For My Dad

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day. It is the annual day to celebrate our Fathers–the men who have provided for us, who have shaped us, and who have loved us. Some of us have terrible fathers and this day is particularly hard. Some of us have unremarkable fathers and this day is just another day. But some of us have wonderful fathers and we love to celebrate this day.

I am so incredibly blessed to be in that third group. I’d like to share a few reasons why my dad is so wonderful and how he has not only shaped me but how he is also creating an amazing legacy for those who follow after him.

From my earliest memories, I recall Dad’s love for the truth. As little children, I can remember my brother lying about riding his bike in the street and dad’s reaction to this lie. From that moment forward, I never told a lie. Oh, I am not saying I have never fudged the truth a bit, but I have never told an outright lie. That was a defining moment in my life and it stuck. Forever. But Dad’s love for the truth goes far beyond his kids not lying to him. His desire and love for the truth is first and foremost rooted in the scripture. He wants to know God’s truth and to live by it. He doesn’t only speak this, he lives it. Oh, he’d be the first to admit he’s not perfect, but what an inspiration it is to his family that he continues in that love–even now–and keeps trying to grow in the Lord. He has a passionate desire to know the truth about what’s going on in the world, as well. This has greatly impacted the ministries of both my brother and I, as well, forever changing our perspectives on life. This love for truth has been instilled in us, his children, and we have tried to pass it on to our own kids, as well. Contrary to popular opinion these days, truth is absolute. There aren’t many conflicting avenues of relative truth–there is one absolute truth and that is found in God’s Word.

I also want to publicly thank my dad for being such an encouragement to me. He has–and continues to be–one of my greatest supporters. When he notices something good, he lets us know. He is quick to say “I love you” and “I am proud of you”–not only to me, but to my husband and children, as well. These words are like a balm to the soul, especially in times of uncertainty or doubt or when we are barraged by discouraging remarks from others around us. His kind and encouraging words have been like a fresh spring of water in a desert on many occasions. And, interestingly enough, this habit of his makes us much more willing to sit up and listen to him if and when he needs to challenge us on something–which is rare. But I do remember the rare occasion when we were young parents where he would say something. And we were willing to listen because we knew if he was bringing it up, it was probably important. I am really trying to emulate this with my own kids. I don’t have it down, but I keep trying! I want to build up my family with my words and not tear them down! This builds healthy family relationships and creates a tight bond of love that just can’t exist in an atmosphere of consistent, negative criticism.

My dad, like many out there, worked hard to provide for his family. This was through some very discouraging times and one of the few times I remember my dad crying was during an especially difficult job change. And, yet, I never saw him give up or land in a pit of despair. I have watched him go through difficult job changes, discouraging church changes, and, I guess most of all, an extremely painful family situation and yet, instead of landing in depression or giving up, I have watched him continually turn to the Lord and to learn and grow from these challenges. He has taught me to keep walking forward, taking one day at a time, through all of life’s ups and the downs.

Another thing I love about my dad is his ability to have fun and to be serious, too. My childhood was made up of hours playing soccer and football with my dad (and mom, too!) in the backyard or board games on our family room floor. It was made up of laughter and fun and games. But then there were also many times of serious conversations–about the Lord, about His return, about what it means to be a Christian, and about the world and where it was headed. As I started my own family, this same wonderful balance of having fun and being serious continued. Many of our family’s favorite memories center around the wonderful times we have had camping. Many of them were made around evening campfires, where my dad would sometimes laugh with abandon and, at other times, hold serious, spiritual conversations. He provided–and continues to provide–a wonderful balance between being serious and having fun. How many people do you know who love to do both? Oh, what wonderful memories! We hope to continue this legacy of being able to have fun and yet to not let our desire for fun to consume us so much that we have no serious conversations about scripture and growing in the Lord.

And, finally, I want to mention a very important lesson I have learned from my father. He has taught me not to hold grudges. He has been a living example to me of actively forgiving and living out Romans 12:18–the principle of trying to live at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. I have watched him give his best efforts in healing relationships. I have watched him not give up. And I have watched him do all of this without holding a grudge. I, too, have faced some really difficult “relationship” moments, where resolution was not forthcoming. His example has taught me to forgive even if forgiveness is not asked for. He has taught me to be open to resolution. And to love and enjoy life, despite the unresolved issues.

Dad, I know you will read this, because you are one of my biggest supporters. Thank you for everything. This list isn’t exhaustive. I know I could come up with many more ways that you have impacted me and my family for all of eternity. You have told us that your one goal was to have your kids and grandkids walk with the Lord and make an impact for the cause of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. I see your son’s (Pastor Dean) ministry and I know God has answered that prayer. I also see Him answering that prayer in the growing spiritual maturity of your grandchildren, which has been a wonderful and inspiring thing to watch. I hope that He is also answering that prayer through my ministry here at Growing4Life.

Dad, you set your priorities for your family early on and then, with a humble and teachable heart, gave 150% to make it happen. Thank you for that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough about my brother and me to give of yourself. I love you!

I hope that this post will encourage others to set their priorities well for their own families. I hope it encourages my readers to use their words to build up instead of to tear down. I hope it gives people cause to think before holding a grudge and I hope it reminds us all that both laughter and serious conversation should be part of all families. But, most of all, I hope that it reminds people to hold the highest esteem for God’s Word and the absolute truth we find there. No matter what our earthly father was like, we have the opportunity to make these changes now–for our own kids and grandkids–so that we, too, can leave a godly legacy.

 

 

Some thoughts on ending a marriage

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Yesterday morning, as I scrolled through Facebook, something quite unexpected popped up. Lysa TerKeurst, famous speaker and author, announced that she is divorcing her husband. I don’t know about you, but these things rock my world. She has been teaching women to love and serve Christ for many years now and has even written a book on marriage. While I do not actually condone all that she writes and she has some extremely troubling associations (read more here), I would not wish her experience on anyone. How incredibly humiliating and awful to have to announce you are getting a divorce after you have spent much of your life encouraging women to be “Proverbs 31 women”.

This whole thing has got me thinking quite a bit. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts regarding Lysa and this announcement. They are all kind of disconnected, so hopefully you will bear with me as I meander through a few different responses to this news. And, let me add here, none of this is in criticism of Lysa regarding her decision. I do not know her personally and have no insight whatsoever into her marriage or her home. My responses are for two reasons only –to remind us to pray for her and others suffering through similar, tragic circumstances and to get us thinking about our own marriages. I hope this post will accomplish these two things.

First, I would like to say that my heart goes out to Lysa and I am praying for her and her husband. Broken marriages are a painful, terrible thing. I can’t imagine having to go through it with the whole “Christian” world watching. Not agreeing with her biblical stand and ungodly associations does not mean I shouldn’t pray for this woman and her family. And, honestly, perhaps we should pray that God would use this situation to draw her back to scriptural truth. We serve an amazing God with limitless power. He can change any heart and perhaps He will use this to change Lysa’s.

Second, one of the first thoughts I had as I read that post was this: “If that can happen to her–an author who writes about marriage and godly living–well then, this could happen to me, too!” I played with this thought for a few moments–thinking about my marriage and about my husband. And I realized that any marriage is in danger of disintegrating without proper love and care. We can never stop working on our marriages. And I can see how this does happen when two people allow themselves to get too busy and they stop communicating. Even Christian couples are in danger when life gets in the way and they lose touch with one another. My husband and I have worked and continue to work very hard at making sure we have time to talk. We do not have many date nights or special getaways, but, instead, keep our hearts in tune to one another through talks on the porch, in the car, or on the sofa at night. This has been our method since the beginning of our marriage and when we don’t have time for these, we suffer. Of course, these times have been much easier to find since the kids have grown up! We really had to search for them early on.

Third, one has to wonder about the dynamics in the TerKeurst household regarding Lysa’s career. Even I, as a tiny, insignificant blogger can frustrate my husband if I spend too much time working on it. There is also the dynamic of her husband living in her famous shadow. Most men do not care for that. I am not sure what a famous woman can do about this dynamic, but it is certainly something to consider in a rise to fame. We women–whether we are finding fame in the Christian world, like Lysa, or we are finding success in a career outside the home–must remember to keep focusing and working on our marriages. And we must respect our husbands. While I am certainly not privy to what went on in Lysa’s home, I do see an awful lot of successful women who have lost respect for their husbands or treat them like one of their children. Oh, what a sad thing! And this reminds me of Titus 2:4-5 where we read that women are to be submissive to their husbands. There is no caveat on this. It does not say “unless they earn more money than their husband”. We also read there that women are to be working at home. It is hard to do this if our time and attention is continually drawn to something outside the home. I know it is politically incorrect, even among Christians, to suggest that women should not work outside the home and I also realize there are many reasons why women may be forced to do so, but the pattern set up for us in scripture does help us to avoid a lot of issues in our marriages and families if we choose to follow it.

Fourth, and finally, one has to wonder what Lysa will do now regarding her ministry? History has shown that western Christians have very short memories. Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, Charles Stanley–all divorced and all still embraced by the Christian community. It doesn’t really seem to matter anymore. Her ministry will most likely not suffer, given the current status of our Christian culture. And that is quite an indictment on just how far Christianity has come. It used to be a big deal if the President of the United States was divorced. As relativism and post-modernism took over, that became unimportant to an American culture obsessed with money and progress. But now, we even continue to embrace Christian authors and speakers who have failed marriages. While I don’t wish their situations on anyone, I find myself doubtful that I, personally, could continue ministering in the same way. While I believe there are many other ways I could minister (even to women who are suffering through divorce and being single again), I think that I would perhaps choose to step down from being the head of a ministry. This is a personal opinion and not necessarily something I can find in scripture, as celebrity status and public ministry was never really addressed in scripture, aside from the qualifications for elders (Titus 1). What are your thoughts?

Thank you for sticking around for my thoughts on this matter. These kinds of situations–so common anymore–still give us pause to think, don’t they? And they remind us that we must continue to work on our own marriages so they don’t travel down the same heart-breaking road that the TerKeursts are on.  If you take anything at all from this disconnected, rambling post, I hope it will be that.

And, please, would you just take a moment right now and pray for this family? Satan is busy and active, trying to ruin the reputation of anyone who represents Jesus Christ. Ask the Lord to turn hearts back to Him and to heal this marriage.

 

DISCLAIMER: A few hours after posting this, I was dismayed to realize that people were not reading this post with the objective intention with which it was written but instead were viewing it as an unkind assessment of a painful time for Lysa. Please know that I am not implying anything about Lysa, her reason for her divorce, OR her spiritual status (aside from what we can clearly see that has been public knowledge for years). May I repeat: I DO NOT KNOW HER. I view her decision to divorce her husband with the greatest sorrow and completely without judgement.

I have no underlying motives for this post. Broken marriages happen. They have happened to people I love dearly. I am not judging anyone. I was simply trying to process some of the questions and fears that arise when situations like this happen. I feel like those of you who are my regular readers understand this about me. Those who have just happened to land on this post and do not regularly read this blog will not. I process and I share what I am processing and learning because many of you have expressed that this is a blessing to you. But perhaps this is one time I should not have processed “out loud”. I am still uncertain, as I sit here typing.

I cannot control what you think about me. It is one of the hardest things about blogging that there is–this judgement of me and my motives that is drawn from only one or two posts. But I can confidently tell you this post is only meant to help us to process all of the thoughts swirling around in our heads regarding this situation and to draw people to the Word as we mourn with a couple going through a very public divorce.

The Only Time It Is Okay to Be a Hypocrite

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Hypocrisy is such an ugly word, isn’t it? It is defined as: Behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. (from Merriam-Webster.com)

All of us, at one time or another, have probably played the part of a hypocrite. We have claimed to believe one thing when we are with one group of friends but our actions contradict our claims when we are with another group of friends. Some are worse at this than others.

And the basic consensus of all human beings since the beginning of time is that hypocrisy is bad. And it is! It is never good to pretend you are something you are not. Or to say you believe something with your mouth but then deny that belief with your actions.

But there is one time that being a hypocrite is not only good but also very helpful.

Curious, yet?

I have struggled my whole life with being a slave to my feelings. If I didn’t feel like reading the Bible, I didn’t. If I felt like eating a sugary snack, I ate it. Thankfully, I have grown and continue to grow in this area, but it continues to be a struggle, particularly when change happens in my life. This is always the time that my feelings rise up and scream to be heard–and when I am most tempted to listen.

But the other day, I heard someone say this: Be a hypocrite to your feelings.

Yes!

A million times yes!!

So often we hear people say things like this–

I can’t act like I love my husband if I don’t feel like I love him. That would be hypocritical.

I don’t want to read the Bible if I don’t feel like reading the Bible. That would seem hypocritical.

But feelings are the one thing we can and should play the hypocrite to. In fact, we must act differently than our feelings on most occasions. While feelings can help us process and determine certain things about ourselves, they should most certainly never dictate our behavior.

As I have watched our world go from objective, absolute truth to subjective, you-decide-what’s-true-for-you truth, I have seen the dictatorship of feelings take over the souls of many people–even Christians. It is often the reason for sporadic church attendance. It is the reason for family quarrels and fights. It is the reason for the dearth of Christians who pray and study their Bibles. Feelings are dictating behavior.

The interesting and wonderful thing about feelings is that they are very…convertible. Strange word to use, I know, but I couldn’t think of a better one. When we do the right thing– in spite of our feelings– our feelings pretty quickly get with the program and usually convert into the proper ones we should be having.

For example, when I feel irritated with my husband but I choose to treat him in a kind and loving way, I will start feeling like I love him again.

Or when I feel lazy and I don’t want to read my Bible and pray but I do it, anyway, I will often feel motivated afterwards.

Of course, this is not some magic solution and sometimes our feelings are sluggish to follow. And perhaps for some they never change. It doesn’t matter. We do what is right because it is right. We should never let feelings be our guide.

And this leads us to one other thing closely related to this: The frequent statements Christians often make regarding God’s input in their feelings. How often have you heard someone say something like this–“I feel like God…” or “God impressed upon me…”? I even catch myself sometimes saying things like “Well, I feel like God is wanting me to do this or that”. But if our feelings are so unreliable, how could we know if it is God or just some whim of our own? Oh, how much better off we are with a rational faith based solely on the Word of God than on our own ambiguous and fluctuating feelings!

So be a hypocrite to your feelings! Tell yourself that no matter what you feel, you are going to ignore it and do what is right anyway. And be thankful for the times your feelings do match your actions. They are marvelous times of blessing that motivate us to continue on the path of godliness.

 

 

The Real Description of Love

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What is love? The word “love” is tossed about freely, without much regard to its true meaning. But as I was reading I Corinthians 13 this morning, making a careful list of all that describes love in this passage, it gave me pause. Somehow evaluating each of these words individually was way more convicting than simply reading through the familiar verses.

I wasn’t actually planning on posting today, but as I wrote and pondered, I realized that perhaps some of you, too, would be challenged and convicted by these verses in a way you haven’t been before.

Love is a big word, isn’t it? And it has multiple definitions. But Paul gives us such a beautiful description of love in this chapter. Here is a breakdown of what love looks like in a Christian’s life. Read and be challenged–

  1. Love is patient.
  2. Love is kind.
  3. Love does not envy.
  4. Love does not boast.
  5. Love is not arrogant.
  6. Love is not rude.
  7. Love does not insist on its own way.
  8. Love is not irritable.
  9. Love is not resentful.
  10. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
  11. Love rejoices in the truth.
  12. Love bears all things.
  13. Love believes all things.
  14. Love hopes all things.
  15. Love endures all things.
  16. LOVE NEVER ENDS.

And then let’s not forget this–

We can do all kinds of fabulous things for the Lord. We can speak marvelous, challenging words that encourage people to grow spiritually. We can play beautiful music that leads people in worship. We can even die for Christ. But if all of these things are done without love, they are nothing. They mean nothing. We gain nothing.

Think about that–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Imagine with me for just a moment what would happen if all people who claim the name of Christ would put this list into practice. It would literally transform marriages! Heal families! Revolutionize churches! This is a powerful, powerful list.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. But we do have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live these out in our own life. May we continue to strive to do this as we grow for life and seek to be like our Savior!

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (I Corinthians 13:1-8)

Have a great day! And thanks for letting me stop by your in-box on this Wednesday morning! :)

 

What Makes a Healthy Family?

10 Principles from God's Word

Healthy Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

Why Are You So Offended?

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The other day I was shopping for groceries right around lunchtime. Spotting the beautiful salad bar in the store, I decided to buy a salad for lunch. Choosing one of the containers that has three different sections, I filled it up and then carefully set it in my cart. There it lay, with salad ingredients in one half and some beautiful fruit in the corner. Perfectly separated.

I managed to get it to the check out counter without mixing the items all together and there I lifted it out of the cart, holding it in such a way that the salad would not get mixed with the fruit, and rested it behind the rest of my items on the conveyor belt.

But all that care ended up being in naught as I watched the store clerk lift up the salad and recklessly turn it to and fro looking for a bar to scan. Finally, she sighed and asked the clerk beside her how to check out a salad.

Upon receiving the necessary information, she checked out my now thoroughly mixed salad and put it in a bag.

Now, in my earlier life I may have grown a bit frustrated over this all. Yes, it’s just a salad but she had undone everything I had so carefully tried to avoid in just a few seconds. Literally. She had carelessly lifted it up and mixed it all together, with no thought given to how I might feel about that.

But here’s the thing– she had no idea whatsoever that she was frustrating me. None at all. Her only thought was that here was something she didn’t know how to check out and she knew she had to figure out how to check it out and she had to do that quickly.

So often we get so offended with people who have no idea they are even offending us. They are just living their life from their perspective without a care for anybody else’s and their agenda collides with ours. In this case, my agenda was to keep the container flat so that my food wouldn’t get all mixed together. The clerk’s agenda was to find a price for that salad. When these agendas clashed, I knew a moment of irritation.

So why in the world am I talking about something so unimportant? Because– let’s face it– a salad that gets all mixed together is about the most minuscule thing in life you can imagine.  I share this because I think there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

Well, two lessons, actually.

First, we get offended about the wrong things. I mean who cares about a salad? Or the car that cut in front of us on the highway? Why do we care so much about the co-worker who got the credit we deserved or when our spouse shares something that they would like us to change? We care because we care so very much about ourselves.

In contrast, think about the last time you got offended when you heard God’s name taken in vain or heard someone take a Bible passage out of context or make some heretical statement. Did this offend you? Did it fill you with the same irritation that it would have if they had taken your words out of context or used your name as a swear word?

My guess is no. And this is a great test about who we love most, isn’t it? Just when I think I am making some headway, God will show me that I still love me most. It’s a discouraging, disheartening thought. Until I remember how far I’ve come. I am still struggling, but I love God now in a much deeper and fuller way than I even dreamed possible when I was a teenager. Filling my mind with His Word is how this came about. There is no shortcut full of special experiences and feelings (but that’s a really, really long bunny trail and a post for another day).

So are we getting offended about the right things? This is a question we must ask ourselves.

The second lesson to be learned from the salad incident is that, whether we are personally offended or offended for the sake of God and His Word, how we react says a lot about us. Do we grow angry and defensive? Do we speak unkind words or give someone the silent treatment? This says we love ourselves so much more than we love God.

But if we overlook small, inconsequential offenses we show a desire to be like Christ. If we address worthwhile offenses with love and kindness, using God’s Word as our guide, we show that our love for that person is far greater than our desire to “be right”. If we practice patience and joy when someone is frustrating us, we show that we have eternal perspective.

Now let’s think about this practically for a moment. What would these reactions show to a world overflowing with self-absorbed, easily-offended people? It would be a welcome and wonderful change for store and hotel clerks, for co-workers, and for churches, too. It may even give us an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. At the very least, it will be evidence of the light of Christ that is within us.

We are never going to change anybody else. But we can change ourselves. We can choose to overlook a slight offense. We can show love and grace when confrontation is necessary. And we can choose to challenge people on the stuff that really matters–the things that offend our loving, heavenly Father. And, in doing these things, we are shining witnesses for Jesus Christ and also help to make the world a gentler, kinder place.

It begins with us.

 

 

So What Now? Part 2

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Yesterday I wrote Part 1 of this post. At that time I was not planning on writing a Part 2. But as I have watched the aftermath of this election and the way that many supporters of the opposite party have responded, I shake my head in confusion. As I thought about their response, a few thoughts came to my mind that I just had to write down.

They call us narrow-minded and bigots and racist, etc. And, yet, when they don’t get what they want they turn around and protest. Who is being narrow-minded now? Do they honestly believe that only their view is correct? And, if that’s the case, then there must be absolute truth, after all. Right?

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about how to treat people like that. As we Christians have watched this whole thing explode on social media and perhaps even in our schools and workplaces, we can see a tremendous dichotomy in this nation. It is a division that runs deep–to the very heart of almost every individual who resides in this wonderful country.

How, as believers, do we respond?

First, I would like to talk a bit about how we don’t respond. We don’t engage in Facebook debates with people. We don’t unfriend them just because they disagree with us. We don’t let this destroy a relationship with someone who desperately needs to hear the Gospel. Satan can use this to his great advantage if we allow him to. Don’t let him destroy relationships over an election. Even an incredibly volatile and divided one such as this.

So how should we respond? Luke 6:35 tells us to love our enemies and do good to them. And so, even in our disagreements and our debates, may we be loving. May we be kind. May we never compromise our testimony because we disagree with someone.

Sure, you can’t control the actions and behavior of the person you are talking to. They may get nasty in their responses. They may be arrogant. They may call you names. It is hard to sit there and take it. But in these situations, I remember that Jesus Christ allowed humans to mock and spit on him with nary a word (Matthew 27:27-31). He had healed the multitudes of dreadful diseases and disabilities. He had multiplied food for a crowd. He had commanded demons. He had controlled the wind with just a few words. He could have called lightning down from heaven to kill them instantly. And, yet, the God of the Universe took that kind of abuse without responding. As we reflect on the response of Jesus to His enemies, let us strive to be like Him.

Events like this week give us opportunity to shine for Christ or to be just like the rest of the world. We can speak our thoughts and opinions with love, respect, and kindness, showing we are a Christian by our love. Or we can shout and yell and write mean words, showing we are just like the world.

America is a divided country. Unfortunately, this is not going to change anytime soon. Let this division be a means to shine so brightly that people can’t help but ask you–

Why you are so different from the rest of the world?

 

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

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People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!