn’t stuck with a mess? Would I make sure my relationship with my kids, my spouse, my parents was healed? We humans like to operate on “someday” time. Someday I’ll talk to that person. Someday I’ll work on this or fix that. But, for most of us, someday never comes. We focus on the everyday cares of life and rarely give attention to changing and growing, choosing instead to live very comfortably at status quo.

4. Death is a great reminder of God’s Sovereignty. He holds our days in His hands. God has even numbered the hairs on our head (Luke 12:7). He knows everything–past, present, future. A day is as a thousand days to Him (2 Peter 3:8) God operates outside of time. We can rest securely in the care of our heavenly Father, knowing that we (and anyone we love) will not be removed from this earth before their time (which, by the way, is a concept that is SO much easier to write a sentence about than to actually live out).

5. Pondering death changes how we view our trials. We can become quickly overwhelmed with life and allow this to steal our joy, if we aren’t careful. Whether it be a houseful of children keeping us crazy busy or a bothersome physical trial, life can get us down. Whether it be a job that demands much from us or some relatives that suck the life out of us, life can move from joyful to draining in a short time. So much depends on our attitude. I feel a bit hypocritical even writing about this. I am very guilty of letting my circumstances control my mood. This is a constant struggle for me, but I am guessing that I am not totally alone in this (am I??). It is so easy to let external circumstances be the driving force of our lives. But we know that we should be controlled by the internal joy that we receive from the Lord and the peace that is available to us when we submit to His will. This is the secret to true and lasting contentment. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: With acceptance comes peace. Somehow when we think of death it gives us a different perspective on the trials that are plaguing us, doesn’t it? It brings them into proper focus.

6. When we think on death, it reminds us of just how blessed our ordinary days are. We move from one day to the next and complain a little if nothing exciting is happening. And, yet, ordinary can be swept away in an instant. Let’s appreciate it now–before it’s too late. Life changes. Sometimes it is very gradual and sometimes it is in a moment. How important that we appreciate each day and each stage of life. My daughter actually just wrote post on this. Maybe you want to check it out.

As you go about this week, I hope that you will think a bit on this. Who are the lost that you rub shoulders with every day? Do you have a passion to share the Gospel with them? What needs changed in your life to make you look more like Christ? What work does the Lord have for you before you leave the earth? Do you spend a lot of time complaining? Is it time to start working on a heart of gratitude and a spirit of contentment?

Life is short. And none of us has any guarantees. The time to shine our light is now. The time to change is now.

Because only the Lord knows what tomorrow holds.

James 4:14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: March

Invite a couple of acquaintances for coffee (and a February recap)

Hospitality Challenge

March has arrived! I am one day late in posting this because, honestly, this time of year is very, very crazy for me. We have a landscape company and my really busy months are January through April, as we work to get new contracts into the hands of our customers and update and change any systems that didn’t work well last season. With that in mind, I have a confession to make:

I didn’t officially do the G4L Game Night Challenge. I planned to. But before I could get it all in place, we were actually invited to an old friend’s house for a…game night! At that point, life was a bit crazy and our weekends were filling up. And so I made the decision that this would just have to have to suffice for the February challenge.

We got together with two couples, not at my house but at my friend’s house.We hadn’t seen the other two couples–at least to chat about life and enjoy each others’ company– for quite some time. It was actually quite awhile before we even broke out a game, as we sat around talking and catching up.

After awhile, they broke out Twisted Farkle. We had never played any variation of Farkle before so this was all new to us, but we had fun! It made me wonder why we don’t do this type of thing more often. We had a great night re-connecting with old friends.

A few weeks later, our Sunday School class had a special Valentine get-together and we played Bunco, another dice game. This one is especially suited to larger groups. We had a great time as we switched tables and got to know each other in a more relaxed atmosphere. Games have a way of doing that–far more than movies do. They are great for family and friends alike, as we spend a few relaxed hours together.

Did anyone else host (or attend wink) a game night? I would love to hear your stories.

MARCH CHALLENGE

This month, let’s invite a couple of acquaintances from our church or workplace for coffee (or tea). You can meet at a local coffee house or in your own home. Focus on women (or men if you are a man) who may be single, widowed, or divorced–the ones that rarely get invited anywhere because they aren’t a “couple”.

 

With Acceptance Comes Peace

winter night2

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

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

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

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

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

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

With acceptance comes peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, let me just add this one thing–

Acceptance is not the same thing as resignation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2016 Hospitality Challenge: January

Make plans to meet someone for dinner & prepare your home

Hospitality Challenge

The Growing4Life Hospitality Challenge officially begins today! I will present a new challenge on the first Monday of each month during this coming year. I hope you will read these challenge posts, even if you have decided not to participate, because I do think you will find some helpful ideas and tips.

There are actually two parts to this first challenge.

But, first, let me share a passage of the book *Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch—

I don’t think most Christians today understand how essential hospitality is to fanning the flames of love and strengthening the Christian family. Hospitality fleshes out love in a uniquely personal and sacrificial way. Through the ministry of hospitality, we share our most prized possessions. We share our family, home, finances, food, privacy, and time. Indeed, we share our very lives. So, hospitality is always costly. Through the ministry of hospitality, we provide friendship, acceptance, fellowship, refreshment, comfort, and love in one of the richest and deepest ways possible for humans to understand. Unless we open the doors of our homes to one another, the reality of the local church as a close-knit family of loving brothers and sisters is only a theory.

So, this idea of hospitality isn’t just a nice idea. It is going to cost us something. Are you ready to obey, anyway? I truly believe that our hearts will rejoice as we obey the Lord in this area.

So here we go!

JANUARY CHALLENGE

PART 1

Think of a Christian single person, a couple, or a family at your church that you would like to get to know better. If you are not attending a **church regularly right now then move to your other circles–perhaps work or school. Can you think of someone?

Now, call them up and arrange to get together for dinner. Or if funds are tight, then just arrange a time for dessert and coffee. But get a date on the calendar for the month of January.

PART 2

Before I share part 2, I want to tell you a little story. Years ago, we served under a pastor who would just pop in on people without calling them. One evening, as I sat in my family room surrounded by laundry on every surface, the doorbell rang. My dishes weren’t done. My husband wasn’t home. And things were really crazy. Keep in mind that I was homeschooling our four kids at the time. I was not prepared for company. As I opened the door, I saw my smiling pastor standing there. Now, to his credit, he stepped his way through the laundry, took a seat, and enjoyed a visit with the kids and me and never once did I feel judged. But, I still felt soooo uncomfortable. The whole time. It was awful. I kept furtively glancing at my messy house and just wanted to melt into the floor. My house was not normally in such a terrible state, but, of course, the one evening I had let it go was the evening the pastor chose to call.

All these years later, I realize that I learned a little something from that visit. And now I try to generally have my house in order at all times. Oh, it still gets the best of me sometimes– especially during the holidays (anyone else ready to get back to their routine??) but, as a rule, I try to tidy up first thing in the morning. Of course, this is so much easier now that I only have one child at home. I fully empathize with you moms. Especially if you home school. That felt like a losing battle.

So why am I telling you all this? Because, while I don’t believe a spotless house is necessary to entertain, I do believe that you need to feel like your house is ready to entertain. One of my readers mentioned that she would like to do the challenge, after she completes a few home projects and gets it ready.  I got to thinking about that– perhaps we could all use a month to prepare our homes. Especially if we haven’t entertained in a very long time.

So here is Part 2 of the challenge–

Prepare your home for company.

You have all month to do this. For some of us, our home is already in pretty decent shape. We keep things neat and tidy, for the most part, and this challenge will be easy for us. BUT, for others of us, clutter and busyness have overtaken our lives and we have neglected our homes.

This is the month to change that. Let’s do a basic house cleaning and clutter removal, so that we can entertain guests with confidence. Here are the basic things to do to prepare for guests–

Clear clutter off surfaces
Dust furniture
Wipe down counters
Vacuum
Mop floors
Tidy bathrooms

If you would like to do more or are looking for some resources in this area of cleaning, you may find these helpful–

http://www.flylady.net/d/zones/

I first became acquainted with Flylady when I was homeschooling. She breaks caring for our homes into manageable zones. I think you will find this website very helpful. (disclaimer: I am not sure if she is a believer or what her beliefs are. I did notice that she condones an unbiblical form of meditation, so be very careful if you choose to follow her “spiritual” advice.)

http://christianhomekeeper.org/be-clutter-free/

Here are a few suggestions for ways to keep our homes clutter free. This author had some other good posts, as well, about this area of keeping our homes, so take a little time to look around the blog.

http://www.imperfecthomemaker.com/2013/07/how-to-declutter.html

Another article on de-cluttering. This article gives seven easy steps!

My Home Routines

I am going to try to use this helpful app during this year. It makes caring for our homes more manageable and can even be used in conjunction with Flylady. Here’s a helpful web page to show you how–

http://www.homeroutines.com/resources/choose-a-housework-expert/flylady/using-homeroutines-to-follow-flylady/

Again, let’s remember– our homes don’t need to be perfect. There are no spotchecks and no one cares if you didn’t dust the light fixture or missed that cobweb in the corner of the family room ceiling. But, we can do our best to do a basic de-clutter and clean-up of our homes.

I will touch base at the end of the month to hear how it went! I can’t wait to hear your stories about this first challenge.

Okay, so…are you ready?? Here we go!

 

*To go along with this challenge, I am reading the book The Hospitality Commands: Building Loving Christian Community: Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors by Alexander Strauch. If you’d like to read along, you can find the book here on Amazon.

**If you are not in a solid, biblical church, then I would like to suggest you find one. It is so very important for both you and your family to be in fellowship with a body of believers (Hebrews 10:25).

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

And a Merry Christmas Message

Christmas Dinner

So many of us consider ourselves pretty good Christians. We don’t drink in excess, we don’t steal from our bosses or cheat on our taxes. We have been faithful to our spouses and we go to church almost every Sunday. All good things.

But there is nothing like a week full of family get-togethers to remind us of our sinful natures. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in our profession of Christianity.

As families go, I am pretty blessed. But in every family we have the potential of run-ins and relationship problems because we all are different– we have different priorities and we have differing views on religion and politics. We don’t raise our kids the same way. And we don’t feel passionate about the same things. Some of us tend to be very loud and boisterous and others of us are quiet and reserved. All this means that we don’t always see eye-to-eye. How that plays out is not the same in every family.

Some families have loud debates or even arguments. Other families are full of sarcastic remarks that infuse every family gathering. In some families, it is just a cold, unbreakable tension that lies underneath all that goes on during their times together.

Hurtful remarks. Sarcastic comments. Cold shoulders.

They can all add up to a real lack of peace among family members.

And I am here to encourage you not to be part of any of it.

As Christians dedicated to growing in holiness each and every day, let’s be the ones that bring peace and unity to the family.

What does this look like in practical terms?

These thoughts came to my mind this morning before I started my Bible reading this morning. A few minutes later I read this in I Peter 3—

8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

These verses give us such clear instructions on how to relate to others—practical and helpful as we face a week of family get-togethers and parties with friends.

We are to be of one mind. This is what Matthew Henry writes in his commentary about this sameness of mind that we are to have with other believers—

Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5 ), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word.

This unity can only be experienced with our Christian brothers and sisters. We will not be able to be unified with unbelievers, as we are categorically in opposition as we journey towards two opposite goals.

However, even if we can’t be unified with unbelieving family members, we can certainly practice being compassionate, tender-hearted, and courteous, can’t we? We can practice returning good for evil. We can choose to bless, rather than to choose revenge.

Revenge is such an ugly word, but in everyday life it can be very tempting to exact. It’s not always something dreadful but can instead be how we choose respond to a person–making sarcastic remarks  or ignoring them, as we seethe in our souls.

Every day offers us opportunities to live out I Peter 3:8-10. But there are few times each year that offer us so many opportunities to practice this than during the Christmas season–a time that taxes even the closest of families.

May we be the ones that bring a breath of fresh air to our family gatherings. Let’s be the ones that offer abundant grace and blessing, no matter how hurtful the remark or how unkind the deed. It may not be easy, but we have the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us. Let’s walk in the Spirit and choose to show loving-kindness with a joyful heart this holiday season!

**On a different note**
I’d like to thank you, dear reader, for joining me on my journey to grow in Christ this past year. I count it as a privilege and a blessing that you would use some of your precious time to read my posts. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

My Personal Christmas Carol

A-christmas-carol1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to Know If You are Too Busy

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For many years now the Mommy Wars have raged. Should mothers work? Or shouldn’t they? Are kids better if their mom is at home or worse off? What if Mom has to work? Is it sinful? And what exactly are the acceptable conditions for a mother to work?

Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about all this in a long time. But a few days ago someone asked me to review an article on this very subject. And it got me thinking.

A brief walk through history shows us that mothers working outside the home is a relatively new phenomenon. It may have started during the World Wars–particularly World War II–when men went off to war and women were left to man the factories and businesses they left behind. As we moved into the sixties, women cried for independence and the feminist movement really got going and continued to rage through the 70s. The 80s taught us to want more and more stuff. And through all of these changes a new world was born. A world where most mothers work to support a lifestyle that is now deemed as necessary.

But this post is not really about whether women should work or not but, instead, about a common thing I see happening whether a mom works or not. This “thing” causes our kids to wonder if we care. It relegates our husbands and families to the background. And it turns our homes into unorganized chaos.

Any guesses?

It is busyness.

Maybe it’s a little unfair to talk about busyness during December. This seems to be one of the toughest months to reign in our activities. But coming off of two incredibly hectic weeks, I came face to face with the fact that I dropped a few balls. It is almost inevitable if we are too busy. And this is okay for a few weeks here and there. But when we live a lifestyle of being over-committed and involved in too many things, our families will suffer.

Scripture tells us that, as women, our homes and families are to be our main concern. We see this in Proverbs 31, Titus 2:4-5, and I Timothy 5:14.

So many of us, if asked to write our top priorities, would most definitely put God and family at the top of the list. But, practically speaking, this can sometimes be hard to live out, can’t it? People ask us to do things and we just can’t say no. We get our child involved in sports and music lessons and karate. We have birthday and holiday parties. We feel pressured to get involved in PTA and ministries at church. And, soon, if we aren’t careful, every night of the week has us going somewhere. There is little time left for playing games, doing puzzles, and cuddling on the sofa with our kids to read a story.

And this is tragic.

As I look back over my years as a mother, a few realities have become clear to me that I couldn’t see in the midst of the chaos. While I enjoyed sitting by the sidelines watching my kids play soccer, I miss the times reading stories and playing games with them far more. I miss the discussions with their big life questions that had me digging in the Bible for answers. And I miss the loud dinner conversations that made up our life here.

Last night, my husband and I had the wonderful privilege of having our whole family home for a spontaneous pizza night. It was a wonderful, chaotic time full of fun, laughter, and loudly-spoken opinions. But those times are now few and far between. And it made me think about something I heard my husband say to the Sunday School class he was teaching yesterday.

We are studying Shepherding a Child’s Heart (if you haven’t read this book by Tedd Tripp, I hope that you will. You don’t want to miss this book if you are a parent!) and the class has been learning some wonderful lessons about parenting. But my husband reminded them that changes with how we parent cannot be relegated to someday, like most other goals can. The future of our children and their children and their children rely on us changing now.

Life can become so hectic. We are all given just so many hours in a day. And it’s just so easy to say yes to too much. So how do we know if we are too busy? Here are five questions to determine if you are over-committed–

  1. Am I easily irritated by small things?
  2. Is my home chaotic and unorganized?
  3. Are my children defiant and disobedient?
  4. Do I miss my devotions and prayer time more often than not?
  5. Do I always feel overwhelmed?

I am not the judge, but if you have said yes to more than one or two of these questions, then you are probably over-committed.

So what to do if this is the case?

All I can do is tell you what I did when I found myself in that very same place many years ago. Let me back up and give context. At the time, I was homeschooling my four kids, doing all of the books for our company by myself, and was super-involved in church. My beloved family and home got lost in the shuffle of my over-commitment and I had to make some decisions. So I sat down with my husband and we decided what could go and what was non-negotiable. And then I started eliminating some things.

As a little side note here, let me just add that while I did discontinue a few church ministries, I did continue to be involved. It is incredibly important for our kids to see that church is a priority in our lives. Church should never be the thing that is eliminated from our schedules.

Sure, it was hard to pick and choose, but in the long run, it was the best thing for my family. Life will not stop if you step down from PTA. Your church will continue its Sunday School program, even if you cannot teach Sunday School for this season. And your children will not be permanently disadvantaged if they don’t take music lessons or play baseball. Know your limits and don’t let guilt or pressure from others push you into something you know is too much for you. Keep your family and home your priority–whether you are home full-time or find yourself at work everyday.

And someday, far too soon, you will have plenty of time to get involved in ministries and community groups. Take it from someone who knows!

Face Value

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I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. It was so unexpected. I was with a fellow Christian that I had known for a long time. We were different ages and in different circles but ended up working together fairly frequently. I had always assumed that we had the same respect and admiration for each other and that our occasional disagreements and debates were viewed as a healthy part of a relationship.

But, on that particular day, I found out that I was quite wrong.

This person did not have the same feelings toward me as I had towards them. In fact, that conversation showed me that they viewed me as a particularly irritating part of their life. There was no confession and no closure. Just a statement that needed no further elaboration. I didn’t really know them well enough to follow up the conversation any further and so I walked away that day with a shocking and hurtful realization:

People can act like they like you when they really don’t.

For many years after that, I found myself just assuming that most people did not like me. I assumed that I was irritating and that most people did not enjoy my company. Even if someone was really nice to me and I thought I had found a friend, I would hear a voice in the back of my head saying: They don’t really like you. They are only pretending. Just like _________.

It would take a long time for me to trust someone and believe that they actually did enjoy my company. After all, a fellow Christian had pretended to be my friend and it had never been true.

Isn’t it amazing how one conversation can change your life?

By my very nature, I am quite outgoing and outspoken (I can almost hear the “amens” even as I write this from those of you who know me!) It is so hard for me to just sit in a room quietly without speaking. I suppose my parents knew they had a problem on their hands when, as a young child, I spoke my unfiltered thoughts about the fat lady walking towards us on the street.

I’ve had a lifetime of trying to curtail my mouth. To learn to think before I speak. To honor God with the right tone, looks, and body language.

And I do think I have made progress, in large part due to God’s amazing grace and the Holy Spirit working in my life. I am not the same person I was. But I do still mess up sometimes. I still–quite unintentionally–make enemies. And I still worry about that. Especially when people are so good at covering their true feelings.

But, recently, I believe that God has been teaching me to take people at “Face Value”. I cannot know anything about a person that they do not choose to share with me. I cannot be responsible for their grudges and unforgiving hearts if they do not choose to come to me with their issues. If someone treats me like they like me, then I should assume that they do. If they are pretending, that is not my concern. That is between them and God. I can’t spend my time worrying about it and I can’t make assumptions that may not be true.

And since that first conversation, I have learned a few things. First, sometimes people are just really shy. It doesn’t mean they don’t like me. It just means they don’t know me. And, second, I’ve learned that moods often determine how people interact with me. Some people just aren’t friendly if they have had a rough day. It doesn’t mean that they have some deep, abiding hatred of me.

Instead of focusing on the reactions and thoughts of others (which are completely outside my control), my concern is to treat people with love and kindness. If there is a truth that needs communicated, then it is to be covered with prayer and spoken with much thought and tremendous grace. If I do these things, then I must let the rest up to God.

It’s been a long journey that I am still on, but I keep learning that I need to get the focus off of me and my feelings and keep it where it belongs– on God and His Word.

If someone doesn’t like me because of my stand for God, then I am okay with that. If they don’t like me because I’ve sinned against them, then, unless they tell me, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. If they do confront me, it is my job to be humble and willing to receive the criticism with an open mind.

Relationships can be so tough. We can make assumptions and we have expectations. When we are disappointed or devastated in a relationship, it can really make a difference in how we treat others for the rest of our lives. But God’s Word shows us how to have healthy relationships. And the first step is almost always putting aside our own desires and thinking of what’s best for the other person. (Philippians 2:2-3). It’s painful. It’s so hard. But it works.

 

Pressing Through the Storm

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Raising kids is hard. Really hard if you want to do it right. It means saying no when everyone else says yes. It means setting boundaries, being consistent, and setting a godly example in all areas of life–at least giving it our best effort and then resting in the knowledge that God will make up for our weaknesses. It requires much prayer and lots of time in The Word.

Being an influence for good in the workplace is hard. It’s really hard if you want to not only be a good influence, but a godly one. It means forsaking popularity. It means that you may be teased, harassed, and targeted. It requires lovingly telling the truth when no one wants to hear it. And standing apart from the crowd, being lonely, and loving difficult people.

How about being a godly spouse? Or a blessing to your church family?

These are things we know are God’s will. We are supposed to be godly parents and spouses. We are supposed to be working for God’s glory in our church family and in our workplaces. But sometimes it’s just downright hard. We try so hard to do the right thing but it doesn’t always work out like we hope. People don’t like us. Or they get in the way of the good things we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes very intentionally. We are hurt. We are attacked. We are afraid.

It is at this point that many–if not most–of us cave. The storm rages around us and we grow frightened. We lose any bit of courage we may have had and we tuck our tail and run.

We go into hiding in our workplaces, staying quiet as a mouse when the subject of God comes up. We laugh at the dirty jokes and gossip by the water cooler. Anything to keep from standing out.

We stay at the fringes of the church family. Never really knowing anyone. Or offering to help in any ministry. It’s just easier and much less painful.

We become ineffective (or even negative influences) in our homes. We let our screaming toddlers and rebellious teenagers do whatever they want. We give up on our spouses and we stop praying for them. We become tired and hopeless.

But yesterday, as I read Ezra 4 for our G4L Bible Challenge, I realized anew the importance of pressing on through the storms of life. When the Jews were sent back to rebuild the temple, there was a group of people who plagued them constantly. They tried to discourage them, to frustrate them, to keep them from building (Ezra 4:4-5). And, yet, they kept on plugging away. At one point, they were required to stop working because of a letter filled with lies that this group sent to the King. But they didn’t give up hope. And, sure enough, they were back working at the temple years later.

God wanted that temple re-built, and so it was going to be re-built.

No man can stand in God’s way.

But that was then. And this is now. Those were God’s chosen people living that story and we are Americans living a world away and thousands of years later. If we don’t need to build a temple for God then what does God want for our lives? What is His will for us?

Perhaps we are supposed to be temple-building, as well–

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

Our body is a temple– the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Our calling as believers is to keep our temples pure and holy, obeying and glorifying God. We are to be confessing and eradicating sin. We are to live apart from the world and shine as bright lights of hope.

Building our temple is giving our whole-hearted efforts to our roles as spouses and parents. It’s building up the church and being a godly example at work. As we build our temple, it will change every area of our lives.

When we grow scared or angry, we have to keep working on our temple. We weather through powerful storms with scripture study and prayer. We do this for the sake of our marriages, our kids, our churches, and for the lost who live and work beside us. We can’t become ensnared in human drama and give up. Like the Jews in Ezra, we need to keep building, placing one brick at a time until, one day as our eyes close in death, we can see the temple we have built before us– A lifetime of service to the one, true God!

Sure, we may be given a mandatory pause due to illness or some other unforeseen circumstance but then we get back at it again. And if it’s in our control, then let’s not pause for too long. Because when we stop using our muscles we atrophy. Our bodies grow weak and useless. And because kids don’t wait. Before you know it, they have grown and there is no more time for Bible memory verses or family devotions. And because people die and move away. And tomorrow, that co-worker may no longer be there.

We need to keep our eyes on the goal and let the rest go. Just let it go. The storm may howl around us. The winds may blow. But, through it all, we keep building, remembering what’s important–

To know God and to make Him known.