Leslie A

Is that all that really matters?

This morning  I was listening to a song when the lyrics struck me.  The line was “the only thing that matters is how we have loved”.  Is that really the only thing that matters?  At first I shuddered at the apparent lack of biblical truth in this song.  While this is not true if we are looking at all of biblical and human history, what about if the song is referring to the individual?   The only thing that truly matters is that we have loved? And if that is true, just exactly what are we to love?  That is not really clear in the song.  However, it is very clear in Mark 12, verses 29-31

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 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.’[e] This is the first commandment.[f] 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no other commandment greater than these.”

We are to love God and we are to love our neighbors (all people that we come in contact with).    Jesus tells us these are the first and second of all commandments.   If we follow these commandments all of the others will follow naturally, because they show us how to (or how not to) love God or people.

We hear an awful lot about the second commandment these days.  American Christians are totally focused on helping the poor, needy, hungry, and destitute.  And that is great!  I think that is awesome.  But what about that first commandment?  How do we love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength?  I John gives us a bit of a clue…

I John 2:3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

We show our love to God by walking as Jesus walked.  By doing our best to obey ALL of the commandments in God’s Word…not just a few.  We are to live righteous lives. Pure lives.  Holy lives. Not in fellowship with the world, but in fellowship with God.  In prayer.  Not drawing attention to ourselves except for reasons of being salt and light.  And, yes, in loving others.

So, I guess loving is what it comes down to while living our lives.  If we love God, our whole lives will be transformed by that love.  It will affect not only how we treat others, but will affect what we say, read, listen to, and wear.  How we react, respond, and our tone of voice.  It affects who we hang out with, what movies we go to, and what is on our ipods. It alters how we treat our parents, our siblings, church leaders, and police officers.  It impacts our interests, passions, and hobbies.  It changes our conversations, how we drive, and who we date (or marry).  It affects if we read our Bibles, go to a church that teaches the Truth, or take the time to pray.  And it affects our commitments…to our families, our churches, and our communities.   Loving God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength will change me completely.  Loving God (first) and loving others (second) is truly what matters most when it comes to how we live our lives each day.

Expectations

Expectations

Expectations. Expectations that someone has for who they think you should be. But it doesn’t mesh with who you really are. I am not talking about sin issues here but opinion issues. Choices people make differently because God made them differently. And yet, because you might not make a choice the way someone else makes it, you are judged.

I have struggled through this recently with someone in my life who wants me to be someone I just am NOT. And I have struggled greatly with how to handle this (just for clarity’s sake, I am not talking about my husband here although we both do sometimes expect things of each other that we shouldn’t).

My first reaction was the desire to just start yelling at them. I mean HOW DARE THEY criticize ME?  Don’t I have the right to be the person God made me? Fortunately, I did not choose to follow through with the yelling! But bitterness and frustration did start to grow in my very soul. My next reaction was to write a letter and yes, I did write it–with full intention of giving it. Thankfully, I did not follow through with that, either.

But then I went running. It helps me release my frustration and it helps me to think.  And, as I was enjoying the beautiful day, my thoughts turned to this situation. I started thinking about how I should respond to this situation in a godly way. How would God want me to react?

First, I have to turn away from bitterness. When the thoughts come that cause anger and bitterness and the thoughts start spiraling downward (you know what I mean) I have got to stop them. I need to conscientiously choose to think godly thoughts. Sure, it’s hard. It’s hard like getting a root canal is hard.  But if you don’t do it, you pay serious consequences later. I don’t want to have rotten teeth OR grow into a bitter old woman.  And that is what happens when you get angry and dwell on things that seem unfair (or when you don’t fix your teeth!)

Second, I have to take an honest look at myself and really determine if the comments have truth to them.  Would I be a better person if I did “A, B, or C”? If I would be, then I need to swallow my pride and take some steps to improve some things (and, yes, in this case, there are some things I need to work on).  And then, I need to just let the other things roll off my back. Just roll away, never to be thought about again.  Okay, that might be pushing it. Memories have a tricky way of remembering unkind things people have said about you. But I at least need to make the effort not to dwell on them.

Jesus makes it clear that we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). Now if I am supposed to love my enemies and bless those who curse me then how can I grow bitter against this person who is truly not my enemy but just someone who thinks they should decide who I am supposed to be?

Sometimes the Bible is like a surgeon’s knife in my soul cutting away diseased tissue. I guess there is a verse about that, isn’t there? (Hebrews 4:12) Oh, how far I have to go yet in this spiritual walk. Always learning and mostly I am learning that there is a lot I haven’t learned!

TMI?

rain

So I am making myself a bit vulnerable with this entry. You may think I am strange after reading this (and I will admit that you are probably right) but I am going to go ahead and write this entry because–perhaps…just maybe–there may be someone out there who can relate to what I am about to write.

So, here goes. Every now and then, on a rare occasion, I start thinking that I have my act together spiritually. I look at the world around me and I think…hmmm…I could be a lot worse. I find myself thinking something like “God must surely be impressed with how spiritual I am”.  And, gradually, I become just a tad bit prideful.

I would like you to know that I have discovered the sure fire cure for this kind of proud thinking. Here it is:  Stay in a camper for an entire week with 1 husband, 3 teenagers, and 1 pre-teen and all of the stuff that accompanies said group when the weather is 95+ degrees with horrible humidity and intermittent showers (that do nothing to relieve the heat wave but are very effective at making everything wet). I found that this trip brought home rather quickly just how sinful I am.

While most of us became a bit grumpy and short-tempered, I would love to write that I was just the icon of godly motherhood–calming everyone with my peaceful demeanor, serving everyone cold drinks, and giving soft answers that turned away wrath. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I would venture to say that it was FAR from the case. I may have been (mind you, may have been) the worst of all of us. I was so disappointed in myself. If I cannot behave in a godly fashion during a heat wave then I consider myself absolutely pathetic.

I came face to face with my sinful nature and it was not a pretty sight. In fact, it was downright discouraging. How could I have let such paltry things push me into such selfish and unkind responses?  After swallowing my pride, making apologies, and trying to make things right, I have realized that I did  learn something from this experience.

If there is any benefit, whatsoever, of this past week, it is this–  I realized once again how great my sin and how awesome God’s grace. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The forgiveness given by my Heavenly Father is amazing and complete.  And that is it in a nutshell.

With that said, tomorrow is a new day to begin. Hopefully, I can be more like Jesus with whatever minutes, days, and years I have ahead of me. In the meantime, I want to remain full of gratitude for the forgiveness I have in Christ when I mess up. And when I happen to grow prideful, I will surely get knocked down off my perch once again. It’s inevitable. As I Corinthians 10:12 says “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall”.

But perhaps that is God’s grace working in us, as well, working to keep us humble. And for that, I am truly thankful.

UPDATE (9/12/15)—Once a week or so, I like to share an old post on the G4L Facebook page. I chose this one for today because it was encouraging in two ways. First, I am still falling on my face regularly and experiencing God’s grace. He continues to keep me from growing too prideful. And for that, I am thankful! And, second, I love that I can see how I’ve grown in the past five years. I still have an awful long way to go, but I am making progress–very slow and steady progress. And that’s good news!

Our similarity…to trees

So, as I was looking at the tree in our front yard the other day I got to thinking about how it has grown in the last 10 years.  It still looks like a pretty young tree, but it has grown considerably from the time it was first planted.  In a lot of ways people are like trees.  Here are a few that I thought worth mentioning–

– A tree that is fed properly generally grows properly.  Its trunk gets thicker, its roots grow deeper and its shade canopy becomes more widespread.  When we are fed properly (can be used both in the physical and spiritual realms), we grow stronger and taller.  When a tree OR a human looks sickly or is not growing we know something is definitely wrong.

–If a tree isn’t growing properly, but it is being fed, then you need to look for other problems…such as internal or external diseases or pests.  Sometimes a disease or pest may threaten the very life of the tree.  Sometimes it just makes the tree drop its leaves or mars its appearance.   We, as people, may start looking spiritually sickly or diseased on occasion.  Sometimes it threatens the very core of our spiritual health.  Other times it signifies consequences of some poor choices.  It is important to keep watch on our spiritual health.

–As the trunk gets thicker and the roots grow deeper, the tree becomes stronger and much more able to take the storms that will inevitably come  and the gales of wind that will blow.   Sometimes we do not feel strong enough to weather the storms that come our way.  But if we are rooted in Jesus, we will never be uprooted.   God has promised us this in His Word (Psalm 62).  And the older we are in the Lord, the stronger our trunks.  It takes more to shake us from the narrow path.  Because we have experienced God’s faithfulness.   It is easy in this culture to get discouraged about growing old.  So many things shout the praises of being young.  A gazillion products exist to remove our age spots, our wrinkles, and our cellulite.  And yet, in growing older in the Lord, we should be wiser than we were as young people.  We should realize how much we have learned and, more importantly, how much we haven’t learned.

–Just as a mature tree shades the plants and beings underneath its leafy canopy, so we can provide shade (encouragement, respite, empathy, and kindness) to those who God puts on our path.   All of us have the opportunity to do these things…but the older we get…the wider our canopy becomes–through the many and varied experiences through which God as led us.  We are able to reach out and touch more people because God’s faithfulness through all of our life’s journey allows us to understand and encourage others in their walks with God.

–And, finally–just as deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter, so we, too, sometimes lose things or people that we value.  Most times these losses lead us into our own personal winter as we struggle to understand the meaning of what happened to us.  But just like the tree in springtime, one day we realize that a little shoot of hope has started to grow.  And then another one.  And eventually…maybe a month later…maybe 2 years later…maybe more…we realize that we are healing…slowly but surely.

The Rocking Chair

133582_3825

I have a couple of rocking chairs on my porch. They look nice and sturdy. In fact,  I just repainted them, so they look quite inviting for anyone with a cup of coffee in their hand as they prepare to watch the sunset.  But if you sit on the one, it will be a big disappointment. The one rocker is broken and while it looks perfect, the piece on the bottom is actually completely severed and broken. It needs glued and we just haven’t gotten around to that. But we can put it together in such a way that you can’t really tell…until you sit on it.

“So what?” you may ask. This rocker got me to thinking about how we view others. I wonder if we don’t often view those around us and their behaviors with a certain judging spirit, totally unaware of what is hurting, insecure, or broken on the inside. If someone is behaving in a certain way, there is usually an internal reason for doing so.  Perhaps they never felt loved or accepted by their father. Perhaps they are watching a loved one as they battle fiercely with cancer or some other dreaded disease. Perhaps they are wrapped up in a lawsuit that threatens their livelihood or maybe their daughter just had an abortion. Could it be that they suffered abuse at the hands of an uncle or were bullied as a child? The list goes on and on.

While the past is never an excuse for sin, and sin does need to be confronted, it is never a reason not to love someone, especially a Christian brother or sister. In I John 3:10 it says we are not of God if we do not love our brother. We will do far more good with love than with hate.  Judging people without love and with a spirit of arrogance is not of God (Proverbs 6:17).

We are to judge (John 7:24), but only with a proper heart attitude and a heart full of love. Judgment that is only based on God’s standards of righteousness–not our own. Knowing that, but for the grace of God, go I and being fully aware of our own sinful hearts. We are to love and care for one another, especially our Christian brothers and sisters. We should actually be broken-hearted because they are offending Almighty God, instead of feeling prideful because of how “holy” we are compared to THEM.

That rocker looks different than it really is. Just as people are often different on the inside than they appear on the outside. Now, I am not saying we are never to determine what kind of fruit someone is producing in their life. We are to discern between good and evil and we are to walk in the way of righteousness.We are to choose our friends wisely and we are to confront our brother or sister when sin is present. But sitting in our homes or at the restaurant having conversations about others and their “sin” is not right. It is gossip. And God hates it. Aah, how easy it is to fail in this area. And, oh, how so many of us Christians (myself included) forget that this is sin, plain and simple.

 

 

The BIG Lie

Big Lie

Modern-day Christianity has sold us on a huge lie.  It has changed the course of this nation. It has changed the landscape of our Christian culture. It has changed me. It is a sobering thing to think about. And one that we should truly be aware of and fight against with all that is within us. Here it is:

Salvation exists to give ME a purpose.

Ummm,  really? I thought salvation was for the purpose of saving sinners from eternal hell. That I realize that I, in and of myself, have nothing good in me to offer anyone, especially God. There is nothing I can do or say or be that makes me acceptable to Almighty God. (Ephesians 2:8,9)

You may say, “Well, I believe that.”.  Yes, so do I. But here are five ways this lie has crept into our lives (at least from my observation).

1)  I can do what I want because Jesus wants me to be happy.

That is just not true. There is nothing in scripture that says Jesus wants me to be happy.  In fact, I would say the opposite is true…Matthew 19: 16-26 is the account of the rich young ruler. Jesus tells him to sell all that he has…knowing that young man is extremely attached to his material possessions. If  our modern day definition of happiness includes material wealth (and it does for many of us) then what Jesus is asking this young man to do goes against the definition of happiness. And what about Matthew 16:24?  Jesus tells us that anyone who desires to come after Him must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him.  That sounds like the complete opposite of our definition of happiness, doesn’t it? Deny myself? Deny myself worldly pleasures?  You know what your worldly pleasures are, just as I know what mine are. And we are kidding ourselves if we think we can have Jesus and the world, too. We can’t. We have to make a choice.

2) I can do what I want because Jesus forgives me.

Oh, really? Yes, Jesus forgives. But if we are truly saved, our hearts will be tremendously grieved at causing the Father grief when we sin. I see very little grief over sin. In fact, I see very little conviction about sin. Most of us are living our lives without even giving consideration to the things that grieve the Father in our lives. How incredibly sad He must be at the lack of care we give to the sins in our lives. I know that I, personally, do not take seriously enough the sin I commit every day.  I truly want to live my life so that I am not sinning with a carefree attitude that I will be forgiven, but that I am truly grieved at the sin in my life and am working towards sinning as little as possible.

3) I need to be relevant to reach the world.

Matthew 5:13 says that we are the salt of the earth. And how shall the world be seasoned if we lose our flavor? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. I would say that Christianity in America has completely lost its flavor and needs to be thrown out in its entirety. The relevance lie has brought about nothing but a bunch of “Christians” who need excuses to drink, gamble, wear immodest clothing, and watch movies/listen to music that goes against all that God stands for. If God needs us to be like the world to reach the world, He is a pretty small God. That is a pretty small box for Him. Do I really believe God needs me to be like the world to reach people for Him? It goes against God’s word completely.  And if I am like the world, what I am I truly offering to the world? James 1:27 tell us we need to be unspotted from the world. I see an awful lot of spots—in my life and in the lives of those around me. It is sobering to think on.

4) I need to love myself before I can love others.

This is one of the most insidious of all the lies. We hear it everywhere…from popular authors…to magazines…to pop music…to preachers…all are telling us that we cannot be fulfilled, happy, love others, or realize our dreams until we love ourselves. But Jesus tells us we already DO love ourselves, and that we are to love others the way we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). We are not to foster this love, we are to try to rid ourselves of it. Some of you may say “well, I don’t love myself, I hate myself.” Don’t you see that this is a form of love? It really comes down to MYSELF consuming my time, thoughts, ambitions, and goals.

Philippians 2:3 puts it this way:  “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”

The goal is to stop thinking about ourselves at all…to always put others ahead of ourselves. This is SO very hard. But coming to grips with the fact that self-love is not our goal is a start to a new way of living.

5) I need to fulfill my dreams because that is what God wants for me.

No, He doesn’t. This was one I came face to face with just recently. I am a person of great dreams. I have lots on my bucket list.  But I was convicted recently (by another of John MacArthur’s sermons!) that my duty is to do the things set before me…please my husband, care for my children, be a good steward of my time and money, etc.  If God allows me to live some of my dreams (and He has!) then that is an extra blessing. It isn’t that I deserve it. It is not my personal right to have my dreams fulfilled.

In conclusion, I would just say that this has been very difficult to write. It goes against so much of what we are being taught today. And  in writing this, I have been convicted all over again about how these lies have affected me and my family.  It is sobering to realize how far Christianity has strayed from the truth of the Gospel and has so watered it down that many who think they are believes will be at the pearly gates telling God they knew Him and he will say He never knew them!  (Matthew 7: 21-23)

Developing Self-Discipline

Here are some exercises for developing the fruit of self-discipline in your life.  This comes straight from John MacArthur’s “The Art of Self-Discipline” sermon series (which is extremely convicting, by the way).

1. Clean your environment.

2. Make a schedule.

3. Wean yourself off entertainment.

4. Be on time.

5. Keep your word.

6. Do the hardest task first.

7. Finish what you start.

8. Practice self-denial.

9. Volunteer for tasks outside your own personal agenda.

In the 2-part series he goes on to talk more deeply about the reason we need to be self-disciplined as believers and how to truly work on this in our lives with the Lord’s help.  However, this brief introduction of little things we can do to help us in this area of our lives is a great list!  I thought I would share it.  If you would like to take the time to listen yourself, which I HIGHLY recommend, you can find it here.

The Illusion of Control

We can fool ourselves, can’t we?  Into thinking that we have control of our lives?  We live our lives, making decisions and choices, believing we are forming our own destinies.  And to some extent, we are.  If we make wise choices, we often do live more peaceful lives and if we make stupid choices, we do pay consequences.  But, when it comes right down to it, we don’t have a whole lot of control over what life throws at us.  Of course, we all have lots of opportunities to have that fact established.  However, there is nothing as relentless in helping you understand this lack of control than having teenagers.

In the process of growing up, teens will do things that will disappoint, or maybe even completely mortify, you as a parent.  When my kids were little, I controlled when they went to bed, who they were with, what they ate, and how they dressed…just to name a few.  As they have gotten older, I have learned to release the control of these choices to them…which is absolutely necessary if they are going to grow up to be adults who contribute to society rather than suck the life out of it.  However, you have in your mind how you want your child to respond to these new freedoms.  You assume that they will make mature, godly choices that will please not only you, but more importantly God.  It doesn’t take long to realize that they are not always going to make wise choices.  They are in a growing up process and it is only by the grace of God that our kids follow Him or that they even survive.  Sometimes it isn’t even a choice between right and wrong, but just a choice that leads in a different direction than you hoped for them.  We can do our best to guide and direct as parents, but our teens need to make many of their own choices  and then live with them.

This was brought home to me recently with a couple of incidents with my children.  I was disappointed and my husband asked me if I was perfect when I was their age.  That made me stop and think.  No, I wasn’t.  I did a lot of stupid things.  And just as I watch my kids make some mistakes, my parents watched me make mistakes.   The journey of watching your children grow into adults is one filled with mountains, valleys, and deserts.  Sometimes there is discouragement and sometimes there is great joy.  I need to consciously turn each child over to the Lord and trust Him for their  futures, all the while doing the very best I can to be a good example and to put boundaries in place that are fair and balanced.

I cannot control my children.  I do not own my children.  From the moment they were born, I released them to Him and to His calling.  But I am continually learning that this is truly a process and not a one-time choice.  In the process of watching my teenagers mature and grow and make mistakes and choices that might not be the choices I would make, I realize that this is true in a wider circle.  We can’t control anyone…parents, employees, bosses, friends, or siblings.  We can only control ourselves and our decisions.  And there is never a choice made by anyone that is worth breaking a relationship over.  But that is a blog for another day…

Psalm 18:2;  Proverbs 3:5-6

Twisters. Hurricanes. Floods.

Psalm 119: 37   Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

Twisters.  Hurricanes.  Floods.  Just a few things that get our attention as humans.  These natural disasters come along and wreck our perfectly ordered worlds.  Sometimes taking with them all the possessions we own.  We were spared yesterday when a mini twister came roaring through our property.  While we had some damage, it could have been so much worse.  But it got me thinking…how attached am I to what I possess?  Or, to take it a step further, how attached am I to the things that are not eternal?  I find that a very tough question.

Could I live without my TV?  My computer?  My air-conditioning?  Movies?  Facebook?  My dog?  My Ipod?  Questions that come to mind when a twister of any size comes roaring through your backyard.   Of course,  I could live without these things.  But have they become more important to me than they should?  Would I remain calm and kind if faced with the loss of these things?

Do I count all as loss compared to Christ?  Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget what truly matters.  Living for Jesus.  Telling others about Him.  Holding discussions with our kids about the things that matter.  Praying for our families, friends, and pastors.

Instead we focus on the temporal things…sports, movies, the latest gadgets,  facebook, X-box, boats, pets…I am just naming a few that quickly come to my mind.   These things aren’t wrong in and of themselves.  It is when they take too much of our time.  It is when time spent on these things distracts us from our time with God or perhaps even hinders our relationship with God that they become problems.

We all know that life is about the mundane.  Let’s face it, we all need to do the laundry, feed our families, mow the lawn, and clean the house.  But keeping our priorities focused on the eternal will make a huge difference in our lives…even while working at the daily tasks we all need to do.

Philippians 3:8; Psalm 119: 36-37

Once Upon a Time

castle

Once upon a time there was a princess. She looked with longing from her room window. She was not allowed to leave the castle property. She had to play in her room or in the castle garden. If she did go past the castle gates, she went with her nanny or a servant. She was never allowed to run in the meadow. Or wade in the creek. Or play games with the village children. Her life was full of doing the proper things. She felt like she was in prison! As she watched the other children, she wished she could be like them instead of stuck inside the cold and dreary castle. Her parents, busy with state affairs paid little attention to her and she had no siblings. Her fancy clothes and filled tummy provided little comfort in the midst of her great loneliness.

Meanwhile, there was an ordinary girl in the village sitting under the shadow of the castle. She was the much-loved daughter of the town cobbler and his wife. She looked with longing every day at the castle. Oh, if only she could be a princess. She thought of the clothes she would wear, looking down at her own drab, torn dress. She thought of  the magnificent carriages she would ride in for she had never even been in a carriage. She thought of having servants at her beck and call. And the food! Oh, the meat and the pastries that would be on her table. What a wonderful life it must be to be a princess! If only.

Two different people, two very different lives. Which is better? Maybe neither is better. Perhaps they are just different. I think we all spend a good part of our lives looking at others and wishing we had their car or house or job. Perhaps it is their spouse or children or salary or vacation or talent that we envy. You get the idea. We forget that no matter how good someone else’s life looks to us, there are always problems and issues they are dealing with because, believe it or not, no one’s life is perfect. Instead of focusing on what someone else has, perhaps we should focus on our own blessings.

Most of us have so much for which to be thankful. Every life is different. God has given each of us varied blessings and varied struggles. Why some seem to struggle more than others we will never understand. But let us remember that everyone struggles. Everyone has problems–even if you can’t see them from the outside looking in. But everyone also has blessings in their lives. Finding them can sometimes be hard in the difficult moments and times of our lives. But if we will consciously focus on the blessings in our lives, we will be filled with joy and gratitude. If we focus on what others have and what we do not have, we become dissatisfied and unhappy. It is a constant struggle. By nature, we are not content.

Let’s remove our longing eyes from the lives of others and the words “if only” from our lips and instead be like Paul, who learned to be content in all circumstances.

I Timothy 6:6; Philippians 4:11-13

 

 

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