Interconnected Strands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Four Ways to Love Our Men

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I awoke yesterday to hear that Matt Lauer had been fired. Now, I knew he was extremely left-leaning and a typical reporter, but, as newscasters go, I did think he seemed like a nice guy.

As I tried to wrap my brain around the latest casualty of the sexual harassment and abuse accusations, I felt sad. There have been several over the past few months and, while not surprising, they are just…sad. I know as much about these guys and their accusers as I do about the peanut head bug (yes, a real insect) that lives in the Amazon Rainforest (i.e. nothing), so I have no idea what the truth really is and I will refrain from sharing any opinions on such tragic situations. But perhaps these accusations can raise a conversation that we Christian women should probably have.

Let’s think for a moment about men.

Men love sex.

Sure, there are exceptions, but as a rule, most men were created by God to love sex. As young men, they can hardly go a few minutes without thinking about it. This obsession might diminish slightly as they grow older but their love for it remains. Men love sex.

And Hollywood and marketers use this love for sex to achieve ratings and sales. Anywhere you turn, sex is being sold. It doesn’t matter if it’s a war movie or a commercial for deodorant, sex is often what’s for sale. It is appalling.

On our TV screens, fornication and naked bodies abound. Crude and dirty jokes are the norm. And many–even Christians– just watch, with nary a thought to turn it off. Radios croon out lyrics encouraging premarital sex, cheating, and all other varieties of sexual sins and it is justified by the excuse that it’s only the tune they like–they are not listening to the words. (Impossible, by the way, since your subconscious mind hears everything.)

The internet is loaded with pornography that is hard to escape. Even a simple search on a site we consider safe will sometimes bring naked images to our screen.

And this push to sell sex has reached us in personal ways we never imagined. Co-workers show cleavage, church ladies wear short skirts. Even at homecoming dances, our teenagers wear the latest styles that leave little to the imagination–torturous for the young men accompanying them.

Men cannot escape the constant battle and efforts of this culture to remove the purity of their minds. There is nowhere they can turn. Even in church this battle is fought, as even the sanctuary is no longer a sacred place where a man can get away from women who are dressed immodestly.

I think we can see that Satan has hijacked sex. Literally. He has mangled and destroyed it, warped it and corrupted it until it has become something Christians don’t even want to talk about. But sex is a beautiful gift from God the Father. He designed it specifically for a married couple. And when used in this way God is not only pleased but He is also glorified.

And so we can see that there are two utterly opposing views–the world’s view of sex and God’s view of sex. And Christian men are often caught in the cross-hairs of these two viewpoints–knowing the view they should have, but constantly being pulled to the world’s side of things wherever they go.

So while a man is absolutely and completely responsible for his own sexual purity, I do want to raise the conversation that there are four things we women can do to help our Christian brothers as they fight this tough battle of purity in their own lives–

1. As girls and women, we can dress modestly. As parents, we can require our daughters to do the same, explaining that this is a way we can show Christian love to the boys and men around us. We can make sure that we and our daughters are clothed in such a way that it doesn’t lead a man to think sexual thoughts.

2. As moms, we must keep our young and teen-aged boys away from sexually impure entertainment and work hard to protect them from online pornography. We can and should help our husbands in this area as much as we are able to, as well. This may well be one of the most challenging and important jobs we will ever take on.

3. As women who love the men in our lives, we can pray for them. Pray hard, that God would protect them as they walk through a world that is obsessed with sex at almost every turn.

4. And as wives, we must be sure to love our husbands in all ways, including in the bedroom. God designed sex to be beautiful and wonderful in its biblical context. If our husbands don’t feel loved in this way we leave them open to temptation.

 

Life is often ugly and messy. This is one of those things we don’t even like to talk about. But sometimes things just need to be said. Again–let me be clear–men are 100% responsible for their thoughts and actions. They will be accountable to God for what they think and what they do. But I hope, as Christian women, we can come alongside our Christian brothers in love and support as they fight to stay pure in a culture fixated on sex.

 

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

freezing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

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

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

Have you ever thought about that before?

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

 

 

A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

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

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author goes on to say–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just all so complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

Weathering the Storms of Life

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 1:

WEATHERING THE STORMS OF LIFE

Part 2:

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

 

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

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

Beautifully and Naturally Changed

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We were about halfway to church when I realized it. I sighed and looked in my car mirror, just to be sure. Yep. It was true: I had totally forgotten to put on my make-up. Distracted during my morning routine, I remembered that I had never gone back to the bathroom mirror to finish getting ready.

I don’t actually wear that much make-up but it still felt strange going to church without it. I looked at my husband.

“I forgot to put on my makeup. Can you tell?”

“Nahhh. It’s summer. You are tan. It’s not a big deal.”

Not that it mattered. We weren’t turning around for such an insignificant reason, anyway. We drove on to church and worshiped, as usual.

In the winter, our skin is lighter but in the summer it tans to a nice golden brown if we spend time in the sun. Since there wasn’t any sunscreen for thousands of years, we can only imagine that God designed our skin this way. And when we are tan we look healthier for some reason. (Even though the latest craze from the medical world is to encourage us to wear sunscreen 24/7 and not let a bit of sun stain our skin.)

So what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I was thinking about how not wearing my makeup was so much less noticeable in the summer than it would have been in the winter and I realized that this is very similar to a dynamic that goes on in many churches, in that–

Good works is the “make-up” that those claiming to know Christ will use when they haven’t actually been transformed by Christ.

Let me explain–

We have all heard of the “good Christian man” who is caught with a prostitute or declares bankruptcy due to a gambling addiction. We have heard of the woman that up and leaves her family out of the blue or gives evidence that she is an alcoholic after hiding it for many years. Et cetera, et cetera. So many of these cases, so many different details, but all the same thing: Someone whom we thought was godly was actually not godly at all, as evidenced by their following after sin and never turning back from it with a repentant heart.

These types of people have worn the make-up of good works–some for many, many years. But what was missing was the golden tan of a heart transformed by the love of the Savior. You see, we can look pretty good to the church if we will simply step up and do the right thing–serve in the kitchen or on the coffee committee, serve as a church leader, teach Sunday School, work in the sound booth, greet people on a Sunday, or minister to children (to name just a few). These things make us look holy–even though we might not be. They give us the “make-up” we need to look presentable at church.

Many people put on a good show, while in the privacy of their own homes or offices, they are not really all that sold out for God as they live a life that is consumed with selfish desires. Some are living a life that is in complete opposition to the one they are portraying at church.

This is a great reminder that we should always be sure to confirm that our own good works are originating from a changed heart and not from some outward putting on of “righteous works” in order to make us look good to others.

Jesus points out a clear example of this in the lives of the Pharisees, who on the outside looked holy and pure but on the inside were wicked and unchanged by God. He puts it like this in Luke 11:39-40–

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

So let’s be sure that our outward behavior is a reflection of a changed heart and never the means we use to look “holy” to our church family on Sundays while living to please ourselves the rest of the week.

A beautifully changed heart will always yield a life that is also beautifully–and naturally–changed on the outside.

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

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Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

People Do Change

PeopleDoChange

The other day, someone said something to me that indicated that they thought they were far too sinful to be saved. They couldn’t imagine how God would ever save them. They said it in passing, in a public place, where we couldn’t talk. I told them the beauty of salvation is that none of us deserves to be saved but I have been wondering what I would have–should have–said, had we had more time? I got some help with this question yesterday as I was listening to my father-in-law tell us about Paul during our campfire “church” service (which is what we do for worship time when we go camping).

He shared about some of Paul’s background and just where he had come from. This was perfect because, as any of my readers who are participating in the 2017 Growing 4Life Bible Reading Challenge already know, we are reading Paul’s epistles this year. It was interesting to find out more about the author God chose to write these books of the Bible.

As he spoke about Paul’s education and family, he told us how he was part of the group of Jewish leaders who persecuted the church. I was familiar with most of the information but it was great to have a refresher course on this man that God used to write a good portion of the New Testament. Paul was even present at Stephen’s death, the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith. Here is what we read about Paul (at that time he was called Saul) in Acts 8:1–

Now Saul was consenting to his {Stephen’s} death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

And then this in verse 3 of the same chapter–

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

From these verses we see that not only did he consent to Stephen’s death but that he was part of the great persecution that rose up against the church. He personally entered homes and would drag men and women off to prison! He did everything he possibly could to stop the church of Jesus Christ from spreading.

As we discussed this, we wondered why God took someone so evil and called on him, of all men, to write the epistles? Why did God decide on Paul?

We can’t really know the answer to this, but one of the things I did think about was how encouraging and wonderful it is that God did use Paul. The fact that He did shows us, once again, that God can change the heart of a wicked, sinful man and use him to fulfill His purposes! No one is beyond His grace.

No one!

This should comfort us. Not only for ourselves, but it should also bring hope to our hearts for the ones we love who are caught up in unimaginable sins, imprisoned by Satan’s lies, with no conviction and no change on the horizon.

No one is beyond God’s grace.

God can change any man or woman–even one who has attacked His church. He can use any person for His purposes and His glory. Let us not grow weary in our prayers for those we love who are walking on the broad road of the world, far away from God.

When we read in the next chapter that Saul is converted, we find Ananias very concerned when the Lord tells him to seek out Saul and help him–

 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”  (Acts 9:13)

Saul’s reputation was well-known. We can imagine that the dramatic change in Saul would have been the topic of conversation in town squares during the following days and months. Was Saul really changed? Or was this just temporary? One group was wondering if he could be truly be trusted and another group was probably mourning the loss of one of their most zealous members, hoping he’d return. Of course, we know now that Paul was saved by God and changed forever.

Sometimes, we can grow skeptical about people truly changing. We have watched people say a prayer for salvation and then sprout up and seemingly and quickly grow, only to wilt and fall away when the tough times came along. Just like the seed we read about in the Parable of the Sower, the seed can’t take the scorching sun (Matthew 13:1-9). These things can make us start doubting that people ever change. In fact, sometimes you will hear this line: “People never change.”

But Paul is a dramatic real-life example to us that this is not true! People do change and Paul is one of our greatest proofs! Of course, the longer we live as a believer, the more examples we see of the Holy Spirit working change in the lives of those around us. I have seen Him change lost sinners into saved saints and even in my own life and the lives of other Christians, I see Him molding and shaping us to grow more like Christ. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago. Or five years ago. Or last year. I hope you can say the same thing.

So let us persevere in prayer for our lost loved ones and even for victory in our own personal struggles, knowing that God’s grace covers even the worst of sins and confident that true and lasting change is possible!

 

Coming in the Back Door

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We Christians have a knack for attaching our loyalties to “family-friendly” enterprises and then letting our guards down. Specifically today I am referring to TV channels like HGTV and Hallmark.

If you are a conscientious Christian who wants to be careful about what you put before your eyes, there isn’t much left to watch anymore. Channels like these provide blessed relief from all of the sex, violence, and bad language we find on most of the other channels.

But even these channels are not immune from pushing an ungodly agenda.

For example–

The other day I had some mindless work to do and so I turned on a Hallmark movie. I don’t actually watch that many Hallmark movies but sometimes I record the mystery movies they feature on their movie channel. About an hour into the movie, out of the blue, a character started talking about her “crystals”. It was in passing but it was there. Towards the end of the movie, another character–who had received a gift of crystals from the first character–was praising these crystals for improving her life. Huh…

So here you have this seemingly innocent movie. And yet, even here, there is this New Age (occultic) practice not only being introduced, but even being presented as something positive that will improve one’s life.

Wow. Talk about slipping evil in the back door. And this is not an isolated incident. I have seen this type of thing before on this family-friendly channel.

And we find another example from HGTV. I like the show House Hunters and, several times now, I have turned it on to see a gay couple house-hunting together. Unfortunately, this is not rare. Watching things like this condition us to accept this as normal. Personally, I choose not to watch these episodes because it is not normal. It will never be normal.

Now–just to be clear–this post is not about what you should and should not watch. The Christian life is not about rules but about a heart that desires to please the Lord. I am not saying that you should not watch or listen to something just because they insert something evil. (I underline this because inevitably someone will accuse me of being legalistic in posts such as these). You must work out with God, through Bible Study and prayer, what you put before your eyes.

The point of this post is not about what we watch but about something else completely–

These incidents are good reminders that, as believers, we can never let our guards down.

Discernment can never take a break. Whether we are watching something that is labeled “Christian” or “Hallmark” or “HGTV” –or anything else for that matter– we must keep alert. All things must go through the grid of the Word.

We must do this for our favorite authors. For our favorite channels. For our favorite radio stations and magazines and websites. We must do this for our favorite pastors (and, honestly, a godly pastor will want you to do this) and for our counselors and therapists.

We should never be so loyal to any author, network, radio host, pastor, therapist, or musician that their message trumps what the Bible teaches.

We should never grow so lazy that we become numb to the sin around us or, even worse yet, start taking on the world’s values.

I know this takes work. And I know it is exhausting. But I want you to know it is so worth it for the spiritual health of you and your family. Taking the time to recognize evil and to have conversations with our families about it–teaching our kids (and our grandkids) to discern– keeps us from being hardened to sin and protects us. Sure, we will make wrong judgments and we will grow lazy sometimes and let something slip by that we shouldn’t. This is the nature of our humanity. But we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again. We just keep going. Because…

Satan roars about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8) and he comes as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). This means he is after you and your children. It means that he rarely comes with horns and warts but usually looks lovely and beautiful and pure.

So stay watchful! Be vigilant! And, please, talk about these things with your kids and grandkids so that you are teaching the next generation the importance of having the Bible as their authority and how to be godly discerners.

 

 

Color Catcher

ColorCatcher

Have you ever thrown something brightly colored in the laundry along with your whites? Sometimes we can get away with it, but more often than not the item will tinge the lighter load a dull, sickly shade of itself.

As I have been reading the epistles of Paul this year, I can see how even those of us who are truly dedicated to pleasing the Lord with our lives have been tinted by the world in ways we don’t even realize. Here are a few of those ways–

We’ve resigned ourselves to dissensions and divisions in our families and churches, even though this is clearly stated as sin (Galatians 5:20)

We treat the sin of anger and envy differently than other sins (Galatians 5:19-21)

We retire not only from our jobs but often from everything, letting the young people step in and do the work in the church (Galatians 6:9)

We hold grudges and somehow think this is okay for a Christian to do. (Romans 12:18)

We are so myopic (this is my new favorite word!) This means that we are so short-sighted. Always thinking of the here and now and rarely of eternity. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

We strive to live good lives for the wrong reason and end up in legalism. Instead of our good works being an outpouring of love towards God for his indescribable gift, we actually believe (perhaps without even realizing it) that we are saved only if we do the right things. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We treat the Word of God like its just any other book, instead of what it really is–the Word of God Himself to His children, full of unsearchable riches and the “mystery hidden for ages in God”. (Ephesians 3:8-9)

We pray for relief from our problems, instead of praying for strength and for deep roots of faith and love through the trials. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Whether at home, church, or work many believers are eager to gratify and glorify self, instead of thinking of others. Instead of being humble, gentle, and patient, we react with pride, harshness, and impatience. Instead of bearing one another with love, we bear one another with irritation. (Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:4-5)

We look like, dress like, talk like, react like, watch like, read like, and listen like the world. Instead of separating ourselves from the darkness, we continue in it. (Ephesians 4:17-20)

We easily complain about almost everything and quickly fall into arguments over the most trivial things. (Philippians 2:14)

We accept anything that is labeled “Christian” as if it must be biblical, without any discernment at all. (Ephesians 5:6-13)

We see no sin in having ungrateful, complaining hearts or in considering ourselves first and foremost. (Ephesians 5:20-21)

We live lackluster lives that do not exhibit the joy of the Lord. (Philippians 4:4)

We are imprisoned by fears and worry. (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

There are so many more ways that we have been tinged by the world and by sin but I’ll stop there. You get the idea. The funny thing is that when we compare ourselves to the world, we look pretty white. It is really just like the laundry. We come out of the washer looking a sickly pink but when compared to the red item (the world), we look pretty good. It is only when we hold the tainted item up against a bright white item that hasn’t touched the red item that we realize just how pink it really is.

So what to do?

A few years ago, a company came out with an item called a Color Catcher. It “absorbs and traps loose dyes”. How ingenious. I don’t really know if it works, as I have never tried it, but we Christians have a Color Catcher, don’t we? It is the Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we come to understand that some of the attitudes and actions we have assumed were okay are not okay at all. But, even more importantly, it keeps us from falling into sins and attitudes that would easily ensnare us if we weren’t in the Word. Just like a color catcher supposedly keeps reds, blues, and greens from bleeding into whites in our washing machine, so the Bible keeps the world from bleeding into our daily habits, attitudes, and actions in our lives.

But, of course, doing this can really cramp our style. We may not want to face that the way we are living is downright sinful. And so we just carry our Bibles into church on a Sunday and then go home the following week, spending our quiet time (if we even have one) reading a light devotional or skimming a few verses, never really being challenged. Never really being changed.

I hope that you are encouraged today to start really getting into the Word. Not only does it reveal our sin, but it also shows us our desperate need for a Savior, making salvation even more precious and wonderful than it already was to us!

So use the Color Catcher you have been given. Get yourself into God’s Word and start studying.

(By the way, if you don’t know where to start, I created a free worksheet that may help you. Please e-mail me at Leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net if you’d like a copy.)