Friendship

Change Isn’t Always Welcome

Our little puppy needed a haircut. I was unable to get her into a groomer for far longer than it should have been. She was an unkempt and matted little fluff ball when I dropped her off and a too skinny and yes, plain ugly dog when I picked her up. My heart sank as the groomer apologized profusely explaining how badly matted she was and that she wouldn’t normally cut a dog that short. Yes, I understand. I had such a difficult time finding a groomer to take her and then when I found one, of course, I had to wait for an appointment so here we were. No one’s fault.

As we pulled into the campground last Friday, our oldest grandson looked at her when she hopped out of the truck and wondered whose dog she was (yes, she looks THAT different). We all had a good laugh over that. A day later, he was in the camper petting her and exclaiming that her fur is already starting to grow and she’s looking cuter already. Also had a good laugh over that.

But despite his hopeful words, we all know that she’s just not very cute without her fur. I wish it wasn’t true but it is. Currently, she’s a dog only a mother (and perhaps those with soft spots in their hearts for ugly dogs) could love.

Now…she’s the same dog. She hasn’t really changed who she is. She just looks different. Not as appealing.

One could say that a similar thing happens when we turn to Christ or even when we grow in Christ. We recognize sin for what it is. We start turning away from sin. We begin our journey in living life to please God instead of pleasing self.

And this looks ugly to our friends. They don’t like this change. Stripped of our partying, our sinful entertainment, our drinking, and our obscene language, well, we just don’t look all that appealing to our old friends.

But this isn’t just true with unbelieving friends. This often happens with Christians friends, too. When we really start studying the Word and recognizing the acceptable sins and the worldliness within the church and try to begin turning away from them, it usually means turning away from our friends, as well.

If we are going to get serious about our faith and follow the Lord whole-heartedly we will lose friends. People are going to treat us like my ugly dog. They will keep their distance and murmur cool hellos but they won’t want to get within more than a few feet of us because we look unappealing to them. Not only do we no longer live up to their definition of “fun to be around” but, if they are saved, we may make them feel uncomfortably convicted.

And so, as serious believers, we need to be prepared to give up everything for Christ. And for many of us, that will probably mean a few (or many) friends.

But God is faithful. He will most likely provide new like-minded friends who love Him as much (or more) than we do. And if He doesn’t do that, He will be our friend. For He alone is all we need. He will give us the strength to walk alone if that is what He asks of us.

When we read this verse in Luke–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)

we often think of denying ourselves material wealth or some other tangible thing. But I’d submit to you that this means we deny ourselves in every way–including our much longed-for relationships with friends and even family. Our desire to follow Christ should be greater than our desire for anything else.

The true Gospel is so simple but it could potentially cost us everything.

When we begin to change, many won’t like it. They will start distancing themselves. They may even get angry at us. They will ridicule, call us names, gossip and lie about us. I’ve been on the receiving end of all of these things at some time or another. It is not fun. But I can tell you without a doubt that it is worth it.

Growing more like Christ is always worth it in every way. In this life and the next. Oh, we may not think so during a painful time that would be made so much less painful if we’d just follow the crowd and be like everyone else. But God will help us survive that temporal, painful time (and it is temporal no matter how long it lasts).

And don’t forget– eternity is just around the corner and it will be awesome.

 

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

 

 

We All Need a Little Help Sometimes

This past Saturday night we were rudely awakened by Macy’s deep bark. She is our Labrador Retriever and even as a rather old dog, her hearing remains fairly sharp. I squinted at the clock and tried to discern if the doorbell I heard ringing was real or part of a dream. It was 2:46am (3:46am on our phones because they had already switched for Daylight Savings). What had caused Macy to bark?

Eric ran downstairs to make sure no one was at the door. When he was assured that the doorbell had indeed been in my dreams he came back upstairs. But instead of getting back in bed, he stood at the bedroom window.

“What are you looking at?” I asked.

“There are car lights. They aren’t moving. I wonder if someone is stuck?”

The temperature was frigid and the wind was brutal. It was causing the snow that had fallen earlier that day to drift in great waves of white across the road, making it impassable.

We both stood at the window watching the headlights of the motionless car. Finally, after a few minutes, my husband turned to me, “Shall I go rescue them?”

Now, I have to say that I hesitated. I am sad to admit that. But what is someone doing out at 3am in the morning, anyway? They are probably drunk, at the very least. The thought of my husband going out on that freezing, blustery night to rescue a complete stranger did not thrill my soul.

But my husband is a born rescuer. If someone needs help, he’s there. He always has been like that, even as a young man. It’s is one of the things I love most about him.

And, so, he was soon dressed in warm coat and boots and headed outside to get his biggest skid-loader to see what he could do.

Forty-five minutes or so later, he was back inside. He had not only rescued the man and the young teen with him (presumably his daughter), who were coming home from a party but had also cleared the road for any others who might need to use it.

The weather made conversation difficult and so Eric doesn’t really know much about the man and the young girl that was with him. He couldn’t really tell if he had drunk too much before leaving the party or if the girl was truly his daughter. We don’t know why Macy even barked at that time. What we do know is that they needed help and Eric had the means to provide that help.

Can you imagine how they must have felt when they saw a skid-loader headed their way to rescue them? They probably felt pretty hopeless as they sat there in the dark, surrounded on all sides by wind and snow. But, for some reason, God had allowed us to be awakened so that Eric could help them, just when they needed it.

I think of how often something similar happens to us. How we are at the end of our rope and feeling so hopeless and then–just at the right time–we get the help or encouragement we need. Someone offers to bring a meal, or they let us know they are praying for us, or we receive a little note in the mail. They may take the kids for an evening or come sit quietly with us as we mourn.

There are millions of ways that God orchestrates to comfort, encourage, strengthen, and, yes, even rescue us. He does this most often through His people, who are His hands and feet, meeting the needs of fellow siblings in Christ, as well as the lost in this world who so desperately need Christ.

Sometimes we get to be the rescuer (as my husband did last night) and sometimes we need to be rescued.

 

It takes selflessness and love to be the rescuer.

It takes humility and grace to be rescued.

 

Oh, may we meet both of these situations in a way that honors God and points others to Him.

NOW… there are some common temptations for us in these two areas, aren’t there? Some common ways we respond that would not be from God–

 

Temptations for the would-be rescuer

“Someone else can help them.”

“It’s just so inconvenient.”

“I don’t have time.”

“It might be dangerous.”

“I just don’t feel like helping.”

“I have more important things to do.”

“It’s too hard.”

 

Temptations for those who need rescued

“What will people think of me?”

“I’m so embarrassed!”

“I don’t need help!”

“I can do this alone.”

“I should be able to handle this.”

 

But–here’s the thing– God has designed us to need each other. He has designed humans to fellowship with one another (I John 1:7); to encourage and edify one another (I Thess. 5:11); to love one another (John 13:34-35); to help gently restore each other when we are struggling with a sin (Galatians 6:1); to be kindly affectionate with brotherly love (we are family!) (Romans 12:10); to meet the needs of each other (Romans 12:13); to rejoice and weep with one another (Romans 12:15).

This gives us a beautiful picture of what being in God’s family should look like. I fear that in these days, it is more often like a bunch of disconnected people going to the same building for a few hours each week –like a big group who would attend a show or a concert but know nothing about one another. This is understandable as we live in a culture where so many of us do not even know our neighbors.

We aren’t going to change the culture or probably not even our churches, so what can we do? What should we do?

Since we don’t do what is right because we want to change something but, rather, because we want to obey the Lord we love, we simply choose to do what is right in whatever opportunities we are given.

This means putting aside our own selfish agenda and unwillingness to give of our time, money, and other resources (that aren’t ours, anyway) to reach out to help; to know the Word so we can encourage and point others to its treasure trove of help and promises.

It means casting aside our ugly pride and to stop worrying about what people think and, instead, graciously and gratefully accept help when we need it.

These things sound so easy, but, unfortunately, they often aren’t. Most of us are not naturally unselfish or humble. It is only by the Holy Spirit working in and through us that we grow in these areas. This is a lifelong journey as we seek to become more like Christ.

Only by casting selfishness and pride away can we be the family of God that He has designed us to be. Only by reaching out, helping, and accepting help when we need it can we be obedient to God’s Word.

May we give our efforts to building up the body of Christ, creating strong and loving bonds with our siblings in Christ. As the world continues on its downward spiral, I believe we are going to need each other more and more. Let’s be building the bonds of love now so that they are strong enough to withstand any storm that comes.

 

 

It Starts With Us

It seems like we live in a world where everyone is offended by something. They are offended by things you did in the past. Things you are doing now. And even who you innately are. They are offended by your words, by your actions, and by your choices.

And, just like a snowball that grows in force and speed as it rolls down a hill, so, too, this world where everyone is offended is growing quickly in epic proportions. (The snowball actually started a long time ago. We are simply watching it hurl towards the bottom of the hill now.)

But, as the church, are we really any different? It seems like we find the same dynamic there. People are offended because they weren’t asked to be on a committee or invited to a get-together. They are offended because the pastor doesn’t talk to them or didn’t say what they thought he should say. They are offended because something they donated years ago has been replaced. They are offended because the lady in the hat sings too loud.

It’s in families, where offended parties avoid each other. Where criticism reigns freely but grace is in short supply. Where differences of opinions about politics and religion and money cause chasms that can’t seem to be crossed.

It seems like anywhere we turn, people are just offended these days.

So how can we change this? Obviously there is little we can do. But there is a little we can do.

We can start with ourselves.

We can intentionally choose to not be offended. To let things roll. To give people grace. To stop being worried about ourselves and how we feel.

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Offended people are often consumed by themselves and how they feel.

Speaking from my own experience, when I feel offended, this is why. My pride or my feelings have been hurt and I am purely focused on myself.

But Christianity calls for the exact opposite of this.

God calls us to cast self aside and to esteem others better than ourselves.

Philippians 2:2-4 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

God asks us to treat others like we would want to be treated.

Luke 6:31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

God tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute and use us.

Matthew 5:44-47 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your[p]brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the[q]tax collectors do so?

God loved us so much that He sent His son to die for our sins. We are to respond to this gift with love–both for God and for others.

Mark 12:30-31 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.’ [l]This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

We get a good description of this love in I Corinthians 13, where we read that it is long-suffering, doesn’t seek its own, and is not provoked (ESV version uses the word “resentful”).

I Corinthians 13:4-7 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not [b]puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, [c]thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

In fact, loving our Christian brothers is so important that we are told that we are a liar if we say we love God but hate a brother. Think about the ramifications of that for a moment.

I John 14:20-21 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, [d]how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

We also find in Matthew that if we don’t forgive those who trespass against us, God won’t forgive us our sins. That is a very indicting statement! This is how critical it is that we forgive others instead of our natural “old man” tendency to hold a grudge. This is an extremely big deal.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

As we learn to respond to offenses in a manner worthy of being called a Christian, the wonderful effects of this will ripple out to our children and extended family. It will ripple out to our co-workers and church family. As we choose very intentionally not to be offended about every little thing or even about big things, we set an example that hopefully inspires others to do the same. As we choose to forgive instead of holding grudges, we help to create the warm and loving atmosphere that should be in every Christian home and biblical church.

We get to help instead of hinder.

We help to build our families and churches rather than tear them down.

This isn’t easy. And many are the times that I (personally) have to catch myself. I have to ask myself: Why am I so offended by this or that? When I take a moment to examine, it is always because of selfishness and pride. Oh, how ugly these things are. How much division and dissension they cause in Christian homes and churches.

As we face a world that is so offended all the time, may we true Christians stand out like beacons of light in the darkness as we choose to forgive and extend grace. And may this difference draw people to us and give us abundant opportunities to plant seeds for God’s Kingdom.

 

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Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21

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Random Thoughts on a Winter Morning

It is a cold winter morning. The ground is covered with snow and spring seems far away. Over the weekend I had the privilege of visiting Florida, where I drank in the warm sun and beautiful flowers that are still nonexistent where I live. I was grateful for those few days, as the winter here in Pennsylvania has been very long. We’ve had snow on the ground for many days and it’s been very cold. But spring is coming. It always does.

I spent the weekend in Florida with my two best friends from college. We have been dear friends for many years and can always pick up where we left off. They are both great examples of how to be a “pleasant traveling companion”. Their selflessness, kindness, and generosity made the weekend so pleasant. Not to mention our like-minded faith that has grown stronger through the years. True friends like this are rare and I am so thankful for them. Do we agree on every little thing? Of course not. But that is where grace comes in. Grace is most important in lasting friendships, is it not?

Grace is also critical to healthy family relationships, work relationships, and church family relationships. Without it we are petty, critical, and argumentative.

While in Florida, I had something really interesting happen to me that I wanted to share with you. On Saturday morning, I was laying in bed praying for a few moments before getting up. One of the things that I prayed was that God would give me an opportunity to talk to someone about Him. Now, honestly, I have to say I didn’t really expect Him to answer. I have to be up front about that. After all, I was in a place where I knew no one and, well…it just seemed pretty unlikely that this prayer would be answered.

But God…

That morning, we attended a baking class in the area. It was great fun and the teacher was an engaging older lady who made it both funny and interesting. In the midst of her demo she told us she was recently divorced after many years. She kind of said it off-hand but I could tell she was devastated. At the end of the class, she came up to me (Why me? Of all the people in the class, why me? I believe it is because of my prayer. There is no other reason. There is nothing special about me) and started talking about her broken marriage and her religion and gave me the perfect opportunity to plant seeds for the Gospel. I did what I could in a room full of people without a lot of time, but it didn’t feel like enough. Should I have said something different? I always come away feeling so inadequate in those situations. But I pray God will grow those seeds. Would you join me in praying for this woman? We will call her R. Pray that she will read the Bible and that her eyes would be opened to the Truth. She is disenamored with her current religion and seems to be really searching.

I don’t really know why I prayed that on Saturday. I don’t pray it often (even though I should!) but isn’t it amazing how God answered that prayer? When I am tempted to think God doesn’t care or that I can’t trust Him, I think about these faith-building moments. He surely does hear us. He hears us and He cares about us. It is a marvelous thing to comprehend!

It was nice to take a few days’ break away from reality. But I had to come back. And, honestly, I was glad to return. I missed my family and wouldn’t want to be gone from them much longer than a few days.

As I left the airport the cold air quickly reminded me that I was back in the land of winter. But spring will come again. Soon now, the snow will melt and the air will turn warmer. The trees will start to fill out with plump buds of green and the first flowers will slowly emerge from the soil. Winter never lasts forever.

I think that’s a good thing to remember, right now, in the midst of current events. It’s dark and it feels like the wind is getting brutally colder. But spring will come again. Most likely, it will come in the form of our eternal home. As we watch things take shape, we know that the end has to be near. But this, too, is in God’s Sovereignty. It’s funny to think most of us believed it would come but never contemplated that the last days plan would come to full fruition in our lifetime. But now I think most of us realize it very well could.

As we wait and watch for our Lord, may we be actively serving the Lord and sharing the Gospel. Now is not the time to sit twiddling our thumbs. I am convinced that there is little time left to us to go about the work of the Lord and there are so so many who still need to hear! There are so so many who need encouragement or who need “snatched from the fire.” Now is not the time to grow sluggish and lazy.

As we give our best, only God will keep us from stumbling. On our own, we are so weak and helpless. We will be presented blameless only because of our Lord Jesus Christ and certainly not due to any works of our own. This is the heart of the Gospel. Praise God for His amazing grace! But for Christ, we would be lost.

Now let’s unashamedly tell this to the world! They may hate us. They may marginalize us. They may grow frustrated. But we aren’t doing this for our own glory. We are doing it for God’s glory and because we love people. If we keep these things in mind, it will help make us stronger.

Let’s keep our focus on the Lord as we navigate this alternate universe. I will conclude with these important verses from Jude 17-25–

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time[h] and now and forever. Amen.

 

Who Me? I’d Never Hold a Grudge…

Recently, I saw someone say something rather unkind to someone. The person being spoken to had every opportunity to get offended or defensive, but they just laughed and let it roll right off their back. The humility in that response was also played out in the next hours and days, never affecting the relationship.

Lord, I want to be like that.

How often do we allow harsh words, trivial disagreements, or gossip to destroy our relationships? How often do we let really big disagreements destroy them?

If we are a Christian, this just should not be.

We all know the scriptures, don’t we? We are to forgive others (Matthew 6:12-15; Luke 17:3; Colossians 3:13, etc) What we sometimes forget is that this isn’t just the big, ghastly things that are obvious.

This is about the sarcastic remark spoken to you by a family member.

This is about the harsh words lashed out after you made a mistake.

This is about the time that friend embarrassed you in front of everyone.

I believe grudge-holding is one of the worst and most accepted sins in the church today. For some reason, Christians seem to brush this sin aside.

Oh, many pretend they are okay but they start distancing themselves. Suddenly, they aren’t calling or texting that friend anymore. They are avoiding a family member. The relationship has changed, no matter what they say about forgiving that person with their mouth.

I think the current events have me thinking about this a bit more. There’s so much division. The opinions held by people are at extreme odds. Disagreements and ugly arguments are a regular part of social media these days. They may even be part of your own family or circle of friends.

And then there is the uncertainty. I mean we always knew way down deep inside that life can change in a second. If you’ve lost someone you love, you know this. But somehow, with everything up in the air and the future a deep, unsettled fog around us, it reminds us of what’s really important.

And our relationships rank pretty high up on the list of what’s important.

So what destroys them? Why do we let a thoughtless word or sarcastic comment get to us? Why do we struggle so to forgive?

I believe it can be summed up in one word: PRIDE.

Pride is deadly. The longer I live, the more deadly I realize it is. It makes us prickly and quick to defend ourselves. It is the root of all grudge-holding and of an unforgiving spirit.

The other evening, my family brought up something rather embarrassing about me in front of someone I didn’t know very well.

My normal reaction would be to defend myself and get a bit blustery about it. But at that moment, God gave me the strength to respond in the right way. I laughed with them and admitted my fault in what they were discussing.

A bit later, my husband commented on how well I had handled that moment.

You see, I don’t usually respond so well. It felt unnatural to do so. But, afterwards, I knew in my heart I had done the right thing.

Not only had I cast my pride aside, but I had set a good example for my family.

I don’t hold myself up as any icon of humility. This is abnormal for me. I am not saying “look at me”. I’m saying this is what happened one time and it was good. Why don’t I do it more often?? Why can’t I get over myself?

Look, we all have our good moments and bad moments, right? Our hope is that our good moments grow and our bad moments diminish. But sometimes we just need to examine our lives. Where are we at? How are we changing for the better? Are we looking more like Christ?

And one area that we often skip in our examinations is this area of relationships. Am I easily offended? Do I hold grudges? Do I get defensive? Can I laugh at myself?

So how do we build stronger relationships?

If being easily offended and pride and holding grudges and not forgiving destroys them then we can assume that the opposite builds them.

1. Let things roll. When someone says something hurtful, we must choose to just let it roll. Right off our backs and far away. We should ask the Lord to help us forget it and move on.

2. Be humble. A big part of humility is thinking of others. It is taking the focus off of ourselves (and our wounded pride) and thinking of others. We should offer lots of grace and cast that ugly pride aside. This is often much easier said than done!

3. Listen carefully to words spoken and then respond with love. Instead of letting ourselves get so defensive and offended, why not actually listen to see if there is a nugget of truth in the words being spoken? Perhaps God is using that person to show us an area in which we need to grow? We should listen instead of lash out. Listen and then respond with love.

4. Learn to laugh at ourselves. Life is just too short to get all uptight and offended about the small stuff. If someone tells an embarrassing story, we may as well just laugh along with them. After all, it was funny! I have so many of these. So does my mom. I’ve learned from her well. She just laughs along and sets the greatest example of not taking herself too seriously. I thank her for teaching me that.

5. Agree to disagree. We aren’t going to agree with everyone. We don’t have to prove we are right. Our job is to point people to the Word and let the Holy Spirit do the convicting and convincing. When we remember this, it makes it so much easier to step back after we’ve made our argument and just walk away.

6. Pray for a humble and forgiving spirit. Ask the Lord to fill you with humility. Ask Him to help you forgive not only big things but the little things, too, that may eat at you. He is so faithful and He will help you!

If you are like me, you are still working on these. And may we be very intentional in our efforts. May this be something at the forefront of our minds so that we don’t allow grudges or a defensive spirit to worm their way into our lives.

Because I think we can all agree: Life is just too short and relationships are far too precious for this.

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 5)

This is Part 5 in a series that is exploring just how the world’s ways and philosophies sneak into our lives unawares. So often when people think of worldliness, it is with a very narrow definition. Perhaps they believe worldliness is equal to worldly entertainment and so they discern in this area, while letting the world affect their thinking in so many other areas. Perhaps they believe worldliness to equal materialism and so they are sure to live simply and generously, while worldly music and movies dominate their entertainment. You see, worldliness is not just one thing but it is a whole way of thinking that is anti-God.

The natural bent for all of us is to go towards the world. This is for a number of reasons. First, it is always easier to row downstream than upstream. When we become a believer we are rowing upstream and against the natural, sinful inclinations that we are born with. It is exhausting and takes a lot of effort. Second, we like to be like the world, insomuch that we don’t stick out and get made fun of. In other words, we want to be part of the crowd, even if it’s at the very edge. Otherwise, we look strange or eccentric or like some kind of fanatic. This is very important to most of us and this desire keeps many of us at the edges of the world hanging around the fence. And, third, and probably the biggest reason, is that the modern day false religion going by the name of Christianity says we can have salvation and keep the world, too. We can be like the world and still be saved, as long as we said “the prayer”. If one believes this, there is no reason to turn away from the world because they can have both things at the same time. Of course, this type of person can not possibly be in the Word because we can see over and over that this is not the case. But so many who would call themselves believers live in the world without nary a conviction because of the wave of easy-believism that has infected the ranks of true Christians in the last 50 or so years.

Today I want to take a look at how worldliness has seeped into our relationships. As I have been reflecting on this the past week, I became aware that there is far more world in the relationships of us believers than I first realized.

This will be hard to keep to a normal blog post length, but I am going to do my very best to be concise and to the point! Here we go–

8. RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Even in a relationship where both are growing believers, there can be some hard moments. But, often, the holier we are the less challenges we will face. Each type of relationship has its own special challenges. But we can also find encouragement and guidance from scripture for each of these, as well, as we try to swim upstream in our relationships in a downstream world.

I want to take a look at a few of the most common relationships we all have and explore how the world’s thinking may be permeating them and then take a look at what the Bible teaches–

A. In Marriage

The World: In practice, the world promotes the woman as the head of the home, while the husband meekly follows her. While many men are involved with their kids (which is a good thing!) it is often in the capacity as servant to their wife’s desires. What she says he just does with very little leadership coming from him. I see this even in many Christian homes where the husband will just obey the wife, whatever she asks. This is completely opposite of what God designed for marriage.

The world would also tell us that our happiness is primary, so we are free to leave a marriage when it isn’t working for us. There are no parameters on this except for our own feelings of happiness.

A very loud minority of the world is demanding that marriage can be between any two consenting people, including those of the same sex. Even many who have called themselves Christians are abandoning God’s Holy Word and agreeing with this definition of marriage so that the minority is quickly becoming a majority with the onslaught of this philosophy literally coming at us from all angles.

What the Bible Says:

–On ROLES

God says that the man is to be the leader. Not only does he get to make the decisions but he also has to take responsibility for those decisions. I have always been glad that I am not a man! It is a real weight to bear if one is serious about their family’s well-being. Husbands are to love their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands. When it is done God’s way it is a beautiful thing. A wife well-loved finds it much easier to submit. God’s way always works best (Ephesians 5:22-24).

–On HAPPINESS

The only option to leave a marriage is if there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9). Our lack of happiness is never given as an acceptable reason to leave a marriage. I think there are many of you that could probably testify that some of your greatest spiritual growth has taken place through a really bad marriage. While we always must counsel young people to be oh, so careful in who they marry and while some marriages cannot be saved due to an unsaved or unwilling spouse, it is possible to grow and thrive spiritually in a bad marriage. And sometimes God will use this to bring an unbelieving spouse around. God speaks specifically to women regarding this in I Peter 3:1–Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,

How important that we never give up hope, even in the midst of a bad marriage.

–On the DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE

Could there be anything more unpopular than speaking the words “I believe marriage is between one man and one woman”? And, yet, that is exactly what we find in scripture (Genesis 2:24). And, in fact, anything other than this is an abominable corruption of God’s design (Romans 1:26-27).

Marriage has been seriously attacked by the enemy. And he is winning in many places. How important that we do not allow him to win in our own homes! With time in the Word, prayer, and serious dedication to living a holy life, God will help us to navigate our marriage relationships.

Okay, I’ll be briefer with the last five. Promise!

B. Adult Children with Parents

I remember watching the interchange with someone with their elderly parent one day and was amazed and rather saddened at the lack of respect that was shown. While I am not yet dealing with elderly parents, I can only imagine that this would be a real challenge and frustration to adult children. And yet, as believers, we must respect our parents even when –or perhaps especially when–they grow old and frail. They have little dignity left and one way we can bless them is to continue to respect them and their desires.

The world says that there is no value in anything old. New is always better. This has filtered its way into how we feel about people. Youth is what matter in this culture while the elderly are often cast aside.

As adult children with parents, we can start to be affected by this worldly attitude and become disrespectful if we aren’t very careful. Of course, sometimes the disinterest and disrespect is a result of a parent who was always demanding or unkind getting their due, but, as believers, this is not an option for us–no matter what kind of relationship we have with our parents (Proverbs 20:29 and I Corinthians 13)

May we treat our parents with love and respect throughout all of their days.

C. With Friends

The world says friends are there to hang out, have fun, and party with. But God’s Word says something very differently. Who we hang around with is a very clear indication of our spiritual health. It is best to find friends who can help us grow and encourage us in our spiritual walk. A true friend will tell us the truth. If they see us going a wrong direction they will gently let us know and we will be thankful! (Proverbs 13:20; 27:5-6, and 27:17) Friendship between two believers is a truly wonderful thing!

D. With Co-Workers

The world says climb the ladder and step over whoever you want. The world says gossip and malign and tear down. But God says to consider others and to do nothing out of a selfish motive. God tells us to edify (build up) with our words. We should be a blessing and not a burden in the workplace. We should be the kind of person that people want to talk to instead of talk about. We should be the kind of person that gently steers the conversation a different way when the gossip is started in the break room (Philippians 2:3-4 and Proverbs 16:28).

When we are surrounded by unbelievers, it is so easy to become like them. Getting started in the Word each day and even memorizing some verses will help us remember that we are to be a light in a dark place.

E. In Broken Relationships/With Our Enemies

I touched on this a bit last time, but it bears repeating. The world will tell us that anyone that offends us or disagrees with us is our enemy and that we should treat them with ridicule, antagonism, and anger–maybe never even talk to them again. But, of course, we know that, as believers we are to respond completely opposite. We are to lovingly confront when we are upset and we are to forgive without measure. We are to extend grace to those who offend us and to those whom we disagree with. And when that same grace is not extended to us, we are to keep on loving that person anyway and “killing them with kindness” despite their ill treatment of us. This is far easier said than done and all of this–the grace, the forgiveness, the love–can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way (Matthew 5:43-48; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:31-32).

F. With Those in Authority

Whether it’s church leadership or a police officer or the boss at work, the general current consensus from the world is that “no one is going to tell me what to do!” You hear some form of this almost every day if you are out in the world. The lack of respect towards anyone in authority is astounding. But I guess not so much when you consider that the entertainment industry really breeds disrespect and rebellion. Think of what has been going on in pop culture since the 1960’s and it is pretty easy to see how we got here.

But the really sad thing is how this attitude has permeated the lives of Christians. No one is going to tell them what to do–even someone who holds a place of authority in their life.

When it all comes right down to it, the root of this is pride, plain and simple. There is a lack of humility and teachability in a person who is disrespectful and this breeds disrespect for the leaders that God has placed in his or her life.

But we are told in God’s Word that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft! (I Samuel 15:23) That’s certainly a sobering thought, now, isn’t it?? And we are also told to show proper respect to everyone and to honor those in leadership (I Peter 2:17; Romans 13:1-7; I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

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I feel like each one of these would have been worth a whole post but I can’t write about this topic forever, right? I hope that this post has been helpful in getting you to think how worldliness may be affecting how you view certain relationships. Just one more way the world has seeped into our hearts and lives–sometimes without us even realizing it!

 

**If this series on worldliness is a blessing to you would you consider letting me know? It is so hard to know if what I am writing is helpful–especially when it comes to a series…

 

 

 

Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Peace This Holiday Season

Good morning! It is the Monday before Thanksgiving. As I thought about this holiday, I wondered how I could encourage a thankful heart in a new and different way that improves upon all that is out there. I decided I can’t so I am going to go a little different direction. But first, I wanted to take a few moments today to let you know of a few upcoming things here at Growing4Life–

First, the Growing4Life 2018 Christmas story is coming! Starting this Friday, I will share one part for the next five Fridays. The final part and ending will be posted on Friday, December 21. This year’s story is called Mending Fences and is about two sisters and how forgiveness changes everything. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Second, I have decided on the Growing4Life 2019 Bible Reading Challenge. (Can you believe it’s going to be 2019?? Where does the time go?) For next year’s challenge, we will be doing a chronological Bible read through. I did this 4 years ago for my 2015 Challenge. I have decided to do it again, because I think it it vital for every Christian to read through the Bible at least once. Reading through the Bible gives fundamental understanding and insight into God’s plan and story that one just cannot get in any other way.

Providing the G4L Challenge and an accompanying Facebook group where we can share and discuss what we are reading is my way to help and support my readers in this endeavor for anyone who desires to do this. I hope to get the details out for the new challenge within the next week or two. I do hope that many of you will join me!

I honestly don’t really know how many of you out there actually even read my posts (especially you, my subscribers, as emails just land in boxes and probably mostly go unread) but it continues to be my hope to be an encouragement for believers to walk with God in submission and obedience and to be a light that points people to the Word of God as their authority and guide in a culture that’s growing increasingly darker. I hope that both this year’s Christmas story and the 2019 Bible Reading Challenge will do just this.

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Now, for a few thoughts that may be a little different this Thanksgiving. Holidays can be a bit rough on many of us. Unsaved or deceived family members and friends can challenge or discourage us at gatherings. They can keep us from enjoying ourselves and we let them mess with our peace.

I was struggling with something the other day. Someone had responded unkindly to me and my dad shared with me something my Grandpa used to say. It was something like this–

Don’t let someone else and their problems steal your peace.

Have you ever thought how often we have done this? At least, I have. Someone is mean or angry with me and that affects my mood. Next thing you know I am short with my husband or someone else close to me.

It reminds me of a time a lady called us on Christmas Day because we hadn’t plowed her driveway yet. She was a widow with nowhere to go and she was angry because we hadn’t been there yet. As my heart grew defensive within me and I wanted to start yelling at her, I remembered something: Her husband had just died. She was lonely and hurting and this was her response. So many people get angry in response to deep hurts.

We need to remember that–

People always do what they do for a reason.

As believers, let’s show extra grace. They may be hurting. Or they may be caught up and deceived by a wrong philosophy. Whatever it may be, our response, as believers, is to have lots of grace and mercy, just as God has for us. Let us love even the unlovable because God loves us. For remember, God loved us when we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

Another thing to consider is this: If you have your mind set in a certain direction, what will be most likely to change it? Harsh, angry, words of debate and argument or kind, thoughtful words that encourage respectful discussion?

We live in a world that is increasingly divided. Whether it’s politics, personal rights, or false teachers, there are a million opinions out there. But the only opinion that matters is God’s. What does the Bible say? But, even as we try to share what scripture says, may we be respectful, kind, and loving. As God gives us opportunities, let us not grow angry or insistent. Only God can change a heart. That is not our responsibility.

So as we meet together with friends and family that may have differing opinions, let’s love them. Let us have unending grace. And let’s point them to scripture if and when the “hot” topics come up. Let us not allow anyone to make us frustrated or angry. Or to steal our peace. Let’s not give them that power. I do know that this feels almost impossible but the truth is that it is our choice.

And then, at the end of the day, when we have made the right choice, we can walk away in peace, knowing we have done the right thing, no matter what their response.

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I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am so thankful for all of you, but particularly those of you that have taken your precious time to share that you appreciate what I do here at Growing4Life. Blogging about discernment and living a holy life in these difficult days is a rather lonely and discouraging thing and those of you that have encouraged me have been used by God to keep me going. God’s timing on your notes, emails, and Facebook messages has been incredible and I always marvel at this. So thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for encouraging. And thank you for being part of the Growing4Life family of believers. Let us continue to stir one another up to love and good deeds as we march forth as soldiers of the Cross!

 

 

 

When It’s Time to Reap

She sat there in her hospital room, old, confused, and alone. A lifetime of bitterness and grudges and pride was being harvested. Her unforgiving heart and her need to be in control had pushed away most of her friends and family, leaving her to walk through this latest health crisis alone. When one of her children reached out to her, she clung to her pride and her bitterness and pushed them firmly away.

It is, by far, one of the saddest, most heart-breaking things I have ever witnessed. And I was reminded of Galatians 6:7–

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.

We reap what we sow. It is a principle of life we cannot escape. If we sow seeds of bitterness and unforgiveness and grudges, those seeds will grow into plants and those plants will produce fruit. Deformed, loathsome fruit.

If we sow seeds of love and grace and mercy, those seeds will produce good and healthy fruit.

But there are other bad seeds to sow, other seeds that produce bad fruit. Galatians 6 goes on to say this in verse 8–

For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

Any sowing that is done to our flesh will reap corruption. Any sowing that is done to the Spirit yields everlasting life.

BUT, you may be thinking, that old woman is not me. I am sowing good seeds, I have a good relationship with my family and friends. Lest we get too confident in ourselves, I remind you of something that John Stott once said–

“Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fancy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company who’s insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk that strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh.”

Oh, we all do it. Every. Single. Day. Maybe not to the extent that will leave us old and alone. But we all sow to the flesh, reaping the consequences of our sinful choices.

God sent His son to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. But salvation does not erase the consequences of sinful choices. We continue to live with those until we die.

Thankfully, living a life that is pleasing to the Lord eliminates so many of those ugly consequences. And that is something we can start to do right now! Today! His commands are not burdensome. They protect us! And what a wonderful protection they are.

We cannot change the consequences that we are experiencing from sinful choices of our past. BUT we can change the future. Here are a few questions we should ask ourselves as we contemplate our future harvest:

What seeds am I sowing that will yield an abundance of good fruit?

What seeds am I sowing that are going to yield the fruit of corruption?

AND…

What can I change to make my harvest so much better?

 

As God has a way of doing so often, He brings just the right book or sermon along at just the right time. That very thing happened this week. If you’d like to think on this topic a bit more, I recommend this sermon by John MacArthur on the principle of sowing and reaping: The Inescapable Law of Sowing and Reaping.

 

 

A Real Rarity

The other day I was listening to a podcast where two men were discussing the rarity of people who are really willing to listen to an opposing viewpoint anymore. The context was in discussing discernment and how–even with solid biblical evidence–few people will really listen to someone who simply wants to share with them their concerns. Instead, they regularly encounter a defensive, arrogant spirit and often endure personal attacks. Simply from speaking up against a false teacher.

They went on to say how this is very different than in years gone by, where two people could have an intelligent and thoughtful conversation about Bible teachers, authors, pastors, (and I will add: Anything else).

Why is this? Why this crazily defensive and hostile attitude towards someone who disagrees with us? What has been fomenting this strange relationship phenomenon over the last few decades?

But why isn’t really the question I want to deal with today. I am more interested in what this change in how we accept and give confrontation has cost us as Christians–and what we can do about it personally.

You see, when we aren’t willing to listen to and to think on a viewpoint or opinion that is in opposition to ours we set ourselves up for failure. How in the world can we grow in holiness and keep ourselves pure and separated from the world if we think we know everything? Do we honestly believe we know all there is to know about God and His Word? We don’t have to agree with someone but we can always listen and consider what they are saying in light of God’s Word. Instead it is most common–even for Christians– to get angry, to attack and malign, and to hold grudges.

This plays itself out in a myriad of ways–

–When someone comes to us with a concern about a favorite teacher or author. How do we respond?

–When our spouse confronts us about a sin in our lives. How do we respond?

–When our child seems confused about something we said or did and asks us about it. How do we respond?

–When someone at church doesn’t like our decision about a ministry we lead. How do we respond?

–When a parent, sibling, or friend lovingly questions our entertainment choice, our child-rearing, or some other aspect of our lives. How do we respond?

At the heart of this all is arrogance. Plain and simple. “Who are you to tell me…anything?”

So this leads us to two important points that we need to consider today.

First, what kind of “hearer” are we? Are we willing to reflect on the words someone speaks to us? Or do we immediately go on the defensive? Do we allow our relationships to change or be destroyed because we don’t like what someone has said to us? Do we lash out in attack? Do we hold grudges?

This is of the devil, my friends. Even if what someone is saying to us has zero biblical merit, we should choose to listen and consider. And then, if necessary, we must forgive. Satan would like nothing more than to break down the friendships and families of Christians. And this is a very effective way.

We can cut him off at the pass by responding to unpleasant words with humility and love.

Proverbs is full of counsel about the fool. And one of the main things about a fool is that he does not listen to wise counsel–

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)

And then Proverbs 26:12 shows us that there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is wise in their own eyes!–

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Do we think we know all the answers? Then there is more hope for a fool than for us!

And, second, this new dynamic should make us consider very carefully what is worth a confrontation. How many people do you know that, with a critical spirit, sarcastically attack people about the most inane and insignificant things? If this is us, then we will not be listened to when it really matters. It is extremely important that we confront lovingly on biblical matters and then let the other stuff roll. After all, does it really matter if they chose to go here instead of there? Does it really matter if they did their preferred “this” instead of our preferred “that”? Is it a biblical matter? Does their choice have eternal ramifications? Asking these questions can help us determine if it is worth a confrontation. Instead, we sometimes get this all mixed up and we confront (or make sarcastic remarks) on the trivial and never touch the stuff that has eternal ramifications. This is another subtle trick of Satan’s.

And, third, we should consider our own attitude about confrontation. It takes courage and a lot of love to confront someone in a biblical way. It is so much easier to just sit by and let it go. True love speaks the truth. Self-interest often leads to either ignoring it or saying sarcastic, back-handed remarks that hurt instead of heal.

Just recently, I was part of something like this and that experience has given me a real-life example of how all of this should work –in the right way. I will be purposely vague. I felt compelled to talk with someone about something. I hesitated for a very long time because of the possible ramifications. I have lost friends over things like this. I knew the risk and I basically told God I didn’t want to take it. But I knew that I was not doing the right thing. So I prayed and told God that if He would open up an opportunity, I would take it. Otherwise, I would stay quiet. Of course, the perfect opportunity presented itself a few days later. And, so, I, faltering and lovingly, shared my concern. And, wonderfully, the other person heard me without getting upset. They took what I told them and they acted upon it. This is how this should work between Christians (Proverbs 27:17). I was beyond thankful. And I wondered: Am I as mature and wise as this person when someone confronts me?

This is a question we should all ask: Do I hear? Or am I like the fool?

And the second question: Do I confront lovingly and only on the things that really matter?

Let’s be one of those real rarities: A Christian who is willing to thoughtfully consider what someone has to say to us and to also be one that has enough love and courage to confront when it’s biblically necessary.

 

 

Do You Have a Few Minutes?

Last week, a Growing4Life reader (who is also a dear friend) gave me a biography of J.C. Ryle. She knows that he is one of my favorite authors and had picked this book up for me as a gift. Inside the book she had written a wonderful (and much needed) note of encouragement. I often marvel at God’s perfect timing and am so thankful that He so often uses others to encourage us as we go about doing the work He has called us to do. No matter what our calling is in life, we all can use a pick-me-up once in awhile.

Certain people seem to have the gift of encouragement (like my friend) but it is really something we should all be doing.

It’s crazy how quickly we all fill up our time. Crazier still that this “filling up” hasn’t really led to better lives–just busier ones. And this leaves us precious little time to build into the lives of those around us. We get so caught up in our own worlds and our own problems, that we forget the discouragement, sadness, disillusionment, and grief that is overwhelming others.

Romans 12:15 tells us that we are to–

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

 

But, if we are honest, most of us are too busy rejoicing and weeping over our own situations to pay much attention to the situations of others.

And that is why today I want to offer a little challenge to all of us. Would you join me this week in my Encouraging Others challenge? The truth of the matter is that, as believers, we should do this every day but few of us actually do. Oh, some of you are much, much better at this than others and will find this challenge easy. But some of you aren’t an “encourager” by nature and could find this to be a bit more challenging. I hope you will step out in faith and give it a try, anyway.

This week, let’s take just a few minutes of each day and encourage someone. Think through all of your friends, family, church family, and co-workers. Who do you know that could use a bit of a pick-me-up this week? You can also encourage someone you don’t know all that well (or at all) such as the cashier at the grocery store, the lonely elderly person at the mall, or a hurting neighbor.

We live in a sinful and hurting world which means that there are probably millions of people who could use some encouragement right now. Would you join me in making a small dent in that number this week by taking on this challenge?

Here are some ideas that might help you as you think about who you want to encourage and how you want to encourage–

1. Be aware of those around you. Notice if someone seems extra quiet or appears to be struggling and take some time to talk with them and ask them about themselves. Not in a nosey, busybody way, but in a loving and kind way that shows you genuinely care. If someone just won an award or received some good news, rejoice with them.

2. Ask questions. Instead of talking about yourself the next time you are with a friend or talking with a bank teller or store clerk, ask questions. How is your day? How are the kids? Do you enjoy your job? are good questions for friends. And How are you today? Are you from around here? How long have you been working here? for strangers. And, if the Lord gives you opportunity, even How can I pray for you? I am often surprised at how many strangers will start telling me their life story if I ask a question or two. Most are ready and willing to talk to anyone because there is a real shortage of people who actually listen anymore. (But be sensitive if someone isn’t willing to talk. You will sense it pretty quickly).

3. Be creative. There are so many easy and quick ways to lift someone’s spirits. A hand-written note, an email, a lovely card, a comment on social media, a text, or phone calls are all ways to brighten someone’s day. You can literally do some of these in less than a minute so saying you don’t have time to take on this challenge is not an acceptable excuse! ;) Flowers from your garden or homemade cookies are an easy and inexpensive way to brighten someone’s day. A grocery or restaurant gift card for those in financial difficulty is another idea. Think outside the box.

4. Remember your discouraging times. What was it that cheered you up? What would have given you a much needed boost at your lowest time? When you think of it, do that for someone this week.

5. If you think something good about someone, try to say it to them. For example, if you notice that someone’s children are respectful and well-behaved, say something.  If you like someone’s new haircut or notice they’ve lost weight, mention it. If someone has blessed you by their special music, teaching, or preaching at church, let them know. If a co-worker really stepped up on a project, thank them. Say the good thoughts that you are thinking about others. This is perhaps the easiest way to encourage others.

6. Consider even more. If you feel extra ambitious or have a little extra time on your hands this week, think about taking someone a meal, visiting with a shut-in, or having some church families to your home for coffee and dessert.

7. Be sure to encourage fellow believers. These verses from Paul speak specifically regarding how we are to encourage one another as believers. Let’s remember our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, especially, this week–

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (I Thessalonians 5:11)

8. If you are praying for someone, let them know. Sometimes we will be praying faithfully for someone but they have no idea. This week let’s take some time and let them know. I know I am so greatly encouraged when someone tells me they are praying for me. I am sure you feel the same.

9. Expect to be blessed. It is so amazing how blessing others almost always blesses us more. It doesn’t seem logical, I know, but when we put aside our own selfish desires and agendas and focus on blessing others, we are so blessed, too! It’s one of the most beautiful things about being an encourager.

So are you ready? Do you have a few minutes that you can carve out of your day to be an encourager? Then let’s do it!

 

P.S. If you have other creative ideas on how to encourage someone, please share them in the comment section below. And thanks in advance! :)

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