Hope

Every Bubble Pops

I was babysitting this past Saturday and the boys decided they wanted to blow bubbles while their baby brother napped. And so we went out into the backyard and found a shady spot where I blew bubbles and they chased them. It was great fun. What a joy watching a three and five year old happily chase bubbles, completely unaware of all that is happening in the world.

As I sat there waving the bubble wand back and forth, all sizes of bubbles were formed. There were tiny ones, medium-sized ones, and great big ones. Of course, the great big ones were the favorite and the boys would often set their sights on the same bubble, even though several others wafted around their heads.

At one point, a huge bubble was lifted by the air out of their reach. Up, up, it went. The oldest followed it, knowing it would eventually come down again. But, alas, it floated over the fence and into the neighbor’s yard, where it hung for a bit and then finally drifted to the ground and popped.

But it did pop. Every bubble that formed popped. Some popped immediately. Some floated awhile and then popped. But not one bubble was left when they grew bored with blowing bubbles and moved on to something else.

Sooner or later, every bubble pops.

Let’s think about about those bubbles in the context of lives. The other day I ran into someone and he mentioned to me how many people are dying recently. My family and I have discussed the same thing. There seems to be much more death than even last year when the pandemic was at its height. At least in my circle of friends and associations. It might be different for you.

But this got me thinking about how we always think we will have tomorrow with people. We will apologize later. We will do that promised thing next week. We will take that anticipated family vacation in a few years. We will work on our marriage or spend time with our kids after this busy season or that project is completed. We will share the Gospel some other time.

We will…we will…

But we never do.

And then one day, that person isn’t there. And it’s too late.

All bubbles pop. And all people die. Two laws of the universe that cannot be changed. What do we need to do today? Right now? How do we need to fix, improve, or change a relationship today? How can we encourage or support someone today? Who needs to hear the Gospel? What would the Lord have us do today–before it’s too late?

 

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

Colossians 3:12-13

 

And now let’s think about the bubbles in the context of the world. It feels like there are some pretty big bubbles around us that have to eventually pop. Particularly a financial one that is, quite impossibly, still floating. How can an economy go on when its government simply creates money with nothing to back it? When it kills small businesses by paying their employees more to stay home? Watching this happen should lead us all to a be wary of a government that claims to care about its citizens. I think the whole world is just in a waiting mode this summer. What is next? But let’s take a moment to look at a few bubbles in this world that have already been popped.

The bubble of stability. We Americans blithely thought our country was pretty stable. Sure, we’d hear the arguments from opposing political parties and we knew, eventually, down the road sometime, things would probably change, but the uncertainty we all live with now has brought that time to now–to this very specific time in history. The stability we all enjoyed (which I have discovered was just an illusion to begin with) is no longer. And while most of us are still living pretty comfortably, we now understand that any earthly foundation beneath us could shake and move and change at any time.

The bubble of abundance. I can never remember a time when the shelves of the stores in my country were not abundantly full of goods. We American Christians (and perhaps all of us in westernized countries) have had little opportunity to experience needing something that we cannot get. And, suddenly, last year, shelves in stores were empty. The bubble of abundance had been popped and we now realize that we may have to go without. That those full shelves are not guaranteed in this life.

And then there is the bubble of freedom. We thought we were free. But we are finding out that we clearly aren’t. We are being censored, we are being mandated to, we are treated as sheep to be controlled. We are not free. Many are losing jobs because of not wanting to take a va[[ine that is untested and unapproved. Think about that for a moment. In what world? But, you see, this is because, we aren’t really free. We thought we were, but we now know we really aren’t. And, while most of us are still living life as normal and haven’t experienced the fall-out of this tyranny, we can see it coming on the horizon, barring God’s sovereign intervention.

All of these bubbles popping around us should be turning the eyes of believers from this crazy, unpredictable, changing world to our rock-solid, unchangeable, awesome God. This is where our hope and faith should have always been. But, if you are like me, it wasn’t.

And God has been teaching me so plainly: Every bubble in this world will pop. There is not one thing in this world that will last. Kings and Kingdoms come and go. Humans may shine brightly for a time and then they grow old and weak and die. Stuff tarnishes, rusts, and fades.

This world is passing away. Which is why we need to be focused on the next one. Paul tells us so clearly that we are to be focused on the eternal world to come. Our souls will last. The souls of our children will last. The souls of our parents, siblings, extended family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends will all last. The souls of the clerks and the parents on the soccer field sidelines and the childrens’ teachers and the doctors we go to–they will all last.

Oh, to live with this in mind. Oh, to put our own selfish agendas, desires, and fears aside and to go about our Father’s business with zeal and passion as we perceive that this world is just passing.

 

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.

Colossians 3:1-2

 

Life is so short and it changes constantly. Nothing stays the same. If we think on one thing today from this post, I hope it is this: Focus on the eternal, recognizing that we may not have another day with someone. We may not get the opportunity to apologize, show love, or share the Gospel if we don’t do it today.

 

 

 

Will I Come to God on His Terms or Mine?

People do many things in their efforts to be right with God. Mostly it boils down to being a “good person”, whether this be by good works or, even more specifically, is accomplished by a list of rules or rituals set up by someone long ago.

Then there are the thousands–perhaps millions– who declare that God doesn’t care if you are good or bad because He loves everyone and would never send anyone to hell.

Perhaps it is a bit presumptuous for us to tell God how things are?

And yet this has happened since the creation of man.

Cain thought he would tell God how things are (Genesis 4). We aren’t given many details, but we know that Abel brought an acceptable animal sacrifice while Cain brought an “offering of the fruit of the ground” (v. 3). Prideful Cain was, in essence, telling God what offering would be acceptable in His sight. When God didn’t agree with him, he grew so angry he went out to the field and killed his brother.

Instead of humbling himself before God and admitting that he was wrong, he murdered his own brother.

While few people let their pride go to such lengths, we are all born with it. It is pride that insists that we are innately good. It is pride that says I can determine on what terms I can be reconciled with God. It is pride that says I get to make the rules.

But guess what? God already made the rules. He had a plan of salvation for sinful man that he laid out long before we took a breath. That plan is in the Bible, which is God’s Word.

I have to just stop here for a brief moment and just remind you that there is much proof that the Bible is God’s Word. Both archeology and science show its reliability. The fulfilled prophecies (including Israel becoming a nation in 1948 against all odds) are truly miraculous. There are many reasons that we can know that God’s Word is true. I read Why Believe the Bible a few years ago which was so helpful. Answers in Genesis has a series of articles here. Men were even converted while trying to disprove the Bible (Part 1 of this series is here). And here is one more article on the Bible’s Proof. You can even find a whole sermon series by John MacArthur on this topic here.

But, may I remind you, when it comes right down to it, belief in the Bible and what it says is a matter of faith. We can have all of the proof in the world and still choose not to believe. Okay, back to our topic…

If the Bible is true (and it is!), then it is there that we will find out how we get right with God. He is God. He sets the terms and determines the way this is possible. He even determined if it was possible, because He could have chosen to let us die in our sins and go to hell without creating any way of salvation at all. We must understand that this is about marvelous grace and amazing love and abundant mercy.

Adam changed the future of the world with just a bite of fruit. Through him, we inherited our sinful nature (Romans 5:12). This is the first point of contention for so many. How dare you call me a sinner? I am a good person. Look at that guy over there and that woman over here. THEY are awful. I look amazing by comparison.

But the Bible says we are all sinners. We are born condemned sinners (See I John 1:8-10; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:9-12). Until we can admit this, we are hopelessly lost. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)

When God opens our eyes to this truth, then we will understand our need for a Savior. Until then, we think we can do things our way and on our own terms.

Thankfully, it doesn’t end there. The Bible goes on to tell us of how God sent His Son into the world to die for our sins.

I Corinthians 5:21 puts it like this: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I John 4:10 says this: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

In other words, Christ died in our place. Think of that for a moment. Jesus died for our sins and we can stand righteous before God through His blood shed for us. And only because of this. On our own, we have no merit whatsoever.

As we go on to study God’s amazing plan in His Word, we come to understand that accepting this free gift is something we must do. We aren’t automatically given this reconciliation just because were born as a human being on the earth.

No, instead we see that God has set it up that we must call on Him (Romans 10:13). We must believe (Romans 10:9). It is a conscious choice.

These are God’s terms. There is no other way (John 14:6).

But, oh, how prideful man is.

Just as Cain demanded that God accept his sacrifice and grew angry when he didn’t, so man insists that he gets to determine his own way of salvation. Whether it be through a set of rules or a list of good works, he believes that he can do enough to reach God.

But the Bible tells us that we can never be good enough. That we can do nothing to be right with God. That we are in desperate need of His grace and mercy.

We must come to God on His terms.

But, oh, the peace that is ours when we do!

Trying to pridefully reach God on our own terms yields only doubt and turmoil and frustration.

But peace can be ours, if we will but turn to Christ alone for salvation.

I leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns–

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

 

 

 

(If you are not sure you understand salvation or you desire to know more, please don’t hesitate to email me at Leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net. I would love to talk more about this with you.)

 

 

Are You Ready for Death?

Kobe Bryant and his daughter died a few days ago. Along with thousands of other people. Those two weren’t the only ones who faced God on Sunday, January 26. Many passed from this life to the next. Some were expecting it and many, many, like Kobe, were not.

None of us knows what day we will leave this earth. That’s why it is so critical that we are ready to go at all times.

This isn’t going to be a long post. I just want to encourage you (and myself) to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are ready for the inevitable. 100% of us will die. The question is not “if”, it is when.

So here are just a few thoughts for us all today–

1. If you do not believe the Bible is 100% true, then what are you basing your belief about the afterlife on? Is it a man? A religious system? And on what is that person or system basing their beliefs on about the afterlife? This is one area of life we cannot afford to get wrong! This is the difference between heaven and hell. Between a life of eternity with God or an eternity without God. We owe it to ourselves to thoroughly research this. If you don’t believe the Bible, then I challenge you to actually put reasons to your belief. Make sure that you’ve done a thorough study. While true faith isn’t based on logic and rationalism, it is often the starting point of the search for many.

Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand when it comes to the subject of death.

(If you wonder what the Bible teaches about life after death, you can read more here.)

2. If we do know where we are headed, then shouldn’t that change how we live? Shouldn’t we be more interested in treasure in heaven than treasure on earth? Shouldn’t we be more interested in pleasing God than pleasing people? And shouldn’t we spend more time looking in the mirror of the Word than the mirror in our bathroom? Remembering how close death is for all of us should really remind us of (or even change) our priorities.

3. If we do believe the Bible is true and we are confident that we will spend eternity with God through our faith in Jesus Christ alone, then a good majority of us really need to ask ourselves these questions: Why aren’t we more passionate about our faith? Why are we so caught up in all of the stuff that is so temporal? Why don’t we care more that so many are not going to be in eternity with us, given their own declarations and wicked lifestyles?

Is this not a sobering thought? The co-worker next to you could get in his car tomorrow and crash. The unbelieving family member could face his Maker next week. That terminal diagnosis could be told to our lost spouse or parent in a month.

Are we praying fervently for them? Are we taking the opportunities we are given to share the Gospel? Be sure that I am not talking about smashing them over the head with it in a harsh way. But, rather, are we having heartfelt discussions with them? Are we pointing them to the anchor of the Word?

Dear friends, life is short. Our days are like grass. May we seek the things that are above. May we live each day with eternity in mind.

 

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is b]”>[b]”>bb]”>]gone,
And its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 103:15

 

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

 

 

Changed Lives: Cathy

Two or three years ago, I received an email from a reader named Cathy. She introduced herself as the pastor’s wife of a small church and wondered if I would consider speaking at their upcoming ladies’ retreat. While I was among the ladies at her church, I felt like I was among family (and I guess I was, spiritually speaking!) When they asked me to come back again this past fall, I gladly accepted. As we sat around the table, Cathy starting sharing just a bit of her testimony with me. As I listened to her, I knew I had to ask her if she would share this with my readers.

It’s been just over a year since I shared the story of a fellow Christian as part of the Changed Lives series. This ongoing series is here to serve as a reminder that God is working! He is changing and transforming lives–even through the most tragic of circumstances. Cathy’s testimony is a shining example of God transforming a life.

It is my hope that, from this particular testimony, some of you may be encouraged to know that you can be healed from horrible abuse if you go to the true Healer. I hope that you will learn that someone’s antagonistic, hostile response when you share the Gospel is not always a reflection of what’s going on in their heart. The other thing I hope you will reflect upon as you read this is that just because a family looks perfect does not necessarily mean it is. The post-war era of the 50s was a happy time–but it wasn’t a happy time for everyone. Not even for the perfect-looking family living in the cookie-cutter house on the tree-lined street.

And, finally, I hope you will consider the Christian who caught Cathy’s eye and that you will take a moment to examine yourself in light of her witness in Cathy’s life. Are you standing out like she did? Do co-workers, store clerks, parents at your kids’ school, etc see a difference when they view you in light of their worldly counterparts? Would the way you live your life give someone pause to consider the Gospel? This really made me think and I hope it will you, too.

So without further comment from me, I present to you Cathy’s testimony–

I was born not long after the end of WWII. I was born into a prosperous America, a time of peace. My mother, father, older sister and I lived in a classic, Norman Rockwell suburban neighborhood. Tree lined streets, lots of “baby boomer” kids to play with, being able to stay outside until “the street lights” came on, a dog to “love on”, a stay at home mom, home cooked meals…it was a good time to be a child in America. My father was agnostic, and my mother was Catholic, although not very observant. God was never discussed in our home. The only time I heard His name was when it was being blasphemed.

From the outside looking in, it all looked like a “Leave It to Beaver” life. But behind closed doors, things were VERY different. My earliest memory is of being restrained by my mother while my sister was abused by my father. The abuse, emotional, physical and sexual continued until I left home at 18 to get married. God blessed me with two wonderful children, but I continued to be haunted by the events of the past.

I continued over the next decade or so to be a very angry young woman. I never felt at peace, or even remotely content. My anger would bubble over and my mood swings were extreme. I did everything to the extreme.

Sadly, that marriage ended in divorce. My children and I went on to live in a small apartment. One night a man broke in and attempted to rape me. Blessedly, he was unsuccessful and was arrested and found guilty of his crime. Still, I ran from God and my past.

I joined the early feminist movement. I left that because, even as a lost woman, I recognized that abortion was murder and they asked me to support abortion or leave. God moved me off that destructive path.

One day I realized people were coming into my life and sharing the Gospel. (At the time, I didn’t know it was the Gospel). I would laugh at them and off-handedly dismiss them and their message. I continued to be angry. I made a promise to myself that I would be the one to break the cycle of abuse with my children and because I was successful, I became very prideful over what I perceived as “being a strong woman”. I continued to define myself and excuse my sin because I was a “victim”. I held strongly onto that “victim” identity. Without it, and my anger, I didn’t know who I was.

I went to nursing school and began my career as an RN. People continued to witness to me. I still scoffed at them (now I praise God for them). One day a Christian nurse joined our team. I watched her at work because she was SO different than all the other employees, including me. She had unbelievable compassion for the patients and other workers, she had a peace and a calm that I had never seen before. She was not embarrassed or ashamed of her love for Christ. She NEVER complained, even when we had to work Christmas. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted what she had.

One day we had to go on an errand together. When we got in her car, I asked her to put on music. Her reply took me aback. She told me that all she had was “Christian music” and she didn’t think I “would like it”. That was the day that I really started to look at myself compared to her. God was beginning to humble me.

Our Lord continued to send people into my life who boldly shared what Christ had done for sinners. I remember the day like it was yesterday, I realized that I was a sinner, that I was separated from God, that I was headed for hell. I fell on my knees and sobbing, I begged God to forgive me of my sins and received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior! I couldn’t wait to tell the Christian nurse. She responded in a way that God would use many times over the years…she stated, “I have been praying that God would send a Christian nurse to work with me, I never thought it would be you!” 

Time and time again this simple statement has reminded me to pray for those who seem “very lost” and not responsive to the Gospel. It has reminded me to be bold in my faith and it has reminded me that living my faith out in front of people is one of the most important things that God has commanded me to do.

My life since my real “birthday” has been a wonderful testimony to our Lord’s grace. Immediately, my desires changed. I couldn’t learn enough or be around God’s people enough. Our home changed dramatically; the world was no longer welcomed there. My children repented and received Christ when they were pre-teens. I was blessed to be able to attend Bible college (with my Christian nurse friend who was diligent in discipling me).

Then the most amazing thing occurred, God sent a godly man into my life. He was a pastor and I found myself a pastor’s wife with four more wonderful children to love. As I grew in the Lord, I understood that God in His wonderful sovereignty allowed things in my life to prepare me to minister to other women who have experienced similar things. Over the years, my life before I was saved, my sweet friend’s words at the time of my conversion and all of the faithful who shared the Gospel with an angry, seemingly hopeless young woman have been used by God to serve the brethren and reach out to the lost.

I no longer was angry; I was able to forgive my parents and was able to have a relationship with them. My sister remained angry all her life. Praise God that I was able to share the Gospel with them. Sadly, my father, mother and sister all died lost; but I know that that too is under God’s sovereign control. I am at peace.

I pray my testimony will encourage those who read it to never give up on loved ones, co-workers, or others that may seem “too lost”, or will “never be saved”.  Live your lives boldly and totally for our Lord and Savior. Live to give Him glory and honor. Live to magnify Christ. I want to be able to say, as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7 and to the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21

Our wonderful Lord saves and uses the most broken vessels in magnificent ways for His glory. I am undeserving and blessed!

The Half Trees

I was driving along on a familiar road when I saw them. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed them before. I wish I could have stopped and taken a photo.

Towering pines reached to the sky and yet they were forlornly bare on one side because of the electric wires that ran next to them. The choice had been made to remove the branches to protect the wires, rather than to cut down the trees completely. They had been granted life but at what a cost!

Imagine if you will a strong, tall pine tree without any boughs on the one side. Only the scars of cut off branches remained. There was a whole row of them.

It reminded me of us. We desire to be so perfect but our bad choices starts removing our boughs. The axe of consequences and sin scar our trunk and starts cutting off our beautiful, green boughs. Sometimes it is the choices of others that brings that terrible axe into our lives and starts hacking away. And many times it is the axe of trials that are completely outside of our control that starts to remove those branches, one by one.

Until some of us are left with a half a tree.

And yet, in Christ, we can still be so strong.

The trees I saw were beautiful in their own way. Sure, they weren’t perfect but they stood so stately as if to say–we survived. We are marred and imperfect but we are strong and we have survived.

You can’t really imagine how something so imbalanced could grow so tall and strong–and yet–they did.

And so can we. God is in the business of strengthening, supporting, nourishing, and transforming those He has saved. Sure, we won’t ever be perfect. And we will continue to live out the consequences of sin and a fallen world. Some of us more than others. It is the nature of life.

But that doesn’t mean the Lord can’t use us. That we are rendered ineffective for the cause of Christ.

In fact, if those trees wouldn’t have been cut in such a way, I wouldn’t have even noticed them. It was in their very uniqueness that they stood out. They were different. They showed that even without wholeness there can be health.

Just as those trees remained a tall and stately witness to living a healthy life of incompleteness, so, too, are we called to live out a testimony of a healthy life lived in and for the Lord–despite our imperfections and deformities.

And, rather than be a deterrent to the Lord, we actually stand out and can draw people to the Lord when we bring glory to His name and point people to Him, no matter what the struggle or trial.  Sure, we come out on the other side minus a branch or two, but God will often use this very thing to demonstrate His power and strength. As healthy, imperfect “half-trees” we give people hope!

Just as a light shines so much brighter in the darkness, so the power of Christ is evidenced more fully when we turn to Him in our trials and struggles. No matter what the consequences (or lost branches), God can use these things to make us stronger, to draw people to Himself, and to be a witness to His power and glory.

Paul says something about this in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10–

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to [b]buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So I want to encourage you this morning to use your scars, your past, your current trials–whether brought on by bad choices or they are hopelessly outside of your control–to point people to Christ. To show that God is the great and ultimate healer and that we can be strong and healthy despite the consequences of sin in our lives.

Just as those tall, stately half-trees stand as a testament to health despite their many removed branches, so let us, too, be a testament of our amazing God, showing how He has worked and is working to make us whole and healthy on the inside–no matter how we might look on the outside.

 

 

Changed Lives: Jim and Carol

As I prepared today’s post, I realized that it has been almost a year since I last shared a “Changed Lives” testimony. This hasn’t been because I haven’t met anyone who has been changed by Jesus. In fact, I’ve met so many! It was just one of those things I kept putting off. But today is a great day to bring you a new testimony.

Today I bring you Jim and Carol’s story. Let me tell you a bit about how this came to be. Jim is often at the door as I enter church each Sunday, ready to offer all a warm handshake and a cheery greeting. But a year or so ago, I noticed that Jim just kept getting thinner and thinner and he just didn’t look well. Eventually I found out that he was fighting a fierce battle with cancer and that it was taking its toll on him. And, yet, there Jim stood at the sanctuary door every Sunday, greeting everyone cheerfully. It was this consistent cheerfulness that led me to talk with them about Jim’s cancer journey. Little did I know that there was much more to the story! Spending an afternoon with them encouraged me greatly and I know that it will encourage you, too.

This is Jim and Carol’s story–

In early 1970’s, a young girl named Carol was set up on a date with a young man named Jim. Carol, a Christian girl, knew Jim wasn’t saved but she really enjoyed that first date and, as she got to know him better, she decided to start a relationship with him anyway. Things moved along and eventually they planned to be married. Carol just naively thought everything would turn out okay. And it did–eventually. (But it’s important to remember that it doesn’t for everyone. As Carol said during our time together: It’s best to obey the Bible and marry a Christian.)

After the wedding, things got pretty difficult. They had a daughter and then two sons. During these early years, when Jim wasn’t working long hours, his passion for baseball consumed his time. After baseball games, Jim would drink with his buddies and come home drunk. When Jim got drunk he didn’t get silly like “you see on the movies” as Carol put it. Instead, Jim would come home and verbally attack his wife. The family dreaded these times.

This naturally burdened Carol’s heart greatly. She had already been praying for Jim’s salvation for years and she continued to do so during this time.

Ten or so years into their marriage, Jim started to soften and mature a bit and things got better for the family, although he remained hardened to the things of the Lord. While he never kept Carol from taking the children to church or talking with them about the Lord, he just wasn’t interested. He admits now that he wasn’t ready to surrender the “fun stuff” of life to live a legalistic, moral life that looked no fun at all. He viewed believers as living in a prison of “perfect” and he didn’t want any part of that.

Jim describes this time as having a thick wall standing between him and the Lord. The Lord was on one side and he was on the other. To remove that wall would mean giving up the world he so loved and enjoyed. And he just wasn’t ready to do that.

When they were married for almost fifteen years, an elder and his wife from their church stopped by for an unexpected visit one New Year’s Eve. As Carol opened the door to the couple her heart sank. She knew her husband’s thoughts about “stuffy Christians” trying to convert him. She hid her thoughts and welcomed them in with a smile.

That evening was the beginning of a long journey that would bring Jim to his knees in repentance before the Lord. As the couples visited together that night, the elder never brought up anything about God. Instead, he talked with Jim about hunting and other things that men talk about. God knew that Jim needed to meet someone who was willing to be his friend, despite his rebellious heart towards the things of God. He found that friendship in this elder.

At this point, Jim started going to church, playing on the church softball team, and hanging around with the church folk. During this time, he was not saved but he was watching. He found out that Christians were not perfect, after all, but have struggles and flaws just like everyone else. They just handled them differently. This gave him pause for thought and the wall between him and the Lord started to crumble just a bit.

A few years after he started attending church, Jim found an odd swelling around his eye. The doctor told him it was an insect bite and sent them home. But when it didn’t go away, it led Jim and Carol to seek further answers. It was biopsied but, even after this step, the specialist had no idea what it was. They finally ended up at a dermatologist who sent him to a plastic surgeon. This surgeon recommended that the biopsy be couriered immediately for results rather than being handled in the typical fashion. When no courier was available, Jim and Carol took the biopsy themselves to the local facility that would test it.

It was this second biopsy that finally yielded the diagnosis that no one ever wants to hear: Cancer. Jim had a form of lymphoma on his face.

With this diagnosis, Jim came face to face with his mortality as a forty-something husband and father. With two kids in college and one in high school, this was certainly not what he had wanted to hear. Frightened of the unknown, he started praying to the God whom he had never been interested in. And the wall between him and God started to crumble a bit more. Meanwhile, Carol, who was praying as well, was filled with that inexplicable peace that God gives His own. While she certainly had moments of fear, she trusted God to take care of Jim.

It was during this unsettling time that Jim and Carol went to a Sight and Sound production called “Behold the Lamb”. (For those that may not know, Sight and Sound is a Christian theater that puts on dramatic productions of stories from the Bible that rival Broadway in their professionalism.) While at this production, Jim was struck by the reality of his sin and the hope we have in Christ. While he wasn’t saved there, he would say this was when the wall between him and God started to finally give way.

About this time, Jim and Carol’s pastor moved away and they had to find a new church. This search led them back to Carol’s childhood church, where Jim developed a friendship with their new pastor. One day, Jim asked the pastor about salvation and told him he was ready to surrender his life to Christ.

Carol had prayed for twenty-five years for this day! Oh, what rejoicing was in her heart as she listened around the corner to her husband as he prayed and surrendered his life to Christ.

Through this time, Jim finished his prescribed chemo treatments and after it all was over, the oncologist pronounced him cancer-free! He even used the word “miracle”. Jim looked at him and told him that it was prayer that healed him. God had heard the prayers of many friends and family poured out for Jim and had shown mercy.

After this eventful time in their lives, things really changed. Jim stopped drinking completely upon his cancer diagnosis. He developed a passion for church and especially for the men’s ministry that began while he was there. And he began to take his role as husband and father more seriously.

Fast forward twenty years.

The kids grew up and two of them moved away. Jim and Carol decided to move near their two sons and so they started a new adventure a few hours south of what they had both always called “home”. They found a good church and became a part of the family there. Jim continued to take a yearly trip a few hours away to see his oncologist. He and Carol started talking about the possibility of stopping those visits since he had been cancer-free for so long.

And then one day, Jim got an ulcer in his mouth that wouldn’t go away. Again, there were visits to doctors and uncertain times as they tried to figure out why it wouldn’t heal. He also felt a lump around his nose and his face felt a bit numb. While Carol didn’t really think about it being cancer again, Jim admits that he was wondering if the dreaded cancer had returned.

Jim got a biopsy of the area right before Christmas in 2016 and found out that he did indeed have cancer again—this time it was a completely different type of lymphoma than the first time. It filled his sinus cavity on the left side of his face and was even in his tonsils. It had started eating away at his jaw and his nose.

A plan was put in place to save Jim’s life. It included a bone graft to preserve his jaw along with three rounds of the strongest chemo available, as well as 17 rounds of radiation. The chemo was so powerful that they had to test Jim’s heart to make sure that it would be strong enough to handle it.

Jim’s heart tests went well and so they proceeded with the chemo. He got through two rounds with flying colors. Other than the loss of hair, he really didn’t have any side effects. No nausea, no fatigue. Things looked pretty good. Jim kept smiling and started to pat himself a bit on the back. He was getting through this with God and he was doing pretty good.

And then, right before the third round of chemo, Jim found a watery lump the size of a water balloon on his shoulder at the place where his chemo port was. Thus began a dreaded time of anxious waiting as they worked to find an appointment for an emergency MRI. The soonest they could get in was the next morning. After the MRI, they headed home to wait some more. Around four o’clock that day, they discussed their fear of heading into the weekend without any answers and then walked into separate rooms. Unbeknownst to each other, they both started praying that the doctor would call. A few minutes later, the phone rang. The doctor told them to get to the emergency room immediately. Jim had a large blood clot in his shoulder.

Jim tells of this time as being very humbling. Things were going pretty well, all things considered, and this stopped him in his tracks and forced him to rely on the Lord like never before. After a night’s stay in the hospital in which his chemo port was removed, he was given a three months’ prescription of a blood thinner medication and sent home to get better.

The third round of chemo was out of the question and so they decided to increase the amount of radiation from 17 treatments to 25.

Unfortunately, the radiation could not continue until Jim’s body was strong enough to take it. It was during this time that Jim reached what he describes as his lowest point. He was so disappointed and the waiting was awful. He had to surrender his will to God’s at this point and it was not an easy thing to do.

Finally, Jim was strong enough to start the radiation treatments. But these treatments were not like the chemo. They wreaked havoc on Jim’s body, giving him mouth sores that made it hard to talk and eat, a terribly sore throat, a loss of appetite, and a fatigue so awful it would keep him on the sofa for the whole day. The side effects he had expected with chemo showed up with a vengeance during the radiation treatments.

But through most of this second cancer journey, Jim shares that he has had peace. While he had that difficult moment as he waited for the radiation treatments to start up, he recalled that his battle with surrendering to God’s sovereignty was strongest during his first bout with lymphoma.

It is this peace that gives Jim a vibrancy and cheery spirit despite his circumstances. The radiation treatments are now finished, but the side effects live on in Jim’s body. The radiation killed his salivary glands and so he has a very dry mouth. He has lost the ability to taste and he has no feeling on the one side of his face. He has difficulty swallowing. Every day Jim is reminded of his battle with cancer as he faces these challenges that will be with him for the rest of his life.

At this point, as I sat there talking with Jim and Carol in their living room, they both shared how much they have to be thankful for. They mentioned the prayers and support of fellow believers. They are grateful for Jim’s salvation that has unified them in Christ. They are so grateful God didn’t take Jim during that first battle with cancer. They are thankful for their church. And they are so blessed to celebrate their 45th anniversary this year. Jim & Carol’s three children grew up and started their own families and blessed them with five grandchildren.

Those who know Jim know his passion to share the Gospel. He loves the Lord and he loves people. You know this almost the instant you meet him. And it was through this second round of cancer that God has opened many doors for Jim to share the Gospel. I have no doubt that Jim has planted a multitude of seeds in his neighborhood, his doctors’ offices, and the hospital where he stayed. Jim wants to use this journey to point people to Jesus. This is why he was willing to share his story with you all. He also wanted to be sure that I shared his dedication to prayer during this journey. As he has prayed through his illness, his desire has always been, first and foremost, that God’s will be done. Jim continues to be dedicated to prayer and prays regularly for others.

I also want to acknowledge Carol’s steady and loving support during all of this. I could see that she provides a quiet strength and stability that is the perfect complement to Jim’s passion and zeal.

As I walked out of that home late that afternoon, I walked away blessed. Here was a couple who loves the Lord deeply. God has used cancer to not only bring Jim to saving faith, to plant seeds for the Gospel, and to spiritually grow Jim and Carol, but also to uplift and encourage other believers as they face their own battles and trials.

The questions, the waiting, the fear, and the anxiety that naturally spring from our trials can take a hold and leave us helpless and terrified. It is my hope that through Jim and Carol’s testimony you are encouraged today to trust in God’s sovereignty and to use whatever trial you are facing, whether big or small, as an opportunity to give God the glory and to plant seeds for the Gospel.

What Should I Look for in a Biblical Counselor?

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Let’s face it. Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way we planned and we need a little help. Whether it is a struggling marriage, a wayward child, or some type of past issue that needs to be dealt with, sometimes we just need a bit of support to help us get our feet back on the right path again.

Unfortunately, while there is no dearth of counselors (we also call them therapists), good biblical counselors can be hard to find. Even those who claim to be Christian counselors can be wrapped up in man’s wisdom and philosophies.

When I went to college as a young adult I started out majoring in psychology. It’s all a bit hazy now, but about halfway through that major I recognized that it was not the career for me. It was–and still is– a quagmire of philosophies that are in opposition to biblical wisdom. Christian psychology is generally a mixing of earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom that becomes impossible to separate.

James 3:15-17 says this–

 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 

We can see from these verses that earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom not only shouldn’t be unified, but they really can’t be. They are in complete opposition of one another.  And yet this is exactly what Christian psychology tries to do. It is very similar to the idea of theistic evolution. It is an impossible and absurd attempt to unify man’s wisdom with God’s wisdom. And it changes the Gospel in the process. No part of evolution can be true if the Gospel as presented in scripture is true. They are mutually exclusive. According to scripture, death was the result of sin. And this is impossible with the theory of evolution.

So is the case with human psychology and biblical counseling. In human psychology, self is the center of everything. The temporal healing of man and a better life is the ultimate goal. But the Bible teaches that God is the source of true healing. Reconciliation with God and right living before God is the ultimate goal. While it may not seem so, they truly are mutually exclusive. We cannot have both God and self at the center of our lives. We cannot be driven both by God and by self. We must choose one.

(And here’s a curious tidbit for those of you who would like to know more– did you know that much of the psychological theories and presuppositions were developed with the help of spirit guides, which, in other words, means they come straight from demons? I didn’t either. Until I wrote this article. I didn’t learn that in my classes at college. You can read more about that here and and there are more resources here.)

Martin and Deidre Bobgan have this to say about the transition from faith in God’s Word to faith in man’s theories–

During the last sixty years much has happened to undermine the faith of those who once believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for those issues of life that are now being addressed by psychological counseling (psychotherapy). Previous to the influx of psychological theories and therapies, Christians turned to the Scriptures to understand themselves and to live accordingly. They turned to the Bible regarding attitudes and actions. They sought God regarding personal feelings and relationships. They found solid solace, strength, and guidance during difficult circumstances. Moreover, they learned the difference between walking according to the old ways of the world and walking according to the new life they had received through Christ’s death, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit. Much of this has been lost as Christians have been adding the ways of the world to the way of the cross.We have witnessed this grievous transition from faith in God and His Word to faith in the psychological systems of men for nonorganic issues of life.*

I couldn’t agree more.

And if we are searching in the wrong place for help and if we are listening to earthly wisdom from below, then the verses from James above assure us that it will lead us into chaos and confusion.

So what should we look for in a biblical counselor when we do need a little help? How can we assure that we are receiving wisdom from above and not from human philosophies? Here are eight questions we can ask–

1. Does the counselor teach that we can only have peace and reconciliation with God through repentance and faith? (Mark 1:15)

2. Does the counselor call sin sin? Or does he/she cover sin up by calling it a disorder or disease? (Galatians 5:19-21)

3. Does the counselor use the Bible? (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)

4. Does the counselor recognize and point out “acceptable sins” such as selfishness, pride, anger, resentment, unforgiveness? (James 4:6; Philippians 4:6; many others)

5. Does the counselor give assignments for Bible Study, resulting in a closer relationship with God? (Psalm 119)

6. Does the counselor acknowledge God’s sovereignty and the scripture’s sufficiency in all they say and do? (Job 42:2; Psalm 19; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

7. Does the counselor focus on bringing glory to God through the situation at hand? (I Corinthians 10:31)

8. Does the counselor focus on the eternal ramifications of sinful behavior, along with the temporal consequences? (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27)

A godly counselor will talk about these eight things with so much love and grace. While being unafraid to speak the truth, they will do so in a way that is loving and kind. One of the finest examples of this is Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus Christ always spoke truth with love to those whose hearts really wanted to know the truth. There was no hard edge or frustration. He is the one and only perfect example.

But He did speak the truth. Which is what we can and should expect a godly counselor to do if we truly long for permanent change.

Today, we have God’s Word to show us how to live. It is there that we find help for permanent and powerful change. A true biblical counselor recognizes this. I leave you with one final quote from the Bobgans–

The Bible is not meant to work independently from God Himself. The Bible is sufficient because the Lord Himself works through His Word. If a person tries to use the Bible apart from Christ ruling in His heart, he may claim that the Bible lacks practical answers for life’s difficulties. However, it is through the Bible that God reveals Himself and works His divine power in Christians. The Bible is more than words on a page. Every word is backed by God’s mighty power, His perfect righteousness, His love, His grace, and His wisdom. Thus God not only gives precious promises and instructions for living; He enables a believer to obey His Word. That is why the Bible is sufficient for life and conduct. Paul declared that he would not depend upon the wisdom of men, but on the power and wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1.) Not only is human wisdom foolishness in comparison with God’s wisdom; human words lack the divine power necessary to transform a person into the likeness of Christ and to enable him to live the Christian life according to God’s will. God uses the wisdom and power of the Scriptures to enable believers to please Him and bear fruit. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-8.) No psychological doctrine can even come close to that claim, nor can it add power for godly change.*

Amen.

 

*From PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Martin and Deidre Bobgan (free PDF is available by clicking on this link)

Meeting Ella (Part 5)

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This is the final part of this year’s Christmas story. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it! I have included some author notes below, so hopefully you will take time to read them, as well. Merry Christmas!

PART 5

      The next morning, I was awakened by the little patter of feet. I lifted my head and saw Ella enter my room, carrying the Christmas storybook. Charlie lifted his head and wagged his tail against the comforter. (Against my better judgment, he had ended up on my bed last night. I just couldn’t resist those big brown eyes!)
      I had slept so much better than the night before but I wasn’t quite ready to get out of bed so I patted the spot beside me and told her to climb up next to me. She was soon snuggled in between Charlie and me, paging quietly through the book. I tried to close my eyes again, but the strangeness of having a little girl beside me kept me from sleep. In only a moment, I opened my eyes and sat up.
      “Are you hungry?” I asked.
      “Yes! Can you make pancakes?” She hopped out of bed with enthusiasm and started out the door, Charlie following close on her heels.
      I followed after her, trying to reconcile this bright, talkative girl with the somber, quiet one from last night. She obviously had started to feel comfortable around me.
      Suddenly, I realized that it was Christmas Eve. With everything going on, I had completely lost track of the days. I tried to think of a course of action for Ella. The first thing I knew I had to do was to find out if her mother was still alive, no matter what day it was.
      I made some pancakes and we ate them amidst her happy chatter. After breakfast, I sent Ella up to get dressed. Meanwhile, I pulled out my laptop and tried to locate Melanie. Ella had told me that her last name was Erikson. Putting “Melanie Erikson” into the Google search box, I found a home address as well as a short article about a charity project she was part of at a Baptist church in her town. I called the church, not really expecting an answer because of the holiday but was pleasantly surprised when the pastor picked up with a warm greeting. As I explained to him what had happened, he listened quietly and then told me that Melanie was in a local hospice facility and didn’t have very long to live. And then he said sadly that when he had stopped by to visit Melanie yesterday, she was in terrible sorrow over not knowing if Ella was ok. She was heartbroken over not being able to say one final good-bye. He was amazed that I was calling so shortly after he had had this conversation with her, as he had been praying just this morning about finding Ella for Melanie.
      I knew what I had to do. I thanked him for the information and turned to Ella, who was now dressed and quietly playing on the floor with Charlie.
      The living room, with the twinkling tree lights and the cozy fire, set a nice atmosphere for us to talk about her mom. Ella, her arm around Charlie, listened intently as I explained that her mother was growing sicker every day but that she had changed her mind and really longed to say good-bye to her. Could she be brave and strong?
      Ella’s face grew pale but she sat up a little straighter and her eyes brightened at the prospect of seeing her mother, “When do we go? And what happens after that? Can I stay here with you?”
      I knew that question was going to come and I had thought of little else since I had found Ella the evening before. I had decided that if Ella wanted to stay with me and if her mother was in agreement, I would offer her a home with me here at the farm house. This was a big part of my reason for finding Melanie. I knew that Ella would be thrown into the state foster system if I couldn’t get some kind of signed, legal document from her mother.
      “Ella, would you like to stay here and live with me at the farm house?”
      “Oh, yes! Please!” Only three little words, but the passion in her little heart glistened through her amazing blue eyes.
      “Okay, then. I would love to have you here with me. Let’s see if we can make that happen,” I smiled at her as the ramifications of what I had just said filled my head. Instant motherhood. Was I really ready for this? But I knew I had to take care of this dear little cousin of mine. She had no one else in the world. And then it dawned on me—neither did I. We were perfectly suited for one another.
      I put Charlie in his crate and we started out. Ella was mostly quiet on the drive, probably thinking about her mother. In a little over an hour, we were pulling into the parking lot that stood in front of a pretty stone building with wreaths in the windows.
      A kind lady directed us to Melanie’s room and we were soon at her door. I took a deep breath and knocked.
      “Melanie? Are you up for visitors?” I hesitantly pushed the door open.
      I am not sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t this shell of a woman who looked like she weighed less than 90 pounds.
      I could see the question in her eyes and then she saw Ella. Her eyes, dull and lifeless a second before, suddenly lit up the whole room.
      “Ella? Is that my baby? Am I dreaming?”
      Ella walked over to her mom and leaned over to gently kiss her.
      “No, Melanie, you aren’t dreaming. Ella is here to say good-bye.”
      “Oh, my baby, my baby,” Melanie moaned, “I can’t believe you are here. I didn’t want you to see me like this, but I am so glad you are here.”
      I quietly moved back to a dark corner of the room to let them have a few moments alone.
      They talked in low tones for a while and then I heard Melanie, with a desperate note in her voice, ask, “Ella, are you okay?”
      “Yes, mom, I am fine. Libby is taking good care of me.” I was so glad that she didn’t expand on all she had been through.
      “Who is Libby? Where is your grandmother?” The question was expected and I stepped up to explain.
      “Melanie, I am Libby,” I introduced myself and then continued, “I am Ella’s cousin. Gus was my mom’s brother and my uncle. Our grandmother died a few months ago and, of course, you didn’t know that. But no need to worry, I can care for Ella. Would that be okay?”
      I recognized even as I spoke what a vulnerable place Melanie was in. She didn’t know me at all. She didn’t know if I was telling the truth. She was literally putting her daughter in the hands of a stranger. And she didn’t have the strength or the resources to even check my story. With this in mind, I gently held Melanie’s hand and looked her in the eye.
      “Melanie, I promise to love Ella as my own. I know you don’t know me but I want to assure you that you can trust me. I will care for her.”
      I saw two tears make a path down Melanie’s cheek and then she breathed out words I wasn’t expecting.
      “I have regretted my decision to drop off Ella every minute since I left her. I knew her grandmother would take care of her–I had no doubts about that—but I should have stayed. I should have asked. I wasn’t thinking. I was scared. I couldn’t think beyond the pain and desperation.”
      “It’s okay. You don’t have to explain,” I could see how difficult this was for her, both physically and emotionally. Every word seemed laborious. But she continued.
      “No, let me finish. Now, as I approach the end, I mostly sleep. But any moment I am awake, I have prayed, begging the Lord to assure me that my baby will be okay. You are the answer to that prayer. I am sure of it. I know that God has sent you here with Ella as an answer to my prayer. And I am so grateful.”
      Right at that moment, I was in awe over God’s sovereign plan for all of us. I knew God would work out every detail somehow. But I also knew that I had something that had to be done.
      “Melanie, do you feel well enough to sign a letter that would give me custody of Ella?”
      “Yes, yes, of course, it must be done,” she struggled to sit up.
      “No, no, not yet. I am going to go call a friend of mine. Ella will stay here with you and visit. I’ll be back.”
      I went out to the nurses station and asked for paper and a pen and then lost no time in calling Kate.       Mrs. Miller had only said that Kate was in grad school, but Kate told me yesterday that she was actually in law school. She had laughingly said her Grandma could never remember that. I knew she could help me.
      Soon I had a letter drafted that would hopefully hold up in court. Melanie gladly signed it and, with tears streaming down her face, said her final good-bye to Ella. I offered to bring Ella back for another visit but she lifted a weak hand in protest and said, “I won’t be here much longer now. I’m going home soon.”
      As we prepared to leave, she reached for my hand and said the words I will never forget, “Thank you, Libby, for taking care of my little girl. Please teach her to love Jesus with all of her heart.” And then she dropped her hand, exhausted, and closed her eyes. I could see she was spent. We probably had stayed too long. We were all crying but Ella was sobbing almost uncontrollably. I put my arm around her as we slowly walked away. I am not sure I have ever done anything so hard as leave that room.
      I asked a nurse to check on Melanie as we left, letting them know that she may be upset. The nurse smiled and told us that we were the best medicine she could have ever had. Apparently the nursing staff knew her story and had been praying, as well, for a miracle. One nurse had even started a search for Ella and had planned a trip to our town tomorrow in order to find her.
      It was pretty amazing to be part of a miracle.

      A few hours later, Ella and I were sitting alongside the Millers in a church pew. I think we both were overwhelmed at the changes in our lives over the past few days. There was so much to take in. Both mourning and joy were part of what we were feeling. All that we had lost was competing with the newfound joy of having found each other. What a Christmas! As the congregation started to sing “Joy to the World”, I grabbed Ella’s hand and squeezed it. She looked at me with a bright smile and I knew we would both be okay. We had both found a family this Christmas. An unexpected little family that we both had needed so desperately. God had taken such special care of both of us and I knew He would continue to do so. I moved my thoughts back to the service and joined the singing with gusto. Joy to the world, the Lord is Come!

 

______________________________________________________

 

Author Notes:  I started this story without knowing the ending. I spent what felt like hours trying to come up with a plausible plot. Finally, one day, I shared my dilemma with my mom and she helped me sort through it all. I want to publicly thank my mom for her help!

Also, I want to talk a bit about the spiritual lessons of this story. In some ways, I struggled because I know that in real life, the knots and bumps of our own stories don’t always work out so neatly. Sometimes–ofttimes–there is no happy ending. But, on the other hand, sometimes we watch God work things out in ways that are far beyond anything we could have ever dreamed. It was my hope to remind you that we serve a big God and He does sometimes work things out in amazing ways. But, more importantly, I wanted to remind you of two things–

1. We were lost and alone, without hope, and God made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. Like Libby giving Ella a home, God took in the poor orphan (me!) and gave me a home–a citizenship in heaven. I found safety, security, and rest in Him. If you aren’t saved, I hope that this story may be used to encourage you to read the Bible and find out more about the God who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you so that you, too, might know that you are eternally safe and secure in God’s sovereign hands.

2. And I hope that this story encourages you to open your heart to whomever God puts in your path. There are so many lost and lonely people in this world. Let’s be encouragers! Sometimes that means giving them a home for a few months and sometimes that just means giving them a warm smile. But let’s open our eyes and intentionally reach out to the lost and lonely this year. They are everywhere, waiting to be noticed.

Thank you so much for reading this story. I hope that it was a joy to you this Christmas. Enjoy the holidays!

p.s. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments about this year’s story! Comment below or email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net.

Enjoying the Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was my Friday night.

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

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

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

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

 

Romans 8:28-30

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

Isaiah 45:9

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

Daniel 4:34-35

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

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

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

some lessons

Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

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