Every Promise Kept

foggy-woods

I woke up on Saturday morning to some really bad news. It had nothing to do with me or even anyone close to me, but, instead was about a family that is related to a friend of mine. My heart cried out, “WHY GOD? WHY? I don’t understand. This doesn’t make sense.” Honestly, it rocked my world a bit. How can such terrible, terrible things happen to people that love the Lord? Why do they happen?

This is an age old question, isn’t it? We know sin exists. We know that we all will die. We see bad stuff happening around us everyday. Every. Day. The stories are heart-breaking and overwhelming sometimes. They are especially heart-rending when they happen to fellow believers.

Wouldn’t you know–this past Sunday’s sermon happened to be just about this very thing. We had a former missionary by the name of Larry Gray visiting our church and his message for us was centered around the fact that God always keeps His promises. He then gave us three different ways in which He does so. I’d like to pass along his outline and examples, elaborated with a few of my own thoughts and a few extra examples from scripture between points.

He started off with a quote by our church’s retired pastor, Pastor James Ober–

A disappointed heart is one of the most fertile places for Satan to do his work.

What a succinct way to say such a profound truth. Disappointment is often what yields bitterness, an unforgiving heart, depression, a downcast spirit, a lack of joy. If Satan can get us to focus on our disappointment we become like super-fertilized soil for many bad things.

As I was listening to the sermon, my mind wandered for a second. What causes us to be so disappointed, anyway? Why are we so disappointed when things don’t go our way? Is it because we have been taught to expect a perfect, carefree life? Or perhaps because we believe that God isn’t working unless He is working out things the way we want them to work out? Hold that thought. We will get back to it.

The speaker went on to describe three ways in which God keeps His promises to His people–

1. Intervention. This is when God intervenes by changing our circumstances or removing us from the circumstances. This is the way we like the best, isn’t it? It is, by far, the easiest from our human vantage point.

Two examples he mentioned from scripture were the Israelites crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14) and the blind man who was healed by Jesus (John 9). But there are so many more, aren’t there? How about Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6) and the perfectly timed earthquake that opened the jail cells of Paul and Silas at Philippi (Acts 16:25-34)?

If we have followed Jesus Christ for any amount of time at all, we have had some of this intervention in our own lives, as well. “Coincidental” meetings, miraculous timing, disappearing tumors, a much needed check in the mailbox or a bag of groceries on the doorstep. Just the right thing at exactly the right time. God is still working in this way. And, of course, we love it when He does!

2. Interaction. This is where we work, God works, and, together, we accomplish God’s purposes and plan. This requires a bit more from us than the first way, doesn’t it? We actually have to do something. We may have to sacrifice our time as well as our selfish will and desires. We will probably have to work very hard in order to experience victory.

The speaker gave the example of Elijah outrunning the chariot (I Kings 18:45-46). I also thought of Moses having to hold his arms up to win the battle (Exodus 17:11) and Esther putting her own life in peril to approach the King in order to save the Jews (Esther 4:11). The Great Commission is also a proof that this is sometimes how God works (Matthew 28:19-20). These passages show us that oftentimes God uses man (He doesn’t need us but chooses to use us) to accomplish His purposes.

This is often the way in which we experience victory over things like obesity, debt, and addictions. We step up and give our best efforts and God is there strengthening, supporting, and guiding us all the way.

3. Inner Action. This is where nothing changes but our hearts. This is the one that we probably find the most difficult. We want things to change. We want relief! And we want it now! But sometimes God says Wait. And sometimes He says No. But in the process of it all– if we don’t let disappointment and disillusionment grab hold of our heart–spiritual fruit grows. We develop a deeper walk that eventually spills out over on to the lives of others, encouraging them, blessing them, perhaps even leading them to the precious Savior.

The speaker gave the example of Paul’s thorn in the flesh for this point (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). I would also add John the Baptist–beheaded by the orders of a vengeful, evil woman (Matthew 14:1-12) and Jeremiah, the prophet who was hated, mocked, and abused for declaring the Word of the Lord, with little relief (Jeremiah 11:21; 12:6; 20:1-2 –to name a few!)

He also gave the modern-day example of Joni Eareckson Tada. Most of you are probably familiar with this woman, now in her mid 60s, that was in a diving accident as a 17 year old, leaving her a quadriplegic. If you haven’t ever read her story, you have missed one of the best biographies of these modern times (If you’d like to read it, you can find it here). The speaker went on to talk about just how much Joni has done for the Lord in her wheelchair.

Think about that for a moment. If God would have answered the desperate appeals and cries for healing for this young woman, would she have been able to be used by God in the same way she is used today? Would she have been able to have the same incredible impact among the disabled that she has had today without healing? She has had an incredible ministry with the disabled because she is disabled. She is a wonderful example of not giving in to the disappointment of unanswered prayer, isn’t she? By the way, her reach goes far beyond the disabled. She has written many wonderful books, draws and paints beautiful works with her mouth, and has also quite a speaking career. God took her pain and turned it into something magnificent for His glory! Isn’t it amazing what a heart that yields to God’s will–instead of caving in to disappointment– can accomplish for the Lord?

So that’s the sermon in a nutshell. Isn’t that profound? But before I conclude, let’s go back to our expectations for a moment. One of the statements our speaker made was this–

If this {intervention} is your only expectation, you will have a disappointed, damaged faith.

This is so true! I had never thought about it quite like that before. You see, we so badly want to be removed from our circumstances. We don’t want to do any work at all. We certainly don’t want to stay in our bad circumstances. And, so, we basically tell God “answer my prayers the way I want them answered or else.” Instead of submitting and yielding to our Most High God, we want Him to bow to us and our desires. Instead of desiring to serve an Almighty, Holy God, we want Him to serve us! Think about that for a moment! This is a big deal.

What is our purpose? What are we here for?

To have our every whim and desire fulfilled? No.

To live worry-free, without cares? No.

To have everything go just as we want? No.

To never experience pain, death, or persecution? No.

To bring God glory and to make Him known? YES! A thousand times YES!

If we remember this, it completely changes our paradigm for life. Instead of trying to manipulate circumstances and fixing situations, we rest quietly and wait on the Lord. Instead of always wanting to get our own way, we think of others first. Instead of living in a state of panic, fear, and disappointment, we trust in the Lord, knowing that He loves us deeply, fully, and forever.

Living in a fallen, sinful world is hard. It is painful. Oftentimes it is downright unpleasant. But if we know God and trust in Him He will uphold us. If He is the rock we build our life upon (Matthew 7:24-29), no disappointment or trial will destroy us. Instead, they will make us stronger.

I hope this has helped you as much as it helped me. I hope that you will continue to trust the Lord today, no matter what trial or deep disappointment you are facing. God has not deserted you. Instead, He is fulfilling His purposes in you. Don’t turn away from Him during this time–turn towards Him.

Small Mercies

sunflowers

Where to begin. It’s been a rough few weeks around here. On many different levels and in many different ways. I have felt completely uninspired and, honestly, pretty hypocritical as I wrote posts here. Most of you seemed to agree with me, if the response (or lack thereof) to recent posts was any indication.

At this point, I am saying to myself–What am I doing? Who do I think I am? I have no right to be writing. No right to be telling people how to live godly lives. Not while I still struggle so much myself.

It all started with a prayer. We were talking in our home about how so many people have blind spots. Areas of their life where they just can’t see the truth about themselves. This was bothering me. And so I asked the Lord to show me any blind spots I have. He has been busy doing so ever since.

I didn’t really realize it until, at one of my lowest points, it hit me. God was answering my prayer. And it wasn’t pretty. And it was so painful. But my eyes were opened. And I saw myself as I really am.

Through all of this, God has been extending small–but infinitely encouraging–mercies to me. A kind word about the blog passed along through a mutual friend. A scripture passage that almost seems like it was written just for me. An excerpt from a book I am reading that challenges and encourages me just where I am at. A friend who is praying for me during this spiritually dry time.

And I am being reminded that even when we are chastised or going through trials, that God is there. He doesn’t leave us to wallow in our pit of despair, but, oh so gently, meets us there and walks with us. He picks us up and gives us His strength.

Paul puts it this way–

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

While I can’t really say I have gotten to the point of taking pleasure in these things, I can see the benefit of them. I can see how they mold me and shape me and sanctify me. I am starting to see how they force me to rely on Christ’s strength instead of my own. And, most importantly, they humble me and fill me with awareness of just how weak and sinful I am. God’s amazing grace and endless mercy become even more precious to me with each infirmity. With each reproach. With each need and persecution and distress.

And so it is so important to me that you realize I am just a person. I am not some perfect role model. I have so many areas which I still need to grow. In fact, the further along I get the more I realize this. I never want to appear arrogant or judgmental in any post. I only desire to point people to God and His Word. I want to glorify Him and Him alone. I want to point people to the Savior–Jesus–the only way we can be reconciled to God. I want to show that the Word of God is the only anchor we truly have in the storms of life. And I want to encourage Christians to shake the status quo Christianity that has become acceptable–and even expected– in the church today.

I do this as a weak and lowly sinner. As an imperfect vessel. And I do thank God for showing me my weaknesses so that His strength can shine through. So that I, too, can say “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

If you are still reading Growing 4 Life posts, I thank you. I hope that you are encouraged to grow and to encourage those around you to shake the status quo Christianity. If you are struggling today, if God is showing you your weaknesses, I hope that you, too, will experience His small mercies and unending love.

(Now go and have a wonderful Labor Day weekend! :) Can you believe summer is over already?)

 

The Four Missing Elements

(or how can I have assurance of salvation?)

MissingElements

If reading about the lives and faith of those who have gone on before has taught me anything, it has most certainly taught me that there is nothing new under the sun. Satan has been working feverishly for thousands of years now to keep people off the path of true, biblical faith. And he has had great success.

One of the ways we see him currently working in the church today is through a false, mystical faith that relies on experience for the assurance of salvation. The only thing that matters in many churches or the lives of many “Christians” is that there has been some sort of spiritual experience that one can look to as the moment of salvation.

I thought this was a new thing. But in reading the biography of Jonathan Edwards by Iain Murray, I see that this trick has been around for many, many years. This biography has required great thought and effort to read (I am still working on it!), but I am learning so much.

If you don’t mind, I am going to just give a really brief paragraph of history before moving on to what Edwards had to say about experiential faith. (If you aren’t interested in the history part of it, feel free to skip the following paragraph.)

From the mid 1730s to about 1743, there came a revival to America which was called the “Great Awakening”. You may have heard about it. George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards were both a big part of this exciting time in America. About halfway through the revival, Edwards noticed that the revival was taking on a distinctly emotional leaning. People were much more wrapped up in their experiences than they were in living for Christ. This led Edwards to write A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a book that is still in print today. This is Edwards’ first paragraph, explaining the reason he is writing this particular book–

There is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God? But though it be of such importance, and though we have clear and abundant light in the word of God to direct us in this matter, yet there is no one point, wherein professing Christians do more differ one from another. It would be endless to reckon up the variety of opinions in this point, that divide the Christian world; making manifest the truth of that declaration of our Savior, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” The consideration of these things has long engaged me to attend to this matter, with the utmost diligence and care, and exactness of search and inquiry, that I have been capable of. It is a subject on which my mind has been peculiarly intent, ever since I first entered on the study of divinity. But as to the success of my inquiries it must be left to the judgment of the reader of the following treatise.

I have not read the Treatise of Religious Affections (at least not yet) but Murray shares portions from this book and other writings of Edwards that I have found most helpful in establishing what the Bible teaches about the assurance of salvation. Edwards felt it necessary to respond to the problem of experience-based (and false) faith that had grown like a giant tare in the midst of the true revival. I was most astonished to find this problem to be a very old one. And I am most grateful to Jonathan Edwards for expounding biblically on this very hot and current topic of today.

Jonathan Edwards uses this illustration, that seems so very applicable–

It is with professors of religion, especially such as become so in a time of outpouring of the Spirit of God, as it is with blossoms in the spring; there are vast numbers of them upon the trees, which all look fair and promising; but yet many of them never come to anything….It is the mature fruit which comes afterwards, and not the beautiful colors and smell of the blossoms that we must judge by.*

So, how do we know if we ourselves and those we love are practicing true and saving faith? What are the distinguishing marks of a true believer? How do we have genuine assurance of our salvation? This is no small question, as we all long to be right with God and spend eternity in heaven.

Someone I know recently had a conversation with a co-worker about where she would go when she dies. She stated that she was sure she was going to heaven because she was a good person. When pressed a bit, it was made clear that this woman wasn’t basing her belief on anything but her own desire to be in a good place when she dies. But beliefs do not save us. And, while I most certainly recognize that this will step on some toes, I also recognize the importance of getting a message of biblical salvation out to as many people as will hear it! Eternal life and damnation hang in the balance. How important that we know what the Bible says about these things.

Edwards, in response to this mystical, experiential religion and the aftermath of the revival, gives four missing elements in the lives of those who have no true grace. In other words, those who have had an experience but aren’t truly saved. (Keep in mind, that Edwards is assuming the reader’s high view of scripture. His readers–and even the general population–would have generally viewed the Bible as the true, inerrant, and complete Word of God and the basis for all morality. This is definitely missing from our current culture.)

1. Humility is missing. I have been thinking of this one now for a good, long while. We cannot even come to know true salvation without humility. How can we ever see ourselves as the sinners we are without it? Pride is a most dangerous and deadly sin.

2. An abiding sense of sin is missing.True saints are spoken of in Scripture not only as those that have mourned for sin, but as those that do mourn, whose manner it is still to mourn (Matthew 5:4)’ Repentance and confession are not once and done, but a continual part of a true believer’s life.

3. Reverential fear is missing. Yes, God is our friend, but He is also the most holy, omnipotent God. He is not to be treated casually, as we are so wont to do in this current casual culture. Being too familiar with God means that we don’t truly understand who He really is.

4. True balance is missing. Edwards explains balance in this way: “The real Christian, enjoying assurance of salvation, has ‘holy boldness’ but he also ‘has less of self-confidence and more modesty…He is less apt that others to be shaken in the faith, but more apt than others to be moved with solemn warnings, and with God’s frowns, and with the calamities of others. He has the firmest comfort but the softest heart. Richer than others, he is the poorest of all in spirit: the tallest and strongest saint, but the least and tenderest child among them.” *

Murray wraps Edwards’ helpful work up in one sentence: “Edwards basic and recurring theme is straight forward enough. The love and the pursuit of holiness is the enduring mark of the true Christian.”

Of course, as always, let me clarify something of great importance: True believers may be weak in one of these areas or growing in them, so lacking one or two of these elements does not mean a lack of salvation. However, I would add that if all four are missing it is a very ominous sign. I would also add that if the first one is missing it is also a rather ominous sign. There is really no way to be truly saved without the humble admission of sin and guilt.

Edwards talks about baby Christians in this manner: While the experience of a young Christian may be like a confused chaos, he will follow holiness, and true religious affections differ from false affections in that the true are always related to holiness.*

He also goes on to say this about the differences between true and false faith–

Individuals, once confident that they are converted, have no more earnest longings after light and grace….they live upon their first work, or some high experiences that are past, and there is an end to their crying and striving after God and grace. But the holy principles that actuate a true saint have a far more powerful influence to stir him up to earnestness in seeking God and holiness…The Scriptures everywhere represent the seeking, striving, and labor of a Christian, as being chiefly after his conversion, and his conversion as being but the beginning of his work. And almost all that is said in the New Testament, of men’s watching, giving earnest heed to themselves, running the race that is set before them, striving and agonizing, wrestling not with flesh and blood but principalities and powers, fighting, putting on the whole armour of God, and standing, pressing forward, reaching forth, continuing instant in prayer, crying to God day and night; I say, almost all that is said in the New Testament of these things, is spoken of and directed to the saints. Where these things are applied to sinners’ seeking conversion once, they are spoken of the saints’ prosecution of the great business of their high calling ten times.*

True Christianity is a beautiful thing. The Gospel message not only saves us, it transforms us. The counterfeit that we see today–embodied by men and women following after their own worldly lusts and dreams, claiming Christ all the while, is not true Christianity. And while I would never, ever judge an individual’s salvation (who am I to know a person’s heart or where they are at with God?) these thoughts by Edwards do give us a litmus test by which to judge church movements and revivals and the current church age. They also cause us to be more earnest in prayer for the spiritual growth (or perhaps even conversion) of those who are not manifesting the elements of true faith. And, finally, the words of Jonathan Edwards should cause us to examine our own lives, in search of these elements of true, biblical faith.

Please NOTE: One of my greatest fears in writing a post such as this one is misrepresenting an author. I have not read all of Edwards works and I am only becoming acquainted with the Great Awakening and the dynamics surrounding it. If you have anything helpful to add or have any corrections to the information I have given, it will be most welcome. I generally stay away from this type of post, but felt this topic to be of particular importance and relevance to the current church culture we live in.

*This quote and all following come from Banner of Truth Trust‘s The Religious Affections, Select Works of Jonathan Edwards.  This organization has done a wonderful job in bringing the works and biographies of great men and women of the faith back into print.

From the Fringes and Into the Church

church

I didn’t think it was any accident that the Saturday evening before my husband was to teach Sunday School on the sin of selfishness, we had the (insert sarcasm here) “wonderful” privilege of watching an Olympic athlete try to defend his indefensible actions.

A swimmer by the name of Ryan Lochte gave Eric a very current and obvious example of this sin that is a constant struggle for most of us. A sin that, without Christ, will eat some alive. Lochte seems to be one of its victims, if his interview was any indication.

This post is not about Lochte. But I have to say just one more thing about this “kid” who was “just out having fun”.

My daughter brought to my attention that Lochte is 32 years old. THIRTY-TWO! In the world that used to be, 32-year-olds were working hard and raising families. They certainly would have never been referred to as a kid. And they certainly wouldn’t have deemed getting drunk and trashing a bathroom with a bunch of buddies entertainment for an evening. And if any 32-year-old would have done such a thing, he would have been ostracized by the public and viewed with disgust.

But not in this world.

In this world, anything goes. Well, anything that doesn’t call for absolute values or hard work. Values have completely flipped.

And perhaps we should expect that in this world. 2 Timothy tells us this in Chapter 3–

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I truly believe we are in those perilous times. Of course, there have always been men and women who love themselves, who boast, who despise good, and have no self-control. But I believe there are two main ways this day and age is different. And it’s pretty important that we be aware of these differences–

First, these things are no longer on the fringes of most societies but rather have been accepted as mainstream. One only has to take a look around to see this. In fact, some of these are not only accepted, they are even encouraged.  Entertainment and media have changed our entire values system. They have changed how we view sin and what we deem as important. Meanwhile, many of us sat on our sofas with a bag of chips in our hands, our eyes on a screen, and allowed it all to happen, with not even a raised, questioning eyebrow. Shame on us.

Second, these things are creeping into the church. Instead of being a church that is repentant and broken over our sin and finding our victory in Jesus and then working together, unified, to spread the Gospel and grow believers, we have become a church filled with individuals obsessed with finding our personal purposes and getting our own way. We have become obsessed with “experiencing” worship and meeting our carnal needs. It is a church that is much more concerned about personal glory than about God’s glory.

We have a form of godliness but deny its power. Isn’t that such an apt description of the church today?

As true believers–those that are part of the remnant that is left of the true church–we have a grave responsibility in a culture like this one.

It can be overwhelming at times and it is generally no fun. But Christ has prepared us for this in His Word. Matthew 6:24 puts it very succinctly: 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.

Deny himself. As opposed to finding personal purpose.

Take up his cross. As opposed to amassing riches, loving pleasure, and fulfilling dreams.

Follow Christ. As opposed to following self.

There is a most beautiful, unspoken conclusion to this verse. If we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, we find exactly what we were so desperately longing for. We find our purpose, we find peace, and we find true and lasting joy.

But if we are obsessed with our own lusts, dreams, and purposes, we end up discouraged, depressed, broken, and reaping heaps of horrible consequences on ourselves and those we love. And if we are so unfortunate–we even become the poster child for an entire nation as to what selfishness looks like.

How important that we live the Christian life as Jesus Christ has commanded us. How important that we live pure, holy, and unselfish lives in a culture that is obsessed with self. There is no time to waste and no room for a Christian to focus on self.

Let us battle selfishness tenaciously.

Never giving up and never giving in.

 

Self-Obsession

self-obsession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All because of our great idol: self. 

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

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

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

 

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

Mark 12:30-31


 

Do You Love Money?

Eight Questions to Ask Yourself

2Men

Mr. and Mrs. Smith live in a 6000 sq ft house in a wealthy neighborhood and vacation at their second home on Grand Cayman several times each year. Mr. Smith is a top executive at a major corporation and drives a Jaguar.

Mr. and Mrs. Jones live in a small rancher in an even smaller town. Mr. Jones works at a local factory and drives a Ford truck. Their only vacation each year is to a cabin in the mountains that has no electricity or running water.

Which one of these couples loves money?

Most of us–without any thought at all–would tend to say that of course it is Mr. and Mrs. Smith. There would be no discussion. No thoughtful contemplation. We just assume that if someone is rich they must love money.

Which may be the case.

But isn’t always the case.

Let’s take their vehicles. A new teen driver miscalculates and backs into their vehicle in the driveway. Mr. Jones has a fit! He grows angry,  resentful, and may even let out a few curse words. On the other hand, in the same scenario, Mr. Smith is gracious and kind and tells the neighbor not to worry about it. Now which of these men do you think loves money (and his stuff)?

Or let’s take a look at their homes. What if Mrs. Jones won’t let anyone come to her house because she is obsessed with cleanliness? She doesn’t want anyone to ruin her carpet or to put marks in her cabinets and so she never practices hospitality. She spends all her time cleaning and making sure not a speck of dirt exists anywhere but no one ever gets to enjoy her home because she doesn’t want anyone to mar her perfect masterpiece. Mrs. Smith, on the other hand, while having a beautifully and professionally decorated house, welcomes others to her home regularly. She loves to play hostess and does her own cooking and cleaning. Her home feels lived-in and comfortable. Which of these women loves money (and her stuff) more?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

Having money is not equal to loving money

AND

Loving money is not equal to having money

They are two separate things and we should treat them as such.

Many years ago, my husband and I bought a large SUV for our growing family. It was a nice car, already a few years old, and affordable for us. I was excited about our new vehicle and can vividly remember how awful I felt when someone made a derogatory statement to me about it, implying that we loved money because we had chosen to drive such a car.

I had to really think through that. Did we have an inordinate love of money? That is a question we all should wrestle through, but what vehicle we drive is not generally an indicator.

Instead of judging ourselves and others based on the stuff we have, we’d be better to judge based on our attitudes about the stuff we have. Here are eight questions we can ask ourselves to make sure we are holding on to our material blessings very loosely–

1. Do we use what God has given us to encourage others and to further God’s Kingdom or do we hoard it all to ourselves?

2. Are we quick to let others borrow our things? If someone needs something that we have, do we let them use it? Or are we too worried about it being broken or never returned?

3. Do we grow angry and resentful if someone breaks something of ours? Or do we treat them like we would want to be treated?

Okay–I have to insert a quick story here about this. One evening, our oldest daughter had a group of friends over. They were playing a Wii game in the basement, using our brand new flat-screened TV. After a bit, our daughter came upstairs with one of her friends. Tears ran down the friend’s face as she shared that she had accidentally let the Wii remote fly from her hand and hit the TV. It had damaged the screen pretty badly and she was SO sorry. We all watched to see how my husband would react. And he did not disappoint. It is one of the reasons I love him so much. He kindly told her that it was “just a TV” and not to worry about it and then sent them back downstairs. This wasn’t an act and he didn’t huff and puff about what had happened after she had left that evening. He really took it all in stride. Stuff has never mattered that much to him and this incident was just one more confirmation of that. He has taught me to always love people more than stuff.

4. What is driving us? Do we work to supply for the needs of our family (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12) and to glorify God (I Corinthians 10:31)? Or are we working feverishly so that we can buy a nicer car, a bigger home, and the latest gadget?

5. Are we generous? Do we give freely and often and without reserve when we see a need?

6. Do we grow resentful if someone forgets to pay us back? Do we fuss and fret and make assumptions about them? Perhaps we even gossip about them to others?

7. Am I envious of the stuff that my neighbor has? Am I always complaining about how little stuff I have or what I can’t afford? This indicates a heart that is wrapped up in material things and the love of money.

8. If everything I have was taken away tomorrow, would I be okay? Or is my security and happiness wrapped up in material things?

These are tough questions, but if we answer them honestly we will learn the truth about ourselves. The love of money is rooted deep within most of us. It is something for which we need to be on guard always and can never let get the upper hand in our lives. It is not a sin that only affects rich people, but has the potential to affect each and every one one of us that lives in a materialistic, western culture.

Surprisingly, the scripture tells us that the love of money isn’t only sinful but that it also has great potential to cause us much sorrow. I Timothy 6:10 tells us this–

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

“Pierced themselves through with many sorrows”. That is quite a picture, isn’t it? This tells us that loving money could quite possibly destroy our lives. We can see this in a multitude of ways–

►Elderly parents pass away and the kids find out that the will isn’t fair. Adult children fight for their “rights”, hurtful words are said, and the family is fractured beyond repair.

►Mom and Dad want a particular lifestyle. They believe it is their right to have the American Dream, no matter what it costs. Meanwhile, their children are left to their own devices and grow up, lost and lonely, selfish and spoiled, with no boundaries and no moorings. All for the sake of stuff.

►A man is obsessed with making easy money. He buys into a get-rich-quick scheme and loses his family’s life savings.

These are just three examples of a million that could be told. The love of money is a dangerous game and we best make sure we aren’t caught up in it. Let’s be good stewards of whatever God has entrusted to us, whether it be great or small. After all– it isn’t even ours, anyway.

He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much;
and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.
Luke 16:10

 

Changed Lives: Mandy

Changed Lives (final)

Today I want you to meet Mandy. I got to know her when she started attending the Bible Study I was teaching last fall. It became immediately evident that she had an unusual hunger for the truth. She asked a lot of questions, demonstrating a humble and teachable spirit that is seen in few. One evening, after the study, Mandy shared with me some of her story. I knew at that point that if I ever followed through on my idea of sharing testimonies on Growing 4 Life, that I would want to include hers. It’s a beautiful story of God’s love and redemption. I am so thankful she is willing to share it–

Mandy’s Story

As a young woman, I found myself involved in drinking, partying, and relationships with men outside of marriage. I was desperately trying to fulfill a longing to be loved but, instead, ended up deceived and alone.

I truly wanted to stop living this foolish and dangerous lifestyle and also started to develop a hunger for Truth. God brought a couple into my life who befriended me, bought me my first Bible, and invited me to their church. Even though I still did not know the Gospel, I began to believe there was hope for me.  Looking back now, I can see how God was beginning to divinely draw me to Himself.

Not long after this, I was brought to deep conviction about the sin in my life– particularly for my relations with many men outside of marriage. I had already had two abortions and was a single mother to two sons from two different men.

Around that time, bearing a heavy burden of feeling unclean from my promiscuous lifestyle, I made the decision to have a routine checkup for sexually transmitted diseases. On my way home from the doctor, I fell into deep despair. It was just at that moment that my friends stopped by.

“I deserve to burn in Hell and live with the consequences of my behavior,” I cried. It was a most terrifying and sobering thought. It was at this time that this couple presented me with the Gospel and God began to remove the blinders from my eyes that had kept me in such darkness.

Two weeks passed and, finally, my doctor called me with my test results. I nervously answered, expecting the worst. I knew I deserved it and I was ready to pay a high price for my sinful lifestyle.

But instead he shared with me that I had a clean bill of health! In fact, he told me that my pap test was clear—for the first time in seven years! I praised God for this unexpected news and it was then that I bowed my head and asked God to forgive my sins: past, present, and future. I thanked Him for sending His Son to die on the cross for my sins so that I am able to have a relationship with Him and one day be with Him in Heaven for eternity and I claimed Jesus as the Lord of my life.

Following my profession of faith, my longing to be loved was being fulfilled and I was experiencing the true joy, peace, and freedom that only Christ can give. I truly felt born again!

But all that would change when I chose once again to live in sin.

Prior to my profession, I had been introduced to an active duty marine who was on leave visiting his family. We spent the last several months of his service talking and learning about each other. He came to visit me after his term ended and it did not take us long to fall in love. We knew that we would be married someday in the future. Little did I know, sin was crouching at my door; and its desire was for me. I am ashamed to say that I did not master it. Unfortunately, we did not keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and I conceived.

I learned the hard way that sin will take you further then you want to go, keep you longer then you want to stay, and cost you more then you want to pay. The shame was unbearable, my purity was sacrificed in one moment of passion, my friendships where falling apart, I lost the desire to read my Bible and attend church, and before I knew it, I stopped walking with the Lord completely.

Three years passed and I was now married and living with my two sons and our newest addition, a sweet daughter. My husband and I bought a home and I worked hard to make it comfortable and homey.

From a worldly view it may have looked like I had it all– a loving husband who was able to provide enough for me to be a homemaker, three healthy children, a charming house, enough money to buy what we wanted whenever we wanted it. And—yet—there was a desperate longing inside me that just wasn’t being fulfilled.

DSC_8704-8After attending a Women’s Conference at a local church in September 2015, the Holy Spirit pressed heavily upon my heart. It seemed far too easy to believe that God was waiting for me with open arms. Surely I had to do more than to confess my sin, accept God’s forgiveness, and then pick up where I left off with Him? But I did this very thing and my life hasn’t been the same since!

I am convinced life is not found in anything but Jesus. My family and I started faithfully attending church and Sunday school again and I got involved in a couple of Bible Studies. God has been pruning, teaching, and molding me through it all. In humility, I am able to say I stand more firmly in my faith because of it and nothing gives me greater peace and joy then serving and glorifying God.

 

Why Don’t We Discern?

why don't we

I already know that my title will keep most people from reading this post. People who do discern will figure they don’t need this post and people who don’t discern will ignore it. But I feel compelled to write it, anyway. Because perhaps the Lord will use it to wake someone up. You never know, now, do you?

From the time I was a teenager, I recognized a complete rejection by most modern Christians of discernment. Whether it was regarding entertainment or the preacher they listened to on Sunday mornings, most people did not practice discernment. And this tendency to ignore this command from scripture has grown considerably worse in the recent years.

Why? Why is this command in scripture so soundly ignored by so many solid believers? What is the deal?

First, what does discern mean? According to dictionary.com it is–

to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate

In a practical sense, discernment means that we can distinguish between good and evil in our minds. We are willing to take a hard look at every single thing that we allow to enter our minds and consume our thoughts–from the book we read on the beach to the podcast we have downloaded to our favorite TV show to the preacher we listen to on Sunday–with the heart of a Berean (Acts 17:11), viewing all of it through the lens of scripture. It means that we are willing to reject anything that doesn’t line up with what we read in God’s Word.

Second, let’s take a quick look at what the Bible has to say about this (btw, this is just scratching the surface. There are many more verses and passages dedicated to this)–

Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, But a man of understanding walks uprightly. Proverbs 15:21

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, Philippians 1:9

But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:14

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  I John 4:1

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. I Thessalonians 5:21

Okay. Now that we know that we are to discern between good and evil and only hold fast what is good after that process, let’s talk about why so few people are actually doing this. Why are so few Christians unconcerned about their entertainment choices? Why the big disconnect between their Christianity and their entertainment? Why are so few uninterested in discerning the times? Why do so few Christians care so little about what is really going on in the world around us, according to scripture?

I think there are some very good–albeit inexcusable–reasons–

1. Pure Selfishness (and a tad of rebellion). Many just want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it and nobody is going to tell them they can’t. They are going to listen to whatever radio station they want and no one had better judge them for it. No one. Because that would be judgmental and we know that is the worst sin ever (says the world, by the way–not scripture). They say they aren’t convicted, but we know if there is no conviction, then there is something wrong spiritually.

2. We want to be popular. Peer pressure is a powerful thing and to admit we haven’t seen the latest movie or don’t watch the trendiest show of the day is really, really hard for some of us. We want to be cool and hip (are those even the right words anymore? I am definitely getting old) and so we are willing to make compromises.

3. We hate change. We just want everything to remain the same and so we will stay at a church that is no longer preaching the gospel or has followed after the worldly, modern day church model just because change is so painful (and that is true–change is painful). Or we will keep watching the show that gets continually worse because it’s what we do on Tuesday nights or whenever. We hate change. Did I mention that already??

4. We don’t want to know or think about it. Some just don’t want to think about the hard stuff of life. They want to take everything at face value. If someone says they are a Christian then they surely must be one. If a book is found in a Christian bookstore, then it must belong there. If a show doesn’t have swearing or sex or violence, well, then it must be a good show, right? (wrong–philosophy can be just as dangerous as the other stuff). But it takes work to think. And we, as a culture, have been trained to only want to play.

5. Some aren’t saved at all. J.C. Ryle puts it this way on his expository comments on Matthew 25–

At present, we must all be aware, the vast majority of professing Christians care nothing at all about it. They have no sense of sin. They have no love towards Christ. They know nothing of being born again. Repentance, and faith, and grace, and holiness, are mere words and names to them. They are subjects which they either dislike, or about which they feel no concern. But all this state of things shall one day come to an end. Knowledge, conviction, the value of the soul, the need of a Savior, shall all burst on men’s minds one day like a flash of lightning. But alas! it will be too late. It will be too late to be buying oil, when the Lord returns. The mistakes that are not found out until that day are irretrievable. Are we ever mocked and persecuted and thought foolish because of our religion? Let us bear it patiently, and pray for those who persecute us. They know not what they are doing. They will certainly alter their minds one day. We may yet hear them confessing, that we were wise and they were foolish. The whole world shall one day acknowledge, that the saints of God made a wise choice.*

Do you find yourself not discerning because of one of the reasons above? Most everyone who chooses not to discern falls into one of these categories. Look–this is not a blanket judgment on anyone. I recognize that — just as some Christians struggle with anger or lying and fight it all their lives– so do some Christians struggle in this area of discernment. But recognizing that not practicing it is not only sin but also a big detriment to our spiritual walks should push us to change this. Being aware is always the first step to making a change. Let me finish this post by giving five wonderful benefits that come when we choose to discern–

1. Our hearts don’t become hardened to sin, but instead we stay softened and sensitive to the will of God in our big life decisions, as well as in small, everyday decisions.

2. We love what God loves and hates what He hates, which leads us into a deeper walk with our loving heavenly Father.

3. Our hunger for scripture grows as we turn away from sin and false teachers.

4. We experience true peace and joy that results from a life of obedience, instead of the fake stuff conjured up by the “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

5. We remove ourselves from the slippery slope that leads into deep and abiding sin.

I hope this has encouraged at least one of you to turn off the TV or to switch the radio station or to starting thinking about leaving your worldly church. If even one of you changes something, I will know that God has used it for His purposes and His glory.

Search the scriptures for yourself. Get in the Word and be changed. For it is there–and only there–that true change is wrought. Turn away from your personal experiences and turn to the Word of God. I will leave you with Hebrews 4:11-13–

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

 

 

*Ryle, J.C. . Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Four Volume Set. Kindle Edition.

 

Painting a Different Color

paintbrushes2

My youngest daughter has been after me for awhile now to help her paint her room. She is quite the little artist (I will share a few photos of her work below for anyone interested) and so she decided the other day that she would like to move back into the old room that she used to share with her sister. There is lots of natural light in that room and it will be perfect for her.

She has been talking about re-doing one of the bedrooms for awhile now but, for some reason, I have been hesitating. I think it is because I have enjoyed having a little status quo around here for a bit after all of those weddings. Whew! That was quite a ride. Just today I realized that I actually do not have to do any wedding planning (or paying!) this summer. It almost feels strange!

It is rather ironic, though, that I–the one who says never to be satisfied with Status Quo (see my tagline up above??)–am thankful for it. At least when it comes to home life. I am tired of changes. I just want something to remain the same for a year. Or two. Of course, we all know that this doesn’t happen. While changes  are always flowing in and out of our lives through the years, there are certain times that changes happen right after the other and you can hardly catch your breath. Like when your kids start to move out and start their own lives.

But I digress.

So back to the room…

My daughter found just the right comforter set and we took it to Lowe’s yesterday to match the paint. Did you know they do that? They did a fantastic job in pulling the perfect blue-green shade she wanted from the pillow sham we provided. No more staring at paint swatches, trying to find just the right shade.

We took the paint home, ate some lunch, and then got to work. I trimmed for her and she rolled behind me. As I trimmed, I couldn’t help but notice the other colors peeking out from behind my paint brush and I took a little trip down memory lane. We moved into this house when the two youngest girls were just one and three and so the first color I saw below my brush was a pale pink. I remember finding a cool idea somewhere–it wasn’t Pinterest because that didn’t exist–and painting all four walls a different pastel shade. I was pleased when I was done, although I am not sure the girls ever really loved it. And then several years ago, they started complaining about living in a “baby” room and begged to have it redone. As I painted, I remembered the girls’ giving very different opinions about colors and then finally settling on purple and gray; and so the next color under my brush was a medium shade of purple. And now I was covering the purple of the past with a beautiful aqua.

I tried to cover all of the previous colors beneath the brush but it is so hard to do that perfectly. Kind of like life. No matter what good changes we make, there are always vestiges of our past that cling to us. They peek out when we get frustrated or upset. Or when we are disappointed or anxious.

When we get saved, God provides the Holy Spirit to help us to live a life that glorifies and pleases Him. But we still battle our flesh and sometimes those battles can be quite fierce. This is one of the hardest things, isn’t it? As we grow in Christ, it is like we are painting a wall and covering our old man with our new man. But the old man is always there lying beneath the surface. And the more we grow in Christ, the less of the old man we should see. But we can never–on this side of glory–cover him completely.

Paul puts it this way in Galatians 5:16-26–

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

So this means that our flesh is always warring against us, trying to take us down and keep us from living a godly life. It means that we will always have temptations that we need to fight. And that can be exhausting. But true believers keep fighting.

So what exactly does an ungodly life look like, as compared to a godly life? Well, Paul goes on to share that very specifically in verses 19-26 of the same chapter–

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery,[c] fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders,[d] drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Our old life of sin and our new life in Christ will look vastly different. Just like the walls I was painting. They were one color and I painted them a different color. I could say that I painted them a different color, but if the wall was still purple, this would prove that my words were not true. Salvation is a bit like this, as well. Many, many people say that they have “accepted Jesus”, but this is not what we use to prove salvation. The verses we see above show us what an unbeliever looks like compared to a genuine Christian and this is what will prove a person’s profession of faith.

Sure, we all have struggles with sin and some of the old color bleeds through sometimes and we will blindly miss a few spots. But true believers hold their paint brush in their hand at all times, working diligently at covering the old man completely so that he shows through as little as possible. Those who say they are believer but really aren’t will live in their sin, claiming forgiveness under the cross. But this goes against all that is in scripture. Forgiveness only comes with genuine repentance. A hard, unrepentant, arrogant heart is not one that has been changed by Jesus Christ.

Are these hard words to hear? They are if someone we love dearly is not exhibiting any of the fruits of the spirit from the verses above but, instead, abounds in the works of the flesh. What does that mean about their eternal destiny? I surely can’t judge but it does give cause for concern.

Sometimes when someone is just getting started at painting their wall, much of the old man still shows. New believers need a ton of grace, just like we did, too, when we got saved. We can only do what we know and they don’t know very much yet, do they? I shudder more for those who have claimed Christ for years and years and yet there are no changes. It is like they have a paint brush right beside them but hesitate to pick it up because they kind of like their old color. A true believer always has a paint brush in their hand. Paul puts it this way in Philippians 2:12-13–

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Paul also says this in 2 Corinthians 5:17–

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Notice he doesn’t say that someone in Christ might become a new creation. He says he is. Genuine new life in Christ is best determined by the fruit in someone’s life. Fruit that will continue to grow –albeit sometimes at a snail’s pace–throughout their entire life.

While I have used the painting analogy, the author of Hebrews uses a different (and better) analogy in chapter 12, verses 1-2–

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

However you want to explain it, it is abundantly clear that genuine salvation will involve a lifetime struggle of removing sin from our lives and growing in the fruits of the Spirit. This is not only how we will finish the race and bring glory to God, but also how others will know that we are genuinely saved.

I know this is not a popular thing to write these days. I get it. But I also know that this is what God’s Word says. As I looked for verses, I found an abundance of them throughout all of the New Testament to add credence to what I have written here. True salvation means you are a different color. If someone has remained the same color, there is much reason to doubt their salvation.

Okay, enough hard stuff. That was hard to write and I am sure it was hard to read. But don’t take my word for it. If this post has struck a cord in you, I hope that you will dig into the scriptures for yourself and search them out. Study them in context, using good commentaries and biblical helps if you need to. This is a big deal in this age of easy-believism and it is really important that we understand this important truth from the Bible.

Now, to lighten things up a bit, I will post a few photos of my daughter’s artwork below. I hope that you enjoy them–

mjart2

mjart3

mjart4

mjart1

 

 

 

Our Most Treacherous Enemy

TakeUpYourCross

There are few things that affect our love for God and our growth as a believer more than our love for self. For out of that many (if not all) sins are born. The world and even the church are telling us these days just how important it is that we love ourselves. We are told that we cannot experience success in any area of life unless we do.

And, yet, is this what the Bible teaches?

Of course not. In fact, if we are a true believer, we recognize that we are our own worst enemy, no matter what the world (and worldly preachers) tell us. But if we have been in the faith for awhile, we may begin to think that we are winning our battle against self-love. We compare ourselves to the world around us and, in comparison to that, we look pretty good. But therein is the issue, is it not? We are to compare ourselves to the Word of God, not to sinners around us.

If you prefer to continue believing that you are winning your battle against self, then I’d encourage you to stop reading now. The essay below, written by Richard Baxter, a puritan from the mid-1600s, will quench that thought in a heartbeat. I share it here to challenge and convict. To cause you to think and to grow. I was dismayed to realize just how very selfish I still am, but also encouraged to know that I am less selfish now than I was twenty years ago. And I guess that’s how life is, isn’t it? No perfection this side of glory, but slow and steady progress as we work our way there. I hope that you are challenged–but also encouraged–by this essay–

SELF-DENIAL

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23

You hear ministers tell you of the odiousness and danger and sad effects of sin; but of all the sins that you ever heard of, there is scarce any more odious and dangerous than selfishness; and yet most are never troubled at it, nor sensible of its malignity. My principal request therefore to you is, that as ever you would prove Christians indeed, and be saved from sin and the damnation which follows it—take heed of this deadly sin of selfishness, and be sure you are possessed with true self-denial; and if you have, see that you use and live upon it.

And for your help herein, I shall tell you how your self-denial must be tried. I shall only tell you in a few words, how the least measure of true self-denial may be known: wherever the interest of carnal self is stronger and more predominant habitually than the interest of God, of Christ, of everlasting life, there is no true self-denial or saving grace; but where God’s interest is strongest, there self-denial is sincere. If you further ask me how this may be known, briefly thus:

1. What is it that you live for? What is that good which your mind is principally set to obtain? And what is that end which you principally design and endeavor to obtain, and which you set your heart on, and lay out your hopes upon? Is it the pleasing and glorifying of God, and the everlasting fruition of Him? Or is it the pleasing of your fleshly mind in the fruition of any inferior thing? Know this, and you may know whether self or God has the greatest interest in you. For that is your God which you love most, and please best, and would do most for.

2. Which do you most prize—the means of your salvation and of the glory of God, or the means of providing for self and flesh? Do you more prize Christ and holiness, which are the way to God—or riches, honor, and pleasures, which gratify the flesh? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

3. If you are truly self-denying, you are ordinarily ruled by God, and His Word and Spirit, and not by the carnal self. Which is the rule and master of your lives? Whose word and will is it ordinarily that prevails? When God draws, and self draws—which do you follow in the tenor of your life? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

4. If you have true self-denial, the drift of your lives is carried on in a successful opposition to your carnal self, so that you not only refuse to be ruled by it, and love it as your god—but you fight against it, and tread it down as your enemy. So that you go armed against self in the course of your lives, and are striving against self in every duty. And as others think—it then goes best with them, when self is highest and pleased best; so you will know that then it goes best with you—when self is lowest, and most effectually subdued.

5. If you have true self-denial, there is nothing in this world so dear to you, but on deliberation you would leave it for God. He who has anything which he loves so well that he cannot spare it for God, is a selfish and unsanctified wretch. And therefore God has still put men to it, in the trial of their sincerity, to part with that which was dearest to the flesh. Abraham must be tried by parting with his only son. And Christ makes it His standing rule, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Yet it is true that flesh and blood may make much resistance in a gracious heart; and many a striving thought there may be, before with Abraham we part with a son, or before we can part with wealth or life; but yet on deliberation, self-denial will prevail. There is nothing so dear to a gracious soul, which he cannot spare at the will of God, and the hope of everlasting life. If with Peter we would flinch in a temptation—we should return with Peter in weeping bitterly, and give Christ those lives that in a temptation we denied Him.

6. In a word, true self-denial is procured by the knowledge and love of God, advancing Him in the soul—to debasing of self. The illuminated soul is so much taken with the glory and goodness of the Lord, that it carries him out of himself to God, and as it were estranges him from himself, that he may have communion with God. This makes him vile in his own eyes, and to abhor himself in dust and ashes. It is not a stoical resolution, but the love of God and the hopes of glory—which make him throw away the world, and look contemptuously on all below, so far as they are mere provision for flesh.

Search now, and try your hearts by these evidences, whether you are possessed of this necessary grace of self-denial. O make not light of the matter! For I must tell you that self is the most treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world! It will be within you when you are not aware of it and will conquer you when you perceive not yourselves much troubled with it. Of all other vices, selfishness is both the hardest to find out and the hardest to cure. Be sure therefore in the first place, that you have self-denial; and then be sure you use it and live in the practice of it.

Published by gracegems.org. If you have enjoyed this (and others like it that I have shared on the Growing4Life Facebook page), then I encourage you to get on their e-mail list.