Interconnected Strands

strands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Enjoying the Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was my Friday night.

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

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

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

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

 

Romans 8:28-30

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

Isaiah 45:9

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

Daniel 4:34-35

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

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

 

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.

Wednesday Wisdom: When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

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A few years back, I would share some written wisdom of godly men and women here on the blog on a weekly basis. I called it Wednesday Wisdom. I haven’t done this for quite awhile, but today is the perfect day to bring it back, at least for this week. I am sure you will understand why if you keep reading.

Last week while we were at the beach we met a couple who was spending the weekend with a friend who has terminal cancer. Given only a few months to live, she had gathered some special friends to spend a weekend together. I have always hated the word “cancer”. And over the last few months it just seems like I hear this word more and more. And if it’s not cancer, it is something else. It feels like some painful trial is always lurking around the corner. This is just part of living on a fallen earth.

Are trials different for us, as believers in the Gospel? Yes. They aren’t easier (we still feel the pain and heartache) but they are different. Because we have been saved and are God’s children, He has promised to care for us in a special way and to make all things work together for our good. We have hope in spending eternity with Jesus that the lost do not have. And we have a promise that God will supply the grace, peace, and strength that we need when we need it.

Someone very dear to me who is facing their own trial right now shared this writing by Frank Hall with me. I wanted to share it here as it expounds on this subject of how trials are intrinsically different for believers than they are for non-believers. I hope that this will be a comfort to any of you who especially need it today.

________________________________________

“We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!” Romans 8:28

(by Frank Hall)

We often find ourselves in . . .

  trying circumstances,
  inexplicable difficulties,
  and perplexing situations.


Experience teaches us daily that life is filled, not with joy and happiness only, but with troubles, heartache, and pain. We prove the words of brother Job every single day of our lives, that, “Man who is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble!” 

Is there consolation to be had in such times of trouble? Indeed there is! If there is a verse of Scripture that ministers comfort to my doubting fearful heart, it is the verse before us. Romans 8:28 is . . .

  help for the helpless,
  comfort for those in trouble, and
  a beacon of light that guides believers on the tumultuous sea of life.
 
My beloved brothers and sisters in trouble and strife, all remains well with our souls.
Not only has the Father elected us unto salvation,
not only has the Son redeemed us from our sins,
not only has the Spirit regenerated us and given us spiritual life,
but God our Father works all things together for our eternal good! God is our Father, and our God is on His throne ruling all things for the glory of His name, and the everlasting salvation of our immortal souls!
 
Who knows? Paul begins this comforting verse with two precious words, “WE know!”  The people of God know,
believers know,
the redeemed of the Lord know,
those who are “the called according to God’s purpose” know.
This is knowledge that only the saints of God have.
They know, not with a bare theoretical head knowledge–but by faith rooted in their hearts.
They know because God has taught them this knowledge effectually by His Spirit and grace.
They know because they believe His infallible word of truth.
They know in such a way as to find solace and comfort in what He has revealed.
 
God’s people are here identified by two distinct characteristics–they love God, and they are called according to His purpose.
 
1. All of God’s people love God! They love His glorious person and rejoice in all of His perfections as God:
  His righteousness,
  His immutability,
  His holiness,
  His sovereignty,
  His wisdom,
  His power,
  His love,

  His grace.

They love . . . .
  His will,
  His word,
  His ways,
  His gospel,
  His Son,
  His Spirit,
  His purpose,
  His providence,

  and His people.

God’s people love God–and all that pertains to God.
 
2. All of God’s people are “called according to His purpose!” They are a particular, distinct, special people, here named the “called.” They have been graciously and effectually called in grace, by God’s Spirit through the gospel–not according to their works, merit, or choice–but according to God’s eternal purpose which He purposed in Himself before the foundation of the world.
 
All things do not work together for the good of ALL men, but for God’s people alone, because their God providentially rules over all things for their eternal good and salvation. God rules . . .
  all things,
  all men,
  all angels,
  all demons,
  all circumstances,
  all events,
  in every place,
  at all times–
and He does so for the good of His people!
 
What do we know? “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!” Things may appear to be against us, but it only seems that way. We should not judge God’s purpose by His providence–but His providence by His purpose. If we judge using the former method, we are sure to misjudge and we will never have peace in this life.
 
All pleasures, joys, and delights are certainly ruled by our God–but that’s only half of His rule. He rules all evil–as well as all good.
All death,
all opposition,
all sickness,
every disaster,
every problem,
all our pain, and
all our sorrow–
are sovereignly ruled, governed, ordered, and controlled by our God–to bring about eternal good for our souls. God does not tells us how He does this–only that He does.
 
Whatever my God brings to pass in time–is the outworking of His purpose of grace–and it’s for my good, whether it be in my little sphere of existence, or in the universe at large.
 
Oh God help me to believe Your word! Teach me not only to submit to your providential rule–but to rejoice and rest in it! Set a watch upon my mouth, that I murmur not!  Arrest my heart by your grace, and give me peace! Keep me from sinning with my lips and complaining against Your all wise, gracious, and adorable providence, for it is good!
 
God controls and directs all things with . . .
  infinite power,
  absolute sovereignty, and

  unfailing wisdom and grace!

Nothing can . . .
  hinder Him from doing His will,
  keep Him from having His way, or
  stop Him from accomplishing His purpose.
 
“We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!” Romans 8:28

What You Can’t See

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

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

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

But you would never know it from the photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Raising Courageous Kids

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When you think of the word courage what comes to mind? Is it a fireman racing into a burning building to save someone? Perhaps a soldier marching into war or someone bravely facing a battle with cancer? Or does your mind bring up pictures of sky divers or some other extreme sport?

According to dictionary.com, courage is defined as–the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.

And so all of the things listed above do require courage. But it also takes courage to speak truth amidst lies; to go one way when the rest of the world is going another; and to choose to live according to God’s Word, despite the ridicule and persecution one may have to endure.

This is the kind of courage we need to teach our kids. And this is the kind we see less and less.

As I have watched young parents train their children, I am beginning to understand why. I believe there is a direct correlation between Christian parents not letting their children experience anything hard or difficult and the lack of bravery we see in our Christian young people. Think about it with me for a moment, if you will. Many Christian moms and dads–parents who truly want to do what is right–have removed all of the pain and difficulty that they can from their kids’ lives. And it is tough not to. Culture has pretty much dictated that this is how “good parents raise their kids”. While nothing could be further from the truth, it takes courage to raise kids in a biblical way these days.

Because we don’t want our kids to experience pain and we believe that this is what a “good parent” is supposed to do, we rush in to fix every school issue, every teacher problem, and every friend situation. We begin to allow the things of the world into our home so that our kids won’t be ridiculed but can look like everyone else. We allow our girls to dress a certain way because, after all, “everybody is doing it”. We allow music groups, tv shows, movies, and video games that do not reflect our Christian values because we don’t want our kids to face the pain of being different from their friends. We want them to be liked and to have a positive experience.

This is understandable.

But is it in their best {eternal} interest?

Kids that feel no pain or do not face any difficulty as they grow up will, most likely, become driven by their own selfish desires as adults. They are the ones who will make every choice based around how it affects them personally rather than whether something is right or wrong. They will do everything they can to avoid discomfort, difficulty, and inconvenience. This type of person is often the kind we see show up at job interviews for our company now. And, honestly, I expect it from the world. They have been taught that nothing matters but them. To do what’s right for them, no matter the cost. But what I didn’t expect was to see the same things from those claiming to be believers. And yet this is what we see more and more.

So how do we raise kids that are courageous? Kids that will go against the flow in a world gone mad? Kids that will bravely face the ridicule and the mockery?

1. First and foremost, be an example they can follow of courage and bravery. Be willing to go against the flow yourself in order to follow hard after God. Be willing to turn away from popular entertainment in order to grow spiritually. Be willing to speak up at work or on the soccer sidelines if God gives you the opportunity. Be a godly example of someone who is sold out for God, no matter the cost.

2. Pray for your kids to have courage. Pray that your kids will have courage to stand up for what’s right. One of my prayers for my kids when they were little was that they would become bolder and stronger Christians than my husband and me. I wanted (and continue to want) them to shine brightly for God in such a dark world. I cannot begin to express to you the wonderful joy I feel as I begin to see the answer to that prayer happening in their lives. They are so much further along spiritually than I was at their age and I know God is answering my prayer. He is just so faithful! I wish I would have prayed even more than I did for them. It was hard amidst the business and craziness of life. I fear that prayer may be a much under-used blessing for many as they raise their kids.

3. Teach your kids to measure their decisions by the Word of God instead of by what makes them feel good. Sometimes obeying God is not fun. But if we can teach our kids that life is about so much more than our feelings, we will be giving them a huge headstart in developing the courage they will need for the future. When God’s Word is our guide instead of our own selfish agenda, we naturally become braver and bolder because we have a correct view on what matters.

4. Allow them to feel the pain of being different. I have seen so many parents cave on their own personal values because they didn’t want their kids to experience pain or difficulty. From what we allow our girls to wear to what video games we allow our sons to play, facing the pain of being different will build their character. I think I mentioned this before, but we have never regretted the things we didn’t let our kids do, but we do have a few regrets regarding the things we caved on because of this very thing. So stay strong and live according to the Word. You will be so glad you did.

5. Teach your kids to fight for the right things. Over and over again I see strife and problems in work places and churches and families because of someone fighting for the wrong things. Selfishness–my will, my rights, my agenda, my desires–becomes what we fight for and this yields to so much pain and anguish. We need to teach our kids to stand and fight for the Truth of God’s Word. To hold ground for the things that are eternal. If it is never mentioned in the Bible and it doesn’t matter to God, then it isn’t a hill to die on. But usually we see the opposite–people who are willing to cause all types of anguish for their own agendas but completely unwilling to stand up for God and His Word. I guess it’s our human nature. But we must teach our kids to fight this tendency and to be wise in what they fight for. It takes no courage to stand up for yourself. But it takes great courage to stand up for God in a world that hates Him.

So there are five ways to help your kids become courageous in a world full of spiritual cowards. It is a hard time to raise kids. I feel for you in this culture. So many things assail from all directions. You have to constantly be on your guard. But, at the end of the day, it is the Word of God that will be your anchor. Hold fast to that and parent according to it and you will find that God will fill in your weaknesses and failures. He is just so faithful!

**I do need to mention one thing for those of you with teens. Please do not judge your kids’ courage based on their teen years. Each one has a different personality and the teen years are so hard. Some will stand bravely, with no care for what people think of them, while others–fighting that urge to be like everyone else–will struggle. Just keep praying and having those discussions that go back to the Bible and what it teaches. And then, hopefully, you can–like us–look back someday and see God’s hand in the lives of your teens as He orchestrated His plan in their lives in a way you never dreamed possible.

 

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.