Night Song

nightsong

One of the best things about spring is hearing the birds sing. We know that warm weather is on its way when we hear them twittering outside our windows in the morning. But that same sound–so wonderful and cheery during the day– is downright irritating at night!

I know this because every year about this time–for about a week–we have a bird that sings outside our window in the black darkness.

All. night. long.

It is so annoying. Outside our window it just chatters away, barely stopping to take a breath. It makes it very hard for me to sleep, because it just isn’t a sound I am used to at bedtime.

Several years ago, I did some research to find out what kind of crazy bird sings at night in this area. I found out that it is the male mockingbird. Apparently, it has something to do with letting other male mockingbirds know that this is his territory. Or something like that.

As I groggily prepared for a new day last week, having had my sleep disturbed yet again by this insistent night singer, it hit me.

Wait.

This is what we Christians are doing. And this is why we frustrate so many people.

We are singing in the night to people who want to sleep.

Think about this with me for a moment. We, as believers, just cannot understand how our beautiful song full of God’s mercy and grace could possible irritate or frustrate anyone. Why wouldn’t they want to listen? To those of us walking in the light, this doesn’t make sense. It’s a wonderful song that we could listen to all day.

But for those still in the darkness–to those who have not been awakened to God’s marvelous light–this song is threatening to wake them, pulling them out of their sound sleep and their warm, comfortable “bed” of sin. They don’t understand the freedom and the glory that comes when they awake to new life in Christ. They don’t understand that when you are saved, the darkness loses much of its appeal.

They don’t get it.

And the darker it gets, the louder our song sounds. The louder our song sounds, the more frustrating we are to those sleeping around us. And the more frustrating we are to those sleeping, the more effort will be made to rid the world of us in whatever way necessary.

It makes so much sense, when you think of it like this. And, despite the efforts to keep us from singing our Night Song, we know that we are to keep singing and to keep singing with gusto. But how many of us–growled at by the sleepers–stop singing?

How many of us just decide the fuss isn’t worth it and choose instead to let people rest in their comfortable place without being disturbed by us? How many of us sing super-quietly, so that we do not arouse anyone? Perhaps singing a tiny bit louder if someone looks like they are starting to wake up?

But here’s the thing–

I know that it’s hard to sing the Gospel song in this current culture. I know that we take a lot of heat for presenting a biblical message. But I also know that this message is the only thing that leads people from permanent darkness to everlasting day. It is the only way to wake people soundly sleeping in their sin to the glorious sunshine of salvation and freedom! We have to keep singing! We have to stop worrying about ourselves and sing for God –and for the lost world around us. The world needs us to keep singing.

Of course, there will always be those who choose to sleep. But every now and again, there will be one that wakes. And we may be the privileged one that God chooses to use to stir them from their deep sleep. We may even be the one that gets to walk alongside them into the light.

So let’s sing! And let’s make our Night Song one that disturbs the darkness around us, filling the blackness with the biblical songs of grace, mercy, hope, truth, love, peace, and joy (Romans 15:13; 2 John 1:3; Galatians 5:22). Let’s make sure that the sleepers have heard that Jesus is the only way man can be saved (John 14:6). It is past time that we believers get out of our comfortable nests and start singing the biblical gospel in the deep, dark blackness. The time is now.

I Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

 

Changed Lives: Abrafi

Changed Lives (final)

God is alive and at work! Do you believe that? Sometimes it can be so confusing for those of us who do not base our Christianity on experience. Does that mean we don’t ever experience God’s presence and power in our lives? Of course not! It just means that we base our Christian walk on the Word of God and not on our emotions or spiritual experiences. Because the nature of my blog tends towards discernment in these dangerous times, I tend not to focus on how God is at work –sometimes miraculously–at drawing people to Himself and then transforming and changing them to look more like Christ. But we know that it is God Who works in the heart of man for His will and His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). To Him be all the glory! As I write this, I know that there are so many of us who are witness to this in our own lives.

For awhile now, I have been thinking about sharing the testimonies of people who have seen God at work very vividly in their lives. And so today I introduce Changed Lives on Growing4Life. I hope to present these testimonies of God’s grace and working in the lives of fellow believers on a regular basis, so that we never lose sight of just how great and marvelous our God is! Some of these stories are written by new Christians, some are written by those that thought they were saved but God showed them otherwise, and others are saved men and women who may have found themselves in an impossible situation or entrenched in sinful behavior and watched God work–or in some cases, rescue them– in amazing ways.

We serve a powerful and amazing God! May we not forget it in the midst of this really confusing time.

The first testimony I offer to you is that of Abrafi. She goes to my brother’s church (Pastor Dean) and has been an amazing gift to their church, as testified by both my brother and his wife. As they told me a little of her story, I was compelled to ask her to share a bit of it here with us on the blog. I am so pleased to share it here with you now–

AbrafiABRAFI’S STORY

 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  (Psalm 19:14)

Hello, my name is Abrafi. I was born in Ghana, a country in West Africa, and grew up in a professing Christian household. I was baptized as an infant, went to Sunday school and even attended a Christian high school where I was confirmed into the Presbyterian Church at the age of 15. But while I called myself a Christian, the life I led was not godly. I attended church every now and then, but Christ was not the center of my life. Over time, I became very liberal in my beliefs and accepted the notion that the virgin birth was too far-fetched and that Christ himself was a divisive figure. I accepted the belief that all religions were the same; that it was the same God being worshiped by different people under different names.

My husband and I raised our children to be responsible, honest, and generous human beings. However, the bible was hardly read in our house. We believed ourselves to be good people—accepting of all people regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, and social background. Yet, I was dissatisfied with my life. I was full of anxiety and I knew something was missing in the life I was living.

I compared my life to my mother’s and wondered why she seemed so content with her simple life and I was unhappy in my more sophisticated one. For her, Christ was the answer to every problem she encountered in life. Over the years, she made it known that she was praying for me and always spoke to me about how much Christ loved me. Soon after spending a vacation with her I went and bought a bible and began to read the psalms and to pray.

At first my prayers were for things that I thought I needed to make my life happier, but slowly a change began to take place in my life. I began to pray for Christ to fill the void my life. In January of 2007, my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and I began to seek Christ more earnestly. One night after a very discouraging visit to see an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic, I cried out to God to make Himself known to me if He truly existed and to give me faith to know Him. I prayed for forgiveness for my sins and for healing for my husband.

I began to read the bible to my husband. Two days before he died I read the bible to him and felt compelled to ask him if he believed in Christ Jesus. He said yes and I asked if he believed that Christ died to save him from his sins and again, he said yes. I praised the Lord and left the hospital with renewed hope and faith that he would get better. When he died, I remember being confused and thinking that maybe I was not righteous enough for such a miracle. I have since come to know through God’s Word that God does not answer our prayers or grant us salvation based on our good deeds but by his grace—“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our savior” (Titus 3:5-6. In Ephesians 2:8,9 again we are told that,” for by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”It is God’s grace alone that saved a sinner like me and it is His grace that saved my husband on his death bed. And yes, I do believe that God answered my prayer for healing; He freed my husband of all his afflictions and sins and took him to Himself.

Later, I prayed a specific prayer for a church and He answered that prayer with such precision that, even though I initially was unsure as to whether I belonged there, I was compelled to stay and over time it has become one of the most precious gifts from God to me. At this church, I have grown in the knowledge of who God is, and have come to trust the Bible as the infallible and inerrant word of God, sufficient for all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Lord has also saved my three adult children (O taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who trusts in Him, Psalm 34:8)! The Lord has surrounded me with people who are grounded in His Word, and filled my days with hope and joy. I am continually humbled by His loving kindness towards me, because I am so undeserving.

 

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

 

 

 

Born to Stand Out

buttons-841621_960_720

Yesterday, when I was going through some old things, I came across a little jar of buttons my mom had given me a long time ago. When I was a child, my grandmother had a big basket of buttons I used to love and this jar was a little sampling of them.

I hadn’t thought of that button basket in a very long time, but my mind went back to that basket yesterday. Its home was the shelf of a large hutch that sat in the back of the main room of my grandparents’ house. In front of the hutch was a little table. I remember sitting there, sorting and playing with those buttons on many occasions.

Many of the buttons were drab and nondescript, some were pretty colors but plain and round, and then there were the special ones– heart or flower-shaped and brightly-colored. These were my very favorite buttons. They were the ones that I would search for every single time.

As my mind wandered in the past, I suddenly realized that the world is really just like that button basket.

Most unbelievers, like those drab buttons that made up most of the basket, are living life and leaving no mark on eternity. They are self-absorbed and focused on pleasing themselves. And then there are the pretty-colored, plain ones–these represent the unbelievers who are doing many good things for the world before they leave it.  But it is we Christians who should be the heart and flower-shaped buttons. We should stand out among the world by our love, by our holiness, by our godly choices, and by our actions in an incomparable manner, because we have the Holy Spirit living within us.

Only most of us don’t really want to stand out. We find it easier and even more pleasant to just fit in.

Oh, most of us Christians don’t mind looking like those pretty buttons that do some good in the world. That’s okay because it’s very acceptable. But we don’t want to change our shape, because that means we can be spotted and teased and mocked and persecuted. And we don’t really want that.

Of course, if this is how we feel, then we must ask ourselves: Do I really understand salvation?

Having a bold witness, choosing holiness, and standing up for Jesus Christ are born out of the love we feel for God because of the great grace and mercy we have been shown by Him. Our transformed life is born out of the humility, sinfulness, and utter unworthiness that we bring to the cross as we kneel there, begging for forgiveness and new life in Christ. This new life is born out of the understanding that we owe everything to Christ and are no longer our own master.

When we truly understand salvation, standing out isn’t a decision. For, of course, we will. For what else could we choose?

My savior died for me and so I will live for Him.

The brand of Christian so prevalent today isn’t doing anything of the sort. I don’t know if that means they aren’t saved at all or if they just don’t truly understand salvation (it is probably some of both) but what I do know is that it is confusing the world around us as to what being a Christian really means. It is giving the impression that Jesus is here to give me a better life on earth and some fire insurance for the hereafter. This unbiblical teaching has seeped its way into even the most conservative churches and it is hurting the Gospel.

So what to do?

We choose to live out biblical Christianity in our own little world. We choose to be brave and courageous as others falter and try to hide. We live a holy life, making even the smallest choice with a mind to please God. We speak the truths of scripture but always with love, kindness, and humility– even when we passionately disagree with someone. And we exude the joy and peace of our God in the midst of these dark, troublesome days. In living out biblical Christianity right where God has placed us, we will stand out like one of those brightly-colored and beautifully-shaped buttons. It matters not that we are standing out alone, for this is what we are called to do.

It reminds me of a saying I once heard in a secular movie–

Why are you trying so hard to fit in, when you were born {or re-born} to stand out?

I leave you with these words from I Peter 1:13-25. I hope these words will instill you with the desire to please our heavenly Father and to do so with courage, no matter what other Christians are doing around us–

 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”[c]

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[d] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,[e] 24 because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man[f] as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”[g]

Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.

 

There is a Reason

white dog

We have had a lot of rain here lately, but last week we had one bright, sunny afternoon. I decided it was the perfect afternoon to go for a walk. I ushered Macy, our Chocolate Lab, into the car, and off we went. Why the car? Because I now drive to where I can walk, because of two attack dogs that reside between me and my walking area. Just thinking about walking past the house where they reside fills with me fear. (You can read about this incident in my post Obstacles.)

I didn’t actually realize just how much fear until last week when I took that walk. I was enjoying the beautiful day when suddenly, from out of nowhere, I heard a dog bark menacingly as it rushed towards me. My heart started pounding, my hand gripped the leash tighter, and I could feel my whole body tense, as if preparing for an attack. I glanced towards where I heard the sound and saw that not only was it a rather smallish dog, but it was also enclosed in a fence, which meant that this little barking fiend was no threat to me or to my dog.

Now, I have never, ever been afraid of dogs before. Not like that. Sure, I never liked the mean, snarling ones (who does?) but I love dogs. It is frustrating to me that now I am filled with fear if I hear one on my walk.

My personal experience has led me to respond and react differently than I used to.

Personal experience has a way of doing that to us. I remember when this thought first hit me and changed how I viewed people.

It was Christmas Day many years ago and it was snowing. Unlike most of you, we never wanted white Christmases around here because that would mean Christmas without Daddy. We plow snow and people still want it to be removed, even if it is a holiday. It also meant a day of stress and frustration for me, as I have to take the phone calls.

I can still vividly remember one phone call from that day long ago. It was an elderly lady, recently widowed, who had no children. She was normally a very nice lady, but on this particular day she started screaming at me, asking why we hadn’t been to her house yet. I assured her that everyone was out working hard and that they just hadn’t gotten there yet, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. She obviously needed to yell at someone and that someone was going to be me. I was so hurt and angered by that unreasonable call. But after I hung up and gave it some thought, God impressed upon my heart just how lonely and miserable she must be–especially on Christmas. How would I be if I was spending my first Christmas alone without my best friend and didn’t even have any children or grandchildren to ease the pain? Would I be tempted to lash out at someone, too?

I knew the answer was probably yes.

While this is not one of my favorite Christmas memories, it changed forever how I view people. I realized that people always do what they do for a reason.

This doesn’t change how we view sin, but it should change how we feel about the sinner–

That prostitute on the street used to be a little girl that was neglected and abused by her mother.

The gay man who lives next door was once a bright and hopeful little boy who was sexually abused by a neighbor.

The grumpy old man has had a lifetime of broken dreams and disappointments.

The lady who was absolutely unreasonable on the phone a minute ago just found out yesterday that her daughter has cancer.

Thinking through why people might do what they do fills me with compassion. What if I had grown up neglected and abused? Wouldn’t it be just as possible that it could be me walking the street? What if my life was filled with broken dreams and disappointments and I didn’t have hope in Jesus Christ, couldn’t I just as easily be labeled the grumpy one?

But for the grace of God, go I.

Right?

God’s grace changes everything. It fixes the broken. It heals the heart. It fills us with peace and joy despite the most tragic of circumstances. But most of the world does not know this.

Understanding that people are much deeper than what we see externally should not only fill us with compassion but also drive us to share the Gospel. We should never let unfounded, sinful arrogance keep us from loving others. We should never let an unsavory profession or a little grumpiness deter us from telling someone about Jesus. These people, underneath all of that gruff and bravado, are broken and in need of a Savior.

Of course, some don’t want to hear it. And from those, we walk away (Matthew 7:6). If they are hard-hearted and rebellious, we shouldn’t waste our time. But, let’s be honest, most of us never even get that far. We don’t find out if they are lost and searching because we are too scared or too arrogant to talk to them.

Oh, may our hearts be filled with compassion towards the broken and unloving. There is a reason they are doing what they are doing. And it is quite likely, that given a similar life experience and without the light of Christ in your life, that you may be just like them. Thank the Lord for his loving-kindness in your life and reach out with the Good News that there is salvation available to all through Jesus Christ!

 

 

Isn’t the Bible Just Another Book?

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Have you ever tried to talk to someone about the Gospel, just to have them declare that the Bible is simply another book? Where do you go with this?

This week, my youngest daughter and I, along with my parents, traveled to visit my brother (Pastor Dean) and his family. The fact that John MacArthur was going to be speaking at my brother’s church may have had a little something to with the timing of our trip! On Tuesday night we had the wonderful privilege of hearing Dr. MacArthur preach and then to also hear him answer some questions. We learned a little about him personally and also a bit about his take on the current culture, as he shared his heart with the group there.

But the question (and answer) that impacted me most was this one: What do you do when an unbeliever says the Bible is just like any other book and full of errors and contradictions?

This does seem to be a very relevant question in this day and age, does it not? The authority of scripture has been so undermined that few people believe the Bible to be the very Word of God anymore.

Dr. MacArthur gave a two-part answer to this question that I found incredibly encouraging. I am conveying his general thoughts (not his word for word answer) and then sharing some of my thoughts about what he said.

First, we need to stop expecting them to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Of course, they don’t. And Scripture tells us that they can’t until God unveils their eyes and shines His light on their hearts.

You may be thinking– Wait! You mean it’s not up to us to shine the light on to their hearts?

We can present it. We can share it. We can try to persuade them. But only God can give the light of His knowledge to a searching heart.

Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6–But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Unbelievers can’t understand until God opens their eyes. It’s impossible.

Secondly, if someone is challenging us about the Bible, he suggested that we ask them one simple question: Have you read the Bible?

If they say no, then suggest to them that this is a very strong statement to make about a book they’ve never read. If they decide to do their own study at that point, then let the Bible speak for itself.

Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Hebrews 4:12  confirms this: 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.

The Bible will speak for itself to the unregenerate, seeking heart. God may use us to help someone to find salvation but He doesn’t need us.

I found the answer to this very relevant question so freeing. I felt such great pressure to defend the Word of God and was always so worried I would never do it justice. I just don’t know all of the history and details and proofs pertaining to God’s Word and feel like I wouldn’t be able to defend it very well.

But the answer that Dr. MacArthur gave means that we don’t have to know all of that in order to witness. Of course, it is always good to study and to be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15) but knowing that it is God who will grant belief and understanding of His Word to the soul that is seeking Him is such a wonderfully freeing concept. Doesn’t this give us a whole new insight as we seek to share Christ with the lost and dying world around us?

I hope this encourages you as much as it encouraged me! Have a great day!

 

Breakfast with Strangers

FrenchToast

For over 25 years now our family has been going to the same little beach town on the Atlantic coast for vacation. It’s one of my very favorite places on God’s beautiful earth. When we first started going we’d stay in a hotel and then in 1998 we bought a camper and we’ve been camping there ever since. Our trips there have become a family tradition that we all treasure but, still, each time I visit, my eyes are drawn to the quaint Bed and Breakfasts that line the streets. A long time ago, staying in one of these was added to the bucket list that I keep in my head.

My husband has been busy with shows this past month–three weekends out of the last four, so my youngest daughter and I decided it was the perfect time for a quick girls’ getaway and made arrangements to spend a night in one of the Bed and Breakfasts. Since this is not really my husband’s preferred type of accommodation, it seemed to be the ideal time to check this item off my bucket list.

We arrived on Friday night to the beautiful Victorian house that sat just a block from the beach. We were greeted by a friendly woman who told us everything we needed to know. I have to admit that as I stared at the precious glass and porcelain valuables that sat on every possible space around me, I grew just a bit nervous. I felt a little like a bull in a china closet and, after almost knocking something over with my bulky purse, I grabbed the bag close to my side and took extra special care as we carried our things to Room 3 at the top of the steps. As we entered the room, we felt much more at home. While decorated beautifully in Victorian style, it was very comfortable and there didn’t seem to be anything precious on the dressers and shelves to knock over!

The next morning, we headed downstairs to have breakfast with the other guests of the house. This was certainly a new experience for both of us. We sat down across from a couple who seemed to be in their late 50s or early 60s. They smiled and introduced themselves. We did likewise. A few moments later, a young couple expecting their first child joined us. The conversation was made up of a variety of topics but about fifteen minutes in it settled in on religion (of all things!) Believe it or not, I had absolutely nothing to do with this turn of the conversation. I found out rather quickly that the older couple were Methodists (with the husband a Roman Catholic before converting to Methodism) and the younger couple were passionate Jehovah’s Witnesses (with the wife being a Roman Catholic before conversion).

As I sensed the direction of the conversation, my heart started to beat a bit harder with trepidation. I told the Lord I would take any opportunity that He opened up for me and then waited expectantly. But it never really came. Other than one opportunity to state the Gospel as written in the Bible in three sentences or less, I spent much of the conversation either listening or adding a few sentences that any moral person could agree with.

After breakfast was over and we had said our good-byes, I wondered if I should have spoke more biblical truth. I said as much to my daughter. She replied with exactly what I was thinking–they wouldn’t have listened, anyway. They all thought they were right.

But, while I may not have been able to plant many seeds for the Kingdom during that breakfast, I did learn (or was reminded of) six very important things–

The only difference between true believers and everyone else is God’s Word.  True believers trust the Bible alone for doctrine, truth, and guidance. The Jehovah’s Witnesses would talk about the Bible but they’d also talk about the Watchtower Magazine that provides them with their doctrine. The Methodists relied on–from what I could tell–their own life experiences to form their opinions. The scriptures alone were not the source for their opinions about life and morals.

Sincerity and earnestness is not synonymous with truth.  It was fascinating to hear the Jehovah Witnesses’ talk about what their religion requires. The young husband and wife were quite earnest and dedicated to the church, telling us how often they go out on visitation and how the church is organized. And, yet, I saw them nod in agreement with me when I shared the gospel–even though I know they don’t believe in the same Jesus we do. We are both sincere and passionate about our beliefs and yet one of us is wrong. If we believers didn’t have the Bible to anchor us, I don’t know how any of us could know what is right and what is wrong.

Religious people believe that a lack of religion is the reason this country is faltering. It was very interesting to hear the Methodists blame the country’s woes on a lack of religion. Several times they alluded to the fact that this country would be a much better place if we could just get religion back in homes and schools. While I don’t disagree that this may help, I think it would be a very temporary fix without true revival: Transformed lives through true faith in Jesus Christ.

Most people care very little about anyone but themselves. You may question my wisdom at writing a post about these couples. But, honestly, they would never possibly be able to find it because they found out absolutely nothing about me or my daughter. While I asked what they do for a living, if they have a family, and every other impersonal and polite question I could think of to ask, few questions were directed to us. When we left the breakfast table, we knew a whole lot about them and they knew very little about us. This seems to be pretty typical these days. What struck my daughter and I as extremely ironic was the fact that, during breakfast, the older gentleman, a teacher, had bemoaned how self-absorbed his students have become over the past decade.

One thing we could all agree on was that the country is in shambles and this is in large part due to the departure from absolute truth. When you think about it, those who come from a background that taught the ten commandments and God’s moral law lead happier, more successful lives. They believe that they must work for what they get and they understand that life isn’t always fair. Those taught basic moral truths (even without Jesus or the Bible) believe lying, stealing, and being unkind is wrong. However, belief in absolute truth and God’s law is quickly eroding away, and we now have a whole generation that feels entitled to get something they didn’t work for; who believes that lying, stealing, and being unkind are only wrong if it hurts someone. They believe that truth is  more about what makes them happy than it is about some Higher Being– and that truth can be whatever they want it to be. Seriously. This is the caliber of students that are spilling out of the high school and college campuses and into our work force. There are great ramifications to this and we are starting to reap the fruit of this now.

And, finally, I learned during that breakfast how important reading is. While I don’t deny that my college education was helpful, I have learned a whole lot more by reading on my own. I was surprised as we talked about things how much of what I have read about the Bible and history and life has seeped into my brain and was ready to be shared in a situation like this. It reminded me of the importance to read not only the Bible but solid, biblical works by authors like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and A.W. Pink. It also reminded me of how important the study of history is to the place we find ourselves in today. Reading is our window to changed thinking. Reading books by godly men with a biblical world-view leads to not only changed thinking but to biblical thinking.

 

And, so, our breakfast with strangers was not only entertaining but was also enlightening. And while we thoroughly enjoyed our Bed and Breakfast stay, my daughter and I decided that camping is still our preferred way of travel!

Have a great Monday!

 

Rescued

rescued

Imagine you are on the ocean a thousand miles from land. You are literally dying from thirst. Your lips are parched and your skin blistered from the scorching sun. The only thing keeping you from drowning in the unfathomable depths of the endless ocean is a flimsy yellow raft. The days are ticking by and death seems close at hand.

Or imagine you are in the belly of the earth, deep inside a cave. You have lost your source of light and you have lost your way. You don’t know where to turn and the darkness is so thick you can touch it. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face for there is not a hint of light anywhere. You recognize that you are never going to be able to find your way out and you start facing the fact that you are going die a slow, torturous death in this place, leaving behind a pile of bones that someone may stumble onto some day in the distant future.

In both scenarios, all hope is gone. Your life on earth is over and you know it. You have faced the facts and are simply waiting to die.

Now, suppose that–against all odds– someone rescues you. Not only does he rescue you, but he gives his life to save you. He knew that your rescue depended upon the sacrifice of his life but he chose to save you, anyway.

How would you feel about this person?

What kind of passion would you express when you tell the story of your dramatic rescue? What kind of words would you use when describing the person who gave his life to save you?

Most people would tell the story of their rescue in great detail, infusing their words with zeal and fervor. They would try to convey –as much as words would allow– the deep, abiding love and tremendous awe and respect they have for the stranger who saved them.

And this passion is given for a temporary escape from something that’s still going to happen eventually. Our rescue hasn’t cheated death permanently–it’s just given us a bit more time here on earth.

Why do we feel such great passion about a temporary physical rescue and yet feel little or no passion regarding our spiritual rescue?

We were sinners completely without righteousness (Romans 3:23). We were headed for eternal separation from God. Eternal separation (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Our final destination was going to be hell–a place of torture and fire (Luke 16:24).

Unending punishment was certain.

We were without hope.

And then came the day long ago that God put His plan of salvation into motion. He sent His only Son to the earth as a baby. That baby would grow into a man who would die on a cross for the sins of man. He took our sins on Himself and covered us with His blood and righteousness so that we could be reconciled to the One, True God!

And then He rose again, victorious over death!

O, Death where is thy sting? O, grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15:55)

We haven’t been given temporary respite from death–we have had an eternal rescue!

And yet, most of us Christians talk about our rescue like we talk about what we are having for dinner. There is no passion, no fervor. We don’t tell our neighbors and we don’t tell our friends. In fact, some of us do all we can to avoid bringing up the subject, nervous and afraid to speak the name of Jesus.

But how can we keep from praising His name? How can we keep from singing?

Salvation is far more than an intellectual acknowledgement. Even the demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). Salvation is a change of heart.

If our hearts have been changed, then praise should spill forth without effort because we have been rescued! We have left the roiling sea of sin and have found the solid anchor that holds! We have left the inky, black darkness that has blinded us and have walked into marvelous light!

How can we keep from praising Him? How can we keep from singing?

I know this type of  passion and fervor in “Christianity” isn’t always acceptable. We don’t want to get too excited because we don’t want to look strange. But have you been to a sports event lately? Or a concert? Passion and zeal abide there for literally no reason. And we can’t bring some excitement to our dramatic, eternal rescue from sin and hell?

As we focus this week on the death and resurrection of Christ, let us consider what Jesus did for us and the passion we have towards what happened. Let’s ponder our wretched sinfulness and reflect on how He reconciled us to God, gave us eternal life, and saved us from eternal damnation. If we are truly saved, we will find that we can’t keep from praising His name and singing out!

 

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. (Psalm 18:49)

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)

Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. (Isaiah 42:10)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

The Greatest Miracle of All

aniwa

When we think about the word “miracle”, our minds tend to think of miracles having to do with a person’s health, wealth, or welfare. Things like miraculous cancer recoveries, disappearing tumors, or an unexpected check in the mail or bag of groceries on the porch. While these miracles are certainly amazing to witness and demonstrate just how personally and deeply God cares for His children, I would like to submit to you that the greatest miracle of all is a heart deadened in sin that is awakened to new life in Jesus Christ.

I just finished a wonderful book called The Story of John Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. As many of you already know, I love reading missionary biographies. They have changed me, because they change my perspective of Christianity. You see, when we are in our comfortable homes with all our modern conveniences and plenty to eat, we can forget what many people give up to tell others about Jesus. It can slip our minds that our faith in Christ is to transform our lives and push us to share the gospel with fervor and zeal.

As I read this book, I was once again reminded of these things. Mr. Paton’s autobiography, which takes place on the New Hebrides Islands (now called Vanuatu) in the mid to late 1800s, includes miraculous escapes, nail-biting journeys, and many testimonies of saved souls. There are so many excerpts I would love to share from this book with you, but I decided to narrow it down to this one testimony of a young chief, troubled and antagonistic, miraculously saved from sin by God’s outpouring of grace on his life. Yet another evidence that the greatest miracle of all is a changed heart.

I hope you enjoy reading this short excerpt and that it will move you to pick up the book and start reading it. The chapter is entitled–

THE CONVERSION OF YOUWILI

THESE events suggest to me another incident of those days, full at once of trial and of joy. It pertains to the story of our young Chief Youwili. From the first, and for long, he was most audacious and troublesome. Observing that for several days no Natives had come near the Mission House, I asked the old Chief if he knew why, and he answered, “Youwili has tabooed the paths, and threatens death to any one who breaks through it.”

I at once replied, “Then I conclude that you all agree with him, and wish me to leave. We are here only to teach you and your people. If he has power to prevent that we shall leave with the Dayspring.”

The old Chief called the people together, and they came to me, saying, “Our anger is strong against Youwili. Go with us and break down the taboo. We will assist and protect you.”

I went at their head and removed it. It consisted simply of reeds stuck into the ground, with twigs and leaves and fiber tied to each in a peculiar way, in a circle round the Mission House. The Natives had an extraordinary dread of violating the taboo, and believed that it meant death to the offender or to some one of his family. All present entered into a bond to punish on the spot any man who attempted to replace the taboo or to revenge its removal. Thus a mortal blow was publicly struck at this most miserable superstition, which had caused bloodshed and misery untold.

One day, thereafter, I was engaged in clearing away the bush around the Mission House, having purchased and paid for the land for the very purpose of opening it up, when suddenly Youwili appeared and menacingly forbade me to proceed. For the sake of peace I for the time desisted. But he went straight to my fence, and with his tomahawk cut down the portion in front of our house, also some bananas planted there—the usual declaration of war, intimating that he only awaited his opportunity similarly to cut down me and mine. We saw the old Chief and his men planting themselves here and there to guard us, and the Natives prowling about armed and excited. On calling them, they explained the meaning of what Youwili had done, and that they were determined to protect us. I said. “This must not continue. Are you to permit one young fool to defy us all, and break up the Lord’s work on Aniwa? If you cannot righteously punish him, I will shut myself up in my house and withdraw from all attempts to teach or help you, till the vessel comes, and then I can leave the island.”

Now that they had begun really to love us, and to be anxious to learn more, this was always my most powerful argument. We retired into the Mission House. The people surrounded our doors and windows and pleaded with us. After long silence, we replied, “You know our resolution. It is for you now to decide. Either you must control that foolish young man, or we must go!”

Much speech-making, as usual, followed. The people resolved to seize and punish Youwili; but he fled, and had hid himself in the bush. Coming to me, the Chief said, “It is left to you to say what shall be Youwili’s punishment. Shall we kill him?”

I replied firmly, “Certainly not! Only for murder can life be lawfully taken away.”

“What then?” they continued. “Shall we burn his houses and destroy his plantations?”

I answered, “No.”

“Shall we bind him and beat him?”

“No.”

“Shall we place him in a canoe, thrust him out to sea, and let him drown or escape as he may?”

“No! by no means.”

“Then, Missi,” said they, “these are our ways of punishing. What other punishment remains that Youwili cares for?”

I replied, “Make him with his own hands, and alone, put up a new fence, and restore all that he has destroyed; and make him promise publicly that he will cease all evil conduct towards us. That will satisfy me.”

This idea of punishment seemed to tickle them greatly. The Chiefs reported our words to the Assembly; and the Natives laughed and cheered, as if it were a capital joke! They cried aloud, “It is good! Obey the word of the Missi.”

After considerable hunting, the young Chief was found. They brought him to the Assembly and scolded him severely and told him their sentence. He was surprised by the nature of the punishment, and cowed by the determination of the people.

“To-morrow,” said he, “I will fully repair the fence. Never again will I oppose the Missi. His word is good.”

By daybreak next morning Youwili was diligently repairing what he had broken down, and before evening he had everything made right better than it was before. While he toiled away, some fellows of his own rank twitted him, saying, “Youwili, you found it easier to cut down Missi’s fence than to repair it again. You will not repeat that in a hurry!”

But he heard all in silence. Others passed with averted heads, and he knew they were laughing at him. He made everything tight and then left without uttering a single word. My heart yearned after the poor fellow, but I thought it better to let his own mind work away, on its new ideas as to punishment and revenge, for a little longer by itself alone. I instinctively felt that Youwili was beginning to turn, that the Christ-Spirit had touched his darkly-groping soul. My doors were now thrown open, and every good work went on as before. We resolved to leave Youwili entirely to Jesus, setting apart a portion of our prayer every day for the enlightenment and conversion of the young Chief, on whom all other means had been exhausted apparently in vain.

A considerable time elapsed. No sign came, and our prayers seemed to fail. But one day, I was toiling between the shafts of a hand-cart, assisted by two boys, drawing it along from the shore loaded with coral blocks. Youwili came rushing from his house, three hundred yards or so off the path, and said, “Missi, that is too hard for you. Let me be your helper!”

Without waiting for a reply, he ordered the two boys to seize one rope, while he grasped the other, threw it over his shoulder and started off, pulling with the strength of a horse. My heart rose in gratitude, and I wept with joy as I followed him. I knew that that yoke was but a symbol of the yoke of Christ, which Youwili with his change of heart was beginning to carry! Truly there is only one way of regeneration, being born again by the power of the Spirit of God, the new heart; but there are many ways of conversation, of outwardly turning to the Lord, of taking the actual first step that shows on whose side we are.

Like those of old praying for the deliverance of Peter, and who could not believe their ears and eyes when Peter knocked and walked in amongst them, so we could scarcely believe our eyes and ears when Youwili became a disciple of Jesus, though we had been praying for his conversion every day. His once sullen countenance became literally bright with inner light. His wife came immediately for a book and a dress saying, “Youwili sent me. His opposition to the Worship is over now. I am to attend Church and School. He is coming too. He wants to learn how to be strong, like you, for Jehovah and for Jesus.”

Oh, Jesus! to Thee alone be all the glory. Thou hast the key to unlock every heart that Thou hast created.

 

Paton, John Gibson (2012-05-16). The Story of John G. Paton Or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. Kindle Edition.

Why Do You Need God?

Why

 

Why do you need God?

The answers to this question were all given with different voices, different words, different intonations. But they all said basically the same thing–

To make my life easier.

Words like encouragement and strength and comfort were used. We need God because He helps us get through difficult times.

This was a dialogue I heard a couple of weeks ago on Todd Friel’s Wretched Radio program. Almost every Wednesday he dedicates his radio program to talking to the lost. He calls it  “Witness Wednesday”, taking his radio show on the road and asking people what they think about God. It is generally fascinating and eye-opening. On this particular day he was asking the question “Why do you need God?” to students on a college campus.

Of course, many said they don’t need God or that they don’t believe in God. But far more troublesome to me were the students who seemed to have a basic understanding of Christianity as a religion and yet didn’t truly understand why they need God.

Instead their answers were filled with the feel-good, me-centered drivel we have all grown quite used to.

But is this really why we need God? Is it because He helps us get through tough times and makes life here on earth so much better? While I am not denying that this is true, I would like to suggest that this is not why we need God. The primary reason we need God is because we are eternally damned without Him. (Romans 6:23; Romans 3:23; Revelation 21:8)

We are born sinners. We are slaves to our sin and to Satan, living in thick, black darkness. But God sent His son to redeem us–to die on a cross for our sins, making a way for us to be reconciled to Himself. We need not be condemned forever, because Jesus died for us–in our place! What marvelous truth! (Hebrews 9:12; I Timothy 2:5) This is what Christianity is all about.

At least it used to be what it was all about.

Somehow in the last 20 years or so, it has become a watered-down, weak, ecumenical, self-absorbed religion that looks nothing like what the Bible teaches.

The intrinsic problem with this change is that there are so many who have been swept into this religion that consists of a god of their own making. When we move away from the Word of God as we strive to answer eternal questions, we leave ourselves open to lies and deadly false teaching.

As I heard the students explain why they need God, there was no mention of sin and no mention of salvation. Instead it was centered around how God helps them in their self-centered agendas. No wonder they get disillusioned later on in life when things don’t go as they planned.

This is an amazing contrast to the disciples, all who were martyred for their faith (except John, who was exiled to an island). But the censorship and persecution started for the disciples even before Jesus was crucified. As I read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11 last week, I learned that Jesus was walking into grave danger as He traveled to Lazarus, who was located in Judea. By this time, the Pharisees were actively seeking to do away with this Man who was calling Himself God. Of course, Jesus knew that nothing would happen to Him before it was His appointed time, but the disciples did not have this same knowledge. And so as Jesus starts for Judea, the disciples fully understood that their lives could be in danger, as well, if they decided to accompany Him. But instead of turning back, this is what we see Thomas say in verse 16–

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

The text would indicate that he honestly believed that there was a likelihood they would die with Christ on that day.

This not only shows us just how dreadful and powerful the Pharisees were but it also tells us just how dedicated the disciples were to the Savior. And I find myself wondering:  Would I have been courageous enough to follow Jesus? Or would I have opted to protect myself instead? It is sobering to think about, isn’t it?

When Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), this does not mean that our lives will be full of flowers and sunshine. Sure we will be blessed with wonderful moments (thankfully!) but some of the places Christ leads us will be terribly difficult and we will find ourselves persecuted and hated. Are we willing to make that sacrifice to follow the Savior? Or will we walk away broken and embittered when Jesus doesn’t meet our “felt needs” or fulfill our worldly dreams?

Are we prepared to follow Jesus anywhere or will we defect when things take a painful turn? Asking this question is a great way to test the genuineness of our faith. If our faith is built on the biblical doctrine of salvation then we will stand strong in the face of persecution. We understand that we need God because He is our only hope of salvation from the sin that imprisons us! And then–as we grow in Christ–we learn that He offers us so much more than we can ask or imagine, but being rescued from our sin is always our starting point.

Will we be like Thomas–understanding true salvation and following Jesus even though it may mean suffering for the sake of our Savior? Or will we be like those college students–living with a vague, partial, and unbiblical definition of a God they aren’t even seeking?